Thursday, December 18, 2014

24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 3! • Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company

Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company were back a couple Saturdays ago for the third installment of their 24 Hour Play Festival at Webster Groves High School, and like last year, it was a blast. The rules remained the same -- six writers (up from five last year) were given a setting, a genre, a number of characters, and one week to come up with a script of around 15 minutes. This year, the writers also had to work in a holiday prop. The scripts were randomly assigned to directors, who were randomly assigned actors by pulling names out of a hat. The ensembles then had 24 hours to memorize, stage, costume and rehearse it before unleashing the plays on the public. Crazy, right? The evening was affably hosted by Pat Niday of The Improv Shop, and there were raffles held between the plays, and yummy sandwiches courtesy of Snarfs. I mean, what more could you ask for, really?

First up was Jason Klefisch's thriller, "Cringe", directed by Todd Schaefer and starring Nick Kelly, Ben Watts and Matt Pentecost. Watts is at Tully's Tavern waiting on a date when a very drunk Kelly comes in, barely able to walk, but very entertaining.
Pentecost, the owner of the establishment, amiably tells jokes and serves the two drinks. After awhile, Kelly insists that Watts, still dateless, join him at a table, and it turns out that Kelly's not drunk at all -- he's very sober, and royally pissed. He's the father of the girl Watts was waiting for. See, Watts met her online, and she's just 16 years old, and Kelly, who's already suffered the loss of a son, is in no way gonna let this predator off the hook. The owner of the bar is actually Kelly's brother, and after he locks the door to the bar, he raises a snow shovel in Watts's direction as the lights go out, and you can only imagine that Watts was in for a major beat-down. Kelly was a standout, going from sloppy drunk to stone-cold sober on a dime.

"Trinity Park", a drama written by Wendy Renee Greenwood, directed by Rachel Tibbetts and starring Rachel Hanks, Mollie Amburgey and Larissa White, finds two squabbling sisters meeting in a park at the request of their mother. Their arguing is interrupted by a homeless woman (Hanks) who's been eavesdropping on their conversation. Hanks turns out to be the third sister who ran away from home some time earlier. She banished herself to the park because she felt responsible for the death of her nephew while he was in her care. Hello, awkward reunion. All three turned in great performances, with Amburgey's potty-mouth grabbing much laughter.

Carl Wickman's comedy, "What You Need", was directed by Chris Chi and starred Brian Claussen and Michelle Catherine. Claussen shows up on Catherine's doorstep at 3 o'clock in the morning, claiming to seek shelter from questionable types outside, and once Catherine lets him in, he confesses that he's really a knife salesman. He shows off his wares on a banana and a little Christmas tree. Catherine's character is obviously taken aback with this odd late night encounter, and his conspicuous consumption of her bananas, but hey, at least she got some nice cutlery out of it. Maybe it was a dream…? Definitely the most bizarre offering of the group, open to various interpretation.

Writer Greg Fenner uses the acronym "R.O.M.E.R.O.S." for his dark comedy, directed by Em Piro and starring Jason Klefisch and Blaire Hamilton. In it, a green-faced zombie dad (Klefisch) meets up in a restaurant with his daughter (Hamilton) to announce his engagement to a human, and his "mixed" daughter is none too pleased. The title is taken from "Night of the Living Dead" creator, George A. Romero's name and stands for Regular Ordinary Mortals Eating Rations Of Skin. Ha! Get it? R.O.M.E.R.O.S is the support group Hamilton's character has joined to help her deal with the challenges that come with being half-zombie, half-human. Good stuff. Klefisch's shuffling, growling zombie was hilarious.

"Fun and Games In The Bedroom", written by Zak Allen Farmer, directed by Ellie Schwetye and starring Margeau Baue Steinau, Reginald Pierre, Troy Turnipseed and Carl Overly Jr. feature a group of friends getting stoned in a bedroom. They have no idea how they ended up there, but that's of little consequence once they realize the kids are on their way home with a pot-smoke filled bedroom and one of the four friends unconscious on the floor, the victim of a game of football with a mini Christmas tree gone awry. Good times.

Evan Kuhn and Amy Kelly.
"Line" was a melodramatic Victorian era romp written by Spencer Green, directed by Ryan Foizey and starring Kimi Short, Amy Kelly and Evan Kuhn. Kuhn and Kelly are in line to buy a turkey for their respective holiday dinners, but there's only one left. I mean like one turkey left in the whole town. After pouring out sob stories about why they deserve the bird, Kuhn and Kelly realize that they knew each other as children and end the night with the promise of rekindling their relationship. Awww.

While the judges for this year's festival -- Max on Movies’ own Max Foizey, theatre blogger, Steve Allen and actor, Alan Knoll, turned in their ballots, we were treated to some entertainment from Pat Niday and members of the Zero Hour Playfest Troupe who took suggestions from the audience to improvise a wacky murder mystery involving a bathtub and dreidels. What?! The winners were then announced (listed below), but everyone involved did a great job, especially when you consider the challenges involved, and this festival remains something to look forward to every year. I seriously have no idea how they do it. This kind of ballsy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants theatre is among the most fun kind of theatre to see, so keep an eye out for another installment next year.

The fearless creative talents behind this year's
24 Hour Play Festival.
24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 3!

Writers: Greg Fenner, Wendy Greenwood, Zak Allen Farmer, Carl Wickman, Spencer Green and Jason Klefisch.

Directors: Ryan Foizey, Todd Schaefer, Chris Chi, Em Piro, Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye.

Actors: Evan Kuhn, Matt Pentecost, Carl Overly Jr., Reginald Pierre, Ben Watts, Troy Turnipseed, Nick Kelly and Brian Claussen.

Actresses: Rachel Hanks, Mollie Amburgey, Blyre Cpanx, Jordan Bitticks, Amy Kelly, Larissa White, Michelle Catherine, Margeau Baue Steinau, and Kimi Short.

Lighting operator, Jacob Noce; sound operator, Hannah Leatherbarrow; running crew, Todd Schaefer and Maggie Pool.

Best actor - Nick Kelly
Best actress - Amy Kelly
Best director - Em Piro
Best script - Jason Klefisch (For "Cringe")
Best Ensemble - "Line" by Spencer Green (Hal Phillip Walker)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

BECOMING DR. RUTH • New Jewish Theatre

Before Ruth Westheimer became "Dr. Ruth", she was Karola Ruth Siegel, born in Wiesenfeld, Germany to Orthodox Jews in 1928. Her petite stature, spright, thickly accented voice and honest talk about human sexuality led her to fame as a sex therapist and media personality, but the little known facts about her astonishing life make up the bulk of Mark St. Germain's one-woman play, portrayed strongly by Susie Wall.

Scenic designer Cristie Johnston's impressively cozy space welcomes us into the cluttered Washington Heights apartment of Dr. Ruth Westheimer as she packs up for a move a few months after the death of her third husband, Manfred Westheimer. She's surprised to see all of us in her living room, and invites us to keep her company while she struggles to continue packing up boxes. Just about every trinket or photograph she picks up to wrap in newspaper reminds her of her past. Wall engagingly relates Westheimer's childhood in an orphanage in Switzerland, sent there by her mother and grandmother through kindertransport after her father was taken to a labor camp when the Nazis rose to power. There's also anecdotes about her time in Palestine where she lived on a kibbutz, her joining the Haganah where she was trained as a scout and sniper, her studies in France, and her three marriages and two children. The indomitable spirit of Dr. Ruth can't be denied, but the translation of that vivacity tends to get bogged down in the plodding rhythms of St. Germain's script, with an occasional change of pace when she's interrupted by phone calls from the movers, her children, or advice seekers. The play perks up when it builds to Dr. Ruth's 1980’s radio program, “Sexually Speaking", a call-in show where she frankly and warm-heartedly answered questions from listeners about sex, and the popularity it gained, eventually making her a household name. 

Susie Wall (Dr. Ruth).
Photo credits: John Lamb
Wall, under the direction of Jerry McAdams, gives an appealing performance and breathes life into the play where it allows, and Michael B. Perkins provides the projection design that illustrates some of Westhimer's memories with images projected onto a curtained window, with Kimberly Klearman providing the lighting design and Teresa Doggett providing the costumes.

The road that led to Dr. Ruth's fame is certainly an interesting one, but ultimately, the pace becomes mechanical, zapping the zest out of too many of the stories. It's playing until the 21st.

Susie Wall (Dr. Ruth).
Photo credits: John Lamb

Written by Mark St. Germain
Directed by Jerry McAdams
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through December 21 | tickets: $36 - $40
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday the 7th at 2pm & 7:30pm

Susie Wall* (Dr. Ruth)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Cristie Johnston; lighting design by Kimberly Klearman; costume design by Teresa Doggett; sound and projection design by Michael B. Perkins; stage manager, Emily Clinger.

Monday, December 8, 2014

REALITY • HotCity Theatre

The drama-filled, cheap to produce genre of reality television has, for better or worse, multiplied over the last several years, and if anything, it's proven that there will always be people willing to lose their innocence on national television, and others with no shame willing to put their dignity on the back burner for a shot at fleeting celebrity at the risk of public humiliation. Lia Romeo's comedy, HotCity's chosen script from its 2013 GreenHouse New Play Festival, takes a perverse and very funny look at what happens to the lives of those involved in a dating reality show once the cameras are off.

Annie (Maggie Conroy), a small-town girl from Iowa, thought she had gotten everything she wanted when she became engaged to Matt (Tyler Vickers), a wealthy hunk, on a reality show called "Looking for Love". One of the show's producers, Josh (Ben Nordstrom), oversees the taping of the engagement on a video monitor, making sure to squeeze every drop of carefully choreographed emotion from the scene. Once the taping for the show's finale is finished, Annie, Matt and Josh are sequestered in the production's "safe house", securely out of the public eye. While Josh finishes up the series, Annie's whirlwind love affair with Matt doesn't look as dreamy in the harsh light of day once the show's in the can. The show's runner-up, the pinot grigio toting Krissandra (Julie Layton), whose only real motive for being a contestant was to use her brief fame as a springboard for an aspiring acting career, drops in to visit Annie from time to time. She and Annie formed a bit of a friendship during taping, and now she offers an ear to Annie, whose eyes are being forced open to the snares of reality television, with a wicked turn of events at the end as the facade of happiness comes crashing down.

Ben Nordstrom (Josh),
Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).
Romeo's script allows for some insight among the hilarity, and the ensemble of four are perfectly cast. Conroy as Annie, the ingenue, is authentically sweet and very funny, and Vickers is perfect as Matt, the hunky lunkhead whom producers pick for his money and good looks, though he's not quite ready for a commitment. Nordstrom nails the role of Josh, the cynical producer willing to do anything for ratings, and Layton's Krissandra is a gas, striking you as the type of reality tv girl most likely to get a little too drunk at a party. Under Annamaria Pileggi's smart, fast-paced direction, they all bring charm to their roles and perform with a natural ease.

There were also some neat things that the creative team came up with as part of the production concept -- along with the small tv monitor mounted above the stage, scene changes are done with the houselights up instead of down, offstage areas are instead over to stage-left, where actors receive props and wait for their entrances in plain view -- all succeeding in breaking normal theatre conventions in a way unique to the subject matter.

Julie Layton (Krissandra) and Maggie Conroy (Annie).
The curtain will close for HotCity Theatre after this world premiere run, and the company's decade-long offerings of challenging, modern plays will be greatly missed. The house was completely sold out on opening night, and though HotCity's absence will leave quite a gap on the St. Louis theatre landscape, it will also leave memories of some of the boldest theatre St. Louis had to offer. ("Equus", "Whammy" and "The Normal Heart" are among my favorites.) You've got until December 20 to check out this wildly funny play from one of the city's best.

Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).


Written by Lia Romeo
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through December 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Maggie Conroy (Annie), Julie Layton (Krissandra), Tyler Vickers (Matt) and Ben Nordstrom* (Josh).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; sound design by Patrick Burks; assistant director, Rachel Blumer; assistant stage manager, Sarah Palay; stage manager, Kate Koch.


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