Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE PRICE • New Jewish Theatre

"The Price", one of Arthur Miller's last critically successful plays, burrows into the complicated family dynamics between two estranged brothers. Choices made long ago become the source of long-held hidden resentments and hard feelings. Hello, "Family Drama", right? This New Jewish Theatre production was the first time I'd seen it, and while it's nice to scratch an Arthur Miller play off of the list in my head, this presentation is a pretty fine example of why it was on the list in the first place.

Playing out in the attic of a Manhattan apartment, the first several moments are spent as Victor Franz, (Michael James Reed), a police sergeant who's been on the force for 28 years, nostalgically goes through the remnants of his family's past in the house that he and his brother grew up in. An old gramophone, a radio he built, his fencing foil and mask, his mother's harp, and stacks of old but quality furniture have been collecting 16 years worth of dust since his father passed away. The building is slated to be torn down, so the furniture's gotta go. Victor is soon joined by his wife Esther (Kelley Weber), and she's not shy about the fact that she wants to get the most money possible from the sale of the furniture -- hoping that Victor, three years past retirement, will finally be able to stop working.

Kelley Weber (Esther)
and Michael James Reed (Victor).
Photo credit: John Lamb
You get the feeling that Victor has been a source of disappointment for Esther. He and his brother Walter (Jerry Vogel) had dreams of becoming scientists, but while Walter went on to become a successful surgeon, Victor chose to join the police force and take care of his parents -- victims of the Depression, until their death, with Walter contributing a mere five dollars a month. Victor and Esther both harbor resentments towards Walter, but Victor still plans to split the proceeds from the sale of the furniture with him, even though Walter has repeatedly ignored his calls and messages.

Gregory Solomon (Bobby Miller), an 89 year old furniture dealer, arrives for an appraisal after making his way up to the attic. He takes his time surveying the goods, quite excited to be back in the game after semi-retiring a couple of years earlier. He shrewdly insists to Victor that he can't be emotional about used furniture, and they eventually settle on a price of $1,100. When Esther returns from a walk, and Walter arrives unexpectedly, they both think the price is too low. After a quick, awkward reacquaintance, Walter comes up with the idea of donating the furniture and making money on a huge tax deduction to give to his brother's family. Esther naturally loves the idea, but Victor's not too crazy about it. With Solomon stepping in trying to seal his deal, heated exchanges are traded back and forth between the brothers, and their choices, and the truth about their father's situation is made clear, and the illusions about what's kept them apart comes to light.

Bobby Miller (Solomon) and Michael James Reed (Victor)
(Jerry Vogel in rear).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This 1968 play holds up incredibly well in the hands of director Bruce Longworth. The comedic moments, weighty silences and eruptions are all perfectly balanced and supported by a rock solid cast and resonant creative contributions. Reed's Victor takes his time in the first minutes, heightening our interest, maintaining it, and wearing his role comfortably along the range of emotions that Victor passes through during the course of the play. Weber paints a portrait of a woman who has been through her trials with her husband, but a warmth between them comes through honestly. Miller is perfectly cast as the counterweight to the evening's happenings, even making the act of eating a boiled egg that he produces from his pocket a joy to watch. Vogel, disarmingly likable, considering what we might expect, gives Walter the layers that hold the audience's attention whenever he speaks, filling in the blanks about what's been happening with him, and he plays well alongside Reed.

Jerry Vogel (Walter), Bobby Miller (Solomon)
and Michael James Reed (Victor).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Mark Wilson's incredible scenic design along with Jenny Smith's property design, offering an off kilter crowding of old furniture against wooden slates, lend an appropriate heaviness, with chairs even hung along the ceiling of the space. Michael Sullivan's lighting design sets everything off beautifully, with seamless sound and costume design by Zoe Sullivan and Michele Friedman Siler.

The chance to sink your teeth into this production shouldn't be missed. I mean, it's Arthur Miller! Go see it.


THE PRICE

Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Bruce Longworth
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through April 6 | tickets: $35 - $39
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm, Sunday the 6th at 2pm

Cast:
Bobby Miller* (Solomon), Michael James Reed* (Victor), Jerry Vogel* (Walter) and Kelley Weber (Esther).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Mark Wilson; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; sound design by Zoe Sullivan; property design by Jenny Smith; stage manager, Kate Koch.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays • La Perla

Helmed by That Uppity Theatre Company, in partnership with The Vital VOICE, "Briefs" is back for its third year, and this festival of short LGBT plays, with almost 100 submissions from across the country, seems to get better and better every year. While LGBT-centric themes have pulsed as the heart of "Briefs", the universal nature of the human condition is an overall motif, with a nice balance of live acts and eight 10-minute vignettes that range from the humorous to the thought-provoking.

Ben Watts (Leslie) and Pete Winfrey (Bernard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
“Buggery" features two mustached gents, Bernard (Peter Winfrey) and Leslie (Ben Watts), complete with top hats, in their skivvies. There is a pulley between them that they use to exchange messages back and forth. It's like Grindr through a Victorian lens, and the juxtaposition is pretty funny, with Winfrey and Watt's straitlaced deliveries really selling the piece.

"Lucky" begins with Shelley (Rachel Hanks) in the emergency room, sporting a shiner and her arm in a sling. When questions from hospital worker, Karen (Paige Russell), hint at the possibility of abuse, Shelley insists that she's been mugged.
Rachel Hanks (Shelley) and Alaina Appleby (Janice).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Karen gives her a card anyway, and shortly after Janice (Alaina Appleby) shows up to take her home, Karen finds her card later -- on the floor. This piece, though stilted at times, aptly shows that regardless of sexuality, no relationship is immune to domestic violence.

Michael Amoroso (Vincent) and Alyssa Ward (Ellie).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"Sharp Corner" opens with Ellie (Alyssa Ward), and Vincent (Michael Amoroso) -- post-coitus. The conversation that follows between these two friends, one gay, one straight, sheds light on the nature of love, how it's shared, and the many forms of intimacy.

Joanna (Meghan Maguire) is trying to navigate the tricky terrain of lesbian dating in "Ready". Her long-time friend, Stephanie (Sara Hamilton), is trying to talk Joanna into going on a blind date with a friend. Joanna jokes about how it seems that there are only five lesbians in St. Louis, and admits that she isn't ready for the process of getting to know anyone -- or the vulnerability required when letting anyone get to know her. Their conversation sheds light on the difficulties of not only dating when you're not in your twenties anymore, but dating from a significantly smaller pool. Yep. I hear, ya...

Sara Hamilton (Stephanie) and Meghan Maguire (Joanna).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"Not My Father's Son", conceived and performed by Desire' Declyne, presents a powerfully intimate portrait -- Zachary Alan Lee sings to us as he transforms before our eyes into Desire' -- living with the knowledge, with pride and regret, that he's not what his father wants him to be. Great performance piece that leaves an impression.

In "Messages Deleted", one of the best pieces, a death brings Mark (John Wolbers) and Gene (Chuck Brinkley), his lover's father together, to try to clean up the evidence of Mark's relationship with David (Jeffrey M. Wright), Gene's son. Mark and Gene's reasons for their actions are different, but they share a common grief of the loved one they've lost. It's a strong commentary about relationships that stay hidden, and includes a haunting twist, and strong performances.

Zachary Alan Lee (aka Desire' Declyne).
Photo credit: John Lamb
A lesbian couple is grappling with the possibility that their daughter is gay in "In the Water". Rachel and Maggie, (Kirsten Wylder and Carrie Hegdahl) strive to protect their child, as all parents do, and though their approaches on how to most effectively do this may be different, it shows that raising a gay child holds its own challenges, with the added spin of these two particular parents begin gay themselves.

In "Strange Bedfellows", Hal (Rich Scharf ) has just learned that his boyfriend of 3 months, Cameron (Eric Dean White), is a Republican. Gasp! Political affiliations have long been a source of contention in the gay community, where "Liberal" is taken to mean "gay accepting" and "Conservative" is taken to mean "Anit-gay". This piece about tolerance admirably tries to break down this set of prejudices within the gay community, with charming performances.

Jeffrey M. Wright (David), John Wolbers (Mark)
and Chuck Brinkley (Gene).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"Briefs" is brief -- only running for three days, with one remaining performance this afternoon. The success of the festival guarantees its return next year, so keep an eye out and get your tickets early! The range continues to expand, and the audiences continue to grow.


BRIEFS

through March 23 | tickets :$15 general admission, $50 VIP balcony cocktail table for 2, with complimentary bottle of wine.
Performances March 21 at 8pm, March 22 at 4pm and 2pm, March 23 at 2pm

Kirsten Wylder (Rachel) and Carrie Hegdahl (Maggie).
Photo credit: John Lamb
“Buggery" written by Brigham Mosley, directed by Ryan Foizey
Cast:
Pete Winfrey (Bernard) and Ben Watts (Leslie).

"Lucky" written and directed by Theresa Masters
Cast:
Paige Russell (Karen), Rachel Hanks (Shelley) and Alaina Appleby (Janice).

"Sharp Corner" written by Donna Hoke, directed by Lee Anne Mathews
Cast:
Alyssa Ward (Ellie) and Michael Amoroso (Vincent).

Eric Dean White (Cameron) and Rich Scharf (Hal).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"Ready" written and directed by Joan Lipkin
Cast:
Meghan Maguire (Joanna) and Sara Hamilton (Stephanie).

"Not My Father's Son" conceived and performed by Zachary Alan Lee (aka Desire' Declyne)

"Messages Deleted" written by Rich Espey, directed by Christopher Limber
Cast:
John Wolbers (Mark), Jeffrey M. Wright (David) and Chuck Brinkley (Gene).

Cast of "Briefs"
Photo credit: John Lamb
"In the Water" written by Tabia Lau, directed by Bonnie Taylor
Cast:
Kirsten Wylder (Rachel) and Carrie Hegdahl (Maggie).

"Strange Bedfellows" written by Donald Miller, directed by Michael B. Perkins
Cast:
Eric Dean White (Cameron) and Rich Scharf (Hal).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Second Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Well, another celebration of St. Louis theatre is in the books, a wonderful time was had by all, and I had quite a headache Tuesday morning. :) Seriously though, the talent in this town is stunning, and it's a privilege to be able to be a small part of it. Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients! Here's the list of the 2014 St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominees with the award recipients in red.

COMEDY
Outstanding Ensemble:
“Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” HotCity Theatre
“The Good Doctor,” New Jewish Theatre
“Psycho Beach Party,” Stray Dog Theatre
“Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
“Waiting for Godot,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Emily Baker (Gretchen).
Photo Credit: John Lamb
Outstanding Supporting Actress:
Emily Baker, “Boeing Boeing,” Dramatic License Productions
Betsy Bowman, “Pterodactyls,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Teresa Doggett, “The Good Doctor,” New Jewish Theatre
Michelle Hand, “Maple and Vine,” HotCity Theatre
Anna Skidis, “Psycho Beach Party,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor:
Aaron Orion Baker, “The Good Doctor,” New Jewish Theatre
Aaron Orion Baker, “Waiting for Godot,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
William Grivna, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” HotCity Theatre
Anderson Matthews, “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Festival
Whit Reichert, “Pterodactyls,” St. Louis Actors' Studio

Judi Mann (Rita Lyons).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Outstanding Actress:
Glynis Bell, “Talking Heads,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Lavonne Byers, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” HotCity Theatre
Rita Gardner, “4000 Miles,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Judi Mann, “The Lyons,” Max & Louie Productions
Donna Weinsting, “Mrs. Mannerly,” Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Actor:
Gary Wayne Barker, “Waiting for Godot,” St.Louis Actors' Studio
Terry Meddows (Estragon).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Terry Meddows, “Waiting for Godot,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Joshua Thomas, “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Festival
David Wassilak, “The Good Doctor,” New Jewish Theatre
Ben Watts, “Psycho Beach Party,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Director:
Justin Been, “Psycho Beach Party,” Stray Dog Theatre
Rick Dildine, “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Festival
Bobby Miller, “Waiting for Godot,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Wayne Salomon, “The Lyons,” Max & Louie Productions
Brad Schwartz, “Boeing Boeing,” Dramatic License Productions

Outstanding Production:
“As You Like It,” St. Louis Shakespeare
“Maple and Vine,” HotCity Theatre
“Psycho Beach Party,” Stray Dog Theatre
“Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Festival
“Waiting for Godot,” St. Louis Actors' Studio

Ron Himes (Simon), Justin Ivan Brown (Caleb DeLeon)
 and Ronald L. Conner (John).
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
DRAMA
Outstanding Ensemble:
“Fly,” the Rep
“King Lear,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
“Our Town,” Insight Theatre Company
“The Piano Lesson,” the Black Rep
“The Whipping Man,” the Black Rep

Outstanding Supporting Actress:
Julia Crump, “Time Stands Still,” Insight Theatre Company
Taylor Pietz, “Our Town,” Insight Theatre Company
Elizabeth Townsend, “Good People,” the Rep
Donna Weinsting, “Jane Eyre,” Mustard Seed Theatre
Magan Wiles, “Diary of a Madman,” Upstream Theater

Outstanding Supporting Actor:
Aaron Orion Baker, “Good People,” the Rep
Justin Ivan Brown, “The Whipping Man,” the Black Rep
Ronald L. Conner, “The Whipping Man,” the Black Rep
Bobby Miller, “King Lear,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Robert Mitchell, “The Piano Lesson,” the Black Rep

Outstanding Actress:
Nancy Bell, “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Denise Cormier, “Good People,” the Rep
Shanara Gabrielle, “Hannah Senesh,” New Jewish Theatre
Sarah Godefroid-Cannon, “Jane Eyre,” Mustard Seed Theatre
Sarah Nedwek, “Venus in Fur,” the Rep

Jerry Vogel (The Poet).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Outstanding Actor:
John Contini, “King Lear,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Ron Himes, “The Whipping Man,” the Black Rep
Joneal Joplin, “Our Town,” Insight Theatre Company
Chauncy Thomas, “Topdog/Underdog,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Jerry Vogel, “An Iliad,” Upstream Theater

Outstanding Director:
Seth Gordon, “Venus in Fur,” the Rep
Elizabeth Helman, “Topdog/Underdog,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Ricardo Khan, “Fly,” the Rep
Tom Martin, “Our Town,” Insight Theatre Company
Wayne Salomon, “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” St. Louis Actors' Studio

Outstanding Production:
“Fly,” the Rep
“An Iliad,” Upstream Theater
“Our Town,” Insight Theatre Company
“Venus in Fur,” the Rep
“The Whipping Man,” the Black Rep

Old Hearts Fresh
Outstanding New Play:
Nancy Bell, “Old Hearts Fresh,” Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Daniel Damiano, “Day of the Dog,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
Ken Page, “Cafe Chanson,” Upstream Theater
Lia Romano, “Connected,” HotCity Theatre
Margaret Stamell, “Childcare,” OnSite Theatre Company

DESIGN – COMEDY AND DRAMA
Outstanding Set Design:
Beowulf Boritt, “Fly,” the Rep
Tim Case, “The Whipping Man,” the Black Rep
John Ezell, “The Mousetrap,” the Rep
Paul Shortt, “Double Indemnity,” the Rep
Margery and Peter Spack, “Freud’s Last Session,” the Rep

Sense and Sensibility
Outstanding Costume Design:
Teresa Doggett, “King Lear,” St. Louis Actors' Studio
JC Krajicek, “Jane Eyre,” Mustard Seed Theatre
JC Krajicek, “Maple and Vine,” HotCity Theatre
Patricia McGourty, “Sense and Sensibility,” the Rep
David Kay Mickelsen, “Double Indemnity,” the Rep

Outstanding Lighting Design:
Maureen Berry, “The Good Doctor,” New Jewish Theatre
Rui Rita and Jake DeGroot, “Fly,” the Rep
James Sale, “Double Indemnity,” the Rep
Michael Sullivan, “Maple and Vine,” HotCity Theatre
Mark Wilson, “The Whipping Man,” the Black Rep

Jared Sanz-Agero (Actor).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of
RumZoo Photography
Outstanding Sound Design:
John Gromada, “Fly,” the Rep
Ben Marcum, “Freud’s Last Session,” the Rep
Ellie Schwetye, “The Woman in Black,” Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Rusty Wandall, “The Mousetrap,” the Rep
Rusty Wandall, “Venus in Fur,” the Rep

DESIGN – MUSICALS
Outstanding Set Design:
David Blake, “Little Shop of Horrors,” Stray Dog
Robert Mark Morgan, “West Side Story,” the Muny
Michael Schweikardt, “Cabaret,” the Rep
Margery and Peter Spack, “Shlemiel the First,” New Jewish
James Wolk, “Always . . . Patsy Cline,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Costume Design:
Dorothy Marshall Englis, “My Fair Lady,” Stages St. Louis
Alexandra Scibetta Quigley, “Little Shop of Horrors,” Stray Dog Theatre
James Schuette, “The Pirates of Penzance,” Opera Theatre of St. Louis
Michelle Friedman Siler, “Shlemiel the First,” New Jewish Theatre
Angela Wendt, “Cabaret,” the Rep

Outstanding Lighting Design (tie):
John Lasiter, “Cabaret,” the Rep
Rob Lippert, “Night of the Living Dead,” New Line Theatre
Sean Savoie, “Next to Normal,” New Line Theatre
Nathan W. Scheurer, “Les Miserables,” The Muny
Michael Sullivan, “All Is Calm,” Mustard Seed Theatre

Cast of "All Is Calm"
Photo credit: John Lamb
MUSICALS
Outstanding Musical Director:
Lisa Campbell-Albert, “Always . . . Patsy Cline,” Stages
Brad Haak, “South Pacific,” the Muny
James Moore, “West Side Story,” the Muny
Henry Palkes, “Shlemiel the First,” New Jewish Theatre
Joe Schoen, “All Is Calm,” Mustard Seed Theatre

Outstanding Choreographer:
Chris Bailey, “West Side Story,” the Muny
Sean Curran, “The Pirates of Penzance,” OTSL
Dana Lewis, “My Fair Lady,” Stages St. Louis
Jamie Lynn Marble Eros, “Little Shop of Horrors,” Stray Dog Theatre
Cecil Slaughter, “The Wiz,” the Black Rep

Outstanding Ensemble:
“All Is Calm,” Mustard Seed Theatre
“Cafe Chanson,” Upstream Theater
“Les Miserables,” the Muny
“My Fair Lady,” Stages St. Louis
“West Side Story,” the Muny

Outstanding Supporting Actress:
Mary Beth Black, “Next to Normal,” New Line Theatre
Natalie Cortez, “West Side Story,” the Muny
Johanna Elkana-Hale, “Shlemiel the First,” New Jewish Theatre
Mary Gordon Murray, “Cabaret,” the Rep
Zoe Vonder Haar, “Always . . . Patsy Cline,” Stages St. Louis

Antonio Rodriguez, “Cafe Chanson"
Photo credit: ProPhotoSTL
Outstanding Supporting Actor:
Ryan Foizey, “Next To Normal,” New Line Theatre
Marshall Jennings, “Parade,” R-S Theatrics
Edward Juvier, “My Fair Lady” Stages St. Louis
Rob McClure, “Shrek,” the Muny
Antonio Rodriguez, “Cafe Chanson,” Upstream Theater

Outstanding Actress:
Pamela Brumley, “My Fair Lady,” Stages St. Louis
Laura Michelle Kelly, “South Pacific,” the Muny
Jacqueline Petroccia, “Always . . . Patsy Cline,” Stages St. Louis
Deborah Sharn, “Gypsy,” Stray Dog Theatre
Kimi Short, “Next to Normal,” New Line Theatre

Hugh Panaro, “Les Miserables"
Photo credit: Larry Pry
Outstanding Actor:
Ben Davis, “South Pacific,” the Muny
Zachary Alan Farmer, “Bukowsical,” New Line Theatre
Norm Lewis, “Les Miserables,” the Muny
Hugh Panaro, “Les Miserables,” the Muny
Peter Winfrey, “Parade,” R-S Theatrics

Outstanding Director:
Gordon Greenberg, “West Side Story,” the Muny
Richard Jay-Alexander, “Les Miserables,” the Muny
Deanna Jent, “All Is Calm,” Mustard Seed Theatre
Scott Miller, “Next to Normal,” New Line Theatre
Ken Page, “Cafe Chanson,” Upstream Theater

Outstanding Production:
“All Is Calm,” Mustard Seed Theatre
“Cafe Chanson,” Upstream Theater
“Les Miserables,” the Muny
“South Pacific,” the Muny
“West Side Story,” the Muny

Special award for a unique theatrical experience: Em Piro and St. Lou Fringe

Special award for a body of work: Scott Miller, artistic director of New Line Theatre

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE AWAKENING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

St. Louisan Kate Chopin's novel, "The Awakening", was published in 1899, and is notable for being recognized as one of the earliest literary works of feminism. The story, scandalous in its time, centers on Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, anxious to get out from under the thumb of the repressive societal norms in late nineteenth century New Orleans. Chopin's novel was initially criticized and detrimental to her reputation, but has since become a critically acclaimed classic. Washington University's Henry I. Schvey gave this story its original adaptation for the stage in 2004, and St. Louis Actors' Studio gives the piece its first professional premiere -- a challenging adaptation with admirable results.

Edna (Emily Baker) and her family are vacationing at a resort on Grand Isle, not too far from their New Orleans home. With her husband Leonce (Terry Meddows) spending time away on business or at his club during the trip, Edna passes the time with her friend Adele Ratignolle (Maggie Murphy), and Robert Lebrun (Antonio Rodriguez), an amiable, flirtatious young man who helps manage the resort that his mother owns. Edna's also been been overcoming her fear of the water by getting swimming lessons from Robert, with whom she forms a connection. While still on vacation they all attend a concert featuring skilled pianist, the unconventional Mademoiselle Reisz (Christie Mitchell), and Edna is greatly moved by the music.

Emily Baker (Edna Pontellier)
and Maggie Murphy (Adele Ratignolle).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This experience, along with the breezy company of Adele, the attention from Robert, and her newfound freedom of the sea, leaves a lingering impression on Edna when the Pontelliers return to New Orleans. Edna begins to ignore her social duties, preferring to stay to herself, and instead of receiving guests she takes comfort in long solitary walks -- a move that brings reprimands from her husband. Through a growing friendship with, and encouragement from Mademoiselle Reisz, she decides to tend to her artistic spirit and takes up painting. Leonce, sure that something is wrong with his wife, seeks the help of Doctor Mandelet (Michael Monsey), who advises that Edna will be right as rain once her little rebellion has run its course. Leonce decides to leave Edna on her own and have the children stay at his mother's while he is away on business in New York, and during this time, Edna moves into a small house of her own and takes up the dreams she'd left behind. Her love of horses takes her to the racetrack, where she meets Alcee Arobin (Nathan Bush), a local ladies' man who starts to pay regular visits to Edna. SCANDALOUS! Breaking free from the societal shackles is invigorating for her, but in a constrained society, true satisfaction can still prove elusive.

Emily Baker (Edna Pontellier)
and Antonio Rodriguez (Robert Lebrun).
Photo credit: John Lamb
I would imagine that this novel was tough to adapt since the journey of Edna’s independence is such an internal one. Still, Baker firmly holds the center as Edna. Her frustration with her husband and her fondness of Robert and Alcee, along with her increasing sense of autonomy are all conveyed deftly, bringing the ideas in Edna's head front and center without Baker having to say a word. Meddows and Rodriguez are also solid as the baffled husband, and the would-be love interest who eventually finds it necessary to distance himself. Murphy delights as Adele, devoted to her husband and family, and Mitchell is amusing as the uppity Mademoiselle Reisz. Patrick Huber lights the set and his scenic design features a center pole hung with chairs, flanked by video screens. Michael B. Perkins's video design informs the different locations during the show, and Teresa Doggett's costumes are beautifully spot on.

Terry Meddows (Leonce Pontellier)
and Michael Monsey (Doctor Mandelet).
Photo credit: John Lamb
There are times when the pacing seems a little rushed, but again, bringing a novel like this to the stage is tricky, and Schvey's adaptation seems faithful to the book. If you've read the book, or even if you haven't, check it out at the History Museum. It's playing until the 23rd.


KATE CHOPIN’S THE AWAKENING

Written by Kate Chopin, adapted for the stage by Henry I. Schvey
Directed by Milton Zoth
through March 23 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast of "The Awakening"
Photo credit: John Lamb
Cast:
Emily Baker (Edna Pontellier), Terry Meddows* (Leonce Pontellier), Antonio Rodriguez (Robert Lebrun), Maggie Murphy (Adele Ratignolle), Christie Mitchell (Mademoiselle Reisz), Nathan Bush (Alcee Arobin), Michael Monsey (Doctor Mandelet), Molly Ross Fontana (Mariequita/Athenee).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Costume design by Teresa Doggett; scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; sound design by Robin Weatherall; movement, Cindy Duggan; props design by Carla Landis Evans; video design by Michael B. Perkins; stage manager, Sarah Lynne Holt.

Monday, March 10, 2014

RENT • New Line Theatre

New Line continues its 23rd season with Jonathan Larson's hugely popular, Pulitzer Prize, Tony-Award winning "Rent." Largely based on Henri Murger's collected stories, Scenes de la Vie de Bohème, that also gave life to the opera, La Bohème, "Rent" switches the location from Paris to New York City, examining the lives of "those on the margin" -- a group of young bohemians living in Manhattan's Alphabet City. Death, drug addiction, being broke and HIV-positive status are pervasive throughout, but "Rent" doesn't wallow in its own sorrow. Instead, this collective coming-of-age rock opera revels in joyous rebellion, with a score full of varied styles, strong melodies and rich harmonies.

I was admittedly one of those folks who didn't get all the hype around Rent after I saw it for the first time several years ago. Well, now I get it. The characters this time around, though dealing with major issues that would be tough for anyone, have an affable quality that was lacking the last time I saw it. Could it be because seeing a show like this in New Line's intimate space makes the theatre experience not just something you see, but something you feel? Yes. But it's also New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller's knack for gaining a deep understanding of whatever he puts his hands on, and translating that to his cast, who in turn translate that to us, reaching out to the audience, in this case literally, with invigorating connection. WAY better than the touring production. There. I said it.

Jeremy Hyatt (Mark), Marshall Jennings (Collins),
and Evan Fornachon (Roger).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
It's the late 80's on Christmas Eve, and the opening scene introduces us to Mark (Jeremy Hyatt), an aspiring filmmaker, and Roger (Evan Fornachon), a musician. They're roommates in an abandoned building in the East Village and Mark is embarking on a new documentary. Through Mark's film camera, we learn about their community of friends.

The sizable cast is uniformly excellent, and not only do they bring real vocal power to the ensemble numbers, including "Rent", "Another Day", and of course, "Seasons of Love", they capably fill in for various roles, whether it's Robert Lee Davis III playing a persistent squeegieman, or Wendy Greenwood as the pushy Alexi Darling who tries to recruit Mark for a job at a tabloid news show. In addition to the familiar New Liners we're used to seeing, including Zachary Allen Farmer, Ryan Foizey and Marcy Wiegert, who all contribute wonderfully to the ensemble, there are several new faces.

Anna Skidis (Mimi).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Hyatt and Fornachon serve as the anchors of this group, and while Hyatt portrays Mark, the incredibly likable loner, with "everyday American kid" enthusiasm and sincerity, Fornachon lends his sturdy, raw vocals to a bereft Roger, still grieving the loss of his girlfriend to suicide. He's hesitant about starting a new relationship with Mimi, an exotic dancer and drug addict, vibrantly portrayed by Anna Skidis. Skidis is often seen playing the goofball sidekick, and it was refreshing to see her in a role like this that shows off her unbridled range, and as usual, she excels. Her duet with Roger, "Light My Candle", is touching and sweetly funny, she kills "Out Tonight", and if you get a seat on the aisle, you might be lucky enough to get a lap dance. Just sayin'.

Mark's ex-girlfriend Maureen (Sarah Porter), a performance artist, has just dumped him for Joanne (Cody LaShea), a lawyer. Porter threatens to steal the show with her performance piece, "Over the Moon" along with her hilariously deadpan backup singers, Wiegert and Greenwood. LaShea's got a great presence onstage as Joanne and a strong voice, and her duet with Mark, "Tango: Maureen", was one of many highlights.

Luke Steingruby (Angel).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Marshall Jennings is impressive as Collins, a gay college professor who gets mugged on his way up to Mark and Roger's apartment. Immediate sparks fly when he meets Angel, a cross-dressing street musician who comes to his rescue, in a beautifully honest portrayal by Luke Steingruby. Jennings's smooth, deep vocals are well matched with Steingruby (who makes a gorgeous woman, by the way) in their duet, "I'll Cover You". Shawn Bowers turns in a solid performance as Benny, a former roommate of Roger and Mark's who marries into money and decides to buy the building to erect a cyber studio and evict the homeless from the lot next door. Over the course of the show, one year passes as this disarming group of friends connect, detach, and connect again, working their way through their challenges and losses.

Rob Lippert's scenic design features a round elevated platform center stage with graffiti-laden metal surroundings (thanks to artists William Wade, Kathleen Dwyer, Mitchell Matthews and Justin Foizey) and an upper level platform that evokes the East Village, and provides a good playing space for the cast. Lippert also lights the set to great effect, including a nifty little trash can fire that Mark and Roger set to keep warm. Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert's costume design is spot on for the number of characters, and Kerrie Mondy's sound design complements the overall vibe of the show. Last, but not least, under the reliable direction of Justin Smolik, the New Line Band pulls their weight -- nicely balanced with the ensemble, full, and tight as hell. 

Sarah Porter (Maureen).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Miller and assistant director, Mike Dowdy, have hit a home run, so basically, you need to just go see it. And quickly, because it's selling like crazy. It's up until the 23rd. I mentioned that they made me a believer, right? Get a ticket. Now!


RENT

Music/book/lyrics by Jonathan Larson  
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through March 23 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Cast:
Jeremy Hyatt (Mark), Evan Fornachon (Roger), Anna Skidis (Mimi), Luke Steingruby (Angel), Marshall Jennings (Collins), Sarah Porter (Maureen), Cody LaShea (Joanne), Shawn Bowers (Benny), Kevin Corpuz, Robert Lee Davis III, Zachary Allen Farmer, Ryan Foizey, Wendy Greenwood, Melissa Harris, Nellie Mitchell, and Marcy Wiegert.

Jeremy Hyatt (Mark) and the cast of "RENT."
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Creative:
Assistant director, Mike Dowdy; scenic and lighting design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert; sound design by Kerrie Mondy; "Tango: Maureen: choreographer, Robin Michelle Berger; props by Alison Helmer; stage manager, Gabe Taylor.

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Justin Smolik; lead guitar, D. Mike Bauer; bass, Vince Clark; rhythm guitar, Aaron Doerr; percussion, Clancy Newell.

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