Thursday, May 29, 2014

THE HOMECOMING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Playwright Harold Pinter's works have fallen into a category called, "Comedy of Menace". STLAS's current production, "The Homecoming", exemplifies this definition, proving that nearly fifty years after the play's London premiere, this family struggle for dominance and sexual power still has the capacity to jar, amuse and disquiet. Love…

The patriarch of this noxious clan is Max (Peter Mayer), a widower, retired butcher and withering pillar of strength in suspenders trying to maintain supremacy in his bleak North London home. He rules with constant jabs from his armchair throne, and the threat for the top-dog spot comes from his icy son Lenny (Charlie Barron), a violent pimp who wears a perpetual smirk of contempt. Max's youngest son Joey (Nathan Bush), a dimwitted aspiring boxer, and his brother Sam (Larry Dell), a docile chauffeur, also live in the house and pose no threat, but are subjected to Max's tyranny nonetheless. The wrangling for the upper-hand shifts when Max's eldest son Teddy (Ben Ritchie) brings his wife of six years, Ruth (Missy Heinemann), back to his home in the middle of the night.

Charlie Barron (Lenny), Larry Dell (Sam), Nathan Bush (Joey),
Peter Mayer (Max), Ben Ritchie (Teddy)
and Missy Heinemann (Ruth).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The family had no idea that Teddy, a philosophy professor now living in America, was married with three sons of his own, and the presence of a woman in the house is something these guys haven't had for some time. After Max initially thinks that Ruth is a prostitute hired for a little cavorting, Teddy properly introduces her as his wife. With the matriarch of the family long gone, remembered by Max with a mixture of attraction and repulsion, the boys readjust to the female energy in the place, answering overt flirtations from Ruth (formerly a "photographic model for the body") with animal-like ogling one moment and yielding reverence the next.

Peter Mayer (Max), Charlie Barron (Lenny), Ben Ritchie (Teddy),
Nathan Bush (Joey) and Larry Dell (Sam).
Photo credit: John Lamb
You have to wonder if Teddy is as shocked by his family's behavior as we are. Probably not. I mean, he knows these guys -- not that that makes the resolution any less bizarre -- a resolution that sends Teddy back to America alone. After being abroad, engaged in intellectual stimulation with his teaching, Teddy's return seems unsettling for him, rendering him ineffectual, while Ruth, who describes the States as a vast landscape of rocks and insects, makes you wonder just whose homecoming this is. Actually, this play will make you wonder a lot. Flecked with Pinter's heavy trademark pauses that weigh as much as the dialogue, the baffling choices made are just something you gotta see in person. 

Under Milton Zoth's skillfully balanced direction, this proficient cast creates distinctly drawn characters with wonderful chemistry. Max is a nasty fella, and Mayer's verbal barrages cut deep, but then he turns on a dime to reveal a sad, sad man. Dell makes for a dead-on counterpoint to his brother Max, meek in action and speech, brushing up against the higher circles through his job -- a dove to Max's hawk. Barron is a standout as a snarky, stony-eyed Lenny, and he attacks and defends against his father like a dog in a pen that's too small. Heinemann's Ruth navigates this group of men maintaining a firm hold of the reins, doling out measures of mothering affection and sexually provocative teasing. Ritchie as the oldest son Teddy, who calibrates to his family with much less ease, does a marvelous job, almost standing in for the audience with his expressions -- almost helpless and unwilling to stand in opposition too strongly. Nathan Bush rounds out the cast as Joey, a dense pushover, breathing through a slightly parted mouth with a humorously blank face. Patrick Huber's scenic and lighting design underline the rundown conditions of the house, with the costume design of Carla Landis Evans complementing each character.

Charlie Barron (Lenny), Peter Mayer (Max),
Missy Heinemann (Ruth), Ben Ritchie (Teddy),
Larry Dell (Sam) and Nathan Bush (Joey).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This classic, meaty story may leave you feeling like you've been sucker punched, but go on -- sink your teeth in. It's running at the Gaslight until June 8th. 


THE HOMECOMING

Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Milton Zoth
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through June 8 | tickets: $30.25 - $35.25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Cast:
Peter Mayer* (Max), Missy Heinemann (Ruth), Charlie Barron (Lenny), Nathan Bush (Joey), Larry Dell (Sam) and Ben Ritchie (Teddy).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic/lighting design by Patrick Huber; costume/props design by Carla Landis Evans; sound design by Robin Weatherall; fight choreography by Shawn Sheley; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

PRAYER FOR THE GUN BUG • OnSite Theatre Company

OnSite Theatre's current offering, "Prayer for the Gun Bug" will satisfy the minds and bellies of theatre adventurers. In keeping with the company's tradition of presenting site-specific theatre, this one takes place at Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant on South Grand. This world premiere collection of short plays written by Carter Lewis, playwright-in-residence at Washington University, includes dashes of the surreal in each play, making for a savory production that's easy to sit back, take in, and enjoy. With some tasty Ethiopian food!

"No-Preying" finds Heddie (Peggy Billo) and her friend Agatha (Jacqueline Thompson) nibbling and gossiping about the latest happenings at Meskerem's, recently the source of a controversy about whether or not prayer should be allowed in the restaurant. With a "No Praying" sign above the door, Heddie and Agatha, an atheist and agnostic respectively, spar about spiritual beliefs and behavioral instincts, when a giant mantis (Pete Winfrey) in black leather with huge eyes, folded fore-limbs and all, enters the room. Yep -- one of these guys, only way better dressed. The arrival of this huge bug drives the conversation about spirituality to a whole different and unexpected level.

After an intermission, Evelyn (Billo) and Alex (Gary Wayne Barker) are discussing the state of our crowded little planet in the second play, "A Geometric Digression of the Species". With a world count of around 6 billion people, Frank and Evelyn are convinced that there's no way humanity will be able to meet the demands of a constantly growing population. Their agreement concerning the theories of Thomas Malthus aside, this married couple has contributed their fair share to the population with eleven kids of their own, leaving Alex with a longing to carve out a little private space for himself and Evelyn thirsty for intimacy. Their cravings become evident once they are asked to leave the restaurant because there's no room for them. Anywhere in the restaurant. And no room for parking, either. I know, right? I said it was surreal. Hello, Malthusian catastrophe.

"Art Control", following the second intermission, finds Donna (Thompson) having a hard time focusing on the conversation with her husband, Frank (Barker). Donna's been patiently waiting for her gluten-free injera, but is abruptly brushed off by their waiter (Winfrey). When Donna finally becomes truly and highly annoyed, she pulls a gun on the waiter to make her point clear. Turns out the waiter's packing too, along with Frank. The standoff ends when Officer Joe (Paul Edwards) comes to the rescue. He's got no gun, but he does have a clicker. What?! Things get seriously meta when an audience member (Billo) calls bullshit on the whole thing, making fun of the actors, calling out the writer, and demanding a more satisfying end to the proceedings. WHAT?! Seeing "the fourth wall" completely obliterated is fun, and Billo's character adds some spice to this piece that threatens to meander, and completes an overall entertaining night out.

Lewis made some slight adjustments to his one-acts to accommodate the cozy surroundings of Meskerem's, and along with Bill Whitaker's breezy direction and the energy of a solid and fearless cast, OnSite continues its tradition of presenting unique theatre boldly. Also, Robert Van Dillen is credited with costume design, notably Winfrey's awesome praying mantis getup.

For some yummy Ethiopian cuisine and the kind of theatre experience that only OnSite can offer, check it out! It's running until the 25th.


PRAYER FOR THE GUN BUG

Written by Carter Lewis
Directed by Bill Whitaker
Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant, 3210 S. Grand Blvd.
through May 25 | tickets: $30
Performances Fridays -- May 16 and 23 at 9pm, Saturdays -- 17 and 24 at 4pm and 9pm, Sundays -- 18 and 25 at 2pm

Cast:
Peggy Billo* (Heddie/Evelyn/Audience Member #1), Gary Wayne Barker* (Alex/Frank), Paul Edwards (Waiter #2/Officer Joe), Jacqueline Thompson (Agatha/Valet/Donna) and Pete Winfrey (Mantis/Waiter #1).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Costume design by Robert Van Dillen; stage manager, Linda Menard.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

BACHELORETTE • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

The display of alcohol fueled bitchiness among women is nothing new, but the vicious appetites of the three women featured in Leslye Headland's play firmly places the dark in dark comedy. When four high school friends get together for a bachelorette party night of self-indulgence, the sting of life's letdowns are veiled behind booze, pot, cocaine, random sex and a meanness that makes The Real Housewives look like choir girls.

Regan (Ellie Schwetye), Gena (Cara Barresi) and Katie (Wendy Renée Greenwood) were the popular girls back in the day, and now these post-collegiate friends meet up to celebrate the pre-wedding festivities of their "friend", the bride-to-be, Becky (Jamie Fritz). Gena and Katie had a falling out with Becky years earlier and are crashing the party, invited by Regan, the maid of honor. These three are already half-past plastered by the time they reach their posh Manhattan hotel room, provided by Becky, and once they realize that there is enough chilled champagne for at least 2 bottles each, it. is. on.

Cara Barresi (Gena), Wendy Renée Greenwood (Katie)
and Ellie Schwetye (Regan).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of RumZoo Photography
Gena, trying to recover from a recent breakup, is used to turning heads when she walks into a room, and shows only the faintest glimmer of self-awareness while Katie, the ultimate party girl and former prom queen, now works in retail, lives with her folks, and careens out of control by the end of the night. Regan seems to be the most promising of the three -- an alpha bitch with a long time doctor-to-be boyfriend and a good job, who wonders why Becky is the one who gets to get married.

Their one unanimously declared advantage that they hang onto is the fact that unlike Becky, they're not fat. After a thorough trashing of Becky and a detailed discussion about blow jobs, a couple of guys that Regan picked up join the happenings, determined to get laid. Jeff (Jared Sanz-Agero) is the arrogant one, but manages to carry on a reasonable exchange with Regan, at least long enough to get her in the sack. The good-hearted pot-head named Joe (Carl Overly, Jr.) bonds with Katie over cell phone selfies and a few hits of weed. The activities near a fever pitch just as Becky, who's been spending time with her fiancé, drops in to check up on her maid of honor. Oy.

Jared Sanz-Agero (Jeff) and Ellie Schwetye (Regan).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of RumZoo Photography
Director Rachel Tibbetts (also the sound designer) draws out the malicious best in her cast, and though the pacing is a little rushed at the start, intensified by the echoey space, the tempo settles in about a quarter of the way into the play. Barresi, Greenwood and Schwetye turn in great performances and make for a fearsome threesome. Tibbetts and Schwetye are responsible for the swanky scenic design, Bess Moynihan handles the lighting design and Tracey Newcomb-Margrave is credited for the wedding dress construction.  I won't even tell you what happens with the dress…

Wendy Renée Greenwood (Katie) and Carl Overly, Jr. (Joe).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of RumZoo Photography
How appropriate that this play falls within SATE's “Season of the Monster”. Monsters indeed. They remind me of those girls whom you DID NOT want to cross in high school, while the thought of being friends with them was even less palatable. It's one hell of an entertaining evening, but don't bring the kids. This is the last weekend to check it out!


BACHELORETTE

Written by Leslye Headland
Directed by Rachel Tibbetts
through May 17 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Jamie Fritz (Becky).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of RumZoo Photography
Cast:
Cara Barresi (Gena), Wendy Renée Greenwood (Katie), Ellie Schwetye (Regan), Jared Sanz-Agero (Jeff), Carl Overly, Jr. (Joe) and Jamie Fritz (Becky).

Creative:
Lighting design by Bess Moynihan; scenic design by Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts; sound design by Rachel Tibbetts; wedding dress construction by Tracey Newcomb-Margrave; stage manager, Mollie Amburgey.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 2! • Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company

This past weekend, Theatre Lab & Players Project Theatre Company teamed up for the second installment of the 24 Hour Play Festival, held at Webster Groves High School. This is one of those cool, one-night-only theatre things that I'm always telling my friends about.

The deal is, 5 writers are given a genre, setting and a line that has to be incorporated into the script. (The audience doesn't know what the line is until the performance.) The writers have 7 days to complete a 10 or so minute play, and the randomly selected directors and actors have 24 hours to memorize, stage and rehearse it before performing the plays for the public the next day. Love, right? Not only does the festival result in five new works, it's also a special night of fresh theatre for the audience, and a blast for the artists who come together to work on their pieces.

There was a humorous thread of offing other people than ran through many of the plays, starting with "In", written by Spencer Green and directed by Edie Avioli, with Sarah Porter, Rachel Hanks and Amy Kelly in a murderous pact to whack each others' boyfriends. Their boyfriends may not be cheating on them at the moment, but they will eventually, so why not adjust the gender balance of the world and get rid of 'em now? These three received an award at the end of the night (listed below) for Best Ensemble.

In "Preserver", written by Rachel Fenton, the blossoming relationship between two men play out in a studio apartment. Director Christina Rios Kelley had the toughest challenge, with the play being sans dialogue. The actors mouthed words, silent movie style, with accompanying film projector sound effects and written titles. Evan Fornachon, whom we see moving into a new apartment at the start, and Carl Overly Jr., his eventual boyfriend, do great work with an exacting script.

"About Time", written by Steve Peirick and directed by Todd Schaefer, starts with Wendy Renée Greenwood breaking into a bar. She soon meets Evan Kuhn's character, the son of the former owner, saddled with the responsibilities of a bar that's slated to close down for good in a day. These two have suffered recent losses, and the comfort within the walls of that bar, holding memories for both, was very nicely translated, with Greenwood and Peirick receiving awards.

"Twin Pines", a zestfully wacky melodrama written by Zak Farmer and directed by Ryan Foizey, finds three friends, Nick Kelly, Brian Claussen and Sarajane Alverson, in a park commemorating the loss of their good friend. Whom they killed a few years earlier. After they establish the reality of what's going on, they individually profess their undying love for another member of this tri-friendship -- spotlit and… well… very melodramatic. And then there was some more murder. It was hilarious.

"The Animal" finds the tension between married couple, played by Terry Meddows and Rachel Tibbetts, so thick you could cut it with a knife. The hen-pecked husband crumbles at the weight of his wife's taunts, entertaining bad thoughts with a puppet. You heard me. Written by Carl Wickman and directed by Michael Amoroso, it was a perfect ending to a great night of new plays.

Basically, theatre-lovers are pretty lucky in this town -- in addition to the number of companies here, there are a few of these troupes that host annual new play festivals. The fact that this one has that 24 hour spin on it makes this festival all the more exciting to see. Keep an eye out for the next one -- Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company plan to make a habit of this. Yay!!


24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 2!

Writers: Spencer Green, Rachel Fenton, Steve Peirick, Zak Farmer and Carl Wickman.

Directors: Edie Avioli, Christina Rios Kelley, Todd Schaefer, Ryan Foizey and Michael Amoroso.

Actors: Evan Fornachon, Carl Overly Jr., Evan Kuhn, Nick Kelly, Brian Claussen and Terry Meddows.

Actresses: Sarah Porter, Rachel Hanks, Amy Kelly, Wendy Renée Greenwood, Sarajane Alverson and Rachel Tibbetts.

Creative:
Lights - Ryan Tuminnello, sound - Jonah Schnell, musical entertainment by Chris Sears. 

Awards:
Best Actor - Evan Fornachon
Best Actress - Wendy Renée Greenwood
Best Director - Ryan Foizey
Best Writer - Steve Peirick
Best Ensemble - Sarah Porter, Rachel Hanks and Amy Kelly.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

WINDMILL BABY • Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater continues its "Down Under" season with Australian playwright David Milroy's "Windmill Baby". Upstream once again ushers in a US premiere that was first presented in 2005 in Perth, Australia. This one-woman show revolves around Maymay Starr (Linda Kennedy), an Aboriginal woman who has returned to the cattle station where she spent her youth to put some unfinished business to rest.

After her daughter drops her off and she has a good look around the dusty and broken down homestead, the business she starts with is hanging up some very old, long-dry laundry she finds in a washtub. Hanging up the washing for the Missus is something Maymay's all too familiar with, and the busy work gives her a chance to recall 50 years of bottled up memories about the relationships she formed during the service to her ill-tempered boss on this now deserted patch of western Australia.

Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
She and the other workers at the station labored like slaves, but Maymay thinks back on her memories with nostalgic affection, and brings several characters to life along the way, including fond memories of a shopping trip with Malvern, the stockman and Maymay's eventual husband, Sally, the homestead cook who proved a little competition for Malvern's affections, a memorable night at a tea party hosted by the kind-hearted Missus, Wunman, the crippled gardener who has an undying affection for the boss's wife, wise old Aunty Darballa, and even the loyal camp mutt, a dingo named Skitchim. As the stories unfold, the business of her trip narrows, encompassed in an arching tale of servitude, love and the tragedies and consequences of the time.

Kennedy deftly strings together the recollections in Milroy's script, changing in tone and physicality on a dime, singing and dancing, pulling in an audience member for a charming onstage lesson, and inhabiting each memory with compelling characterization and connection. Patrick Huber's scenic design of the cattle station features the rusty remnants of an old bed, clothesline and fence, a wooden cart in what was once Wunman's garden, and the looming base of the windmill, with Tony Anselmo's lighting design shifting along with Maymay's memories, with subtle shadows of the windmill blades. Farshid Soltanshahi serves as the sole musician and composer, underscoring the action with a rich texture of sounds, filling in for everything from the sounds of the windmill blades when the wind kicks up to the ringtone on Maymay's cell phone.

Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
I think I've mentioned this before, but one-person shows tend to give me pause. I mean, holding an audiences' attention for a while is a daunting task after all, right? Well, Linda Kennedy is up to it, and then some, and it's always nice to have my presumed reservations blown the hell up. Check out this enchanting premiere that runs until the 11th.


WINDMILL BABY 

Written by David Milroy
Directed by Philip Boehm
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through May 11 | tickets: $20 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm, May 11 3pm only

Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak

Cast:
Linda Kennedy* (Maymay Starr).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Patrick Huber; costume design by Keaton Treece; lighting design by Tony Anselmo; prop design by Claudia Horn; stage manager, Patrick Siler.

Musician:
Guitar, harmonica, kora, kalimba, tar, slide instruments, Farshid Soltanshahi.

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