Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ALL IN THE TIMING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Playwright David Ives plays fast and loose with the concepts of time and language in his zesty collection of six one-act comedies. You have an idea of what you're getting into when you see Patrick Huber’s set adorned with scenic artist, Cristie Johnston's Salvador Dalí-like melting clock on the floor of the Gaslight's stage, backed by a blue sky with clouds. Fasten your seat belts, please.

The first play, "Sure Thing", opens with strangers meeting in a cafe. As Bill (Ben Ritchie) tries an opening line on Betty (Emily Baker), to no avail, the ringing of an offstage bell reboots their conversation over and over.  "Is this chair taken?" -- "Yes" turns into "Is this chair taken?" -- "No, but I'm expecting somebody in a minute" -- and they make their way through blunders, pretension and disinterest, posing questions and answers in different ways, until a romantic spark is finally ignited, with Ritchie and Baker's performances turning on a dime.

Friday, September 19, 2014

PURLIE • The Black Rep

Ossie Davis’s Tony Award winning musical debuted in 1970, and is based on the play, “Purlie Victorious", that he wrote in 1961. The Black Rep gives this uplifting show about freedom and tenacity a rousing production.

We start at the funeral of Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee (Jim Anthony), the late, cocky, bull-whip wielding owner of a cotton plantation in rural Georgia. Purlie Victorious (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) is conducting the service, and though everyone's convinced the Cap'n is probably frying in hell right about now, Purlie and the congregation that toiled under his service, are giving him a fine send-off in the gospel-flavored opening number, "Walk Him Up the Stairs". From here, we're taken back to Purlie's quest to buy back the local church his father started, Big Bethel, from the hands of Cotchipee. There's a $500 inheritance that's due to Purlie's deceased Cousin Bea, so he plans to fool Ol' Cap'n into handing over the money to an impersonator, Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins (Alicia Revé). Lutiebelle is straight out of Alabama and as country as a chicken coop, but willing to do anything to help out Purlie, whom she becomes very fond of. Purlie also enlists the help of his brother Gitlow (J. Samuel Davis) and Gitlow's wife Missy (Kimmie Kidd) to pull off the scheme, with Cotchipee's own son Charlie (Greg Matzker) playing his part in the plot.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

THE NORMAL HEART • HotCityTheatre

It's been nearly thirty years since Larry Kramer's autobiographical play about the early brutal days of the HIV-AIDS crisis debuted off-Broadway, but this smoldering indictment of the failure of bureaucrats to acknowledge the epidemic, the silence of the press, and the apathy of the gay community has lost none of its muscle in HotCity's potent current production.

The play hinges on Ned Weeks (John Flack), an outspoken writer and activist at heart who serves as the proxy for Kramer, who co-founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis in 1982. Ned wrangles a group of his friends together to form a support organization to get out as much information as they can about this savage disease that was claiming the lives of gay men at a staggering rate. While Ned's confrontational approach frustrates his friends, Dr. Emma Brookner (Lavonne Byers) is one of the first in his corner. She's the victim of another virus -- polio, and is among the first doctors to try to treat men in NYC showing early symptoms of a disease with no name. Ned's brother Ben (Greg Johnston), a rich lawyer, helps him get the organization off the ground, but the long-held tensions between these two start to show once Ned asks his brother for public backing from his firm. While Ned struggles with his brother and the members of his group, and the New York Times continues to bury the story at the back of the paper, and the public officials continue to vilify those who have lost their lives to the disease, Ned meets and falls for Felix (Eric Dean White), a closeted New York Times fashion and style reporter, who eventually notices a purple lesion on his foot.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

FIRST LADY SUITE • R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics has never been a company to shy away from unconventional material, and its current St. Louis premiere production is no exception. Composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa dismantles four iconic First Ladies of the United States, along with their friends and associates, in four imaginative, if not bizarre vignettes. LaChiusa, a self-professed "first lady-ologist", riffs off of nuggets of truth and rumor found in each of the first ladies featured (Jacqueline Kennedy, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt), and adds a rhythmically tricky and melodically atypical score that the cast can sink their teeth into, in an off-the-wall chamber musical that's anything but standard musical theatre fare. Love.

After a prologue with past first ladies flanking the current one, "Over Texas" starts with Mary Gallagher (Katie Donnelly) aboard Air Force One, missing her cat and bemoaning the demands of being personal secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy (Christina Rios) to a politely listening Evelyn Lincoln (Kay Love), the secretary to JFK. While exhausted and trapped in her service to Kennedy, Mary is giddy about having tea on the president's plane, and hopeful at the prospect of one day getting to ride in the motorcade.

Monday, September 1, 2014

HUMAN TERRAIN • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed kicks off its season with a world-premiere by Jennifer Blackmer that focuses on an anthropologist embedded with a military unit in Iraq. The story is fictional, but the program is real. Established in 2006, a United States Army program called The Human Terrain System employs social sciences personnel to provide the military with some understanding of the local culture.

Mabry (Melissa Gerth) is the anthropologist -- a new PhD and skilled linguist, who spent her time in the army under the command of hard-nosed Captain Alford (B. Weller) -- sometimes at odds with her purpose, but well-intentioned. Along with ordering her to wear a sidearm for her own protection, he assigns a young soldier named Detty (Taylor Campbell) to accompany her as an armed escort. Both of these mandates make her job of winning the hearts and minds of the locals more challenging, but Mabry manages to do some good, and meets and forms a tentative friendship with Adiliah (Wendy Greenwood), an Iraqi woman. All of this is played out in flashback. When the play opens, Mabry finds herself in a small room, worn out and confused, and back in the States being questioned by a DA named Kate (Dawn Campbell) about a bombing in Fallujah, and her allegiance is questioned.

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