Sunday, November 23, 2014

ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 • Mustard Seed Theatre

"All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914", was originally presented as a radio show on Minnesota Public Radio by the vocal ensemble, Cantus and Theatre Latte Da, until Mustard Seed Theatre gave this a cappella musical a fully staged production last year. The musical's text is comprised of letters and historic documents associated with a brief truce that occurred during World War I on Christmas Eve, with songs ranging from folk tunes and traditional carols to patriotic hymns and ballads. It remains, like last season's production, an aural feast.

Everyone from last season's award winning ensemble cast (and practically all of the crew) is back for this season's revival, and along with an additional number ("Good-By-Ee"), there are also several subtle changes in the staging that enhance the presentation. The show is broken down into sections -- "The Optimistic Departure", "The Grim Reality ", "Christmas", "The Truce", "The Return to Battle", and an Epilogue. Within these sections, the audience is taken through the soldiers' nervous excitement heading out on the open sea to battle the Germans (a battle that many thought would be over with by Christmas), the bleak gloom of war at the front -- from rat infested trenches and sniper fire to the loss of comrades, the short truce on Christmas Eve where cigarettes, rum and gifts were exchanged, along with a lively game of football, and the sobering joint burial of the dead. Once superior officers find out about the fraternization of the troops, they put an end to it, bringing the saddening return to battle.

Luke Steingruby, Gary Glasgow, Shawn Bowers,
Christopher Hickey, Charlie Barron, Jason Meyers,
Tim Schall, J. Samuel Davis,
(front row) Jeffrey Wright and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Under Joe Schoen's musical direction, the voices of this cast of 10, including Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis, Gary Glasgow, Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright, are exceptional. They marvelously handle songs with gentle, solemn harmonies like, "The Old Barbed Wire" and "I Want to Go Home". Then there are songs that begin in unison and blossom into these full, thick chords several notes deep with refreshing harmony turns and chill-inducing dynamic changes like the haunting prologue,"Will Ye Go to Flanders?", "Wassail" (my fave), "Auld Lang Syne" and "Silent Night", that fluidly dissolves during the last quarter of the number into the titular "All Is Calm". The monologues work into the music so easily, it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Love. There's also much mirth to be had in songs and passages in last half of "Christmas in the Camp" and "Good King Wenceslas", and a special shout out to Antonio Rodriguez for his solo, "Minuit chr├ętiens (O Holy Night)". I said this last year and I'll say it again -- if the hair on the back of your neck doesn't stand on end, it's very likely that there's something wrong with you.

Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Shawn Bowers,
Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall, Charlie Barron,
Jeffrey Wright, Luke Steingruby and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Deanna Jent's direction spreads the spoken text aptly among the cast who handle the many dialects required, with the help of dialect coach Richard Lewis, quite well for the most part, with standouts that include Barron, Glasgow, Hickey and Meyers. Jane Sullivan outfits the cast in authentic attire, and Kyra Bishop's effective scenic design of barbed wire, barricades and crates, along with "no man's land" in the middle, is evocatively lit by Michael Sullivan, highlighting the solos, and depicting stars and the illumination of mortar fire against a backdrop. All of these creative elements, with a seamless integration of songs and dialogue, make for an affecting night of theater -- perfect for the Holiday season.

If you saw it last year, it's worth seeing again. If you haven't, it's not to be missed. Aural feast, I'm tellin' ya! It's playing until December 21st.

Christopher Hickey, Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall,
Jason Meyers, J. Samuel Davis, Luke Steingruby,
Shawn Bowers, Jeffrey Wright, Antonio Rodriguez
and Charlie Barron.
Photo credit: John Lamb
ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

By Peter Rothstein
Musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach 
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through December 21 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 5pm

Cast:
Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis*, Gary Glasgow*, Christopher Hickey*, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall*, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright.
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Musical direction by Joe Schoen; scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; dialect coach, Richard Lewis; props manager, Meg Brinkley; stage manager, Jessica Haley.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

THE RESIDENTS OF CRAIGSLIST • ERA

Experimental theatre company, Equally Represented Arts, is currently staging an original piece created entirely from Craigslist ads. Yep, you heard me. Artistic director Lucy Cashion and associate artistic director Will Bonfiglio have sifted through local Craigslist posts and adapted a variety of entries into a unique one-act play.

Performed at the AlphaBetaClub on a no-frills set with chili pepper lights, a couple stacks of phonebooks, a few lawn chairs, and a drawn outline of a house, six actors (Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro and Ryan Wiechmann) give life to a wide array of advertisements -- people trying to get rid of stuff, people looking for stuff, people looking to escape their past, or create their futures, and of course, the "casual encounters". There's no plot to speak of, but the passages range from spurned lovers and heartbreaking loners, to groups who gather to gossip, ponder the supernatural, hook up, or rant. Taken as a whole, these stories, no matter how wacky some of them are, are relatable because they all center on the shared common denominator of people trying to connect. Directed by Cashion, the members of the ensemble work wonderfully together in their moments as a choreographed chorus, and shine in their individual representations, painting vibrant portraits of the Craigslist denizens.

Ryan Wiechmann, Natasha Toro,
Will Bonfiglio, Ellie Schwetye, Cara Barresi and Mitch Eagles.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
The play threatens to overstay its welcome near the end, and the accompanying music drowns out the performers on occasion, but this quirky play, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad and sometimes raunchy, is worth checking out for something different. It's a short run, so you've only got one more chance to check it out!


THE RESIDENTS OF CRAIGSLIST

Written by Lucy Cashion and Will Bonfiglio
Directed by Lucy Cashion
AlphaBetaClub, 2618 N 14th Street
through November 16 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Wednesday to Sunday at 8pm

Cast:
Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro and Ryan Wiechmann.

Creative:
Lighting design by Erik Kuhn.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A KID LIKE JAKE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

The Rep's Studio season kicks off with Daniel Pearle's skillfully crafted one-act drama, "A Kid Like Jake", and begins with Alex (Leigh Williams) frantically brooding over a table full of applications for her son. The rat race of getting your kid accepted into a good private school is fraught with pressure, you understand -- even if the schools you're applying to are pre-schools. But Pearle's play is about much more than this.

Alex, an ex-lawyer who is now a stay-at-home mom, and her husband Greg (Alex Hanna), a clinical psychologist, are trying to place their gifted 4-year-old son Jake, never seen onstage, into one of Manhattan's prestigious kindergartens. Jake has excelled in all of the tests these schools require, but he loves Disney movies and favors dressing up as Cinderella or Snow White as opposed to your run of the mill pirate costumes for Halloween, and his penchant for Disney princesses over GI Joe has been getting him into a couple of scuffles with the other kids at school.
Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Judy (Susan Pellegrino), a friend of the family and administrator at Jake's current pre-school, suggests that his "gender-variant play" might help him stand out and offer a bit of the diversity these esteemed pre-schools are looking for, but Alex and Greg's reaction to their son's tendencies take increasingly diverse paths during the course of the play. Alex is convinced that her son is just going through a phase, and Greg, willing to accept that Jake's inclinations may be more than just a phase, favors therapy to help Jake work through the taunts he's been getting from other kids, and the stress the family is going through from Alex's new pregnancy.

Susan Pellegrino (Judy), Leigh Williams (Alexandra)
and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Pearle, endowed with a great ear for dialogue that rings true, strikes a full round of emotional notes in his play. Seth Gordon's nimble direction keeps the play running at an engaging clip, and Hanna and Williams display a palpable chemistry that draws you to these parents, so that later when the tensions that rise between them reach an emotional apex, you're completely invested. Pellegrino gives a wonderfully shaded performance as a well-intentioned Judy, and Jacqueline Thompson completes the cast as a warmhearted nurse who consoles Alex during her difficult pregnancy. Gianni Downs makes great use of the Rep's studio stage providing backdrops and set inserts that stand in as the couple's house, Judy's office and a waiting room. Lou Bird's modern costume design, John Wylie's agile lighting design and Rusty Wandall's sound design and original music round out the production's sharp creative contributions.

Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
"A Kid Like Jake" may play out against a backdrop of privilege, but the topic at the center is a challenging one, and here, executed with polish. You've only got this weekend to check it out at the Rep Studio.


A KID LIKE JAKE

Written by Daniel Pearle
Directed by Seth Gordon
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 16 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Cast:
Alex Hanna* (Greg), Susan Pellegrino* (Judy), Jacqueline Thompson (the nurse), Leigh Williams* (Alexandra)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Gianni Downs; costume design by Lou Bird; lighting design by John Wylie; original music and sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

CHANCERS • Max & Louie Productions

After a debut in Ireland last year, Max & Louie Productions gives Robert Massey's "Chancers" its US premiere. In it, a married couple are having a rough time making ends meet, and this comedy proves that good jobs go to the young, the rich get richer, and nice guys finish last.

Aiden (Nathan Bush) and Dee (Pamela Reckamp) own Farrell's Quickstop, a convenience store in Kildare, Ireland, but economic times have forced them to rent out their house to make a little money and live out of two back storerooms of the shop. In the opening scene, Dee gets ready for her first job interview in years, and Aiden busies himself setting up the store for customers who won't come. About the only customer they do have is Gertie (Donna Weinsting), the neighborhood nag, who made a ton of money off of a shrewd property deal, and now she visits the Quickstop for her sausage sandwich, to throw her (hilarious) foul-mouthed criticism around, and remind the couple how much their lives suck. When Aiden discovers that Gertie has her hands on a winning lottery ticket, his buddy JP (Jared Sanz-Agero), also suffering from Ireland's economic downturn, advises him that they should get a hold of that ticket by any means necessary. Aiden has serious reservations about JP's ballsy plan, but once Dee signs off on it, after her job prospects dwindle and a bombshell she drops in the second act, an urgency is cleverly added that propels the threesome to consider the boldest of moves.

Nathan Bush (Aiden), Pamela Reckamp (Dee),
Donna Weinsting (Gertie) and Jared Sanz-Agero (JP).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Under Sydnie Grosberg Ronga's direction, there are fine performances from this tight cast of four, starting with Bush as Aiden, a good husband and father who reacts to JP's suggestions with wide-eyed resistance. Reckamp is convincing as Dee, as is her chemistry with Bush, and their fear of how they will make it. Sanz-Agero provides a lot of humor as the conniving JP, who coincidentally was once engage to Dee, and Weinsting is reliably uproarious as Gertie, the town harpy. Margery & Peter Spack's scenic design presents a fully realized convenience store, from the tatty "save", "half-price" and "deal" signs to the colorful stringer pennants. Also, there's nothing like a well executed Irish brogue (love), and these four handle it with ease. The hardships and moral dilemmas the characters face in Massey's play are real, and the comic spin, for the most part, works well. It's a fun play that shows how far good people will go to get their due, playing until the 16th at the Kranzberg.


Nathan Bush (Aiden) and Jared Sanz-Agero (JP).
Photo credit: John Lamb
CHANCERS

Written by Robert Massey
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through November 16 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Nathan Bush (Aiden), Pamela Reckamp* (Dee), Donna Weinsting (Gertie) and Jared Sanz-Agero (JP).
Nathan Bush (Aiden), Jared Sanz-Agero (JP)
and Pamela Reckamp (Dee).
Photo credit: John Lamb
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Margery & Peter Spack; lighting design by John Cameron Carter; sound design by John Clark; props by Rai Feltmann; dialect coach, Katy Keating; stage manager, Kristin Rion.

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