Monday, December 14, 2015

DEVIL BOYS FROM BEYOND • Stray Dog Theatre

You won’t find any elves or sugary confections in Stray Dog Theatre’s traditionally, non-traditional holiday show. What you will find is Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliott’s camp-tacular, 1950’s retro-styled close encounters caper featuring a tightly knit group of actors, sly creative contributions, and a welcomed getaway if you’re already sick of the commercial holiday season. One glance at that artwork over there to the left, and you’ll get what I mean.

It’s 1957, and there’s some weird stuff going on in Lizard Lick, Florida. Florence Wexler fills us in on all of the details at the start -- about how her husband disappeared after colorful lights appeared in the sky, and an unidentified flying object crashed into the shed. Florence is played splendidly by Michael Juncal, who's great in drag, and sports one of the most delicious Southern drawls I’ve ever heard. This incident has gotten the attention of some New York City newspaper slickers.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER • R-S Theatrics

Playwright Rajiv Joseph’s 2008 drama places a delicate art at its center. Origami, with its precise execution of intricate folds, makes a fitting prism to look through at three people, suffering through fragile times, who hold the art dear -- whether through hard work or natural ability, and as a method of creativity, or escape.

When Ilana (Teresa Doggett) hesitantly opens the door to let in Andy (Andrew Kuhlman), he’s soaking wet from the pouring rain outside, and a little starstruck and giddy, meeting a fellow origami artist -- and Ilana is one of the best. But because of her two month old divorce and her beloved dog running off, she’s in no mood for company, and hasn’t felt any passion for folding paper in awhile, though her studio where she now lives is cluttered with all kinds of paper -- origami paper, newspapers, and Chinese takeout boxes. Andy, a high school calculus teacher, is there on official business as the treasurer for the American Origami organization. He’s the kind of guy who literally counts his blessings, writing them down in a little notebook with listings that now number up to the thousands. Ilana’s in there more than a couple of times, which she discovers when Andy leaves his book behind and Ilana takes it up as her latest reading material.

Monday, November 9, 2015

THE 39 STEPS • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Patrick Barlow’s 2005 spy spoof was adapted from a couple of sources -- John Buchan’s 1915 adventure novel, and its later incarnation as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller flick, and SATE is currently tearing it up with nimble direction by Kirsten Wylder and a sharp, equally nimble cast of four, who cover dozens and dozens of roles during the course of this delightfully wild ride.

When our hero, Richard Hannay (Pete Winfrey), dapper with his pencil-thin mustache, relieves his boredom with a night at the theatre, he runs into Annabella Schmidt (Rachel Tibbetts), an alluring German spy in black, who talks him into sheltering her for the night, as she’s on the run.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

I AND YOU • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

“I and this mystery here we stand.” This is the first thing Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella) says to Caroline (Danielle Carlacci) in the Rep’s Studio Series opener, written by Lauren Gunderson. It’s a line from Walt Whitman’s poem, "Song of Myself,” and Anthony has unexpectedly come up to Caroline’s bedroom to work together on an English Lit. project about Whitman’s collection of poems, “Leaves of Grass” -- much to her surprise.

Caroline wasn’t expecting company, and as she brandishes a pair of scissors, demanding an explanation for his presence, Anthony tries to clarify why he’s there. He’s picked her to be a partner for the project, so he shows up, with the project’s deadline looming, carrying a pathetic poster he needs her help with. Anthony’s smart, athletic, full of calm charm and a lover of poetry and jazz, but Caroline is defensive and angsty, but she’s got good reason to be.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

MATILDA THE MUSICAL • The Fox

The Fox Theatre’s regional premiere of “Matilda,” a British import that has won multiple awards, has the power of knowledge and empowerment at its heart, with a little genius at its center, who ultimately conquers the adults who try to keep her down.

Matilda Wormwood (Mabel Tyler) was born to possibly the worst parents on the face of the planet. Mrs. Wormwood (Cassie Silva) is a flighty, ballroom dancing obsessed mom, and Mr. Wormwood (Quinn Mattfeld), a less than honorable car salesman with quite a head of hair, is a dad dismissive of Matilda, still unable to accept she’s a girl, and not the second son he had hoped for. Both parents are infuriated with Matilda’s love of books and her voracious reading, and totally oblivious to her extraordinary intelligence. Matilda's only solace is found at the library, where she captivates the librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Ora Jones), with her stories. Unfortunately, things get worse for Matilda once she’s enrolled in Crunchem Hall Elementary, a school that’s run by a tyrannical Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness in drag), who is determined to make the kids’ lives a living hell, often referring to them as maggots. Luckily for Matilda, there’s Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood), a teacher at the school who’s an ally to the kids and an admirer of Matilda’s brilliance, but also under the thumb of the school's headmistress. Matilda comes to learn that Miss Honey also had a sad childhood, and together, they conspire to stand up to Trunchbull.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

ANGEL STREET (GASLIGHT) • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

It’s the perfect time of year for the Rep’s current Mainstage production -- right when Autumn’s chill starts to set in. Patrick Hamilton’s dramatic thriller premiered on the West End in 1938 under the simple name, “Gas Light,” but opened under the title “Angel Street” when it debuted in New York a few years later. The popularity of the play and the film adaptations that followed, resulted in the coining of the term “gas-lighting,” defined as “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

That’s precisely what’s going down in the gloomy Manningham home on Angel Street in 1880’s London.

Monday, October 19, 2015

DOGFIGHT • Stray Dog Theatre

“Dogfight” takes place in November, 1963, as a group of rambunctious young Marines, fresh out of boot-camp, head out for a testosterone-fueled night on the town in San Francisco before they ship off to Vietnam. Based on the 1991 film that bears the same title starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, Stray Dog’s season opening production, skillfully directed by Justin Been, presents a heady mix of morality, mortality and poignancy in this rousing coming-of-age story.

The title refers to a callous tradition -- a party where the Marine who brings the ugliest date wins a cash prize, and privates Eddie Birdlace (Brendan Ochs) and his two best buddies, Boland (Luke Steingruby) and Bernstein (Kevin O'Brien) plan to scour the town in search of the homeliest girl to be judged. Eddie meets a shy, guitar-playing Rose Fenny (Shannon Cothran), working in her mom’s diner, and asks her to join him for a night out, and she hesitantly agrees, excited, but with no idea of what's in store. The party is in full swing by the time Eddie and Rose arrive, and while Boland and Bernstein are anxious for the slow dance, where the dogfight entrants are judged, Eddie’s reluctance to go through with it is eventually overcome by "Semper Fi" bravado, and naturally, the evening doesn’t go well. Not all of the women are taken off guard though. Marcy (Sara Rae Womack), a shrewd street-walker in on the take, refuses to be a victim of the game. Eddie’s conscience prompts him to take Rose out on a proper date, and in the process of falling for her, the both of them (the "hawk" and the "dove") come into their own in different ways.

Monday, October 12, 2015

HEATHERS • New Line Theatre

“People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, ‘Now there's a school that self-destructed, not because society didn't care, but because the school was society.”’ That line that J.D. says strikes a core truth in Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s black musical comedy “Heathers,” based on Daniel Waters and Michael Lehmann’s 1988 cult classic film. That sentiment is also a thread that runs through many New Line Theatre productions, so it’s appropriate that New Line begins its 25th anniversary season with this surprising new musical. It’s also pretty cool that they open in a sweet new theatre space it can permanently call home -- the Marcelle in Grand Center.

The most popular clique in Westerburg high school revolves around a fearsome trio of Heathers -- Heather Chandler (Sicily Mathenia), Heather Duke (Cameisha Cotton) and Heather McNamara (Larissa White). The Heathers, along with a couple of meathead jocks, Ram (Omega Jones) and Kurt (Clayton Humburg), revel in their vicious exhibitions of supremacy, and are willing to humiliate anyone who isn’t popular enough to have a place within their orbit.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SEMINAR • St. Louis Actors' Studio

What happens when you put four hopeful writers, eager to be published, in a room with a once acclaimed novelist? Well, the punchline in Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 play is laced with a constant current of competition -- on a couple of different levels, and director Elizabeth Helman and her able cast smartly elevate the themes in a seemingly slight script in STLAS’s 9th season opener.

Four young writers have shelled out $5,000 for a 10 week writing seminar under the tutelage of Leonard (John Pierson), a known literary hotshot. His students include the well-to-do Kate (Taylor Pietz), who hosts the sessions in her spacious Upper West Side, rent-controlled apartment, sweater-vested Douglas (Nathan Bush), who has family connections in publishing but lacks real promise, the provocative Izzy (Alicia Smith), whose wish to be published is only seconded by her desire to appear nude on a New York Magazine cover, and Martin (Jason Contini), a fan of the Mets and Kerouac, and the last hold-out when it comes to handing over his work to be judged.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

THE WORLD BEGUN • Shakespeare in the Streets: Old North St. Louis

Last weekend, Shakespeare in the Streets took to Old North St. Louis -- at the intersection of N. 14th and Montgomery streets, to be exact. For the past four years, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has mounted an original work based on one of Shakespeare’s plays in one of the city’s neighborhoods, with contributions from the community’s residents for a weekend of free performances. This year Shakespeare in the Streets performed an adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy, “Twelfth Night” called "The World Begun" written by Nancy Bell, playwright-in-residence at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.

After a rousing warm-up by the band, Renaissance Blues, Viola (Marlene René Coveyou) finds herself out of space and time -- a 16th century woman who winds up in 21st century St. Louis after being shipwrecked, mourning the twin brother she thinks is dead. The shipwreck was gracefully represented by dancers from Jennifer Medina’s Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company. Once she gets her bearings, a librarian named Mike (Patrick Blindauer) gets Viola up to speed on the neighborhood, and she ends up disguising herself as a man, “Cesario”, and takes a job at Headhunters, the local barber shop, and falls for one of the barbers, Orsino (Lawd Gabriel). But Orsino has his eye on Olivia, the podiatrist (Erin Renée Roberts), and sends Cesario to her to communicate his love, but Olivia ends up falling for Cesario -- the disguised Viola.

Monday, September 21, 2015

ALL THE WAY • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Civil rights, the Constitution, race riots and the bare-knuckle business of politics. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the focal points that take center stage in Robert Schenkkan’s Tony award winning play were set in the present. But “All the Way” covers the first 11 months of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Presidency in 1963, immediately following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It’s fictional, but the Rep’s strapping 49th season opener is based on true events, and the themes in this local premiere take you by surprise with a resonance that’s eerie, and frankly, quite sobering.

LBJ’s strategic maneuvering to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed is a testament to his tenacity, fighting tooth and nail to bend Congress to his will.

Monday, September 7, 2015

MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY • R-S Theatrics

Anne Washburn’s 2012 three-act play begins sometime in “the very near future,” after an apocalypse of nuclear proportions. The group of survivors in “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” travel with notebooks containing the names of loved ones. Everyone has a hunting knife or a gun, and lithium batteries are worth their weight in gold. They’re all essentially starting their world from scratch, and about the only thing they have to regain some semblance of the lives they had before, are stories. That’s where “The Simpsons” comes in.

The nation’s power plants have failed leaving everyone in darkness, and to pass the time and ward off fear, a group of survivors camped around a fire in the woods try to piece together the details of a 1993 Simpsons episode called ”Cape Feare” that was inspired from the 1991 psychological thriller Cape Fear (a remake of the 1962 film). In the episode, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie enroll in the Witness Relocation Program and move to Terror Lake to escape Sideshow Bob, who after being paroled from prison has been threatening to kill Bart to settle a long-held grudge. This episode of “The Simpsons” is peppered with cultural references (as most Simpsons episodes were) -- everything from The Night of the Hunter to Gilbert & Sullivan.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

ONE FLEA SPARE • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

SATE’s mid-season production of Naomi Wallace’s “One Flea Spare” feels aptly at home in the intimate space of The Chapel. Her introspective account of the inhabitants in a home under a 28-day quarantine in bubonic plague-ravaged London evokes images that stick in your mind. Under the direction of Ellie Schwetye, the calamitous breakdown of society and the classes are hauntingly brought to life.

Mr. and Mrs. Snelgrave (Joe Hanrahan and Kelley Weber) are a wealthy couple not allowed to leave their house, with frequent visits and grim updates from Kabe (Andrew Kuhlman), a crooked, city appointed guard charged with keeping the quarantine enforced, and handing out meager provisions to those still living.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

SPELLBOUND! A MUSICAL FABLE • Stray Dog Theatre

“Spellbound! A Musical Fable” was originally conceived in 1994 by Stray Dog’s artistic director, Gary F. Bell and Robert L. White. Recently taken off the shelf and given the once-over, Bell gave it a world premiere that closed out a strong Stray Dog season. Still in its workshop stage, "Spellbound!" draws on familiar fairy tales and lesser known folklore from Japan, India, Germany, Nigeria and England, and it’s an exciting show with enchanting potential.

An immediate mood greeted you walking into the Abbey’s space. Rob Lippert’s scenic design featured tall movable trees, multi-leveled tree-top platforms, and full-moon landscapes complemented by Tyler Duenow’s lights. The show’s opening number, “Spellbound”, sets you firmly into the jungles of Samaren, where Arabella, a “Cinderella-type” heroine, authentically played by a firm-voiced, sweet-faced Meadow Tien Nguy, is at the beck and call of her stepmother, an evil, black magic enchantress called Layla, diabolically portrayed by Deborah Sharn (her excellent wig is courtesy of Priscilla Case), who has her eye on ruling the land. Maria Bartolotta and Eileen Engel are wickedly funny as Arabella’s stepsisters, Muchaneta and Kokumo, and Patrick Kelly is Bangababo, Arabella’s dad -- a market vendor still vulnerable to Layla’s spells.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER • St. Louis Shakespeare

Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama, “Hedda Gabler,” premiered in 1891, but Jeff Whitty’s 2012 comedy picks up where Ibsen’s left off, with Hedda (Emily Baker), just having put a bullet in her head, waking up in a messy limbo of sorts on the Cul de Sac Of The Tragic Heroines. She, along with Gone With The Wind’s house slave Mammy (Jeanitta Perkins), and several other theatrical, film and television figures of note, are doomed to repeatedly play out the patterns their creators have given them, unable to re-write their own destinies. Pulling off the right tone for this kind of play is tricky, but under the sharp direction of St. Louis Shakespeare’s new artistic director, Suki Peters, and the leading performances of a fiercely engaging Baker and a quietly heroic Perkins and strong supporting players, this production soars.

Friday, July 31, 2015

THIS IS NOT FUNNY • Theatre Nuevo

Anna Skidis, founder of Theatre Nuevo, is known for her lauded performances in locally produced musicals including Stray Dog’s “Spring Awakening”, “The Who’s Tommy” and New Line’s “Rent” and “Hands on a Hardbody.” Her new company staged its inaugural production of “This Is Not Funny” this past week, and this devised piece is one of the most experimental plays you’re likely to see around town -- ensemble created, improvisational in tone, and originally inspired by a photograph, placing the onus squarely on the audience to engage their imaginations to discover their own interpretations.

The player created piece intertwines three stories. Beth Van Pelt stands alone by a microphone as our Poet who reads her angst-ridden works from the stage, while Sarah McKenney and Sara Sapp are two young friends at play. Steven Castelli is the clown, the silent overseer of the action, who interacts with the girls and sometimes the audience (he took my sock!) from the floor of the playing space. He periodically wheels out a box that he opens to reveal two vain newscasters portrayed by Sarah Porter and Reginald Pierre, who report increasingly grim news stories for channel 31.

Monday, July 27, 2015

THE RUNAWAY CUPCAKE: A PLAY ABOUT EATING FOR FAMILIES WHO EAT • OnSite Theatre Company

OnSite Theatre, the city’s only site-specific theatre company, produced its first ever family-friendly production earlier this month -- a fanciful folk tale written by local playwright and actor Nancy Bell, and in typical OnSite fashion, “The Runaway Cupcake” was presented at SweetArt in the Tower Grove area of the city.

After the introduction of our baker (Patrick Blindauer) and his assistant (Kenyata Tatum), we learn that his shop is in debt to a bill collector who comes to get what he is owed along with a leather-clad “terrifying assistant” (Maria Mohr) -- complete with boots, shades and a pink baseball bat. While the baker tries to buy himself a little more time with the collector, a mother (Michelle Hand) and her spoiled daughter (Ivy Bell Reed) come in to order a huge batch of cupcakes for a birthday party. The baker figures (with the help of some math skills from the audience), that the order would cover his debt. But with a toss of a little flour, one of the cupcakes magically comes to life (Hannah Donaldson), running in and out of the store, wreaking a gleeful havoc.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE • Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie kicks off its fifth season with Frank Marcus’s, “The Killing of Sister George,” a 1965 dark comedy with June Buckridge (Lavonne Byers), at its center. She’s a radio actor with an uncertain future with the BBC and a home life with a lover of seven years whom she’s increasingly afraid of losing.

The “Sister George” of the title is the character June plays on a radio soap -- a sweet and kindly district nurse who zips around on her motorbike, doling out medicines and rustic wisdom to the residents of the fictional town of Applehurst with a happy hymn on her lips. Sister George is a popular character on the show, and so high is June’s association with her radio persona that her friends call her “George.” Off the air though, June smokes cigars, knocks back gin, and shares her West End flat with her lover, Alice “Childie” McNaught (Shannon Nara), in a relationship that bounces from moments of kindness, to bath-water drinking sadomasochism.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

St. Louis Actors' Studio is back with its third annual LaBute New Theater Festival, named after Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute. Nine one-act plays were selected from 250 submissions with LaBute not only lending his name to the festival, but participating in the selection panel, providing a great opportunity for aspiring playwrights from all over the globe. The first group of finalists will be performed from July 10th through the 19th, and the second group will be performed from the 24th through August 2nd, and LaBute’s world premiere, “Kandahar”, written specifically for the event, will run every night of the festival. There are also five high school finalists whose work will be presented as a free staged reading on July 25 at 11am. You can find the details on these plays at the end of the blog.

Friday, June 19, 2015

MY FAIR LADY • The Muny

“My Fair Lady” was a huge hit when it premiered in 1956, and now Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical adorns the colossal Muny stage after a seven-year absence with a strong voiced ensemble and excellent leads, under the tight direction of Marc Bruni. It’s based on a film version of George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion” -- a prototype of sorts, providing a blueprint for several “transformation” films that followed. (“Trading Places” and “Pretty Woman,” anyone?)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THE PILLOWMAN • Theatre Lab

Ryan Musselman
Martin McDonagh (“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”) has a way with dark comedy. In Theatre Lab’s gripping current production of his 2003 Olivier and Tony award-winning play, the “black” in this black comedy is pitch. The title comes from one of the stories written by our protagonist, Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), about a man made of pillows who talks kids into offing themselves to avoid a lifetime of pain. So, you know. Yeah. Buckle up.

In a dank, leak-stained room, Katurian, a short story writer who works in a slaughterhouse, is being ferociously questioned by detective Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and police officer Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). Katurian, scared as a rabbit and still in his night clothes, has no idea what the hell is going on, but Tupolski and Ariel, after probing him about his decidedly grisly tales, eventually tell him about a recent string of child murders -- murders that bear a striking resemblance to some of Katurian’s stories. After hearing screams from the next room, Katurian learns that his special needs brother, Michal (Nick Kelly), childlike but with a head full of his brother’s yarns, is also in custody, and according to the cops, has confessed to the killings.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare’s sweeping account of the ultimate power couple -- Marcus Antonius of Rome, and Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, is getting a thrilling staging by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, celebrating its 15th season of free Shakespeare in Forest Park. The grand scope of the play is captivating, and under Mike Donahue’s fluent direction, the legendary characters within it are grounded, real and tragically flawed.

Antony (Jay Stratton) is having to be practically dragged from the arms of his lover in Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb), back to Rome where he is one of a trio of public officers, and his fellow triumvirs have threats from within Rome and threats from abroad to deal with. For his absence from Rome and the resentment it garnered, an attempt to strengthen the relationships among the triumvirs is made when Antony agrees to marry Octavia (Raina K. Houston) the sister of one of the rulers, Octavius Caesar (Charles Pasternak), who has his eye on increasing his own power, eventually declaring war on Cleopatra. The series of events that are set in motion test allegiances, fuel resentments and result in some really unfortunate misjudgments.

Friday, May 15, 2015

MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING • New Jewish Theatre

With the political hot potato of marriage equality reaching critical mass in the States, NJT closes its 18th season with a Canadian musical that couldn’t be more timely. David Hein and his wife Irene Sankoff’s, “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding”, drew acclaim at the 2009 Toronto Fringe and the 2010 New York Musical Theater Festival, and is inspired by the real-life coming out of Hein's mother, and the teenage years he spent with her and his other mom, Jane.

Claire’s son, David (an appealing guitar-playing Ben Nordstrom), serves as our narrator for the evening, and takes us through the story of his mother’s discovery of true love, and her reconnection with her Jewish roots. After a nasty divorce, Claire (Laura Ackermann), a non-practicing Jew, moves from Nebraska to take a job as a professor of psychology in Ottowa, where she meets and falls in love with Jane (Deborah Sharn), a devoted Wiccan and therapist. Along with the laughs, there’s also a bit of heft slipped into this fluffy musical comedy that catches you off-guard -- like finding some meat under layers of light, savory pastry.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

R&J: A TELEPHONE PLAY or DON'T DRINK THE MILK • ERA

Of all the companies in town that go in for unconventional theatre, few come close to pushing the boundaries like Equally Represented Arts does. ERA’s latest offering premieres six new plays within the framework of a game of “telephone,” also known as “Don’t drink the milk.” The R&J of the title refers to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and in this case, the last scene of this tale of young love serves as the ‘original message.’ A recording of this act was sent to the first playwright who wrote a new play based on what they heard, and each successive playwright used a recording of the previous play as a jumping off point for their work. Cool, right? It is. It’s also a hectic, lively and sometimes disquieting evening of new work by some provocative playwrights (James Ryan Caldwell, Otso Huopaniemi, camila le-bert, John Douglas Weidner, Samara Weiss and Zhu Yi). With blooming love, growing pains and a kind of adolescent tumult at its center, with liberal doses of synchronized movement and dance, ERA, under Lucy Cashion’s direction, provides a bold, intriguing night of vignettes, wonderfully executed by her six-member ensemble — Mollie Amburgey, Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Carl Overly, Jr. and Rachel Tibbetts.

Monday, April 27, 2015

AN INVITATION OUT • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed's season comes to a close with a world premiere by playwright Shualee Cook — an old fashioned drawing room comedy with a twist. It’s set in a futuristic virtual reality, where many prefer to interact through the magnified personas of their avatars in online chat rooms, instead of enduring the rigors and demands of living life ”offline." Even the opening words by Mustard Seed’s artistic director, Deanna Jent, are presented as an animated likeness of her, projected on a scrim running across the stage. The stage is framed by a skewed, computer screen-like border, and the pre-show projections of DNA strands and “Sims”-like avatars fittingly set the mood.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER • Upstream Theater

Upstream closes its tenth season with an absorbing one-act dramatization of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 18th century lyrical ballad, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." If you've never read or heard of "The Rime", you're most likely familiar with some of the metaphors (having an albatross around your neck) and phrases from it ("Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink") that have left their marks on literature's landscape.

The poem concerns a Mariner who foolishly shoots an albatross that he's forced to wear around his neck as a reminder of his violent actions. His disregard for life seals his fate and plots a course of unearthly encounters with spectral ships and the deaths of each of his crewmen, leaving the Mariner alone in reflection, and eventual transformation. Doomed to relate his story of culpability in an endless pursuit of redemption, he stops a guest on his way to a wedding party when the story begins.

Friday, April 10, 2015

THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD • Stray Dog Theatre

About the only thing better than a whodunit is one that allows the audience to choose the culprit. Add in a nifty conceit of some play-within-a-play action, and you've got Stray Dog's impressive current offering, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", written in 1985 by singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes. This Tony Award-winning musical was inspired by the last unfinished novel of Charles Dickens, who died suddenly from a stroke in 1870, leaving the mystery unsolved. Holmes retooled the novel, setting it in an English music hall where the company's actors play the characters from the story, and left it to the audience to decide the outcome.

Stray Dog's space at Tower Grove Abbey is transformed into the boisterous Music Hall Royale, buzzing with pre-show activity thanks to the incredibly engaging and hard-working ensemble members. After our M.C. for the evening, the Chairman (a winning Gerry Love), welcomes us, he sets the stage, introducing us to his group of rather self-centered actors and the characters they will play, along with Edwin Drood himself, played by famed male impersonator, Alice Nutting (a robustly-voiced Heather Matthews). Joining Matthews in the strong pipes department is Eileen Engel, who not only adds a lovely voice to Drood's love interest, Rosa Bud, but also supplies the splendid costumes.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

OFF THE RECORD (The Bus Play) • OnSite Theatre Company

OnSite Theatre Company has been providing unique, site-specific theatre in St. Louis for eight years now, but its current production, playwright Alec Wild's "Off The Record", is an absolute blast. It's also a first for the company. In perhaps the most immersive theatre experience you're likely to have anytime soon, the price of admission affords you membership in the local press corps, following the gubernatorial campaign of Congressman Henry Neale, handsomely played by Stephen Peirick. In his bid for Governor of Missouri, just two days before the election, he's taking a roughly 90 minute bus tour around the Delmar Loop area.

The play starts with a "press pick up" at Tavolo V restaurant, where you receive a list of questions that you're free to ask if you choose once the tour gets underway. On the bus we meet Nina Corde (Sarajane Alverson), an incredibly enthusiastic theology student and volunteer, and Steven Kendell (Charlie Barron), the Congressman's campaign manager. There's also Lorraine Kay (Donna Weinsting), a hard-nosed reporter who writes for the "Missouri Flame." Her relentless questions about Neale and why he was allegedly kicked out of Vianney High School drive Mr. Kendell to distraction, forcing him to clearly reiterate the rules for everyone on the bus -- when the lights on the bus are on, everything's on the record. When the lights are off, everything's off the record. The Congressman and his wife, Elizabeth (Maggie Conroy), are picked up at the Tavern of Fine Arts, before making a stop at Crossroads College Preparatory School for a quick speech on education.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays • That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE Magazine

That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE team up once again for "Briefs", a festival of short LGBT plays that celebrates its fourth anniversary, founded by Uppity Theatre's Joan Lipkin, and Darin Slyman of Vital VOICE magazine. This year, another stable of talented actors and artists are featured in eight LGBT-centric plays that appeal to diverse audiences. It's also the inaugural year for the Ken Haller Playwriting Competition for LGBTQ and Allied Youth, named after longtime LGBT activist, pediatrician and actor.

Things kick off with Sharon Goldner's "Recently Discovered", a staged reading that turns Dr. Seuss, complete with illustrations, into a lesbian coming out story and all of its complications. A different "Special Guest" was featured with each showing, along with a "Cat in the Hat", that played opposite Lipkin.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Third Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Another celebration of St. Louis theatre has come and gone, and with a nearly sold out house at COCA, a great time was had by all. And honestly, it's always nice for me to have the opportunity to geek out. I'm always blown away by the talent in this incredibly vibrant theatre community. Kudos and thanks to COCA, HEC-TV, our sponsor, Dominium Realty, and everyone who came out to celebrate.

Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients! Here's the list of the 2015 St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominees with the award recipients in red.


Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy
All in the Timing, St. Louis Actors’ Studio 
Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare
Noises Off, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
One Man, Two Guvnors, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Monday, March 23, 2015

SIGHT UNSEEN • New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre's production of Donald Margulies' "Sigh Unseen" centers around Jonathan Waxman, a Jewish painter from Brooklyn, whose work has brought him fame and fortune. But a visit to an old flame spurs a look at his success, and his relationship to it, and the hard face-to-face realizations of what got lost along the way.

Jonathan Waxman (Aaron Orion Baker) is in England for his first London art exhibition, and after he makes an unexpected phone call, he pays a visit to his ex-girlfriend from college, Patricia (Emily Baker). Patricia, once Jonathan's muse, has settled into life in Norfolk with her husband, Nick (David Wassilak), an archeologist, who seems to be less than thrilled about hosting this guest. Afterall, a painting of Patricia that Jonathan illustrated still hangs in the farmhouse that Nick and Patricia share.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

BUYER AND CELLAR • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Jonathan Tolins' tasty one-man play, "Buyer and Cellar", uses Barbra Streisand's 2010 vanity project coffee-table book, “My Passion for Design”, as a jumping off point for the story of Alex, a gay, out of work actor in Los Angeles, and his stint as the sole employee in the underground mall at Ms. Streisand's Malibu estate. Alex, pitch-perfectly played by Jeremy Webb, makes it clear from the beginning that this tale is fictional, though the book itself, along with the basement thoroughfare of shops, is real, which makes this 90-minute gallivant even more delicious. Extra points if you have more than a passing knowledge of Barbra Streisand -- singer, actor, director, producer, diva, and gay icon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA • New Line Theatre

"Jerry Springer: The Opera", by Brits Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, premiered in London twelve years ago and received the 2004 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. If you've ever seen the infamously controversial tabloid talk show that inspired this musical, you can imagine that there's a generous dose of profanity throughout, and subject matter that could make the boldest blush. So, yeah -- while this isn't a musical for the faint-hearted, honestly, there is something disarming and inherently funny about the pairing of operatic music with dirty lyrics, and with this ensemble, under Scott Miller's zestful direction, the emotion churning below the surface of these outrageous stories goes a long way in making the profane more palatable.

We start with Jonathan, the warm-up man (Matt Pentecost), who lays down the general rules for the show to the boisterous studio audience, who await the appearance of Jerry Springer (Keith Thompson) with joyous anticipation. The first act carries on like a typical Springer show, where we meet Dwight (a reliably engaging Zachary Allen Farmer) who is cheating on his fiancée Peaches (Taylor Pietz) with Zandra (a very funny Lindsey Jones), a dope addict. Dwight's also making time with Tremont (Luke Steingruby), a transexual. Fights and profanity ensue. Second up is Montel (Marshall Jennings), who needs to tell his girlfriend, Andrea (Christina Rios), about the secret fetish he harbors and the woman he's been cheating with -- Baby Jane (Pietz). Jennings embraces his number with uninhibited gusto, while the disgust Rios displays is hilarious. The last guests of the act are Chucky (Ryan Foizey), a back-country hick whose girlfriend Shawntel (Anna Skidis) has dreams of being a pole-dancer.

Friday, February 27, 2015

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? • St. Louis Actors' Studio

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," one of playwright Edward Albee's most notable works, premiered in 1962 and picked up five Tony Awards. The play was also selected for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1963, but the subject matter (a corrosive marriage, filled to the brim with booze, naughty language and sex) was controversial for its time, resulting in an overrule of the awards committee, and no prize for drama awarded that year. Typically, what may have been scandalous in the 60's seems tame to modern audiences, but the ability of Albee's play to still stun speaks to its potency. Under John Contini's shrewd direction and a rock solid cast, none of that potency is lost at St. Louis Actors' Studio's production. So, yeah. Get a ticket and buckle up.

We begin with George (William Roth) and Martha (Kari Ely) returning home from a college faculty party late at night, where George is an associate professor of history, when Martha tells him that she's invited a young couple over for a nightcap. George complains that it's way too late for guests, but Martha's father, the president of the college, insisted that they be nice to the couple. These first minutes of the first act contain laughs and jabs shared and launched between this couple of 23 years, and lay down the general brush strokes of their marriage, with Martha landing harsh insults at every turn, and George parrying every incoming attack with seemingly tepid counters.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

STICK FLY • The Black Rep

The Black Rep continues its 38th season with Lydia Diamond's "Stick Fly", a family drama with a bit of a twist. The two Levay sons, Kent and Flip, are bringing their significant others over for a weekend at their summer home on Martha's Vineyard. Like most residents on Martha's Vineyard, the Levays are wealthy, but unlike most residents, they're also black.

The patriarch of the family is Joe (Erik Kilpatrick), a neurosurgeon, who would have enough money on his own, but has married into more money through his wife's family, who's owned a shipping business that reaches back to slavery times. He shows up later, but first to arrive is Kent, (Chauncy Thomas) the youngest, with his fiancée, Taylor (Sharisa Whatley). He's a writer who is on the verge, after many career stops and starts, of becoming a full-fledged novelist, and Taylor is an entomologist. Her father was a distinguished academic, so Taylor grew up with prestige, but she didn't grow up with money -- estranged from her father, and overwhelmed by prospect of marrying into this affluent family. Flip (Reginald Pierre) is a plastic surgeon, who is bringing his girlfriend Kimber (Meghan Maguire), also highly educated, and white. Added to the mix is 18 year old Cheryl (Rhyan Robinson), university-bound, who is currently filling in for the duties of her mother, the Levay's ailing maid. The mother of the family, Michelle Levay, is mysteriously absent, and despite needling from the sons, Joe remains silent about her whereabouts. The advantages of money and education can't be enough to propel you past some things -- particularly race, and Diamond's script offers a heaping helping of soapy dynamics, family secrets and bombshells.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

GOD OF CARNAGE • Stray Dog Theatre

It's funny how a day of good intentions can go down the crapper so quickly sometimes, isn't it? That's the kind of day the Novaks and the Raleighs are having in Stray Dog's current production, Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage." A mini-brawl between the parents' kids sets the stage for a civilized meeting of adults that turns into a rum-soaked night where the pretense of decorum goes bye-bye.

Alan and Annette Raleigh (Stephen Peirick and Michelle Hand) are visiting the posh Brooklyn apartment of Michael and Veronica Novak (Michael Juncal and Sarajane Alverson). Benjamin, the Raleigh's kid, hit the Novak's kid, Henry, in the face with a stick, knocking two of his teeth out, and now the parents are getting together to discuss the incident. The already strained conversation about how to deal with the fallout between their children gives way to offerings of fancy French desserts and comparisons about the qualities of neighborhood parks, then soon bends to tirades, vomiting, and the innocent destruction of tulips. On the face of it, there's not much to this play, but the premise sets up a downward spiral of events that plays to that little slice in all of us that likes seeing things blow up.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

BASHIR LAZHAR • Upstream Theater

Évelyne de la Chenelière's "Bashir Lazhar" is the story of a French-Algerian political refugee living in Montreal. This play, essentially a monologue, was beefed up and adapted into a film in 2011 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The stage play is an intimate affair, performed small-scale with a sparse set at the Kranzberg's black box, but J. Samuel Davis breathes a world of life into the character of Bashir Lazhar -- this immigrant trying to navigate his surroundings in the wake of a civil war, in a superb solo performance full of resilience, heartache and humor.

The play opens with Bashir nervously preparing to greet his classroom of sixth graders. The students have tragically lost their previous teacher, Martine Lachance, and Bashir has taken the job as her substitute. He's got a way with his students -- encouraging but tough, trying to help them cope with the loss of Lachance, and prepare them for the world and the violence within it, because he, along with his students, have been through harrowing times. His story unfolds slowly through a series of scenes that jump back and forth in time. Bashir bonds with the kids, talks to colleagues, breaks the school regulations with his unorthodox teaching style, and has mournful conversations with himself and flashback conversations with his family as they try to escape the Algerian Civil War.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

SAFE HOUSE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Keith Josef Adkins’ “Safe House” is set in 1843 and centers on two brothers -- Addison (Daniel Morgan Shelley) and Frank Pedigrew (Will Cobbs) who live with their Aunt Dorcas (Kelly Taffe) in Kentucky. They're African Americans who were born free. In 1840's Kentucky, there was a big distinction to be made between freed slaves, and African Americans who were born free, but this play provides a thought-provoking look at what that freedom truly affords and how that freedom is viewed.

Addison's is the first face we see. He's an ambitious, hard-working cobbler who supports his family selling his wares from door to door with affable charm -- his "free papers" always at the ready. He's got dreams of opening up his own shop in the Pedigrew home, but they are just about to finish up a couple of years under house arrest for harboring and assisting runaway slaves. His quick-tempered brother Frank and Aunt Dorcas are less concerned with obeying the rules, though they know their privileges can be snatched away for the smallest violation.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Third Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Award Nominations

Woo-hoo, the nominations are out! Here's the full list of this year's St. Louis Theater Circle Awards nominees. The third annual ceremony will be on Monday, March 23rd at COCA at 7pm with a pre-ceremony reception starting at 5:30. You can find out more about that here, or on the Theater Circle's "Events" tab on our Facebook page. If you're a fan of St. Louis theatre (and why wouldn't you be?), consider snagging a ticket to the show! If you can't make it, the ceremony will once again be televised on HEC-TV and streamed on the HEC web site.

Congratulations to all of the nominees!


Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy
All in the Timing, St. Louis Actors’ Studio 
Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare
Noises Off, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
One Man, Two Guvnors, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Monday, January 26, 2015

IMAGINING MADOFF • New Jewish Theatre

Infamous Ponzi schemer, Bernard Madoff, may seem like an improbable subject for a play, but playwright Deb Margolin conceives a morality tale of sorts in the New Jewish Theatre's current offering. With an estimated $60 billion taken from his clients, Madoff's investors suffered devastating losses, particularly Jewish institutions and charities. "Imagining Madoff" sets up Madoff (Bobby Miller) playing opposite a righteous polestar of decency embodied in a poet and Holocaust survivor named Solomon Galkin (Jerry Vogel), who is based on one of Madoff's real-life victims, author and political activist, Elie Wiesel.

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