Monday, December 14, 2015


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.
Matilda Van Buren (Sarajane Alverson),
Gregory Graham (Stephen Peirick)
and Lucinda Marsh (Michael Baird).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The “New York Bugle” editor, Gilbert Wiatt (Jonathan Hey), photographer Gregory Graham, an unsuccessfully recovering alcoholic, (Stephen Peirick), and his ex-wife, the fast-talking, underpaid, award winning reporter, Matilda Van Buren (Sarajane Alverson), have all heard this tale before, but after acquiring some physical evidence, they decide to head back to the sticks hoping for a big story to keep The Bugle’s subscriptions alive. Then we have Lucinda Marsh (wonderfully played by Michael Baird.) She’s a rival reporter who wrecked the marriage of Matilda and Gregory. While hoping to get a scoop on the story herself, she’s also hoping to worm her way back into the arms of Gregory. Matilda, Gregory and Lucinda spend their time in Lizard Lick at the motor-lodge that Dotty (Teryl Thurman) owns. She’s exceptionally lustful, and she and Florence seem to have had their husbands replaced with strapping substitutes, Harry Wexler (Ryan Wiechmann) and Sheriff Jack Primrose (Brandon Brendel.)

Matilda Van Buren (Sarajane Alverson),
Florence Wexler (Michael Juncal)
and Harry Wexler (Ryan Wiechmann).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Director Gary F. Bell plumbs all of the tomfoolery that is to be had in the play, and the actors seem to be having a great deal of fun. Hey as the hardened newspaper editor makes a great counter to his more emotional staff -- Peirick’s cowed Gregory, and Alverson’s steel spun reporter, Matilda. With melodramatic flourishes and style, Baird is fantastic as Lucinda Marsh, and Juncal gives an authentically trashy performance as Florence. Thurman adds a quiet hilarity to Dotty Primrose, as she hunches on Gregory at their first meeting, and Wiechmann and Brendel’s hunky Plutopians are well played.

Tyler Duenow’s lights give a nod to the alien aspects of the show, Justin Been’s sound, particularly the added embellishments to Drew Fornarola and John Fontien’s sound design, is spot-on, and Been’s scenic design gives us a perfect postcard backdrop. Eileen Engel’s costumes and Priscilla Case’s wig design round out the creative elements.

Matilda Van Buren (Sarajane Alverson),
Gilbert Wiatt (Jonathan Hey), Florence Wexler (Michael Juncal)
and Dotty Primrose (Teryl Thurman).
Photo credit: John Lamb

For a fun, riotous night at the theatre where 1950s sci-fi B-movie spoofs are the rule of the day, check out “Devil Boys from Beyond” at Tower Grove Abbey -- just leave the kids at home for this one.


Written by Buddy Thomas, Kenneth Elliott
Original Score and Sound Design by Drew Fornarola
Directed by Gary F. Bell 
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through December 19 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday, December 19 at 2pm

Florence Wexler: Michael Juncal
Gilbert Wiatt: Jonathan Hey
Gregory Graham: Stephen Peirick
Matilda Van Buren: Sarajane Alverson
Lucinda Marsh: Michael Baird
Dotty Primrose: Teryl Thurman
Harry Wexler: Ryan Wiechmann
Sheriff Jack Primrose: Brandon Brendel

Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Costume Designer: Eileen Engel
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Property Designer: Jay V. Hall
Scenic Artist: Gary Karasek
Scenic Carpentry: Richard Brown, Doug Burge, Kathleen Dwyer, Corey Fraine, Melanie Kozak, Paul Troyke, Kate Wilkerson
Scenic Designer: Justin Been
Sound and Light Board Operator: Justin Been
Sound Designer and Original Song: Drew Fornarola
Sound Designer: John Fontien
Sound Design Additions: Justin Been
Stage Manager: Justin Been
Wardrobe Assistant: Jay V. Hall
Wig Stylist: Priscilla Case

Sunday, December 6, 2015


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.

Ilana (Teresa Doggett) and Andy (Andrew Kuhlman).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Andy, though he’s embarrassed and now in a position where his origami crush knows just about everything about him, urges her to advise a student of his, Suresh (Ethan Isaac), a brilliant and promising student of origami, but also a posturing, brawling teenager with his own troubles -- hinted at through bits of cell phone conversations with his father, recently widowed, assuring him that he’ll home soon. The timid sparks that develop between Ilana and Andy shift when she invites Suresh to an origami convention in Nagasaki instead of Andy, and the under-the-surface volatility between the three come out in funny and shatterable ways.

Ilana (Teresa Doggett) and Suresh (Ethan Isaac).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Todd Schaefer’s keen direction of the dynamics onstage makes the most of each setting, only slightly undermined by a couple of lengthy scene changes. Doggett as Ilana, leery and bare at the start, makes you want to cheer her on as she slowly makes her way to pursuing her passion again, with a couple of potential love interests. Kuhlman’s awkward but lovable Andy is sweetly innocent in the face of heartbreak, and Isaac, though initially covered in a veneer of teenage bravado and isolation with his iPod never far, eventually makes a rewarding turn.

In R-S Theatrics’ season closer, the story, like origami, is seemingly simple, but shrewdly complex. Only one more chance to check it out at The Chapel.


Written by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Todd Schaefer
The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive
through December 6 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Ilana: Teresa Doggett
Andy: Andrew Kuhlman
Suresh: Ethan Isaac

Stage Manager: Sean Michael
Assistant Stage Manager: Sophia Gotto
Assistant Stage Manager: Nick Raghebi
Scenic Designer: Keller Ryan
Lighting Designer: Nathan Schroeder
Costume Designer: Ruth Schmalenberger
Sound Designer: Mark Kelley
Properties Master: Heather Tucker
Production Manager: Christina Rios
Artistic Director: Christina Rios
Managing Director: Heather Tucker
Associate Managing Director: Elizabeth Van Pelt

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.
Kristen Storm, Pete Winfrey, Rachel Tibbetts,
Carl Overly, Jr., Ellie Schwetye and Erin Renée Roberts.
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
This leads Hannay into a whirlwind of mistaken identity, espionage, and top-shelf farce.

Winfrey handles his role as the debonair Hannay with just the right touch of poker-faced charm, and Tibbetts plays the leading ladies he runs across convincingly with comic style. Carl Overly, Jr. and Ellie Schwetye, credited as “Clown 1” and “Clown 2,” play everyone else, from a pair of innkeepers, (where Schwetye is especially hilarious), spies, cops, vaudeville performers, and then some. Overly is priceless as a vaudeville mind-reader and a Scottish matriarch, and Schwetye even makes a brief appearance as a crop duster that pursues Hannay, à la Hitchcock’s "North By North-West.” These two are particularly dexterous with crazy fast changes in character, costumes and dialect, and they all turn in tireless performances with some great physical comedy.

Pete Winfrey, Carl Overly, Jr.
and Ellie Schwetye.
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
Keeping a high pace is essential for this kind of play to work, and Wylder keeps the shenanigans at an ideal clip, and the cast makes the action easy to follow and understand. Scott De Broux’s scenic design makes the most of the small space of the Chapel, and Schwetye fills in the blanks, considerably adding to the action with terrific sound design. Lighting designer Erik Kuhn highlights the different areas of the stage well, and Elizabeth Henning provides a huge lineup of tone-perfect costumes.

This production, playing until the 14th, is loads of fun with strong work from the cast and crew. Check it out!

(front); Carl Overly, Jr., Ellie Schwetye
(back); Pete Winfrey and Rachel Tibbetts.
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell

Written by Patrick Barlow, adapted from the novel by John Buchan and the film by Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Kirsten Wylder 
through November 14 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Richard Hannay: Pete Winfrey
Annabella Schmidt/Margaret/Pamela: Rachel Tibbetts
Clown 1: Carl Overly, Jr.
Clown 2: Ellie Schwetye

Pete Winfrey, Rachel Tibbetts,
Carl Overly, Jr. and Ellie Schwetye.
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
Assistant Director: Scott De Broux
Stage Manager: Kristin Rion
Scenic Designer: Scott De Broux
Lighting Designer: Erik Kuhn
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Henning
Sound Designer: Ellie Schwetye
Props: Rachel Tibbetts
Assistant Stage Manager: Erin Renée Roberts
Assistant Stage Manager: Kristen Storm
Dialect Coach: Pamela Reckamp
Sound Board Operator: Katy Keating
Graphic Designer: Dottie Quick
Photography: Joey Rumpell

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.
 Caroline (Danielle Carlacci) and Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
She hasn’t been to school in months due to a serious liver illness, and though she’s been sick all her life, things have lately taken a turn, and she spends a great deal of the play in ferocious defense of her wanting to be left alone in her lived-in chapel of solitude -- a cluttered teenager’s bedroom. When Caroline needs anything, instead of yelling for her mom, she just sends a text. Kids, right? 

After being taken by Anthony's genuine passion for Whitman, Caroline eventually warms to the ideas in the poetry, so she takes out her trusty craft box, and goes to work on putting a little glitter into Anthony’s pitiful efforts.

 Caroline (Danielle Carlacci) and Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The mystery that brought these two together, finally revealed in the last few minutes, is mind-blowing, so naturally I can’t say anything about that. But their discussions of Whitman’s poetry and its explorations of life and death give weight to Caroline’s battle with a body she has no control over, and serves to draw her closer to Anthony, who’s curious about this classmate whom he, nor anyone else at school, ever sees. They’re both what the other needs. Though the ending comes down like an anvil, threatening to overpower most of everything that has come before, it will definitely spark some after-thought, and plenty of conversation.

Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella) and Caroline (Danielle Carlacci).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Director Jane Page undeniably understands the dynamic of teenagers, and the connection comes in the gratifying, gentler, quieter moments between the two. Eric Barker’s scenic design hits the mark as a teen girl’s bedroom, covered with photos, complemented by all of the essential tech toys. Carlacci’s Caroline stands about a foot shorter than Piniella -- a happy coincidence that hints at her illness. She’s all bark from the start -- loud and combative, and seeing her finally give in is satisfying, while seeing her illness take its toll in a frightening physical breakdown is painful. Piniella’s appealing lankiness wins you over gradually, as he tries to push Caroline towards optimism, getting her to open up about herself despite her tendency to push everyone away.

For some thoughtful theater and equally thoughtful performances, check it out at the Rep Studio. It’s playing until the 15th.

Anthony (Reynaldo Piniella) and Caroline (Danielle Carlacci).
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Jane Page
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 15 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Caroline: Danielle Carlacci*
Anthony: Reynaldo Piniella*

Scenic Designer: Eric Barker
Costume Designer: Marci Franklin
Lighting Designer: John Wylie
Sound Designer: Rusty Wandall
Casting Directors: Ric Cole and Bob Cline
Stage Manager: Shannon B. Sturgis*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Thursday, October 29, 2015


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.

Mabel Tyler (Matilda Wormwood)
and Jennifer Blood (Miss Honey)
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
I’ve never read Dahl’s novel, but I imagine in book form, the airheaded nature of most of the adults would come off as a little less ridiculous than it struck me in the musical adaptation. But then again, that ridiculousness makes the points of the show more palpable -- especially for kids, because after all, the kids in the show are the ones who ultimately triumph over the adults, and in fine fashion. Tyler, one of the three rotating Matildas, was marvelous on opening night, making it easy to cheer her on, and Ryness as the former Olympic hammer-throwing champion, Miss Trunchbull, is about as over-the-top nasty as you could imagine, and he successfully milks every line for comic effect. Blood and Jones turn in great performances as the sympathetic adults, and Mattfeld and Silva are great as Matilda’s silly parents. Musically, the ensemble members handle “Revolting Children” and “When I Grow Up” beautifully (the huge swings in the latter number present a great set piece), but the production’s treble-heavy sound, and maybe the clipped nature of the line deliveries, posed a problem. Not being familiar with the story, I could barely understand many of the lines nor most of the lyrics. A quick read of the Wikipedia article beforehand would have served me well. Rob Howell’s scenic design is a clever mix of lettered blocks and tiles, and his costume design ranges from the Crunchem school uniforms to the more outlandish attire of the Wormwood parents.

Bryce Ryness (Miss Trunchbull)
and Mabel Tyler (Matilda Wormwood)
and The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Audio issues aside, it’s a show that has its share of magical moments, and will charm adults and kids alike. Just read a synopsis before you go. It’s playing at the Fox until the first.


Music/lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Dennis Kelly, based on Roald Dahl’s  children's novel
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through November 1 | tickets: $30 - $88
Performances Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2pm & 7:30pm, Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm

Danny Tieger (Michael Wormwood),
Cassie Silva (Mrs. Wormwood)
and Quinn Mattfeld (Mr. Wormwood)
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Matilda: Mabel Tyler
Miss Honey: Jennifer Blood
Mr. Wormwood: Quinn Mattfeld
Miss Trunchbull: Bryce Ryness
Mrs. Wormwood: Cassie Silva
Mrs. Phelps: Ora Jones
Nigel: Cal Alexander
Amanda: Kayla Amistad
Ensemble/Ass’t Dance Captain: Michael Fatica
Acrobat: Natalie Wisdom
Ensemble: John Michael Fiumara
Ensemble: Shonica Gooden
Bruce: Evan Gray
Alice: Cassidy Hagel
Tommy: Maliki Hurd
Dance Captain/Ensemble: Michael Jablonski
Ensemble: Stephanie Martignetti
Hortensia: Megan McGuff
Escape Artist: Ian Michael Stuart 
Swing: Serena Quadrato
Eric: Aristotle Rock
Rudolpho: Jaquez Andre Sims
Doctor/Sergei: Ian Michael Stuart
Michael Wormwood: Danny Tieger
Lavender: Serena Quadrato  
Ensemble: Darius Wright

The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Scenic, Costume Designer: Rob Howell
Sound Designer: Simon Baker
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone
Choreographer: Peter Darling
Orchestrator: Chris Nightingale
Illusion: Paul Kieve
Associate Choreographer: Kate Dunn
Voice Director: Andrew Wade
Music Director: Matthew Smeadal
Children’s Music Director: Bill Congdon
Production Stage Manager: Victoria Navarro
Stage Manager: Mitchell B. Hodges

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.

Janie Brookshire (Bella) and Clark Scott Carmichael (Jack).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
When we meet Bella Manningham (Janie Brookshire), she’s an anxious, jittery bundle of nerves, and her domineering husband of five years, Jack (Clark Scott Carmichael), is a man of little patience. In fact, he’s really kind of a jerk with barely a trace of compassion in him. He berates her for losing or misplacing things, and plays on Bella’s fear of heading towards the same fate as her mother, who died in an asylum for the mentally ill. When Bella insists that she’s hearing things in the house, Jack tells her that she’s imagining it. When she tells him that the gas lights dim and brighten on their own when she’s alone in the house at night, after Jack has gone off to God knows where, he accuses her of losing it. The housekeeper, Elizabeth (Amelia White), is sympathetic, while their impudent maid, Nancy (Rachel Kenney), spends her time flirting on the sly with Jack, pushing Bella to further despair. During one of Jack’s outings, Bella receives a visitor -- a retired Detective named Rough (Geoffrey Wade), who seemingly comes to help her, armed with a few tidbits about the house and theories of his own. That's when things really kick off.

Geoffrey Wade (Rough)
and Janie Brookshire (Bella).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Under Jenn Thompson's beautifully paced direction, there are fine performances from Brookshire as Bella, a woman unhinged under the thumb of her husband, desperate to please and grateful for the smallest kindness. Carmichael imparts some nice shading in his performance as Jack, despite his character being oppressive and stony. Kenney is opportunistic and cheeky as the maid Nancy, and White is carefully gauged as the watchful housekeeper, Elizabeth. Wade turns in a great performance as Detective Rough -- charming, resolute, and just quirky enough to be quite engaging whenever he’s onstage.

The creative contributions in this production are marvelous, starting with Wilson Chin’s exceptional scenic design, deftly revealed over the course of the play (that's all I'll say, as seeing it for yourself is a real treat), enhanced with the addition of Peter E. Sargent’s precise, eerie lighting design. Rusty Wandall’s sound design of macabre music, ticking clocks and ominous droning adds a distinct chill to the proceedings, and David Toser’s finely detailed costume design epitomizes 19th century London.

This scrumptious production is guaranteed to captivate. If I were you I'd get a ticket right now, and see it before it’s too late. Seriously.

Amelia White (Nancy) and Janie Brookshire (Bella).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey


Written by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Jenn Thompson 
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 8 | tickets: $21 - $79.50
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays through Fridays at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Bella Manningham: Janie Brookshire*
Jack Manningham: Clark Scott Carmichael*
Nancy: Rachel Kenney*
Detective Rough: Geoffrey Wade*
Elizabeth: Amelia White*
Bobby: Andrew Oppman
Bobby: Josh Roach

Geoffrey Wade (Rough) and Janie Brookshire (Bella).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Scenic Designer: Wilson Chin
Lighting Designer: Peter E. Sargent
Costumer Designer: David Toser
Sound Designer: Rusty Wandall
Casting Director: Rich Cole
Stage Manager: Champe Leary*
Assistant Stage Manager: Tony Dearing*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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.

Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny)
and Brendan Ochs (Eddie Birdlace).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Peter Duchan’s book is rock solid and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s wonderful songs and impressive musical themes propel the story perfectly with beautiful melodies and thick harmonies. Under Chris Petersen's musical direction, the band sounds strong and tight (Yay, strings!!). Ochs and Cothran display an honest chemistry onstage, and splendid voices. Cothran’s acting is exceptional, and musically, she knocks her numbers out of the park, with a rending "Pretty Funny." Ochs is authentic and charming as he gives way to his moral sense. His "Come Back" is chilling. They are bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including a very versatile Steingruby and O'Brien as Eddie’s Marine pals. Womack, as Marcy, absolutely nails her number, “Dogfight”, Tracey Herweck is funny as a dead-pan Ruth Two Bears -- another dogfight entrant, and Jason Meyers effectively handles a variety roles. Rob Lippert’s scenic design features a handsome silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge, with Tyler Duenow’s lights and Gary F. Bell’s spot on costume design.

With top-notch performances, great music and creative contributions, this stirring St. Louis premiere should not be missed. Get a ticket and check it out.

Kevin O’Brien, Ethan Isaac,
Michael Hodges, and Brendan Ochs.
Photo credit: John Lamb

Music/lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through October 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday, October 24 at 2pm

(l to r) Sara Rae Womack (Marcy)
and Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Rose Fenny: Shannon Cothran
Eddie Birdlace: Brendan Ochs
Pete: Jason Meyers
Boland: Luke Steingruby
Bernstein: Kevin O'Brien
Stevens: Mike Hodges
Fector: Sean Michael
Gibbs: Ethan Isaac
Sergeant: Jason Meyers
Peggy: Belinda Quimby
Librarian: Melanie Kozak
Mama: Jenni Ryan
Marcy: Sara Rae Womack
Lounge Singer: Jason Meyers
Ruth Two Bears: Tracey Herweck
Suzette: Belinda Quimby
Chippy: Jenni Ryan
Waiter: Jason Meyers
Big Tony: Jason Meyers

Brendan Ochs (Eddie Birdlace)
and Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Production Director, Technical Director: Justin Been
Artistic Director, Costume Designer: Gary F. Bell
Wig Stylist: Priscilla Case
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Music, Vocal Director: Chris Petersen
Choreographer: Zachary Stefaniak

Cello: M. Kuba
Bass: M. Joshua Ryan
Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen
Guitar: Adam Rugo, Substitute 10/14, 10/16 & 10/17: Lliam Christy
Percussion: Bob McMahon, Substitute 10/23 & 10/24 evening: Joe Winters
Violin: Steve Frisbee

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.
(l-r) Larissa White (Heather McNamara),
Cameisha Cotton (Heather Duke )
and Anna Skidis (Veronica).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Veronica (Anna Skidis), having gained entry into the inner-circle due to her hall pass forgery skills, enjoys the prestige but despises the way others in school are treated, primarily one of her oldest, best friends, Martha Dunnstock (Grace Seidel). Then Veronica falls for J.D. (Evan Fornachon), a leather-clad new student who also has a menacing hatred for high school nobility, and puts a major beat-down on the jocks on his first day. The Heathers don’t approve of her new beau, but Veronica is already half past give-a-shit, and J.D. is determined to teach the members of the in-crowd a permanent lesson by offing them and making it look like suicide.

In the 25-plus years since the film hit the screens, bullying, school shootings and teen suicides have spent their fair share of time in the spotlight of television news cameras, but the mix of memorable songs and insightful nods puts a comfortable distance between the cruelties of high school and the audience. I was curious about the way this story would play out in the midst of a few recent mass-shootings. It didn’t matter. If anything, it made this musical more relevant than ever.

Evan Fornachon (J.D.).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
The detailed direction of Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy keeps the pace and the staging animated and engaging, and the acting and singing chops of Skidis, who carries much of the show, are on glorious display as Veronica. Fornachon’s unhinged disposition as J.D. comes through his performance and his strong vocals that can be coarse and tender at the same time. Their voices blend impressively in "Our Love Is God” and “Seventeen.” Mathenia as the “HHIC” (Head Heather in Charge) -- Heather Chandler, never drops her air of perfect nastiness, even after she’s been offed. White’s Heather McNamara bubbles with lighthearted snark, but her performance nicely informs that she’s dealing with more than she lets on, exemplified in her excellent number, “Lifeboat.” Cotton’s Heather Duke is totally down for taking over the red scrunchie of power with aloof dominance once there’s a void, and Humburg and Jones turn in great performances as neanderthal jocks, Kurt and Ram, in “Blue,” along with Cotton and White (and yes, the song is about blue balls). Seidel, as Veronica’s abandoned, heartbroken and persecuted best friend Martha, practically stops the show with a powerfully poignant “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” and Lindsey Jones also does great work as Ms. Fleming, a hippie teacher who just wants the students to get in touch with their feelings in “Shine a Light,” while also capitalizing on the tv opportunity the tragedies have afforded.

(l-r) Cameisha Cotton (Heather Duke),
Sicily Mathenia (Heather Chandler)
and Larissa White (Heather McNamara).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Rob Lippert is responsible for the show’s scenic design, as well as the wonderful design for the Marcelle’s black-box space, and Sarah Porter’s 1980’s costume design sets the time and a huge array of individual characters handsomely. Jeffrey Richard Carter’s musical direction keeps the band tight and right, and Robin Michelle Berger punctuates the show with exciting choreography.

From the 80’s tunes that set the mood when you walk in, right up until the end, New Line’s anniversary kicks off with what they do best -- providing hilarious, daring, sometimes unsettling, but always unflinching, insightful looks at the world we live in, and those on the fringes. Go see it.

Grace Seidel (Martha Dunnstock).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg


Book/lyrics/music by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy 
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
through October 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Veronica Sawyer: Anna Skidis
 J.D.: Evan Fornachon
Heather Chandler: Sicily Mathenia
Heather Duke: Cameisha Cotton
Lindsey Jones (Ms. Fleming) and the “Heathers” company.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Heather McNamara: Larissa White
Martha Dunnstock: Grace Seidel
Ram Sweeney: Omega Jones
Kurt Kelly: Clayton Humburg
Young Republicanette: Brenda Bass
Preppy Stud: Kevin Corpuz
Hipster Dork: Colin Dowd
Beleaguered Geek: Alex Glow
Kurt’s Dad/Veronica’s Dad/Principal Gowan: Joel Hackbarth
Ms. Fleming/Veronica’s Mom: Lindsey Jones
Ram’s Dad/Big Bud Dean/Coach Ripper: Chris Kernan
Stoner Chick: Victoria Valentine

Clayton Humburg (Kurt) and Omega Jones (Ram).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Directing Intern: Jeremy Hyatt
Music Director: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Choreographer: Robin Michelle Berger
Stage Manager, Lighting Technician: Gabe Taylor
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Zinkl
Props Master, Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Scenic Artists: Kathleen Dwyer, Melanie Kozak, Gary Karasek and Kate Wilkerson
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Sue Goldford
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Bass: Andrew Gurney
Violin: Twinda Murry
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Reeds: Harrison Rich
Trumpet: Patrick Swan

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.

Nathan Bush (Douglas), Jason Contini (Martin),
Taylor Pietz (Kate), Alicia Smith (Izzy)
and John Pierson (Leonard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Leonard seems to take pleasure (in a mental masturbation kind of way) in skewering each manuscript he reads -- not that he reads much of them. Pierson gives Leonard an engaging vibe, despite Leonard being an insulting sexist prick, barely able to walk into a room without droning about his latest African adventure. After drawing in a long breath, he quickly scans the first page (or paragraph), tossing what he’s read on the floor, discarding the pages like trash, and then proceeds to annihilate the words and the writer with potently personal barbs. The students are in an almost hopelessly vulnerable situation, and the ambitious nature in each one is clearly demonstrated in different ways by Pietz, the first to be dismissed, Smith, using her sexual wiles, Contini, walking on the artistic high-ground and Bush, a nice guy who tries too hard. They all despair, or revel, in their individual insecurities and strengths, with director Elizabeth Helman guiding the rivalry that develops among them.

Nathan Bush (Douglas), Taylor Pietz (Kate),
Jason Contini (Martin), Alicia Smith (Izzy)
and John Pierson (Leonard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The detail in costumes by Carla Landis Evans defines each character, and the tone is set with Patrick Huber’s scenic and lighting design, along with Helman’s sound design. It’s a great show to soak in this weekend -- open to a variety of impressions, and well executed. Go see it!


Written by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Elizabeth Helman
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through October 4 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

John Pierson* (Leonard), Jason Contini* (Martin), Nathan Bush (Douglas), Taylor Pietz (Kate) and Alicia Smith (Izzy).

Scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; sound design by Elizabeth Helman; costume and props design by Carla Landis Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige; technical director, Greg Hunsaker; light board operator, Carla Landis Evans; sound board operator, Amy J. Paige; scenic paint, Cristie Johnston; mater electrician, Dalton Robinson; stage crew, Danny Mueller.

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States


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