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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.

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