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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.

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