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.

Stephen Peirick (Henry Neale)
and Maggie Conroy (Elizabeth Neale).
Photo credit: Joe Mohr
Along the route, we're privy to cleverly piped in conversations between Nina, Steven, Congressman Neale and Elizabeth, and the hushed secrets that are exposed cause rifts between the Neale couple, while others have the potential to sink Neale's bid for Governor. After a whirlwind tour of developments and satisfying resolves, the evening ends at the "press drop off" point where we began, back at Tavolo V.

Under Tom Martin's adept direction, this cast of five do excellent work. Alverson's Nina, an SLU student thrilled to be volunteering for the Congressman, brings much mirth to the proceedings, along with Weinsting as the determined veteran reporter who refuses to let up. Peirick, the well-groomed, well-spoken, likable politician, and Conroy as his dutiful wife with expensive tastes, make a lovely couple, when they're not arguing, and Barron is energetic and convincing as Steven Kendell, trying to extinguish fires at every turn. Also, kudos to Tina, the bus driver.

Charlie Barron (Steven Kendell)
and Sarajane Alverson (Nina Corde).
Photo credit: Joe Mohr
There are a lot of moving parts to this show (no pun intended) -- from the action that takes place on the bus, to the stop at Crossroads, and the protestors who can be seen along the route. There's also a twitter account where you can tweet about the leaks you hear along the way, and pick up some interesting tidbits (and possible spoilers) about the bus tour (#NealeBus). Hell, there's even a campaign song! Seating is naturally very limited, and "Off The Record" runs until the 11th, so do yourself a favor -- reserve your tickets early and see this show. For real. It's a guaranteed fun time.

Donna Weinsting (Lorraine Kay)
and Maggie Conroy (Elizabeth Neale).
Photo credit: Joe Mohr


Written by Alec Wild
Directed by Tom Martin
Tavolo Bar/Restaurant, 6118 Delmar Blvd. 
through April 11 | tickets: $25
Performances Saturday at 7pm and 9pm, Friday at 8pm

Sarajane Alverson (Nina Corde), Maggie Conroy (Elizabeth Neale), Charlie Barron (Steven Kendell), Stephen Peirick (Henry Neale), and Donna Weinsting (Lorraine Kay).

Stage manager, Elizabeth Van Pelt; dramaturg, Dan Rubin.

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