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.

Reginald Pierre (Newscaster 2), Sarah Porter (Newscaster 1),
Sara Sapp (Child B), Steven Castelli (Clown),
Sarah McKenney (Child A) and Beth Van Pelt (Poet).
Though tenuously connected, the loose thread of themes that runs through the vignettes hint at general truths and strike little chords with scenes that involve everything from balloons and sexism to butterflies in jars and true love, with all of the stories growing darker and darker in mood.

The performances are strong under the direction of Skidis, starting with Van Pelt who shares her poetry with an awkward cockiness. McKenney and Sapp embody the buoyant, fickle nature of youth and Porter and Pierre immediately resonate as typical, competitive news anchors. Castelli seems to be the one constant throughout as a quiet, innocent observer.

“This Is Not Funny” is a bold choice for Theatre Nuevo’s first production, and will challenge those who are used to more traditional theatre, but this collaborative creation is worth checking out if you’re up for an evening of something different, and an opportunity to use its wide margins to arrive at your own conclusions.


THIS IS NOT FUNNY

Directed by Anna Skidis
through August 2 | tickets: $15 in advance - $20 at the door
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Beth Van Pelt (Poet), Steven Castelli (Clown), Sarah McKenney (Child A), Sara Sapp (Child B), Sarah Porter (Newscaster 1) and Reginald Pierre (Newscaster 2).

Creative:
Lighting and scenic design by Jeremy Brooks; assistant director and stage manager, Gabe Taylor.

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.

Meanwhile, a hungry mother and daughter (Katy Keating and Reagan Austin), seemingly from another time and place appear, with no idea where their next meal will come from. The “have nots” soon meet up with the “haves” and a valuable lesson nicely comes together about the hunger suffered by families in our own backyards, wastefulness and generosity.

Under Shanara Gabrielle’s direction, the whole of the cast is wonderfully engaging. Tatum is our amiable narrator, who seems to have an eye towards where the tale is headed, and Blindauer charms as the baker trying desperately to cover his debt. Keating and Austin make a wonderful pair as the poor mother and daughter, reminding us that hunger isn’t an isolated condition that happens in faraway places. Hand is spot on as a mother juggling tasks and Reed perfectly portrays a demanding spoiled kid, and gratifyingly comes around when she meets those in need. Kuhlman makes a good impression as a forgiving bill collector and Mohr pulls no punches as his adorable enforcer. Special shout out to Hannah Frey as the “Fiddler,” who adds a perfect musical backdrop for the proceedings.

Sadly, this production has concluded, so I can’t advise you to check it out, but I can advise you to keep an ear to the ground for OnSite’s next production, because this company always provides a unique experience. It was great to see them break new ground. There were also delicious cupcakes for the audience at the end. Yum!


THE RUNAWAY CUPCAKE: A PLAY ABOUT EATING FOR FAMILIES WHO EAT

Written by Nancy Bell
Directed by Shanara Gabrielle
SweetArt, 2203 South 39th Street
Run complete | tickets: $12 - $20

Cast:
Hannah Frey (Fiddler), Kenyata Tatum (Baker’s Assistant), Patrick Blindauer (Baker), Andrew Kuhlman (Bill Collector), Maria Mohr (Terrifying Assistant), Hannah Donaldson (Runaway Cupcake), Reagan Austin (Hungry Girl), Katy Keating (Hungry Mother), Michelle Hand (Girl’s Mother), Ivy Bell Reed (Girl).

Creative:
Costume design by Christina Sittser; Dramaturg, Dan Rubin.

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.

Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught),
Erin Kelley (Mrs. Mercy Croft), Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge)
and Cooper Shaw (Madame Xenia).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
George suspects her character may be getting the ax soon. The ratings for Applehurst are down, and, there is the matter of an incident that's hit the papers involving a drunk George, a taxi and nuns. Her fears are heightened when Mrs. Mercy Croft (Erin Kelley), a BBC executive, pays her a visit to talk about the program’s direction, and the fate of Sister George.

Under sharp, smart direction by Brooke Edwards, this cast of four disappears into their roles, led by Byers. Byers characteristically holds your attention as George in butch, wide-legged, domineering fashion, but rewards with the vulnerability underneath that tweed, sharing glimpses of the woman forced to extremes, and unwillingly coerced into reinventing herself. Nara also fleshes out Childie, capitalizing on every comic turn, but also giving a sliver of calculation that belies a seemingly simple exterior.
Erin Kelley (Mrs. Mercy Croft),
Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught),
Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge)
and Cooper Shaw (Madame Xenia).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
Kelley’s Mrs. Croft is spot on as the buttoned up BBC exec., sporting many of costume designer Cyndi Lohrmann’s period perfect hats, and Cooper Shaw excels as Madame Xenia, a clairvoyant neighbor who looks in on George when it all hits the fan, with a slavic-like accent that truly entertains. Actually, all of the dialects during the play are quite solid. Dunsi Dai’s cozy scenic design hits all of the right notes along with Kyra Bishop’s prop design that includes a slew of Alice’s dolls. Bess Moynihan lights the set following mood and times of day, and Michael B. Perkins provides the sound design.

The play was made into a racier film adaptation in 1968, and received a scandalous X-rating for an explicit scene between June and Alice. This catapulted the film version to an almost cult-like status. For modern audiences, the play’s tension is centered more around the relationships, and will entertain from the wonderful pre-show audio of a radio soap right until the last moments. Grab a ticket and check it out.


Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE

Written by Frank Marcus
Directed by Brooke Edwards
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through July 26 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge/Sister George), Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught), Erin Kelley* (Mrs. Mercy Croft), Cooper Shaw* (Madame Xenia).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught)
and Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
Creative:
Scenic design by Dunsi Dai; lighting design by Bess Moynihan; sound design by Michael B. Perkins; costume design by Cyndi Lohrmann; prop design by Kyra Bishop; stage manager, Richard Agnew*.

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.

Michael Hogan.
Photo credit: John Lamb
LaBute’s “Kandahar” features Michael Hogan as a soldier being grilled about a brutal incident at his local base after his return from Afghanistan. Under John Pierson’s direction, Hogan’s performance -- stoic and imposing, teases out the details of what landed him here in chilling detail, driving home how the numbing horrors of war are not easily left behind, with a solid solo performance.

G.P. Hunsaker (Jeweler) and Nathan Bush (Robert).
Photo credit: John Lamb

In Mark Young’s “Custom”, directed by Christopher Limber, Robert (Nathan Bush) visits a jeweler (GP Hunsaker) to get some gold appraised. During his visit, he admires the jeweler’s collection of custom pieces, and the stories that come with them. One of the jeweler’s earliest pieces, a golden cricket that “chirps”, has a special story -- one that reveals a poignant connection between Robert and the jeweler. Great performances from Hunsaker and Bush.

Kevin C. Minor (Man) and Nancy Crouse (Woman).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Less successful is Chris Holbrook’s “A Taste of Heaven”, that finds Nancy Crouse fighting a healthcare bureaucrat. Her retirement benefits are in danger of being terminated because they think she’s dead. Directed by B. Weller, there are solid performances from Crouse, Kevin Minor and Rhyan Robison, but Holbrook’s twist near the end of the play comes a little too late in the proceedings after the initial set-up has lost steam.

Steve Apostolina’s “Cold in Hand”, also directed by Limber, fares better as Luke (Rynier Gaffney), a young, white street performer with a penchant for the blues winds up on Razz’s (Don McClendon) corner.
Don McClendon (Razz) and Rynier Gaffney (Luke).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Razz is an old blues man himself, and wonders what this young white boy knows about the blues. They both learn things about each other they didn’t anticipate in this neat little chance meeting with a convincing performance by McClendon and good support by Gaffney.

Lexi Wolfe’s “Stand Up for Oneself”, directed by Pierson, is an easy-going story about Lucas (Bush), an introverted, disabled professor who has retreated to a back room at a party in London.
Nathan Bush (Lucas) and Alicia Smith (Lila).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Lila (Alicia Smith), a young teacher, discovers him alone and after he initially tries to avoid her, she eventually engages him in conversation and wears him down with her flirtatious, upbeat demeanor. It’s a sweet story with another strong performance from Bush, and a charming turn by Smith.

Jenny Smith plays Patricia, newly divorced and preparing for a business presentation the next morning in Rich Orloff’s comedy, “A Stranger Here Myself”. Alone in her hotel room she’s unable to sleep, so she turns to one surefire way to unwind. Let’s call it “freelance work.”
Don McClendon (Bruce), Jenny Smith (Patricia),
Stephanie Benware (Chelsea) and Paul Cereghino (Shane).
Photo credit: John Lamb
She’s soon joined by her fantasy hunk, a movie star named Shane (Paul Cereghino) who is bored with the routine, her ex-husband Bruce (McClendon) who knows what Patricia likes, and even her slutty and curious neighbor Chelsea (Stephanie Benware). All of the players are very funny in this perfect nightcap for the evening.

The first set of plays provides a lot of variety, played out on Patrick Huber’s minimal and incredibly versatile set, and is a promising start to this year’s festival. The first set will play until the weekend, with the second set of plays kicking off on the 24th. Grab your tickets now for an exciting event that’s made a wonderful addition to the St. Louis theatre landscape.


LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL

“Kandahar” by Neil LaBute • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Michael Hogan*.

Finalists (July 10-19):

“Custom” by Mark Young, Chicago, Il • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: Nathan Bush (Robert) and GP Hunsaker (Jeweler).

“A Taste of Heaven” by Chris Holbrook, San Francisco, CA • Directed by B. Weller
Cast: Nancy Crouse (Woman), Kevin Minor (Man) and Rhyan Robison (Functionary).

“Cold in Hand” by Steve Apostolina, Burbank, CA • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: Rynier Gaffney (Luke) and Don McClendon (Razz).

“Stand Up for Oneself” by Lexi Wolfe, London England • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Nathan Bush (Lucas) and Alicia Smith (Lila).

“A Stranger Here Myself” by Rich Orloff, New York, NY • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Jenny Smith (Patricia), Paul Cereghino (Shane), Don McClendon (Bruce) and Stephanie Benware (Chelsea).


Finalists (July 24 – August 2):

“Pitch” by Theresa Masters & Marc Pruter, St Louis, MO • Directed by B. Weller
Cast: Stephanie Benware (Trina) and Paul Cereghino (Matt).

“There You Are” by Fran Dorf, Stamford, CT • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: B. Weller (George) and Jenny Smith (Jesse).

“Homebody” by Gabe Mckinley, New York, NY • Directed by Patrick Huber
Cast: Donna Weinsting (Mother) and Michael Hogan* (Jay).

“Deirdre Dear” by Norman Yeung, Toronto, ON • Directed by Patrick Huber
Cast: Jenny Smith (Deirdre), Rhyan Robinson (Carol, Casting Assistant), Alicia Smith (Bea), Stephanie Benware (Andrea) and Maya Dickinson (Bobbi).


High School Finalists (July 25 @ 11am):

Directed by Steve Isom*

“Listen To Me” by Benjamin Killeen, Webster Groves High School, St. Louis, MO

“Zodiac” by Meghan Rivkin, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire,IL

“The Day Netflix Crashed” by Veronica Silva, Clayton High School, St. Louis, MO

“Coming In” by Hannah Ryan, Clayton High School, St. Louis, MO

“Guilt” by Sydney Cimarolli, Webster Groves High School, St. Louis, MO

Cast: Abigail Isom, Adrianna Jones, Spencer Milford*, Olivia Prosser, Pete Winfrey and William Bonfiglio.
* Member Actors' Equity Association

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through August 2 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Creative: 
Scenic design by Patrick Huber; lighting design by Patrick Huber and Dalton Robison; sound design by John Pierson, Christopher Limber, B. Weller and Patrick Huber; costume and props design by Carla Landis Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

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