Saturday, August 29, 2015

ONE FLEA SPARE • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

SATE’s mid-season production of Naomi Wallace’s “One Flea Spare” feels aptly at home in the intimate space of The Chapel. Her introspective account of the inhabitants in a home under a 28-day quarantine in bubonic plague-ravaged London evokes images that stick in your mind. Under the direction of Ellie Schwetye, the calamitous breakdown of society and the classes are hauntingly brought to life.

Mr. and Mrs. Snelgrave (Joe Hanrahan and Kelley Weber) are a wealthy couple not allowed to leave their house, with frequent visits and grim updates from Kabe (Andrew Kuhlman), a crooked, city appointed guard charged with keeping the quarantine enforced, and handing out meager provisions to those still living.
Hannah Ryan (Morse), Charlie Barron (Bunce),
Kelley Weber (Darcy), Andrew Kuhlman (Kabe)
and Joe Hanrahan (Snelgrave).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell, Rumzoo Photography
The Snelgraves find themselves with unexpected guests -- twelve-year-old Morse (Hannah Ryan), who has snuck in claiming to be the only survivor of a neighboring family, and Bunce (Charlie Barron), a sailor looking to break away from the Royal Navy whom Snelgrave takes on as a servant, since he has lost his previous servants to the plague.

The Black Death has laid everyone low, and the holders of power and status shift among these four tentative housemates as the tension within the house grows, and the world outside their walls crumble. Hanrahan is excellent as Snelgrave, an entitled man who bonds with Bunce over their love of the sea, but asserts his privilege whenever he gets the opportunity. Weber plays Darcy Snelgrave with a quiet longing as a woman with a few secrets, stuck in a marriage devoid of any passion.
Joe Hanrahan (Snelgrave) and Charlie Barron (Bunce).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell, Rumzoo Photography
Kuhlman turns in a strong performance as a corrupt, lusty guard who relishes his new found authority. Ryan has an open-faced charm as a candid young girl whose maturity belies her years, and Barron disappears into his role as Bunce, slightly menacing under the surface but compassionate and tender in his confrontations with Darcy.

The play is also greatly benefitted by the production’s unadorned set and gloomy atmosphere. Bess Moynihan and Schwetye’s raised wooden platform and just a few set pieces, surrounded by haze and stark lights perfectly set the mood, with Elizabeth Henning’s costume design and subtle sound design by Kareem Deanes to add to the mix and transport you to the 17th Century.

It’s an eerily engaging play, superbly staged. Don’t miss it. One more chance.


Kelley Weber (Darcy), Hannah Ryan (Morse),
Joe Hanrahan (Snelgrave) and Charlie Barron (Bunce).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell, Rumzoo Photography
ONE FLEA SPARE

Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
through August 29 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Cast:
Hannah Ryan (Morse), Charlie Barron (Bunce), Joe Hanrahan (Snelgrave), Kelley Weber (Darcy) and Andrew Kuhlman (Kabe).

Creative:
Scenic design by Bess Moynihan and Ellie Schwetye; lighting design by Bess Moynihan; costume design by Elizabeth Henning; Sound design by Kareem Deanes; props by Rachel Tibbetts; set construction by Jon Hisaw; dramaturg, Taylor Gruenloh; stage manager, Kristin Rion.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

SPELLBOUND! A MUSICAL FABLE • Stray Dog Theatre

“Spellbound! A Musical Fable” was originally conceived in 1994 by Stray Dog’s artistic director, Gary F. Bell and Robert L. White. Recently taken off the shelf and given the once-over, Bell gave it a world premiere that closed out a strong Stray Dog season. Still in its workshop stage, "Spellbound!" draws on familiar fairy tales and lesser known folklore from Japan, India, Germany, Nigeria and England, and it’s an exciting show with enchanting potential.

An immediate mood greeted you walking into the Abbey’s space. Rob Lippert’s scenic design featured tall movable trees, multi-leveled tree-top platforms, and full-moon landscapes complemented by Tyler Duenow’s lights. The show’s opening number, “Spellbound”, sets you firmly into the jungles of Samaren, where Arabella, a “Cinderella-type” heroine, authentically played by a firm-voiced, sweet-faced Meadow Tien Nguy, is at the beck and call of her stepmother, an evil, black magic enchantress called Layla, diabolically portrayed by Deborah Sharn (her excellent wig is courtesy of Priscilla Case), who has her eye on ruling the land. Maria Bartolotta and Eileen Engel are wickedly funny as Arabella’s stepsisters, Muchaneta and Kokumo, and Patrick Kelly is Bangababo, Arabella’s dad -- a market vendor still vulnerable to Layla’s spells.

(l to r) Corey Fraine, Kevin Connelly, Kimberly Still,
Brendan Ochs, Paula Stoff Dean, Michael Baird, Abby Eisen,
Tyler Cheatem, and Stefanie Kluba.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Paula Stoff Dean is Inaambura, who checks in on the proceedings, magically harnessing natural elements, nicely marking her as a benevolent enchantress. Her romantic interest, Changamire, (Zachary Stefaniak, who also contributed the stylish choreography), decides to hold a carnival to lift spirits and perhaps find a mate to inspire Changamire’s son, Adama Princely, played with teen-idol swagger by Chris Tipp, to settle down. Tipp also plays the Bengal tiger, whom Ararbella meets in a quest she’s been sent on by Layla. An energetic coming-of-age reckoning is in the cards for Arabella and Adama, with side adventures along the way.

The show gets bogged down in some of these side trips, and while they introduce interesting characters, the central story derails.

Chris Tipp and Meadow Tien Nguy.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Christopher Thomas’s solid original orchestrations are flavored with Cha-cha, tango, blues and traditional Broadway fare, and under Chris Petersen’s music and vocal direction, “Spellbound,” “Wings of an Angel,” the act three opener, “Blue Water Stream,” and “A Perfect Fit” were standouts. Bell and Engel’s fairy tale inspired costume designs were great, and Justin Been’s sound design puts the "spell" in "Spellbound," giving weight to the power of certain characters and adding greatly to the mood of the show.

Bell directs his buoyant ensemble using Tower Grove Abbey’s aisles to great effect, and while the show’s strengths included a strong cast, excellent creative contributions, and memorable songs that propel the pacing, a bit of judicious trimming could let the jewels of this show really shine.

As embarrassingly late as this review is, I truly look forward to seeing a "post-workshop" version in the future -- because this version holds loads of promise.



SPELLBOUND! A MUSICAL FABLE 

(l to r) Tyler Cheatem, Eileen Engel,
Kimmie Kidd, Maria Bartolotta, Patrick Kelly, and Deborah Sharn.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Music/book/lyrics by Gary F. Bell and Robert L. White
Original Orchestrations by Christopher Thomas
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
Run complete | tickets: $10 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, additional performances 8pm Wednesdays, August 12 and 19, and 2pm Saturday, August 22

Cast:
Meadow Tien Nguy (Arabella), Melissa Harris (Castor/Chorus), Stefanie Kluba (Eurasia/Chorus), Paula Stoff Dean (Inaambura), Deborah Sharn (Layla), Maria Bartolotta (Munchie), Eileen Engel (Koko), Tyler Cheatem (Lovely/Gretel/Chorus), Patrick Kelly (Bangababo), Kimberly Still (Oswald/Goldie/Chorus), Abby Eisen (Cloud Burst), Kevin Connelly (Dew Drop), Michael Baird (Howler #1/Chorus), Brendan Ochs (Howler #2/Chorus), Chris Tipp (Adama/Bengal), Kimmie Kidd (Lady Bird/Chorus), Zachary Stefaniak (Changamire), Michael A. Wells (Amadeus/Butch/Chorus) and Corey Fraine (Rasputin/Chorus).

Meadow Tien Nguy, Deborah Sharn,
Patrick Kelly, and Maria Bartolotta.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Creative:
Choreography/make up design by Zachary Stefaniak; costume design by Eileen Engel and Gary F. Bell; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; music/vocal director, Chris Petersen; scenic design by Rob Lippert; wig stylist, Priscilla Case; sound design/stage manager, Justin Been; assistant stage manager, Erin Goodenough; production manager, Jay V. Hall.

Band:
Violin, Steve Frisbee; cello, Michael Kuba; trumpet, A.J. Lane; percussion, Bob McMahon; trombone, Gabe Mueller; flute, Harrison Rich; guitar, Adam Rugo; bass, M. Joshua Ryan.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER • St. Louis Shakespeare

Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama, “Hedda Gabler,” premiered in 1891, but Jeff Whitty’s 2012 comedy picks up where Ibsen’s left off, with Hedda (Emily Baker), just having put a bullet in her head, waking up in a messy limbo of sorts on the Cul de Sac Of The Tragic Heroines. She, along with Gone With The Wind’s house slave Mammy (Jeanitta Perkins), and several other theatrical, film and television figures of note, are doomed to repeatedly play out the patterns their creators have given them, unable to re-write their own destinies. Pulling off the right tone for this kind of play is tricky, but under the sharp direction of St. Louis Shakespeare’s new artistic director, Suki Peters, and the leading performances of a fiercely engaging Baker and a quietly heroic Perkins and strong supporting players, this production soars.

Jeanitta Perkins (Mammy),
Emily Baker (Hedda Gabler)
and Carl Overly, Jr. (Patrick).
Photo credit: Kim Carlson
Hedda, a desperate housewife if ever there was one, learns from her attentive husband George Tesman (Dave Cooperstein), that she, and many others, are stuck in a purgatorial existence, and can only be released once their popularity has faded into obscurity. Well, Hedda’s not having any of it, so she sets off with Mammy, used to serving temperamental white folks, in a search for the “furnace of creation,” where she might have a chance to change the course of her fate. Hedda and Mammy are joined in this trippy abyss by a theatrically tragic Medea (Lindsay Gingrich), who invokes thunder whenever she speaks, two late 60’s self loving/hating cinema queens on the cusp of gay liberation, Steven and Patrick (Maxwell Knocke and Carl Overly, Jr.), and a “Woman in Pink” (Patience Davis) who resembles a 70’s era Pam Grier, blaxploitation type diva.

Baker, who has shown her knack for nailing 19th century women restricted by social norms before (St. Louis Actors' Studio’s 2014 production of “The Awakening”), gets to mix that in with her comedic skills, and Perkins has an engaging presence, whether she’s washing laundry or enjoying a brief new persona as an empowered woman of color.
Carl Overly, Jr. (Patrick) and Maxwell Knocke (Steven).
Photo credit: Kim Carlson
Overly and Knocke clearly bring the party wherever they go, and Gingrich and Davis have great turns in multiple roles. Ben Ritchie holds your attention hardly doing a thing as a pensive Eilert Lovborg, Hedda’s ex-lover, along with an appearance as Jesus, and Cooperstein slides perfectly into the role of Hedda’s academic husband. The creative contributions drive the eye right where the action is, and JC Krajicek’s wonderful costumes include a wide range of styles.

Ben Ritchie (Jesus) and Jeanitta Perkins (Mammy).
Photo credit: Kim Carlson
With a point to make about enduring stereotypes and popular culture, chock full of cameos from everyone from Prince Hamlet and Lady Macbeth to Little Orphan Annie, St. Louis Shakespeare’s production is well worth checking out. It’s only up for one more day.


THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER

Written by Jeff Whitty  
Directed by Suki Peters 
Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave.
through August 9 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm

Lindsay Gingrich (Medea) and Emily Baker (Hedda Gabler).
Photo credit: Kim Carlson
Cast:
Emily Baker (Hedda Gabler), Jeanitta Perkins (Mammy), Dave Cooperstein (George Tesman and others), Maxwell Knocke (Steven and others), Carl Overly, Jr. (Patrick and others), Ben Ritchie (Eilert Lovborg and others), Patience Davis (Woman in Pink and others) and Lindsay Gingrich (Medea and others).

Creative:
Scenic design/scenic paint by Jason Townes; costume design by JC Krajicek; sound design by Jeff Roberts; lighting design by Steve Miller; prop master, Linda Lawson; vocal coach, Jamie Lynn Eros; board operator, Keller Ryan; set construction, Erik Kuhn, Maxwell Knocke, Linda Lawson and Joe Wittwer; production manager, Maxwell Knocke; technical director, Erik Kuhn; stage manager, Abby Lampe; Flossie/assistant stage manager, Katie Robinson; Musical Jesus/assistant stage manager, Ted Drury; costume assistant, Taylor Donham.

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