Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SEMINAR • St. Louis Actors' Studio

What happens when you put four hopeful writers, eager to be published, in a room with a once acclaimed novelist? Well, the punchline in Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 play is laced with a constant current of competition -- on a couple of different levels, and director Elizabeth Helman and her able cast smartly elevate the themes in a seemingly slight script in STLAS’s 9th season opener.

Four young writers have shelled out $5,000 for a 10 week writing seminar under the tutelage of Leonard (John Pierson), a known literary hotshot. His students include the well-to-do Kate (Taylor Pietz), who hosts the sessions in her spacious Upper West Side, rent-controlled apartment, sweater-vested Douglas (Nathan Bush), who has family connections in publishing but lacks real promise, the provocative Izzy (Alicia Smith), whose wish to be published is only seconded by her desire to appear nude on a New York Magazine cover, and Martin (Jason Contini), a fan of the Mets and Kerouac, and the last hold-out when it comes to handing over his work to be judged.

Nathan Bush (Douglas), Jason Contini (Martin),
Taylor Pietz (Kate), Alicia Smith (Izzy)
and John Pierson (Leonard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Leonard seems to take pleasure (in a mental masturbation kind of way) in skewering each manuscript he reads -- not that he reads much of them. Pierson gives Leonard an engaging vibe, despite Leonard being an insulting sexist prick, barely able to walk into a room without droning about his latest African adventure. After drawing in a long breath, he quickly scans the first page (or paragraph), tossing what he’s read on the floor, discarding the pages like trash, and then proceeds to annihilate the words and the writer with potently personal barbs. The students are in an almost hopelessly vulnerable situation, and the ambitious nature in each one is clearly demonstrated in different ways by Pietz, the first to be dismissed, Smith, using her sexual wiles, Contini, walking on the artistic high-ground and Bush, a nice guy who tries too hard. They all despair, or revel, in their individual insecurities and strengths, with director Elizabeth Helman guiding the rivalry that develops among them.

Nathan Bush (Douglas), Taylor Pietz (Kate),
Jason Contini (Martin), Alicia Smith (Izzy)
and John Pierson (Leonard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The detail in costumes by Carla Landis Evans defines each character, and the tone is set with Patrick Huber’s scenic and lighting design, along with Helman’s sound design. It’s a great show to soak in this weekend -- open to a variety of impressions, and well executed. Go see it!


Written by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Elizabeth Helman
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through October 4 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

John Pierson* (Leonard), Jason Contini* (Martin), Nathan Bush (Douglas), Taylor Pietz (Kate) and Alicia Smith (Izzy).

Scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; sound design by Elizabeth Helman; costume and props design by Carla Landis Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige; technical director, Greg Hunsaker; light board operator, Carla Landis Evans; sound board operator, Amy J. Paige; scenic paint, Cristie Johnston; mater electrician, Dalton Robinson; stage crew, Danny Mueller.

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Saturday, September 26, 2015

THE WORLD BEGUN • Shakespeare in the Streets: Old North St. Louis

Last weekend, Shakespeare in the Streets took to Old North St. Louis -- at the intersection of N. 14th and Montgomery streets, to be exact. For the past four years, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has mounted an original work based on one of Shakespeare’s plays in one of the city’s neighborhoods, with contributions from the community’s residents for a weekend of free performances. This year Shakespeare in the Streets performed an adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy, “Twelfth Night” called "The World Begun" written by Nancy Bell, playwright-in-residence at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.

After a rousing warm-up by the band, Renaissance Blues, Viola (Marlene René Coveyou) finds herself out of space and time -- a 16th century woman who winds up in 21st century St. Louis after being shipwrecked, mourning the twin brother she thinks is dead. The shipwreck was gracefully represented by dancers from Jennifer Medina’s Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company. Once she gets her bearings, a librarian named Mike (Patrick Blindauer) gets Viola up to speed on the neighborhood, and she ends up disguising herself as a man, “Cesario”, and takes a job at Headhunters, the local barber shop, and falls for one of the barbers, Orsino (Lawd Gabriel). But Orsino has his eye on Olivia, the podiatrist (Erin Renée Roberts), and sends Cesario to her to communicate his love, but Olivia ends up falling for Cesario -- the disguised Viola.

Photo credit: David Levy
Then we have an Old North police officer named Toby, (like, a for real police officer named Richard Schicker), who is buddies with a goofy Andrew Aguecheek (Carl Overly, Jr.), who’s infatuated with Maria (Lisa Tejero), the owner of La Mancha coffeehouse. Malvolio (John Bratkowski), an antagonistic resident, is smitten with Olivia as well, but given his disposition, Maria slips him a fake love note that causes him to make a fool of himself in front of Olivia. If you’re familiar with “Twelfth Night”, you know how it unfolds. Olivia ends up with Viola’s twin brother Sebastian (Michael Cassidy Flynn), Viola ends up with Orsino and Toby the policeman marries Maria.

Photo credit: David Levy
This production also benefitted from a local girl scout, Aniyah Wilson as Antonia (Tarecka “Queenie” Smith on alternate performances) and Christoffer Ware, a spoken word artist who plays Feste. Mark Wilson’s production design used the neighboring buildings for projections, and director Jacqueline Thompson keeps the shenanigans compelling. All of the performances were terrific, with Coveyou proving a standout.

Old North St. Louis gets a bad rap for being “a bad part of town”, but this delightful adaptation, blocks from Crown Candy Kitchen and across from Firecracker Press and Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group, worked beautifully to highlight the tight-knit fellowship in one of St. Louis’ oldest neighborhoods. Bell's eloquently smart script is a wonderful love letter to this charming part of town. My only wish is that these productions ran longer! Keep an eye on the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis website to see what they’re up to for next year.


Written by Nancy Bell, adapted from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Directed by Jacqueline Thompson
Run concluded | tickets: FREE
Performances 8pm nightly

Patrick Blindauer (Mike, a history teacher), John Bratkowski* (Malvolio, a concerned citizen), Marlene René Coveyou (Viola, later disguised as “Cesario”), Michael Cassidy Flynn (Sebastian, her twin brother), Lawd Gabriel (Duke Orsino, a barber at Head Hunters), Robert Green (Robert, a patron of La Mancha), Carl Overly, Jr. (Sir Andrew Aguecheek Toby’s friend), Erin Renée Roberts (Olivia, the podiatrist), Ofc. Richard Schicker (Sir Toby Belch, a police officer), Tarecka “Queenie” Smith/Aniyah Wilson (Antonia, a girl scout), Lisa Tejero* (Maria, owner of La Mancha coffeehouse) and Christoffer Ware (Feste, a spoken word artist).

Production design by Mark Wilson; costume design by Felia Davenport; choreography by Jennifer Medina; sound design and assistant stage manager, Michael B. Perkins; properties master, Meg Brinkley; production manager, Tom Martin; stage manager, Richard B. Agnew*; assistant director, Amber Enke.

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Monday, September 21, 2015

ALL THE WAY • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Civil rights, the Constitution, race riots and the bare-knuckle business of politics. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the focal points that take center stage in Robert Schenkkan’s Tony award winning play were set in the present. But “All the Way” covers the first 11 months of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Presidency in 1963, immediately following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It’s fictional, but the Rep’s strapping 49th season opener is based on true events, and the themes in this local premiere take you by surprise with a resonance that’s eerie, and frankly, quite sobering.

LBJ’s strategic maneuvering to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed is a testament to his tenacity, fighting tooth and nail to bend Congress to his will.
Brian Dykstra (President Lyndon Baines Johnson).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.
These qualities are firmly illustrated through Brian Dykstra’s looming presence as our 36th President. He’s onstage for the majority of the play, and never fails to hold your attention, whether it’s during his periods of profane bluster, or his quieter moments when you can catch a glimmer of vulnerability. Through handshakes, phone calls and wry smiles, Johnson had to handle a segregationist delegation of white Southerners to get a milestone piece of legislation he was passionate about passed, along with dealing with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, played with slippery arrogance by Robert Vincent Smith, and Anderson Matthews as a magnetic Senator Richard Russell, a long-time friend and mentor in opposition to the civil rights movement, who finds himself at odds with Johnson. Civil Rights champions also had to be appeased. Leaving the Voting Rights Act out of the push for Civil Rights didn’t sit well with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., play by a measured Avery Glymph, nor the aggressive leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Stokely Carmichael (a fiery Richard Prioleau), or even the more cautious leaders -- Roy Wilkins (a dynamic J. Samuel Davis) and Rev. Ralph Abernathy (the Black Rep’s artistic director, Ron Himes). When three volunteers were murdered in Mississippi while trying to register black voters during the Freedom Summer, the heightened racial tensions in the country boiled over.

Lyndon B. Johnson (Brian Dykstra) and his team watch as
George Wallace (Jon Shaver) speaks.
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Director Steven Woolf fluidly guides this huge cast through two acts, and the show’s 19 actors smoothly cover over 40 roles. In addition to first-rate performances by Bernadette Quigley as Lady Bird Johnson, who knows her husband's vulnerabilities better than most, and Myxolydia Tyler as Coretta Scott King and a powerfully resilient Fannie Lou Hamer, a volunteer brutalized in a Mississippi jail, there are also fine performances from local actors, including Gary Wayne Barker as Howard “Judge” Smith, Michael James Reed as Johnson’s trusted aide Walter Jenkins, Jerry Vogel as Stanley Levison and Alan Knoll in his Rep debut as Emanuel Celler.

The ensemble applauds as Lyndon B. Johnson (Brian Dykstra)
signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.
James Kronzer’s handsome set was used to great effect, providing room for the action to play out on his multi-leveled tiers. Costumer Dorothy Marshall Englis captures the time with tie clips and cropped hairstyles, and Fitz Patton’s sound design punctuates scene shifts with percussive interstitials. Rob Denton highlights with pools of specific lights and Matthew Young’s projection design cunningly informs various locations.

It’s a gripping history lesson, particularly potent now as we’re in the midst of campaign season. The chords "All the Way" strikes are familiar, and the Rep’s production is excellent. It's playing until October 4th. Go see it!

The ensemble following the 1964 Presidential Election.
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Written by Robert Schenkkan
Directed by Steven Woolf
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through October 4 | tickets: $21 - $79.50
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Brian Dykstra* (President Lyndon Baines Johnson), Bernadette Quigley* (Lady Bird Johnson, Katharine Graham, Katherine St. George), Michael James Reed* (Walter Jenkins, William Colmer), Elizabeth Meadows Rouse* (Muriel Humphrey, Lurleen Wallace, White House Secretary), Kurt Zischke* (Hubert Humphrey), Anderson Matthews* (Richard Russell), Robert Vincent Smith* (J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Byrd), John Leonard Thompson* (Robert McNamara, James Eastland, William M. McCulloch, Paul B. Johnson), Avery Glymph* (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), Ron Himes* (Rev. Ralph Abernathy), Jerry Vogel* (Stanley Levison, Seymore Trammell, Rev. Edwin King, John McCormack), Richard Prioleau* (Stokely Carmichael, James Harrison), Gary Wayne Barker* (Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, Howard “Judge” Smith, Everett Dirksen, Carl Sanders), Myxolydia Tyler* (Coretta Scott King, Fannie Lou Hamer), Stephen D'Ambrose* (Strom Thurmond, King of Norway), Jon Shaver* (George Wallace, Walter Reuther, James Corman, Mike Mansfield), J. Samuel Davis* (Roy Wilkins, Aaron Henry), J. Cameron Barnett* (Bob Moses, David Dennis) and Alan Knoll* (Emanuel Celler, Network Announcer).

Scenic design by James Kronzer; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by Rob Denton; sound design by Fitz Patton; projection design by Matthew Young; casting directors, Rich Cole and Bob Cline; stage manager, Emilee Buchheit*; assistant stage manager, Lionel Christian*.

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Monday, September 7, 2015


Anne Washburn’s 2012 three-act play begins sometime in “the very near future,” after an apocalypse of nuclear proportions. The group of survivors in “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” travel with notebooks containing the names of loved ones. Everyone has a hunting knife or a gun, and lithium batteries are worth their weight in gold. They’re all essentially starting their world from scratch, and about the only thing they have to regain some semblance of the lives they had before, are stories. That’s where “The Simpsons” comes in.

The nation’s power plants have failed leaving everyone in darkness, and to pass the time and ward off fear, a group of survivors camped around a fire in the woods try to piece together the details of a 1993 Simpsons episode called ”Cape Feare” that was inspired from the 1991 psychological thriller Cape Fear (a remake of the 1962 film). In the episode, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie enroll in the Witness Relocation Program and move to Terror Lake to escape Sideshow Bob, who after being paroled from prison has been threatening to kill Bart to settle a long-held grudge. This episode of “The Simpsons” is peppered with cultural references (as most Simpsons episodes were) -- everything from The Night of the Hunter to Gilbert & Sullivan.
Will Bonfiglio (Sam) and Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Maria).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Matt Groening’s wildly irreverent animated sitcom about an all-American family exploited just about every cultural reference you can think of during the show’s 26-season run, and more than a passing knowledge of it is helpful.

The second act takes place seven years later, and our survivors have evolved into a theatre troupe performing Simpsons snippets, along with nostalgic commercials about long baths, diet coke and delicious food -- the revered memories of what the world was like before the breakdown of civilization.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the script shifts between comedy and the grim realities our characters face, and the real ingenuity of Washburn’s script is the examination of how, over time, pop hits are turned into anthems and tv shows into Greek tragedy.

Maggie Wininger (Quincy), Chuck Brinkley (Matt),
Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Maria), Jared Sanz-Agero (Gibson),
Will Bonfiglio (Sam) and Rachel Tibbetts (Jenny).
Photo credit: Michael Young

This bold production is further proof that Christina Rios, the artistic director of R-S Theatrics and this show’s director, has no shortage of moxie, and she directs with a sure hand. The staging is innovative -- again, don’t want to give too much away, and the cast she’s assembled is just as fearless. Chuck Brinkley has an ease as Matt that makes you feel like you’re sitting with a buddy at a bar, while he intently tries to reconstruct the “Cape Feare” episode, with Rachel Tibbetts’s Jenny adding her own recollections. Jennifer Theby-Quinn is compelling as Maria, engaging with the telling of a story about the horrifying effects of radioactivity, and the excellent Jared Sanz-Agero as the newest addition to the group of survivors, Gibson, is very entertaining in the second act. Will Bonfiglio is an absolute knockout in the third act, as is Kay Love as Edna. Rachel Hanks as the spirited theatre director, Colleen, and Maggie Wininger as a quarrelsome Quincy round out the cast.

Maggie Wininger (Bart), Rachel Hanks (Lisa),
Will Bonfiglio (Mr. Burns).
Photo credit: Michael Young
“Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and as interesting as Washburn’s ideas are, some of them border on wearing out their welcome, but this inventive dark comedy will definitely leave you with food for thought about the how the stories we tell change, along with the telling of them. It’s playing at the Ivory Theatre until the 20th. Check it out!


Written by Anne Washburn
Score by Michael Friedman
Lyrics by Anne Washburn
Directed by Christina Rios
Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave.
through September 20 | tickets: $20 - $25, $75 VIP Price is for two patrons and includes reserved seating and 4 beverages
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Chuck Brinkley (Matt), Rachel Tibbetts (Jenny), Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Maria), Will Bonfiglio (Sam), Rachel Hanks (Colleen), Jared Sanz-Agero (Gibson), Maggie Wininger (Quincy) and Kay Love (Edna).

Assistant director, Sarah Lynne Holt; stage manager, Andrea Schoening; assistant stage managers, Nikki Lott & Nick Raghebi; production manager, Heather Tucker; musical direction by Leah Luciano; choreography by Cecily Daguman; fight choreography by Mark Kelley; mask design by Scott Schoonover; scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Nathan Schroeder; costume design by Amy Harrison; assistant costume designer, Ruth Schmalenberger; sound design by Mark Kelley; properties master, Heather Tucker; sound board operator, Keller Ryan; costume intern, Claire Miller; artistic director, Christina Rios; managing director, Heather Tucker; associate managing director, Elizabeth Van Pelt.

Piano/conductor, Leah Luciano.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...