Saturday, April 30, 2016

IVANOV • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Nikolai Ivanov, and most of his countrymen, are suffering from numbing boredom. But Ivanov is not only bored as hell, he’s irascible. He disparages just about everyone who crosses his path, he neglects his sick wife in favor of socializing with friends, and he’s up to his nose in debt. St. Louis Actors' Studio closes its ninth season with an excellent production of Anton Chekhov’s first full-length play, written in 1887 and set against the cold, rural Russian countryside. With dreary outlooks spiked with humorous satire, it feels like a prototype for his trademark themes, and there’s a visible gun. So you know what that means.

Drew Battles plays Ivanov with a palpable fatigue -- languishing under a weight of self loathing he can’t figure out. His depression never seems to damper the mood of Borkin though. He manages Ivanov’s mostly barren farms, always coming up with schemes to make money, and Dave Wassilak lends a comically inflated confidence to every plan he hatches. Adding to the humor is Ivanov’s penniless Uncle, Count Shabelsky (Bobby Miller), who lives with Ivanov. In between his grumbling, he’s just about the only one who shows Anna (Julie Layton), Ivanov’s wife of five years, withering from tuberculosis, any compassion. Anna’s doctor, Lvov (Reginald Pierre), is also an Anna advocate. Lvov is disgusted by Ivanov’s treatment of her and exasperated at the very mention of him. While Lvov insists that he is an honest man, Pierre’s cagey portrayal keeps you guessing at his motives, and his patient, keenly portrayed by Layton, is affectingly tragic.

Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Despite Ivanov’s disposition, Anna still adores him, even though he would rather spend his evenings away from home. She gave up Judaism and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church to marry Ivanov, resulting in no dowry, which would have provided Ivanov with a welcome financial boost. The debt he owes is to the Lebedevs -- a couple he’d rather hang out with than his poor wife. Lebedev (B. Weller) enjoys Ivanov as fodder for conversation, but his wife Zinaida (Teresa Doggett) doesn’t so easily forget Ivanov’s debt to them. Their daughter, Sasha (Alexandra Petrullo) however, is taken with Ivanov and they share an unexpected kiss, that’s seen by Anna.

Ivanov (Drew Battles).
Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Under Wayne Salomon’s direction, the large cast gives solid performances, and the technical designs are effective. Patrick Huber’s scenic design includes wooden horizontal planks and blue vertical neons that add a feeling of being caged, and the lights brighten and dim with Ivanov’s appearances and retreats, with staging that keeps the players onstage for much of the play.

Only a couple more chances to check out this rarely produced, strongly executed production.

Photo Credit: Patrick Huber

Written by Anton Chekhov, translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Wayne Salomon
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through May 1 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Ivanov: Drew Battles*
Borkin: Dave Wassilak
Shabelsky: Bobby Miller*
Cast of “Ivanov”.
Photo Credit John Lamb
Anna: Julie Layton
Sasha: Alexandra Petrullo
Lvov: Reginald Pierre
Lebedev: B. Weller
Zinaida: Teresa Doggett
Babakina: Cara Barresi
Lipa: Shannon Nara
Avdotya: Jan Meyer
Yegorushka: Clayton Bury
Gavrila: LĂ©erin Campbell

Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Costume Designer: Teresa Doggett
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: Wayne Salomon
Scenic Painter: Cristie Johnston
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
Technical Director: Jon Hisaw
Light Board Operator: Carla Landis Evans
Sound Board Operator: Amy J. Paige
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBTQ Plays • That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE Magazine

That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE were back again last weekend for "Briefs: A Festival of Short LGBTQ plays,” presenting eight works selected from over 200 nation-wide submissions. Presented by Pearl Vodka and celebrating its 5-year anniversary, the festival’s cornerstone of diverse subject matter has attracted a wider net of St. Louis talent and also widening LGBTQ and racial diversity. The plays were varied in tone, but there was a thread of family, love and acceptance that seemed to run underneath many. Max Friedman, playwright of “The Grind,” directed by Gad Guterman, was the winner of this years’ second annual Ken Haller Playwriting Competition for LGBTQ and Allied Youth.

Jared Campbell and Kai Klose.
Photo credit: John Lamb
In Friedman’s play, a couple of young men meet via an ever growing invasion of online dating apps, with opposing perspectives on relationship building vs. quick hook-ups. Michael (Jared Campbell) isn’t used to the intimidating arena of online dating, while it’s overfamiliar to Chris (Kai Klose).

Jacqueline Thompson directs Vincent Terrell Durham’s affable “Black Baby Jesus,” where Darryl (Darian Michael Garey) is dreading going to yet another Christmas Eve dinner at his boyfriend, Richard’s mom’s house.
Carl Overly and Darian Michael Garey.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Richard (Carl Overly) has not come out to his family yet, and his mom thinks her son and Darryl are “just friends.” Darryl can’t stomach another holiday dinner down the table from his man, instead seated next to “groping Aunt Thelma.” After a little conversation and an unexpected phone call, they take their first steps towards coming out as a long-time couple to the family.

James Still’s “When Miss Lydia Hinkley Gives a Bird the Bird” finds a women’s literary club, circa 1850, together for their regular meeting, when Lydia (Laura Singleton) bristles at the idea of allowing married ladies into their circle. To her shock and dismay, another member, Della Mann (Nicole Angeli), has recently become engaged. After some delicately cloaked suggestions, Lydia’s heartbreak is clear. To confirm any doubts, she catches the ladies off guard with a provocative recitation of a few titillating passages from Gray's Anatomy. What?! Yeah. Pamela Reckamp directs.

Donna Weinsting, Rachel Tibbetts,
Nicole Angeli, Maggie Wininger and Laura Singleton.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“I Knew It,” written by Scott C. Sickles and directed by Matthew R. Kerns, features Lavonne Byers and Shannon Nara, last seen together in Max & Louie’s “The Killing of Sister George,” as the wives of rock celebrities. Jodilyn (Nara) is devastated to discover the proclivities of her husband, while Francesca (Byers), used to the drill, calms her concerns and challenges her to adopt a new frame of mind. But this wasn’t a “my husband is sleeping with this woman!!” scenario. Jodilyn shockingly discovers her husband in bed with Francesca’s husband. (Jagger...? Bowie...? Maybe...?) The chemistry between the actors works wonderfully, and was a standout for me.

Shannon Nara and Lavonne Byers.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“When Oprah Says Goodbye,” written by Dan Berkowitz, takes place in an elderly folks home, with grouchy resident Rose (Thomasina Clarke), after having the room to herself for a minute, dreading the arrival of a roommate. It turns out that her new bunky, Julie (Peggy Calvin), has known Rose for years, and grudgy love triangles are mended with renewed friendships.

Charles Zito’s “Runaway” shows us a close family where Rose (Jenny Smith) has come to her brother’s house to fetch her gay teenaged son, Tommy (Pierce Hastings). Tommy has run away to Uncle Tony’s (Rich Scharf) because Rose won’t let Tommy’s boyfriend sleep over. While Rose tries to talk her son into coming back home, a widely known secret of Uncle Tony’s comes up. Yes, Uncle Tony -- we all know you’re gay. This subtext provides a humorous dynamic to the proceedings.

Thomasina Clarke and Peggy Calvin.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Local playwright and actor Stephen Peirick writes and directs “A Comfortable Fit,” with a casual day of shoe shopping between Gwen (Kim Furlow) and her daughter Jennifer (Emily Baker). Gwen is trying to fix up her divorced daughter with shoe salesman, Charlie (Casey Boland), who, while being a nice guy, doesn't play on Jennifer's team. Peirick’s story surprises with the revelation that Gwen, recently transitioned, is Jennifer’s dad, and made all the sweeter for the love and understanding father and daughter still share.

In Kathleen Warnock’s “The Adventures Of...” Maggie (Sarah Porter), a burgeoning writer, introduces us to one of her favorite childhood tv shows, featuring Prince Kal (Brian Claussen) and his trusty companion Zoron (Todd Schaefer). All of the scenarios that Maggie describes are played out with comedic zest by Claussen and Schaefer. In a gratifying turn, we learn that Maggie has her own reasons for personally identifying with this duo of heroes.

Rich Scharf, Jenny Smith and Pierce Hastings.
Photo credit: John Lamb
With the festival expanding year after year, it’s exciting to see what will be offered next, as one of the only festivals of short LGBTQ plays in the nation. Keep an eye out for it next year, and make sure to snag tickets. It’s only for an all too brief weekend.


Rialto Ballroom, 3547 Olive, St. Louis 63103
Run concluded

Emily Baker and Kim Furlow.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“Baby Black Jesus” written by Vincent Terrell Durham, directed by Jacqueline Thompson.
Richard: Carl Overly
Darryl: Darian Michael Garey

“When Miss Lydia Hinkley Gives a Bird the Bird” written by James Still, directed by Pamela Reckamp
Constance Owen Fauntleroy: Donna Weinsting
Della Mann: Nicole Angeli
Lydia Hinkley: Laura Singleton
Mary Sampson: Rachel Tibbetts
Eliza Jane Twigg: Maggie Wininger

“The Grind” written by Max Friedman, directed by Gad Guterman
Michael: Jared Campbell
Chris: Kai Klose

Brian Claussen, Todd Schaefer and Sarah Porter.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“I Knew It” written by Scott C. Sickles, directed by Matthew R. Kerns
Francesca Strange: Lavonne Byers
Jodilyn Riggs: Shannon Nara

“When Oprah Says Goodbye” written by Dan Berkowitz, directed by Fannie Belle-Lebby
Rose: Thomasina Clarke
Julie: Peggy Calvin
Anne: Sarah McKenney

“Runaway” written by Charles Zito, directed by Christopher Limber
Tony: Rich Scharf
Rose: Jenny Smith
Tommy: Pierce Hastings

“A Comfortable Fit” written and directed by Stephen Peirick
Gwen: Kim Furlow
Jennifer: Emily Baker
Charlie: Casey Boland

“The Adventures Of...” written by Kathleen Warnock, directed by Ryan Scott Foizey
Maggie: Sarah Porter
Prince Kal: Brian Claussen
Zoron: Todd Schaefer

Production Staff
Executive Producers: Joan Lipkin and Darin Slyman
Associate Producer: Jimmy Lesch
Productions Manager/Video Design: Michael B. Perkins
House Manager: Kate Warden
Assistant Stage Managers: William Bush and Quinn Erb
Box Office Managers: Kevin Schmidt and Becky Galambos
Script Submissions Manager: Becky Galambos
Marketing Intern: Jared Campbell
Dramaturg: Gad Guterman

Friday, April 8, 2016


Stray Dog’s latest production has every bit the vibe of a rock concert when you walk into the theatre. The band, typically secluded somewhere behind the set, is front and center, warming up before the show. Rob Lippert’s scenic design features TV screens and speakers galore. The bar, usually out in the lobby, is in the house on the floor against the stage, with a pair of Stray Dog alums (the night I went) serving as bartenders. So grab a drink and buckle up -- you’re about to be entertained by the song stylings of Hedwig, a genderqueer rock singer from East Germany, and her band, The Angry Inch.

Hedwig (Michael Baird) is in town for a St. Louis engagement, and during her roughly 90-minute show, we’ll hear about her younger years as Hansel Schmidt, her travels, misadventures, heartbreaks and her surgically fucked-up sex change operation that leaves her with, what Hedwig has titled, an “angry inch” -- her band’s namesake. A cheeky, tortured and fiercely funny Baird is in full command of this diva, carrying the titular headliner on his shoulders, holding the audience, and making the most of John Cameron Mitchell’s improvisational book. At times full of cavorting swagger and at other times slowing heartbreak, Baird physically and vocally handles numbers like, "The Origin of Love,” "Wicked Little Town" and “Midnight Radio” assuredly.

(l to r) Skszp (Chris Petersen), Hedwig (Michael Baird)
and Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Hedwig’s not alone, though. In addition to her band, she’s also joined by her put-upon husband Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas), a former drag queen who now shares a codependent relationship with Hedwig. In hallmark fashion, Skidis Vargas adds her clear, soulful vocals to the duets and backup, and a well pitched performance in the role of a lover who cares deeply for Hedwig, as contentious as their relationship might be, killing the song, “The Long Grift.” Hedwig pretty much treats Yitzhak like shit though. She believes her true soulmate is someone she can’t have. That’s Tommy Gnosis -- a hugely successful rock star and one-time collaborator with Hedwig, currently on tour at Busch Stadium, milking fame from Hedwig’s songs. Shadowing his steps by following his tour, Hedwig plays the much lesser dives along the route, unable to let Tommy, a person she sees as her other half, go.

Hedwig (Michael Baird)
and Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Glam rock style is provided by Priscilla Case's wigs and makeup design, and Eileen Engel's costume design. Ryan Wiechmann’s illustrations and animations add a great deal of texture throughout the show (particularly during the mythic “The Origin of Love”). The band, under the direction of Chris Petersen, aka Skszp, brings Stephen Trask’s music and lyrics to dynamic life.

With sure-handed direction by Justin Been, this 1998 rock musical, rowdy and surprisingly poignant, may not be a show for everyone (leave the kids at home), but seeing Hedwig make the journey from life on the conflicted fringes toward self-understanding and acceptance is gratifying, and something everyone can relate to. You should get a ticket before it sells out, because it most certainly will.


Book by John Cameron Mitchell
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Directed by Justin Been
(front) Sarajane Alverson. (l to r) Skszp (Chris Petersen),
Hedwig (Michael Baird), Krzyzhtoff (A.J. Lane),
Jadzia (M. Kuba), and Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through April 16 | tickets: $20 - $25 Signature Seating: $45.00
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday, Additional performances 8pm Wednesdays, April 6 and 13

Hedwig: Michael Baird
Yitzhak: Anna Skidis Vargas

Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Wig and Makeup Stylist: Priscilla Case
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Costume Designer: Eileen Engel
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Kevin O’Brien
Illustrator/Animator: Ryan Wiechmann

Hedwig (Michael Baird).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The Angry Inch
Bass, vocals (Jadzia): M. Kuba
Drums, vocals (Bob): Bob McMahon
Guitar, vocals (Krzyzhtoff): A.J. Lane
Keyboard, vocals (Skszp): Chris Petersen

Monday, April 4, 2016

OLD WICKED SONGS • New Jewish Theatre

Jon Marans' Pulitzer Prize-nominated play offers a lot of layers underneath a facade that seems, initially, predictable. Stephen Hoffman is a 25 year old piano prodigy who’s burned out, and though he’s a “superb technician,” he’s lost touch with his passion. He has traveled to Vienna, Austria to study accompaniment with a Professor Schiller, but learns, much to his irritation, that he must first spend three months with Professor Mashkan to study singing.

Why singing? Well, by Schiller’s reckoning, before sitting in front of those black and white keys, an accompanist has to experience the other side of the equation -- the singing part, for a broader understanding of that connection. As portrayed by Will Bonfiglio, Hoffman’s a tense, walled-off young man from the minute he steps into Josef Mashkan’s studio -- flinching at the threat of a hand on his shoulder and impervious to Mashkan’s natural charm. Jerry Vogel is perfectly cast as Professor Mashkan, who feels deeply, musically and otherwise. Intimate, grumbly and funny, with an anti-jewish veneer he displays like a shield, he tries to urge Hoffman to tap into the emotional side of the music -- a probing that peels away the layers of both characters.

Professor Mashkan (Jerry Vogel).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Mashkan and Hoffman’s developing relationship is couched within the piece they work on together -- Robert Schumann’s song cycle, Dichterliebe (“A Poet’s Love”). Really, this piece serves as a third character in the play. The dissonance and resolution of the song’s cycle taps into the play’s dynamics, with old hurts revisiting fresh scars, and director Tim Ocel pulls it all out nicely. Dunsi Dai’s set of Mashkan’s studio is lovely, complimented by Maureen Berry’s lighting design, and Michele Friedman Siler’s costume design informs the characters, especially Hoffman, with his attire loosening up as his character does.

Stephen Hoffman (Will Bonfiglio).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
This tear-jerking education in music offers a study in much more than just that, with the music craftily integrated into an alluring, poignant story.


Written by Jon Marans 
Directed by Tim Ocel
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
run concluded | tickets: $39.50 - $43.50

Professor Mashkan: Jerry Vogel*
Stephen Hoffman: Will Bonfiglio

Music Director: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Stage Manager: Sarah Luedloff*
Scenic Design and Artist: Dunsi Dai
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Lighting Design: Maureen Berry
Costume Design: Michele Friedman Siler
Properties Design: Kyra Bishop
Sound Design: Robin Weatherall
Master Electrician: Scott McDonald
Board Operator: Justin Smith
Assistant Stage Manager: Becky Fortner
Wardrobe: Craig Jones
Dialect Coach: Katy Keating

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


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