Saturday, December 23, 2017

REMNANT • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed open its 11th season with a revival of the theatre’s debut production, Ron Reed’s Remnant. It’s a post-apocalyptic Christmas story that takes place 75 years after a catastrophic plague has forced civilization to hit the restart button. Even the language is in tatters. The vestiges of families that remain fortify as clans, and arm themselves with weapons and guard dogs. Bikers are good to trade with, but not much else, and loners are to be avoided at all costs. Mustard Seed’s production explores the core Holiday sentiment through the eyes of the Wilkin clan, who have decided to celebrate “Christ Mass” for the first time in memory.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

A severed hand sits on the box office desk at the Gaslight Theater -- a little something to get you in the mood for Martin McDonagh’s 2010 dark comedy, A Behanding in Spokane, continuing St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s eleventh season. Violence, profanity and comically ill-advised malice has become a trademark of McDonagh’s (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman), but this play, his first that’s set in the States, doesn’t quite ring true.

A reliably solid Jerry Vogel is Carmichael -- a dangerous drifter who tosses out derogatory epithets as easily as a scorpion stings. He’s been searching for his hand ever since it was viciously removed by a couple of “hillbillies” some 47 years ago. His search has led him down various dead-ends, and now he finds himself in a dingy hotel room in Indiana, again hoping to be reunited with his long-lost appendage. A couple of impossibly stupid weed dealers, Marilyn (Léerin Campbell) and her boyfriend Toby (Michael Lowe) are hoping to score a reward, but when the hand they produce clearly once belonged to an African American, things go pear shaped pretty quickly. Carmichael leaves the couple behind to chase down an implausible lead that Marilyn and Toby whip up, but not before cuffing them to a radiator and setting a lit candle into the spout of a can of gasoline. Mervyn, the curiously creepy hotel receptionist (William Roth) drops in from time to time to ask questions, and offer ramblings about his hopes of heroic adventures in a hotel where nothing ever happens.

Friday, November 10, 2017

TITUS ANDROGYNOUS • YoungLiars

Spilling out on the 4th floor ballroom of the Centene Center is a YoungLiars revamp of Shakespeare’s goriest play, Titus Andronicus. Adapted and directed by producing director Chuck Harper, the renamed Titus Androgynous: Un Comico Spettacolare, exploits the grisly retaliations between Titus, a Roman general, and his nemesis, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, with buckets of blood-soaked gusto. In addition to the onslaught of beheadings, rape and dismemberment, this condensed, swiftly paced splatter-fest features ingenious original compositions performed by Paul Cereghino -- highly entertaining numbers that acclimate the audience, and percussionist Michael Ferguson’s scoring that punctuates the break-neck action.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

LIZZIE • New Line Theatre

Just about everyone is familiar with the infamous story of Lizzie Borden, who went to trial for hacking her father and stepmother to death with a hatchet (or an axe, as the children’s rhyme goes). She was acquitted by a jury of 12 men in 1893, but the grisly details that came out during the trial transfixed the country, and after moving back to Fall River, Massachusetts, Borden was regarded with suspicion for the rest of her life. The story still captivates more than a century later, and New Line Theatre seems a fitting company to stage this defiant, mostly sung-through musical inspired by her, told in the language of unchecked rebellion -- straight-up rock.

The murders remain unsolved, but Lizzie collaborators Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt don’t attempt to dodge the question of Borden’s guilt -- that’s made pretty damn clear. But through a series of delectably catchy songs, delivered by a quartet of adept female leads, strong arguments are posed addressing Borden’s possible motivations, riffing off of historical accounts, long-held speculation and theories.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

THE FEAST • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Poor Matt. His relationship with his girlfriend isn’t as sunny as it appears, his career as an artist has hit a slump, and there are some really creepy noises coming from his toilet. That’s the situation in St. Louis native Cory Finley’s The Feast, premiering in New York City after being workshopped at HotCity’s 2014 Greenhouse New Play Festival. The Feast launches St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s 11th season, and for all of the humor in it, the play, under John Pierson’s tight direction, maintains an eerie vibe of impending doom.

Unbeknownst to Matt (Spencer Sickmann) his live-in girlfriend Anna (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) has called in a plumber (Ryan Scott Foizey) to address some disturbing sounds that have been coming from the commode. Matt doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, but Anna describes the sounds to the plumber as “Deep in the pipes”, “Like a man, tied up down there” but “Not quite a human”. The subject of Matt's toilet troubles also comes up with his therapist, who seems to endorse the existence of these creatures, and again with Jeff, Matt’s art dealer friend, who is impressed with Matt’s newest painting, but warns against angering those who inspired it. Is Matt’s toilet some kind of portal to a race of underground pipe dwellers, or has his fragile mental state been driven over the edge once he learns of Anna’s infidelity?

Monday, September 11, 2017

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep kicks off its 51st season with Simon Stephens’ Tony Award-winning play, based on Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel. The Curious Incident revolves around Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy and his quest to figure out who killed his neighbor’s dog. During his search, he runs across a more elusive puzzle that sends him from Swindon to London. Christopher has an astonishing mind for mathematics, a fascination for the constellations of the night sky, and a love for his pet rat Toby, but he doesn’t do physical contact and is prone to sensory overload. Taxed by conversation, he has no use for metaphors -- he's acutely literal in the way he takes in the world. The play hinges on this performance, and an excellent, endearing Nick LaMedica sinks into this demanding role with a fixed gaze that implies his mind's wheels turning, and tight shoulders and a contorted face when his routines are disturbed or his surroundings start to close in.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

UNCLE VANYA: VALIANTLY ACCEPTING NEXT YEAR’S AGONY • Rebel And Misfits Productions

There’s a malaise that blankets the Serebryakov family estate, and in Rebel and Misfits Productions’ second installment in its Immersive Theatre Project series, a private residence in Ladue serves as the country home in Anton Chekhov's 19th century classic. This interpretation of Uncle Vanya, adapted by artistic director, Kelly Hummert, retains the tragic weight of the everyday Chekhov's known for, but turns it in on itself, mining a great deal of humor in the process.

Serebryakov (Peter Mayer), a retired professor, and his young second wife, Yelena (Sophia Brown), are upsetting the routine of the caretakers and residents of his first wife’s estate after they decide to live there. Sonya (Francesca Ferrari), Serebryakov’s daughter from his first marriage, and his late wife’s brother, Vanya (Andrew Michael Neiman), maintain the property. Doctor Astrov (James Butz) is a regular at the house, visiting daily to check in on the aging professor. Other residents include Vanya’s mother, Mrs. Voitensky (Suzanne Greenwald), who seems to favor her son-in-law over her own, Marina (Donna Weinsting), the nanny who’s like part of the family, and Telegin, or “Waffles” (Kent Coffel), a poor neighboring landowner dependent on the family.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

IN THE HEIGHTS • R-S Theatrics

Life in the New York City borough of Washington Heights is painted with spirited strokes in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights, and R-S Theatrics brings it to the stage in their biggest show to date. Covering a few days around a sweltering 4th of July, there’s a jackpot lottery ticket sold, a blackout, and two couples who fall for each other, while the pros and cons of remaining in a tight-knit community are weighed.

Monday, August 21, 2017

SNOW WHITE • Equally Represented Arts

ERA’s Snow White, presented as the local headliner for this year’s St. Lou Fringe Festival, showcases the unconventional whimsy that the company has become known for. Developed and adapted by ERA’s artistic director Lucy Cashion and the company’s ensemble, this new full-length play is culled from Walt Disney’s Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, the original Grimm fairy tale, and Donald Barthelme’s novel, Snow White -- a post-modern take on the tale. Along the way we meet a vengeful stepmother, a truth-dispensing mirror named Hogo, a high-minded prince, a girl with an aversion to mirrors and apples, and seven men in work jumpsuits, but in classic ERA fashion, it’s all presented with a collage of eccentric ideas and shrewd observations running alongside. The examination of identity, and the internal and external influences on identity, shine through in offbeat fragments.

Monday, August 14, 2017

THE COLOR OF AUGUST • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble continues its "Season of Adaptation" with The Color of August, by Spanish playwright Paloma Pedrero. Written in 1988, and translated and adapted for this production by Will Bonfiglio, The Color of August explores a reunion of two artists and old friends that wavers between soft embraces and loud shouting, dependence and conflict. The play features Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts -- actors who have been together in a few two-handers in the past, and there’s an undeniable synergy between them that complements the play. Who will portray which role is determined by a coin toss before each performance. The night I went it was “heads”, and Tibbetts played Maria, a successful artist, with Schwetye playing Laura, her inspiration.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

RAGTIME • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog closes out its season with an excellent production of Terrence McNally’s sweeping musical adaptation, Ragtime. Based on E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, it places us at an intersection between the comfortable lives of suburbia, the disadvantaged lives in Harlem, and the enterprising optimism of newly-arrived immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. The painful growth of 1900's America is illustrated in Ragtime’s rousing prologue, where we are introduced to the ingredients in this uniquely American stew.

The upper-classes are represented by Mother (Kay Love), the matriarch of a well-to-do family living in New Rochelle, New York, that made their money manufacturing fireworks. Mother embraces everyone she meets with an open heart, and Love portrays her with a genteel determination, delivering a stirring ”Back to Before”. Mother’s husband, Father, in a solid performance by Phil Leveling, is a bit of a throwback -- resistant to the changing landscape of the country.

Monday, July 10, 2017

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The fifth annual LaBute New Theater Festival has chosen five finalists to debut this year, along with five high school finalists that were presented as stage readings this past Saturday. The festival’s namesake, Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute, has once again written a play specifically for the festival that will be presented every night of the run. The first of two sets of plays will run until the 16th, and they share a contemporary, political tinge.

LaBute’s Hate Crime gives us a peek into the lives of two lovers plotting a murder to collect on an insurance claim. Greg Hunsaker goes over the details of his planned method with his lover, played by Chauncy Thomas. He intends to make the deed look like a hate crime, and Thomas seems resolved with the plans, even though there's a twist involved.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Grand Center Theatre Crawl • St. Louis Public Radio and Grand Center

The fifth annual Grand Center Theatre Crawl kicked off this past Friday in the Grand Center Arts district. With a map and program of performances in hand, patrons were free to rotate through any one of 19 venues and get access to 24 local theatre groups. With short one-acts starting every thirty minutes, you could see up to six shows each day, starting at 6:30pm Friday and 1pm Saturday. Best of all, it’s free!

It’s impossible to see everything, but here are a handful of things that were on offer.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

MONSTERS • Stray Dog Theatre

In an unfinished basement somewhere in St. Louis, Andi discovers her brother-in-law in her basement with a man, bound and gagged, and tied to a chair. This is the jumping off point for St. Louis playwright Stephen Peirick’s latest one-act comedy thriller, Monsters. It’s getting its world premiere after being introduced at a staged reading last year at Stray Dog’s New Works Laboratory. Though there are plans for further tweaks, the play is pretty good in its current form, showcasing Peirick’s trademark wit, unpredictable plots, and ear for comedic dialogue.

Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier) and Jeremy (Kevin O’Brien) are brothers, struggling to keep their late father’s debt-ridden diner afloat. Neither one is the sharpest knife in the drawer, so when a couple of diner regulars (members of the St. Louis mafia) offer to pay them $200,000 for a murder-for-hire scheme, they can’t bring themselves to say “no”, despite the fact that they have practically no idea whom they’re supposed to whack.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR • The Muny

When Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s concept album was released in 1970, it was a big deal. Considered blasphemous by some, Superstar depicts the last week of Jesus of Nazareth’s life through a contemporary lens. The Muny’s 99th season opener proves that this pounding rock opera still resonates, incorporating themes of political activism with an absorbing score full of recurring musical motifs.

Lloyd Webber’s got a reputation for punishing his singers, and Superstar is no exception. Luckily, the leads are strong-voiced, starting with Tony nominated Constantine Maroulis of “American Idol” fame as Judas Iscariot. The opening number, "Heaven on Their Minds”, beautifully sets the narrative that centers more around Judas than Jesus -- he’s fearful of the growing fame Jesus is garnering, and the possible wrath this might bring down upon the Jews, and Maroulis makes a blazing first impression.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET • Stray Dog Theatre

Anybody hungry?
Stray Dog Theatre invites audiences to “Attend the tale...” in their latest offering, Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant, meaty musical thriller, Sweeney Todd. With a 2007 film version and contemporary stage variations, it’s a welcomed opportunity to get the chance to see this classic onstage in its more “OG” version -- though that wasn’t its original form.

The story of a murderous barber was introduced in a “Penny Dreadful” -- ghastly publications that were popular in the Victorian era. The serial, originally called “The String of Pearls: A Romance,” emerged many years and adaptations later, when Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical version debuted in 1979, winning eight Tony Awards.

There’s solid casting here, starting with Jonathan Hey in the title role. His imposing, brooding Sweeney will unnerve you -- in a good way. After being sent to the clink for life on a bogus charge, Sweeney escapes after 15 years and returns to London, hoping to discover the fate of his wife and daughter.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fifth Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards • Skip Viragh Center for the Arts

The fifth anniversary of the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards is in the books, and as always, the number of talented individuals and companies in town never cease to amaze.

Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients! Here's the list of the 2017 St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominees with the award recipients in red.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Katie Donnelly, As You Like It, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Rachel Hanks, As You Like It, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Shannon Nara, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Stray Dog Theatre
Nancy Nigh, boom, R-S Theatrics
Margeau Steinau, The Heir Apparent, St. Louis Shakespeare

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