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.

The Midnight Company • TONIGHT'S SPECIAL by Joe Hanrahan • Directed by Sarah Whitney @ STLPR Learning Studio
with Emily Leidenfrost and Joe Hanrahan

A seasoned waiter working at a highly reputable restaurant tries to warn Rose, a young waitress, about the dangers of the restaurant business. Rose is an aspiring actress who’s been coming to the restaurant since she was a kid and loves the fact that she now works there, but she’s been spending more and more time with the staff, partying till all hours. The waiter’s buck-wild days are behind him, and he doesn’t want to see Rose let her dreams fall by the wayside by carving out habits that may be hard to break. Hanrahan’s story gave each actor the opportunity to shine, with some nice bonding moments over the restaurant’s unique culinary pairings (like Greek tacos or Italian egg rolls).

Theatre Nuevo • THE HISTORY OF MEXICANS IN 10 MINUTES by Alvaro Saar Rios @ Front Steps of the Sheldon
with Anna Skidis Vargas, Jesse Muñoz and Kelvin Urday

Theatre Nuevo’s short, featured in their most recent festival, Acronyms, first takes the audience back to a time when there were no Mexicans. From the Aztecs and the lisping Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, to the birth of the Mestizos and the reclaiming of Mexico from the Spanish Empire, not only was this presentation funny, it was also very informative. Kelvin Urday served as the narrator and Jesse Muñoz and Theatre Nuevo’s artistic director, Anna Skidis Vargas, acted out all of the vignettes. 

Stray Dog Theatre • THE THIRD TIME by Stephen Peirick • Directed by Gary F. Bell @ Grandel Ballroom
with Kevin O'Brien, Maria Bartolotta and Angela Bubash

This play opens with a couple making their third trip to the fertility clinic. The wife decides to stick around for moral support when an “inspiration pile” of magazines and videos sparks an argument between them. While he tries to explain that visual stimulation is just a natural thing for guys, she finds the pornography disgusting, and is disappointed that he can’t just fantasize about her. The couple soon learns that sharing your fantasies with your spouse is not a good idea. Great performances from Kevin O'Brien and Maria Bartolotta as the couple, and Angela Bubash as Nurse Bunny.

Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis • YOU LIED TO ME ABOUT CENTRALIA by John Guare • Directed by Pete Winfrey @ Metropolitan Lobby
with Pete Winfrey and Julia Crump

You Lied to Me about Centralia is based on the short story, Portrait of a Girl in Glass by Tennessee Williams, that evolved into The Glass Menagerie. In Centralia, Jim, the Gentleman Caller, meets his fiancée on a train platform. He’s just come back from the Wingfields’, while Betty went to her Uncle’s house hoping to snag a cash wedding gift for a house she desperately wants. She’s sickened to find him living snugly with a black man named Rainbow who she initially assumes is the help. Though Betty spends her evening in uncomfortable displeasure, Jim has an enlightening dinner with his “limp-wristed” co-worker named Shakespeare and his sister. As Jim longingly recalls the events of his night, you come to realize that he was quite taken with Shakespeare’s sister, and you feel a pang of pity for him -- considering the boxed-in future that awaits him with his bigoted, shallow wife-to-be. Although a familiarity with The Glass Menagerie is helpful, there were wonderful performances from Pete Winfrey and Julia Crump.

Tesseract Theatre • WALTZING BABE VICTORIA by Taylor Gruenloh @ STLPR Community Room
with Ashley Netzhammer, DDare Bionic and Jazmine Wade

In this absurdist piece, a man described as a gentleman from the Naval Academy instructs Victoria, a young dancer, on variations of the waltz. During their practice, they’re circled and shadowed by a witch in a black robe. Periodically, the gentleman reprimands Victoria seemingly for nothing, and calls on the witch to bind her feet, then her hands, knees, and mouth. The more bound she becomes, the more beautiful she is to him. With some references to pop culture and social media sprinkled in, it’s an oddly fascinating piece that you could walk away from with any number of interpretations.

You always wish events like this had a longer run, but it's a unique opportunity to get a taste of several companies. The variety of performances alone makes it a must see, so keep an eye out for it next year. Did I mention it was free?

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