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?

Matt (Spencer Sickmann).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Sickmann does a great job taking the audience along on his strange trip as Matt. He’s convincing in his state of constant disarray, from his disheveled hair to his puzzled expression and unsure demeanor. Theby-Quinn draws a lot out of the role of Anna -- careful with Matt’s feelings, but fed up with his indifference. Foizey as “The Man” plays everyone else -- the plumber, therapist, Jeff, and the “other man” -- all characters who to some degree touch on a nerve of Matt’s, and a diverse Foizey embodies them all authentically in speech and manner. Creative contributions add a great deal to the creepiness of the play, including Patrick Huber’s lighting and scenic design along with Pierson’s sound design.

Finley’s 70-minute comedy-thriller teases and drifts in tone, enough to engage you while keeping you just a little off balance. Check it out for an original, macabre, entertaining night at the theatre. It’s playing at the Gaslight Theater until the 8th.

Matt (Spencer Sickmann) and Anna (Jennifer Theby-Quinn).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber

Written by Cory Finley
Directed by John Pierson
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through October 8 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Matt: Spencer Sickmann
Anna: Jennifer Theby-Quinn
The Man: Ryan Scott Foizey

The Plumber (Ryan Scott Foizey)
and Matt (Spencer Sickmann).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige
Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: John Pierson
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Light Board Operator: Sally Liz Evans
Sound Board Operator: Amy J. Paige
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

Monday, September 11, 2017


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.

Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Christopher's got a notebook that contains an account of his exploits, and the mystery of his neighbor’s dog is uncovered as sections of his story are read aloud to us by his teacher, Siobhan, a kind face in the crowd who helps him cope, rendered in a warm, engaged performance by Kathleen Wise. Ed, Christopher’s father, is against his son’s snooping around from the start, and Jimmy Kieffer’s portrayal is patient and devoted, with a streak of volatility underneath his fatigue. Amy Blackman’s Judy, Christopher’s mom, seems apprehensive about the care her son’s needs demand, but shows a loving willingness to provide it, yearning for a brief touch of spread out fingertips -- about the most physical contact Christopher can manage. The ensemble members look on as the play unfolds, stepping in for multiple roles and filling in as extensions of the things around him.

Ed (Jimmy Kieffer) and Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Curious Incident premiered in the West End in 2012, Broadway in 2014, and picked up praise for its technical innovation. Those effects are scaled back in the Rep's production, instead leading with director Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s choreography, along with some creative stagecraft to move through the story. Narelle Sissons’ scenic design features towering walls scribbled with cube numbers and equations, washed with stark, artful lights by Matthew Richards. David Bullard’s sound design includes driving segue music, accenting the more harrowing aspects of Christopher’s journey, and these elements all come together admirably to illustrate the play's unique point of view.

Judy (Amy Blackman) and Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Though not mentioned in the play, Christopher likely falls somewhere along the autism spectrum, but that’s not what the play’s about. With developments that lead us into unexpected territory, the single-minded determination of Christopher's is something we can all rally behind, while rooting for the future success of a kid who faces his share of challenges, but grasps more than most. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is playing at the Rep until October 1st.

• There’s a puppy near the end. A really cute one, too.

The cast of The Curious Incident.
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through October 1 | tickets: $22 - $89
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Mr. Thompson/Ensemble: Michael Baxter*
Judy/Ensemble: Amy Blackman*
Punk Girl/Ensemble: Ka-Ling Cheung*
Roger Shears/Ensemble: Kevin Cutts*
Mrs. Alexander/Ensemble: Dale Hodges*
Ed/Ensemble: Jimmy Kieffer*
Christopher: Nick LaMedica*
Mrs. Shears/Ensemble: Laiona Michelle*
Reverend Peters/Ensemble: Dathan B. Williams*
Siobhan/Ensemble: Kathleen Wise*

Choreographer: Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Scenic Designer: Narelle Sissons
Costume Designer: Leon Wiebers
Lighting Designer: Matthew Richards
Sound Designer: David Bullard
Associate Choreographer: Michael Baxter
Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit*
Assistant Stage Manager: Lorraine LiCavoli*

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


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