Tuesday, September 11, 2018

EVITA • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

There’s a slip of the tongue from Eva Duarte de Perón in “A New Argentina,” as she tries to ease her husband’s qualms about his presidential bid when she concedes, “We'll ... you'll be handed power on a plate.” In Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biographical rock opera, the acquisition of power is something Eva Perón made her guiding principle since she was a kid. After chasing a career in stage, radio and film acting, she met Colonel Juan Perón and the two were married a year later.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

NO EXIT • SATE

French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 rendering of Hell doesn’t involve pitchforks or brimstone, but there is torment nonetheless. In a new translation by Alyssa Ward and a shrewd staging directed by Bess Moynihan, three members of the newly deceased are escorted to the infernal regions to a sparsely furnished room, where not having a toothbrush will be the least of their problems.

Inès (Sarah Morris), Estelle (Rachel Tibbetts)
and Garcin (Shane Signorino).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
Garcin (Shane Signorino), a journalist, is the first to arrive, ushered in by Katy Keating as a grim valet who has heard all of the initial questions from newcomers before. He’s soon joined by postal worker in life, Inès (Sarah Morris), and Estelle (Rachel Tibbetts), a conceited socialite. Garcin, practical and self-possessed, thinks staying to themselves is the best plan of action. Estelle, who needs a mirror almost as desperately as she needs a man to seduce, angles for Garcin’s attention. Inès, the sharpest and most cynical of the three, spends most of her time lusting after Estelle, and is the most upfront about the cruelty she inflicted on those in her life. After brief glimpses of the goings on among the living back on earth, their past wrongs are eventually confessed, and the characters of these three souls are laid bare to each other without the convenience or comfort of pretense. The dynamics between these deceivers, murderers and cowards will doom them to spend the rest of time craving affection that will never be returned, and redemption that will never come.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA • R-S Theatrics

From 9 Circles and Adding Machine: The Musical, to The Cherry Sisters Revisited, Parade and In the Heights, R-S Theatrics has never shied away from the risk of locally debuting ambitious plays and musicals. Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza concerns Clara (Macia Noorman), a twenty-something girl from Winston-Salem, who falls in love with a boy while traveling in Italy. Her mother, Margaret (Kay Love), is torn between her instincts to protect Clara, whose mental development was stunted as the result of a childhood accident, and her dreams of happiness and fulfillment for her daughter.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

FAUST (go down with all the re$t) • Equally Represented Arts

ERA is at it again, kicking off FAUSTival -- an artistic collaboration among Equally Represented Arts, The Midnight Company, Theatre Nuevo, SATE, and the Post-Romantics. Each company will present an adaptation of the Faust myth over five months, and ERA’s ensemble-created rock-opera plays out at Foam, a coffeehouse/bar/music venue along Cherokee Street. With music composed by Kid Scientist, ERA takes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, includes text from Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and adds in some tv game shows to skewer capitalism and ask, “How much is a soul worth?”

Monday, August 6, 2018

THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM • Stray Dog Theatre

The stage at Tower Grove Abbey is set for some tale tellin' in Stray Dog’s season closer, Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman’s The Robber Bridegroom. The musical was based on a novel that was loosely adapted from a Brothers Grimm story of the same name. Eudora Welty’s 1942 novel took the Grimm fairy tale and set it in 18th century Mississippi along the forests of the Natchez Trace. Uhry and Waldman’s musical has its share of fanciful, dark, even lurid elements, like you might expect from any fairy tale, but the score -- an uncommon blend of traditional Broadway music and authentic bluegrass, and Stray Dog’s tireless, country-fried cast of characters, provide a curiously savory mix.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

THE REALISTIC JONESES • Rebel And Misfits Productions

When Bob (Alan Knoll) and Jennifer (Laurie McConnell) meet their new neighbors, John (Isaiah Di Lorenzo) and Pony (Kelly Hummert), it would seem the only thing they have in common is the last name, “Jones.” But as these couples get caught up in each other's orbits and learn of each other's sorrows, playwright Will Eno finds a striking balance between laugh-out-loud humor and disquieting melancholy. You'd be hard-pressed to find a play that speaks so fluently to the human inclination towards connection by way of such disjointed tangles of inelegant conversation than Rebel and Misfits' sharp, St. Louis premiere production.

Bob and Jennifer, lounging in their backyard taking a stab at small talk, are interrupted by the noisy arrival of John and Pony who come over to introduce themselves -- wine bottle in hand. Pony -- affable, fragile and dizzy, explains that she’s always wanted to live in a small town near the mountains in a way that’s just short of “valleyspeak”, while John has non sequitur-filled, slightly contentious exchanges with Bob, who’s quietly imploding and over the unannounced visit pretty quickly. The communication that this foursome engages in as they become more acquainted comes with an awkwardness that hangs in the air, but it also grows to include an intimacy grounded in isolation, love and fear that’s slyly situated just beyond the banter.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

LaBute New Theater Festival II • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The second set of one-act plays in this year’s LaBute New Theater Festival kicked off this past Friday, and while the first half offered a mixed bag, this second half is strong. LaBute’s The Fourth Reich (that you can read about here), is followed by Michael Long’s The Gettier Problem, Peter McDonough’s The Process, and Unabridged by Sean Abley.

The Gettier Problem, directed by Wendy Greenwood, opens with Colleen Backer as Edie Gettier, a patient in a psychiatric hospital. She’s being coaxed into taking her premedication by a nurse (Erin Brewer) and a technician (Spencer Sickmann). The tech is the only one she’ll take the pill for, as she seems to have a little crush on him. Once the nurse leaves the tech to make sure the pill takes effect, Gettier’s physical tics stop, she loses her lisp, and says she’s a PhD who’s undercover doing research about the mysteries of knowledge -- something she hopes to achieve by going through the procedure without premedication.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

LaBute New Theater Festival I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The LaBute New Theater Festival is back for its sixth year at St. Louis Actors' Studio. The finalists are culled from about 300 entries, and six new short plays have been chosen, along with an annual debut by the festival’s namesake, Tony-nominated playwright Neil LaBute, who made an appearance on opening night. The first set of three will run through the 15th, and the second trio will run from the 20th through the 29th, with LaBute’s premiere featured every night of the festival. There were also four high school finalists that received a free-admission stage reading this past Saturday.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Grand Center Theatre Crawl • St. Louis Public Radio, Grand Center & Kranzberg Arts Foundation

Presented by Grand Center, St. Louis Public Radio, and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, the sixth annual Grand Center Theatre Crawl kicked off last Friday. Over the course of 2 days, with venues scattered throughout the Grand Center Arts District, over 2 dozen companies performed short presentations every 30 minutes -- all for free! It’s another one-of-a-kind theatre celebration that’s pretty unique to St. Louis. The organizers of the Theatre Crawl did some limited research on theatre events and festivals around the country. They found lots of Fringe Festivals, events devoted to specific playwrights, and events dedicated to new work. They did not, however, find anything that celebrated the local theatre community quite like the Crawl. Here’s a very small taste of what was on offer.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

BLOW, WINDS • Shakespeare in the Streets: Downtown St. Louis

Playing out on the steps of the St. Louis Central Public Library, Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare in the Streets celebrated its sixth year last weekend. Originally scheduled to run in September 2017, the acquittal of former St. Louis police Officer Jason Stockley generated protests downtown, making it necessary for Shakespeare in the Streets to cancel due to security concerns. Galvanized by these developments, Nancy Bell’s original adaptation was modified with the help of playwriting fellow, Mariah L. Richardson, to further address the divisions, as well as the strengths, within St. Louis. Past productions have concentrated on one neighborhood, but this year, South County, West County, North County and the City were all cunningly incorporated into the tragedy of King Lear, or in this case, King Louis. Tom Martin keenly directed a top-notch cast, and the contributions by Central Baptist Church Choir, The Gentlemen of Vision Step Team and Genesis Jazz Project provided an intense boost to the production. Margery & Peter Spack’s spectacular projections provided a feast for the eyes, transforming the library’s exterior to a sprawling St. Louis City flag design, neon landscapes, lightning-charged storms, and a magnificent stone brick castle -- complete with battlements, torch sconces and crests.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

HEDDA GABLER • Stray Dog Theatre

Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 play, adapted here by Jon Robin Baitz, introduced what would become an icon of dramatic literature. During the course of the play, Hedda Gabler (an outstanding Nicole Angeli) tries to fracture the lives of everyone around her, resulting in her own undoing -- all in a matter of a couple of days. Her cruelty is driven by boredom and a lack of purpose or agency near the turn of the twentieth century. She’s a control freak with nothing to control.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

LUCHADORA! • Mustard Seed Theatre & Theatre Nuevo

If you’ve ever run across an odd item in a relative’s home that you’ve never seen before and wouldn’t in a million years expect to see, it can send your mind racing with the possible stories behind it. In Alvaro Saar Rios’ 2015 memory play, Vanessa finds a wrestling mask in her Nana Lupita’s briefcase, and after a little prodding, the story of that mask, lucha libre or Mexican wrestling, family secrets and the ardent perseverance of girls play out in flashbacks at Fontbonne University, courtesy of Theatre Nuevo and Mustard Seed Theatre.

In late 1960’s Texas where Nana Lupita grew up, she spent her summers selling flowers at her widowed father’s stand so he could give his aching back a rest. When she could get away, she’d ride bikes and eat watermelon with her friends, German immigrants Leo and Liesl. Lupita finds that same mask in her father’s briefcase, and is shocked to learn from a mysterious mask maker that her father is none other than Mascara Rosa, a renowned luchador. With a recent challenge from Mascara Rosa’s nemesis, El Hijo, having been issued, and her father’s health precluding him from answering the call, Lupita decides to enter the world of lucha libre and begin training with the mask maker.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

ROMEO & JULIET • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Ah, young love. And long-standing family feuds, potions, poisons and suicide. Whether it’s in the form of a ballet, opera or West Side Story, Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers is known the world over. Shakespeare Festival’s production is a vibrant one, starting with the colorful streamers draping the set and the trees of Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen. Margery and Peter Spack’s two-story set features bold stripes, a central tower, lit curlicue spirals and a “Benvenuti Verona” sign. Dust Ensemble, a tight little three-piece garage band (in a little garage!), peppers the play with original compositions that are lively one moment and ominous the next, and the clear diction and phrasing of the cast make it easy to revel in some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful verses.

The serenity of the procession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that starts this production doesn’t last long, as the Capulet and Montague servants start scuffling soon after, and pleas from the exasperated Prince (Pete Winfrey) to keep the peace under pain of death causes them to retreat to their corners -- for now.

Friday, June 1, 2018

LIFE SUCKS • New Jewish Theatre

The angsty boredom that tugs at the characters in Anton Chekhov’s, Uncle Vanya, pours out in f-bomb-laden grievances in Aaron Posner’s, Life Sucks. With a contemporary spin and self-aware winks, each character tussles with their own bouts of love and loss, in those pesky little niches we all carve out for ourselves. Closing NJT’s season, this production also serves as a transition, as the company’s founding artistic director, Kathleen Sitzer, steps down after 21 years and passes the baton to Edward Coffield, who also directs.

After the pre-show music of acoustic Beatles tunes, the cast assembles to introduce themselves and clue us in on what we’re about to see. It seems everyone staying at Sonia’s rural country home wants a dance partner they can’t have. Sonia’s father, the professor, actually owns the place, but Sonia and her Uncle Vanya manage the property. The professor’s current wife, Ella, is also in tow. Dr. Aster, Vanya’s pal, lives down the road, but he’s been staying close, no doubt because Ella is visiting. Babs, an old family friend, and Pickles, who lives above the garage, are also on hand. Played out on Peter and Margery Spack’s idyllic set, each character takes turns lamenting their lot.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE • Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Hardly a mention of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 classic can be made without a reference to its iconic film counterpart. Don’t remember the film? Good. It’s better to have a head free of any nagging comparisons, because this production, headlining this year’s third annual Tennessee Williams Festival, stands firmly on its own, with splendid creative touches and stellar performances.

Under a canopy of wooden window frames and clotheslines, Blanche DuBois shows up on the New Orleans doorstep of her sister Stella and her unfriendly brother-in-law Stanley. Escaping her past in Laurel, Mississippi, she’s come to live with Stella and Stanley now that Belle Reve, the family estate, has been lost. As put off as Blanche is with her sister’s dingy downstairs flat, she’s even more displeased with Stanley. His lowbrow poker games clash with Blanche’s highbrow constructions. Stella finds herself stuck in the middle, crazy for her husband but careful to protect her big sister’s mental fragility. Blanche, always leading with her feminine charm, sees nothing wrong with a little harmless fibbing if it bolsters her delicately spun illusions. Stanley, dangerous when brought to anger, has no tolerance for uppity bullshit. Things are bound to come to a head.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG • The Midnight Company

Between 1945 and 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany, prominent Nazi officers were brought to account by the Allied Forces for war crimes after World War II. Abby Mann’s fictionalized account focuses on the 1947 Judges' Trial, one of a string of military tribunals that took place after the major players had been convicted. Adapted from his 1959 teleplay, Mann is able to find the grays in-between the black and white atrocities that took place after the Nazi’s rise. Under the direction of Ellie Schwetye, The Midnight Company’s staging last week at the Missouri History Museum offered not only some strong performances, but also a brutal look at the underside of love of country and the consequences of compliance. And a shock of relevance.

Judge Dan Haywood, played with homespun charm by Joe Hanrahan, wasn’t the tribunal’s first choice for presiding judge. But after a lost re-election bid in North Carolina and the death of his wife, this district court judge found himself in Nuremberg with two other American judges, hearing testimony from key witnesses in the trial of three German judges -- complicit in allowing the law to become bent to serve the Third Reich.

Monday, April 16, 2018

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR • Stray Dog Theatre

After an appearance last season at the Muny and a live broadcast this Easter, St. Louisans have another opportunity to catch Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's classic rock opera that’s been around since the '70s. Loosely based on the Gospels, Jesus Christ Superstar details the last week in the life of Jesus Christ -- a demanding show for any company, and Stray Dog’s production has some hits and some misses.

Omega Jones in the title role stands out as one of the show’s hits. With strong vocals (and a great upper-register), Jones’ charismatic presence is easygoing, winning over the audience and justifying the devotion of Jesus’ followers. His frustration when a flood of appeals from the down-trodden threaten to overwhelm him at the end of a nicely staged, “The Temple”, is well played, and after laying down a groundwork of growing despair, Jones delivers one of the high points of the night with “Gethsemane” -- full of hopelessness and appropriately jaded insolence.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

NEW JERUSALEM • New Jewish Theatre

Most people don’t like to have their views challenged. But when your long-held convictions about religion are upended? Oof. Forget about it. That’s what got Baruch de Spinoza excommunicated from his Jewish community in Amsterdam, as told in David Ives’ cerebral historical drama -- with its mouthful of a subtitle, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Torah Talmud Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656.

Spinoza is regarded as an eminent Dutch philosopher, but in his 20’s, he was seen as a pagan when his probing theories about the pervious nature of God and his association with free-thinkers clashed with the provincial religious tenets of the day. Rob Riordan’s portrayal is animated with flashes of inspired observations, and to hear his musings about God’s infusion in all things, Spinoza's passion seems apparent. Still, deference was preferred over dissection, so prosecutor Abraham Van Valkenburgh (Jim Butz), speaking on behalf of the Christian population, wasn’t having any of it. Imposing and inflexible, Van Valkenburgh pushes for Baruch’s expulsion from society, and Butz seethes with righteous indignation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sixth Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Another awards night has come and gone, this time generously hosted by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, with a delicious buffet provided by With Love Catering. Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients! As cliché as it sounds, the amount of talent in our own back yard makes us all winners. Here's the list of the sixth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominees with the award recipients in red.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Heather Beal, Dot, The Black Rep
Rachel Christopher, The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis
Andra Harkins, Steel Magnolias, Stray Dog Theatre
Larissa White, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Theatre Macabre
Gwen Wotawa, Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, Insight Theatre Company

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

CAUGHT • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

An art installation titled Devil in a Red Dress greets the guests downstairs at the Rep’s studio theatre. Featuring the work of visiting Chinese conceptual artist, Lin Bo, the showing is complete with docents and a program guide. After a brief introduction by director Seth Gordon, Bo steps up to the podium and talks about the inspiration for his work, and how his viral, visionary protest project commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre resulted in his brutal imprisonment by an oppressive Chinese government. With a profile in The New Yorker magazine and a book on the way, Lin Bo is starting to garner attention. He’s got an intriguing story to tell, but it’s not what it seems.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

ANYTHING GOES • New Line Theatre

The racy shenanigans and silly scheming going on among the passengers aboard a transatlantic cruise in Cole Porter’s, Anything Goes, offered a welcomed breather from the gloom of the Great Depression when it first set sail in 1934. New Line’s staging of the show’s 1962 version, energetically directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, includes a song list jam-packed with Porter standards like “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes,” and a strong cast to make those numbers soar. Though the book’s greatest strength may be its role as a vehicle for the tunes, it does offer a keen depiction of an America where gangsters are worshipped like celebrities and evangelism is akin to show business. Not much has changed on that score.

Evan Fornachon is Billy Crocker, a young stockbroker there to see off his boss, Wall Street exec. Elisha J. Whitney (Jeffrey M. Wright). He decides to stow away on the SS American after he spots Hope Harcourt (Eileen Engel), a girl whose heart he aims to win. Hope is traveling to London with her well-heeled husband-to-be, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Zachary Allen Farmer), and her social-climbing mother, Mrs. Harcourt (Kimmie Kidd-Booker). Billy’s pal Reno Sweeney (Sarah Porter), who traded up in her career from evangelist to nightclub singer, decides to help Billy in his romantic quest, along with Moonface Martin -- Public Enemy No. 13 (Aaron Allen), a gangster in priest’s clothing, and Bonnie Letour (Sarah Gene Dowling), moll to a goon called Snake Eyes Johnson.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

BLACKBIRD • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

The air in a dreary office lunchroom is thick when Ray finds himself there with Una. They haven’t seen each other since their relationship ended fifteen years ago -- when he was 40 and she was 12.

It seems eerily timely that St. Louis Actors’ Studio would stage David Harrower’s disturbing drama now, amidst the attention the MeToo movement has garnered with sexual abuse and harassment allegations taking up residence in the headlines. Braced with strong performances and unyielding direction, the psychological bruises on our two characters, sustained as a result of a young girl’s sexualization, will leave a mark.

After seeing a picture of Ray (John Pierson) and his work colleagues in a magazine, Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier) has tracked him down and stands before him, like an exposed nerve, looking for answers, while he fidgets in a panic of annoyance and apprehension. Their first words to each other are sporadic and fraught, but after their pretense dissolves away, they give recollections of their three-month relationship, the night it all ended, and the perverse connection that neither has managed to be rid of is laid bare. After pursuing an increasing level of intimacy with Una after meeting her at a family barbecue, Ray was subsequently convicted of child abuse. Their involvement led Ray to prison, and left Una emotionally incapacitated.

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