Sunday, June 2, 2024

AS YOU LIKE IT • St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

An hour-long rain delay wasn’t enough to daunt the opening night crowds at 

St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s charming production of As You Like It. All the hallmarks of a Shakespearean romantic comedy are there - sibling rivalries, gender-swapping disguises, unrequited love, the fools and the foolish. But director Nancy Bell’s take on the material is as refreshing as a spring breeze, and she’s got a cast that’s keen, with a knack for delivering the prose with clarity, making it more accessible and easier to follow along. Add to that an acoustic trio of musicians with original songs by a sweet-voiced Beth Bombara, a gilded age setting, and the always beguiling ambience of Shakespeare Glen, and you’ve got a show definitely worth checking out.

Forests tend to be transformative places in Shakespeare’s plays, and the Forest of Arden, unveiled after a simple but enchanting reveal, is no exception. There are lusty goatherds and lonely shepherds to spare in the woods, and it’s where many of the players retreat to after being exiled or to escape the perils of the city. The would-be lovers at the center are our heroine, Rosalind (Caroline Amos), lively and wise, and Orlando (Christian Thompson), stuck under the thumb of his older brother, Oliver (Greg Cuellar). Just as they start to fall for each other, Duke Frederick, Rosalind’s paranoid, usurping uncle, banishes her the same way he banished her mother, Duchess Senior (Michelle Hand), so Rosalind disguises herself as a boy and with her cousin and bestie, the Duke’s daughter, Celia (Jasmine Cheri Rush), along with the Duke’s fool, Touchstone (Ricki Franklin), they make their way to Arden. Meanwhile, Orlando learns that Oliver has some evil plans for him, so he, too, flees to the forest for his own safety.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

TWELFTH NIGHT • St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

The high times in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy are dialed up to eleven in St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s Latin-spiced production of Twelfth Night. A distinctly “Miami Beach” inspired setting steps in for the Kingdom of Illyria, and the Bard’s four hundred year-old laughs are given a fresh take via Spanish lines peppered throughout, traditional Latin songs and electronic beats.

Viola (Gabriela Saker) and her twin brother Sebastian (Avi Roque) are shipwrecked and tossed up onto foreign shores. Exiled and separated from her brother, Viola decides to disguise herself as a man, change her name to Cesario, and try to get a job with soccer star, Duke Orsino (Felipe Carrasco). This is when her entanglement in the love lives of the locals sets the plot in motion. Viola, now Cesario, is employed as a page for the lovesick Orsino, who longs for the wealthy and glamorous Olivia (Jasmine Cheri Rush), who, grieving for her brother, pines for no one. Cesario, who has fallen for Orsino, is sent to woo Olivia, who couldn’t care less about Orsino but takes an immediate shine to Cesario. It’s a hot mess.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Doug and Kayleen meet in the nurse’s office at school when they’re eight years old. He’s busted up his face after riding his bike off the school roof, and she’s got stomach problems. There’s a curious examination of each other’s wounds, external and internal, carried out with all of the contrary ardor and aversion of children, and a bond is formed. The play unfolds in non-chronological scenes spanning their decades-long friendship as they drift apart, reconnect, and attempt to mend the other’s hurts.

Gruesome Playground Injuries marks the return of the Steve Woolf Studio Series, and the intimate Strauss Black Box Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center is a perfect spot for it. Playwright Rajiv Joseph balances humor and poignancy during his sequence of vignettes, but we don’t end up learning a ton about the hapless protagonists during its 80-minute exploration of shared damages. Luckily, the direction and performances keep the play from wearing out its welcome.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

OTHELLO • St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Shakespeare, six actors, 24 parks and free admission? Oh, yeah. St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s brand new regional touring initiative, “TourCo”, is bringing a 90-minute adaptation of Othello to 24 public parks across the bi-state area. The stops include each of the past nine neighborhoods featured in its Shakespeare in the Streets program, as well as spots from Clayton and Hermann, Missouri to Belleville and Brussels, Illinois. You can check out the full list by scrolling down a bit here.

These TourCo productions aim to bring Shakespeare to audiences who may not otherwise have access to it, while decoding the language, providing hints to themes and what to look out for, and zeroing in on context -- emphasizing the timeless nature of the Bard’s plays. 

Speaking of timeless nature, what happens when a black man marries an upper-class white woman and rouses the green-eyed monster in a friend? In Othello, the answer is... well, nothing good really. Jason J. Little is dashing as Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army and newlywed to Desdemona (Courtney Bailey), the daughter of a local politician. She has eloped with Othello against her father’s wishes. When one of Othello’s lower-ranking soldiers, an ensign named Iago (Charlie Barron), is skipped over for a promotion he loses to Cassio (Jesse Muñoz), he vows to slander Cassio and crush Othello, with a plot to convince him that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Barron is perfectly villainous as Iago. Consumed by jealousy, he stalks back and forth, vaping and manipulating from the sidelines, sowing doubt in everyone Othello trusts, while hurling racial insults behind his back. Hannah Geisz is great as Roderigo, Iago’s willing stooge who helps move the duplicity along. Jesse Muñoz is persuasive as a framed and tarnished Cassio, and Ricki Franklin is Emilia, Iago’s outspoken wife, unwitting to his plans until it’s too late. Bailey, noticeably at ease with Shakespeare’s verse, is convincing as Desdemona, who finds herself completely unable to understand her husband’s sudden, harsh suspicions, and Little’s unraveling is palpable, as Othello goes from a confident military insider in a loving relationship, to an alienated “other”, eventually spiraling to murderous rage.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS • Max & Louie Productions

Based on letters compiled and turned into a best-selling book by author Cheryl Strayed after her 2 year stint as an advice columnist for an online magazine, Tiny Beautiful Things proves a wonderful choice for St. Louis audiences longing to return to live theatre. 

Not long after a freelance writer and mother of two agrees to take over the advice column, “Dear Sugar”, her laptop starts to ding with incoming help seekers of all sorts. Whether it’s the indignity of a youngster being stuck with the uncool kids, or the indecision over trading in one lover for another, Sugar doles out advice that is clear-eyed -- the kind of attentive, candid guidance that can come from a stranger. More than once after hearing a letter, I thought to myself, “Ooo. Wonder how she’s gonna answer that one?” Light-hearted queries are sprinkled in among letters that deal with knottier subjects about love, loss, redemption and forgiveness. It’s these moments where Sugar recalls the mistakes and learned lessons from her own past with honest, relatable connections. These universal connections, elicited by strong performances, are the play’s biggest asset.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

ANGELS IN AMERICA PART TWO: PERESTROIKA • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

“If the snake sheds his skin before a new skin is ready, naked he will be in the world, prey to the forces of chaos.” This is a line delivered by the “oldest living Bolshevik” at the start of Perestroika, Part Two of Angels in America. It’s a fitting image for the events that play out in the culmination of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, as the folks we met in Part One continue to cross paths, forming unlikely and often hilarious duos, shoved into chaos by the unavoidable momentum of change.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


It’s been over 25 years since Tony Kushner’s Angels in America opened on Broadway, but the Rep’s season opening production of this two-part epic is confirmation of its enduring potency. It’s set in the 1980s during the apex of the AIDS crisis (and the Reagan administration’s lack of urgency in responding to it), but like most classics, there are far-sighted echoes throughout that resonate today. From anxiety about the environment and the cruelty of personal and political self-interests, to the little triumphs of hopeful persistence in the face of fear and uncertainty, the characters in Kushner’s script navigate individual turmoil between the blurred lines of cold realities and fantastical visions, taking on a heavy load, but never straying from a sharp sense of humor. The subtitle, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, winks at the play’s overall topics, but gives no hint of its remarkable ability to be as expansive as it is intimate. Under Tony Speciale’s graceful direction and a superb cast, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, stimulates the senses.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

OSLO • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

In a White House Rose Garden ceremony in 1993, the Oslo I Accord, an effort that sought to bring an eventual end to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, was signed. A play about the events that led up to the Accords may seem like dry material, but any qualms about that will be gone minutes into the first scene. Under Steven Woolf’s tight direction of a dynamic cast, the Rep’s production of playwright J.T. Rogers’ partially fictionalized retelling is a thriller that takes you underneath what was happening on the surface -- to back-channel diplomacy and sky-high stakes, with a perfect measure of humor.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

INTO THE BREECHES! • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Since 2001, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has been chiefly known for thrilling audiences with its annual, free summer productions in Forest Park, and its education/touring program, In the Schools, has been in place since that first season, exposing kids to Shakespeare with performances and workshops. 2012 brought In the Streets, featuring an original work based on one of Shakespeare’s plays, performed in and thematically tailored to reflect the character of highlighted neighborhoods, and of course there’s Shake 38, launched in 2010 -- a marathon five day festival with various companies staging all of Shakespeare's 38 plays in a variety of locations around the city.

Winnifred (Katy Keating), Ellsworth (Gary Wayne Barker)
and Maggie (Michelle Hand).
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer Photography
Its new program, In the Works, showcases contemporary American plays with a kinship to Shakespeare, and George Brant’s heartening and heroic Into the Breeches! makes its regional debut as the Festival’s inaugural headliner. Also featured are family matinees of A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness, inspired by The Comedy of Errors and written by the Festival’s playwright-in-residence, actor and director Nancy Bell, along with staged readings of Michael Sáenz’s coming-of-age story, The Thousand Natural Shocks.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

MACBETH: COME LIKE SHADOWS • Rebel And Misfits Productions

Rebel And Misfits transports audiences to the middle of a pulsing, modernized interpretation of Macbeth in the third installment of its Immersive Theatre Project, where a roughly 10 minute bus ride lands you at Inverness -- a historic, red brick Gothic chancel of graffiti, brick piles and half pipes. Shakespeare’s 17th century tragedy is well known -- a prophesy delivered to Generals Macbeth and Banquo by three witches sets Macbeth and his wife on a murderous pursuit of the crown. This production is a magical but dystopian one, that bends toward the political themes in the play and emphasizes the destructive trappings of power, while filling out a backstory on the players, giving you different perspectives on familiar characters. Its immersive component places you within the performance itself, meaning you’ll be on your feet wandering amongst the cast, where you may have a warning whispered in your ear, a note placed in your hand, or find yourself with a seat at the royal table.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Coming Out Play Festival • The Q Collective

There’s a new theatre company in town, newly launched by local actor Sean Michael -- a familiar face to New Line Theatre audiences. The Q Collective will explore gender, sexuality, and orientation, with an emphasis on the development of local playwrights and composers. They take up the torch ignited by Briefs, a short play festival developed by Joan Lipkin, artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company. Produced in partnership with Vital VOICE Magazine, Briefs featured LGBT-centric works and staged dozens of new plays during its 6 years. The Q Collective’s inaugural festival included eight short plays, culled from 66 submissions, exploring the coming out experience.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

RAGING SKILLET • New Jewish Theatre

Thorny mother and daughter relationships have been at the center of comedies and dramas for forever. But Jewish mothers? Oof, right? NJT opens its 22nd season with a comedy that’s salty and sweet, based on the life of Chef Rossi, the catering director, owner and executive chef of “The Raging Skillet” in NYC. A self-proclaimed punk-rock caterer, Chef Rossi’s memoir/recipe book was adapted into a play by Jacques Lamarre, recounting vivid childhood memories, unruly teenage years, and skirmishes with male chauvinism in bars and kitchens.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

THE LITTLE FOXES • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The Southern home of the Giddens family has a whiff of new money to it, but siblings Ben Hubbard (Chuck Brinkley), Oscar Hubbard (Bob Gerchen) and Regina Giddens (Kari Ely) have a deep capacity for what they’d do to get more. The shameless avarice going on in Lillian Hellman’s classic family drama stands in stark contrast to the elegant attire and lilting drawls in St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s season opener. With sharp performances by director John Contini’s robust cast, The Little Foxes, debuting back in 1939, proves greed never goes out of fashion.

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


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.