Thursday, October 14, 2010

HIGH • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (pre-Broadway run)

This play comes to the Rep in collaboration with TheaterWorks in Hartford Connecticut where it ran from July 2 to August 22, and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where it ran from September 4 to October 2.  Maybe St. Louis is lucky to be the last stop on the list -- HIGH is aiming for a Broadway run in 2011, resulting in much scrutiny and some significant rewrites since its opening in Hartford, so we can assume that the version we'll be seeing here will be very different from what was seen in Hartford.  Actually, the play may change while it's here in St. Louis.  The night I went, there was a post-show discussion and the director explained to us that there was a recent script addition that was omitted that performance.  That's how vigorously this play is being tweaked.  But don't get me wrong -- the fact that this show is a work in progress in no way implies that this is some half-baked idea of a play.  This show in its present form is tight and intense.

Kathleen Turner (Sister Jamison Connelly)
and Evan Jonigkeit (Cody Randall).
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis © Photo by Sandy Underwood

Sister Jamison Connelly (Kathleen Turner), is a foul-mouthed later-in-life nun who counsels at a Catholic rehabilitation center.  The priest who runs the center, Father Michael Delpapp (Michael Berresse) has just added Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit), a 19 year old drug addict to her roster.  Cody has a sad history.  Not only has he tried just about every narcotic there is, but was kicked out when he was around 12 years old after his mother, also a drug addict, found one of her johns raping him.  After years of living on the streets, turning to male prostitution to support his drug habit, he has recently been found in a motel room with the body of a fourteen year old boy.  Because there was no apparent evidence that Cody had anything to do with the boy's death, Father Delpapp intervenes to supervise his rehabilitation at the center.  Knowing of Sister Connelly's own struggle with alcohol, Delpapp thinks that she may be able to help him, regardless of her protests that Cody may be too much for her to handle.  Although there is a perfect supply of humor in this story, HIGH deals primarily with alternating themes of shame, redemption and guilt, in which all of the characters must at some point face their own demons.

Evan Jonigkeit (Cody Randall),
Michael Berresse (Father Michael Delpapp)
and Kathleen Turner (Sister Jamison Connelly).
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis © Photo by Sandy Underwood
Kathleen Turner is -- no surprise -- a commanding Sister Jamison, at intervals "breaking the fourth wall", addressing the audience, and letting us in on the rich and colorful stories of her own life.  Most people think of  Kathleen Turner's star turns on the silver screen in films such as "Body Heat", "Romancing the Stone", "The War of the Roses" and many others, but she's got some serious stage chops with 2 Tony Award nominations, and sucks you in from the opening scene.  Evan Jonigkeit's Cody has enough swagger to hold his own opposite Turner, but shows you just enough depth and humanity to make you want to see him conquer his lurid past and present situation.  He's a relative newcomer, but as he fidgets and blusters onstage, he's compelling to watch.  Michael Berresse is an incredibly versatile actor with a Tony Award nomination for KISS ME KATE, and like many other Broadway folks, has appeared on every variation of "Law and Order" about 7,000 times.  His Father Delpapp vacillates between amiable, antagonistic and temperamental as his character's own flaws are exposed.  It's a powerful brew of 3 very talented actors who wear these roles like your favorite and most comfortable sweater -- a credit to not only the actors, but director Rob Ruggiero as well.

The Rep's 763-seat auditorium is perfect for this kind of drama.  David Gallo's sets are simple.  White furniture with door facades that elegantly slide out from slits in the back of the stage, starkly set against a black field, occasionally filled with stars.  The lighting design beautifully accentuates the action with focused spotlights, and harsh shadows when things get heavy.

I plan on seeing this again during its run here, and I suggest you do too.  It's a nice treat to get to see a pre-Broadway run right here in our own backyard and this one will stay with you for awhile.  Go see it.  I'm not kidding.


Written by Matthew Lombardo
Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 7 | tickets: $15 - $73
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm
*Adult content

Kathleen Turner (Sister Jamison Connelly), Evan Jonigkeit (Cody Randall) and Michael Berresse (Father Michael Delpapp).

Scenic design by David Gallo; costume design by Jess Goldstein; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound by Vincent Olivieri; makeup design by Joe Rossi.

UPDATE 1.27.11
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis along with producers Leonard Soloway, Chase Mishkin, Terry Schnuck, Ann Cady Scott, Timothy J. Hampton, James & Catherine Berges and The Shubert Organization announced that HIGH is heading for Broadway.

Previews will begin on Friday, March 25 and open officially on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at the Booth Theatre (222 West 45th Street, NYC).  The role of Father Michael Delpapp will be played by Stephen Kunken, but the rest of the cast members will remain the same.
Here's to a long run!

UPDATE 4.20.11
Well, this past Tuesday, HIGH opened on Broadway to… less than stellar reviews.  Here's one of the more negative reviews from New York Magazine.
As a result of this, along with the fact that ticket sales have been low, the show is closing this Sunday.
Plays close quickly in the Big Apple when the signs are less than good.  I'm sorry for everyone in St. Louis who had connections with this show.

Oh well -- at least Evan Jonigkeit, John Lasiter and David Gallo have their Kevin Kline Awards...


  1. I just saw this led to some pretty intense conversation about addiction. I loved the line from the priest...or maybe it was the nun...I don't remember now, but the line referred to how we all have addictions. I know identifying that and addressing that is such a challenge. And the despair the Cody character had, you wonder if getting sober was even the best thing for him, and in the end, of course, it wasn't...sad and profound story. I would be surprised if Evan Jonigkeit doesn't get nominated for a Tony next season....seriously he's amazing in his character.

  2. Yeah, that Evan Jonigkeit is the bomb. I'll be curious to see if it makes it to Broadway. I'm pulling for it, although I think it might get slaughtered if it does. Those NYC critics and audiences are very particular. I really enjoyed it though, and it's cool that St. Louis was included in its pre-Broadway run! Glad you got to see it.

    Thanks for your comment, and for following the blog Robyn!

  3. I think if they make it on Broadway Evan should get nominated...absolutely. The NYC critics are tough but I've seen worse on b'way...I think it has a chance if not b'way, certainly off-bway...maybe Minetta Lane theater or something. There are so many venues available in NYC. I miss the sheer abundance of theater in NY...I always loved hitting TKTS and getting the cheap seats just to be there and experience it all. I saw James Earl Jones in Fences that way...sigh...

    I feel so fortunate to have seen as many pieces as I have...I definitely need to make theater an important part of life here in STL...

  4. DO IT!!! There really are so many good companies here. Check out that list on the right side of the blog -- there are MANY more, but these are the ones I'm a little more familiar with. So much theatre here in St. Louis...
    However, I'm going to NYC at the beginning of December with a friend and her family, and I cannot effin' wait!!
    *sigh*. Minetta Lane Theatre... I saw the musical ADDING MACHINE there a few years ago. Love...

    I know I'll be keeping my ear to the ground about HIGH to see if it gets picked up.

  5. Well when you hear things about good theater in the area keep me posted. Colleen and I both are interested in getting out more to the "culcha" stuff!!!

  6. Will do! At the moment, I'd recommend LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT at Muddy Waters Theatre. SOUTH PACIFIC is at the Fox, too. Check out the Theatre Calendar at the top of the blog -- it's a pretty cool resource.