Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE VALUE OF NAMES • New Jewish Theatre

Some wounds are harder to heal than others, and the latest offering from New Jewish, written by Jeffrey Sweet and directed by Alec Wild, deals with injuries sustained from the fallout of McCarthyism.  The associated hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) reached their height in the 50's, and many lost their careers and reputations in the aftermath.
Benny Silverman (Bobby Miller), once a successful comedic actor, went for years without work because he ended up on the Hollywood blacklist.  He eventually landed a hit sitcom that affords him a comfortable life with a home in the hills of Malibu.  His daughter Norma (Elana Kepner) is also an actor, and she's just landed a promising role, but has opted to change her last name to her mother's maiden name.  She doesn't want to be constantly associated with her famous dad, but the conversation sets Benny's teeth on edge.  To add insult to injury, Benny finds out that the newly appointed director for Norma's show is Leo Greshen (Peter Mayer), a successful Hollywood director who was Benny's theatre buddy from the old days -- until Leo called him out as a communist sympathizer about thirty years prior.  Yep.  When Leo shows up on Benny's patio, it hits the fan and old wounds are opened.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

NO CHILD • The Black Rep

There's a lot packed into Nilaja Sun's play that garnered Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World and Obie Awards when it opened off-Broadway in 2006.

The title of the play is a reference to the No Child Left Behind Act that ended up putting school test scores ahead of curriculums that often included the arts.  Sun draws on her own experience as a teaching artist in the New York City school system and delivers a play about the failures, struggles, successes and expectations of the students within the fictional Malcolm X High School in the Bronx.  These kids have been, for the most part, written off, and this lively one-act shares the perspective of a teacher taking on one of the "worst classes in school" in an attempt to get these 10th graders to learn, rehearse, and perform a play -- Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

BUG • Muddy Waters Theatre

The featured playwright of Muddy Waters Theatre this season is Tracy Letts.  Yay!  Buckle up, right?  Okay, let me just get this out of the way -- I remember the numerous walk-outs during the August: Osage County run at the Fox a few years ago -- another Letts play.  I effing loved it -- so visceral and funny.  Some didn't find it to their taste.  Aiight.  That's cool, I completely get that, but their loss, I think.  Buy the ticket, take the ride, I say!!  Anyway, like August: OC, Bug drops you in the middle of a realistically gritty look at the unsteady, paranoid lives of its characters, and while it offers laughs (perhaps uncomfortable, and at a safe distance), it also comes with moments that will, with Bug in particular, contagiously make you itch.

All of the action takes place in a mangy motel room just outside Oklahoma City.  Agnes (Kirsten Wylder) is a resident of said motel, trying to avoid her nasty ex-husband Jerry Goss (Jared Sanz-Agero), who has recently been released from prison.  To keep her harsh realities (past and present) at bay, her buddy, a plainspoken lesbian named R.C. (Jenn Bock), brings over some cocaine and an unassuming but intriguing guy called Peter Evans (Justin Ivan Brown).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

THE GLASS MENAGERIE • Dramatic License Productions

The first show of DLP's third season is one that I'd never seen before.  Yes, I know -- I'm always late to the party.  According to the posted director's notes, when Tennessee Williams wrote this memory play in 1944, he wanted to make use of "expressionistic" and "unconventional" techniques like "magic lantern slides bearing images".  We call them projections, but still, pretty uncustomary for its day.  Again -- this was my first time seeing this, but Bill Whitaker's sensitive direction seems to take cues from the playwright's intentions with accompanying projections along with musical punctuations throughout.

When the lights come up on the fragile world of the Wingfield family, set in late 1930's St. Louis, Tom (Antonio Rodriguez) sets the stage as our narrator for the play.  We learn that the patriarch of the family abandoned them years ago, and though he never makes an appearance, his portrait hangs over the proceedings and he is often referred to.  Because of his absence, Tom tries to support his mother and sister with a warehouse job at Continental Shoes.  He aspires to be a poet, and his current job is mind-numbing for him, so he spends a lot of his free time at the movies to break out from under the thumb of his own boring life.  His smothering and controlling mother Amanda (Kim Furlow), relies on Tom to keep the family afloat, but the pressure of Tom's confinement is evident from the beginning.  Amanda has a tendency to drift off into these reveries about her fine upbringing, fine prospects, and her "that time I had seventeen gentleman callers" days, and she tries, as best she can, to infuse her kids with that same desire and motivation for a respectable, fulfilling life.  This includes her desperation to find a suitable match for her daughter Laura.  Laura has a bad foot resulting from a bout with pleurosis when she was younger, and a terrible insecurity about herself and an anxious fear of the outside world.  Everyone in this play has a means of breaking away -- Tom goes to the movies, Amanda recollects past glories, and Laura finds her solace in the victrola and her collection of tiny glass animals -- her favorite being her glass unicorn.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

CRY-BABY • New Line Theatre

Premiering on Broadway in 2008, Cry-Baby was nominated for 4 Tonys including choreography, book and score.  Still, it was not as critically acclaimed as its 2002 predecessor Hairspray, another John Waters film adaptation.  Similar to Hairspray, Cry-Baby features a 1950's Baltimore clash of the classes, with "good girl" Allison Vernon-Williams (Taylor Pietz) falling for the slick rock ’n’ roll "bad boy" Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Ryan Foizey).  

The show begins with the New Line Band's rockabilly admonition to "Take your seat, turn your phone off and unwrap you lozenges".  Then it's a headlong plunge into "The Anti-Polio Picnic", a ridiculous, goofy vaccination extravaganza put on by the "Whiffles", the "square" faction of Baltimore.  The party is soon crashed by the "Drapes", the "bad kids", with a great number, "Watch Your Ass".

Thursday, March 1, 2012

WAKE UP, CAMERON DOBBS • West End Players Guild

The West End Players Guild continues its season with Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs, a world premiere penned by St. Louis actor and playwright, Stephen Peirick.  Written in 2006, this comedy is getting a splendid treatment with thoughtful, nimble performances and direction.

The lights come up on Owen (Eric Dean White) and his wife Abby's (Colleen Backer) New York City apartment.  They're preparing to host a little birthday dinner party for Owen's brother, Cameron (John Foughty).  The natural, conversational tone of the evening is delightfully set as Owen considers the wine for the night and Abby considers her wardrobe -- their back-and-forth is very funny.  Cameron shows up with a bloody nose and a bruised up face from falling into the gutter after being tripped just outside his brother's apartment.  Happy 30th birthday, right?!  After an explanation about his appearance and the discovery that the meal prepared for him features something he's deathly allergic to, Cameron admits that he'd lost his job months ago and could use a little financial boost from big bro.  Cameron suffers a considerable amount of ribbing from his brother concerning the specific circumstances of his job loss (an ill-timed company bathroom situation -- I'll just leave it at that, shall I?), and then Owen tells Cameron that he has invited their mother (Jan Meyer) to the party -- an invitation Abby wasn't expecting.  When Mom arrives, she flies into the details of her latest drama, is convinced that Cameron really got mugged instead of falling down, and manages to set everyone on edge.