Tuesday, May 28, 2013

AN ILIAD • Upstream Theater

Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare adapted An Iliad from Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, but the director's notes mention that the two shouldn't be confused.  In this powerful production from Upstream Theater, and under Patrick Siler's excellent direction, the retelling of this ancient story of the Trojan War is told with a contemporary voice that mourns the losses, cheers the heroics, curses the gods and wonders if man will ever evolve beyond the cycle of ruthless, bloody conflict.
After walking down the aisle and up onto the stage, The Poet (a remarkable Jerry Vogel) puts down his suitcase, opens a wooden box, takes out a couple of candles and incense, and asks for inspiration from the Muses, and his accompanying musician (Farshid Soltanshahi), to give him the strength to tell his tale.  He says he's been telling it for ages.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

MRS. MANNERLY • Max & Louie Productions

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's two-actor, one-act play was inspired by memories of an etiquette class he took as a child.  You get a taste of that right off the top during the pre-show announcement as Mrs. Mannerly advises us to mind our P’s and Q’s.

The play centers around Jeffrey (Charlie Ingram) reliving his time spent with Helen Anderson Kirk, better known as, "Mrs. Mannerly" (Donna Weinsting) in 1967.  For over thirty years she'd been running her locally acclaimed classes to try and restore some sense of decorum to the young residents of Steubenville, Ohio.  Jeffrey was never the athletic type.  He says that while other kids had play clothes, he had "reading clothes".  He loved "Ironside", "F-Troop" and wanted to be Bert Parks, and he was also innately polite.  He was admitted into Mrs. Mannerly’s manners class and while he may not have been thrilled about it at first, he was hungry for an opportunity to engage in anything where he could excel.  In addition to playing an adult and 10 year old Jeffrey, Ingram also portrays his fellow classmates -- ass-kissing Charles, runny-nosed Ralph, and two female students, Jaime and Kim.  In these classes, held in a second floor gym of the YMCA, Emily Post's etiquette book was the bible, good posture was a must, and any student who said "what" instead of, "I beg your pardon" was fined 25 cents.  The language of the kids does stray off into the profane, especially when imitating their families' typical dinner conversation.  Though she may be devoted to the development of social graces, Mrs. Mannerly also manages to elicit laughter with her unexpectedly salty one-liners.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TALKING HEADS • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Talking Heads was originally a series of several monologues, written by British playwright Alan Bennett, for the BBC beginning in 1988.  The series was adapted for the stage in 1991 and premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre in Sussex, England.  The selected monologues for this engrossing presentation by STLAS include, "Nights in the Gardens of Spain", "A Chip in the Sugar", and "Bed Among the Lentils".  This trio of monologues, while laced with humor, also share common threads of repression and isolation.

"Nights in the Gardens of Spain" features Elizabeth Ann Townsend as Rosemary, a gardening enthusiast who immediately sucks us in as she relates the events surrounding a shooting that took place in her quiet suburb.  The murderer was her neighbor, Fran, who shot her abusive husband.  Stuck in a passionless marriage with a man who ignores her, Rosemary becomes friends with Fran, and confides in us the story of Fran's trial, conviction, and prison time, where she visited her as often as she could.  While Rosemary's husband's primary concern is his determination to move them both to Spain, Rosemary and Fran's friendship deepens, and Rosemary learns more about the truth of Fran's marriage, as well as the proclivities of her own husband.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

SHLEMIEL THE FIRST • New Jewish Theatre

NJT's final show of its season is unique.  It's a musical adaptation of Isaac B. Singer's Chelm stories -- traditional, typically self-deprecating Jewish folk tales that involve foolish wisdom, where problems are solved the long way around with ill-conceived logic.  In Shlemiel the First, these tales are set to the tuneful, spirited, instantly recognizable klezmer music of Eastern European Jews.

Naturally, the story takes place in Chelm, a town believed to be occupied by fools.  It begins with Shlemiel (Terry Meddows) dozing away, while his wife, Tryna Ritza (Emily Baker), tries to wake him up.  She's got to get a move on to get out and sell her radishes, which brings in more for the family than Shlemiel's job as a beadle does.  In a number called, "We're Talking Chelm", the six wise men of the town (well, three people and three sock-puppets played by Mike Dowdy, Anna Skidis and Keith Thompson) exalt their brand of wisdom, while being guided by their leader, Gronam Ox (Todd Schaefer).  There's also Gronam's wife, Yenta Pesha (Johanna Elkana-Hale), who bemoans the fact that her blintzes aren't doing it for him anymore in a great turn by Elkana-Hale called, “Yenta’s Blintzes”.  Gronam has the idea, with the help of his wise men, to send Shlemiel out into the countryside to spread word of his esteem.  Mrs. Shlemiel comes to realize that she will miss him while he's gone, as will his children, Gittel and Mottel (Taylor Pietz and Mike Dowdy), but determined, and armed with his trusty dreidel, (adorned on one end with a radish), Shlemiel heads off.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

MAPLE AND VINE • HotCity Theatre

Contemporary life can be smothering sometimes, right?  With many of us spending our days tethered to our cellphones and laptops, wouldn't it be nice to live during a time where we weren't bombarded with constant stimulation?  Or would it?  HotCity explores these possibilities in its current offering, Jordan Harrison's Maple and Vine.

It's night as the lights come up on Katha (Shanara Gabrielle) and Ryu's (Alan C. David) NYC apartment.  Katha can't sleep.  Not only do they have noisy, inconsiderate neighbors, but Katha can't seem to get work out of her head.  She's completely burned out at her publishing job, and the everyday grind is complicated by the fact that she's having a difficult time dealing with a miscarriage she suffered six months earlier.  Her husband makes a nice living as a plastic surgeon, but Ryu's long hours at work have become unfulfilling for him as well.  One day, after impulsively quitting her job, Katha meets a man named Dean (Chad Morris).  He's unassumingly debonair in his suit, tie and hat, and has a friendliness about him that strikes Katha as a little unusual.