Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE PRICE • New Jewish Theatre

"The Price", one of Arthur Miller's last critically successful plays, burrows into the complicated family dynamics between two estranged brothers. Choices made long ago become the source of long-held hidden resentments and hard feelings. Hello, "Family Drama", right? This New Jewish Theatre production was the first time I'd seen it, and while it's nice to scratch an Arthur Miller play off of the list in my head, this presentation is a pretty fine example of why it was on the list in the first place.

Playing out in the attic of a Manhattan apartment, the first several moments are spent as Victor Franz, (Michael James Reed), a police sergeant who's been on the force for 28 years, nostalgically goes through the remnants of his family's past in the house that he and his brother grew up in. An old gramophone, a radio he built, his fencing foil and mask, his mother's harp, and stacks of old but quality furniture have been collecting 16 years worth of dust since his father passed away. The building is slated to be torn down, so the furniture's gotta go. Victor is soon joined by his wife Esther (Kelley Weber), and she's not shy about the fact that she wants to get the most money possible from the sale of the furniture -- hoping that Victor, three years past retirement, will finally be able to stop working.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays • La Perla

Helmed by That Uppity Theatre Company, in partnership with The Vital VOICE, "Briefs" is back for its third year, and this festival of short LGBT plays, with almost 100 submissions from across the country, seems to get better and better every year. While LGBT-centric themes have pulsed as the heart of "Briefs", the universal nature of the human condition is an overall motif, with a nice balance of live acts and eight 10-minute vignettes that range from the humorous to the thought-provoking.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Second Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Well, another celebration of St. Louis theatre is in the books, a wonderful time was had by all, and I had quite a headache Tuesday morning. :) Seriously though, the talent in this town is stunning, and it's a privilege to be able to be a small part of it. Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients! Here's the list of the 2014 St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominees with the award recipients in red.

Outstanding Ensemble:
“Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” HotCity Theatre
“The Good Doctor,” New Jewish Theatre
“Psycho Beach Party,” Stray Dog Theatre
“Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
“Waiting for Godot,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE AWAKENING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

St. Louisan Kate Chopin's novel, "The Awakening", was published in 1899, and is notable for being recognized as one of the earliest literary works of feminism. The story, scandalous in its time, centers on Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, anxious to get out from under the thumb of the repressive societal norms in late nineteenth century New Orleans. Chopin's novel was initially criticized and detrimental to her reputation, but has since become a critically acclaimed classic. Washington University's Henry I. Schvey gave this story its original adaptation for the stage in 2004, and St. Louis Actors' Studio gives the piece its first professional premiere -- a challenging adaptation with admirable results.

Edna (Emily Baker) and her family are vacationing at a resort on Grand Isle, not too far from their New Orleans home. With her husband Leonce (Terry Meddows) spending time away on business or at his club during the trip, Edna passes the time with her friend Adele Ratignolle (Maggie Murphy), and Robert Lebrun (Antonio Rodriguez), an amiable, flirtatious young man who helps manage the resort that his mother owns. Edna's also been been overcoming her fear of the water by getting swimming lessons from Robert, with whom she forms a connection. While still on vacation they all attend a concert featuring skilled pianist, the unconventional Mademoiselle Reisz (Christie Mitchell), and Edna is greatly moved by the music.

Monday, March 10, 2014

RENT • New Line Theatre

New Line continues its 23rd season with Jonathan Larson's hugely popular, Pulitzer Prize, Tony-Award winning "Rent." Largely based on Henri Murger's collected stories, Scenes de la Vie de Bohème, that also gave life to the opera, La Bohème, "Rent" switches the location from Paris to New York City, examining the lives of "those on the margin" -- a group of young bohemians living in Manhattan's Alphabet City. Death, drug addiction, being broke and HIV-positive status are pervasive throughout, but "Rent" doesn't wallow in its own sorrow. Instead, this collective coming-of-age rock opera revels in joyous rebellion, with a score full of varied styles, strong melodies and rich harmonies.

I was admittedly one of those folks who didn't get all the hype around Rent after I saw it for the first time several years ago. Well, now I get it. The characters this time around, though dealing with major issues that would be tough for anyone, have an affable quality that was lacking the last time I saw it. Could it be because seeing a show like this in New Line's intimate space makes the theatre experience not just something you see, but something you feel? Yes. But it's also New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller's knack for gaining a deep understanding of whatever he puts his hands on, and translating that to his cast, who in turn translate that to us, reaching out to the audience, in this case literally, with invigorating connection. WAY better than the touring production. There. I said it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

SHIRLEY VALENTINE • Dramatic License Productions

Willy Russell's 1986 comedy introduces us to Shirley Valentine, a 42 year old Liverpool housewife who has found herself entrenched in a well-worn rut. At one point she asks, “I used to be Shirley Valentine, who turned me into this?” Over the course of the next couple hours, we become her confidants as she treats us to her story and her efforts to come into her own -- a journey that Shirley, superbly portrayed by Teresa Doggett, compels you to eagerly follow.

While she's making egg n'chips for her husband Joe, Shirley weighs her life as Shirley "Bradshaw", her married name, and wonders how so many of her days have managed to slip by. Her children are grown and out on their own, and with a marriage that can be described as lukewarm at best, she has learned to endure by indulging in generous sips of Riesling and talking to the kitchen wall. She does have her little rebellions though -- Joe is expecting steak that night, but Shirley has decided that a neighboring dog whose owners are vegans would be more appreciative of a nice cut of beef than her dismissive husband. Among stories of the characters she's met in her life, described in vivid detail, we also learn about Jane, her feminist friend who caught her husband in bed with the milkman. Jane invites Shirley for a holiday in Greece, and though Shirley has to work herself up to it, she decides to go, and by this time, we're willing to gleefully help her pack her bags.