Monday, December 8, 2014

REALITY • HotCity Theatre

The drama-filled, cheap to produce genre of reality television has, for better or worse, multiplied over the last several years, and if anything, it's proven that there will always be people willing to lose their innocence on national television, and others with no shame willing to put their dignity on the back burner for a shot at fleeting celebrity at the risk of public humiliation. Lia Romeo's comedy, HotCity's chosen script from its 2013 GreenHouse New Play Festival, takes a perverse and very funny look at what happens to the lives of those involved in a dating reality show once the cameras are off.

Annie (Maggie Conroy), a small-town girl from Iowa, thought she had gotten everything she wanted when she became engaged to Matt (Tyler Vickers), a wealthy hunk, on a reality show called "Looking for Love". One of the show's producers, Josh (Ben Nordstrom), oversees the taping of the engagement on a video monitor, making sure to squeeze every drop of carefully choreographed emotion from the scene. Once the taping for the show's finale is finished, Annie, Matt and Josh are sequestered in the production's "safe house", securely out of the public eye. While Josh finishes up the series, Annie's whirlwind love affair with Matt doesn't look as dreamy in the harsh light of day once the show's in the can. The show's runner-up, the pinot grigio toting Krissandra (Julie Layton), whose only real motive for being a contestant was to use her brief fame as a springboard for an aspiring acting career, drops in to visit Annie from time to time. She and Annie formed a bit of a friendship during taping, and now she offers an ear to Annie, whose eyes are being forced open to the snares of reality television, with a wicked turn of events at the end as the facade of happiness comes crashing down.

Ben Nordstrom (Josh),
Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).
Romeo's script allows for some insight among the hilarity, and the ensemble of four are perfectly cast. Conroy as Annie, the ingenue, is authentically sweet and very funny, and Vickers is perfect as Matt, the hunky lunkhead whom producers pick for his money and good looks, though he's not quite ready for a commitment. Nordstrom nails the role of Josh, the cynical producer willing to do anything for ratings, and Layton's Krissandra is a gas, striking you as the type of reality tv girl most likely to get a little too drunk at a party. Under Annamaria Pileggi's smart, fast-paced direction, they all bring charm to their roles and perform with a natural ease.

There were also some neat things that the creative team came up with as part of the production concept -- along with the small tv monitor mounted above the stage, scene changes are done with the houselights up instead of down, offstage areas are instead over to stage-left, where actors receive props and wait for their entrances in plain view -- all succeeding in breaking normal theatre conventions in a way unique to the subject matter.

Julie Layton (Krissandra) and Maggie Conroy (Annie).
The curtain will close for HotCity Theatre after this world premiere run, and the company's decade-long offerings of challenging, modern plays will be greatly missed. The house was completely sold out on opening night, and though HotCity's absence will leave quite a gap on the St. Louis theatre landscape, it will also leave memories of some of the boldest theatre St. Louis had to offer. ("Equus", "Whammy" and "The Normal Heart" are among my favorites.) You've got until December 20 to check out this wildly funny play from one of the city's best.

Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).


Written by Lia Romeo
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through December 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Maggie Conroy (Annie), Julie Layton (Krissandra), Tyler Vickers (Matt) and Ben Nordstrom* (Josh).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; sound design by Patrick Burks; assistant director, Rachel Blumer; assistant stage manager, Sarah Palay; stage manager, Kate Koch.

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