Sunday, June 24, 2018

BLOW, WINDS • Shakespeare in the Streets: Downtown St. Louis

Playing out on the steps of the St. Louis Central Public Library, Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare in the Streets celebrated its sixth year last weekend. Originally scheduled to run in September 2017, the acquittal of former St. Louis police Officer Jason Stockley generated protests downtown, making it necessary for Shakespeare in the Streets to cancel due to security concerns. Galvanized by these developments, Nancy Bell’s original adaptation was modified with the help of playwriting fellow, Mariah L. Richardson, to further address the divisions, as well as the strengths, within St. Louis. Past productions have concentrated on one neighborhood, but this year, South County, West County, North County and the City were all cunningly incorporated into the tragedy of King Lear, or in this case, King Louis. Tom Martin keenly directed a top-notch cast, and the contributions by Central Baptist Church Choir, The Gentlemen of Vision Step Team and Genesis Jazz Project provided an intense boost to the production. Margery & Peter Spack’s spectacular projections provided a feast for the eyes, transforming the library’s exterior to a sprawling St. Louis City flag design, neon landscapes, lightning-charged storms, and a magnificent stone brick castle -- complete with battlements, torch sconces and crests.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

HEDDA GABLER • Stray Dog Theatre

Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 play, adapted here by Jon Robin Baitz, introduced what would become an icon of dramatic literature. During the course of the play, Hedda Gabler (an outstanding Nicole Angeli) tries to fracture the lives of everyone around her, resulting in her own undoing -- all in a matter of a couple of days. Her cruelty is driven by boredom and a lack of purpose or agency near the turn of the twentieth century. She’s a control freak with nothing to control.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

LUCHADORA! • Mustard Seed Theatre & Theatre Nuevo

If you’ve ever run across an odd item in a relative’s home that you’ve never seen before and wouldn’t in a million years expect to see, it can send your mind racing with the possible stories behind it. In Alvaro Saar Rios’ 2015 memory play, Vanessa finds a wrestling mask in her Nana Lupita’s briefcase, and after a little prodding, the story of that mask, lucha libre or Mexican wrestling, family secrets and the ardent perseverance of girls play out in flashbacks at Fontbonne University, courtesy of Theatre Nuevo and Mustard Seed Theatre.

In late 1960’s Texas where Nana Lupita grew up, she spent her summers selling flowers at her widowed father’s stand so he could give his aching back a rest. When she could get away, she’d ride bikes and eat watermelon with her friends, German immigrants Leo and Liesl. Lupita finds that same mask in her father’s briefcase, and is shocked to learn from a mysterious mask maker that her father is none other than Mascara Rosa, a renowned luchador. With a recent challenge from Mascara Rosa’s nemesis, El Hijo, having been issued, and her father’s health precluding him from answering the call, Lupita decides to enter the world of lucha libre and begin training with the mask maker.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

ROMEO & JULIET • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Ah, young love. And long-standing family feuds, potions, poisons and suicide. Whether it’s in the form of a ballet, opera or West Side Story, Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers is known the world over. Shakespeare Festival’s production is a vibrant one, starting with the colorful streamers draping the set and the trees of Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen. Margery and Peter Spack’s two-story set features bold stripes, a central tower, lit curlicue spirals and a “Benvenuti Verona” sign. Dust Ensemble, a tight little three-piece garage band (in a little garage!), peppers the play with original compositions that are lively one moment and ominous the next, and the clear diction and phrasing of the cast make it easy to revel in some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful verses.

The serenity of the procession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that starts this production doesn’t last long, as the Capulet and Montague servants start scuffling soon after, and pleas from the exasperated Prince (Pete Winfrey) to keep the peace under pain of death causes them to retreat to their corners -- for now.

Friday, June 1, 2018

LIFE SUCKS • New Jewish Theatre

The angsty boredom that tugs at the characters in Anton Chekhov’s, Uncle Vanya, pours out in f-bomb-laden grievances in Aaron Posner’s, Life Sucks. With a contemporary spin and self-aware winks, each character tussles with their own bouts of love and loss, in those pesky little niches we all carve out for ourselves. Closing NJT’s season, this production also serves as a transition, as the company’s founding artistic director, Kathleen Sitzer, steps down after 21 years and passes the baton to Edward Coffield, who also directs.

After the pre-show music of acoustic Beatles tunes, the cast assembles to introduce themselves and clue us in on what we’re about to see. It seems everyone staying at Sonia’s rural country home wants a dance partner they can’t have. Sonia’s father, the professor, actually owns the place, but Sonia and her Uncle Vanya manage the property. The professor’s current wife, Ella, is also in tow. Dr. Aster, Vanya’s pal, lives down the road, but he’s been staying close, no doubt because Ella is visiting. Babs, an old family friend, and Pickles, who lives above the garage, are also on hand. Played out on Peter and Margery Spack’s idyllic set, each character takes turns lamenting their lot.