Saturday, July 7, 2018

Grand Center Theatre Crawl • St. Louis Public Radio, Grand Center & Kranzberg Arts Foundation

Presented by Grand Center, St. Louis Public Radio, and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, the sixth annual Grand Center Theatre Crawl kicked off last Friday. Over the course of 2 days, with venues scattered throughout the Grand Center Arts District, over 2 dozen companies performed short presentations every 30 minutes -- all for free! It’s another one-of-a-kind theatre celebration that’s pretty unique to St. Louis. The organizers of the Theatre Crawl did some limited research on theatre events and festivals around the country. They found lots of Fringe Festivals, events devoted to specific playwrights, and events dedicated to new work. They did not, however, find anything that celebrated the local theatre community quite like the Crawl. Here’s a very small taste of what was on offer.

Randolph Carter (Maxwell Knocke).
THE STATEMENT OF RANDOLPH CARTER by H.P. Lovecraft • presented by Theatre Macabre with Maxwell Knocke @ Centene Terrace

Lovecraft’s ghastly short story was the perfect choice for Theatre Macabre, with Maxwell Knocke as the title character. After being found wandering around in the swamps, a shaken and hollow-eyed Carter is buckling under the continued questioning about the whereabouts of his friend, Harley Warren. Carter’s broken recollections include accompanying Warren, a collector of strange books and student of forbidden studies, to an old cemetery with spades, lanterns, portable telephones, and an ancient book in tow. Warren’s descent down the steps into a particular tomb they’ve unearthed, and their subsequent exchanges through their phone wire about the fantastically imagined horrors Warren encounters while Carter stays behind, is chilling enough to keep you up at night, and wonderfully performed by Knocke. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Zachary Clark)
and Malcolm X (Jason Little).
THE MEETING by Jeff Stetson • presented by JPEK with Zachary Clark and Jason Little @ Washington Tabernacle

The fictionalized secret meeting between Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. centers on their opposing ideas about how to fight the injustices and unchecked racism during the 60's. With Zachary Clark as a stoic Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jason Little as an animated Malcolm X, the differing temperaments of Dr. King’s ministerial nonviolent approach and Malcolm X’s more aggressive “by any means necessary” methods resonate with a sadly familiar echo, highlighting today’s advancements and deficits at the same time. Bookended by JPEK’s founder, Joel King’s solemn, stirring “Wade in the Water”, the excerpts from The Meeting provided a lot of food for thought.

EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR by Lauren Gunderson • presented by West End Players’ Guild with Renee Sevier-Monsey and Tim Naegelin @ Urban Chestnut Brewing Company

Kyle (Tim Naegelin) and Nan (Renee Sevier-Monsey).
In this excerpt from Lauren Gunderson’s revenge comedy, Nan has had enough of her husband Kyle’s abuse. His illegal hunting, his drunken rants, his insensitivity -- she’s done. But she doesn’t just plan to hit the bricks. She’s duct taped him to an armchair and drizzled a generous amount of honey around, waiting for her bear bait husband to be ripped to shreds while she recounts his past wrongs. Nice work by Renee Sevier-Monsey as the long-suffering Nan and Tim Naegelin as her lout of a husband Kyle. The full-length play will be the third production in West End Players Guild’s upcoming season.

Jemma (Avery Smith), director Miles Bledsoe
and Elizabeth (Kay Love).
THE STATUE OF BOLIVAR by Eric Lane • presented by Stray Dog Theatre with Kay Love and Avery Smith @ The Sun Theatre

Elizabeth nervously waits for her date by a Simon Bolivar monument. The only other person around is a smart-ass teen named Jemma, who needles Elizabeth with personal questions -- doing a really good job of annoying her. Turns out, the guy stands Elizabeth up, but sends Jemma, his daughter, there instead. Why anyone would do this is beyond me, but watching their attitude towards each other soften was gratifying. Good performances by Love and Smith.

Director (Joe Hanrahan), Actress (Jennelle Gilreath)
and Producer (Colleen Backer).
AUDITION by Joe Hanrahan • presented by The Midnight Company with Colleen Backer, Jennelle Gilreath and Joe Hanrahan @ Grand Center Arts Academy Cafeteria

A producer (Colleen Backer) and a post-modern theatre director (Joe Hanrahan) are auditioning actors for their upcoming production of Thornton Wilder’s, Our Town. The producer wants to reflect societal changes with gender-neutral, color-blind casting, but the director has a vision for his deconstructed concept of Our Town, and is particular about who should play what. They call in an actress (Jennelle Gilreath) to read for the role of Emily Webb, and she’s come a long way to audition. In fact, she’s come all the way from outer-space. In Hanrahan’s short play, it’s been about three years since human/alien hybrids have been sent to earth after our own population started to decline. There’s a little talk of government secrets, and apparently everyone’s still getting used to the idea. The actress walks in sporadic movements, has a weird speech pattern, but wouldn’t you know it, once she settles in to read for the part, she nails it. It’s a great little play by Hanrahan, who also gives us a fine performance, along with Backer, and Gilreath as a mercurial, but talented actress.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the next Grand Center Theatre Crawl. It isn’t around for long, but provides a perfect opportunity to experience a little “theatre tapas” from companies all over the region -- and all for free! You can't beat that.

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