The Late 17th Century Goes Punk With “Or,” At SATE’s Season Opener

February 22, 2015
Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts and John Wolbers romp through "Or," at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts and John Wolbers romp through “Or,” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

Playwright Liz Duffy Adams appears to be well versed on the Court of Charles II and the obscure female playwright of that period, Aphra Behn. But she also likes to tweak that history a bit with an embellishment of the characters and the life they “might” have led. The result is a charming romp for the actors portraying those figures with her play, “Or,” opening the season for the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble.

As the program implies, there is little known about Aphra Behn except that she was a spy in the court of Charles II- the Merry Monarch- and that she was probably one of many, merry mistresses. He did reopen theaters that had been closed when Cromwell and the Puritans had taken over England before Charles came to power. There were also stories of Behn being seen in the company of William Scot, a spy for the Dutch. With the opening of the theaters once again, Lady Mary Davenant became a patron of the arts and managed the Duke’s Company, championed by Charles. Then along came actors and saucy actresses like Nell Gwyn who scandalized London and soon fell into the favor of Charles as well.

Nicole Angeli is unaware as John Wolbers accepts libation from Rachel Tibbetts in SATE's "Or," Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

Nicole Angeli is unaware as John Wolbers accepts libation from Rachel Tibbetts in SATE’s “Or,” Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

This mish-mash of characters and others are all paraded on stage by three actors of renown from the local establishment. Rachel Tibbetts commands the stage as the most “under-dressed” of the group as the playwright Aphra Behn. She is writing from her jail cell as the show opens but she quickly moves into a lodging house once the king grants her release. She handily relates the story of this little known force in Restoration theatre and carries through, often becoming a traffic cop in a stage that seems crowded with the other actors changing roles- often in seconds.

Nicole Angeli, complete with bright orange wig and outrageous “finery,” struts her stuff as the actress/wench, Nell. She also takes on a few other roles including the landlady of the hostelry and the patron Lady Davenant but she is simply dynamite as the outspoken and liberated actress who becomes mistress to both Aphra and King Charles. John Wolbers completes the trifecta as the flouncy Charles and Aphra’s almost afterthought of a boyfriend William. These three manage to make the stage crackle with a wild mix of incongruity and believability. It’s a treat to see these 17th Century figures react as they probably did at the time with wild, sexual abandon, but it’s also fun to see the modern punk influence of Adams’ script.

Director Ellie Schwetye leaves no stone unturned as she explores this delicious, if a bit drawn out play. It helps to have everything from Joni Mitchell to Queen Latifah to Missy Elliott pouring through the musical intros and interludes throughout the evening. Schwetye plays on the eccentricities of the script and makes this a broad satire of the times- both 17th and 21st centuries. She is helped by the simple, yet effective set design featuring the “O” and “r” of the play’s title as the focal point and a lighting design that follows suit as well. Both are by the multi-talented Bess Moynihan. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes reflect the fun of mixing up the two time periods and both Tibbetts and Schwetye combined for the great music and sound choices.

Like the other one-act that opened this past week-end, this one goes on a bit too long and would have benefited from a little judicious cutting. It goes on for over 90 minutes. Thank heavens we have three fine actors on stage who hold our attention through this barrage of the senses so, even with a script a little long for its own good, “Or,” is a treat and a delight. Catch it through February 27th. Give SATE a call at 314-827-5760 or visit them at http://www.slightlyoff.org for tickets or more information.

Funny And Scary (But Mostly Funny), “Mr. Marmalade” Opens At West End Players Guild

February 19, 2015
Todd Schaefer as the title character and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in "Mr. Marmalade" at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Todd Schaefer as the title character and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in “Mr. Marmalade” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Lucy is a very strange little girl. She may need therapy by the time she’s five. Right now she’s four and has an imaginary friend named Mr. Marmalade. He’s a cigarette smokin’, cocaine snortin’, womanizing, undependable boozer- but he does enjoy a good cup of imaginary tea with Lucy. That’s how things get started in the latest production at West End Players Guild with Noah Haidle’s “Mr. Marmalade.”

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy and Michael Brightman as Bradley in WEPG's "Mr. Marmalade." Photo: John Lamb

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy and Michael Brightman as Bradley in WEPG’s “Mr. Marmalade.” Photo: John Lamb

Starting with Ken Clark’s inventive set that gives us a four-year old’s interpretation of her home including a love seat made of over-sized Legos and brightly colored and unusually shaped household amenities like floors, staircases and windows, it’s a wonderfully colorful way to be introduced to Lucy and her world as she sees it. Often left alone before a baby sitter can get there, she has developed quite an imagination and thus the need for an imaginary friend. With her mother dragging young men in and out of the house, she also gets an early education in sex and the nature of men. Thus the reason for the R-rated Mr. Marmalade.

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade mocks Lucy in the West End Players Guild production of "Mr. Marmalade.: Photo: John Lamb

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade mocks Lucy, played by Kimberly Byrnes, in the West End Players Guild production of “Mr. Marmalade.: Photo: John Lamb

Kimberly Byrnes is incredible as Lucy. You soon get into the spirit of her being a four year old and not always surprised at her maturity at such a tender age. The talented Todd Schaefer is perfect as Mr. Marmalade. He oils his way onto stage, tossing and stamping out his cigarette telling Lucy why he’s late. Though the relationship isn’t really a romantic one (until later in the play), he makes excuses like a husband afraid of being caught cheating on his wife. Working late and making appointments to see her make him more like a gigolo than an imaginary friend. But the two work beautifully together ebbing and flowing with each tiny spat and missed appointment for playing house and drinking tea from tiny, empty cups.

Greg Matzker as Larry and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in "Mr. Marmalade" at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Greg Matzker as Larry and Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in “Mr. Marmalade” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Mr. Marmalade is so busy, in fact, that he needs an assistant to help him out- which is also part of Lucy’s imaginary world. Bradley is given a spiffy and hilarious interpretation by the wonderful Michael Brightman. His Jeeve’s-like quality is delightful and his bit with getting a no-longer-needed prop candlestick off the stage is a comic masterpiece. He also shines in leading a group of supporting players in serenading Lucy and Mr. Marmalade as well as pulling many a surprise out of his briefcase including a raw steak. In fact, with the items coming out of his and Mr. Marmalade’s briefcases, it almost seemed like an episode of the old “Banana Man” on “Captain Kangaroo.” Dawn Campbell doesn’t win “mother of the year” but certainly acknowledges Mr. Marmalade- even though she can’t see him. It seems she thinks his presence may assuage her guilt of leaving Lucy alone all the time.

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy is ecstatic with the good news from Todd Schaefer in the title role in "Mr. Marmalade" at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy is ecstatic with the good news from Todd Schaefer in the title role in “Mr. Marmalade” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Angela Bubash plays multiple roles including the baby sitter who also ignores Lucy thus fueling her need to invent even more imaginary friends. Is that the reason for Larry? Larry is a five year old who comes into Lucy’s world and is even more neurotic than our heroine. Wrists bandaged from an attempted suicide, Larry finds Lucy to be his only friend and maybe his savior. But is Larry real or just another imaginary friend? Greg Matzker does a fine job as the five year old although he’s not as convincing as Lucy merely because he’s a bit “long in the tooth” to portray a young child. Rounding out the cast is Ryan Wiechmann, again playing multiple roles including the baby sitter’s boyfriend and even a cactus (had to dig deep to play that role).

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade envisions the future with Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in "Mr. Marmalade" at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Todd Schaefer as Marmalade envisions the future with Kimberly Byrnes as Lucy in “Mr. Marmalade” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

All of the actors really got into the off-beat script and director Steve Callahan brought every detail of being in the mind of this four year old- even a very inventive curtain call. The only real problem is with the Noah Haidle script itself. It’s a one-act but even the 90 minute running time runs a bit too long. It really needs some trimming and the writing itself needs to be cleaned up a bit- it’s often repetitive and at times appears to have been written by an actual four year old. It’s a bizarre and fascinating premise but not really ready for prime time.  So kudos to an energetic cast, the inventive Ken Clark set and the crisp direction- this would be a good choice if you want multiple theatre experiences in your life but, with a couple of classic interpretations of classic plays going on elsewhere, “Mr. Marmalade,” unfortunately, comes in third in a very powerful week of theatre.

The West End Players Guild production of “Mr. Marmalade” plays through February 22nd. Give them a call at 314-667-5686 or contact them at http://www.westendplayers.org for tickets or more information.

A Visit With George And Martha Is As Much Fun As Ever Thanks To STLAS

February 16, 2015
Like lambs to the slaughter, Nick and Honey arrive at George and Martha's home. Photo: John Lamb

Like lambs to the slaughter, Nick and Honey arrive at George and Martha’s home. Photo: John Lamb

Edward Albee’s classic black comedy (or is it a tragedy?), “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” sweeps over the stage at St. Louis Actors’s Studio with all the viciousness, biting humor, back-stabbing and, did I mention viciousness? that you’d expect from members of a small Eastern college campus. George, Martha, Honey and Nick spend a night of debauchery, anger and tears as all of their lives are affected from this rite of passage for all four.

George and Honey look on as Martha starts her seduction of Nick. Photo: John Lamb

George and Honey look on as Martha starts her seduction of Nick. Photo: John Lamb

Martha is the daughter of the college president and she gets George onto the history faculty after their marriage. Things don’t go as well as either planned as George never really lives up to his potential- which means ascending to department head. Nick is the newest faculty member in the biology department and, at the insistence of her father, Martha invites he and his wife to their house after a party that her father has thrown for the faculty. Tension, drinking and George and Martha’s version of “fun and games” ensues and the late evening to early morning deteriorates quickly.

William Roth as George and Kari Ely as Martha in the calm before the storm at the STLAS production of "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" Photo: John Lamb

William Roth as George and Kari Ely as Martha in the calm before the storm at the STLAS production of “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” Photo: John Lamb

As George, Artistic Director of STLAS, William Roth hits every zinger with stinging clarity. His droll delivery gets under Martha’s skin and she retaliates as she so often does, by seducing Nick during the drunken stupor that  victimizes them all. He is superb as he volleys and attacks, skewering everyone present. The powerful Kari Ely matches him blow for blow as the unhappy Martha. She can’t resist needling George every chance she gets and then plans and executes her supreme act of revenge and betrayal. These two are volatile together. The stage literally crackles with the sparks that fly between the two and their guests simply get in the way of their nightly war of words and games and are cut to the core as barbs of cruelty slice through the room. Their final, touching scene together brings about that question I had at the beginning- comedy or tragedy, love story or the story of a marriage headed for the rocks?

Things heat up as Martha dances with Nick and George and Honey can only watch and speculate. Photo: John Lamb

Things heat up as Martha dances with Nick and George and Honey can only watch and speculate. Photo: John Lamb

Michael Amoroso is supremely likable as young Nick. As he is slowly sucked into the bizarre ritual with which  George and Martha surround he and his wife, he soon comes around to the “rules” of the game himself. Betsy Bowman returns to St. Louis from her new home in Chicago to tackle the role of Honey. We first see her as the wide-eyed doe that appears to be in awe of both her husband’s new job and the invitation to such a prestigious couple’s home. After getting sick on several brandies, she decides she needs the “hair of the dog” in the form of polishing off the whole bottle and soon turns into a milder, still innocent version of what the other three have become. It’s a tremendous performance from an actress we’ll miss in our town.

Nick helps a drunk Honey down the steps as George looks on in "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

Nick helps a drunk Honey down the steps as George looks on in “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

John Contini directs with a flair for the Albee script. We first see his insertion of the pictures of George and Martha Washington on the set, which is the inspiration for Albee’s main characters (a statement that goes beyond the tongue-in-cheek reference). His quick pace makes the three hour, two intermission play go at seemingly break-neck speed. It’s a weird combination that has you laughing from the gut one minute and gasping in horror the next. It’s all there and Mr. Contini brings it all to the forefront.

It’s always amazing how magnificent the sets become on this small STLAS stage. This time around Patrick Huber has brought a realistic look to a comfortably modest interior of George and Martha’s home. An office in the background that’s rarely used during the play but adds a certain sense of accomplishment to the couple and then there’s the large living room where most of the action takes place and the whole set looks expansive due to angles and height featuring a skylight-like window. Mr. Huber also lights the show to perfection reflecting the many moods of the people and the script. Teresa Doggett has costumed the show impeccably showing contrasts in both couples.

Martha and George are left alone to contemplate the damage after Nick and Honey have finally left the battlefield. Photo: John Lamb

Martha and George are left alone to contemplate the damage after Nick and Honey have finally left the battlefield. Photo: John Lamb

This is such a wonderful play and has held up so well since it first burst Edward Albee onto the scene in 1962. If you’ve never seen it, now is the time to get your initiation into one of- if not the best- American play ever written. If you’ve seen it before- I don’t care how many times- this is a production you don’t want to miss. Playing off emotions, the downright cruelty of some of the dialogue is exquisitely contrasted to the biting humor and perfectly planned wordplay. It’s a delight for the eyes and ears as we see things falling apart with enough damage to destroy but then we melt into that last gasp of hope as George and Martha cling to each other in desperation.

“Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” runs through March 1st at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 or contact them at stlas.org for tickets or more information.

Themes For Today Echo In “The Winslow Boy” At The Rep

February 16, 2015
Jay Stratton as Sir Robert Morton and Jeff Hayenga as Arthur Winslow in the Rep's production of "The Winslow Boy." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Jay Stratton as Sir Robert Morton and Jeff Hayenga as Arthur Winslow in the Rep’s production of “The Winslow Boy.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The Terence Rattigan script, “The Winslow Boy,” was written in 1946 but it is set in the years before The Great War and is based on a real case from that era. Weaving a story of the young cadet at the center of the story, Mr. Rattigan fleshes out the script in magnificent fashion as he introduces a myriad of characters from the Winslow family itself and several people that touch their lives during the search for truth and justice in an England that was not very willing to buckle under to something as mundane as clearing a family name. After a recent revival in England and in New York, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis puts their defining stamp on this magnificent play that rings as true today as it did those many years ago.

Peggy Billo as Violet and Jeff Hayenga as Arthur in "The Winslow Boy" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Carol Schultz as Grace and Jeff Hayenga as Arthur in “The Winslow Boy” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Young Ronnie Winslow has been expelled from the Royal Naval College, accused of filching a 5-pound postal note and cashing it. Claiming his innocence after a struggle to reveal the circumstances to his father, he suffers through a two year ordeal where he and his family are dragged through the mud as “innocent until proven guilty” is never considered. In those days the tabloids acted much as they still do today, raking someone over the coals before a shred of proof can be offered. The music halls were the equivalent of today’s late night talk shows as they also ridiculed the family- again never allowing for the fact that he may be innocent of said charges.

Kathleen Wise as Catherine and William Connell as John in the Rep's production of "The Winslow Boy." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Kathleen Wise as Catherine and William Connell as John in the Rep’s production of “The Winslow Boy.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Jeff Hayenga leads the cast of “The Winslow Boy” as Arthur. As patriarch of the family, he believes in his 13-year old son as he refutes the charges. Never reprimanding or rushing to judgement, he remains calm even as he goes through the family’s fortunes to clear the son’s- and the family’s name. Jay Stalder is strong as the young Ronnie, especially in the closing scene of Act I where he is grilled by one of the most successful and feared barristers of the day, Sir Robert Morton. Jay Stratton cuts an imposing figure as Morton as his love/hate relationship with Ronnie’s sister, Catherine, becomes a secondary focal point in the drama.

Jeff Hayenga as Arthur and Jay Stalder as Ronnie in "The Winslow Boy" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Jeff Hayenga as Arthur and Jay Stalder as Ronnie in “The Winslow Boy” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Kathleen Wise is simply stunning as Catherine. A budding suffragette, she can’t accept the demanding and egotistical tactics of Sir Robert and fights him tooth and nail until their final confrontation at play’s end where they find common ground. William Connell is a strong suitor who is actually engaged to Catherine until his insistence that she convince her father to drop the boy’s case to save face for the family. A strong willed Catherine finds fault with his opinions. The delightful Michael James Reed as Desmond Curry- a long time friend of the family and another suitor for Catherine’s affections- hits all the right marks of a man stumbling over his feelings in pursuit of a beautiful woman.

Michael James Reed as a would-be suitor to Kathleen Wise's Catherine in the Rep's production of "The Winslow Boy." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Michael James Reed as a would-be suitor to Kathleen Wise’s Catherine in the Rep’s production of “The Winslow Boy.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Carol Schultz is rock-steady as the matriarch of the Winslow clan who stands by her son and husband as they pursue justice at the expense of their comfortable lifestyle. Peggy Billo is a treat as the long time maid, Violet, who has no problem in expressing her opinion in all of the family affairs. Hunter Canning is the older brother of Ronnie, Dickie, who lives the life of a playboy in contrast to his younger, more serious brother. Rounding out the cast are Amy Loui and Kai Klose, both doing fine work.

Jay Stratton as Sir Robert grills Jay Stalder as Ronnie in "The Winslow Boy" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Jay Stratton as Sir Robert grills Jay Stalder as Ronnie in “The Winslow Boy” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Rep Artistic Director, Steven Woolf has directed this production with style and panache. Crisp, clean and to the point, the play rambles along before you even realize you’ve spent two and a half hours watching the trial and the family crises unfolding in the living room of the Winslow home in Kensington. He brings out every nuance and every moment of humor that spark the wonderful story and delightful language in Terence Rattigan’s script. Every detail in the technical side of the play is also addressed as John Ezell has provided a stunning, sprawling set worthy of a wealthy family and, as the second act indicates, the declining wealth of that family as the expense of the trial takes its toll. Dorothy Marshall Englis’s costumes are period perfect and Rob Denton has lit the whole experience beautifully.

A drama with an almost drawing room comedy feel at times, “The Winslow Boy” takes us into another era but reminds us of how little things have changed in the last hundred years. This is a stunning piece of theatre that has been given a gorgeous production at the Rep. Don’t miss “The Winslow Boy” as it plays on the Mainstage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 8th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 or contact them at http://www.repstl.org for tickets or more information.

Local Playwright Brings Us A Sensitive Story In “White To Gray” At Mustard Seed

February 12, 2015
Ben Nordstrom and Charlie Barron drink their troubles away in "White To Gray" at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Ben Nordstrom and Charlie Barron drink their troubles away in “White To Gray” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

St. Louis theatre audiences have been lucky enough to experience a lot of new plays over the past year and this year continues that trend at Mustard Seed Theatre. The first one of 2015 is from local playwright, Rob Maesaka as his play, “White To Gray,” set in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, gives us a love story as well as a history lesson in one of the most horrible knee-jerk reactions against a race of people ever perpetrated.

Mom (Paige Russell) tries to comfort her daughter (Fox Smith) during Mustard Seed's production of "White To Gray." Photo: John Lamb

Mom (Paige Russell) tries to comfort her daughter (Fox Smith) during Mustard Seed’s production of “White To Gray.” Photo: John Lamb

Set initially in Hawaii, we meet Sumiko (Fox Smith) and her mother (Paige Russell), two Japanese Americans as they are visiting the gravesite of their father/husband. Interrupting their moment is Peter (Ben Nordstrom) who is the son of a local bigwig and who has been infatuated with Sumiko since their days in school together. Although the feeling is mutual, her mother has plans for her daughter that include going to San Francisco to marry a Japanese doctor she has chosen for her. Submitting to her mother’s wishes, Sumiko agrees to sail the next day on the S.S. Lurline to the Mainland.

Mother and daughter respectfully bow to the ship's captain in "White To Gray" at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Mother and daughter respectfully bow to the ship’s captain in “White To Gray” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Trying to drown his sorrows with his friend Jimmy (Charlie Barron), Peter makes the decision between Mai-Tai’s to book passage on that boat as well. The confrontation that ensues escalates when, two days into the voyage, news comes that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and all of their lives change forever. Jimmy, who had been on leave, rejoins his Navy buddies and his demeanor changes drastically. Although he tries to warn Peter of the consequences of continuing to see or even hide Sumiko and her mother aboard the ship that has received orders to quarantine all Japanese civilians, Peter’s concern for their safety gets them all in trouble. The cruise ship soon begins to have a make over as well, quickly being reconditioned to battleship status.

Ben Nordstrom as Peter tries to console Fox Smith as Sumiko in Mustard Seed's "White To Gray." Photo: John Lamb

Ben Nordstrom as Peter tries to console Fox Smith as Sumiko in Mustard Seed’s “White To Gray.” Photo: John Lamb

Both Ben Nordstrom and Charlie Barron shine in this tense drama. Nordstrom makes Peter a truly sensitive person who can’t shake his love for Sumiko and tries to risk everything for her safety while Barron is effective making a total 180 from being the fun-loving friend to a man serious about his duty to his country. Fox Smith also provides the proper amount of sensitivity as she is torn between her love for Peter and her duty to her mother and tradition. Paige Russell also manages to give respect to the mother without stepping too far over the bounds of insensitivity and making her a caricature.

A wonderful supporting cast plays various roles including bartender, ship personnel and sailors including Chuck Brinkley, Taylor Campbell, Jeff Kargus and Greg Lhamon. Director Deanna Jent has brought a quiet sensitivity to the situation including the somewhat schmaltzy yet highly effective ending to a story that is fraught with tension and even a bit of rage. Dunsi Dai has designed a powerful set that relies on two soaring, angled pieces that are moved to represent parts of the ship and Maureen Berry’s lights emphasize the feeling aboard the vessel. Jane Sullivan’s costumes are historically appropriate and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design is right on the mark.

As with any new play, there’s some work to be done but Mr. Maesaka’s script is a tight one and, at a two hour run time with intermission, works pretty well for a first time production. “White To Gray” plays at Mustard Seed Theatre through February 22nd. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 or contact them at mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information.

 

Child’s Play Leads To Savage Adults In “God Of Carnage” At Stray Dog

February 10, 2015
Stephen Peirick shouts into the phone as Michelle Hand, Michael Juncal and Sarajane Alverson can only sit and wait in Stray Dog's "God Of Carnage." Photo: John Lamb

Stephen Peirick shouts into the phone as Michelle Hand, Michael Juncal and Sarajane Alverson can only sit and wait in Stray Dog’s “God Of Carnage.” Photo: John Lamb

Picture two young boys engaged in a fight in their school yard where one boy accidentally knocks out two teeth of the other boy. Now try to picture those two boys after their fight- arms around each other, one grinning his “trophy” toothless grin, as they have made up and probably grown closer together as they forget their differences. Now picture the parents of each child meeting to reconcile the injury one boy has wrought on the other- no arms around each other- just physical and emotional harm stretching over an incredible 90 minutes of insults while sparks fly in Yasmina Reza’s comedy (yes, comedy), “God Of Carnage.”

Sarajane Alverson makes demands as Stephen Peirick, Michael Juncal and Michelle Hand listen in "God Of Carnage" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Sarajane Alverson makes demands as Stephen Peirick, Michael Juncal and Michelle Hand listen in “God Of Carnage” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre has compiled a delightful cast who takes on the deliciousness of this gut wrenching script which starts out innocently enough but soon escalates into a war of words that sets of a series of fighting, unusual alliances and ultimate chaos as these two couples (meeting for the first time) give an even worse name to bad behavior. Set in the upscale living room of the injured boy’s parents, Veronica and Michael, they have arranged a spotless environment- even a lovely vase of tulips that Michael has bought from a Korean flower seller to spruce up the already impeccable setting. Rob Lippert, scene designer extraordinaire who has enhanced a lot of local stages, presents another winner that is strongly lit by the Tyler Duenow creations emphasizing the chic lifestyle.

On the phone again, Stephen Peirick brings the conversation to a halt as Micheal Juncal and Sarajane Alverson collapse and Michelle Hand can only watch in awe during "God Of Carnage" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

On the phone again, Stephen Peirick brings the conversation to a halt as Micheal Juncal and Sarajane Alverson collapse and Michelle Hand can only watch in awe during “God Of Carnage” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Into this lovely setting comes the opening volley by Veronica as she has written down a list of sins against Annette and Alan’s son and how he should “pay” for the reparations to their son’s image and psyche. As only Sarajane Alverson can deliver, she makes the surprising set of demands sound like honey dripping from Veronica’s lips. Her demeanor and smartly dressed and coiffed look can’t hide the anger rising in her as she reads the list for the first time out loud. This is no way to start a new relationship as she literally rakes their son over the coals for his actions. Throughout, she is a lynch-pin for the bad behavior that follows all four adults as they swirl downward into a cesspool of sarcastic barbs and vitriol.

Michael Juncal makes a point while Sarajane Alverson, Michelle Hand and Stephen Peirick can only express boredom in Stray Dog's "God Of Carnage." Photo: John Lamb

Michael Juncal now on the phone while Sarajane Alverson, Michelle Hand and Stephen Peirick can only express boredom in Stray Dog’s “God Of Carnage.” Photo: John Lamb

Michael Juncal plays her husband with a more reasonable outlook at first but he begins to vacillate as well as the game plan for the evening appears to be eroding. At times he agrees with his wife, at other times taking the side of one or both of the other parents. If there is a voice of reason in the evening, it is his- despite his denigration into the mischief that prevails. Another local favorite (both on stage and as a popular playwright), Stephen Peirick is the highly successful financial guru who is constantly answering his cell phone and shouting instructions to one or other of his lackeys on the other end. When called into play for distracting the group from the topic of the evening, he berates them for listening in on his phone conversations. Forget the fact that conversations in the room must stop because of the decibel breaking tone of his phone voice. This is a juicy role for Mr. Peirick and he makes the most of it.

Sarajane Alverson makes a point much to the dismay of Michael Juncal, Stephen Peirick and Michelle Hand in "God Of Carnage" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Sarajane Alverson makes a point much to the dismay of Michael Juncal, Stephen Peirick and Michelle Hand in “God Of Carnage” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Finally, we get to see Michelle Hand- always a show-stopper as she does every little thing right as well as the large stuff to make her character of Annette someone you can’t take your eyes away from. Of course, she does get to steal the scene by throwing up on stage, but those subtle little moves that develop her character throughout make her a winner. From declaring they are leaving while slyly taking up the bottle of rare rum that has helped make the evening even worse to her brilliant flinging of the aforementioned tulips over her shoulder into the center of the living room highlight her wonderful, comic performance.

Director Gary F. Bell has had a lot of fun with this one- you can tell by how polished and outrageously funny these four people are. He has gone right for the laughs and shown how ridiculously petty these couples can become over a perfectly ordinary, “boys will be boys” situation. Even though Veronica mentions how upset her son is, you can read this as her perception and not how he really feels (other than the pain of two broken teeth). Playwright and jack of all trades in the theatre community, Christopher Hampton has translated Yasmina Reza’s brilliant script and, besides the accolades for the rest of the technical team already mentioned, a word of praise for Gary F. Bell who has pulled double duty as costume designer.

Tickets are going fast for “God Of Carnage” and many performances are already sold out. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 or at http://www.straydogtheatre.org for tickets or more information. “God Of Carnage” plays through February 21st.

A Lesson For Students And The Teacher In Upstream’s “Bashir Lazhar”

February 5, 2015
A powerful performance by J. Samuel Davis drives "Bashir Lazhar" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

A powerful performance by J. Samuel Davis drives “Bashir Lazhar” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

An Algerian refugee comes to Canada and literally begs for a position as a substitute teacher for a 6th level class. The students are also refugees for the most part and will present a challenge for the teacher, Bashir Lazhar. In a little more than an hour, we learn a lot about Bashir, the school system and the effect on both students and teacher in a class that has seen its share of educators come and go. Are the students that difficult? At times they can be. Is the school too restrictive? It would appear so. Is Bashir overstepping his bounds? Some may say so but he is definitely expanding the minds of the students and getting their attention.

Playwright Evelyne de la Cheneliere is a Quebecois playwright from Montreal. This play was adapted into the Academy Award nominated Best Foreign Language film in 2012 and now this translation by Morwyn Brebner, another Canadian playwright, is being staged at Upstream Theatre under the direction of Artistic Director Philip Boehm. Always a unique evening of theatre, Upstream can be counted on for unusual subject matter and some sort of musical background to enhance the story- whether it’s a new work or a classic piece of theatre. This is no exception.

J. Samuel Davis as "Bashir Lazhar" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

J. Samuel Davis as “Bashir Lazhar” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Talented local actor, J. Samuel Davis, tackles the role of Bashir Lazhar and mesmerizes us (we, the audience, become his students, after all) as he brings his unique teaching skills to a class obviously used to the usual, repetitious learning by rote. He challenges his students and is genuinely interested in them, their individual stories both in and out of the classroom and their futures. From the opening moments when he is practicing what he will say to his class on opening day (into a bathroom mirror, perhaps?) to his often inept conversations with the school principal, Mr. Davis is a marvel. He takes us on this journey that is both scary and enlightening. The turnover rate of teachers at this institution is incredible because of the difficulty of teaching this mixture of refugee students. It’s obvious that a lot of teachers have just been interested in “crowd control” while others have probably thrown up their hands in despair after failing to teach things the old fashioned way. When a talented and adaptable teacher like Bashir Lazhar comes along, it goes against the grain of the stuffy powers who are afraid of too much change and the age old problem of making students too independent. So he soon becomes another casualty in the ever changing parade of teachers who tackle the sixth graders who may have just tasted their first chance at freedom of thought.

Director Philip Boehm has kept the staging simple and focused on the multi-talented J. Samuel Davis. His desk and a swivel chair become the only props along with a row of lockers that belong to students and teacher alike. Christie Johnston’s set design fits right into the theme of this script. Steve Carmichael’s lights are also simple yet effective. The only other people on stage are the brilliant Farshid Soltanshahi who provides a light, musical background on a series of stringed instruments and one of three girls who make an appearance at the end of the play. Up to this point, Bashir has focused on the audience or imaginary students on stage but we finally see a happy (mostly as a result of her new teacher, obviously) little girl from his class who interacts with him on his final day. On opening night we saw Aliyah Taliaferro in the role. Other nights will feature Eden Harris and Avery Smith. It’s startling but effective to see an actual student after merely “imagining” his students throughout the course of the evening.

“Bashir Lazhar” runs through February 15th at Upstream Theatre. Give them a call at 314-863-4999 or contact them at upstream theater@sbcglobal.net for tickets or more information.

 

 

“And The St. Louis Theatre Circle Award Goes To…” Here’s The List Of The 2015 Nominees

January 30, 2015

theater circle logo 2013-01-19 at 7.03.59 AMThe results are in and now we just have to wait until March 23 for the Third Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony to find out who takes the top prize in each category. The nominees cover a broad range of theaters, actors, directors and technical wizards in our area- a rich and robust field of talent. The totals this year include 23 for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (18 on the Mainstage and 5 in the Studio), 21 for the Muny. Stages St. Louis racks up 15 and then New Line Theatre and Stray Dog Theatre come in with 14 each. New Jewish Theatre at 12 and St. Louis Actors’ Studio at 10 fill out the double digit entries. St. Louis Shakespeare and Hot City Theatre both have 8 nominations and Insight Theatre has 6. The Shakespeare Festival, R-S Theatrics and newbie Sudden View Productions have 4 each and four venues come in with 2 each- The Black Rep, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, Upstream Theatre and Max & Louie Productions. Finally, with one nomination each are Mustard Seed Theatre, Dramatic License and two new kids on the block, November Theatre Company and Blue Rose Stage Collective.

Allen's Alley picThe awards ceremony will again be at COCA on Monday, March 23rd. Tickets remain at $15 and a buffet will be available at an extra charge before the ceremony provided by Michael Brightman. All details are available at the St. Louis Theatre Circle website and we hope to see you all there to raise a glass to all of the nominees and everyone involved in this energetic theatre community in our town.

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy

All in the Timing, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

Noises Off, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

One Man, Two Guvnors, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Caroline Amos, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Nancy Lewis, Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Ruth Pferdehirt, Noises Off, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jamie Pitt, The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

Donna Weinsting, Chancers, Max & Louie Productions

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Paul Cereghino, The Little Dog Laughed, Stray Dog Theatre

Joneal Joplin, Noises Off, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Michael James Reed, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Ben Ritchie, The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

Evan Zes, One Man, Two Guvnors, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy

Sarajane Alverson, The Little Dog Laughed, Stray Dog Theatre

Nicole Angeli, The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

Nancy Bell, Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Teresa Doggett, Shirley Valentine, Dramatic License Productions

Dale Hodges, Noises Off, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy

Ted Gregory, Quills, Max & Louie Productions

Raymond McAnally, One Man, Two Guvnors, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Ben Nordstrom, Reality, HotCity Theatre

Michael James Reed, Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Jared Sanz-Agero, The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

 

Outstanding Director of a Comedy

Paul Mason Barnes, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Elizabeth Helman, All in the Timing, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Bobby Miller, Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Suki Peters, The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

Edward Stern, Noises Off, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Outstanding Production of a Comedy

All in the Timing, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

One Man, Two Guvnors, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama

Death of a Salesman, Insight Theatre Company

The Diary of Anne Frank, New Jewish Theatre

Eat Your Heart Out, R-S Theatrics

The Normal Heart, HotCity Theatre

The Price, New Jewish Theatre

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

Katie Donnelly, Eat Your Heart Out, R-S Theatrics

Amy Loui, The Diary of Anne Frank, New Jewish Theatre

Susan Pellegrino, A Kid Like Jake, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Susie Wall, Death of a Salesman, Insight Theatre Company

Sharisa Whatley, A Raisin in the Sun, The Black Rep

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

Jason Contini, Death of a Salesman, Insight Theatre Company

Gregory Fenner, The Whipping Man, New Jewish Theatre

Bobby Miller, The Price, New Jewish Theatre

Tim Schall, The Normal Heart, HotCity Theatre

Eric Dean White, The Normal Heart, HotCity Theatre

 

Outstanding Actress in a Drama

Andrea Frye, A Raisin in the Sun, The Black Rep

Linda Kennedy, Windmill Baby, Upstream Theater

Kate Levy, The Other Place, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Samantha Moyer, The Diary of Anne Frank, New Jewish Theatre

Em Piro, The K of D: An Urban Legend, Blue Rose Stage Collective

 

Outstanding Actor in a Drama

Jim Butz, Henry V, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

John Contini, Death of a Salesman, Insight Theatre Company

John Flack, The Normal Heart, HotCity Theatre

Bobby Miller, The Diary of Anne Frank, New Jewish Theatre

Jerry Vogel, Forget Me Not, Upstream Theater

 

Outstanding Director of a Drama

Fred Abrahamse, Stairs to the Roof, Sudden View Productions

Gary Wayne Barker, The Diary of Anne Frank, New Jewish Theatre

Bruce Longworth, Henry V, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Wayne Loui, Death of a Salesman, Insight Theatre Company

Marty Stanberry, The Normal Heart, HotCity Theatre

 

Outstanding Production of a Drama

Death of a Salesman, Insight Theatre Company

The Diary of Anne Frank, New Jewish Theatre

Eat Your Heart Out, R-S Theatrics

The Normal Heart, HotCity Theatre

The Price, New Jewish Theatre

 

Outstanding Set Design in a Play

Jim Burwinkel, The Diary of Anne Frank, New Jewish Theatre

Michael Ganio, Other Desert Cities, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Rob Lippert, And Then There Were None, Stray Dog Theatre

Marcel Meyer, Stairs to the Roof, Sudden View Productions

Mark WIlson, The Price, New Jewish Theatre

 

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play

Eileen Engel, And Then There Were None, Stray Dog Theatre

Jennifer “JC” Krajicek, The Liar, St. Louis Shakespeare

Marcel Meyer, Stairs to the Roof, Sudden View Productions

Michele Friedman Siler, Blithe Spirit, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Susan Branch Towne, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play

Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Patrick Huber, Stairs to the Roof, Sudden View Productions

John Lasiter, The Other Place, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Bess Moynihan, Mary Shelley Monster Show, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

John Wylie, Henry V, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

 

Outstanding Sound Design in a Play

Justin Been, And Then There Were None, Stray Dog Theatre

Barry G. Funderburg, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Fitz Patton, The Other Place, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Rusty Wandall, Henry V, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Rusty Wandall, Opus, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical

Rob Lippert, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

Robert Mark Morgan, Seussical, The Muny

Michael Schweikardt, The Addams Family, The Muny

James Wolk, Fiddler on the Roof, Stages St. Louis

James Wolk, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

 

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical

Amy Clark, Hello, Dolly!, The Muny

Leon Dobkowski, Seussical, The Muny

Andrea Lauer, The Addams Family, The Muny

Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

Alexandra Scibetta Quigley, Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

 

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical

Rob Denton, Seussical, The Muny

Tyler Duenow, Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

Rob Lippert, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

Matthew McCarthy, Fiddler on the Roof, Stages St. Louis

Matthew McCarthy, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

 

Outstanding Musical Director

Jeffrey Richard Carter, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

Valerie Gebert, Seussical, The Muny

James Moore, Hello, Dolly!, The Muny

Chris Petersen, Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

Justin Smolik, Rent, New Line Theatre

 

Outstanding Choreographer

Stephen Bourneuf, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

Denis Jones, Grease, The Muny

Gary John LaRosa, Fiddler on the Roof, Stages St. Louis

Ralph Perkins, Hello, Dolly!, The Muny

Zachary Stefaniak, Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

 

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical

Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof, Stages St. Louis

Hands on a Hardbody, New Line Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

Seussical, The Muny

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical

Rachel Hanks, First Lady Suite, R-S Theatrics

Sara Kapner, The Addams Family, The Muny

Teressa Kindle, Grease, The Muny

Mamie Parris, Hello, Dolly!, The Muny

Sarah Porter, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical

Patrick Kelly, Assassins, November Theater Company

Rob McClure, Hello, Dolly!, The Muny

Joseph Medeiros, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

Whit Reichert, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

Luke Steingruby, Rent, New Line Theatre

 

Outstanding Actress in a Musical

Lavonne Byers, Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

Kari Ely, Fiddler on the Roof, Stages St. Louis

Abigail Isom, Seussical, The Muny

Beth Leavel, Hello, Dolly!, The Muny

Larissa White, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

 

Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Rob McClure, The Addams Family, The Muny

Ben Nordstrom, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

Matt Pentecost, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

Bruce Sabath, Fiddler on the Roof, Stages St. Louis

John Tartaglia, Seussical, The Muny

 

Outstanding Director of a Musical

Justin Been, Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

Michael Hamilton, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy, Hands on a Hardbody, New Line Theatre

Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy, Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

Rob Ruggiero, Hello, Dolly!, The Muny

 

Outstanding Production of a Musical

Bonnie & Clyde, New Line Theatre

Cabaret, Stray Dog Theatre

Hands on a Hardbody, New Line Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Stages St. Louis

Seussical, The Muny

 

Outstanding New Play

Jennifer Blackmer, Human Terrain, Mustard Seed Theatre

Rebecca Gilman, Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Nick Otten, Mary Shelley Monster Show, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Stephen Peirick, Four Sugars, Stray Dog Theatre

Lia Romeo, Reality, HotCity Theatre

 

Special Awards

Donna Northcott, St. Louis Shakespeare

Agnes Wilcox, Prison Performing Arts

 

 

“Safe House” Is A Gem Of A Production At The Rep Studio

January 29, 2015
Will Cobbs, Kelly Taffe, Daniel Morgan Shelley and Michael Sean McGuinness in "Safe House" at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Will Cobbs, Kelly Taffe, Daniel Morgan Shelley and Michael Sean McGuinness in “Safe House” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The stories of “free men (and women) of color” came to prominence a few years ago with the film “12 Years A Slave.” Now we see a searing example of one family and how they coped with being “free” in 1843 Kentucky in the Rep Studio production of “Safe House.” This Keith Josef Adkins script brings out so many emotions in the audience as two sides of the story open up and questions about what we each feel about true freedom are explored.

Daniel Morgan Shelley plies his cobbler trade in the opening scene of the Rep's Studio production of "Safe House." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Daniel Morgan Shelley plies his cobbler trade in the opening scene of the Rep’s Studio production of “Safe House.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The Pedigrews have a modest home that features a large, open, barn-like room that is the focal point. It even features a double barn door entry that, when the play opens, must be kept open at all times so the sheriff and his deputies can keep an eye on the family. Even though they are free people of color, they had been caught assisting true slaves traveling the underground railroad two years ago and are on probation for that indiscretion.

Michael Sean McGuinness as Bracken woos Kelly Taffe as Dorcas in "Safe House" at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Michael Sean McGuinness as Bracken woos Kelly Taffe as Dorcas in “Safe House” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Daniel Morgan Shelley is Addison, the older brother opens the play dressed impeccably including a tall, stove-pipe hat as he plies his trade as a cobbler by going door to door to make or repair shoes in the community. He is determined to prove the worth of his family in order to eventually open his own shop in their home. In fact, that transformation starts to take place during the course of the play. His younger brother Frank, however, is ready to assist slaves who know of the help the family has provided in the past with their reputation of being a “safe house.” Will Cobbs is brash and stubborn as the would-be angel to these people who want to escape the oppression of the South.

Will Cobbs and Raina Houston in the Rep Studio production of "Safe House." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Will Cobbs and Raina Houston in the Rep Studio production of “Safe House.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Kelly Taffe is superb as the facilitator in this family feud, Dorcas, who can see both sides of the story. She is also torn with doubt over a former school chum, Bracken, who is now deputized to check in on the family daily to make sure they are toeing the line. Michael Sean McGuinness plays Bracken- the white friend of the family who is torn between his obvious affection for Dorcas and his duty to (and fear of) the sheriff. Raina Houston is another local free person of color who is infatuated with Frank but must fend of the persistent advances of Addison. Finally, we have a great performance from Cassia Thompson as Roxie, a run away slave who comes to the Pedigrew household seeking asylum and help in continuing her route along the underground railroad.

Michael Sean McGuinness as Bracken is confronted by Daniel Morgan Shelley as Addison as Will Cobbs, as Frank, looks on. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Michael Sean McGuinness as Bracken is confronted by Daniel Morgan Shelley as Addison as Will Cobbs, as Frank, looks on. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

These lives intertwine to create tension and suspense throughout the play. Frank and Dorcas wind up hiding Roxie in the shed unbeknownst to Addison. Things erupt when Addison discovers her and is implicated when Bracken discovers the secret as well. The script is full of wonderful moments of triumph and tragedy and, as director Melissa Maxwell points out in her program notes, brings about the question of who is truly free. Everyone must answer to someone or is dependent on the loyalty and devotion of the other to reach their goals and dreams. It’s a beautiful story that unfolds in dramatic fashion but is filled with complex questions that don’t always get answered.

Kelly Taffe as Dorcas tries to communicate with Will Cobbs as Frank in "Safe House" at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Kelly Taffe as Dorcas tries to communicate with Will Cobbs as Frank in “Safe House” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Besides the brilliant cast and outstanding direction in “Safe House,” we also have a wonderful technical crew that helps bring out the gritty but often ethereal feeling of the script. Peter and Margery Spack have designed a functional and beautiful set that is bathed in soft, ghostly lights by Mark Wilson. Myrna Colley-Lee’s costumes are period perfect and the unusual and effective original music and sound design by Scott O’Brien adds to the dichotomy of the hard-edged yet other-worldly story.

“Safe House” is a play that haunts days after seeing it. Thanks to a first rate cast and a solid and well-crafted script, this one is not to be missed. It plays at the Studio Theatre of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through February 8th. Call the box office at 314-968-4925 or contact the Rep at http://www.repstl.org for tickets or more information.

 

“Imagining Madoff” At New Jewish Theatre Tackles What Might Have Been

January 24, 2015
Bobby Miller and Jerry Vogel in "Imaging Madoff' at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Bobby Miller and Jerry Vogel in “Imaging Madoff’ at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

The name of the play is, after all, “Imagining Madoff,” so we can take a lot of the dialogue and situations with a grain of salt. But there’s no doubt that this evil man did what he’s been accused of and we have that voice of truth interjecting the play at intervals in the form of his secretary and her testimony before the Securites and Exchange Commission. This helps keep us grounded as we enter the playwright’s version of what Bernie Madoff and one of his high profile clients may have been thinking and saying during their encounters leading up to the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time.

Jerry Vogel and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of "Imagining Madoff." Photo: Eric Woolsey

Jerry Vogel and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Imagining Madoff.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

It’s easy to see how this film-flam artist conned very influential A-list clients into trusting their money to him as he promised returns of astronomical proportions. But that’s what a Ponzi scheme does- it shows unlimited profits that encourage the clients to roll over their new found riches until finally they discover that they’ve gone bust and the Ponzi scheme operator has become wealthy.

Speaking of A-list- premiere acting and directing guru, Bobby Miller plays Bernie Madoff with charm that oozes out of every pore while we see- through his actions and thoughts- what a soul-less and conniving schemer he really is. Friend or foe, he treats everyone the same way. Even one of his best friends, Solomon Galkin (a thinly disguised version of noted author, lecturer, philosopher and champion of the Jewish cause Elie Wiesel), becomes a target as he begs to be brought into Bernie’s world. Trying to discourage him and even on the brink of revealing his scheme to him, Madoff finally gives in and takes his friend’s money.

Jerry Vogel in "Imaging Madoff" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Jerry Vogel in “Imaging Madoff” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

As we’re “imagining” what conversations may have taken place, we see the clever Kyra Bishop set design stretching through the center of the playing space with audience members on both sides. Divided into Madoff’s prison cell, the home of Solomon Galkin and the witness stand of the SEC, Kimberly Klearman’s lighting design points us into the various scenes while a screen behind the secretary occasionally brings us visual reinforcement of what’s going on during these imaginary dialogues and inner thoughts of those involved.

Jerry Vogel and Bobby Miller in "Imagining Madoff" at NJT. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Jerry Vogel and Bobby Miller in “Imagining Madoff” at NJT. Photo: Eric Woolsey

In a reunion, of sorts, of the late, great Theatre Project Company, Jerry Vogel joins Bobby Miller on stage as the direct opposite of Madoff in the form of Solomon Galkin. Discussions of religion, faith and good versus evil surprising erupt during their conversations. Even in those “voices in the head” moments that both experience throughout the play, we can see how this is truly a battle of forces at each end of the spectrum. Vogel and Miller together on stage is electric. Subtlety is the key to their performances as there are no big moments but small, intimate and telling moments that work off each other and their philosophies. It’s a lesson in acting that young and old actors alike can learn from.

Rounding out the cast is as wonderful performance by Julie Layton as Madoff’s secretary. Though never moving from her seat on the witness stand, she delivers a knock-out punch with insight’s into what she and the countless clients must have felt about Madoff and the ultimate shock of his eventual conviction. Director Lee Anne Matthews keeps this extended one-act moving despite the sometimes overly-heavy dialogue from playwright Deb Margolin. Matthews has the touch to keep this stream of consciousness feeling easy to follow as we jump from one moment to another.

Jerry Vogel and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of "Imagining Madoff." Photo: Eric Woolsey

Jerry Vogel and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Imagining Madoff.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

The two gentlemen discuss everything from baseball (Dwight Gooden) to the story of Abraham as they unintentionally get caught up in this whole good versus evil discussion from various viewpoints. Not sure if Madoff was really as clever as some of the things that come out of his mouth in this play, but it’s fascinating when he states that he’s “telling the truth in a false way.” And, although Miller delivers the dialogue in a crisp manner, his Madoff drawl prompts him to state at one time that “even my face mumbles.” Some of the dialogue does tend to bog down at times and the playwright doesn’t really explain the unusual scene when Galkin ties up Madoff with leather pouches and straps- evidently a Jewish prayer ritual called phylacteries. In the hands of these three pros, however, “Imagining Madoff” is a fascinating, if disturbing, look into one of the most cold-hearted criminals in recent history.

This look into the mind- imagined or not- of Bernie Madoff makes for truly gripping theatre. Catch “Imagining Madoff” at New Jewish Theatre through February 8th. Call them at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information on “Imagining Madoff” or the rest of their season.

 


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