“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.

 

“Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” Packs A Punch 48 Years Later As The Stage Version Hits The Rep

January 10, 2015
Richard Prioleau and Shannon Marie Sullivan as John and Joanna in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Richard Prioleau and Shannon Marie Sullivan as John and Joanna in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Still relevant after all these years but for different reasons, the stage adaptation of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” hits the ground running at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis that opens the New Year on the Mainstage. Still set in 1967, some of the gasps from dialogue and situations from that era have turned into laughs for this audience. Not to say the impact isn’t still there because, although we’ve moved into a different era, the not-so-gentle reminders of how different the races are have been all around us in recent months. Although marriage equality has taken on a much different meaning these days involving same-sex couples with, thankfully, ever increasing success, there are still those who cringe today at interracial couples just as a much bigger audience did when “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” was nominated for the Best Picture oscar 48 years ago.

Anderson Matthews as Matt scuffles with his old friend, Monsignor Ryan, played by Joneal Joplin at the Rep's "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Anderson Matthews as Matt scuffles with his old friend, Monsignor Ryan, played by Joneal Joplin at the Rep’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Playwright Todd Kreidler has made very few changes from the original William Rose screenplay and that has garnered these very different reactions today- mostly during the First Act. Unfortunately that also leads to a very preachy and, at times, unrealistic turn-around in both families’ attitudes in the short frame of time when John and Joanna announce their intentions to the extreme outrage (particularly from the fathers) to them all sitting down to dinner together. So Act Two may ring true from an historical perspective but it may seem a bit ludicrous to today’s audience. Still, it’s good to reminded of how compromise, understanding and love (of the couple and each family toward their children) can lead to a moment that’s bigger than the prejudices of two families.

Richard Prioleau as John, calls out his father, played by Leo Finnie in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Richard Prioleau as John, calls out his father, played by Leo Finnie in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Associate Artistic Director Seth Gordon has directed “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” with a keen eye for the original intent of the screenplay and how times have changed in the intervening years. The natural laughs are there and they flow as easily as those poignant moments when each character comes to the universal truth of what they are each dealing with. Kevin Depinet has designed a lovely set though, at times, the various levels and similarity of the eating and gathering spaces get in the way of the natural flow of the actors. Peter E. Sargent has brought a strong light design to the production and Myrna Colley-Lee’s costumes are period appropriate.

Inga Ballard as Tillie warns Richard Prioleau as John that she's watching him as the Rep presents "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Inga Ballard as Tillie warns Richard Prioleau as John that she’s watching him as the Rep presents “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

In these days when standing ovations seem to appear whether warranted or not, this cast does deserve one and they got it on opening night. Anderson Matthews, who I’ve praised and panned in the past over his many Rep performances, has done a remarkable job as Joanna’s father, Matt Drayton. As the rich, uptight newspaper editor, he displays a wide range of emotions and even brings out his inner Spencer Tracey during the final scene where he gathers all of the parties involved (a la Hercule Poirot) and almost shames them into adopting the right attitude to their respective children. As his wife, Christina, Margaret Daly is really the first to take the high road and accept her child’s declaration of true love. She takes on that spunky attitude even going so far as to put her best friend and valued worker in her art gallery in her place for her bigoted viewpoint.

Anderson Matthews as Matt tries to calm Leo Finnie and Perri Gaffney as John's father and mother during "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Anderson Matthews as Matt tries to calm Leo Finnie and Perri Gaffney as John’s father and mother during “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

As the young couple, Richard Prioleau and Shannon Marie Sullivan are outstanding. He makes John a very likable character and even eventually wins over the heart of the Drayton’s black maid, Tillie, who perceives him as a hustler. His impassioned outburst at his father at the end of one scene rivets the audience and prompts an almost stunned, delayed round of applause. Ms. Sullivan imbues her character with a passionate soul. She’s not going into this relationship with blinders on- she realizes the mountain of controversy they will have to overcome. It’s just been a short time since the Civil Rights Act and an even shorter time since the Supreme Court ruling the prohibition of mixed race couples unconstitutional. Which makes “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” even more relevant and her character even more daring for the times.

Elizabeth Ann Townsend and Margaret Daly as Hilary and Christina in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Elizabeth Ann Townsend and Margaret Daly as Hilary and Christina in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

As John’s parents, Leo Finnie and Perri Gaffney are exceptional. His outrage is displayed in both voice and movement and he appears to be the most vocal in his disappointment in his son and his misguided notions. He even storms out of the house and only comes in later, fearing that the police may spot him sitting in his car and think he may be “casing the joint.” Ms. Gaffney is also disillusioned with her son’s choice but soon realizes the love between the two young people and softens.

Inga Ballard is superb as Tillie. Commenting- often under her breath- at the goings on in the household, she is forced to undergo a change in her attitude as well. Two other characters outside the households add to the mix. Elizabeth Ann Townsend is Christina’s friend and co-worker who makes her feelings known and takes it on herself to “fix” the situation. It’s a low-key but very strong performance as she takes on the role of the only real villain in the piece. And finally, the always remarkable Joneal Joplin plays Monsignor Ryan who unabashedly sides with the young couple from the get-go. This wily veteran of 93 (that’s right, 93) performances on Rep stages, takes a smaller role and makes it into a star turn. He wryly throws out clever lines throughout the evening.

Anderson Matthews as Matt shares his feelings in the final moments of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Anderson Matthews as Matt shares his feelings in the final moments of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

This is not your father’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” It looks the same (go back and re-watch the film) but, with a savvy audience and an even savvier production, this becomes a new, thoughtful play about race relations hidden inside a movie that shocked a generation almost fifty years ago. Call the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis box office at 314-968-4925 and get your tickets for this outstanding production. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” plays on the Rep Mainstage through February 1st.

 

2014 Theatre In Review (Tongue-In-Cheek Edition) Volume 3

December 27, 2014

Allen's Alley picUnlike most reviewers, I don’t do a year-end “best of” (I leave that to what we’ve created for the Circle Awards in March). I like to hit upon unusual events, observations and stream-of-consciousness feelings that I come upon after reviewing this past year in local theatre. Unfortunately, I was hindered a bit by my wife’s multiple surgeries and subsequent care-giving status on my part. So I missed a lot of shows- particularly during the summer- so my take on 2014 may be short and sweet.

"Blithe Spirit" at St. Louis Actors' Studio.

“Blithe Spirit” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Red Carpet At NJT: The dynamic production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” at New Jewish Theatre brought out a host of local talent in the audience. It was really a red carpet moment as actors, actresses and technical folk from St. Louis theatre streamed into opening night to see their peers bring us an unforgettable production. Now, there are usually a fair amount of actors not currently in a production supporting the other productions, but opening night at NJT was rife with incredible talent as audience members. I chatted with a few including a rare sight- Emily and Aaron Orion Baker sitting in the audience together! Can you believe neither were on stage at this unusual moment in time? Probably just a night off from rehearsals, though.

A New Christmas (Carol) Tradition: For the second year in a row, Deanna Jent at Mustard Seed Theatre has brought us the moving, beautiful a cappella musical, “All Is Calm.” Ten men with soaring musical voices recreate the stunning “peace” during World War I when Allies and Germans dropped their weapons and met to greet each other as people, not soldiers. This could become their seasonal “A Christmas Carol,” although Deanna has said it will not be performed next year, but watch out for 2016!

"Mary Shelley's Monster Show" at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble.

“Mary Shelley’s Monster Show” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble.

First Timers: As most of you may know, I’m a musicals fanatic. With tons and tons of cast albums, I’ve listened to most multiple times over the years and wished I could have seen them live. Local companies continue to grant my requests (though they never ask me for ideas!) by producing local premieres. New Line usually leads the way and they did this year with an outstanding production of Frank Wildhorn’s “Bonnie & Clyde.” They also did “Hands On A Hardbody” but that was during that “summer of missed shows” I experienced. Never mind, R-S Theatrics accommodated me with “First Lady Suite” and Insight Theatre Company did the same as I viewed “The Spitfire Grill” for the first time. Thanks to you all and to those who brought back musicals I haven’t seen produced for a very long time as well.

The company of Stephen Peirick's "Four Sugars" at Stray Dog.

The company of Stephen Peirick’s “Four Sugars” at Stray Dog.

First Timers, Part Two: We have a category at the St. Louis Circle Awards for New Plays. This year we’ve had a bunch of new ones presented on local stages. The Rep, in their new play festival, had presented one that made it to the Studio Theatre and made quite a showing- Rebecca Gilman’s “Soups, Stews and Casseroles.” Our favorite local actor/playwright, Stephen Peirick, was represented at Stray Dog with his workshop presentation of “Four Sugars.” HotCity closes their ten year run (more about that later) with Lia Romeo’s “Reality” and Mustard Seed brought us Jennifer Blackmer’s “Human Terrain.” Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble gave us a powerful look at “Mary Shelley’s Monster Show” and, with mother nature helping in the special effects department, the story of Frankenstein’s creator had some added thunder and lightning intruding on the Chapel’s production on opening night. These and many more first-timers graced our local stages including this year’s “LaBute Festival” (again that summer of no-show Steve left me out in the cold during the hot July one-acts) and the delightful presentations at Joan Lipkin’s “Briefs” productions. And, of course there’s…

"Death Of A Salesman" at Insight Theatre Company.

“Death Of A Salesman” at Insight Theatre Company.

The 24-Hour Play Festival: Ryan Foizey and Todd Schaefer started this intriguing concept last year as a fund raiser for their two companies. Playwrights are chosen, given a genre, number and gender of the cast and a line that must be incorporated into their play (limited to no longer than a 20 minute script). They have a week to write then meet with the chosen actors and directors whose names are all drawn from a hat and assigned their play. They then have 24 hours to rehearse, learn their lines and blocking and put the production on stage. It’s one of the most exhilarating and creative nights in local theatre. This year I was honored to be one of the judges for both the Spring and Winter editions. Max Foizey, Scott Miller and- for the winter session- Alan Knoll joined me as judges. Watch out for the Summer edition in 2015 and don’t miss this exciting evening of “almost improv.”

poster-henry-iv-v-web“And Every One Was An ‘Enery”: Who doesn’t burst into joyous song when they hear the Herman’s Hermits hit from the 60’s (actually a British music hall staple from 1910), “I’m Henery the Eighth I am?” This season, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park took on two other Henry’s- Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” and “Henry V.” A delicious two night immersion into these epic dramas brought this popular summer series to new heights. Now we have “Cleopatra” to look forward to. Unfortunately, there’s no Herman’s Hermit song that comes close to accompany that one.

Trailer Trash: This year we had two versions of the vulgar, rude but highly entertaining “Great American Trailer Park Musical.” After Stray Dog presented the original a couple of years ago, Dramatic License took it on this season. We got to relive the Jerry Springer-like lives of Pickles, Linoleum, Betty and the rest of the gang once again. But then Stray Dog led us on another “merry” chase through Armadillo Acres as they presented “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical.” Just as wild, wacky and totally unwholesome as the original, it makes you wonder what would happen if Henry Higgins arrived in Florida and attempted to make them all princess for a day.

"The Normal Heart" at HotCity Theatre Company.

“The Normal Heart” at HotCity Theatre Company.

Old Favorites Redux: Quite a few old favorite plays and musicals sprang into life again this season as several companies went “old school.” Most recently was the brilliant production of “Blithe Spirit” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio which brought back the Noel Coward sophistication of the 40’s. West End Players Guild revived one of my favorites from long ago, “Lovers: Winners and Losers” by Brian Friel. This gentle recreation from the famous Irish playwright was a treat. Teresa Doggett charmed us with “Shirley Valentine” at Dramatic License and Stray Dog brought back the Agatha Christie thriller, “And Then There Were None.” A brilliant production of the Arthur Miller classic, “Death Of A Salesman” was a highlight at Insight and the aforementioned “Diary Of Anne Frank” brought tears at New Jewish Theatre. New Jewish also presented their own production of last year’s big winner at the Circle Awards for the Black Rep, “The Whipping Man.” Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming” was a searing presentation at STLAS and HotCity Theatre reminded us how gripping and relevant “The Normal Heart” remains after all these years. The Muny always brings us classic musicals but several other theaters brought us classics as well- “Cabaret” lit up Stray Dog and Stages brought us “How To Succeed…” and “Fiddler On The Roof in stunning fashion. New Line brought a new look to “Rent” and the new kid on the block, the November Theatre Company, made us enjoy Sondheim’s “Assassins” again in their spectacular premiere production.

"Fiddler On The Roof" at Stages.

“Fiddler On The Roof” at Stages.

Another Premiere: 2014 will also be remembered for the world premiere of a Tennessee Williams play by the premiere presentation of Sudden View Productions. Their enigmatic but beautiful presentation of “Stairs To The Roof” still haunts the theatre-goers who were lucky enough to attend this wonderful event.

Good Bye Old Friend: We’re not just losing a powerful theatre company with the final season of HotCity- we’re losing the memories of three powerful companies. It all started with City Players under the guidance of Irma Schira Tucker and her son Gerard. They were innovative and brought new pieces, local playwrights and old favorites to their season after season of quality productions. Who remembers the humble, often awkward appearance of Gerard post curtain pleading for support for City Players? He was a kind and generous man and Irma was a true bastion of the theatre community. Then it evolved into HotHouse Theatre and finally, for the past ten years or so, HotCity Theatre. We miss you all and will always cherish the footprint you all left on our glorious city.

go see a playHappy New Year: Despite the sad news from HotCity, we still have a thriving theatre scene in our town. Let’s get out there and support local theatre in 2015. From the established companies to the crop of newbies to special projects such as Em Piro’s unique Fringe Festival, we have a lot to be thankful for from 2014 and so much to look forward to in the year (and years) ahead. Thanks for reading and, as always, I welcome all comments (good and “scolding”) throughout the year.

 

A Dose Of “Reality” Closes Out HotCity’s Season And Their Long, Long Run In St. Louis

December 16, 2014
Producer Ben Nordstrom looks on as Maggie Conroy and Tyler Vickers pledge their love in the opening scene of "Reality" at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Kyra Bishop

Producer Ben Nordstrom looks on as Maggie Conroy and Tyler Vickers pledge their love in the opening scene of “Reality” at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Kyra Bishop

It is with a pang of regret that “Reality” will be the last show of the great career of City Players, HotHouse Theatre and now HotCity Theatre. From the days of Irma Schirer and Gerard Tucker to the current incarnation led by Marty Stanberry, some form of this great company has sustained us theatre fans in St. Louis for many, many years. At least we see them go out on a high note with a remarkable cast bringing in an original production, “Reality.”

Julie Layton and Maggie Conroy discuss their experiences in "Reality" at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Kyra Bishop

Julie Layton and Maggie Conroy discuss their experiences in “Reality” at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Kyra Bishop

Winner of the final GreenHouse New Play Festival at HotCity this year, Lia Romeo’s clever take on the reality and non-reality of the so-called reality shows is a fresh look at the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of such a series that has become so popular on televisions across the country and around the world. Anyone with half a brain knows there’s nothing “real” about reality television. So we take a trip into a show not unlike “The Bachelor” to see what happens when the cameras stop rolling. In a clever take on such shows, we see a “safe house” where the “winner” and her new found mate can get together in secret until the final show is aired and the public knows the outcome. But in a clever staging technique, each scene is announced and we get to see the “backstage” area on stage as everything is…well, staged.

Tyler Vickers and Maggie Conroy discuss the aftermath of their engagement in HotCity Theatre's production of "Reality." Photo: Kyra Bishop

Tyler Vickers and Maggie Conroy discuss the aftermath of their engagement in HotCity Theatre’s production of “Reality.” Photo: Kyra Bishop

The frazzled producer of the show, Josh, is given a straight-forward approach by Ben Nordstrom. Focused entirely on the success of the show and its “believability,” he soon veers off course after some dramatic events change the real reality of the couple. The couple, Annie and Matt, are given powerful portrayals by Maggie Conroy and Tyler Vickers. She’s fallen for him- although we soon learn of her fickleness- and he’s just not into this whole marriage thing. Rounding out the cast is Julie Layton as the runner-up in the contest who just happens to live somewhat nearby the winner in the middle of Iowa. They become best friends on the show and then share the reality (or is it?) in the aftermath of Annie’s win.

It’s one surprise after another as the crises unfold over the 90 or so minute running time. How serious are all of the participants in the show? Is the reality close to the reality we see on screen? What kind of special breed of people inhabit this weird world of reality TV? And finally, who is telling and living the truth? The search for instant fame and maybe instant happiness is not so real in front of or behind the cameras.

Julie Layton and Tyler Vickers get cozy after things go sour in "Reality" at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Kyra Bishop

Julie Layton and Tyler Vickers get cozy after things go sour in “Reality” at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Kyra Bishop

Director Annamaria Pileggi oozes every sleazy moment out of the script and handles the fluctuating emotions of everyone in the cast with humor as well as pathos. She’s blessed with a marvelous cast of some of the finest actors in our town. They throw themselves into it and make us care and detest their characters in the ebb and flow of reality TV on stage.

The clever Kyra Bishop set design allows us to see the opening scene of the final episode before the backdrop is hastily disposed of like yesterday’s news. A television monitor hangs above the stage area to help us remember that what we’re seeing is not reality. Then the multiple sets are magically transformed by the change of drapes, couch pillows, a few pieces of furniture along the way. The L-shaped stairs offer access to the onstage proceedings as well as the backstage look to remind us that nothing is as real as it seems. The Michael Sullivan lights add to the “reality” as the onstage area is always brightly lit but the backstage area remains in shadows as members of the cast and crew are often seen lounging, awaiting their next entrance. The sudden blackout, flash and return highlighting each scene is also a brilliant interpretation of what is going in in this script.

reality-promoJane Sullivan’s costumes are beautiful reminders of our characters and the Patrick Burks sound design adds to the entire scheme. Reality TV stripped to the bare essentials shows what’s really behind these shows. People pledging love to total strangers and people fighting to keep the “reality” alive are all part of the scenario as it becomes a battle for survival and ratings.

“Reality” plays at HotCity through December 20th and it’s highly recommended for a clever script and a powerful acting ensemble. Give them a call at 314-289-4063 or contact them at hotcitytheatre.org and become part of the history of this wonderful company as they end a long and illustrious run in our area.

Strong Cast, Powerful Script Combine For Superb “Eat Your Heart Out” At R-S Theatrics

December 15, 2014
Ann Marie Mohr as Nance and Stephen Peirick as Tom in "Eat Your Heart Out" at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Ann Marie Mohr as Nance and Stephen Peirick as Tom in “Eat Your Heart Out” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

It’s too bad R-S Theatrics only ran this play for two week-ends. It deserves an open-end run so as many people can see it as possible. “Eat Your Heart Out” is so magic and so well constructed that you marvel at the three tales that unfold before you in short scenes that combine for a searing as well as touching finale that may leave you speechless.

First we meet Tom and Nance as they meet at an art museum for their first online-arranged date. Stephen Peirick is charming as the over-eager Tom. He even admits as things unfold that he seldom gets to the second date. Nance, in a wonderful performance by Ann Marie Mohr, is a bundle of nerves- obviously too much on her plate to attempt such a connection. Her ex was less than loving and now she is a Social Worker who arranges for adoptions for couples who cannot conceive. The awkwardness of both individuals adds up to a strange, likable pair.

Katie Donnelly as Evie and Casey Boland as Colin in R-S Theatrics' "Eat Your Heart Out." Photo: Michael Young

Katie Donnelly as Evie and Casey Boland as Colin in R-S Theatrics’ “Eat Your Heart Out.” Photo: Michael Young

Then we meet Evie, Nance’s daughter who is overweight like her father and struggles to fit in socially. In an angst-ridden and beautifully crafted performance, Katie Donnelly gives one of the best performances I’ve seen her in. She has been outstanding in the past, but this role gives her the chance to really unleash the acting chops and she does so in full force. Her only friend is Colin, another strong outing by Casey Boland. His long distance relationship with his girlfriend in New Hampshire prevents him from seeing Evie as anything but a friend and it is just killing her. She has so much love to give and, even when she brings those emotions out, he doesn’t respond the way she feels he should.

Nance listens as Michelle Hand as Alice and Eric Dean White as Gabe try to impress her in "Eat Your Heart Out" at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Nance listens as Michelle Hand as Alice and Eric Dean White as Gabe try to impress her in “Eat Your Heart Out” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Finally we meet Alice and Gabe. Michelle Hand brings a full range of emotions to the nervous wife who wants to bring a child into their relationship. She is simply spectacular as she goes from nervous to outraged to venomous and contrite all in the same scene. It’s overwhelming. Eric Dean White rounds out the cast as Gabe who convinces Nance that he was raised in a loving home until Alice, in her private session with Nance, spills the beans and seals their fate and possibly loses their chance to adopt.

Going from one quick scene to another, the three couples begin to weave through each others’ stories until tragedy strikes and brings them all full circle into a very cathartic final scene that cements our hopes for humanity and civility in a chaotic and often cruel world.

Katie Donnelly and Ann Marie Mohr have one of their few mother-daughter bonding moments in R-S Theatrics' "Eat Your Heart Out." Photo: Michael Young

Katie Donnelly and Ann Marie Mohr have one of their few mother-daughter bonding moments in R-S Theatrics’ “Eat Your Heart Out.” Photo: Michael Young

Director William Whitaker has blended the scenes and stories beautifully and piqued our interest all along the way. His subtle touch makes even the more violent scenes ring with truth and vibrancy. Elizabeth Van Pelt has tied it altogether in a long, slightly changing set design that goes through the center of the main floor of The Chapel. The Nathan Schroeder lights key those various areas and the quick work of changing a bench or a prop keeps the rhythm flowing. Ruth Schmalenberger has costumed the show appropriately denoting the personality of each character strikingly.

Even with the strange title of Courtney Baron’s piece- perhaps noting the play on the heart strings of all of the characters involved- “Eat Your Heart Out” is a striking piece of theatre that will haunt you for days afterward. I did not get to attend until the second and final week-end with the expanse of theatre going on this first and second week-end of December, but I can only hope that you made this a top priority. It was well attended, I understand and for that I’m grateful. This is one that really deserves to be seen by anyone with even a mild interest in theatre in our town. Even go so far as to call it a quiet little masterpiece.

 

Enough “Rude and Crude” To Go Around In The Sequel- “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical”

December 13, 2014
Paula Stoff Dean rants to Kay Love, Jessica Tilgham and Laura Kyro while Kevin O'Brien looks on in "The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Paula Stoff Dean rants to Kay Love, Jessica Tilghman and Laura Kyro while Kevin O’Brien looks on in “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

When Stray Dog Theatre introduced us to Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in 2013 with “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” who knew there were enough “fart” jokes and crude but clever lyrics to go around again? But “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” proves that two is better than one. Maybe not quite as effective as the initial “shock and awe” of seeing the first one, but the three ladies making up the “Greek Chorus” have returned while two new men and one ornery lady have entered their lives.

The Armadillo Acres Trailer Park crowd rocks out in Stray Dog's "The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical." Photo: John Lamb

The Armadillo Acres Trailer Park crowd rocks out in Stray Dog’s “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical.” Photo: John Lamb

Jessica Tilghman returns as “Pickles” and still has that same distant look (often falling asleep on her feet) and wide-eyed innocence that makes her so endearing. With a powerful singing voice and her “cute as a button” looks, she’s a natural for this role. This time around Laura Kyro tackles the role of Betty with a worldly wise attitude and another strong singing voice. Then we have Lin, real name Linoleum because her momma had her on the kitchen floor. Kay Love is a real treat as the compassionate one in this trio who wants to protect the innocence of Pickles (in other words, don’t let her know Santa Claus isn’t real) and be the peacemaker in all the bad that happens during the annual “Christmas curse” that seems to befall Armadillo Acres.

Kay Love, Jessica Tilghman and Laura Kyro are the lovely ladies of "The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" at Stray Dog Theatre.

Kay Love, Jessica Tilghman and Laura Kyro are the lovely ladies of “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” at Stray Dog Theatre.

Two new tenants are in the trailer park- Rufus Jeter and Darlene Seward. Kevin O’Brien is a stalwart, if not too bright, fellow who handles all of the Christmas decorations for the trailers hoping to win them the ten thousand dollar grand prize for best decorated trailer park. Paula Stoff Dean lends her strong singing voice, strong acting and agile pratfall techniques to the mix. As Darlene, she is the ultimate Grinch until a shocking accidents turns her personality around. Rounding out the cast is Gerry Love as Darlene’s boyfriend, Jackie Boudreaux who owns the local pancake house, “Stacks.” Our favorite trio of ladies fill in as the “help” complete with provocative costumes that almost put Hooters to shame.

A holiday toast from the cast of Stray Dog's "The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical." Photo: John Lamb

A holiday toast from the cast of Stray Dog’s “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical.” Photo: John Lamb

Musical numbers are just as crude as the dialogue as we’re treated to several Christmas-themed songs including the one that’s bound to become a classic, “F*** It, It’s Christmas.” The implausible story that surrounds the effective but tacky music is just right. It’s perfect for the outrageous antics that these denizens of trailer park domesticity come up with. You won’t hear typical carols or be treated to warm, fuzzy stories that evoke the spirit of the season, but you’ll have a lot of fun and do a lot of laughing.

Musical director and keyboardist Chris Petersen leads the small combo that have just the perfect sound that doesn’t drown out those outstanding lyrics although a few mike problems on the night I attended distorted some of the dialogue. David Nehls (music and lyrics) and Betsy Kelso (book) have once again brought us this down and dirty look at life in Starke, Florida. Director Justin Been brings every “nuance” out of the script. and Rob Lippert has once again done Stray Dog proud with a set including three trailers (the middle one opens up to reveal the “Stacks” Pancake Parlor) and enough kitsch to get you through at least three tacky musicals.

stray-ornamentTyler Duenow’s lights are perfect including the wide array of holiday lights while Eileen Engel’s costumes are appropriately fitting to the local folks. Jamie Lynn Eros provides the simple but effective choreography. If you want something a little bit different this holiday season, try “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical.” Then you can enjoy “The Messiah” or the “Living Nativity” somewhere else. Give Stray Dog Theatre a call at 314-865-1995 or contact them at straydogtheatre.org for tickets or more information. The show runs through December 20th.

 

“Blithe Spirit” Floats The Audience To Another Time, Another Place At STLAS

December 10, 2014
Nancy Bell, Lee Anne Mathews and Michael James Reed in the sparkling comedy, "Blithe Spirit" at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

Nancy Bell, Lee Anne Mathews and Michael James Reed in the sparkling comedy, “Blithe Spirit” at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

As drawing room comedies go, you can’t get any better than Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.” As productions of “Blithe Spirit” go, you can’t get any better than the current one playing at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. All of the wit, charm and bubbling humor come across from the deft and delicious cast with director Bobby Miller bringing out every nuance of this absurd yet somehow plausible scenario.

Charles and Ruth Condomine are awaiting the arrival of their guests, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman as they plan to hold a seance with Madame Arcati so Charles can gather research for his latest novel. The small talk turns to Charles’ first wife, Elvira as Ruth grills him about how he compares her to his “dearly departed.” Madame Arcati is not aware that she is there for merely observation in the hopes that Charles can expose the fraudulent side of mediums so she goes full swing into the seance. With Elvira fresh in his mind, Charles unwittingly brings her back but he’s the only one who can see or hear her.

The seance scene in Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

The seance scene in Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Throw in a addle-brained maid, Edith, and you’ve got the makings of a first-rate English comic romp with proper stiff upper lips and genteel manners. The ensuing events over the next few days are remarkable indeed with a wild and wooly finish that any ectoplasm would be proud to take credit for. When done with skill and aplomb like the STLAS production, it is the height of entertainment with the effervescence of bubbly champagne and crackle of subtle and sublime English sophistication.

Nancy Bell as Elvira proves her presence to Michael James Reed as Charles and Lee Anne Mathews as Ruth in STLAS' "Blithe Spirit." Photo: John Lamb

Nancy Bell as Elvira proves her presence to Michael James Reed as Charles and Lee Anne Mathews as Ruth in STLAS’ “Blithe Spirit.” Photo: John Lamb

Leading the way is the multi-talented Michael James Reed as the marvelously pompous Charles. He tosses off Coward gems and sparkling nasty comments with the greatest of ease while always maintaining the demeanor of the proper English gentleman. The equally adept Nancy Bell hovers about and trades sarcastic remarks to a fare-thee-well as the wispy Elvira. Holding her own with these two battling exes is Lee Anne Mathews as Ruth. Incredulous at the circumstances and her inferiority complex toward Elvira combine to make her go “raging harpy” on both Charles and Elvira.

Andra Harkins as Mrs. Bradman and Nancy Lewis as Madame Arcati in "Blithe Spirit" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Andra Harkins as Mrs. Bradman and Nancy Lewis as Madame Arcati in “Blithe Spirit” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Absolutely riveting every time she enters is the delightful Nancy Lewis as the outrageous Madame Arcarti. Rapidly moving her body and her mouth from one subject to the next, she never stands still. Even when she’s in a trance, it seems she can’t control her need to sprawl, wave her hands about and marvel at her own talents. It’s a remarkable performance that will astound you with its flights of fancy and frenetic behavior. Steve Isom is solid as the no-nonsense Dr. Bradman who appears to be convinced of Madame Arcati’s talents when she manages to tip over the seance table and send them all sprawling. Andra Harkins is the proper British housewife as Mrs. Bradman who is fascinated as well with the unexpected events that result from the seance. Rounding out the cast is a wonderful performance by Jennifer Theby-Quinn as the maid. Though presented at the outset as broad comic relief in a comedy that’s bent on sophistication, she becomes a key player later in the play.

Bobby Miller’s direction is flawless. Despite being a typical three-act comedy, the time flies by as the beautiful prose and unforgettable plot twists of Noel Coward propel “Blithe Spirit” into the stratosphere. Keeping it taut and to the point, Miller has brought us a comedy for the ages in the way it was meant to be seen. The Patrick Huber set design is wonderfully clever and efficient on the small stage and his lights also enhance the proceedings. Michele Friedman Siler has costumed the show impeccably complete with smoking jackets and sparkling gowns that keep with the spirit of the play. Mark Wilson provided the special effects that particularly come into play during the final scene. And Bobby Miller also kept us older folks in the audience guessing with his delightful sound design featuring music from the period but not necessarily always from artists of that period.

“Blithe Spirit” doesn’t come along very often on local stages so you must make an effort to see this production. It is handled with style and class befitting a work and playwright of the stature of Noel Coward. I’m still waiting for someone to produce the musical version, “High Spirits” that has a sprightly score matching the wit and sophistication of the original work. But right now, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio version of “Blithe Spirit” is about as good a play as you’re going to get anywhere in town. See it through December 21st at the Gaslight Theater. Call them at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

Here We Go Again! Another Wild 24 Hour Play Festival Cures The Winter Blues

December 9, 2014

Allen's Alley picAnother edition of Allen’s Alley focuses on the fun and games at a unique event in our theatre community.

Round Three of the 24 Hour Play Festival was another huge success for Theatre Lab and The Players Project Theater Company. This time we were treated to six plays written in seven days then cast, rehearsed and presented on stage in 24 hours. I was honored to judge once again along with 3-time judge Max Foizey of Max on Movies and first timer Alan Knoll. It’s wonderful to include one of St. Louis’ foremost actors and directors on board as a judge- another perspective on the proceedings.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 9.37.12 AMChatting with Alan after our ballots were turned in, we both agreed that the opening play was the most clever and well written, full of surprises and- best of all- the most innovative use of this season’s required insert into the play, a winter-related prop. “Cringe,” written by Jason Klefisch, used the snow shovel as one of the major ingredients in the plot and offered several audience-gasping moments. Nick Kelly won again as best actor for the evening while Matt Pentecost and Ben Watts were outstanding as well. Todd Shcaefer of the Players Project directed.

Another clever script by first time playwright in the festival, Wendy Renee Greenwood, brought three sisters together in “Trinity Park.” The always incredible Rachel Hanks was joined by the equally amazing Mollie Amburgey and Larissa White in the play directed by Rachel Tibbets.

Cast and crew assembled and ready to tackle the scripts for 24 hours.

Cast and crew assembled and ready to tackle the scripts for 24 hours.

“What You Need” by Carl Wickman was the shortest and strangest play of the night as we all wondered what was real and what wasn’t when Michelle Catherine was visited by salesman Brian Claussen for a mid-winter encounter. Chris Chi directed this one.

“R.O.M.E.R.O.S,” by Greg Fenner used a wild and wooly premise to tell of a rather unusual father/daughter reunion. Em Piro, chosen as best director for the evening, brought laughs from the script and from her insightful movement and gestures of the father and the creation of an interesting dialogue that everyone understood despite not understanding the language involved. Jason Klefisch took on the role at the last minute (but does that really matter when you’ve only got 24 hours?) and Blaire Hamilton also shines as the daughter of this “mixed marriage.”

Zak Allen Farmer checks in again with a zany script called “Fun And Games In The Bedroom.” Far from the sex romp you might expect, Ellie Schwetye does a masterful directing job in handling Margeau Steinau, Reggie Pierre, Troy Turnipseed (another late entry to the acting ensemble) and Carl Overly Jr. as they try to figure out the question that is puzzling them all through a haze of smoke.

A scene from "Line," awarded best ensemble for the evening.

A scene from “Line,” awarded best ensemble for the evening.

Finally, Spencer Green brings us “Line,” a Victorian mash-up that won best ensemble of the evening along with best actress for Amy Kelly. She’s joined by Kimi Short and Evan Kuhn in an improbable fight over a turkey. Theatre Lab Artistic Director Ryan Foizey directed this unexpected series of events that led to a prim and proper (almost) version of catching a greased pig.

While votes were being tabulated, we were treated to an improv presentation by Zero Hour Playfest Troupe. Pat Niday of the Improv Shop hosted the festivities. This was a very busy theatre week-end but, if you’ve never attended a 24 Hour Play Festival, you’ve got to put it on your calendar for the next one. This is truly, as I said before, the most fun you’ll have in the theatre. The cast, playwrights and directors are tireless. How they manage to accomplish all of this in such a short time is nothing short of amazing.

Thanks again for a great time and don’t forget to support local theatre including Theater Lab and The Players Project throughout 2015 and beyond. You’ll be rewarded with even more impressive local theatre whether it takes several weeks or only 24 hours to bring it to the stage.

Grand Ole Opry Comes To The Rep With “Ring Of Fire”

December 8, 2014
The four "principal" players gather for some of the music made famous by Johnny Cash in the Rep's "Ring Of Fire." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The four “principal” players gather for some of the music made famous by Johnny Cash in the Rep’s “Ring Of Fire.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

A rather unusual holiday show plays the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage this year with a definite Nashville flavor. More of a concert than a musical, it’s “Ring Of Fire: The Music Of Johnny Cash.” As the name indicates, it’s not necessarily a biographical look at the Man In Black, but rather a celebration of his music. Outstanding musicians, mostly good singing and some sketchy acting at times makes for a show that country western fans will love. In fact, I’m sure it has the feel of a visit to the Grand Ole Opry.

Derek Keeling belts out a number in "Ring Of Fire" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Derek Keeling belts out a number in “Ring Of Fire” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

As most folks who follow my blog and know me are aware, I’m not fond of either Country or Western and the two together often set my teeth on edge. I enjoyed “Patsy Cline” at Stages and that was a massive hit sending the show into the stratosphere of encores- even changing the theatre venue to accommodate the fans. And I admit the scripted musicals with country or bluegrass scores are among those I like- “Cotton Patch Gospel,” “Smoke On The Mountain” and even the lesser known “Robber Bridegroom.” But the twang of country for the sake of twang alone doesn’t always float my boat.

Featuring four “principal” characters all emulating Johnny or June Carter Cash, the show flows smoothly from one musical number to the next with the onstage band featured singing a lot of the songs as well as helping to relate the occasional update of moments in Cash’s life. Trenna Barnes, Allison Briner, Jason Edwards and Derek Keeling all hold their own and wisely don’t try to do “impressions” of either Johnny or June, but put the music out there lumped into various themes focusing on their lives.

The second act opener features an impressive rendition of "I've Been Everywhere" at the Rep's "Ring Of Fire." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The second act opener features an impressive rendition of “I’ve Been Everywhere” at the Rep’s “Ring Of Fire.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Highly successful numbers include the opening of the second act when bassist John W. Marshall stands center stage as the audience is getting settled and slaps and strums the big bass with amazing results. Soon the other musicians join in and then the whole ensemble forms a curved line across the stage and performs “I’ve Been Everywhere” each taking a city or state within the song and singing it down the line like a vocal “peel” similar to a line of dancers. Sepia colored post cards pop up on a screen that serves as a billboard through much of the show and the result is an impressive blend of music and voices.

Other outstanding musicians include fiddler Brantley Kearns, drummer Walter Hartman, keyboardist and accordion expert Jeff Lisenby and string players (guitars, mandolin and even a trumpet for that infamous “Ring Of Fire” number) Brent Moyer and Andrew Platt.

Fiddler Brantley Kearns steps into the spotlight at "Ring Of Fire" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Fiddler Brantley Kearns steps into the spotlight at “Ring Of Fire” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The more dramatic numbers are most effective including the story of the floods in Johnny’s youth as told through the song “Five Feet And Rising.” Then the prison sequence in Act II featuring the comic “Delia’s Gone” and the popular “Folsom Prison Blues” are a highlight along with the comic rendering of “A Boy Named Sue.” In fact, the second act far outshines the first as it closes with some fine gospel music that was also close to Johnny Cash’s heart.

The aforementioned Jason Edwards helped create this concert for the stage and he also directed this production with Jeff Lisenby as musical director. Denise Patton provides the nice choreography and John Iacovelli’s smart set design features the cabin of Johnny’s youth dominating the stage left area and the billboard rising over the right. Kenton Yeager’s lights are precise and the projections designed by Joe Payne are exquisite. Lou Bird’s costumes are appropriate as well.

So, as you may gather, I probably shouldn’t review shows like this because the audience seemed to really be into it on opening night. Just not a CW fan. But if you enjoyed “Patsy Cline” at Stages and love this style of music- particularly the always popular Johnny Cash, “Ring Of Fire” is the perfect night for you. It plays at the Rep Mainstage through December 28th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for more information or to order tickets.

Susie Wall Takes On An Icon In “Becoming Dr. Ruth” At New Jewish

December 6, 2014
Susie Wall as Dr. Ruth holds a pivotal object to her survival in NJT's "Becoming Dr. Ruth." Photo: John Lamb

Susie Wall as Dr. Ruth holds a pivotal object to her survival in NJT’s “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Photo: John Lamb

Bringing sex out of the shadows and into everyday conversation is the legacy that Dr. Ruth Westheimer will always be remembered for. But her early life was not easy and her struggles before notoriety make for an interesting one-woman show and New Jewish Theatre brings her to us in the guise of the remarkable Susie Wall. “Stumbling” on the audience who suddenly appears in her Washington Heights apartment in 1997, she begins to tell her story as she packs up her belongings for a move across town. Her life is so fascinating and Susie Wall so compelling that you sit back for a 90-minute peek- filled with humor and pathos- into how she became who she is in “Becoming Dr. Ruth.”

Susie Wall's Dr. Ruth holds one of the many, many books she's written on the subject over the years in "Becoming Dr. Ruth" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Susie Wall’s Dr. Ruth holds one of the many, many books she’s written on the subject over the years in “Becoming Dr. Ruth” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Born Karola Ruth Seigel in Frankfort, Germany in 1928, her life was ripped apart by the Kristallnacht perpetrated by the Nazis and was soon shipped off by the Kindertransport program to an orphanage in Switzerland. She never saw her parents again and she presumed they were killed in Auschwitz. Through studies and teaching all over the world and marriages to three different husbands, she became the host of a 15-minute radio program in New York airing after midnight. It caught on and she soon became a full-fledged star due to her outspoken opinions on sex and her belief that sex should be discussed openly and without shame.

Another object to pack brings back stories from her past for Dr. Ruth as portrayed by Susie Wall at NJT's "Becoming Dr. Ruth." Photo: John Lamb

Another object to pack brings back stories from her past for Dr. Ruth as portrayed by Susie Wall at NJT’s “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Photo: John Lamb

Susie Wall captures the spirit and unabashed frankness of Dr. Ruth as she packs, talks about her life, her three husbands and talks to people on the phone including the mover who is expected the next day who asks if Dr. Ruth can talk to his grandmother. That conversation becomes a revelation for them both. All the while, she drops bon mots of advice and philosophy as she discovers triggers in items she is packing that take her from subject to subject as she shares many moments from her life.

Director Jerry McAdams keeps the flow moving and, from that opening moment when she “discovers” us sitting and viewing her living room, the audience feels like a welcome guest. The elaborate set designed by Cristie Johnston is remarkable. I’m sure many folks thought as I and another reviewer did as we entered the theatre- “I could live here!” The clever use of an upstage picture window for projections designed by Michael B. Perkins is a wonderful touch that really opens up the stories that she tells. Kimberly Klearman’s lighting design adds to the realistic setting and Teresa Doggett’s costume for Dr. Ruth is impeccable.

Dr. Ruth- portrayed by Susie Wall- talks sex on one of her radio broadcasts in "Becoming Dr. Ruth" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Dr. Ruth- portrayed by Susie Wall- talks sex on one of her radio broadcasts in “Becoming Dr. Ruth” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Dr. Ruth Westheimer is still alive today and working at her practice. Although her days of appearances on the David Letterman show and other venues including her own radio and television show are over, she still remains an icon of an era. Playwright Mark St. Germain, who wrote the powerful “Freud’s Last Session” that played the Repertory Theatre Studio last year, has captured the soul of Dr. Ruth and has brought a fascinating and difficult life to the stage. We were all so focused on the small framed lady speaking in a strong accent about taboo subjects that we never really knew what brought her to the point of celebrity. It’s a wonderful story.

Susie Wall brings “Becoming Dr. Ruth” to imaginative life through December 21st at the New Jewish Theatre. Call them at 314-442-3283 or contact them at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.


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