Stage Door Temporarily Shut Down- Will Return Soon

June 13, 2014

Allen's Alley picMaybe you’re wondering why some of the wonderful shows haven’t been reviewed lately on Stage Door St. Louis. My wife had back surgery two weeks ago and, rather than go through another rehab nightmare like she had two years ago, I’m acting as caregiver so she can recuperate at home. Consequently, I haven’t been to several of the recent openings. I will be making up as many as I can though some have such short runs, I probably won’t be able to include them all.

I did get to sneak in Shakespeare In The Park before it all happened and will be posting that (or those) reviews soon. After reviewing “The Magic Flute” at Opera Theatre, it looks like the rest of the short repertory season may elude my grasp. The Muny opens next week and I hope to get to those as well. She is doing quite well but it really takes full time care and I’ve only been out to the grocery store and a few other necessary short trips as she needs assistance getting in and out of bed, have been fixing our meals, etc.

So, please stay tuned and, if you follow me on FB, I’ll continue to have updates there. In the meantime, keep enjoying the wonderful productions around town and I’ll see you all very soon. Thanks for following Stage Door St. Louis….Steve Allen

“The Magic Flute” Brings Magic From A Movie Sound Stage

May 27, 2014
Photo: Ken Howard

Photo: Ken Howard

Though a little unorthodox, the opening show of Opera Theatre St. Louis’ summer rep is Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”- directed and designed by Isaac Mizrahi. Perhaps the opera most easily open to interpretation, “Flute” is a fairy tale to begin with filled with magical animals, the Queen of the Night and an overall aura of mystery. With my background heavily grounded in traditional American musical theatre, I found the heavy incorporation of dance and the familiar setting of a movie soundstage to be refreshing and unique. A few distractions perhaps, but this opera is so well known and loved that it’s nice to see a fresh look at an old favorite.

Photo: Ken Howard

Photo: Ken Howard

Tamino is dressed like Gene Kelly in that magnificent dance ballet from “An American In Paris.” The Princess Pamina appears to be a combination of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy in “The Wizard Of Oz.” In fact, the entire cast is reminiscent of one- or a blend- of famous characters from film. The Queen of the Night dressed as Greta Garbo or perhaps ready to spout “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” The bird catcher, Papageno looks a lot like W.C. Fields with some Big Bird feathers sprouting from his belly. Add some flying monkeys (or at least they look like they could fly any minute), some Groucho-esque Shriners, the three spirits dressed like the “Triplet” trio from “The Bandwagon,” pink tuxedoed forest creatures and other Hollywood “types” and you’ve got a whole new look at “The Magic Flute.” Even the guys who change the set look like stage hands from the Golden Age of filmdom.

Photo; Ken Howard

Photo; Ken Howard

The dance sequences that accompany some of the arias, duets and even “production” numbers, are often mirrored by “dream” Tamino and “dream” Pamina like the ballet sequence from “Oklahoma!” created by Agnes DeMille. Dressed like our leads, this can be a bit distracting at times but it blends well and gives the opera almost the feel of a musical. When Mr. Mizrahi directed “A Little Night Music” for Opera Theatre a few years ago, he was more in his element. With his interpretation of Mozart, he formed the opera to fit his element. Quite a coup and one that works successfully- even if it doesn’t please all opera purists.

Soprano Claire de Seveigne is exquisite as the Queen of the Night. Her first act entrance where she enters and trails a “miles long” purple train up a flight of stairs is impressive indeed. With members of the chorus unobtrusively guiding the garment, it’s a moment that is worthy of a Hollywood star. Soprano Elizabeth Zharoff is delightful as Pamina and tenor Sean Panikkar is strong as Tamino. The three attendants of the Queen of the Night, Raquel Gonzalez, Summer Hassan and Corrie Stalllings, almost steal the show when they are on. They move and sing as a unit and, again, dressed in magical blue gowns that evoke the Hollywood period.

Photo: Ken Howard

Photo: Ken Howard

Baritone Levi Hernandez as Papageno is superb and proves to be an outstanding actor as well as accomplished singer. Bass Matthew Anchel brings a strong voice to the role of Sarastro and Matthew DiBattista is wonderful as the “blue” Monostatos. Jane Glover thrillingly conducts the St. Louis Symphony orchestra- bringing out every clever nuance from Mozart’s music. Choreographer John Heginbotham manages to incorporate the vision of Mr. Mizrahi’s dance-heavy “Flute” without distracting from the overall quality of the production. And once again, Isaac Mizrahi’s vision with direction, set design and costumes is just overwhelming. His soundstage with scaffolding, a huge wooden rolling door at the back of the stage, the powerful second act temple and the impressive array of costume choices is mind-boggling. And he  keeps the action moving with help from the clever “stage hands” that move scenery in and out like a well-oiled movie set.

“The Magic Flute” may not please everyone, but I found it a fresh interoperation that works on many levels. it plays in repertory with three other operas through June 28th. Contact Opera Theatre St. Louis at 314-961-0644 for tickets or more information.

“The Homecoming” At STLAS Brings A Whole New Meaning To “Pinterest”

May 25, 2014

Homecoming-Poster-303x454Maybe social media isn’t as new as we thought. “Pinterest” is described as a way of collecting things that interest you so they can be shared with others. Well, Harold Pinter defined “pinterest” perfectly in his 1964- long before social media- black comedy, “The Homecoming.” Now St. Louis Actors’ Studio gives us a polished and profound production to close out their current season collectively called “Sins of the Father.”

Max (Peter Mayer) is the head of the household which he shares with his two sons, Joey (Nathan Bush) and Lenny (Charlie Barron) and his brother Sam (Larry Dell). When the third son returns to his British home from America with a wife in tow, the reunion takes several twists and turns as we’re not exactly who is the feline and who is the rodent in this classic tale of cat and mouse.  In typical Pinter fashion, unabashed dialogue and unbelievable situations make this anything but a happy homecoming.

Mayer is perfectly explicit about his feelings for his sons, brother and the new women who comes into their lives. Sporting a sweat-stained t-shirt and commanding his “favorite” chair, he makes no bones about being the patriarch- and the boss- of this unruly household. With broad mood swings and a braggadocio like no other, Mayer nails it. Charlie Barron also turns in a magnificent performance as the cocky Lenny who, as it turns out in a perfect plot twist, owns what amounts to a brothel in an even sleazier part of town. His flirtations with the new wife are epic and then, suddenly, the tables get turned.

Nathan Bush is the classic younger brother who may be a few bricks shy of a load. As an aspiring boxer, it isn’t surprising that he isn’t the quickest to pick up on the situation when the story takes a turn to wife-sharing and prostitution. Bush is delightful as his drop-jaw expression becomes his best character trait. Larry Dell is obviously the milquetoast of the family as he is bossed around by Max all evening long. Despite being the self proclaimed “best chauffeur” in the city, he becomes the cowering sheep even though he tries to stand up to his brother on several occasions.

The gang's all here as St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming."

The gang’s all here as St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming.”

Ben Ritchie plays the successful brother, Teddy, who has become a Philosophy professor in the states. He’s the most enigmatic one in the piece as you’re never quite sure if he’s shocked or relieved when his wife, Ruth, shocks the rest of the family with her no-nonsense approach to the mass flirting and come-ons from this degenerate household. Which leads to even bigger surprises when she decides to join Lenny’s retinue of ladies of the evening. Ritchie is perfectly passive and you can’t get a real read on how he feels but he certainly seems to take rather quickly to the idea of her staying behind while he returns to his job across the pond. Holding her own in this “company of men” is Missy Heinemann as Ruth. Her opening salvo- so to speak- makes the audience gasp and then she continues to be the catnip for this home of horny tomcats. What a great performance and well-played.

Esteemed Artistic Director of STLAS, Milt Zoth almost makes this his swan song as he and his wife are heading to San Antonio later this year. He’ll be teaching in that town and don’t be surprised if he starts a new theatre company down South. He’ll be around for the LaBute Festival in July and then he’ll return to direct one more MainStage performance next year. His way around a script is clearly evident in his interpretation of “The Homecoming.” There are several ways to play it as there are so many ways the various characters can react to the bizarre situations Harold Pinter has created in this wonderful piece but Mr. Zoth has taken us on a most fascinating and shocking journey and one that ultimately satisfies.

Patrick Huber’s set design is evocative with cracking plaster and even the faded memories of three pictures on the back wall that have been covered by a not quite large enough mirror. The faded and somewhat dilapidated furniture fits perfectly as well. His lights also pinpoint the  proper feeling and the Carla Landis Evans costumes also show the contrast between the successful brother and his wife and the family left behind. Robin Weatherall’s sound design completes the punctuation on this exquisite production.

If you’re a fan of Harold Pinter (you know who you are), you can’t miss this one. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of his company yet, let “The Homecoming” be your perfect primer for the dark and disturbing world of one of the most renown playwrights ever to set characters to stage. Call St. Louis Actors’ Studio at 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org to order tickets or get more information. “The Homecoming” runs through June 8th.

“The Twilight Zone” Meets The Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre- Result: Sterling Serling

May 14, 2014

mokeyzoneRod Serling may be turning over in his grave. Hopefully it’s with gales of laughter as The Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre has taken two of  his most famous episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and turned them upside down. “To Serve Man” and “Nightmare At 20.000 Feet” are still effective in re-runs on SyFy marathons but, despite a few chuckles at William Shatner’s acting chops, they don’t evoke the guffaws that these two slightly altered episodes do. Then add a silly visit with the “Superfriends” that appears to be an excuse for quick costume changes, and you’ve got a short but sweet evening of wall to wall laughs.

An offshoot of St. Louis Shakespeare, The Magic Smoking Monkey has been bringing us these quick re-tells of things like “Harry Potter,” “Star Wars” and other classics for some time. Now that they’ve tackled Rod Serling, it opens up a whole library of classics to bring their fresh perspectives. Can you imagine what the little devil fortune telling machine might say in William Shatner’s other classic “Twilight Zone?” How about their take on the scary talking doll that swore to kill Telly Savalas? There’s a treasure trove out there.

Suki Peters, aka Wonder Woman, prepares to look the part as the mighty hordes mass behind her. BTW- nothing to do with the Superfriends segment- except for Suki, of course.

Suki Peters, aka Wonder Woman, prepares to look the part as the mighty hordes mass behind her. BTW- nothing to do with the Superfriends segment- except for Suki, of course.

In “To Serve Man,” the tall alien that speaks without moving his lips (it’s all telepathic, you know) is played in elevator shoes and a large rubber extended brain topper by Ian Hardin. The voice of Maxwell Knocke is heard from behind the stage left curtain as Kanamit speaks from center stage (remember, without moving his lips). The book he holds in this rendition is called “Otay Ervesay Anmay”- or the pig Latin equivalent of the more familiar tome that turns out to be a Betty Crocker knock-off. James Enstall gets it all started by introducing the story in his best Rod Serling.

Other characters in this grizzly tale include Suki Peters as a translator to Alex Ringhausen who plays a series of Ambassadors meeting with the U.N. to figure out if Kanamit is a good guy or bad. He simply does a quick change of hats and horrible accents depending on what country he is representing. Scott Myers is the Secretary General of the U.N. and Betsy Bowman, Jaysen Cryer, Jaiymz Hawkins and Michael Pierce round out the acting corps. Fleshing out the original Rod Serling script, MSM takes us into another dimension as we cross over into “The Monkey Zone.”

In our second feature of the evening, Ian Hardin takes on the iconic role of Bob, the recently released inmate of a mental institution who happens to notice, at 20,000 feet, that there is a gremlin on the wing of the airplane he and his wife are in as they’re flying back home. That rather oddly dressed gremlin is played by Jaiymz Hawkins and the rather overzealous, yet narcoleptic wife of Bob is played by Suki Peters. Betsy Bowman gets to ham it up as the oversexed stewardess while James Enstall once again plays the dapper Rod Serling. Filled with puns and sight gags and even an unexpected side-splitter from “Airplane,” this one really takes the audience for a ride.

monkeylogoThe talented cast then fills out the “One Hour Twilight Zone” with an episode of their Superfriends characters including Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Lex Luthor, Aquaman and even Julius Caesar, among others. Racing around through time tunnels and making numerous costume changes with sometimes disastrous results, this wasn’t quite as successful as the Twilight Zone episodes. In fact, a third episode might have been more effective. The actors had a great time but this one only brought a few laughs but more confusion than farce.

With direction by Laura Enstall, costumes by Katie Donovan, sound by Josh Cook, sets by Linda Lawson-Mixon, lighting by Jaime Zayas and some nice graphics by Bob Singleton, “The One Hour Twilight Zone: Live!” is a great way to spend an hour and get some laughs and memories of one of the best anthology series’ ever created for television. For sketch comedy at its best, visit the Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre at the Regional Arts Commission through May 17th. Give them a call at 314-361-5664 for tickets or more information.

“Old Jews Telling Jokes” At NJT- Old Jokes But Not So Old Jews

May 10, 2014
The cast of "Old Jews Telling Jokes" hoofs their way through a musical interlude at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The cast of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” hoofs their way through a musical interlude at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Call it nostalgia, call it a history of Jewish humor, but mostly call it time to take off the thinking cap and just enjoy jokes- some old, some new but all very familiar. “Old Jews Telling Jokes” at New Jewish Theatre closes out their season with a little over an hour of non-stop story after story with a Jewish perspective but universal in theme. We can all laugh at ourselves- the battle of the sexes, doctors with an emphasis on hypochondria, family, vacations and every other thing that makes life tragic and funny at the same time. You’ll hear a lot of what you’ve heard in the past (some older than dirt) and a few new ones, surprises and shaggy dog stories and even a song or two.

The ensemble gets their chance to tell their own little personal snippet of what humor has meant to them along the way but mostly it’s rapid-fire joke after joke. There were a lot of guffaws, titters and even a gasp or two throughout the opening night audience. It’s definitely a show for a mature crowd as there is some blue humor along the way but this innocent looking bunch of story tellers rarely shocks because you’re having too much fun just exercising those jaw muscles.

Craig Neuman, Dave Cooperstein and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of "Old Jews Telling Jokes." Photo: John Lamb

Dave Cooperstein, Craig Neuman and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” Photo: John Lamb

Leading the way is veteran performer, Bobby Miller. He’s the “old” Jew in the crowd with his over-sized glasses and beat up fishing cap as he delivers a joke in a fashion that would make Henny Youngman, Alan King and even George Burns happy. In fact, chomping on a sentimental cigar all evening long, he has just the right delivery- knowing when a pause is as good as a line and giving us the facial expressions to accompany when necessary. Displaying a less than impressive singing voice, he nonetheless manages to deliver one of the most powerful readings of “Ol’ Man River” we’ve ever seen. Craig Neuman holds forth as the unofficial MC of the evening, starting the opening number that eventually gets everyone introduced at the outset. Whether playing an “old” Jew, a hen-pecked husband or any of the other myriad characters, he is a treat.

Stellie Siteman also displays spot-on delivery and punch line after punch line scores big laughs. The “younger” of the “old” Jews include the always entertaining Johanna Elkana-Hale and the clever Dave Cooperstein. Elkana-Hale makes good use of her outstanding singing voice and just kills it with her innocent delivery of some of the bawdiest lines of the evening. Mr. Cooperstein surprises playing everything from a questionable physician to a talkative policeman to an old lady.

Craig Neuman, Stellie Siteman and Johanna Elkana-Hale breeze through one of the many bits in "Old Jews Telling Jokes" at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Dave Cooperstein, Stellie Siteman and Johanna Elkana-Hale breeze through one of the many bits in “Old Jews Telling Jokes” at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Director Edward Coffield has pulled together this script relying on the non-stop action knowing that you can’t rest on your laurels. A joke that kills or a joke that fails all pass by in such quick fashion that the audience is on to the next laugh before they’ve stopped to think about their last one. The series of scenes and jokes, created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, are successful because of this rapid fire delivery. Helping matters along is the brilliant set design of Peter and Margery Spack. Utilizing oversized TV’s, radios and other appropriate pieces, they call to mind the way mainstream America met and fell in love with the plethora of Jewish comedians over the years. There’s even a projection screen they created that keeps the audience entertained before the show with jokes and riddles popping up and then it becomes part of the scenery during the play identifying genres from birth to death and even an hilarious bit on film featuring Alan King interacting with his audience. The Nathan Schroeder light design also enhances the production and Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are outstanding.

The Borscht Belt is alive and well at New Jewish Theatre in the guise of “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” Don’t expect an intellectual evening of riveting theatre, but just sit back, relax and go with the flow. As Gail said at evening’s end, “my mouth hurts.” That’s the kind of night you’ll have. “Old Jews Telling Jokes” plays at NJT through June 1st. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information. Also, call that number or visit newjewishtheatre.org to find out about their new 2014-15 season.

 

 

The Girls Of “Bachelorette” Are Intense- Can You Handle It At SATE?

May 9, 2014
Cara Barresi, Wendy Renee Greenwood and Ellie Schwetye contemplate the infamous wedding dress in "Bachelorette" at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Cara Barresi, Wendy Renee Greenwood and Ellie Schwetye contemplate the infamous wedding dress in “Bachelorette” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

If you’re looking for a “submissive” girl for a new relationship, don’t seek out ANY of the women in Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble’s new offering, “Bachelorette.” In fact, any young man (or old man, for that matter) is likely to run screaming from The Chapel after the first few moments with this trio of mean girls who are the poster kids for bad behavior. Playwright Leslye Headland’s script is rough with the few moments of tenderness coming from the men (one man in particular) who invade this den of iniquity. Thanks to a dynamite cast, this squirm-worthy production entertains for the slightly over an hour we spend with the girls who aren’t exactly attending a sanctioned bachelorette party.

Wendy Renee Greenwood and Carl Overly, Jr. share a rare quiet moment in SATE's production of "Bachelorette." Photo: Joey Rumpell

Wendy Renee Greenwood and Carl Overly, Jr. share a rare quiet moment in SATE’s production of “Bachelorette.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Although Ellie Schwetye as Regan has been chosen by the bride to be her bridesmaid, the other two girls, Wendy Renee Greenwood as Katie and Cara Barresi as Gena are a bit miffed that they haven’t been chosen to be in her ensemble. They have tagged along with Regan as the bride has given her- and only her- permission to spend the night in her posh NYC hotel room. Let the trashing begin (both literally and figuratively) as she invites the other two girls along. The bride-t0-be, Becky is ripped apart verbally being called everything from fat to unworthy of snagging an impossibly rich husband. Amid booze and coke and later some pills, the three girls reach the ultimate in poor taste when they discover the wedding dress and rip it as two of them try to get into the dress at once.

When the bride, Jamie Fritz, finally arrives, things get even more interesting in "Bachelorette" at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

When the bride, Jamie Fritz, finally arrives, things get even more interesting in “Bachelorette” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Gena takes off to find a tailor while Regan and Katie continue the party including the arrival of two guys Regan has had a few drinks with and foolishly invites to the proceedings. Jared Sanz-Agero as Jeff and Carl Overly, Jr. as Joe arrive on the scene and immediately attempt to get the already vulnerable girls into the sack. A trip to the emergency room ensues and then the arrival of the bride, played with subdued amazement by Jamie Fritz, and she proves to be as mean-spirited as her girlfriends. In fact, Joe is the only one in the play with anything resembling redeeming qualities. With occasional breaks for karaoke, the bulk of the evening is spent in the high rise which soon looks like a disaster area. It’s a hard-edged comedy that makes the movie “Bridesmaids” look like a sophisticated romp.

Jared Sanz-Agero gets cozy with Ellie Schwetye in SATE's "Bachelorette." Photo: Joey Rumpell

Jared Sanz-Agero gets cozy with Ellie Schwetye in SATE’s “Bachelorette.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Director Rachel Tibbets has squeezed every ounce of intensity out of the raucous script. At times it really is hard to watch as the girls rip each other apart as they become increasingly drunk and the mean quotient goes higher and higher. Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbets co-designed the set which puts the audience basically on the staging area of most of the plays at The Chapel while the open area that usually holds the audience becomes the large playing space worthy of the posh hotel room. Bess Moynihan’s lights add to the unusual ambience of the piece and Tracey Newcomb-Margrave is responsible for the “break-away” wedding dress.

Tough and, at times, almost sadistic, “Bachelorette” is fun in a “I want to turn away but I can’t” sort of voyeuristic way. This continues Slightly Askew’s “Season of the Monster” and, as director Rachel Tibbets says in her pre show welcome, this is definitely a look at the human monster in all of us- although hopefully not all of us bring it out in this exaggerated fashion. Catch “Bachelorette” at Slightly Askew Theatre Company through May 17th. Give them a call at 314-827-5760 for tickets or more information.

Allen’s Alley- 24 Hour Play Festival, Part 2- The Return Of “Almost Improv”

May 7, 2014

Allen's Alley picLast year I wrote an Allen’s Alley devoted to this unique theatre experience, the 24 Hour Play Festival and now this year, I was asked to be a judge when returning judge, Judy Newmark, found herself otherwise engaged. I was thrilled as I had already planned on going- even purchased my ticket for this fundraiser for both Ryan Foizey’s Theatre Lab and Todd Schaefer’s Players Project. This one was just as raucous, just as entertaining and just as much fun.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, just think back to those days in school- college for me- when you were assigned similar projects for acting, playwrighting or directing classes. In this scenario, five playwrights are asked to write a ten to fifteen minute script in a week. They’re given a genre, a setting, number and gender of characters and a random line that must make it into their script while (hopefully) making sense within the concept of the work. Then five directors chosen draw the finished scripts out of a hat and are given 24 hours to study and block the play. Then a group of actors are randomly drawn and inserted into these plays. They then have 24 hours to learn the blocking, lines and then go on stage and present the finished work. Daunting and exhausting to be sure, but we know our local thespians, playwrights and directors are up to the task.

24hourfullSpencer Green, the playwright who wrote the book for the recently produced “Bukowsical” at New Line, wrote a three woman script directed by Edie Avioli called “In.” This wildly provocative comedy features the three women, Sarah Porter, Rachel Hanks and Amy Kelly, discussing killing their boyfriends. Although Rachel’s character is hesitant- she actually likes her boyfriend- she soon gives IN to the enthusiasm of both Sarah and Amy’s characters. A slight twist of fate allows them to “postpone” their discussion to a later date but delivers a warning to all those guys dating out there- you better treat your woman right! These three lovely ladies won the evening’s award for Best Ensemble.

“Preserver” is a clever script by local playwright and actress Rachel Fenton. Although she’s in New York attending classes and auditioning, she wrote and sent in her script and left it in the capable hands of director Christina Rios Kelley. As the sound of an old movie projector clicks away over the sound system, we’re treated to a gentle, growing relationship between Evan Fornachon and Carl Overly, Jr. It’s tougher to get the required line in this one as it’s all done as a silent movie with placards changing to denote scene changes and the sporadic line of dialogue. But it’s such a clever concept and a delightful story that you’ve got to love it even if the line doesn’t necessarily fit the lovely story. Evan took home the prize for Best Actor for the evening.

Local theatrical wunderkind, Steve Peirick, has put together a sentimental story he calls “About Time.” Directed by Todd Schaefer, we find Wendy Renee’s character breaking into a bar where she is soon discovered by bar owner played by Evan Kuhn. Hostile toward one another at the start, their stories begin to unfold and this turns into a love story that crosses time and space and makes them friends through shared experience. The lovely and delightful performance by Wendy won her the Best Actress award for the night. In addition, playwright Steve Peirick took away the Best Writer honors for his moving story.

theatrelablogoAfter an intermission, we were treated to the wild and zany Zak Farmer script called “Twin Pines” and directed by Ryan Foizey. Old friends Nick Kelly, Brian Claussen and Sarajane Alverson meet- as they do every year- in a park where they accidentally killed one of their mutual friends some years ago. Outrageous dialogue and even crazier events lead up to a surprise ending that leads to even more violence and mayhem. Written as his assignment- a melodrama, we are treated to some very old-time melodramatic dialogue with very uncharacteristic melodrama goings-on. But it had us all in tears of laughter. And, for this one, director Ryan Foizey took home the Best Director prize.

Closing out this evening of what could only be billed as “mostly murder and mayhem,” high school student Carl Wickman brings us another outrageous script called “The Animal.” Director Michael Amoroso brings it his all as husband and wife, Terry Meddows and Rachel Tibbets, quarrel in a restaurant with the worst service we’ve ever seen until it all comes to blows (and stranglings) that delivers delicious black comedy from an up and coming playwright with a very warped mind!

Great music from Chris Sears delighted the crowd before the plays and at intermission and raffles were held during scene changes to give away gift baskets and ticket packages to local upcoming theatrical events around town. We even had some celebrities show up as several members of the new Opera Theatre St. Louis season showed up from nearby Webster University to spend their night off from rehearsal to enjoy what I like to call the “almost improv” feel of the Second Annual 24 Hour Play Festival.

Kudos to everyone involved and I certainly hope both Theater Lab and Players Project raised some well deserved funds for their future endeavors. Thanks again to Ryan Foizey for thinking of me- I had a blast judging these tireless theatre professionals in one of the most fun events of the local theatrical season.

 

A Pleasant Return To “The Nerd” At Dramatic License

May 5, 2014
Taylor Pietz, Jason Contini, B. Weller confront Mike Wells in "The Nerd" at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

Taylor Pietz, Jason Contini and B. Weller confront Mike Wells in “The Nerd” at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

The late Larry Shue had two plays that have become classics in their own right. We saw a production of “The Foreigner” at the Rep last year and now Dramatic License Productions has brought back “The Nerd.” More of a throwback to zanier comedies like “Boeing, Boeing” which DLP did last year, “The Nerd” features a struggling architect and his girlfriend, a dapper drama critic friend, a client who comes to their house for dinner along with his wife and precocious young son and then an old Army buddy who reappears years after saving our architect’s life in the the war. The problem with the old Army buddy is that he’s more obnoxious than the bad seed of a son and latches onto the family like a leech. In other words, he’s the title character.

Director John Contini has brought this somewhat dated little comedy to life with the help of a talented cast and the surprise ending which I had forgotten about as the evening went on. I kept wondering about how to wrap this story up saving our young couple and dealing with the odious client and his insufferable family. When the resolution appears to be more simple than we, as audience members, are willing to accept, the kicker comes in and we get a hint of what made “The Nerd” more palatable the first time most of us saw it.

John Reidy and Nicole Angeli try to comprehend Mike Wells as Jason Contini tries to adapt to his old Army buddy in the Dramatic License production of "The Nerd." Photo: John Lamb

John Reidy and Nicole Angeli try to comprehend Mike Wells as Jason Contini tries to adapt to his old Army buddy in the Dramatic License production of “The Nerd.” Photo: John Lamb

Jason Contini shines as the guilt-ridden architect, Willum, who must suffer through the machinations of his life-saving buddy who has turned into a boor but with less personality. He hasn’t seen him in so many years and yet his stories about his life seem to ring true and, after all, how do you kick out a person who really did save your life all those many years ago? Contini shows frustration and compassion in equal measures as his girlfriend and drama critic friend continue to come up with schemes to get this unwelcome house guest on the next plane back home. The lovely Taylor Pietz brings us her best Laura Petrie as she stands by her man as Tansy. She has really developed some acting chops since being the darling of a lot of New Line musicals. Both with the tender young Emily in Insight’s “Our Town” last summer and now with the almost slapstick comedy of “The Nerd,” she is the up and coming actress to watch on local stages.

B. Weller delights with his droll sense of humor and witty, often off-hand, remarks throughout the play. He brings a much more debonaire flair to the drama critic than most of the motley crew I hang out with at local productions (yes, I’m including myself in said company). It’s more like the critics in movies from the thirties and forties. He even gets a tux on for his latest trip to the theatre. A bravura performance. John Reidy and Nicole Angeli are perfectly pompous as the client and his wife. They get flustered at the antics of Rick, the Army buddy turned nightmare, as they play after dinner games including a weird, “make it up as I go along” type game proposed by Rick. As their young son, Thor, Hayden Benbenek is perfectly spank-worthy as he becomes a whirling dervish upon his entrance and then becomes even more pretentious every time he emerges from the bedroom he has locked himself in.

Jason Contini snuggle with Taylor Pietz while B. Weller does what any drama critic does- emotes- in "The Nerd" at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

Jason Contini snuggles with Taylor Pietz while B. Weller does what any drama critic does- emotes- in “The Nerd” at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

Mike Wells is just a hoot as Rick. His whiney voice, mismatched socks, standard tape on the glasses and perfectly unacceptable demeanor would make Emily Post turn over in her grave. Over the course of the week that he manages to disrupt every thing and everyone in the household, it becomes clear that, by any means possible, this houseguest from hell must be dealt with. It’s all a lot of fun to watch, but you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes (or, as in one scene, out of their shoes) while biting your lip and hoping against hope that this “Nerd” will just go away.

The wonderful Kyra Bishop set design is perfect, leaving plenty of room for the sometimes raucous behavior and Max Parrilla’s lights also add to the ambience of the setting. Lisa Hazelhorst has given everyone perfectly 80’s looks and decked out Rick in the high-water pants that expose those mismatched socks, the suspenders and all of the other additions that make him the unmistakeable center of attention.

“The Nerd” is a treat with a lively cast and a few surprises along the way. It runs through May 18th at the Dramatic License Productions theatre in Chesterfield Mall. Give them a call at 636-821-1746 for tickets or more information. While you’re on the line, you might want to inquire about some other special events Dramatic License has coming up including their second annual Trivia Night in June and their summer programs for kids and teens coming up in July.

Two Local Icons- Linda Kennedy And Upstream Theatre Bring Ethereal Play, “Windmill Baby,” To Life

April 28, 2014
Linda Kennedy as Maymay portraying Wunman during "Windmill Baby" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Linda Kennedy as Maymay portraying Wunman during “Windmill Baby” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Continuing their mini-Australian theatre festival that started with the powerful “Forget Me Not” a few months ago, Upstream now presents a magical yet visceral production of David Milroy’s “Windmill Baby.” Set in the outback at a station where cattle are tended to mainly by aboriginal men and women who work side by side, the story unfolds in flashbacks by our main character, Maymay Starr. She revisits the station 40 years after she toiled there and lived a meagre yet colorful life. The only modern interruption to the story is the occasional ring of her cell phone as her daughter tries to make sure she’s safe and sound. Although her ramblings often question the “sound” part of her current existence, she gives us a vivid tale of what life was like those many years ago and the life, love and tragedy that takes place.

Linda Kennedy as Maymay Starr in Upstream Theatre's "Windmill Baby." Photo: John Lamb

Linda Kennedy as Maymay Starr in Upstream Theatre’s “Windmill Baby.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Linda Kennedy, best known for her work as Artistic Associate Director at the Black Rep, has graced other local stages as well and always brings a dynamic to her roles that makes her a true icon in local theatre circles. This is a marvelous portrayal and, although a one-woman show, she creates a series of unforgettable characters that surrounded her life in those days at the station. As she first discovers a washtub with laundry of her Missus left there supposedly for those 40 years, she begins to hang the bloomers and other items on a clothes line that her husband put up for her those years ago. She begins to tell us about her time there and plays the people who surrounded her including the proper yet kind Missus, her own mother, her husband Malvern and the crippled Wunman. Born the first of twins, he came out with a withered arm and disfigured leg while his twin- Tuman, born perfect, soon died. Wunman becomes her best friend and confidante, planting a garden to which she contributes to and sharing most of her joys and sorrows.

There’s also the often vindictive Boss, Sally- who she locks horns with in the battle to win Malvern, the country doctor and even Wunman’s dog, Skitchim who plays an important role later in the story. Through voice inflection, body language and sometimes just a look from that face full of emotion, Ms. Kennedy moves from one character to the next in flawless fashion. Her story is humorous and she even gets an audience member on stage at one point to tell one of her many anecdotes face to face. It’s a marvelous evening that entertains, shocks and touches the heart. The Windmill baby (or babies) involved reveal some horrible facts of the treatment of Aboriginal people that still exists today and the final reveal is also quite a surprise that includes a powerful tribute and perhaps tradition that closes the show.

Maymay clutches the "Windmill Baby" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Maymay clutches the “Windmill Baby” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

As in so many Upstream productions, music plays an integral part. Talented artist Farshid Soltanshahi returns to play various instruments (some of his own invention) to accompany the many stories this wise old spirit tells. Patrick Huber’s scenic design brings a vastness to the small Kranzberg stage. It includes the massive lover half of the windmill along with a small shack and several other well-weathered set pieces with the Australian outback looming in the background. To enhance this setting tony Anselmo’s lighting design is perfect and includes a marvelous effect thrown on the wall behind the musician. A gobo shows the shadow of the windmill blades at rest and, at particular moments throughout the performance, those blades slowly rotate. It’s a mesmerizing effect and special kudos to Technical Director Mark Feazel for bringing all of these elements together and transporting us to this very special place. Keaton Treece is also to be commended for a workable and effective costume design for Maymay.

Director Philip Boehm is truly a magician. He has brought so many U.S. premieres to Upstream and they are all special in their own way. But “Windmill Baby” takes us on a journey that is not only magical, it is inspiring as well. Call Upstream Theatre at 314-863-4999 or contact them at upstreamtheater@sbcglobal.net for tickets or more information. “Windmill Baby” runs through May 11th.

“Falling” In Love Again At Mustard Seed Theatre

April 14, 2014

fall-posterYou’ll excuse the Marlene Dietrich reference, but Mustard Seed’s Artistic Director, Deanna Jent, has brought her wonderful play, “Falling” back to town after it has been off-Broadway and numerous venues throughout the country. Now a property of Samuel French, “Falling” has gained praise and support from audiences and advocates of autism awareness everywhere. The important thing about this play is that it for the general audience and, despite being a visceral plea for a better understanding of autism and coping with a family member who can turn destructive in a moment, it appeals on a more conventional level for those not dealing with it on a daily basis. Directing her own play, Jent has an older son with autism so she speaks from experience. Reuniting (almost) the Fall, 2011 cast from her initial production, “Falling” proves just as powerful and leaves no doubt why this play has been universally accepted and praised for its frank and honest portrayal.

Greg Johnston as Bill consoles Michelle Hand as Tami as Daniel Lanier as Josh calms down in the background. Photo: John Lamb

Greg Johnston as Bill consoles Michelle Hand as Tami as Daniel Lanier as Josh calms down in the background. Photo: John Lamb

Looking over some notes from that first production, I noted the power and the relevance of the show as both a theatrical presentation and as a seldom seen look for most of us of what this debilitating condition can cause. As she states in the play, there can be months of calm and then sudden outbursts of anger as it seems to come in cycles that have no rhyme or reason. Josh, the young man in the play, has obvious developmental problems that keeps the whole family on edge. His sister, Lisa, is afraid of him and the husband, Bill, is very good at coping and calming Josh down but also has reservations about him continuing to live under their roof. The mother, Tami, is vacillating about sending him to a facility that cares for severe autism patients because she realizes the risks involved- even though she takes the brunt of the anger during the play. She knows that by staying at home, he will get the love and attention he needs. Also involved is a visit from Bill’s bible-thumping mother, Sue, who quickly learns the dangers the family is in with Josh’s sudden and often violent outbursts.

Michelle Hand as Tami tries to get between Daniel Lanier as Josh and Carmen Russell as Sue in "Falling" at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Michelle Hand as Tami tries to get between Daniel Lanier as Josh and Carmen Russell as Sue in “Falling” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Michelle Hand again is a marvel as Tami. Her mixture of sympathy and fear makes her the central figure that pivots the actions of the rest of the family. Her small stature makes the audience even more fearful when a particularly violent scene leads into a turning point for the play. Greg Johnston also shines in the role he created of the husband, Bill. It’s stunning how good he can be with his son realizing how Josh’s behavior is affecting his marriage and the well being of his family. Reprising her role of daughter Lisa is Katie Donnelly. She, as well, has learned to cope but her displays of anger show a teen-ager’s frustration of feeling like she’s “second best” while she also is convincing at showing real fear.

Michelle Hand as Tami tries to appease Daniel Lanier's Josh at Mustard Seed' production of "Falling." Photo: John Lamb

Michelle Hand as Tami tries to appease Daniel Lanier’s Josh at Mustard Seed’ production of “Falling.” Photo: John Lamb

Daniel Lanier has taken over the role of Josh and, though not quite as big and intimidating as the original Josh, he is superb in portraying the sudden “triggers” that send him from a clam and relaxed young man to a sometimes paranoid and somewhat dangerous figure. He is able to sustain this remarkable character throughout and is also particularly effective in a short sequence near play’s end. Rounding out the cast is the returning Carmen Russell as Bill’s mother. She has honed this character into a truly believable portrayal of a woman who believes faith is the answer to all problems only to have that faith shaken by her first-hand knowledge of what this family is going through.

Deanna Jent says in her program notes that she has dubbed this “Extreme Parenting” as the family tries to “tap dance through a mine field.” An apt description. John Stark’s set design again recreates this suburban home and has flipped 180 degrees from the last performance. Michael Sullivan’s lighting design enhances the action and Jane Sullivan’s costumes are right on the money. Working from a broad recreation of her own experience, playwright and director Deanna Jent has shown us once again why her play has been so successful. It takes luck, of course, but it was inevitable as her play is brilliantly constructed and looks to be a perennial favorite in regional, college and even community theaters for some time to come. This production is scheduled to run through May 4th but don’t be surprised- like the first time it played- to find it extended due to popular demand. Give Mustard Seed Theatre a call at 314-719-8060 or contact them at mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information.

 


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