“Eleemosynary” Tugs At The Heart Strings At Mustard Seed Theatre

February 11, 2016
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Nancy Lewis as Dorothea and Austen Danielle Bohmer as Echo in Mustard Seed’s “Eleemosynary.” Photo: John Lamb

Not sure how many times local theaters have produced Lee Blessing’s “Eleemosynary” but I’ve seen it several times over the years. The current presentation at Mustard Seed Theatre is definitely one of the best. Three powerful actresses manage to energize us, empower us and tug at the old heart strings.

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Kelley Weber as Artemis and Nancy Lewis as Dorothea in “Eleemosynary” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

“Eleemosynary” is not an easy play to explain- or pronounce, for that matter. Daughter, mother and grandmother manage to live their lives together and apart. Dorothea, the grandmother, is the eccentric member of the family who, as the show opens, is filming her daughter attempting to fly with one of grandma’s latest inventions- a huge set of wings. When the daughter, Artemis, has her own daughter, Echo, she entrusts her upbringing to Dorothea. Artemis is a restless soul and, in true Auntie Mame fashion, Dorothea makes Echo’s life an adventure.

One of the finest actresses we have in town, Nancy Lewis, tackles the role of Dorothea with relish. With a mix of sarcasm, unflappability and wonderment, she wins the audience over from the start. A long time Mustard Seed actress, Kelley Weber brings a nuance to the enigmatic Artemis. We never fully understand her willingness to give up Echo and her seeming aversion to closeness, but she makes Artemis a fascinating character.

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Three generations- Dorothea, Artemis and Echo in Mustard Seed Theatre’s production of “Eleemosynary.” Photo: John Lamb

Rounding out the cast is Austen Danielle Bohmer as the young Echo. A spelling champion, she tells us of winning her most recent bee with the show’s title- eleemosynary. She is an energetic and bright young actress who brings a lot of Dorothea’s wonderment to the role. This is a remarkable cast who each shine individually but work as a cohesive and tight unit. The audience hangs on every line and movement in this 90-minute spellbinder.

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Austen Danielle Bohmer and Nancy Lewis with the infamous “wings” behind them in “Eleemosynary” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Doug Finlayson has directed the show with that flair for bringing the best out of each player and moves the play along at a crisp clip. Kyra Bishop’s set design is a flowing mass of levels and blocks that make transitions from one place to another easy and fully understandable. Michael Sullivan’s lighting design enhances the set and action while Jane Sullivan’s costumes add just the right touch.

Artistic Director Deanna Jent and the whole gang at Mustard Seed should be proud of this one. A dynamite cast performing a touching play with heart and soul. Catch “Eleemosynary” at Mustard Seed Theatre through February 21st. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 for tickets or more information.

Strong Cast Overcomes Sleep-Inducing Mystery At Stray Dog

February 10, 2016
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Sarajane Alverson (standing} and Jeff Kargus talk freely as Angela Bubash pretends to be passed out on the couch in Stray Dog’s “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight.” Photo: John Lamb

There’s nothing like a good mystery. Last season Stray Dog Theatre gave us one of the best- Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” This year, not so much. A cliche-ridden, slow moving mystery called “I’ll Be Back By Midnight” gets bogged down almost immediately with the premise and then slogs through two acts with a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. I won’t give anything away, but it’s a disappointment when you’re sitting there trying to figure out who the killer is and…well, go see for yourself. And I do recommend the production despite the somewhat sophomoric script because of the stellar cast that brings life to this production.

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Angela Bubash as Jan and Jeff Kargus as Greg talk things over during “I’ll Be Back By Midnight” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Angela Bubash as Jan is pouring her heart into this role of the tortured wife who is skittish after spending some time in a psychiatrist’s care. She is properly remorseful and agitated that her husband has brought her to this remote house to try to calm her nerves. It really is a great performance considering some of the trite lines and the emotions she goes through in her time alone on stage facing demons of one sort or another. As her husband Greg, Jeff Kargus brings the right touch of care and malevelonce to the role that puts him at the top of everyone’s suspect list from the start.

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Jeff Kargus, Sarajane Alverson and Angela Bubash talk as Chekov’s famous “shotgun” is off the wall during Stray Dog’s “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight.” Photo: John Lamb

Sarajane Alverson could entertain us by, sorry for my cliche, reading us the phone book. Playing Greg’s overbearing sister Laura, she brings a sweet, sarcastic tone to the woman who obviously has never liked his choice for a wife. She figuratively twists the knife every time she has the chance. Rounding out the unusually small cast for a mystery is a wonderful performance by Mark Abels as the quirky next door neighbor who loves sharing the lurid past of the house to Jan. Drinking them out of Jack Daniels, he has a homespun flavor but is he homicidal as well?

Director Justin Been has attempted to wring every ounce of suspense from this somewhat juvenile script. I kept thinking how nice it would be if he had chosen something a bit more realistic and frightening like the classic “Night Watch.” The tech end of the show doesn’t help matters either with a rather flat and monotonous set by the usually inventive Rob Lippert and the lighting design of Tyler Duenow who forgets to backlight the outside of the house so when someone says, “It’s broad daylight out there,” it really is. Eileen Engel’s costumes are very good.

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Sarajane Alverson, Jeff Kargus and Mark Abels in “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

If you’re really a fan of the mystery play, you may be able to get into this one, but I couldn’t get in step with the excitement that a truly suspenseful play is supposed to create. Peter Colley’s “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” just doesn’t hold up to the genre. As I said, go for the mystery but stay for the delightful performances. This fine group of actors manage to create interest where there is little to be had. “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” plays through February 20th at Stray Dog Theatre. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information.

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The Bard Goes Bluegrass In An Abbreviated “As You Like It” At SATE

February 9, 2016
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The cast and musicians of SATE’s “As You Like It” rock the Ozarks. Photo: Joey Rumpell

In a clever and charming adaptation by director Ellie Schwetye, Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” takes on a country flavor- the Ozarks in 1929 to be exact- and the results are satisfying. It all takes place in the latest production from Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE). Running only a little over 90 minutes, it takes a lot of liberties with the original script but you can’t help but like Orlando, Rosalind and the rest of the gang with a hillbilly twang and a lot of musical twang to accompany them.

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Mollie Amburgy as Phebe and Chris Ware as Silvius in “As You Like It” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

With a lot of gender-bending and bringing back that style that was so popular with Broadway musicals a while back- actors playing instruments on stage- this works much better than some of those musicals did. In fact, a few clunkers along the way help add to the charm of this production. Jason Scroggins is musical director and composed some of the music and even takes a turn at acting in the role of Forester. The wild and wooly Rachel Hanks tackles a couple of roles and blasts a mean trumpet. She even gets to perform the musicalized version of Shakespeare’s famous “Seven Stages” soliloquy.

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Orlando (Kevin Minor), Oliver (Will Bonfiglio) and Celia (Katie Donnelly) in SATE’s “As You Like It.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Will Bonfiglio and Katie Donnelly come closest to matching Shakespeare’s original intent of a classical reading of their characters but all of the actors bring us a combination of Homeric and home-spun. Kevin Minor is a dashing Orlando and Cara Barresi is a delightful Rosalind. Alyssa Ward takes on a “pants” role as does Rachel Tibbetts. The wonderful Mollie Amburgey returns to town to handle the Ozark belter as Phebe and Chris Ware, Alyssa Ward and Tonya Darabcsek round out the cast- most of whom play multiple roles throughout.

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Rachel Hanks and Kevin Minor in the Ozark adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Bess Moynihan brings us an outstanding lighting design and doubles up with director Ellie Schwetye on the clever set design. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are the flavor of the period. This is a pleasant and unexpected treat- the shortest version of “As You Like It” you’re ever likely to see but one that will keep you entertained and your toes tapping. You’ve only got through February 13th to see it, so make plans now to visit Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE) to join in the fun.

Ghosts Of The Past And Present Haunt In Upstream Theatre’s “Shining City”

February 2, 2016
Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.

Jerry Vogel as John and Christopher Harris as Ian in Upstream Theatre’s “Shining City.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Lives are peeled open as therapist and patient both have secrets to reveal in the latest at Upstream Theatre- Conor McPherson’s “Shining City.” Confession is good for the soul they say and with a therapist who is an ex-priest, one profession is much the same as the other. Before this one’s over, however, we get to see into both men’s past and present and begin to wonder who needs therapy the most.

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Christopher Harris tries to console Em Piro during the production of “Shining City” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Christopher Harris plays Ian, the therapist, with a bit of nervousness as the play opens as he is obviously new to this but his years in the confessional prove invaluable as he gives John, played by Jerry Vogel, what he really needs- an ear to bend. Although Harris goes through a series of expressions and meaningful body language, he does what a good therapist should- he listens. With a few key words and starts of sentences that he leaves hanging, he manages to draw the story out of John.

Meanwhile, Vogel shows why he is one of the premiere actors on our local stages. His hesitation and broken sentences build a story that is scary and sometimes borders on the creepy. His wife was killed in a car accident some time ago and he is still blaming himself and even reveals that he has seen her- plain as day- in their house. He tells a bizarre tale and mixes pacing- both in speech and movement- to an art. Quite a powerful performance.

Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.

Pete Winfrey as Laurence agrees to some wine from Christopher Harris as Ian in “Shining City” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

We also meet Ian’s girlfriend, Neasa, played with frustration and angst by Em Piro. When she learns of his plans for their future, she becomes unhinged. Then the secrets of the therapist unravel even further when we find he has brought a young male prostitute to his office claiming this is the first time he’s done anything like this. Pete Winfrey plays Laurence with a hesitation that belies his experience in such matters.

All of the characters in some way are looking for love and redemption, but the real story centers on Ian and John. Their relationship is a strange one and, once we’ve learned of Ian’s peccadilloes, we can see how alike they may really be. In fact, when John claims he’s cured and even brings Ian a gift to thank him, we eventually see in the final, chilling sequence how the sins and guilt of one may have been transferred to the other.

Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.

Jerry Vogel as John tries to express his feelings to Christopher Harris as Ian during Upstream Theatre’s “Shining City.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Toni Dorfman has directed with a keen eye for character development and the actors have picked up on these traits as well. Set in the small office of the therapist in Dublin during several months in the early 2000’s, we get the gritty feel of both place and persons thanks to the Michael Heil set design and the costumes of Bonnie Kruger. The Steve Carmichael lights add to the mood as well. As always, the musical accompaniment of Farshid Soltanshahi enhances the onstage action.

This often enigmatic but always fascinating play, “Shining City,” plays at Upstream Theatre through February 14th.

 

 

“Underneath The Lintel”At New Jewish Theatre Wraps A Mystery Inside Of A Myth Inside Of A Metaphysical Journey

February 1, 2016
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Glynis Bell as the Librarian, guides us through her journey of discovery in “Under The Lintel” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

When I was growing up my mother always had one version or another of a houseplant she called a Wandering Jew. Later I became familiar with the mythological character known as the Wandering Jew. Now, in the latest production at New Jewish Theatre, I meet that character again as a Librarian takes us on her quest for a figure she feels may be that famous character that pops up again and again in stories around the globe.

A long, stark classroom setting greets the audience as they enter for “Under The Lintel.” The nervous and somewhat rattled Librarian enters and is disappointed that a larger crowd has not gathered for her lecture as she could only afford to rent the space for one night. Glynis Bell is one of a handful of actresses in our town who could have piqued our interest in this character and the strange story she has to tell. She weaves the facts as she knows them along with her suitcase full of “scraps” that support her sometimes unbelievable story.

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Slides help identify where the Librarian (Glynis Bell) leads us in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Under The Lintel.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

It seems she came across a returned library book that was 113 years overdue- a copy of Baedeker’s Travel Guide. That led her on a journey across several countries in search of this ethereal person and why he (or someone in his family, more than likely) returned this book after all of these years. A dry cleaning ticket used as a bookmark started her on this magical mystery tour and we are treated to each stop and adventure along the way. She feels it may have been this mythical Wandering Jew character- was he real?

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Glynis Bell as the Librarian in “Under The Lintel” at NJT gets excited as the next phase of her mystery becomes apparent. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Through her story telling, off the subject tangents along the way and the eventual outcome of her bizarre search, Bell manages to captivate us and charm us with her tenacity and her metaphysical journey of inner peace and contentment. For that appears to be what drives her with such reckless abandon. The 90 minute or so Glen Berger script meanders a bit and might have been helped by a bit of a cut here or there, but the audience gets so wrapped up in the story that it truly moves- both in pacing and in emotional quality.

Accompanying her from time to time is Will Soll playing a mandolin-like instrument that helps move us from country to country. He blithely strolls just outside the playing space and sometimes just as an off-stage musical accompaniment to the Librarian’s musings. It’s an effective addition to this haunting play.

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Glynis Bell as the Librarian shares another item from her “scraps” that lead her in search of the person who returned a 113 year old overdue book during “Under The Lintel” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Lana Pepper has directed with style and a deft hand for bringing out the somewhat prudish qualities of the Librarian while still capturing the enthusiasm she has for what turns out to be her life’s journey. Kyra Bishop has given us that austere room which fits the production perfectly and Michael Sullivan’s lights add just the right touch.

“Under The Lintel” is a quiet and reflective piece of work that fits beautifully into the scheme of this season at the New Jewish Theatre. After the raucous and riotous flavor of “Bad Jews,” “Under The Lintel” is a refreshing change of pace. This touching and poignant production of “Under The Lintel” plays at NJT through February 13th.

“Georama” Offers An Unusual And Surprisingly Good Musical At The Rep Studio

January 24, 2016
Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

Jillian Louis as Elizabeth and P.J. Griffith as John in “Georama” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Peter Wochniak.

Come for the “Georama,” stay for the fine acting, singing and great story that, according to the opening number, is about someone who should be known but isn’t. In the mid-ninteenth century, vaudeville and showboats were the entertainment of the day. A young sketch artist named John Banvard was “discovered” by a man named Taylor (who would later become quite a showman himself) and Banvard was soon designing backdrops for shows on the showboat.

Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

Randy Blair as the soon to be famous P.T. Barnum in the Rep Studio production of “Georama.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

When the showboat owner wanted more, John Banvard came up with the idea for a moving panorama behind the actors that would transfer the action in the blink of an eye. This sparked the idea that made him his fortune, a giant moving panorama- now called a georama- that depicted the life all along the Mississippi River. It became a sensation and soon grew to a 3,000 foot extravaganza that traveled around the world complete with music and narration. When his ideas were soon stolen my other artists and entrepreneurs including the aforementioned Taylor who later became P.T. Barnum. his lavish life soon bankrupted him and eventually wiped his accomplishments from the history books. To add to his and the other johnny-come-latelys misfortunes, the art of photography soon came into prominence which almost made these panoramic scenes superfluous.

Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

P.J. Griffith as Banvard, Dan Sharkey as Chapman and Jillian Louis as Elizabeth in “Georama” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Now, thanks to the book of “Georama” by West Huler and Matt Schatz and music and lyrics by Schatz and Jack Herrick, we are finally introduced to Banvard and his incredible invention. Even they had trouble putting the story together since there is little in print about Banvard’s life and times. P.J. Griffith plays the dreamer, John Banvard, with a relish and optimism that is like no other. He cuts a dashing figure and his enthusiasm is infectious. He soon meets a preacher’s daughter who comes up with idea to enliven his panorama and comes up with the name “georama-” which is appropriate since it spans the entire length of the Mississippi. Jillian Louis is a lovely singer/actress who helps in the success and business decisions of John. She also joins in the music with a turn at the piano.

Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

Elizabeth (Jillian Louis) and John (P.J. Griffith) land in London with their show in “Georama” at the Rep Studio Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Playing Taylor is Randy Blair who turns his character into the scheming and double-dealing P.T. Barnum. Always claiming to have the interests of John at heart, he soon leads to the downfall of his friend. Dan Sharkey plays the showboat captain and several other characters including the preacher and a star turn as Queen Victoria in a delightfully naughty number. Rounding out the cast are Emily Mikesell and Jacob Yates as musicians and joining in the acting chores from time to time.

With a real flavor for the period, this one-act, 90 minute musical is a real treat. Rousing music featuring piano and fiddle, a few ballads and even humorous numbers make for a varied and likable score. The script is also filled with clever lines and keeps the story moving quickly with dialogue and a bountiful number of songs. And, above all, the cast is a real charmer- you really like them all including the scoundrels.

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Dan Sharkey in his wonderful appearance as Queen Victoria with musicians Jacob Yates and Emily Mikesell in the background at the Rep’s “Georama” in the Studio. Photo: Peter Wochniack

Book writer West Hyler also directs this production with an eye for getting the story told without any wasted movement. The story zips along and we enjoy every minute of it. The real hero of our story, though, is scenic designer Scott C. Neale. His dynamic goerama, about 600 feet long, is a masterpiece in itself. We see some of Banvard’s work recreated but we also travel through locales along the journey with John and Elizabeth- the little church where they meet, their trips through the U.S. including Louisville, their opening in London, their trip to Egypt and their unsuccessful times in New York. It’s an incredible achievement and is a remarkable feat of engineering by the stage crew.

Margaret E. Weedon’s costumes are impeccable and just right for the period while Ann G. Wrightson provides the wonderful lighting design and Rusty Wandall’s sound design completes the flawless technical portion of “Georama.”

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P.J. Griffith as John with part of the magnificent Scott C. Neale georama in the background during the Rep Studio Theatre production of “Georama.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

This is simply an incredible piece for the Repertory Theatre Studio Theatre. How they accomplished this magnificent history lesson, filled with music and the spectacular georama is beyond belief- in a 90 minute show. Catch “Georama” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis now through February 7th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

 

 

 

Royal Battle Lines Are Drawn In The Rep’s “The Lion In Winter”

January 16, 2016
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Jeffrey King as Henry and Carol Schultz as Eleanor in the Rep production of “The Lion In Winter.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

12the Century England is starkly portrayed in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis opener for 2016, James Goldman’s masterpiece, “The Lion In Winter.” Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine aren’t on the best of terms but this seems to be de regueur for their marriage. But now Eleanor is out from her banishment to another castle for Christmas. An exile that Henry has placed her in for years. Now that their three sons are vying to be successor to the crown, the opportunity for king and queen and the three princes to scheme, plot and be on their worst behavior is ripe.

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Grayson DeJesus as Richard and Carol Schultz as Eleanor in “The Lion In Winter” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Goldman’s script is clever and, in the right actors’ hands (as it is here) at times can be hilarious. Sniping is the order of the day and the luscious delivery of Carol Schultz is perfect for the feisty Eleanor. Whether the line cuts like a knife or merely sarcastically and subtly pierce the armor, she delights in every turn of phrase. All the while she handles herself with the regal aplomb befitting the queen. Her desirable land in the Aquitaine is the reason for the long ago marriage in the first place and now she plans to give that land to the eldest, Richard. Henry feels the youngest, John, should be the next king and the middle son, Geoffrey, appears to be left in the lurch.

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Jeffrey King as Henry and Angela Janas as Alais Capet in the Rep’s production of “The Lion In Winter.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jeffrey King plays the king with the braggadocio that comes along with the territory. In spite of being outplayed time and again by Eleanor, he keeps his dignity and manages to meet her quip for quip throughout the play. And, in that long standing tradition of kings, Henry has a mistress- the current one being Alais Capet, daughter of the King of France. She is played with a great combination of innocence and allure by Angela Janas. She becomes a pawn that may prove more a detriment than an asset to Henry.

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Carol Schultz as Eleanor consoles Angela Janas as Alais in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of “The Lion In Winter.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The three sons are played with great diversity as they all have qualities that both help and hinder their drive for the throne. Grayson DeJesus is Richard, the steadiest of the three while Wilson Bridges languishes in the mediocrity that is the middle son. Finally, the foolish and perhaps a bit too immature John is given a strong portrayal by Kurt Hellerich. Rounding out the cast is Ryan Ward as Philip Capet, King of France. The cast is a strong one and offers a fascinating look at the squabbles that helped build England at this time in history.

The starkly cold yet effective set design of Joseph P. Tilford works beautifully in creating the mood of the period. Matthew J. LeFebvre’s costumes realistically portray the royals and the Thomas C. Hase lights continue the dark mood and hollowness that pervades the dank castle and its inhabitants.

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A scene from “The Lion In Winter” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Director extraordinaire Edward Stern returns to put his special stamp on “The Lion In Winter.” It’s been a while since I’ve seen the play on stage or re-watched the excellent film, but the humor brimming over throughout is not something I remember. It works so perfectly and enhances the story of this bickering and somewhat dysfunctional family. The 1966 Goldman script is just as powerful and delightful as it was when first written. Don’t miss this wonderfully acted and directed classic, “The Lion In Winter,” as it plays on the Rep Mainstage through January 31st. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

“Wicked” Never Ceases To Amaze

December 15, 2015

wickedlogoCelebrating the tenth anniversary, “Wicked” makes a return to the Fabulous Fox Theatre and does not disappoint. I don’t care how many times I’ve seen it, I always get goosebumps at least a half dozen times throughout the show.

After Glinda makes her opening appearance in her bubble to open the show, we travel back to see how she (then Galinda) first meets Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Things aren’t quite as they appear in “The Wizard Of Oz” as truths and half-truths are bandied about and we even see how other familiar characters from the L. Frank Baum classic originated- according to Gregory Maguire’s original book version of “Wicked.” With Winnie Holzman’s adaptation of Mr. Maguire’s story for the stage and music from the brilliant Stephen Schwartz, “Wicked” has become a cultural phenomenon around the world.

wicked2Just as in “42nd Street,” we get the announcement on press night that the touring Elphaba is ill and we get the understudy, Mary Kate Morrissey, and she kills it. What a glorious voice and a superbly acted performance. Coupled with Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda, they make a wonderful team and bring down the house during the big second act number, “For Good.”

wicked1Wendy Worthington is a delightful Madame Morrible while Sam Seferian makes a powerful and poignant Boq. Jake Boyd is properly smug as Fiyero and Megan Masako Haley does a star turn as Nessarose. Chad Jennings is wonderfully tragic as Dr. Dillamond and Stuart Zagnit rounds out the principle cast as the Wizard. The cast is particularly strong in this production and the supporting cast of singers and dancers simply shine.

Veteran Joe Mantello has directed with a keen eye for the humor and surprises in the plot. Wayne Cilento’s brilliant musical staging along with the dance arrangements of James Lynn Abbott are superb.

wicked“Wicked” is so popular that, although it’s been her several times in the past, this time around it plays for almost a month. Performances run through January 3rd. So make plans now to see it again and I’m thrilled for those of you who will be experiencing “Wicked” for the first time.

Like Visiting Old Friends As STLAS Brings Back “The Gin Game”

December 12, 2015
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Weller and Fonsia begin their unexpected journey into the game of gin in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Gin Game.” Photo: John Lamb

I first met Fonsia and Weller on a PBS special featuring the two actors who originated “The Gin Game,” Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Since then, I’ve visited them often on local stages and in other towns. Now St. Louis Actors’ Studio brings them back with great success in the forms of Linda Kennedy and Peter Mayer- two premiere actors in St. Louis- and the results are beyond expectations.

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A rare quiet, tender moment in “The Gin Game” with Peter Mayer and Linda Kennedy at St. Louis Actor’s Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Through love, bickering and consternation, these two form a bond that doesn’t always happen on stage. Linda Kennedy simply shines as Fonsia. Her delight at having company at this decrepit home for seniors becomes apparent once Weller introduces himself and they start playing his favorite card game- gin. As so often happens, the woman smashes the ego of her male counterpoint by declaring “gin” after three or four moves- every time. The range of emotions Kennedy shows is nothing short of fabulous. Her apologies turn to anger as the game goes on and Weller gets more and more agitated and then her emotional breakdown turns to grief by play’s end. What a delightfully rich performance.

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Weller’s anger continues to build as Fonsia bests him once again in the STLAS production of “The Gin Game.” Photo: John Lamb

Peter Mayer also goes all out with his portrayal of Weller. He can’t suppress his anger over losing time and time again and clearly escalates this simple card game into a life or death scenario. His continual apologies soon fall on deaf ears until the final moments when he may have carried things too far. One thing is clear, Mr. Mayer and Ms. Kennedy click from their first meeting until that unexpected ending when both actors leave the audience on the verge of tears.

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Peter Mayer as Weller sympathizes with Linda Kennedy as Fonsia as she begins to pour her heart out to him in “The Gin Game” at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

To get those performances, excellent direction is necessary and who better than John Contini to bring out the full measure of each actors’ talents? His interpretation of the play and the relationship is right on the mark. Christie Johnston has transformed the small STLAS stage into a dilapidated work of art and Dalton Robison’s lights add to the effect. Carla Landis Evans cements the perfect touch with her costume design.

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Game after game is played on the old back porch as Fonsia and Weller form an unusual bond in the STLAS production of “The Gin Game.” Photo: John Lamb

You won’t find better acting and you won’t find a more poignant story than Donald Coburn’s “The Gin Game.” The play and the company along with the two wondrous actors are a match made in heaven. Catch “The Gin Game” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio through December 20th at the Gaslight Theatre. Contact them at http://www.stlas.org for tickets or more information.

 

Return To The 50’s With “Devil Boys From Beyond” At Stray Dog Theatre

December 11, 2015
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Sarajane Alverson, Stephen Peirick and Michael Juncal during a dramatic moment of “Devil Boys From Beyond” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

There are many things to like about the 1950’s and I lived through it all. But one of the best things are the science fiction movies about traveling to other planets or, more likely, creatures from other planets visiting us. Stray Dog Theatre returns us to those thrilling days of yesteryear with their holiday show, “Devil Boys From Beyond.”

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Stephen Peirick is torn between Sarajane Alverson and Michael Baird during their love triangle in Lizard Lick, Florida in Stray Dog’s “Devil Boys From Beyond.” Photo: John Lamb

It’s actually kind of a mix of themes from that era and features hunky young aliens that look a lot more human than most I remember from that decade. Tough newspaper editor, Gilbert Wiatt hears about some possible alien presence in the small town of Lizard Lick, Florida. He sends his ace reporter, Matilda Van Buren and her ex, photographer Gregory Graham to the scene but tagging along after overhearing the story is Matty’s rival, Lucinda Marsh, who also has her sights on Greg. And so the plot thickens- but don’t worry, it gets a lot thicker before the night is over.

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Sarajane Alverson, Jonathan Hey, Michael Juncal and Teryl Thurman in a scene from “Devil Boys From Beyond” at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

Jonathan Hey is marvelous as the gritty editor while Sarajane Alverson really gets into the mood of the era as Matty and Stephen Peirick plays a marvelous drunk as the easily swayed photographer. These three capture the essence of overreacting as we remember so fondly from old “Superman” television episodes as George Reeves and Phyllis Coates used to do double-takes and pose dramatically at every plot turn. But in this case, overreacting is good acting because they play to that genre.

Michael Baird is one of two males who take on female characters in the play. He is the snippy Lucinda who wants her story and wants her man. She stops at nothing to get both. It’s a wonderful performance that includes a not-so-dramatic near death scene near the finale that inadvertently keeps the audience in stitches. Also donning a dress is Michael Juncal as one of the locals, Florence, who has encountered the aliens. With his bulk and obvious manly appearance, it just makes it spectacular in its absurdity.

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Sarajane Alverson and Stephen Peirick relax on a plane while Michael Baird plots her next move in “Devil Boys From Beyond” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Teryl Thurman is delightful as another local who tries to latch onto anything wearing pants. She and Florence are recipients of the alien duo who set their middle-aged hearts (and other parts) atingle as they take over the heart and soul of their husbands. These are the hunky guys I referred to earlier in the form of Ryan Wiechmann and Brandon Brendel.

All of this lunacy is directed by Stray Dog Artistic Director, Gary F. Bell. His high-handed camp is just right for the show, written by Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliott. With a pre-recorded score and sound design by Drew Fornarola, it provides just the right touch with familiar alien sounds including space ships and the “woo-woo” sounds from every alien movie from the 50’s. “Devil Boys From Beyond” does bring the simple message from that decade when most futures were hopeful ones.

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Jonathan Hey, Sarajane Alverson and Stephen Peirick plan their strategy to cover the alien story during Stray Dog’s “Devil Boys From Beyond.” Photo: John Lamb

The Eileen Engel costumes are right on the mark for the period including the guys who have chosen to tackle those female roles. Justin Been’s set is sparse but effective, dominated by a huge billboard proclaiming the joys of living in Lizard Lick. It’s all enhanced by Tyler Duenow’s strong lighting design.

Director Gary F. Bell greets the audience as usual and declares to continue doing non-traditional holiday shows. As long as he keeps us in stitches with campy ones like this and actors who can pull it all off, I’m all for it. Join Stray Dog Theatre and these marvelous denizens of both New York and Lizard Lick, Florida through December 19th. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 or visit straydogtheatre.org for tickets or more information.


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