The Laughs (Dark and Light) Just Keep On Coming In Max & Louie’s “Chancers”

November 14, 2014
Pamela Reckamp, Nathan Bush, Donna Weinsting and Jared Sanz-Agero cautiously feel each other out in "Chancers" at Max & Louie.

Pamela Reckamp, Nathan Bush, Donna Weinsting and Jared Sanz-Agero cautiously feel each other out in “Chancers” at Max & Louie.

We’re dealing with a U.S. premiere here in Robert Massey’s funny, funny look at life in County Kildare, Ireland as “Chancers” takes a look at ethics versus survival when a winning lottery ticket becomes the prized possession in four people’s fight for the $250,000 grand prize. Intrepid acting and superb direction bring this play to life with snappy (and often rather “blue” dialogue) and a dilemma that never quite gets solved but leaves the audience somewhat to their own devices. Max & Louie Productions bring us this laugh filled play fresh from it’s Dublin premiere.

Nathan Bush as Aiden threatens his best friend, JP, played by Jared Sanz-Agero in Max & Louie's "Chancers."

Nathan Bush as Aiden threatens his best friend, JP, played by Jared Sanz-Agero in Max & Louie’s “Chancers.”

Aiden and Dee own a small convenience store in rural Ireland and business has not been booming. A blousy, rude and vindictive neighborhood harpy, Gertie, drops in every day to complain and taunt them- letting them know how much better and cheaper things are at the local Aldi and mega store. Her philosophy seems to be “if you can’t say anything nice about someone- go ahead and say it.” Add to the mix a friend of the couple who obviously dated Dee in the past, JP, who becomes the catalyst for family discordance and a nefarious plot that turns the story line upside down.

Nathan Bush is excellent as the wishy-washy husband who tries scheme after scheme to pump customer attractive perks to his store. The latest fail is a hot food bar that he’s already shut down as it was losing them money even faster. The delightful Pamela Reckamp is his long-suffering wife who is trying to get some extra money in by going to a job interview as the play opens. You realize that this is going to be another major fail. These two make a wonderful couple who, in other circumstances, would be perfect for each other.

Nathan Bush and Pamela Reckamp settle a disagreement as Jared Sanz-Agero looks on in "Chancers" at Max & Louie.

Nathan Bush and Pamela Reckamp settle a disagreement as Jared Sanz-Agero looks on in “Chancers” at Max & Louie.

The always incredible Donna Weinsting plays the irascible Gertie who wears her disdain like a letter sweater. She’s proud to be the local Debbie Downer and has a mother’s blindness for her rather perverted son who we never see but get enough info on through his escapades and a very funny yet disturbing phone call with Dee. And she provides most of the “X-rated” dialogue. Jared Sanz-Agero is a ball of fire as the life-long friend who bounces around the little shop devouring their food and drinking their soft drinks while not opening his wallet.

The crux of the plot comes when Gertie asks Aiden to check her lottery ticket and we see from the stunned look on his face that it’s a really big winner. He composes himself and tells her it’s not a winner and tries to throw it away. But Gertie likes to keep her old losing tickets, just in case. When Aiden tells JP about the ticket after Gertie has left, he tries to hatch a plot to mug her and steal it. Aiden won’t go along but when Dee returns after her failed job interview, she agrees with JP but feels they should find a more genteel route to procuring the winning ticket. Through brawls between the two men, the obvious ignored “voice of reason” from Dee and the final confrontation with Gertie, “Chancers” gives us a chance to see the worst in human nature. A hilarious transformation to mugger for JP and the absolutely absurd plans and counter plans are just a wonderful trip for the audience.

Pamela Reckamp, Donna Weinsting, Jared Sanz-Agero and Nathan Bush in a promo shot for Max & Louie's "Chancers."

Pamela Reckamp, Donna Weinsting, Jared Sanz-Agero and Nathan Bush in a promo shot for Max & Louie’s “Chancers.”

Sydnie Grosberg Ronga has directed with a frenetic pace that suits the outlandish script. Assisted by a masterful set design by Margery and Peter Spack and the strong lighting design of John Cameron Carter, this plays has the proper feel for the small Irish village. And special kudos to dialogue coach Katy Keating who brings an almost flawless dialect to all involved.

This is your last week-end to catch “Chancers” at the Kranzberg Arts Center- it’s all over November 16th. The small crowd on Thursday night when I was lucky enough to see it filled the space with laughs to a well deserved cast. Contact Max & Louie Productions at maxandlouie.com to get more information or buy tickets.

Ethereal, Elusive Tennessee Williams Play, “Stairs To The Roof,” Opens After 67 Year Absence

November 10, 2014
Em Piro and Paul Cereghino as the young lovers in "Stairs To The Roof" by Tennessee Williams produced by Sudden View Productions.

Em Piro and Paul Cereghino as the young lovers in “Stairs To The Roof” by Tennessee Williams produced by Sudden View Productions.

Wow! St. Louis theatre just keeps getting better all the time. Those in the know realize what a wonderful theatrical community exists here and now, a new company and a new production cements that solid reputation with a Tennessee Williams play that hasn’t been professionally produced in 67 years. Despite being an early attempt at a Broadway bound play, this is a very un-Tennessee Williams play despite the echoing voice that was to eventually bring us a multitude of powerful theatrical wonders. “Stairs To The Roof” is a dream-like romance that points to a happy ending but with that underlying tension of dissatisfaction and pessimism that pervades so much of his later work.

Sudden View Productions, led by Artistic Director Carrie Houk, takes a big bite out of the theatrical apple for her first attempt. A large cast and stunning technical qualities belie what you might think would be a beginning for a new group. But SVP pulls it off with style and panache. Benjamin D. Murphy is a dreamer. Despite being trapped in a thankless job at a shirt making concern (close to Mr. Williams’ early career at the International Shoe Factory here in St. Louis), he dreams of freeing himself and his start is discovering an almost hidden stairway that leads to the roof of the factory. Paul Cereghino is sheer perfection in the role of Murphy. He literally embodies the spirit that is expressed in one of the key lines in the play, “to be free is to have achieved your life.” Throughout the performance you can detect the itch for freedom in his manner and voice inflection.

The beginnings of the love that erupts as realized by a ballet sequence in the Tennessee Williams play, "Stairs To The Roof."

The beginnings of the love that erupts as realized by a ballet sequence in the Tennessee Williams play, “Stairs To The Roof.”

He eventually hooks up with “The Girl,” played with exquisite subtlety and radiance by Em Piro. The two go on an all night spree that encompass local haunts like Washington University and the Zoo (where he frees a group of foxes that are howling for their escape) and even encounter love in the beautifully realized dream sequence featuring a lovely pas de deux featuring St. Louis Ballet dancers Clayton Cunningham and Elizabeth Lloyd. Local acting icon, Peter Mayer, is properly stern and clueless as Ben’s boss while Reginald Pierre is outstanding as the “mysterious” Mr. E who pops up throughout and then plays the major role as deus ex machina in the final sequence.

An outstanding supporting cast bring this ethereal production to glorious life. From the mechanical, rhythmic secretaries in the opening scene to the stunning circus-like dream sequence during the young lovers’ night out, this is a massive and quite successful undertaking that makes this Tennessee Williams script more than memorable. The surreal circus sequence is just one of many highlights in this unusual Tennessee Williams play. Thanks to the brilliant direction of Fred Abrahamse, the production pops with an other-worldly feel. With the talents of Marcel Meyer as set designer, costumer and choreographer, it is awash in symbolism and a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Patrick Huber’s lighting design just adds to that feel with broad strokes of color amid the touches of realism. With a theme of “blue” in Ben’s outfit, scenery and lighting and the often bluesy score of Henry Palkes, we get a real feel for the overriding themes of “Stairs To The Roof.” The music for the dream ballet in particular is a work of art in itself and makes that scene a transcendent moment in the whole production.

One of the many stunning stage pictures that encompass the beautiful Tennessee Williams play, "Stairs To The Roof" at Sudden View Productions.

One of the many stunning stage pictures that encompass the beautiful Tennessee Williams play, “Stairs To The Roof” at Sudden View Productions.

With promises of more in the near future and an eventual Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Carrie Houk and Sudden View Productions may become a major player in an already rich theatre scene in St. Louis. Despite the occasional production over the years, this is the first full professional production of this unusual Williams play in sixty-seven years. What a fitting tribute to the man who made St. Louis home despite his often derogatory remarks about our fair city. It molded him and made him the great playwright that he became. Now we get a chance to see how it started before “The Glass Menagerie,” before “A Streetcar Named Desire,” before “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and before the marvelous output over a lifetime of great and near-great plays and short stories.

It’s also the grand opening of the newly renovated Boo Cat Club- a marvelous venue in the midst of mid-town and one of many elegant residences that housed amenities such as a grand ballroom and a fully realized stage. In fact, many of Tennessee Williams’ plays were first produced in this building when it was the home of the St. Louis Artist Guild. Be sure to plan on seeing this historic play while it plays here through November 22nd.

Sumptuous “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Carries Us To Another World At The Rep

November 7, 2014
Alvin Keith as Oberon, Jim Poulos as Puck and Rebecca Watson as Titania in the Rep's "A Midsummer Nights' Dream." Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Alvin Keith as Oberon, Jim Poulos as Puck and Rebecca Watson as Titania in the Rep’s “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

One of Shakespeare’s most oft produced comedies, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” takes us to that dream world with a stunning cast, a beautifully rendered set, and clever direction at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Paul Mason Barnes, our Shakespeare guru who charmed us with his ‘Nawlins rendition of another classic, “A Comedy Of Errors,” a few years ago, delights us again with a  flawless production of this one set mainly in a wood near Athens. The Duke, Theseus and his Queen, Hippolyta are transformed into Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies as they attempt to untie the knot of young lovers and rekindle their own romance in the meantime.

Michael Jean Dozier, Carl Howell, Kern McFadden, Michael James Reed and Adam Lendermon as the "performing" mechanicals in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Michael Jean Dozier, Carl Howell, Kern McFadden, Michael James Reed and Adam Lendermon as the “performing” mechanicals in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Alvin Keith is a powerful and fun loving king in his dual roles and Rebecca Watson also shines as his Queen in her two incarnations. Her wonderful turn when she falls in love with Bottom, turned into a braying donkey by Oberon, is a great moment in a play that brings us one great moment after another. Michael James Reed continues his stage magic as the boastful Bottom who, as a member of the mechanicals who are rehearsing a play to present to the Duke and his bride, is one of the most hilarious, hee-hawing asses we’ve ever seen in the multitude of productions of this play witnessed over the years. In fact, the entire group of mechanicals are all individually gifted with their own special little traits that make their eventual production of their skit also one of the funniest ever seen.

Jeffrey Omura, Gracyn Mix, Caroline Amos and Andy Rindlisbach as the mis-matched lovers in the Rep's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jeffrey Omura, Gracyn Mix, Caroline Amos and Andy Rindlisbach as the mis-matched lovers in the Rep’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Bob Walton is a fussbudget at Peter Quince, director of the show within a show with henchmen including Carl Howell, Adam Lendermon, Kern McFadden and Michael Jen Dozier. Several members also double as the fairies of the forest who play havoc with the mechanicals as well as control the outcome of everything from the sleeping Queen to the unravelling of the four young lovers who undergo several spells to sort out their eventual hook-ups.

As those young lovers, Caroline Amos as Hermia and Gracyn Mix as Helena make quite a contrast as friends and rivals for the affection of their beloveds. Ms. Amos displays great comic timing and a penchant for physical comedy. Mix also gets to “mix” it up with some delightful fisticuffs between the two ladies. As their objects of affection (though that changes at the whim of Puck), Jeffrey Omura as Lysander and Andy Rindlisbach as Demetrius equally go toe-to-toe with the physical shenanigans  and their scenes as a foursome are wonderful to behold. Jerry Vogel also does nice work as Egeus, father of Hermia.

Jerry Vogel, Andy Rindlisbach, Caroline Amos and Jeffrey Omura in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jerry Vogel, Andy Rindlisbach, Caroline Amos and Jeffrey Omura in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jim Poulos ties everything together as Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck. The sprightly actor bounds around the stage and works wonders seeming to do everything but pull a rabbit out of his hat. It’s a remarkable performance that steals a show that’s full of scene-stealing moments from everyone.

Director Paul Mason Barnes weaves this magical tale with what appears to be a magic wand. He’s ably assisted by choreographer Matt Williams. James Kronzer has added another strong character in the guise of his brilliant scene design. Along with lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, the forest literally shimmers with clarity and depth. Barry G. Funderburg adds a strong sound design that includes magical moments when Puck, Oberon and others mime their other-worldly moves throughout the play. It creates a world unlike any you’ve ever seen.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays at the Rep Mainstage through November 9th. You can still enjoy this mystical, magical production by calling 314-968-4925 or visiting http://www.repstl.org.

New Jewish Theatre Presents “The Diary Of Anne Frank”

October 15, 2014
The families gather to play and converse once the coast is clear in the New Jewish production of "The Diary Of Anne Frank." Photo: John Lamb

The families gather to enjoy a special treat in the New Jewish production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank.” Photo: John Lamb

What could be more fitting than a production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank” at the New Jewish Theatre? Unbelievably, they’ve never produced it there before and, with a cast that brings tears to your eyes, this is one of their finest shows ever. And that’s saying a lot because they consistently put quality productions on their stage. This is the much improved version adapted by Wendy Kesselman in 1997. It offers a more realistic and honest version of the story than the original 1955 version. Both are based on the famous diary written by the young Anne Frank when she and her family moved to a small garrett above where her father worked in 1942 in an attempt to escape the Nazi oppression that affected many Jews including those in her home of Amsterdam.

Leo B. Ramsey as Peter and Samantha Moyer as Anne share a moment in "The Diary Of Anne Frank" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Leo B. Ramsey as Peter and Samantha Moyer as Anne share a moment in “The Diary Of Anne Frank” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

This version offers a much more exuberant Anne with the giddiness of a young girl (13 years old when we first see her) and a girl who matures despite the cramped quarters and the lack of any outside activity or the normal life such a girl should be experiencing as she grows into womanhood. There is also more attention to the real plight of the Jews and a stunning denouement that her father delivers after they are captured just weeks before the final liberation. This is some powerful stuff, sprinkled with humor and a true nod to the fear they all lived under when the slightest noise might mean discovery. Although they were under strict silence during the working day when the factory was open downstairs, their evenings were mostly their own with extreme caution still the rule of the household.

New Jewish has chosen a bright, young actress, Samantha Moyer, to play Anne. Her excitement is hard to contain as she looks on this as an adventure and begins to chronicle her life there with her father, mother, sister and the Van Daan family. Bobby Miller continues his mastery of the stage with a strong outing as Anne’s father, Otto. He’s the master of comedy in most shows we’ve seen him in lately but proves he is a powerful dramatic actor as well. His final scene, choking back tears as he describes the horrors his family has gone through since their capture, is one of the most moving performances we’ve seen on any stage.

Bobby Miller as Otto Frank, comforts his daughter, played by Samantha Moyer in "The Diary Of Anne Frank" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Bobby Miller as Otto Frank, comforts his daughter, played by Samantha Moyer in “The Diary Of Anne Frank” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Amy Loui is masterful as well as Anne’s mother, Edith. As she seethes and worries about their precarious predicament, she manages to have an outward strength to help bolster her family. She is particularly good in her heartbreaking scene with a disillusioned Anne who confronts her and breaks her heart. Taylor Steward shines as the older and somewhat shy sister of Anne. Though as different as night and day, they are truly fond of each other and it shows.

The Van Daan’s are friends of the Frank family and have been invited to try to “wait out” the Nazi manhunt as well. Jason Grubbe is stern as the father and Margeau Steinau is jittery and, at times, a true bundle of nerves as Mrs. Van Daan. The two seem perfect together even when their major brawl over her fur coat sends them in opposite directions. Leo B. Ramsey turns in a first rate performance as their son, Peter. His hesitancy over Anne’s outgoing personality seems to stymie him at first but then they soon become almost “forced” soul mates as their hormones begin to kick in.

Joining the already crowded household is Terry Meddows in a superb performance as a local dentist, Mr. Dussel. At times you think he may try to take over the whole household but the strong yet gentle hand of Otto Frank takes command. Stefanie Kluba is the Christian liaison for the family who has found the attic room and makes weekly visits to bring them food, books and whatever else she finds that she thinks may ease their fears. In one particular heartwarming scene, she brings Anne a pair of red high heeled shoes that she loves but in which she has trouble maneuvering. Her cohort in aiding the two families is Eric Dean White in a fine performance as Mr. Kraler. Is it he who finally gives them up or is some other outside influence? Because eventually, a Nazi officer and two Nazi soldiers, played by Nathan Schroeder, Erik Kuhn and Craig Jones storm into the attic and take them away, just after they’ve been hearing the news from General Eisenhower that the allies are on their way and liberation seems imminent.

The two families and Mr. Dussel gather once the "coast is clear" in the New Jewish production of "The Diary Of Anne Frank." Photo: John Lamb

The two families and Mr. Dussel gather once the “coast is clear” in the New Jewish production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank.” Photo: John Lamb

Director Gary Wayne Barker makes this a powerful piece that literally sings as the families cope with each other and the outside forces that threaten them daily. The tension builds then is broken by another narrow escape or by one or the other of the inhabitants bringing a moment of joy to a household that lives in almost constant fear. Jim Burwinkel’s monumental set design offers the feeling of close quarters without destroying the flow of the play. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes add the touch of authenticity and Maureen Berry’s lights enhance the strength of this overwhelming production.

“The Diary Of Anne Frank” is a testimony to tenacity and a paean to the horrors of war and the unbelievable treatment of a whole group of people. The New Jewish Theatre production takes it all to another level as you feel all the pain, fear and sheer joy that only the indomitable spirit can bring to a family and a race that must suffer through unwarranted persecution. It plays through November 2nd. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 or contact them at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

Approachable “Antigone” Poses Old Questions But Hints At The Present At Upstream Theatre

October 13, 2014
Maggie Conroy as the title role in Upstream Theater's "Antigone." Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Maggie Conroy as the title role in Upstream Theater’s “Antigone.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

From 414 BC to 2014, echoes of tyrannical rulers and innocent victims resound at Upstream Theatre as they present a very timely production of Sophocles’ “Antigone.” With a new translation by David R. Slavitt, this is a most relevant and approachable production. Creon makes the decree that, of two brothers recently killed in battle, only one will be honored and the other shall be left unburied on the battlefield to be feasted on by birds and animals. With the news recently that a young man killed in North County was left dead on the streets of Ferguson for a seemingly unnecessary length of time before being removed to the morgue, the irony across the ages cannot be overlooked.

Eteocles receives a heroic burial while his brother, Polyneices, lies as carrion for the vultures. Their sisters, Antigone and Ismene meet and Antigone vows to bury her brother in defiance of the proclamation from the King of Thebes. When a guard discloses his discovery of Antigone burying her brother, Creon is adamant that she shall be punished, despite the fact that his son, Haemon, is planning to marry Antigone. When he locks her in a cave, a blind soothsayer reprimands Creon and tells him the Gods are not pleased with his decisions. A messenger verifies the tragic results of his actions and he is left to suffer the losses he incurs from his stubborn and unwise choices.

Peter Mayer as Creon mourns his son, played by Andrew Michael Neiman in "Antigone" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Peter Mayer as Creon mourns his son, played by Andrew Michael Neiman in “Antigone” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Peter Mayer is intense as Creon. He boasts and commands respect for his decisions and then falls apart emotionally as he carries his dead son on stage and realizes he has lost everyone including his beloved wife. As Antigone, Maggie Conroy is equally defiant in her quest for honor for her brother. A fiery performance that stands up to the intensity of Creon. As her sister, Ismene, Wendy Renee Greenwood continues her mastery of the stage that has been steadily earning her laurels. She also takes on the role of Creon’s wife, Eurydice and, without a word, expresses emotions beyond what can be said for her pain and sorrow.

The three Theban Elders act as narrators and, at times, an unwanted conscious for Creon. Dennis Lebby, Norman McGowan and Patrick Siler have most of the onstage time as they comment as representatives of the people of Thebes and play lackeys to Creon. They also provide the musical accompaniment that often becomes a part of any Upstream production. John Bratkowski also pulls double duty- as the hapless guard who must deliver the news of Antigone’s defiance to Creon and then as the soothsayer who chastises him.

Theban Elders relate the hopes and fears of the people in "Antigone" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Theban Elders relate the hopes and fears of the people in “Antigone” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Andrew Michael Neiman is strong as Haemon as he also decries his father’s actions and then decides to show his defiance to Creon in the most tragic way possible. Rounding out the cast is a remarkable performance by Nancy Lewis as the Messenger who brings Creon’s world crashing in around him.

Artistic Director of Upstream, Philip Boehm, handles the directorial duties of “Antigone” with and eye for the classic it is while still making it a play with great audience appeal. It speaks well and, with that contemporary tie-in, makes it even more powerful than usual. The Michael Heil set design is stunning in its simplicity and LaLaonnie Lehman’s costumes are spot on. Steve Carmichael’s lighting design enhances the production as well to make this a production not to be missed.

“Antigone” plays at the Kranzberg Center through October 26th. Give them a call at 314-863-4999 or visit at upstream theater@sbcglobal.net for tickets for more information.

 

Agatha Christie Baffles Us Again As Stray Dog Delivers With “And Then There Were None”

October 12, 2014
The classic curtain call as the suspects and victims strike a final pose on the stunning Stray Dog set of "And Then There Were None." Photo: John Lamb

The classic curtain call as the suspects and victims strike a final pose on the stunning Stray Dog set of “And Then There Were None.” Photo: John Lamb

It was a dark and stormy night…all of the mystery cliches come out in full force with Stray Dog Theatre’s season opener, “And Then There Were None.” Whether you remember it as “Ten Little Indians” or this title, Agatha Christie’s smart whodunit never ceases to intrigue as, one by one, guests at a party where the host doesn’t show begin to meet their maker. The audience was buzzing on opening night- both at intermissions and sometimes during the play itself- trying to guess which of the ten guests were behind it all and gasping as each body was discovered- onstage or off. It’s hard to resist a good mystery and Stray Dog has given us one of the best. A great companion piece to “The Mousetrap” that we saw at the Rep not too long ago, Agatha Christie never fails to intrigue and keep us on our toes.

Dr. Armstrong declares another victim in Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Dr. Armstrong declares another victim in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

A truly ensemble cast gathers at the island home off the coast of Devon, England. The time is early August in the mid 20th century. So the guests are dressed appropriately and stunningly by designer Eileen Engel. Teamed with the stream-lined, ultra-modern (for the time) set designed by Rob Lippert and the effective lighting design of Tyler Duenow, you’re in the mood for a good, classic mystery before the cast even settles in. Stray Dog favorite, Sarajane Alverson, leads the way as the tres chic Vera Claythorne. She really captures the spirit of the time and genre with her wonderful performance. Joining her as the first of the guests to arrive is Jeff Kargus as Philip Lombard- they later become key players in solving the mystery (or are one or the other responsible for the death and destruction?).

Rob Lippert pulls double duty in this production as he plays a minor role as the boatman who ferries the guests to the island. But does he decide to stay and surreptitiously become the killer? Yes, folks, red herrings abound and one of them might turn out to be the real thing. Lindsay Gingrich and Jason Meyers play temporary hosts as the maid and butler (of sorts) as the real host has been mysteriously delayed. Did the butler, classically, do it in this one?

Suspicions begin to fester as victims fall in Stray Dog's production of "And Then There Were None." Photo: John Lamb

Suspicions begin to fester as victims fall in Stray Dog’s production of “And Then There Were None.” Photo: John Lamb

Mark Abels does fine work as Dr. Armstrong while Zachary Stefaniak also shines as the cryptic Sir Lawrence Wargrave. Michael Juncal delights with his not-so finely honed detective skills and Ryan Wiechmann, David K. Gibbs and Judy E. Yordon round out the cast to heighten the suspect list as well as the list of victims. Stray Dog Artistic Director, Gary F. Bell, directs this production with an eye for detail and heightened suspense. He cleverly lays the clues and  handles the clever “disappearing” soldiers from the mantlepiece with style and deception.

“And Then There Were None” is about as clever a mystery as you could ask for. Despite seeing the film and other stage productions, I was fooled again. I mis-guessed what I thought I knew. I’m ready now- if someone does this one again, it’s time to look for the how and why along the way. So, even if you’ve seen this one before, don’t be so sure- you may over-think it like it did on opening night. What a fun evening in the theatre. Don’t miss Stray Dog Theatre’s opening production of the season, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” It plays through October 25th. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information.

 

“Bonnie & Clyde” Tear Up Stage At New Line With Bullets And Ballads

October 4, 2014
Matt Pentecost and Larissa White as "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Matt Pentecost and Larissa White as “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Let’s play word association- you know, I give you a word or phrase and you say the first thing that pops into your head. “Scott Miller.” Now you say “Frank Wildhorn.” Not in a million years, you say? Well, the world must be coming to an end because New Line Theatre is producing a Frank Wildhorn show but it’s not like any you’ve seen (or more importantly, heard) before- “Bonnie & Clyde.” Although it lasted only four weeks on Broadway, Scott Miller always seems to breath new life into shows that meet that kind of fate. This one is a fast-paced, toe-tapping romp through the lives of these two outlaw lovers who captured the public’s fascination during America’s depression and made heroes out of two inept, small time thieves who eventually became killers as well.

Frank Wildorn has obviously put together a musical score that is a perfect fit with the story and his country/bluegrass take makes for a spirited sound that lifts the story into much the same realm that the famous film did back in the ’60′s. Frequent Andrew Lloyd Webber contributor, Don Black has provided appropriate lyrics and Ivan Menchell’s book focuses on the lovers and their families and shows how misguided these two truly were. It makes for a great companion piece to the new kids on the block, the November Theatre Company and their production of “Assassins” playing its final week-end in town. Lots of gunfire and whacked out psychology that wreaks havoc on everyone who stands in their way.

Zak Farmer leads the congregation in "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Zak Farmer leads the congregation in “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The cast, as usual, is simply first rate. Bonnie and Clyde are both making their New Line debuts and what a wonderful chemistry they display. Larissa White, a willowy and winsome Bonnie Parker wins our heart from the start and displays a phenomenal singing voice along with a strong acting performance. As Clyde Barrow, Matt Pentecost simply shines on both levels as well. There’s electricity on stage whenever they’re together and their steam warmed up a nippy opening night in the theatre.

Brendan Ochs as Buck Barrow and Matt Pentecost as Clyde in "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Brendan Ochs as Buck Barrow and Matt Pentecost as Clyde in “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Brendan Ochs and Sarah Porter make another strong couple as Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife, Blanche. Always in and out of jail (usually breaking out), Clyde and Buck are a worry to their respective mates until Bonnie eventually delights in the fame they’re gathering. Reynaldo Arceno shows off his pipes as one of Bonnie’s more respectable suitors, Ted Hinton. A lawman bent on putting both Barrow brothers behind bars, he never gives up his pursuit of their heads and Bonnie’s heart. New Line veteran, Zachary Allen Farmer, continues to amaze with his splendid singing voice and an actor who continually has a twinkle in his eye. In this one, he’s the fire and brimstone preacher who tries to tame the town as well as these displaced lovers. His two big numbers, “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and the second act opener, “Made In America,” are highlights in a show filled with special moments.

Larissa White charms Matt Pentecost in New Line's "Bonnie & Clyde." Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Larissa White charms Matt Pentecost in New Line’s “Bonnie & Clyde.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sharing the spotlight in supporting roles are a handful of wonderful new and established New Line performers. Kimi Short and Joel Hackbarth are superb as the long-suffering parents of Clyde while Alison Helmer turns in a great performance as Bonnie’s unforgiving mother. Christopher “Zany” Clark (must be an interesting story about that nickname) is strong as the local sheriff while Mara Bollini is a riot in a short but memorable moment at the governor. Kent Coffel has a few chest and desk pounding moments as a Texas Ranger and the rest in that long list of featured players include Christopher Strawhun, Marshall Jennings, Ann Hier and Nellie Mitchell.

The new New Line band is impressive indeed headed up by Jeffrey Richard Carter. In sight at the back of the stage, Mr. Carter is as entertaining as the on stage cast as he directs the band with subtle yet striking hand gestures and head nods. As mentioned, the score is an impressive one and includes an outstanding opening sequence (where we see what is really the finale) and it leads into “Picture Show” and “This World Will Remember Me” where Bonnie and Clyde envision two different outcomes to a life leading to fame and fortune. Clyde and Buck share a special, frenetic moment in “When I Drive” and the beautiful love duet, “You Love Who You Love” features Bonnie and Blanche accepting the mates they have chosen in life. The gorgeous “What Was Good Enough For You” could easily have been called the “Bonnie and Clyde Waltz”- it’s a wonderful stage moment that takes on a dream sequence quality.

Clyde Barrow goes on a robbing spree in "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Clyde Barrow goes on a robbing spree in “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The incredible Rob Lippert has outdone himself with a scenic and lighting design that fit like a glove into the show’s theme and beauty. The front of a ’30′s roadster dominates the backstage area as it opens up on a highway that splits the stage. Henry Barrow’s gas station, the subtle backdrop of a bank, barbershop, sheriff’s office and jail cell are all appropriately tucked into place. The brilliant lights featuring a lot of red and stark whites along with the flashes of gunfire that fill the stage are incredible. Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert’s costumes are beautifully realized and Tim Ceradsky’s sound just adds to the thrills and chills of “Bonnie & Clyde.”

Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy bring it all together for another entertaining and fun-filled show. As I mentioned, we see the fate of the murderous lovers as the show opens and then a fitting finale features what appears to be Bonnie’s words from her number, “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” unrealistically coming true. It’s a strong ending to an evening that is full of surprises and multiple magic moments. Frank Wildorn’s “Bonnie & Clyde” plays at New Line Theatre through October 25th. Give them a call at 314-534-1111 for tickets or visit them at newlinetheatre.com for more information.

WEPG Opens Season With Family Turmoil In Joan Ackermann’s “Off The Map”

October 1, 2014
Paula Stoff Dean, John Foughty, Bob Nickles and Julia Monsey in WEPG's production of "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

Paula Stoff Dean, John Foughty, Bob Nickles and Julia Monsey in WEPG’s production of “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

Not an easy piece to describe, “Off The Map” is playwright Joan Ackermann’s look at a somewhat dysfunctional family with a few twists and turns along the way. In this West End Players Guild opening production, the Groden family lives, as the title would suggest, way off the map in the deserts of New Mexico. As seen through the narrator, Bo, as an adult, we see the family as they were when she was about ten or eleven. With a father suffering from depression, a somewhat beleaguered mother, a kindly uncle and a misguided stranger thrown in the mix, her upbringing is unconventional yet fascinating.

Matt Hanify and John Foughty share several beers in "Off The Map" at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Matt Hanify and John Foughty share several beers in “Off The Map” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Kate Weber starts things off as the adult Bo introducing us to her off the map and often off the wall family. Julia Monsey does a fine job as the young, inquisitive Bo who finds everything new and exciting. Her mother, Arlene, is given a rock-solid performance by Paula Stoff Dean. A total one-eighty from her role at Stray Dog as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” you can feel the weariness in her voice as she struggles with a husband, Charley, who hasn’t spoken more than a few words in some time and does nothing but wipe away tears from this sudden bout with depression. John Foughty, also greatly subdued from his role in the comedy, “The Liar” at St. Louis Shakespeare, gives a moving performance as the stoic Charley.

Paula Stoff Dean and Bob Nickles discuss his future as John Foughty ignores them in the background and Julie Monsey does a little eavesdropping in "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

Paula Stoff Dean and Bob Nickles discuss his future as John Foughty ignores them in the background and Julie Monsey does a little eavesdropping in “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

Another low key but strong performance from Matt Hanify as George. The fishing buddy of Bo, he eventually breaks her heart as he decides to move away, leaving her- or so she believes- totally friendless in the world. Rounding out the cast is the lanky Bob Nickles as William Gibbs. Although arriving at the Groden household as an IRS agent (the family has not paid taxes in some time as they actually have no real income, living off the land, as it were), he eventually and unexpectedly  professes his love for Arlene and decides to camp on their sofa as long as he’s allowed. Whatever his eventual plans, we realize he no longer considers himself a member of the Internal Revenue Service. He eventually winds up making some very good money as an artist- all starting with a mural for Bo’s room painted on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

Director Robert Ashton has brought some semblance of reality and believability to this somewhat outlandish script. Guiding us through the quirky Groden family, he makes the whole thing a lot more entertaining than I would have expected. Joan Ackermann has produced some off beat characters and the narrative, though plausible, is not all that interesting. This cast and director have pulled it, however, from the realm of dreary to something that’s quite fulfilling.

John Foughty as Charley in the WEPG's production of "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

John Foughty as Charley in the WEPG’s production of “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

The impressive Mark Wilson set design gives us that open, airy look of the desert Southwest and John “JT” Taylor’s lights also enhance the feel of the play. Tracey Newcomb’s costumes are perfect and the Chuck Lavazzi sound design is a strong one that moves the play along beautifully.

“Off The Map” may not totally be on the mark, but it’s a rather entertaining look at this bizarre family and their unprecedented lifestyle. Thanks to the strong cast and the moving direction, it’s worth your while. It plays at WEPG through October 5th. Give them a call at 314-667-5686 or go online at http://www.westendplayers.org for tickets or more information.

November Theater Company Hits The Mark With Their Inaugural Production, “Assassins”

September 28, 2014
The eerie line up of assassins and story tellers in November Theater Company's inaugural production of "Assassins."

The eerie line up of assassins and story tellers in November Theater Company’s inaugural production of “Assassins.”

Starting a brand new theatre company is scary enough. But when you choose a Sondheim musical to start the engines, it’s downright frightening. On the other hand, when you know St. Louis audiences are Sondheim-crazy, the choice has to be a good one and you’re next step is to land a competent cast and outstanding director. Mission accomplished. The November Theater Company opens their quest with his dark comedy/musical, “Assassins.” An enthusiastic opening night audience approved and it looks like “11theater” is on its way. Last month at the Ivory Theatre we saw a satiric look at famous First Ladies as R-S Theatrics brought us “First Lady Suite” and now we get a more terrifying yet equally irreverent, comic look at the serious business of presidential assassins.

Charlie Barron as the Balladeer introduces us to most of the shooters in Sondheim's "Assassins" at November Theater Company.

Charlie Barron as the Balladeer introduces us to most of the shooters in Sondheim’s “Assassins” at November Theater Company.

Landing new Artistic Director of St. Louis Shakespeare, Suki Peters, as director started their project off on the right foot. Her knowledge of the local theatre community and keen eye for casting has helped November to success on their first try. Strong singing voices and quality acting skills combine throughout the entire cast and Suki has brought her own special brand to this dark but comedic look at presidential assassins or “wannabes” throughout history. Focusing on the two most famous, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, we travel through a literal shooting gallery of fiendish and disturbed individuals as time and space are shattered so these shooters can interact with each other.

Jon Hey, as the Proprietor who sets the wheels moving, brings a strong stage presence to his role as he directs traffic in an introduction to the band of individuals we’re going to see over the next hour and a half. Charlie Barron takes over as the Balladeer and moves in and out of the story introducing everyone as their particular story unfolds. He displays a great singing voice and his personable approach makes us feel comfortable meeting these pariahs of history. He even makes a surprising “guest” appearance at the end of the musical.

Jon Hey as the Proprietor brings us together with famous assassins and wannabes at November Theatre Company's "Assassins."

Jon Hey as the Proprietor brings us together with famous assassins and wannabes at November Theater Company’s “Assassins.”

Mike Amoroso is stunning as John Wilkes Booth. His charm wins us over and his final scene with Lee Harvey Oswald is one of the most chilling encounters imaginable. Comparing himself, Lee Harvey and others to the despair of Willy Loman in “Death Of A Salesman” is brilliant. Whether striking out at yourself or other individuals who you think may be responsible for your failure, this presence of a “death wish” exists in so many situations. Mitch Eagles is a strong Guiseppe Zangara- the man who tried to assassinate FDR and Nick Kelly also shines as Leon Czolgosz who succeeded in his attempt at McKinley. A comic turn by Patrick Kelly as Charles Guiteau, assassin of Garfield, brings the house down as he cakewalks his way to the gallows.

Nate Cummings is superb as John Hinckley, attempted assassin of Ronald Reagan and delusionaly love struck with Jodie Foster. He teams up with a delightful Jennifer Theby Quinn as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme- attempting to assassinate Gerald Ford- in a freakishly romantic duet of “Unworthy Of Your Love.” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore (the wild-eyed Jessica Townes) obsess with great comic results about killing Gerald Ford. Patrick Blindauer adds just the right amount of crazy to Sam Byck, attempted assassin of Richard Nixon. Dressed as Santa Claus, he brings a bizarre comic turn to his role.  Nancy Nigh brings a short, but effective touch to the radical protester, Emma Goldman. She also doubles as a solid member of the ensemble.

The wheel of assassins spins us into Sondheim's "Assassins" at November Theater Company.

The wheel of assassins spins us into Sondheim’s “Assassins” at November Theater Company.

Also doing great work in multiple roles are Will Bonfiglio, Brittany Kohl Hester, Dorothy LaBounty, Kelvin Urday and Mike Wells. The Jason Townes set design is incredibly effective providing upper and lower acting areas and muted national colors to emphasize the darker side of America’s history. Meredith LaBounty’s costumes are perfect and Bob Singleton’s sparkling projections hit just the right note. Charlie Mueller provides music direction although the canned music occasionally overtakes the singers and drowns them out. Russell Warning is responsible for the effective lighting design and Emily Hatcher’s sound design is also powerful including the multiple use of gunfire.

Producer Dustin Allison and his crew have made a most auspicious debut with Sondheim’s “Assassins.” This show is not an easy one to get across considering the dark nature of the plot, the often difficult Sondheim music and the need for so many powerful singers and actors. But this one works, folks and I urge you to support the efforts of this fledgling group. Great things are indeed ahead if they can maintain the quality of their inaugural production. Contact November Theater Company at 11theater.com for tickets or more information.

Cast Has A Blast In Surreal, “Twilight Zone”-esque Comedy, “All In The Timing” At STLAS

September 22, 2014
Ben Ritchie and Emily Baker ponder their next move in STLAS' "All In The Timing." Photo: John Lamb

Ben Ritchie and Emily Baker ponder their next move in STLAS’ “All In The Timing.” Photo: John Lamb

How can you not have fun being one of a trio of monkeys trying to write “Hamlet?” Or a living Trotsky contemplating why he has an axe through his head? Or how about Philip Glass trying, existentially, to buy a loaf of bread? All this and more shatters time and space in David Ives’ “All In The Timing.” And St. Louis Actors’ Studio, with a quartet of polished actors and a hip director make it the “must see” comedy of the year.

“All In The Timing” is a sextet of ironic, short one-acts that all tie together with timing. Expecting to hear “Let’s Do The Time Warp Again,” we travel through this series of surreal situations where time stands still or moves at either  halting or accelerated speed to bring us an absurd cast of characters. And, of course, the title suggests, timing is everything and these actors have got their timing down precisely to tackle the rapid fire dialogue- some of which is just this side of nonsense- as they milk every laugh from this hilarious script.

Michelle Hand and Shaun Sheley try to "publish or perish" in "Words, Words, Words" in "All In The Timing" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Michelle Hand, Ben Ritchie and Shaun Sheley try to “publish or perish” in “Words, Words, Words” in “All In The Timing” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

In “Sure Thing,” Emily Baker as Betty sits quietly reading a book at a coffee shop when Ben Ritchie as Bill enters and asks if the other chair at her table is taken. As the dialogue ensues, an off stage bell rings and they begin their conversation again with different results. As we travel around and through this ever-changing conversation, we realize that the result will be inevitable but the real journey is getting the there as their dialogue “times out” until that result is achieved. Next we see Ben Ritchie again with Shaun Sheley and Michelle Hand as three erudite monkeys who are “going along” with a scientist experimenting with the timeless tale of putting a monkey and a typewriter together and hoping that, eventually, he (or she) will produce something profound (such as “Hamlet”). Although they move and act like monkeys, their personal communication indicates they realize the task but either write gibberish or deep thoughts unrelated to the task at hand. One even starts out typing the opening of “Hamlet” but then wanders into other Shakespeare verse before giving up altogether.

Our four actors sing the praises of bread in "All In The Timing" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Our four actors sing the praises of bread in “All In The Timing” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Closing out the first act is Emily Baker as a shy, stuttering student, Dawn, who hopes attending a class in learning a new “universal language,” Unamunda, will help her out of her shell and maybe into the arms of her teacher, Don, played by Shaun Sheley. This has to be the most difficult piece to memorize because of the unpredictability but alarming astute sounds of the language- which reminds us a lot like English but just slightly off kilter. While Don speaks it “trippingly off the tongue,” Dawn soon masters it herself, even though it’s nothing but nonsense again. Their timing is impeccable which makes it even more amazing as we soon begin to understand every word they say.

It's not always sunny in "The Philadelphia"- part of STLAS' production of "All In The Timing." Photo: John Lamb

It’s not always sunny in “The Philadelphia”- part of STLAS’ production of “All In The Timing.” Photo: John Lamb

As unpredictable as a piece of his music, we find Shaun Sheley’s Philip Glass portrayal mesmerizing as he enters a bakery attempting to buy a loaf of bread. The baker and two admiring women join him in a short oratorio on the benefits of being Philip Glass, the qualities that make for a good loaf of bread and various other idiosyncratic themes that echo the wandering scores of his music. In “The Philadelphia,” Mark (Ben Ritchie) compares the kind of ill luck his friend Al (Shaun Sheley) is having to that city of Brotherly Love. We find out that Mark is really in a Los Angeles kind of happy mood while the waitress in the little diner (Emily Baker) is obviously in another “city.” Again, we enter the time and space continuum to explain our moods and feelings.

Closing out the evening is “Variations On The Death Of Trotsky.” Shaun Sheley’s Trotsky discovers he has an axe firmly embedded into his skull thanks to the astute observation of his wife (Michelle Hand). Time traveling through an anachronistic wasteland, they, along with Ben Ritchie’s Ramon (Trotsky’s killer) use everything from the Encyclopedia Britannica to personal observations on their inevitable fate to ask why this has happened. So an evening of absurd themes centering on “All In The Timing” comes to a close with a journey we’re not likely to forget ourselves as time, inevitably, goes on.

Trotsky can't believe he's discovered an axe in his skull in "All In The Timing" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Trotsky can’t believe he’s discovered an axe in his skull in “All In The Timing” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Director Elizabeth Helman has a deft hand for comedy as she makes perfect sense out of David Ives’ warped take on history, relationships and life in general. Patrick Huber has given us an unbelievable set design featuring billowing clouds in a blue sky as the backdrop and a Salvatore Dali-like clock face melting over the front edge of the stage floor. His lights play an integral part as well. Carla Landis Evans’ costumes are a great combination of unity and humor while director Helman has added a provocative sound design.

This play opens St. Louis Actors’ Studio season of “The Best Medicine” in fine fashion. These four actors, Emily Baker, Michelle Hand, Ben Ritchie and Shaun Sheley, use pin-point timing and an inherent feel for comedy to bring us one of the most hilarious evenings we’ve spent in the theatre this season. It runs through October 5th and I urge you to call STLAS at 314-458-2978 or contact them at stlas.org for tickets or more information.


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