“Boom” At R-S Theatrics Is Ionesco Meets “The Twilight Zone”

November 21, 2016
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Andrew Kuhlman as Jules and Elizabeth Van Pelt as Jo in the R-S Theatrics production of “Boom.” Photo: Michael Young

Once you catch up with the unusual rhythm of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s “Boom” at R-S Theatrics, you’re in for a wild, apocalyptic ride that resembles Theatre of the Absurd and a broad dose of sci-fi as it may have been presented in “The Twilight Zone.” It may be real, it may be imagined, it may be in the future, it’s definitely narrated by a character reminiscent of a docent in a museum. What it is for sure is highly entertaining.

Jo, a journalism student, has answered an ad for “sex that will bring you to the end of the world” (or words of a similar nature). Sounds like a casual, uncomplicated hook up but she finds something different when she meets Jules in his laboratory in a basement of one of the college academic buildings. He has another plan in mind- preparing for the end of the world as predicted by his fish. He is, after all, a marine biologist and is studying the random and unusual recent nature of the fish in his tank. He believes it signals impending doom.

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Elizabeth Van Pelt as Jo is confused by her blackouts and unusual behavior in “Boom” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Elizabeth Van Pelt is a diminutive and enticing Jo as she battles tooth and nail with the obsessive Jules, given a strong and vibrant portrayal from Andrew Kuhlman. Although he claims to be homosexual, they soon get rather hot and heavy in some pre-apocalyptic entangling. The end eventually comes to fruition (or so we’re led to believe) but is it really? Because Jo and Jules and the whole impending doom seem to be manipulated by our onstage “Rod Serling” in the guise of Barbara- a powerful and hilarious performance by Nancy Nigh. Beating on drums, flipping levers and interjecting pithy commentary on the two would-be lovers’ cat and mouse game, she’s a cross between a guide and a goddess as she seems to be calling the shots from her upstage podium a la the Wonderful Wizard of Oz- which may mean she has little power other than sound and fury signifying nothing.

This whole out of body experience is cleverly directed by Sarah Lynne Holt who runs with the absurdity and allows the audience to decide for themselves if they should read between the lines. Keller Ryan’s set design displays the Chapel’s versatile space as he uses both the small stage (leaving a bit of room for a few audience members there) and runs the action down through the center of the normal audience space- allowing seating on both sides. Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design picks it all up very well and Mark Kelley’s sound adds the right touches.

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Elizabeth Van Pelt as Jo and Nancy Nigh as Barbara in the R-S Theatrics production of “Boom.” Photo: Michael Young

From the often awkward and uncomfortable coupling (which often involves Jo leaping into the arms of Jules- even off the stage- good catch, Andrew!) to the outlandish premise and quirky dialogue to the unusual finale, “Boom” is something you don’t want to miss just because you won’t believe what you’re watching. As Rod Serling might have said, “a dimension of sight, a dimension of sound, a dimension of mind- you’re entering the absurdist Twilight Zone.” “Boom” plays at R-S Theatrics through December 4th. Give them a call at 314-252-8812 for tickets or more information.

 

 

Fourth And Final? I Think Not- Presentation of “All Is Calm” at Mustard Seed

November 15, 2016

all-group1As most people were saying after opening night of Mustard Seed Theatre’s fourth annual “All Is Calm- The Christmas Truce Of 1914,” we hope this isn’t really the final presentation. Different casts, returning members, new singers- it all adds up to one thing- this is a holiday tradition that must go on.

If you’re one of the few folks in St. Louis who has not yet experienced this lovely and haunting piece of theatre, get your tickets now. The show has been extended again this year and will now play through December 11th. Citing real letters and documents from this World War I phenomenon, an a cappella group of ten men use songs of the period to retell the story of one Christmas Eve in 1914 when Allied and German soldiers were close enough to be heard by each other and started serenading each other with songs from their respective countries. Folk songs, Christmas carols and the like could be heard floating across no-man’s land and, eventually, even that wall was broken as they greeted each other, exchanged souvenirs and continued to sing until the next day when “war” broke out again.

all-posterIt’s an uplifting story and you get to meet a myriad of men through their own words as each story leads into another song. As usual, I finally broke down over “Silent Night” or “Stille Nacht” which, of course, resonates with the title of the show. A few changes have been made to this year’s edition, but the message and power of the piece remains. From the haunting opening of “Will Ye Go To Flanders” through the traditional “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” and “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag,” the spirit of war and camaraderie prevail. And, of course, the holiday music includes “The First Noel,” “Angels We Have Heard On High” and the haunting rendition of “O Tannenbaum.”

A strong cast of singers adds to the beauty of “All Is Calm” as the harmonies resonate from the tenors and baritones to the powerful bass voices that seem to shake the rafters (if there were any rafters). Paul Cereghino, Kent Coffel, Steve Isom, Steve Jent and Gregory Lhamon join Gerry Love, the returning (from his new success in Chicago) Antonio Rodriguez, the rich voice playing the opera singer soaring with “O Holy Night,” Luke Steinburgy, Kevin Urday and Jeff Wright. It’s an ensemble that not only sings remarkably well together, but really displays the spirit of true comrades that unite in a war none of them want.

Deanna Jent, artistic director of Mustard Seed, once again directs with a flair for the dramatic and pulling the heartstrings. Joe Schoen returns as musical director and the Kyra Bishop set, Michael Sullivan’s lights and costumes of Jane Sullivan make the complete package. I look forward to the Rep’s return of the holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol” and I appreciate the other shows of the season that inevitably show up on local stages, but “All Is Calm” is a holiday tradition that needs to extend ad infinitum.

all-group2With the extension through December 11th, it’s more important than ever to catch this beautiful story (only about an hour long) before it possibly gets put into the vault. Mustard Seed Theatre has created a monster that everyone loves and looks forward to- give them a call at 314-719-8060 for tickets or more information. This truly is a must-see.

 

“Forbidden Broadway” Makes Rare Appearance In Town At Westport Playhouse

November 8, 2016

forbEven though we have a theatre-rich community and a lot of musicals are seen by a lot of folks thanks to the Fox, Muny and other venues, the long-running and ever-changing spoof of musicals, “Forbidden Broadway,” hasn’t often played in our town. Well, it’s back and funnier than ever at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza.

It’s always the same format- four performers and one pianist as they rip through old and new shows, changing lyrics to fit the spoof and offering broad exaggerations ¬†of some of our favorites. This time around they’ve delved into some of the classics from the past including “Ambition”- a take-off on “Fiddler On The Roof” and one that always seems to pop up- an actress with a cigarette dangling from her lips and dressed in a bright red “AnnIe” dress, singing, “I’ll be 40 years old…tomorrow.”

Some new ones appear too including a put down of “Once.” I agree with this one when they say, “Once is enough.” But the old staples are the highlights of this production- I guess because they feel the St. Louis audiences may be more familiar with the older shows that have played our town like “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and even a spoof on Cameron Mackintosh who produced those two show and other big, splashy musicals. He sings about piling success on top of success by selling tacky merchandise to tie in with the shows as he opens his coat and shows T-shirts, mugs, CDs and other items- all to the tune of “My Favorite Things” but singing “My Souvenir Things.”

This cast is an energetic and talented one including Valerie Fagan, Jeanne Montano, Kevin B. McGlynn and William Selby. Between costume changes and changes of character, they are non-stop whirlwinds. With musical accompaniment by Catherine Stornetta along with some clever choreography from Phillip George and wild costumes from Alvin Colt, it makes for a complete package. It’s also directed by Phillip George and the father of “Forbidden Broadway,” Gerard Alessandrini. He created this show as a small cabaret act in 1982 and now it has grown into this world wide phenomenon.

“Forbidden Broadway” is here for a very short time- through November 13th- so plan on seeing it soon. If you’re a big fan of Broadway musicals, you probably already know about the show, but if you haven’t seen it, get thee to Westport Playhouse and treat yourself to an evening of fun and laughs. For more information, contact them at http://www.playhouseatwestport.com

Don’t Expect Any Warm Fuzzies As “Cuddles” Creeps Us Out At SATE

November 7, 2016
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Ellie Schwetye stands over Rachel Tibbets in the SATE production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble is known for just that- plays that are often slightly askew- off the beaten path of traditional fare. With “Cuddles,” the opening play of their Season of Adaptation, they manage to provide cringe-worthy status to that word. With two excellent actresses and one superb director, it somehow makes you want to give them all big hugs anyway.

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Rachel Tibbets agonizes over her sister’s absence while Ellie Schwetye talks with her new boyfriend in the downstairs parlor in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

It starts with a creepy, smoke-filled set designed by the incredible Bess Moynihan (who also provides magic with the lighting design). Newspapers hanging behind and in front of a makeshift bed given a fourposter look with acting areas of both sides of it, and the eerie and, at times, provocative music by director Joe Hanrahan, lets you know you’re in for a treat. Then a figure appears rising from the bed and, as she pulls off the thin muslin-like material, we see ¬†Rachel Tibbets (one of the original founding members of SATE) as the mysterious and ethereal Eve as she begins a “once upon a time” story that sends chills down your spine.

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Rachel Tibbets makes an eerie first appearance in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

We soon learn that she is the “monster” younger sister she describes in this off beat fairy tale and we soon meet her older sister, Tabby, in a wonderful, almost bi-polar performance by Ellie Schwetye. Eve is obviously suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome as Tabitha has convinced her that she is a vampire and must stay hidden in her room. Not only does she have a pot to pee in- she also has a separate pot to poop in and she often gets them mixed up much to the chagrin of her older sister. Eve loves her sister but when she suggests she go outside, she goes ballistic knowing that only three things kill a vampire- sunlight, beheading and hammering a stake through the heart.

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The sisters try to resolve their differences in the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Problems arise (as if these weren’t problems enough) when Tabby finds a man she’s interested in and must solve her dilemma of “caregiving” Eve. The love between the sisters is obvious despite the unorthodox way of life Tabby has carved out for them and it may take one level, two level or maybe five level cuddles to get them through it. You’ll understand better when you see the bizarre “Cuddles” by English playwright Joseph Wilde. It’s sprinkled with humor- dark and otherwise and the most unconventional story you’re likely to see this side of Halloween (just a few days late for that holiday). But, like the earlier SATE hit, “Mary Shelley Monster Show,” Mother Nature provided some special effects on opening night that enhanced an already scarily perfect show.

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Rachel Tibbets expresses her feelings to Ellie Schwetye in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Director Joe Hanrahan, a superb actor as well, has paced this production with knife-edged skill. He cuts through a script that may be a bit wordier than needed and brings every chilling moment to frightening and realistic life.With Rachel Tibbets and Ellie Schwetye as the only two performers, it really showed how much these two actresses have grown into top notch performers. Playing two completely different characters- one skittish and dominated and one authoritarian and cold, they played off each other beautifully and, in a city with a ton of acting talent, they have proven to be right up there with the best.

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Part of the spellbinding opening sequence featuring Rachel Tibbets in the SATE production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

SATE Ensemble Theatre has given us another scare for this very special season and they show how diverse they are from any other company working today. Original or adapted classics come to spectacular life in their hands. “Cuddles” plays at the Chapel through November 12th. Contact them at 314-827-5760 or at slightlyoff.org for more information or for tickets.

 

McNally’s Definitive Voice Makes “Mothers And Sons” Work At Rep Studio

November 3, 2016
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Darrie Lawrence as Katharine goes over some old photos from Cal (Harry Bouvy) in “Mothers And Sons” at the Studio of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Terrence McNally’s plays are always relevant and in “Mothers And Sons” at the Studio Theatre of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, he covers a lot of old ground with a few lessons for today’s audiences. AIDS doesn’t carry the impact it once did but the lingering effects of the dreaded disease still affects a generation who lived through some pretty rough times when it was a relatively unknown killer that ravaged the gay community. So this play basically is a gentle nudge- a reminder of what once was and how it is affecting that same community still today.

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Michael Keyloun as Will confronts Darrie Lawrence as Katharine in the Rep Studio production of “Mothers And Sons.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

A Rep and St. Louis acting treasure, Darrie Lawrence, plays Katharine- an older woman decked out in fur as she marvels at the beautiful view from a New York apartment in Manhattan’s Central Park West at play’s open. The young man she is talking to is Cal, who once was her deceased son’s (Andre) partner some twenty years in the past. She has popped in unexpectedly to confront him with two questions that have been festering for all these years- did he turn her son gay and did he give him the AIDS that killed him? From the beginning Harry Bouvy as Cal treats her with respect and calmly answers her questions- outlandish as they seem.

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Michael Keyloun as Will is reassured by Harry Bouvy as Cal in “Mothers And Sons” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Peter Wochniak

In those years since her son has died, Cal has moved on and has married (something that was not possible when Andre was still alive) his current partner, Will. He and their son Bud are in the park and soon arrive to create even more tension and perhaps begin to bring some sense of closure to her long and unhappy life. Michael Keyloun is a marvel as Will and he and Mr. Bouvy create a chemistry on stage that is truly believable. In fact, the entire cast including a marvelous Simon Desilets as Bud, elevate this script above soap opera into a very touching and relevant story. Shouting, accusations and a search for answers all dominate the action.

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Will and Cal embrace while Bud starts to warm up Katharine’s heart in the Rep Studio production of “Mothers And Sons.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Director Michael Evan Haney is also responsible for controlling the schmaltz factor and making this more than just a rehash of many other AIDS stories from the past including some by playwright McNally. He brings a toughness and tenderness to the proceedings that are a perfect balance and has the cast with the chops to deliver. The James Wolk set design is a bit complicated at first glance with and in-the-round feel with four jutting corners where action takes place throughout. It’s never distracting however and the play flows through the living room/kitchen areas quite nicely.

John Wylie’s lights enhance the set and Elizabeth Eisloeffel’s costumes are appropriate including Katharine’s coat which almost becomes a character all by itself- at least a broad expression of her character.

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Darrie Lawrence as Katharine listens intently to Simon Desilets as Bud in the Rep Studio production of “Mothers And Sons.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

“Mothers And Sons” opens the current Rep Studio Theatre season and, while not covering a whole lot of new ground, is a bright and witty script by Terrence McNally with his usual pathos. It works and will still bring a tear to your eye as the final, touching scene brings full closure (hopefully) to several lives. It plays at the Studio of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 13th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

 

“Until The Flood”At The Rep Takes A Sober Look At Ferguson And Beyond

October 19, 2016
Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

Dael Orlandersmith as teacher “Louisa Hemphill” that opens “Until The Flood” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting a commissioned piece on their Mainstage that originated in their Ignite series of new plays. “Until The Flood” was written by and is performed by Dael Orlandersmith and opens up the discussion once again about the events in Ferguson and the national stage where it all played out. Of course, it’s still playing out in cities across the country but her one-woman show focuses on the citizens that were first affected by the tragedy.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

Orlandersmith’s version of “Rusty Harden” during the Rep production of “Until The Flood.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Playing eight characters in the span of 70 minutes, Ms. Orlandersmith brings pain, wisdom and enlightenment to the subject through a compilation of people she interviewed that were either in the mix or were affected by the events of the Michael Brown shooting. From teacher Louisa Hemphill to barber Reuben Little to a student who just wants to learn without fear and on to others who speak their minds about how this event changed lives forever. At times gritty, at times hopeful, these are real stories from real people and, no matter what opinions you hear, they are all valid points to consider and ruminate as the problems continue.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

“Connie” sips wine and speaks her mind in Dael Orlandersmith’s “Until The Flood” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Director Neel Keller has brought Orlandersmith’s words and insights to the stage with power and sensitivity. One can’t help but be moved by her words and her performance. As she stoops over a chair playing a male character named Rusty or maybe sips wine as Connie as she opines on the events and their aftermath, she brings an intensity to each individual that you can believe and feel for. Paul, the student, simply sits backwards on a chair and you can feel his hurt and his desire to leave it all in the past and just continue his studies without fear of reproach or confrontation. It’s a dazzling tour de force that will undoubtedly live way beyond the Rep.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

Young student, “Paul” expresses his feelings of restlessness during the Rep production of “Until The Flood.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

The spare but effective set featuring several acting areas for the various character is the creation of Takeshi Kata. Along with lighting designer Mary Louise Geiger, they have built a memorial to, not only Michael Brown, but all the lives that have paid for hatred and bigotry over the years. It’s a chilling moment as the dark candles that are part of that memorial that ring the stage slowly come to life towards play’s end when Orlandersmith utters the provocative final words before black out. It just gives you chills.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

“Dougray Smith” has a different point of view as Dael Orlandersmith presents her “Until The Flood” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Kaye Voyce’s costumes are precise accommodating each of the eight characters and the projection design of Nicholas Hussong becomes part of the story as the large screen at backstage expands and shrinks through each individual tale. This is a complex subject that takes on a real feel as it attempts to break down the events that have shaped our lives locally and on a global scale over the past several years.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

“Reuben Little” talks as he sweeps his barber shop in the Rep production of “Until The Flood.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

“Until The Flood” is a heart breaking but hopeful story that should be seen by just so many people- you should be one of them. I love when readings of the Ignite series and its predecessor make it to the Mainstage or Studio Theatre and this one is a natural. It plays through November 6th at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Contact them at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

All Hail “The Rocky Horror Show” As Stray Dog Opens Their New Season

October 17, 2016
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Michael Juncal as Frank ‘N’ Furter is delighted to see the scantily clad Kevin O’Brien and Heather Matthews in the Stray Dog production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Photo: John Lamb

Nothing says Fall and Halloween better than a production of “The Rocky Horror Show” and Stray Dog brings it back with all of the zaniness, crowd reactions and scantily clad lads and lassies. If you’re familiar with the stage show or the movie (and who isn’t?), you’ll have a great time. If this is your “first time,” the audience alone will draw you in because you may miss most of the song lyrics due to some poor diction and the on stage band.

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Michael Juncal lets it all hang out as Frank ‘N’ Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

But don’t let that little problem hold you back- this show is wild and chaotic and, at Stray Dog, it’s all over the place. Willing or unwilling audience participation is the order of the night as the actors often get up close and personal and, of course, the audience often talks back especially to yell “Asshole” every time Brad is mentioned and “Slut” every time Janet’s name crosses someone’s lips. That’s why “Rocky Horror” is more of an event than a play or musical. Program no-no’s may prevent what you often get away with watching the movie (which an awful lot of people did at midnight showings for over two decades) like shooting water pistols, lighting up lighters or other things that could impinge on an already hectic show. But all the fun and nonsensical plot twists are there along with big numbers like “The Time Warp,” “Hot Patootie” and “Science Fiction.”

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Michael Juncal leads the way in the orgy that is “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Michael Juncal leads the way as Frank ‘N’ Furter- the “Sweet Transvestite From Transexual Transylvania” as his large frame bounces around the stage in lab coat or corset. He leads an alien race, don’t you know, who have come to keep Earthlings from destroying their own planet. Meanwhile, Brad (Asshole) and Janet (Slut) have car trouble and stumble on his castle and all of the crazy inhabitants.

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Luke Steingruby makes his appearance as Rocky in the Stray Dog production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Photo: John Lamb

Kevin O’Brien plays the nerdy Brad (Asshole) and Heather Matthews makes a lovely Janet (Slut). They soon loose their inhibitions as the crew of Phantoms release their libidos. Luke Steingruby makes a svelte and tanned Rocky- the creation of and lusted after by Juncal’s Frank ‘N’ Furter- though he finds Janet (Slut) a bit more to his liking. Corey Fraine, after his limber portrayal of Bat Boy last season, returns to play the equally flexible and over zealous Riff Raff. Michael A Wells plays the rocker Eddie and returns later as the inimitable Dr. Everett Scott.

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The Phantoms and Frank entice Brad (Asshole) and Janet (Slut) during “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

Maria Bartolotta does a great job as Magenta and the Usherette who opens and closes the show and Sara Rae Womack is a delightful Columbia. Always crisp, clear and concise is the wonderful Gerry Love as the Narrator. The ensemble of Phantoms is terrific as they mingle before the show and, as I said, have a lot of interaction with the audience during the performance.

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Michael A. Wells as Dr. Everett Scott explains a few things to the Phantoms during the Stray Dog production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Photo: John Lamb

Justin Been has directed with a real flair for what makes this show tick. He pulls out all the stops and then goes a bit further. It’s a wild, controlled evening that never lets up. Chris Petersen leads the Stray Dog band and, besides occasionally drowning out the often clever lyrics, they do a great job of keeping the place rocking. Rob Lippert does his usual masterful job of creating the proper set including the screen that drops down to show before performance, during intermission and at curtain call scenes from some of the tackiest horror shows ever written. Tyler Duenow creates the mood with his lighting design and Eileen Engel’s costumes hit the right mark. Rounding out the creative team is choreographer Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner who plows through this iconic show with excellent movement and just the right touch of bawdiness.

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The Phantoms seem to enjoy their visitor, Janet (Slut) during “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo:John Lamb

You know you want to see it. “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog Theatre is just crazy, nasty fun. It plays through Halloween Eve Eve- October 29th. So give them a call at 314-865-1995 to get in on the action.

Staging “Macbeth” Can Be Tricky- St. Louis Shakespeare Has A Lot To Be Proud Of With This One

October 12, 2016
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Ben Ritchie as Macbeth in the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: John Lamb

Just this year alone I’ve seen “Macbeth” at Opera Theatre, the wild “Trash Macbeth” at ERA and now this unusual but highly satisfying production at St. Louis Shakespeare. It’s all in the interpretation and Suki Peters and company have done a broad mix of styles and surprises including just a touch of their off the wall alter ego- Magic Smoking Monkey. This is truly a “Macbeth” for the ages- dark and contemporary ages blending on stage.

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The eerie witches pop up throughout the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Macbeth.” Photo: John Lamb

The classic three witches have a more prominent role in this production as they are scary with their predictions of Macbeth’s rise to power but then they take on the personas of household servants and others throughout the evening. Elizabeth Knocke, Taleesha Caturah and Katie Robinson provide the eerie sisters with a macabre feel which really carries over into their other duties as they “infiltrate” the rest of the play. They’re distinctive in manner and makeup and that makes them even creepier as the skulk around the castle.

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Maxwell Knocke provides tense moments for Macbeth as Banquo’s ghost in the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: John Lamb

Ben Ritchie has had a great career so far at both St. Louis Shakespeare and throughout the local stages but his interpretation of Macbeth is simply one of the best. He’s convincingly stern and at times malevolent as he handles some of Shakespeare’s greatest moments but there’s a twinkle in his eye and dastardly grin that accompany other moments and it’s unlike any other Macbeth we’ve seen. Great performance.

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Michelle Hand mesmerizes as Lady Macbeth in the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: John Lamb

Accompanying him in his nefarious machinations is another St. Louis treasure, Michelle Hand as Lady Macbeth. She is remarkable as she follows through with the guidance of the three witches and forces Macbeth’s hand in disposing of all of the obstacles in his way. Her hand washing scene as she sleepwalks through her nightmares is particularly effective. Maxwell Knocke is wonderful as the live and ghostly Banquo who helps drive Macbeth out of his mind and Scott McDonald is solid as the Thane of Ross.

Kim Curlee does a fine job as “dead man walking,” Duncan and his son, played by Eric Lindsey is equally powerful as he rises to power at play’s end. In a brilliant piece of interpretation by director Suki Peters, Macduff and Lady Macduff become a lesbian couple- which has serious and unusual implications during the final scene when Macbeth finds his head on a spike. Maggie Wininger is an outstanding Macduff and proves an able warrior while Wendy Farmer is superb as Lady Macduff fighting for her children.

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Maggie Wininger as Macduff and Eric Lindsey as Malcolm in the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Macbeth.” Photo: John Lamb

Chuck Brinkley provides the actual comedy relief in the play as the Porter along with other roles and another quirky interpretation is Dustin Allison’s Thane of Lennox who rattles nuts in his hand and pops them into his mouth during his scenes. Shane Signorino and Michael Pierce provide help as murders for hire- along with other roles and Dan McGee tackles a couple of roles as well. The rest of the ensemble shines as well.

Chuck Winning provides an effective set that includes a gnarly, large girthed tree at back center that provides a haunt for the witches and several others. Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design provides the proper mood including the various colors at the tree top that makes the witches even scarier. JC Krajicek’s costumes are spot on as well making both Mr. Ritchie and Ms. Hand look impressively royal and giving Ms. Wininger’s Macduff a skin tight leather number that dispels any thoughts that they might be trying to pass her off as a man.

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Ben Ritchie and Michelle Hand as the deadly duo in the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Macbeth.” Photo: John Lamb

Yes, this is “Macbeth” but you will be pleasantly surprised how fresh and approachable this production is. Suki Peters’ direction is clean and crisp and the touches of dark and not so dark humor and unusual touches throughout make for a treat around every corner of Scotland’s bonnie plains. It only plays through this week-end, October 16th at the Ivory Theatre so contact them at boxoffice@stlshakespeare.org to get tickets for this one.

“Suspended” At Upstream Theater Doesn’t Leave The Audience Dangling

October 11, 2016
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Phillip C. Dixon and Reginald Pierre in “Suspended” at Upstream Theater. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Opening their 12th season, Upstream Theater brings us an insightful one act that draws two former friends together and then seems to force them apart in “Suspended” by Israeli playwright Maya Arad Yasur. The title, the play itself and even the two characters seem to be metaphors for their lives and perhaps life in general.

As the audience enters, the two window washers hang suspended high over a big city behind a wall of non-existent glass. One is in plain sight, the other we just see his feet dangling above the top of the stage. They eventually settle in next to each other as Benjamin awkwardly lowers the ropes holding his small wooden seat that has his bucket, washer, squeegee and more hanging as precariously as he is. His friend Isaac has recommended him for the job which he claims is an easy way to make a buck.

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Reginald Pierre wipes the window during the Upstream Theater production of “Suspended.” Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

The two are immigrants have escaped a war ravaged country and, after some idle chatter about their homeland, they begin to delve deeper into their relationship and what happened before they were forced to leave. Benjamin probes while Isaac seems reluctant to go down that path. We eventually come to the crux of the problem that forced Isaac to do something rather despicable to allow Benjamin’s sister to escape an even more heinous fate.

But the journey is the entertaining part of this play as the two banter, scold each other- in particular Isaac reprimanding Benjamin for not bringing anything to eat. He shares his food and they seem to be settling back into a friendship until old wounds are reopened.

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Phillip C. Dixon as Benjamin and Reginald Pierre as Isaac in “Suspended” at Upstream Theater. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Reginald Pierre is a solid actor and he proves to be most capable seated in the same spot and only the occasional swipe of a large cloth-like sponge and the follow up wipe of a squeegee to break the monotony of not being able to move around the stage. Phillip C. Dixon is also wonderful as his friend Benjamin who drops the pithy and even sarcastic line from time to time. They have the camaraderie of old friends and make watching window washers highly gratifying. They often comment about the folks inside the “window” and wonder if they know they’re really being spied on. Benjamin even waxes philosophic on this phenomenon as he wonders since the stains are mostly on the inside- meaning the people they can never aspire to be- why are they wasting their time washing the outside.

Another great St. Louis actor and director, Linda Kennedy, has directed “Suspended” with a great feel for getting the most out of two actors on stage for over and hour and being physically stagnant. They move, jostle and even almost fall at one point, but the play and their dialogue is the thing and Ms. Kennedy makes the most of it.

The rest of the technical team also shine as the inspired set of Cristie Johnston is a marvel and the lights of Tony Anselm not only make the most of their suspended life but also indicates the passage of time and other significant moments within the play. Linda Kennedy also designed the appropriate costumes and Dan Strickland brings a nice sound design to the proceedings including appropriate traffic and other outdoor noises- subtle but effective. And, for the first and probably last time in any program anywhere, there’s even a credit for window washing consultant- that’s Matt Johnson. But hey, the guys have to look authentic.

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Phillip C. Dixon and Reginald Pierre wash windows and discuss life during the Upstream Theater production of “Suspended.” Photo: Pro PhotoSTL.com

As usual, Upstream Theater brings us provocative and thoughtful theatre. “Suspended” is a story that unfolds slowly but gets to the heart of the matter. Thanks to two outstanding performances and excellent direction, “Suspended” becomes a show that you shouldn’t miss. It plays at the Kranzberg Center and you can give them a call at 314-863-4999 for tickets or more information.

“Golda’s Balcony” At New Jewish Relives Her Strength As She Rose To Power

October 10, 2016
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Lavonne Byers on the set of “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arab nation brought about tensions that continued and even brought them to the brink of nuclear intervention. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed thanks to their Prime Minister, the first woman to hold that position, Golda Meir. In “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre, Lavonne Byers actually becomes this brave woman as she tells her story of struggle and doubt as she was thrust into a most dangerous and critical position that affected her country and the world at large.

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Henry Kissinger looms in the background during the NJT production of “Golda’s Balcony” with Lavonne Byers. Photo: John Lamb

Fighting the stigma of a woman in power along with the advice from people like Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Dayan and the hesitancy of U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger to provide aid to her country, she had to double down on her resolve to keep Israel safe and avoid nuclear war. “Golda’s Balcony,” by award winning playwright William Gibson, shows her reluctance, her fears and eventually her tenacity that made her one of the most respected leaders in modern history. As she says at one point, “Survival is a synonym for Jewish.”

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Lavonne Byers as Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Lavonne Byers is one of our treasured actresses encompassing a wide range of roles over the years she’s spent on local stages. It is incredible how she morphs into this role and, except for the distinguishing characteristic of Ms. Meir’s rather bulbous nose, she really captures her persona and demeanor. It’s an incredible performance that takes us on an incredible 95 minute journey through stages of her life as well as the incredible guts she displayed in resolving the possibility of one of the worst catastrophes of the modern world.

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Golda Meir (Lavonne Byers) retells a story as she contemplates the outcome of war during “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The various players in the events that occurred during this tempestuous time are all brought to the forefront and we’re treated to a history lesson like no other. Gibson’s superb script keeps you on the edge of your seat as one actress holds your attention and creates suspense with some much needed touches of humor throughout.

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Lavonne Byers as Golda Meir seeking God’s intervention in her struggle during the New Jewish production of “Golda’s Balcony.” Photo: John Lamb

Henry I. Schvey returns to NJT to direct Lavonne Byers and he has molded her into this wonderful force to be reckoned with. He obviously has a powerful grasp on the story and the timeline of the incidents described in the play and he has crafted a riveting production. Helping out is the magnificent set designed by Peter and Margery Spack- powerful beams overshadowing the office space of Golda Meir with the back walls becoming a screen to project the actual photos from the encounters she faced during her tenure.

Kimberly Klearman’s lights also enhance the mood of the production and the costume chosen for Ms. Byers is the work of Michele Friedman Siler. Robin Weatherall also created a powerful sound design for the show.

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Lavonne Byers as Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony” at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Trying to hold on to land acquired during the six day war of 1967, Israel, led by Golda Meir, took a stand and avoided a nuclear war that could have destroyed the area and caused serious repercussions around the globe. See “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre through October 30th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.