Archive for November, 2012

So Many Jesi- So Little Time As Mustard Seed Brings “Imaginary Jesus” To The Stage

November 18, 2012

Matt and Imaginary Jesus have a chat in a Communist Cafe early in Mustard Seed Theatre’s production of “Imaginary Jesus.”

For those growing up Catholic- or in any religious home for that matter- the concept of praying to Jesus to forgive our sins, heal our wounds, help us pass tests and so on and so forth was just a matter of course. But what if those prayers weren’t answered? Is it really true that all prayers are answered but sometimes the answer is “no?” Or are you praying to the “wrong” Jesus? So goes the premise for Matt Mikalatos’ book- “Imaginary Jesus”- which has been adapted by Mustard Seed Theatre’s Artistic Director, Deanne Jent, for the stage.

Matt- since this is somewhat autobiographical- opens the play but there are two of him. So Chad Morris takes on the role of “narrator” Matt while Robert Thibaut plays the “real” Matt on his quest for his own personal Jesus. The reason for this quest? Well, Matt’s son has died and he wants to know why Jesus has allowed this to happen. So he runs into Pete, played with a flair for the role by J. Samuel Davis. When Matt realizes that his new friend can see his personal embodiment of Jesus unlike anyone else in the “real” world, he discovers that Pete is really Peter, the Apostle. So Pete takes Matt into a wild and unlikely adventure to find the real Savior among all of the imaginary Jesi (or Jesuses) out there.

Matt and Matt (Robert Thibaut and Chad Morris) confront each other during “Imaginary Jesus” at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Meanwhile, Matt’s personal Jesus, played with a comic turn by Justin Ivan Brown, is hurt but understands that He can’t really answer the many questions Matt has from a truly theological standpoint. So we meet Motorcycle Jesus, Barrister Jesus, Hippie Jesus and a “host” of others along the way. We even run into a talking donkey, Daisy, played with uncanny realism by Michelle Hand and even Barrack Obama, given a deft portrayal by Kyle Powell. Julie Venegoni is terrific as Matt’s wife while Nicole Angeli also shines as his sometimes confidant. All the while, Morris and Thibaut deliver a powerful twosome as the dueling Matts working in tandem like a well-oiled machine.

An outstanding supporting cast change costumes and identities throughout to give us several versions of Jesus as well as other notables along the way including a nice performance by Amy Loui as Mary. Her sequence turns this almost Monty Python-esque journey a bit more serious as Matt perhaps finds his way. Maybe not to the “real” Jesus but at least to some comfort with his “imaginary” Jesus. It’s a wild ride that takes the audience on a- some may say blasphemous- but a dandy escape into a surreal world that may change your idea of religion forever.

Robert Thibaut as Matt comforts his wife, played by Julie Venegoni in Mustard Seed Theatre’s production of “Imaginary Jesus.”

Deanna Jent has directed this lovely little story with style and panache. You can’t help but fall in love with this zany cast of Jesi and those searching for the truth. Dunsi Dai has created an unbelievable two level set that represents the Oregon wilderness above and a multiple set of rolling triangles and moveable staging that transforms us into various real and unreal sections of Matt’s world below. The Michael Sullivan lighting design adds to the wonder and the hilarious series of costumes and beards by JC Kracijek keep the marvelous feeling flowing in the right direction.

You may not get “awe-struck” by “Imaginary Jesus,” but you’ll have a lot of fun, laughs and thought-provoking moments along the way. This madcap journey plays through December 2nd at Mustard Seed Theatre at Fontbonne University. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 or get online at http://www.mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information. You don’t want to miss this one.

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Two Powerful Actresses Help WEPG’s “This Wide Night” Give Power To An Extended One-Act

November 12, 2012

Jane Abling and Rachel Hanks share a pizza and conversation during “This Wide Night” at West End Players Guild. Photo credit: John Lamb.

This Chloe Moss drama is really a character study about two women who shared a prison cell and are both trying to cope with the outside world- and each other- in the squalor of a London tenement. Thanks to two great performances, “This Wide Night” transcends its simple premise and gives us a raw, gritty look at two lost souls as brought to us by West End Players Guild.

Marie, the younger of the two women, has been out of prison for a while. Intruding her uneasy life is her former cellmate, Lorraine who has just been released and looks up her old “buddy.” Tension fills the small room immediately as Marie- a nervous wreck already- greets her friend with hostility and almost manic behavior. Lorraine tries to rekindle the bond they achieved behind bars but there’s always a space between them. As one draws closer, the other pulls away. It’s a cat and mouse game of trying to reach out but allowing mistrust and fear to get in the way.

Rachel Hanks gives a wonderful performance as the angelic yet devious Marie. She has secrets that keep her from forming a kinship with Lorraine and, as we see later, may endanger her life. Jane Abling brilliantly plays off this psychosis as Lorraine and brings a power to the stage that is subtle yet effective. These two must have wrung themselves emotionally and physically during the rehearsal process because they are truly giving their all on stage.

Jane Abling comforts Rachel Hanks during a powerful moment in West End Players Guild production of “This Wide Night.” Photo credit: John Lamb.

Director Sean Ruprecht-Belt has taken this week long event in these two women’s lives and brought us a gripping story that seems slight but packs a punch as it unfolds in eleven scenes over an hour and a half. It can be excruciating at times, but it’s all worth it to see these two actresses at the top of their game. There’s no program credit for dialogue coach but, with a few exceptions, the ladies held their rich dialect true to form throughout. The squalid studio apartment is perfectly rendered by Tim Grumich and Tony Anselmo’s lights add to the pathos.

Not what you may expect, “This Wide Night” gives an insight into a world few of us may ever experience. It was commissioned by Clean Break- a theatre company in England working with women in the criminal justice system. So it’s a slice of real life from a grittier and darker side that shows just how difficult it is to adjust after the horrors of prison life. See “This Wide Night” at WEPG through November 18th. Contact them at http://www.westendplayers.org for tickets or more information.

 

Unusual Premise Explores Deeper Issues In R-S Theatrics Premiere Production of “Suicide, Incorporated”

November 10, 2012

Mark Kelley, Charlie Barron and B. Weller discuss the finer points of a suicide note in R-S Theatric’s production of “Suicide, Incorporated.”

After a reading last year of Chicago playwright Andrew Hinderaker’s “Suicide, Incorporated,” Artistic Director Christina Rios and R-S Theatrics brings a fully staged production to our town with wonderful results. Laced with humor- including the wild premise- this one-act play delves into several disturbing issues that leave you thinking long after the play is over.

B. Weller gives a riveting performance as Scott, owner and operator of Legacy Letters- a fictional company that assists people with suicidal tendencies to “beef up” their suicide letters left for loved ones or, in some cases, anyone who may care. Facing a diminishing clientele, he hires a former Hallmark Card whiz kid, Jason, to increase business. Mark Kelley gives a moving and tortured performance as Jason who has ulterior motives for taking the job- he also volunteers for a suicide prevention hotline and feels responsible for losing his younger brother to suicide.

Charlie Barron bares his soul to Mark Kelley in R-S Theatric’s production of “Suicide, Incorporated.”

As the haunting presence of that brother, Tommy, Aaron Dodd is perfectly cast as a look alike for Jason and displays the same tortured soul. Enter Charlie Barron as Norm as the first client for Jason who tries to lure Norm away from the office and spying eyes of Scott. Barron gives a wrenching performance throughout but particularly in his soliloquy about what led him to these macabre thoughts. There’s also a delightfully comic performance by Mark Saunders as disgruntled employee, Perry, of Legacy Letters who sees his usefulness evaporate as this “new guy” begins to take over. Rounding out the cast is Andrew Keller as a police officer who becomes the catalyst tying two of the suicides together.

Exploring the phenomenon of male suicide and the angst of “victims” left behind, “Suicide, Incorporated” delves into rare territory to bring issues to the forefront that are seldom discussed- for good reason. With touches of humor and pathos, this play and the five outstanding actors make us laugh and squirm a little as we’re confronted with some of these heretofore back-burner subjects. Congrats to R-S Theatrics for once again bringing us challenging works on stage.

Charlie Barron, Aaron Dodd and Mark Kelley in R-S Theatric’s production of “Suicide, Incorporated.”

The creative team once again draws us into this play on a small stage particularly the great lighting design of Dave Hahn which covers the numerous transitions through three acting areas with perfect fluidity. This off-beat Andrew Hinderaker script is not for everyone, but it makes for powerful theatre. And you can’t beat the solid acting ensemble along with strong direction by Christina Rios. Catch “Suicide, Incorporated” at R-S Theatrics at the Gaslight Square Theatre through November 18th. Call them at 314-968-8070 for tickets or more information.