Archive for August, 2013

Exemplary Cast, Superb Direction, Outrageous Script Make “The Lyons” A Hit At Max & Louie Productions

August 23, 2013
Judi Mann as Rita and Bobby Miller as Ben in Max & Louie's production of "The Lyons." Photo: John Lamb

Judi Mann as Rita and Bobby Miller as Ben in Max & Louie’s production of “The Lyons.” Photo: John Lamb

Director Wayne Salomon works his magic once again with Nicky Silver’s already hilarious script of the ultimate dysfunctional family in “The Lyons,” the final offering of the season at Max & Louie Productions. Father is dying and cantankerous, mother is self-centered and detached, daughter is a recovering- but not quite fully recovered- alcoholic and son is gay but can’t sustain any relationship in his family or his non-existent social life- including those he makes up. Toss in a wise-cracking nurse and a psychotic real estate agent and you’ve got the makings for a funny, occasionally touching and always incredible journey through life, death and everything in between.

Bobby Miller is still at the top of his game as he acts and reacts beautifully from a hospital bed in the first act where he, as Ben Lyons, is waiting to die from cancer invading his entire body. Everything seems to irritate him- especially his exasperating wife who seems more interested in changing the decor of her living room than the fact that her husband is about to die. Trading epithets and salty language, the two don’t appear to have been functioning as a unit since they first got married. But despite ranting from a hospital bed, Mr. Miller draws the attention with his oversized glasses and pithy remarks- all the while reacting to everything and everyone around him. From dabbing his napkin into a water glass to get some much needed moisture to his lips to purposely exaggerated reactions to what is being said about him, he is a delight to watch and listen to as Mr. Silver’s brilliant dialogue falls effortlessly from those napkin-moistened lips.

Megan Maguire, Bobby Miller and Charlie Barron in "The Lyons" at Max & Louie. Photo: John Lamb

Megan Maguire, Bobby Miller and Charlie Barron in “The Lyons” at Max & Louie. Photo: John Lamb

Coming out from a too-long retirement to play his wife, Rita Lyons, is the wonderful Judi Mann. She hasn’t lost a step as she tossed off one-liners like bon-bons to a hungry audience waiting for her next zinger. She freely admits at one point that she couldn’t resist the loving look on Ben’s face when they first met and, although she hoped to eventually fall in love with him, she never did. But it seems she never really fell in love with anybody- her husband, her children or her friends. She pages through architectural magazines hoping to find something new for her living room where- as she puts it- “even the carpet has been matted down with resignation.” And further proof of her detachment from her family comes when it’s discovered she had a gun for about a week and planned to shoot Ben. “I got rid of it,” she said, “it was just a whim.” Let’s keep Ms. Mann on stage in our town- what a treat it is to see her taking command of a character again.

The delightful Meghan Maguire (winner of last year’s Best Actress St. Louis Critic’s Circle Award for “Talley’s Folly”) plays the daughter, Lisa, who is coping with alcoholism, a non-attentive sponsor for same and the sudden re-entry into her life of her errant husband who used to beat her. She’s not very sure of herself and thus has trouble coping with life in general and now is upset that her father’s impending death was suddenly sprung on her and her brother even though her mother knew about it for some time. Her sudden return to the bottle emphasizes her weakness and the weakness of the family Lyons in particular. Ms. Maguire manages to make her character equal parts sympathetic and perplexing, making for lots of laughs and some heart-wrenching moments as well.

Julie Layton as the nurse attends to Bobby Miller as Ben while Judi Mann and Meghan Maguire look on in "The Lyons" at Max & Louie. Photo: John Lamb

Julie Layton as the nurse attends to Bobby Miller as Ben while Judi Mann and Meghan Maguire look on in “The Lyons” at Max & Louie. Photo: John Lamb

Son Curtis is given a powerful performance by Charlie Barron. His father was disappointed when no one else wanted to call him “Hilly” after his father and then later was disappointed again with his sexual orientation. Although Ben claims that his son doesn’t like him either, there’s some real love displayed but again that anti-social bent to his character won’t allow him to carry on a relationship with anyone. He has made up an imaginary lover who he calls Peter but the family soon finds out that he doesn’t exist. Mr. Barron gets to really display his acting chops in the second act when he takes over his father’s bed in the hospital after being pummeled by an aggressive real estate agent who he manages to alienate when we discover this was the inspiration for his “Peter” fantasy.

Julie Layton is simply perfect as the snippy nurse who also gets to shine in the second act when she tries to intimidate Curtis as he refuses to eat his hospital food. In a way, she reflects the Lyons family with her off-hand manner and often flippant attitude. A performance that fits right in with their dysfunctional lifestyle. Rounding out the cast as that bellicose but belligerent real estate guy played with that mixture of nice and nasty by Aaron Orion Baker. It’s a fascinating scene that opens up Act II as Curtis is looking at a one-room apartment but it soon turns ugly as secrets are revealed and boundaries are crossed.

Aaron Orion Baker as Brian shows an apartment to Charlie Barron as Curtis in the Max & Louie production of "The Lyons." Photo: John Lamb

Aaron Orion Baker as Brian shows an apartment to Charlie Barron as Curtis in the Max & Louie production of “The Lyons.” Photo: John Lamb

The Justin Barisonek set design is properly functional and is enhanced by the Maureen Berry lighting design. Kevin Reed’s costumes are right on the mark and Amanda Werre’s sound design set the mood perfectly. One sad note from this production- one of the beloved puppies that this company was named after- Louie, died on July 31st at the age of 12.

For enough laughs for a lifetime, get down to COCA’s Black Box Theatre and catch Max & Louie’s production of Nicky Silver’s “The Lyons.” With a great cast and pin-point precision direction that keeps the action moving, this is the one to see. Give them a call at 314-795-8778 for tickets or more information.

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Theatre Lab Starts On The Right Foot With Provocative “Sunset Limited”

August 11, 2013
Robert A. Mitchell and Zachary Allen Farmer in Theatre Lab's "The Sunset Limited." Photo: John Lamb

Robert A. Mitchell and Zachary Allen Farmer in Theatre Lab’s “The Sunset Limited.” Photo: John Lamb

Ryan Foizey, a well respected actor in town, has a new start-up theatre group called Theatre Lab and he has chosen a thought-provoking vehicle for his first production, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Sunset Limited.” Directed by Mr. Foizey, two of our best local actors- Zachary Allen Farmer and Robert A. Mitchell- make this play come alive with grit, drive and a remarkable chemistry.

True guardian angel or just a religious zealot? That’s the first question that comes to mind after viewing this intense two-person drama. Known only as “Black” and “White,” Black, Robert A. Mitchell’s character, has saved White from committing suicide by throwing himself in front of the speeding Sunset Limited as it roars through town. White claims he looked around before attempting the act and saw no one- asking Black how he got there and how he pulled him from danger. The fact that Black has brought White back to his shabby apartment to recuperate sparks a lively conversation about religion, life and death, and the worth of one’s life. Although anxious to go, White can’t seem to pull himself away from his enigmatic savior. Finally, in a burst of rage, he angrily leaves Black’s apartment with a vow to somehow finish what he started.

Zachary Allen Farmer’s work has almost exclusively been with Scott Miller’s New Line Theatre- in other words- in musicals. Not a likely choice from first glance for musicals either, he has proven himself over the years to be an accomplished musical talent in both supporting roles and, in the case of two recent New Line successes, as a leading man in “Two Gentlemen Of Verona” and most recently as drunken beat generation writer Charles Bukowski in “Bukowsical.” His work in “The Sunset Limited” is superlative and could lead to even meatier roles in straight plays and even comedies- although we hope he continues to “wow” us with his work in musicals.

Zachary Allen Farmer and Robert A. Mitchell discuss life and death during a moment in "The Sunset Limited" at Theatre Lab. Photo: John Lamb

Zachary Allen Farmer and Robert A. Mitchell discuss life and death during a moment in “The Sunset Limited” at Theatre Lab. Photo: John Lamb

Bob Mitchell has been on the St. Louis scene for a long time and even headed up his own company- The NonProphet Theatre Company- until it closed a year or so ago. We know his talent is immense with his great performances over the years but he brings something really special to “The Sunset Limited.” With a wide range of emotions from outbursts of pure joy to intense anguish to the wrung-out powerful final moments, this is a performance that will be a powerful highlight in an already wonderful career. Unfortunately, he informed us after the show that this will be his last St. Louis appearance on stage as he is planning a move to New Orleans. We wish him luck and success there and are thankful that we got one last chance to see him here.

Besides directing “The Sunset Limited” with a masterful hand and eye for detail, Mr. Foizey, along with David Blake, created the realistic set with a strong lighting design provided by Tyler Duenow. Marcy Wiegert brought a comfortable and effective costume design to the professor and the preacher as well.

It’s always an iffy proposition to bring a new player into the St. Louis theatre scene but we’re always happy to see someone take that leap of faith. With a positive concept and outlook for Theatre Lab, I believe Ryan Foizey may have found a niche in that scene and we look forward to what he can bring to the stage in the future. He certainly succeeds on a grand scale with his initial effort- thanks to his own vision and the work of the two powerful actors that bring this script to vivid life. Catch “The Sunset Limited” on stage at the Gaslight Theatre through August 17th. Call 314-599-3309 for tickets or more information.

Muny Caps Their Best Season Yet With Vivid Production Of “West Side Story”

August 7, 2013

WestSideStory300x300There’s a whole new buzz at the Muny and the emphasis is on quality. Each production has sizzled with top to bottom talent in the cast, excellent direction and technical work that fits the vast Muny stage. This, the last week of the 2013 season, brings us the iconic Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents tale of Romeo and Juliet set in 1957 New York City, “West Side Story.” We haven’t had the heat we usually have on St. Louis summer nights at the Muny, but this production cranks up the heat on stage with superb voices and director Gordon Greenberg and choreographer Chris Bailey recreating the original Jerome Robbins masterpiece moves.

For me, nothing comes closer to perfection through song, dance and story than the wonderful “Dance At The Gym” sequence where Tony and Maria first meet. The flow of rhythms and melodies and the tension created between the Sharks and Jets is all drawn out in this single, exquisite moment in the world of musical theatre. At the Muny on opening night, it was like stepping back in time and viewing it in a jaw-dropping moment with a fresh, new look. But there are so many moments like this in “West Side Story” and they just continue to unfold as the night goes on.

Kyle Dean Massey is perfect as the hesitant Tony, approached by his old buddy, Riff- played (and danced) in spectacular fashion by Curtis Holbrook. Refusing to rejoin the Jets for a seminal showdown with the Sharks, Tony is soon drawn in anyway after seeing Maria and meeting with opposition from the leader of the Sharks, Bernardo- skillfully crafted by Manuel Herrera. As Maria, Ali Ewoldt displays a compassionate yet reluctant demeanor and brings a sweet, crystal clear soprano to Maria- especially in the striking duet of “Tonight” with Tony.

Natalie Cortez sizzles as well with the rousing “America” number and the lively competition-like lyrics and dance from the Puerto Rican Sharks and their “girls.” She also shines in the touching duet with Maria where they both discover something about love and hate, “A Boy Like That/I Have A Love.” The strong supporting cast includes a tightly wound Drew Foster as Action, Kaitlin Mesh as the tomboy Anybodys, Jon Rua as Chino- whose death starts the hard core action in motion, Ken Page as Doc who tries to keep peace in his drugstore ¬†and Rich Pisarkiewicz and Michael James Reed as the bumbling police officers.

The striking ironwork set by Robert Mark Morgan is as versatile as it is beautiful and the added lights of Rob Dennon and projections of Nathan W. Scheuer add to the “original” feel of this production. Kudos as well to the costumes of Andrea Lauer and the magnificent work by the Muny orchestra under the helm of James Moore. This was a big, bold sound worthy of such a powerful show. I don’t think you’ll hear any complaints from the folks lucky enough to catch this final show of the Muny season. It is as strong a production as we’ve seen on stage in St. Louis in some time. Catch “West Side Story” as it plays through this Sunday, August 11th in Forest Park.