Archive for September, 2013

Imaginative One Act, “Lonesome Hollow,” Raises Questions In WEPG’s Opener

September 30, 2013
B. Weller, Elizabeth Graverman and Jeff Kargus in WEPG's "Lonesome Hollow." Photo: John Lamb

B. Weller, Elizabeth Graverman and Jeff Kargus in WEPG’s “Lonesome Hollow.” Photo: John Lamb

Some fine actors traverse through Lee Blessing’s long one-act, “Lonesome Hollow,” and at the end, we’re still wondering who’s more perverse, the “inmates” accused of sex crimes, or the facility personnel who show some pretty odd behavior as well. Lonesome Hollow is the name of the town which is really a prison for sex offenders and the more serious cases are trapped there as are the folks who are lesser offenders but appear to be there at the whim of a government entity who perceive them to be dangerous. Set in the not-too-distant future, it’s another cautionary tale of how far those in power can go if unleashed to do what they think is right. This is West End Players Guild opening play of their new season.

Jeff Kargus is powerful as the prisoner who is there because his book of photographs of nude women is considered pornographic. How long is he there? Seems that’s up to the staff at Lonesome Hollow. Despite certain promises, he never seems to be able to gain his freedom. Along with him is a serious child molester who seems unapologetic and has developed some serious addictions and strange behaviors. B. Weller plays Nye with broad but appropriate strokes and provides some of the sparse but much needed humor in a script that slams the point home with sledgehammer strokes. Tuck, the character played by Kargus, has been building a labyrinth that becomes the focal point of the scene and of the story. Several people traverse the labyrinth throughout the evening but no one ever really completes the spiritual and calming journey which also provides a metaphor for this prison town. The sound of almost non-stop random gunfire is heard in the distance and this is used as a further incentive to keep the prisoners in tow. Is it hunters as they speculate, snipers picking off those who try to escape or is it all fake?

Rachel Hanks and Mark Abels share angry remarks in "Lonesome Hollow" at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Rachel Hanks and Mark Abels share angry remarks in “Lonesome Hollow” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Elizabeth Graverman is stern and shifty as a staff member, Mills, who may be a guard or even more authoritative figure. As her cohort in crime against these powerless victims is Glover, played with conviction by Mark Abels. Both show their seamier side as the play marches on and, if not for somehow gaining the power, could easily be prisoners in their own little dictatorship. Rounding out the cast is Rachel Hanks as Tuck’s sister who comes to visit him and winds up being threatened herself in this degenerate game of cat and mouse played out by Mills and Glover.

Robert Ashton has directed with a flair for the sordid and despicable premise and- not only gets your blood boiling- but leaves plenty of questions for you to digest once the long evening is over. “Lonesome Hollow” is very reflective of what’s going on in our political situation today with one party trying to hold the rest of the country hostage. Stubbornly refusing to give in to freedoms, they go off the edge to make everyone subservient to how they perceive society should act and the extreme punishment for those who don’t conform. Of course, as I said, as we so often see, the people in power become immune to their own brand of justice. Ken Clark has designed the simple but effective labyrinth centered by a tree stump and Nathan Schroeder’s lights enhance this bizarre story. Beth Ashby has provided appropriate costumes for this somewhat futuristic setting- suits, ties and severe looks for those in charge and a more casual attire for those who have no hope for the future.

Jeff Kargus and Mark Abels discuss Tuck's fate in WEPG's "Lonesome Hollow." Photo: John Lamb

Jeff Kargus and Mark Abels discuss Tuck’s fate in WEPG’s “Lonesome Hollow.” Photo: John Lamb

“Lonesome Hollow” raises a lot of questions and food for thought but, as I said, it’s a bit too long (almost two hours without intermission) and it hammers the obvious points home so strongly that it almost overwhelms the audience. No nuance, no innuendo- it’s pretty clear where accomplished playwright Lee Blessing is trying to go with this one. But some fine performances keep you from squirming in your seat too often. Contact the West End Players Guild at 314-367-0025 or at westendplayers.org for tickets or more information. “Lonesome Hollow” runs through October 6th.

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“Topdog/Underdog” Offers “Top” Notch Acting With, At Times, An “Under”Whelming Script

September 23, 2013
Reginald Pierre as Lincoln tries to explain the finer parts of three card monte to his brother Booth (Chauncy Thomas) in "Topdog/Underdog" at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

Reginald Pierre as Lincoln tries to explain the finer parts of three card monte to his brother Booth (Chauncy Thomas) in “Topdog/Underdog” at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting a wonderful acting lesson with two St. Louis actors at their best in Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog.” But when you have the two characters in the play named Booth and Lincoln, you know the outcome of the play, and you just hope getting there is worth the journey. Well, it is thanks to Chauncy Thomas and Reginald Pierre as two black brothers who are living together in a cramped apartment. They make the journey worthwhile even though this Pulitzer Prize winning script isn’t always as tight as you’d hope it would be.

On top of the somewhat contrived premise of the names, Lincoln is donning a beard, long coat and top hat at his job which is playing Abraham Lincoln pretending to be sitting at the theatre where people then come in and shoot him from behind. Who thought this up as entertainment? There was a one-act I saw many years ago called “I Married Irene Because She Has Eyes Like Abraham Lincoln.” That was a comedy with basically the same outcome when the couple went to a costume party and she was dressed as Honest Abe and was shot by a man dressed as Booth. This is a drama, however, and it not only loses credibility with this outrageous premise, but also has a lot of dialogue that sounds like a rehash of what the brothers have been talking about all their lives. Plus a lot of repetition is prevalent in the script.

Their mother left and, two years later, their father abandoned them as well when Lincoln was 16 and Booth 13. Lincoln’s marriage has broken up and he moves into this small apartment with his brother where the bathroom is down the hall and the only thing in the place is a bed and a chair (where Lincoln sleeps) and milk crates with a piece of heavy cardboard resting on top. Booth opens the action by practicing his three card monte on the cardboard and it’s obvious he couldn’t fool any “marks” in the pretend audience with his slow moves and even lamer patter. Lincoln, coming home from his job- which is in jeopardy due to the boss thinking a wax figure of Lincoln might be more feasible- and refuses, once again, to even touch the cards. He was “the man” back in the day but an unfortunate incident cost him one of his friends and he doesn’t want to start the “game” again.

Chauncy Thomas (as Booth) starts to confront his brother Lincoln (Reginald Pierre) in STLAS' "Topdog/Underdog." Photo: John Lamb

Chauncy Thomas (as Booth) starts to confront his brother Lincoln (Reginald Pierre) in STLAS’ “Topdog/Underdog.” Photo: John Lamb

Chauncy Thomas is powerful as the scheming Booth. He doesn’t work so Lincoln’s pitiful job is the only thing keeping them in the miserable apartment. Thomas is outrageous and bodacious as he brags about his inept three card monte (he even wants to be called “three card”) and his way with his (real or imagined) relationship with his old flame, Grace. He lives by his wits and petty theft but keeps his hopes high for learning to deal like his brother. Reginald Pierre is also wonderful as the often quiet and understated Lincoln. He’s the older and wiser and tries to keep Booth’s anger and his dreams from getting the best of him. They work marvelously together and despite the discrepancies in the script, make believers out of us. Their pain, their moments of joy and their eventual resolution on being abandoned as children are all highly charged and convincing.

Director Elizabeth Helman does a beautiful job in wringing every emotion from the script. She adds a humanity that is rare to find on a stage and you know these brother truly love each other- as we see tenderly brought out in the final, heart-wrenching seconds of the play. Christie Johnston has given us a truly realistic set design and the Patrick Huber lights add to the squalor of the surroundings. Carla Evans costumes add the right touch from the Lincoln costume to the new threads “lifted” by Booth.

“Topdog/Underdog” is a tough play in its demeanor and often tough to watch as we peek into the hard life and even harder times now for these two brothers. But it’s a wonder to behold with two fine actors giving it their all with every gritty story and even grittier dialogue. Call 314-458-2978 for tickets. “Topdog/Underdog” runs through October 6th.

 

A New Interpretation Of “Cabaret” Opens The Rep Season

September 15, 2013
Liz Pearce as Sally and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Cliff in "Cabaret" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Liz Pearce as Sally and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Cliff in “Cabaret” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

No musical has undergone more incarnations than “Cabaret” and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has opened their new season with yet another. Using music from the original (1966), the film (1972) and the 1993 London re-do with Alan Cumming plus a combination of the various story lines from those productions, it offers a solid, if somewhat uneven evening.

The cast is basically very strong with Mary Gordon Murray leading the way as Fraulein Schneider- the landlady who takes in the young American writer, Clifford Bradshaw in Berlin as 1929 turns to 1930. She displays a strong singing voice and is an excellent actor as well. Her complacent “So What?” in the first act and desperate “What Would You Do?” in the second act are highlights. Michael Marotta is also quite good as one of her lodgers and eventual fiance, Herr Schultz. A Jew, he’s one of those who gets confused and therefore duped by the Nazi occupation. “Why should they come after me?” he implores, “after all, I’m a German, too.” And we all know how that turned out.

Nathan Lee Graham leads the gang at the Kit Kat Klub in the Rep's "Cabaret." Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Nathan Lee Graham leads the gang at the Kit Kat Klub in the Rep’s “Cabaret.” Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

As the cabaret singer and free spirit, Sally Bowles, Liz Pearce shines with a strong singing voice and wins us over with her optimistic outlook on life. Unfortunately, you can’t take that kind of attitude when your life is truly  in danger every minute. Her spectacular interpretation of the iconic title song is both poignant and moving.  As Cliff, her lover and sometimes mentor, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka adds another strong singing and acting performance to the main characters.

The entire supporting cast and singing and dancing troupe are powerful as well. With special nods to Dana Winkle as the lady of easy virtue who has a “wink-wink” relationship with Fraulein Schneider and her arrangement for earning the rent and to Blake Ellis as Cliff’s first friend, Ernst, who turns out to be one of the many Nazi sympathizers popping up among the local Berliners.

Michael Marotta as Herr Schultz and Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider in "Cabaret" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Michael Marotta as Herr Schultz and Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

An odd choice for characterization makes Nathan Lee Graham’s interpretation of the mysterious Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub a bit of a befuddlement to me. First, his strange speech pattern makes for some serious diction problems- especially during the musical numbers. He appears to be going for a cross between original emcee Joel Grey and Geoffrey Holder of the “uncola” nut fame. It’s often distracting and a little over the top- even for a character as precocious as the emcee. His best moment is the sultry “I Don’t Care Much” in the second act- a song from the London revival.

I found the song choices, on the whole, a nice mix of old and new. The delightful “Pineapple Song” between Schneider and Schultz is always a welcome treasure  as is the “Telephone Dance,” which also gets cut quite often in productions of late. And “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” is still one of the most chilling and chillingly effective songs in any musical. On the other hand,  I appreciate dipping back into the original for the wonderful “Sitting Pretty” but then they segue into the film version, “The Money Song.” They don’t really go together artistically or dramatically. I also found it a bit odd that the stage was not “cleaned up” for the second act after guns of confetti littered the whole area at the end of the first act.

Liz Pearce belts out the title song as Sally Bowles in the Rep's "Cabaret." Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Liz Pearce belts out the title song as Sally Bowles in the Rep’s “Cabaret.” Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

The delightful all girl Kit Kat Klub orchestra included Henry Palkes in drag and the orchestrations were nicely arranged by Christy Crowl. The dramatic lighting plot of John Lasiter worked well and the eclectic costumes of Angela Wendt were effective including some bizarre but appropriate outfits for the emcee. Although Michael Schweikardt’s set design was efficient and quick, it got a bit crowded and overlapped a bit too much at times which led to a few distractions in time and place.

“Cabaret” is another one of those bastions of the musical stage. It’s survived the various re-writes, re-musicalizations and reinterpretations. And, although I found this one a bit too disconcerting, it’s a worthwhile production with wonderful performances and those outstanding Kander and Ebb songs. It plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage through October 6th. Give the Rep a call at 314-968-4925 or contact them at http://www.repstl.org for tickets or more information.

An All Star (St. Louis Edition) Cast Leads The Way In A Gentle And Moving “Our Town”

September 13, 2013
Joneal Joplin brings order and compassion to "Our Town" at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

Joneal Joplin brings order and compassion to “Our Town” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

Insight Theatre Company closes their season with a unique, respectful production of Thornton Wilder’s American classic, “Our Town.” Some of the finest actors in town come together to tell this small town story of a turn-of-the-century hamlet in New Hampshire as it copes with war, love and marriage and death over the period of twelve years. Thanks to spot-on direction by Tom Martin, this tale comes through for the poignant and significant piece of Americana it is.

Joneal Joplin leads the way as the kindly and wise Stage Manager who guides us through the lives and loves of several of the people in Grover’s Corners starting in 1901. While letting us glimpse into these small town lives, he never lets us forget that we’re watching a play but truly experiencing life. We see Doc Gibbs and his family including young George and their next door neighbors, Editor Webb and his family including Emily. We know from the start that George and Emily are meant for each other and the Stage Manger lets us in as this story of their lives progresses through three acts separated by a three year span and then an additional nine years after the second intermission. Jack Dryden is the perfect “aw shucks” kind of young man as George who tends to neglect his homework for his dreams about playing professional baseball. He goes through a wonderful transformation of maturing and learning what he thinks life is all about and this young actor does a great job in showing all of those emotions.

We’re used to seeing Taylor Peitz in musicals but she really has the acting chops and brings them to the forefront as Emily Webb. She goes from awkward teenager to a poised woman and then shares a special insight in the final act. It’s a wonderful performance. As her father, Editor Webb, Alan Knoll delights from his sage advice to his future son-in-law to his handling of family problems. Another great St. Louis actress, Amy Loui is wonderful as his wife who also goes through a range of emotions and then is able to show Emily the true path to acceptance during a flashback in the third act.

George and Emily (Jack Dryden and Taylor Pietz) share their thoughts from their respective upper story bedrooms during Insight's "Our Town." Photo: John Lamb

George and Emily (Jack Dryden and Taylor Pietz) share their thoughts from their respective upper story bedrooms during Insight’s “Our Town.” Photo: John Lamb

On the other side of the fence, John Contini is a strong force in his family and in the community as Doc Gibbs. He displays the proper wisdom and compassion befitting the role and commands the stage by his very presence. Playing his wife, veteran actress Peggy Billo shines the the role. Her words of wisdom guide her family through the tough times and the good and she offers sage advice to Emily during the final scenes. Lily Orchard is also delightful as the fourth member of the Gibbs family, young Rebecca. Climbing the ladder representing the upstairs bedroom of George, she gets to end Act I with the wonderful Thornton Wilder perspective on the universe in general and the small town of Grovers Corners in particular.

A splendid supporting cast includes Michael Brightman as the church organist with a penchant for the bottle, Donna Weinsting as an overly emotional attendee at the wedding of George and Emily and Paul Balfe as a professor explaining the typography and history of Grovers Corners. The entire company combine to make this a memorable production of this American classic.

The wedding of George and Emily in "Our Town" at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

The wedding of George and Emily in “Our Town” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

With some unusual touches, director Tom Martin brings a fresh look to “Our Town.” As the Stage Manger opens the show, the town of Grovers Corners appears like a crime scene map from an old detective novel on the blackboard taking up the entire back of the stage. In addition, the name of the town is scribbled on one proscenium while the progression of dates and longitude and latitude of the town is written on the other. It’s a constant reminder that Thornton Wilder intended for the audience to be drawn in completely into  small town America. Also, the sound effects for the pantomiming of various activities by the actors are presented on either side of the proscenium arch with the other actors drifting on and off the stage area to provide door slams, bullfrogs “ribbiting” and other occasional reminders that the actors are on a bare stage with minimal taping on the stage to represent the two houses while all other actions are mimed. That bare but effective set design and equally dramatic lighting design to designate areas of action are the product of Mark Wilson.

“Our Town” is a remarkable play and Insight has brought us an equally remarkable production. Capturing the feel of small town America at the turn of the century and heeding us to enjoy every minute while on this earth, it refreshes your perspective- if only for a moment. It’s a production to enjoy and immerse yourself in with this incredible cast and perfect homage to play and playwright alike. Contact Insight Theatre Company at 314-556-1293 or online at insighttheatrecompany.com for tickets or more information. “Our Town” runs through September 29th.

A Classic Musical Gets A Classic Treatment As Stages St. Louis Closes With “My Fair Lady”

September 12, 2013
Pamela Brumley as Eliza leads the opening number, "Loverly" at Stages' production of "My Fair Lady." Photo: Peter Wochniak

Pamela Brumley as Eliza leads the opening number, “Loverly” at Stages’ production of “My Fair Lady.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Doing what they do best- presenting musicals in their purest form- Stages brings their magic touch to Lerner and Loewe’s classic story, “My Fair Lady.” Featuring a lot of familiar faces, the production breezes along with a jaunty air while the talented cast does justice to a book and score that is probably one of the best musical adaptations in theatre history. Drawing on Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” its’ the story of the cockney flower girl who is transformed into a princess through the machinations of a curmudgeonly professor with the musical comedy twist at the end on Shaw’s classic work. It’s a beloved show and shows off Stages at its finest.

My wife remarked on the ride home how Stages probably wouldn’t have thought- 27 years ago when they started- that they’d have such an elaborate set for a show. This is certainly a triumph of both the masterful designer, James Wolk and a crew that made those set changes flawlessly and almost at the speed of light. There were audible gasps almost every time the lights dimmed and then went up again as impeccable sets for the Covent Garden, Professor Higgins’ study, the Ascot and a beautiful conservatory all appeared with rapid-fire stage magic within seconds. It’s not unusual to start off a review about the set- but that’s usually when a cast isn’t up to the product on stage. Not so the case with “My Fair Lady.” True, the set was “center stage,” but the action on that set was spectacular as well.

Edward Juvier as Alfred bemoans the fact that he's "Getting Married In The Morning." Photo:  Peter Wochniak

Edward Juvier as Alfred bemoans the fact that he’s “Getting Married In The Morning.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

A delightful Pamela Brumley captures our heart from the first moment of her “ows” and “garns” and into the show’s first big number, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” She has charm and spunk and a sweet, sweet singing voice that’s perfect for the songs for Eliza Doolittle. The pompous and confident Henry Higgins is a perfect foil to her fear and unsuspecting nature. Christopher Guilmet handles the role with just the right amount of swagger and nonsensical dismissal. He also handles the sometimes difficult Higgins’ score with the confidence of …well, Henry Higgins. With perfect style and nuance, he manages to bring the full of life character to full stature.

Another old favorite, Edward Juvier, stepped in late to the role of Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle. Of course, it looks like he’s been playing the role his whole life. Never a misstep in line or lyric or dance step as he properly mugs his way through his two big numbers of the evening, “With A Little Bit Of Luck” and the wild and raucous second act show-stopper, “Get Me To The Church On Time.” And, as Liza’s sappy love interest, Freddie Eynsford-Hill, Brandon Davidson makes the most of the small but mighty role as he gets one of the best and perhaps strangest love ballads in musical comedy history, “On The Street Where You Live.”

John Flack as Pickering and Zoe Vonder Haar as Mrs. Higgins in Stages' "My Fair Lady." Photo: Peter Wochniak

John Flack as Pickering and Zoe Vonder Haar as Mrs. Higgins in Stages’ “My Fair Lady.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Some old favorite actors shine in this production- John Flack, Kari Ely and Zoe Vonder Haar. As Colonel Pickering, John gets laughs and shots of applause for his often befuddled and stiff-upper-lip portrayal of the new friend of Henry who bets against him turning this flower girl into a duchess in less than six months. And he scores in the vocal department as well in the second act opener of “You Did It.” And Zoe is Henry’s mother and also gets some of the best laughs of the evening as the only one who can toss the zingers at Henry and get away with it. And finally, Kari Ely is properly prim as Mrs. Pearce, Henry’s housekeeper.

The winning combination of Director Michael Hamilton, choreographer Dana Lewis and musical director, Lisa Campbell Albert bring this classic production to life. As I said at the top, these are no-nonsense presentations never straying far from the original. With a beloved show like “My Fair Lady,” you don’t have to. And, in addition to the aforementioned magic of James Wolk and his splendid set design, the costumes of Dorothy Marshall Englis and lights of Matthew McCarthy

Pamela Brumley and Christopher Guilmet in the finale of "My Fair Lady." Photo: Peter Wochniak

Pamela Brumley and Christopher Guilmet in the finale of “My Fair Lady.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

just add to the splendor of this production. If you’ve never seen the show (you must be under the age of 12) or if you’ve seen it dozens of times like most of us, you’ll never get a chance to see it like Stages presents it again. Give them a call at 314-821-2407 and secure those tickets now. It runs through October 6th.

 

Timeless Joe Orton Play, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” Still Titillates An Audience

September 10, 2013
Mr. Sloane (Paul Cereghino is tended to by Kath (Lavonne Byers) in HotCity's "Entertaining Mr. Sloane." Photo: John Lamb

Mr. Sloane (Paul Cereghino is tended to by Kath (Lavonne Byers) in HotCity’s “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.” Photo: John Lamb

HotCity Theatre thrives on the unusual and now they step back in time and take Joe Orton’s 1964 ribald black comedy, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” and make it relevant for today’s audience. Presented as a period piece, the wonderful C. Otis Sweezey set design creates the atmosphere and this brilliant cast does the rest in their “matter of fact” presentation of this outlandish material. Fasten your seat belts, this is a bumpy and unexpected ride.

Kath, the wonderful Lavonne Byers, opens the play with her provocative “interview” of young Mr. Sloane, played with a sleazy, gratuitous manner by Paul Cereghino. The chemistry of their characters is transformed into these two actors so you get every creepy innuendo and, eventually, outright physicality. The interview is for a room to rent and Kath already has her sights set on the younger man with a mixture of motherly instinct and pure animal lust. Their cat and mouse game continues through his initial need to dispose of his trousers while she “soothes” his injury that just happens to be on his inner thigh near his crotch and finally into an all out free for all on the sofa.

The injury is a result of a stabbing by Kath’s father, played with delightful befuddlement by Bill Grivna. He’s suspicious of the new young man and thinks he recognizes him as a murderer. He may not be far from the truth as the ensuing encounters show us that Mr. Sloane is not necessarily the pleasant young man he portrays in polite company. Rounding out this quartet of players is Michael James Reed as Kath’s brother who also takes a liking to Mr. Sloane and takes him on as his chauffeur. Though boisterous and seemingly in control of his reason except where this blind spot with Mr. Sloane comes in, he proves to be as bizarre and off-center as the rest of the family. Playwright Orton has created the dysfunctional family before that phrase came into common practice. Add the homicidal- or at least mean-spirited- temperament of Mr. Sloane and you’ve got the makings of one of the best black comedies to come out of any era.  Appropriately, the whole play takes place in the salon (or living room) of a nice house built on the edge of a garbage dump. Pretty apropos of the goings on inside the household.

Bill Grivna and Paul Cereghino trade barbs in "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" at HotCity Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Bill Grivna and Paul Cereghino trade barbs in “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” at HotCity Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Director Bill Whitaker has taken this script and let it play out in all it’s glory. Every nuance in both word and movement becomes heightened as the evening goes on and you realize you’ve stepped into the middle of crazy incorporated. Add that brilliant set design of Mr. Sweezey that spreads across the Kranzberg stage and a wonderful lighting design from Sean Savoie and you have and “entertaining” evening in the theatre. Becky Fortner’s costumes are right on the money and the wonderful period jazz underscore by Zoe C. Sullivan caps off the production.

“Entertaining Mr. Sloane” is a great history lesson in this playwright’s career that was cut short by his murder (at the hands of his lover) very early before his voice was even established. But Joe Orton left us quite a nice little portfolio of work including this as one of his best. See “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” at HotCity Theatre through September 21st. Call them at 314-289-4063 or contact them at hotcitytheatre.org for tickets or more information.

Two Remarkable Women, Two Remarkable Lives Intersect For One Remarkable Story

September 9, 2013
The infectious laugh of Thao was an inspiration for Elizabeth Van Meter and now for us.

The infectious laugh of Thao was an inspiration for Elizabeth Van Meter and now for us.

Mustard Seed Theatre opens their season with something very different. Artistic Director Deanna Jent has brought in a one person show that premiered last year at the All For One Theater Festival at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York. Using a combination of live performance, photographs and video projected on a huge screen at the back of the stage, Elizabeth Van Meter gives us a look into a complicated and conflicted life that has led her to something amazing.

Entitled “The Purpose Project: Thao’s Library,” it’s a story of the series of events that led Elizabeth to  throw her life into a very different direction after seeing a picture, taken by her friend Stephen, of a young Vietnamese girl born with birth defects due to the use of Agent Orange during the war. Despite being born with the crippling deformities, Thao has opened a small library in her village outside Ho Chi Minh City and even tutors some of the local children who visit her library every day. For some reason, after seeing this photograph of this young woman in a wheelchair outside her family’s feed storage area that doubles as her library, Elizabeth became obsessed with finding and helping her.

Elizabeth Van Meter rivets the audience with her story of her life-changing events.

Elizabeth Van Meter rivets the audience with her story of her life-changing events.

As we delve into her life, we are reminded of the stories of Elizabeth’s younger sister, Vicki, who had become the youngest pilot- at age eleven- to fly across the country solo and later flew solo across the Atlantic at age thirteen. Clips from news and talk shows reveal her poise and strong personality as she talks with the likes of newsmen, politicians and TV personalities about her exploits. But it is a tragic turn of events involving Vicki that we ultimately see is the impetus for Elizabeth’s  involvement with Thao and eventually creating The Purpose Project which assists others to bring about positive changes in their communities.

Now that she has used her unflinching drive to bring about change, Elizabeth Van Meter has created this one woman multi-media event to bring her story of persistence and self-discovery to a larger audience. She is a dynamic actress with an electric personality that makes this journey we take with her even more compelling. She manages to draw us in with the highs and lows of her personal life and her far-reaching goals that have helped lead her to, not only creating the Purpose Project but also establishing documentary film projects- one of which will be one based on “Thao’s Library.”

Running only about 70 minutes, this is one of the most compelling and life-altering theatrical experiences you’re likely to have. The lives of these two outstanding women on opposite sides of the world finding each other to form one incredible story makes for great theatre. It’s only running through September 15th, so call Mustard Seed at 314-719-8060 or at mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information.

“Parade” Marches Us Into Dark Days Of Extreme Prejudice With A Powerful Book And Musical Score

September 7, 2013
One of the best moments in "Parade" is this tender love scene between Pete Winfrey as Leo and Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Lucille. Photo: Michael Young

One of the best moments in “Parade” is this tender love scene between Pete Winfrey as Leo and Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Lucille. Photo: Michael Young

R-S Theatrics has once again brought us, as an audience, to the brink with a well acted and well sung production of the award winning- but seldom produced- “Parade.” With book by Alfred Uhry (of “Driving Miss Daisy” fame) and music and lyrics by the multi-award winning Jason Robert Brown, the narrative and lyrics manage to drive this dark and unimaginable part of our history into the light. A miscarriage of justice that wasn’t rectified until 73 years after the fact.

Leo Frank falls in love with Lucille and, despite both being Jews, he was raised in Brooklyn while she was raised in Atlanta (where Mr. Uhry delved into the Southern Jewish enigma in his brilliant “Last Night Of Ballyhoo”). Despite becoming a cog in the factory owned by his father-in-law, Leo was never accepted in this Southern environment since he was considered more “uppity” than the Jews who “knew their place” in the redneck background of 1913 Atlanta. As a result, when one of his female workers is found raped and dead in the factory, the local District Attorney manages to manipulate the locals into railroading him into a guilty verdict for the crime. When the Governor begins to find the whole trial suspicious, the momentum swing in Leo’s favor is soon quelled by the mob mentality of the locals. It’s a story hard to watch and that glimmer of hope of a rational outcome makes it even tougher to accept.

Ken Haller runs rough-shod over Leo during the trial in "Parade" at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Ken Haller runs rough-shod over Leo during the trial in “Parade” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

The “Parade” of the title refers to the Confederate Memorial Day celebration and parade celebrated every year in Atlanta. It frames the events that span several years in this miscarriage of justice. Pete Winfrey and Jennifer Theby-Quinn are stand outs in a cast that truly shines throughout. His gaunt features seem to waste away even more as his jail time increases. Lucille’s unexpected turn into an advocate for justice serves her well as they manage to overcome the odds and get his transfer from a certain death sentence to time in prison with the possibility of a re-trial. Both display excellent acting and singing skills and simply melt your heart in the second act tender love song, “All The Wasted Time.” As the villain in the piece, Ken Haller is simply magnificent in his eloquent and manipulative handling of the trial and leads the way with a powerful singing voice. His second act “fishing” conversation with the Judge- played by Derick J. Smith- is a quiet and insightful moment in a show filled with little musical gems.

The object of all the furor, 13 year old Mary Phagan, is given a beautiful interpretation by Beth Wickenhauser and the real suspected killer, janitor Jim Conley, is powerfully portrayed by Marshall Jennings. His two dynamite solos are integral to the plot and offer up his depth of range- his “That’s What He Said” during the trial and his mournful and bluesy “Feel The Rain.” Bradley J. Behrmann also brings a strong character and singing voice to the role of beat reporter turned star, Britt Craig. Nice work also by Alexis Coleman as the Frank’s maid and Shawn Bowers as a rather pseudo-suspect in the case. Their second act opening number, “A Rumblin’ And A Rollin'” shows us another side of the deep roots of prejudice in this environment of hate.

Marshall Jennings as Jim delivers a poignant yet deceptive moment in "Parade." Photo: Michael Young

Marshall Jennings as Jim delivers a poignant yet deceptive moment in “Parade.” Photo: Michael Young

Kevin Hester brings a great turn to the Governor as he vacillates while displaying an overbearing dance style in the second act number, “Pretty Music.” The rest of the large cast includes great performances by all including Caitlin Mickey, Macia Noorman and Maggie Murphy as three factory girls giving damaging testimony at the trial, Kay Love in a dual role and multiple roles for Zach Wachter, Robert Breig and GP Hunsaker. Director Christina Rios has handled the large cast well on the small stage at the Ivory Theatre and, despite a need for a bit more energy during the crowd scenes, we’ll cut them some slack since they are almost bumping into each other as the “Parade” passes by.

A shout out as well to Leah Luciano’s musical direction and an unnamed orchestra that brought out the powerful score in fine fashion. Appeared to notice a French Horn and even an Oboe among the more traditional instruments and this really added depth to a score that really carries the story. From those I’ve already mentioned to the great opening of “Old Red Hills of Home” to the entire trial sequence and some dramatic second act moments, this Jason Robert Brown score is one of the best. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes didn’t always meet the needs, but they were overall effective and made the principal characters stand out beautifully. Nathan Schroeder’s lights were great and the nice Mark Kelley sound design included some pre-show and intermission period appropriate music to get you into the mood for the time frame. No credit on the scenic design but the black curtain backdrops were enhanced by needed furniture pieces including desks, benches for the trial and even an nice jail cell effect.

Bradley J. Behrmann as Britt excites the crowd in R-S Theatrics production of "Parade." Photo: Michael Young

Bradley J. Behrmann as Britt excites the crowd in R-S Theatrics production of “Parade.” Photo: Michael Young

Besides being able to cross another “new” musical seen off personal “seen” list, R-S Theatrics is to be commended for tackling these relevant as well as entertaining pieces that don’t get the productions they deserve. “Parade” is a delightful piece that tells a powerful story and is enhanced by a score that moves the story along while also being melodic and dramatic. It’s a win-win with this outstanding production of “Parade” at the Ivory Theatre as presented by R-S Theatrics. It only runs through the 15th of September, so call them at 314-456-0071 or visit r-stheatrics.com for tickets or more information.