Archive for March, 2014

The Third Annual “Briefs” Brings Us Eight Short Plays With LGBT Themes

March 26, 2014
The entire cast assembles for a group shot of the Third Annual "Briefs: A Festival Of Short LGBT Plays."

The entire cast assembles for a group shot of the Third Annual “Briefs: A Festival Of Short LGBT Plays.”

For the third year in a row, that Uppity Theatre Company and Vital Voice brings us a great spectrum of short plays all based on the LGBT community with playwrights, directors and actors from both inside the community and from the wide range of talented folks working in theatre throughout St. Louis. “Briefs: A Festival Of Short LGBT Plays” offers eight short pieces filled with humor, pathos and problems and feelings common to everyone- they just happen to be about lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgenders. It only ran for one week-end but I was lucky enough to catch it between all of the other theater going on.

Ben Watts and Pete Winfrey communicate via Victorian "messaging" in "Buggery" at "Briefs."

Ben Watts and Pete Winfrey communicate via Victorian “messaging” in “Buggery” at “Briefs.”

As with any program involving that many short plays or one-acts, there are some ebbs and flows in the plays but most are pretty impressive and all are acted well. Pete Winfrey and Ben Watts get the show started with a Victorian send-up of today’s texting. The gentlemen- dressed in skivvies and elaborate top hats, sporting bushy mustaches- stand at either end of the stage with a clothesline attached to pulleys. They pull notes from various areas of their clothing and pin them to the line and send them on their way. Written by Brigham Mosley and directed by Ryan Foizey, “Buggery” is a great way to open the series. An unexpected twist in a relationship highlights “Lucky,” written and directed by Theresa Masters. Paige Russell is a nurse assisting the always delightful Rachel Hanks- a victim of a mugging. When a friend of hers, played by Alaina Appleby enters to pick her up, we get some very telling clues about their relationship.

Rachel Hanks and Alainaappleby reunite in "Lucky" at the "Briefs" Festival.

Rachel Hanks and Alaina Appleby reunite in “Lucky” at the “Briefs” Festival.

“Sharp Corner” by Donna Hoke and directed by Lee Anne Mathews, brings Alyssa Ward and Michael Amoroso together in a little experiment between friends that may or may not cause complications. Closing out the first act is Meghan Maguire looking for a good woman to date and Sara Hamilton as an old friend and ex-lover who is trying to make the right connection for her. “Ready,” written and directed by Festival sponsor and director of That Uppity Theatre Company, Joan Lipkin is a well written and tight little story that leaves a lot of hope open for our heroine.

A wonderful musical pastiche, “Not My Father’s Son,” opens the second act and features Zachary Alan Lee and his alter ego, Desire’ Declyne- a very touching and painful story beautifully told through song. “Messages Deleted” by Rich Espey and directed by Christopher Limber, offers another nice twist as John Wolbers and Jeffrey M. Wright are planning what to move out of the apartment as a visit from one of their fathers, played by Chuck Brinkley changes everything about their relationship. The thing is, their relationship has already changed forever but it’s touching to see how the father’s unexpected but necessary visit changes his outlook as well.

Michael Amoroso and Alyssa Ward contemplate what they've just done in "Sharp Corner" at the "Briefs" Festival.

Michael Amoroso and Alyssa Ward contemplate what they’ve just done in “Sharp Corner” at the “Briefs” Festival.

Written by Tabia Lau and directed by Bonnie Taylor, “In The Water” features another somewhat strained relationship as Kirsten Wylder and Carrie Hegdahl must come to a common ground on how to handle a family situation. Closing out the Festival is “Strange Bedfellows” written by Donald Miller and directed by Michael B. Perkins. Eric Dean White and Rich Scharf are hilarious as their three month relationship has met its first snag- can a Republican stay cozy with his partner, a Democrat? More friendly than hostile, they try to work things out by airing their different philosophies and reaching detente.

With the talents of Uppity’s Artistic Director, Joan Lipkin and Darin Slyman of Vital Voice, this was a delightful two hours of entertainment. Michael B. Perkins’ projections help the transition from each play and the actors, directors and playwrights must all be commended for their hard work and dedication to this project. “Briefs” is over for this year, but a fourth annual is promised and you should really plan on attending for a good cause and a good laugh or two along with some very poignant moments as well. It’s just good fun and the audience showed their enthusiastic appreciation when I saw it.

 

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Slamming Doors And Sardines Invade The Repertory Theatre As “Noises Off” Delights And Impresses

March 25, 2014
The entire cast of "Noises Off" pose for the finale at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The entire cast of “Noises Off” poses for the finale at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The funniest show about life in the theatre (maybe the funniest show ever), Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” returns to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis after the initial production 25 years ago and this time it’s just as hilarious and just as finely tuned. Despite the great premise and hysterical dialogue, precision is essential in this show and when you see three doors slam but only hear one very loud slam, you know you’re in for a treat. It’s a perfect show to end the season because, as the old show biz saying goes, “always leave ’em laughing.”

Rep go-to director, Edward Stern, provides yet another theatrical gem with a cast more than up to the task. With Michael Frayn’s reworking of the script- this latest in 2011- we’re treated to two acts instead of three and the Mainstage turntable makes this possible as the second act performed almost in mime backstage while the play is going on “behind the scenes” to us, and then a return to the real stage in this fictitious play within a play goes smoothly without missing a laugh. A play on his own title, Frayn’s fictitious play, “Nothing On,” lets the bumbling- often disinterested- players go through a dreadful dress rehearsal before our peek backstage as the play opens and finally the atrocious final performance where everything is still going wrong making the play even funnier for the real audience (us) since we’ve been privy to egos, illicit affairs, actors with drinking problems and all of the other things that make an actor’s life less than glamorous offstage.

Dale Hodges sits frustrated on the sofa while the trio of Kevin Sebastian, Fletcher McTaggart and Joneal Joplin bring us yet another great sight gag in the Rep's "Noises Off." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Dale Hodges sits frustrated on the sofa while the trio of Kevin Sebastian, Fletcher McTaggart and Joneal Joplin bring us yet another great sight gag in the Rep’s “Noises Off.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Dale Hodges opens the show as Dotty, playing Mrs. Clackett onstage. The infamous “sardine” props and fuel for some of the funniest moments in “Nothing On,” come into play immediately and set up one of the great running gags of all time. She is hilarious as the befuddled actress playing an equally befuddled maid. John Scherer returns to the Rep stage as the bumbling Garry with a deft hand for comedy and slapstick. Ruth Pferdehirt is also precise and uproarious as the ditzy blonde (both on and offstage) who spends most of her time scantily clad. The stuffy actor prone to nosebleeds, Frederick, is given a properly pompous performance by Andy Prosky while Victoria Adams-Zizchke is right on the money as the long-suffering Belinda Blair.

John Scherer and Ruth Pferdehirt as Garry and Brooke in "Noises Off" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

John Scherer and Ruth Pferdehirt as Garry and Brooke in “Noises Off” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

With various states of despair and outrage, Fletcher McTaggart is wonderful as director Lloyd Dallas. Rebecca Miller shines as the victim of unrequited love, Poppy who gets into a wonderful piece of business with stage manager Tim Allgood on announcing the “start of the show” to the audience from backstage. As Tim, Kevin Sebastian is a model of a person trying to mold a working unit out of the chaos that is going on both onstage and off. Looking back at the Rep’s production of this show in 1989, the now famous St. Louis native, Norbert Leo Butz played this role. Also from that production, playing the inebreated “veteran” actor, Selsdon Mowbray, was a Rep legend, the late Brendan Burke. And I’m sure he played the role in his trademark slippers that he seemed to wear in every production he did. In this production, a living legend of St. Louis theatre in general and the Rep in particular is Joneal Joplin. He is simply remarkable as the beffudled actor playing a cat burglar who can’t seem to get his entrances or his lines quite right.

Andy Prosky as Frederick and Kevin Sebastian as Tim during a calmer moment in the second act opening of "Noises Off" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Andy Prosky as Frederick and Kevin Sebastian as Tim during a calmer moment in the second act opening of “Noises Off” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

With a superb acting ensemble, the show really relies of the split second timing with both those infamous slamming doors and the beautifully choreographed shenanigans  going on backstage during that zany opening to the second act. Edward Stern is a master at his craft and give us all (and maybe a little bit more) that we expected. James Wolk’s delightful set design enhances the French farce feeling of the play and Peter E. Sargent’s lights are right on the money. And congratulations are in order for the old pro, Mr. Sargent, for his recent honor as recipient of the Missouri Arts Awards for Leadership In The Arts. Elizabeth Covey’s costumes are a treat as well and be sure to read your program thoroughly because, besides the full playbill for the fictitious “Nothing On,” there are bios for all of the fictitious actors in the play within a play as well as an hilarious “program note” on bedroom farce.

This is non-stop hilarity at it’s best. “Noises Off” has been one of the most popular shows in repertory, community and college theaters for years but, as the old axion goes, “it’s all in the timing.” And this closing production at the Rep has the timing, the actors and director who combine to make it all work beautifully. “Noises Off” plays on the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage through April 13th. Do yourself a favor and give them a call at 314-968-4925 and get those tickets now.

Great Drama Meets Great Cast In “The Price” At New Jewish Theatre

March 22, 2014
Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller and Michael James Reed in the New Jewish Theatre production of "The Price." Photo: John Lamb

Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller and Michael James Reed in the New Jewish Theatre production of “The Price.” Photo: John Lamb

A lot of folks complain that most local reviewers are too generous in their praise and don’t find negatives in the plays presented by the 30 or more companies around town. Simple explanation- we’ve got a core of great actors, directors and technical people putting it all together and producers who allow them to do so. Looking over my last few reviews, I do have some complaints here and there but they’re usually about the play itself or some minor points about execution. On the whole, however, we’ve got a great theatre community and all the evidence you need is currently playing at New Jewish Theatre with Arthur Miller’s “The Price.” Veteran actors and a prolific director help seal the deal on a play that is a gem to begin with.

Kelley Weber as Esther pleads with Michael James Reed as Victor in "The Price" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Kelley Weber as Esther pleads with Michael James Reed as Victor in “The Price” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Brothers Victor and Walter Franz haven’t spoken to each other in 16 years. Victor, a policeman since dropping his schooling 28 years earlier, has always had bitterness for his brother because Victor had taken care of their father in his Brownstone while Walter pursued his dreams of becoming a doctor. Walter had contributed five dollars a month- not a great sum even in the years prior to the time of the play, 1968. The city is tearing down the brownstone so Victor and his wife Esther must find someone to buy up the massive amount of “junk” that has been taking up residence in his father’s attic for these many years since his death. After a heated conversation about “sharing” the take with his brother and Esther’s constant digs about how much more successful Walter has been, Gregory Solomon enters- swiftly nearing 90 years of age and still shrewd as they come in trying to get the most bang for his buck in taking old and only occasionally valuable furniture from mostly unsuspecting  families.

Although Victor has been trying to reach his brother for several months, he has not returned any of his calls. But suddenly he appears at the door of the Brownstone’s attic and it becomes a tug-of-war between good cop/bad cop and good doctor/bad doctor. Revelations come to light (it has been sixteen years, after all, since they’ve communicated) and pent up feelings come pouring out. Although relationships remain strained, the resulting family feud does manage to heal the rift between Walter and Esther while Solomon still manages to get what he wants. It’s a tragic war of words that does little to change the family dynamic but at least gets some long lingering questions answered. It all comes down to money- who has it and who doesn’t, pride and resentment.

Bobby Miller as Solomon counts out money to Michael James Reed as Victor while Jerry Vogel as Walter watches in the background during "The Price" at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Bobby Miller as Solomon counts out money to Michael James Reed as Victor while Jerry Vogel as Walter watches in the background during “The Price” at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Michael James Reed astounds from his first play-within-a-play silent look around the cluttered attic. A sly smile, a long-forgotten memory brought back by an item he finds and a general, almost-defeated demeanor he portrays is enough to establish his feelings- all in the first five minutes before a word of dialogue leaves his lips. His wife is given a solid portrayal by Kelley Weber. Where she could have easily have made her complaints painful with a shrewish tirade, she shows how this woman has endured her husband’s unspoken frustrations and stoic persona for these many years. A wonderful performance.

The irrepressible Bobby Miller bursts on the scene in comic fashion and coyly begins to wrap Victor around his finger. Using his age and “forgetfulness” to ply Walter with stories while he surreptitiously takes notes and quickly picks the wheat from the chaff of the treasures in the attic, he then manages to continue the manipulation on Walter and Esther as they enter the negotiations once Victor has verbally already made a deal. With an impressive swagger of a man who feels superior to his brother (even though he won’t admit it), Jerry Vogel masterfully controls the ebb and flow of the arguments between his brother, Esther and himself. Making gestures that seem generous and denying any wrongdoing on his part from the decisions made years ago, he seems to clear his own conscience even though his brother looks at it differently.

The cast of New Jewish Theatre's "The Price" by Arthur Miller. Photo: John Lamb

The cast of New Jewish Theatre’s “The Price” by Arthur Miller. Photo: John Lamb

Director Bruce Longworth has brilliantly staged this wordy but dynamic Arthur Miller masterpiece. He keeps as much action moving on the stage as possible and brings tension to the rise and fall of the outbursts and occasional calm that wrap around this dysfunctional family drama. Mark Wilson has brought an effective cluttered feel to the attic space with furniture pieces scattered off the left and right wings as well as hanging from the diamond-shaped outline of the ceiling and skylight above the stage. Michael Sullivan’s lights also go far in focusing in on the dynamic nature of the play and Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are impeccable.

“The Price” is an almost underrated play by Arthur Miller overshadowed by some of his more popular pieces- particularly “Death Of A Salesman” (which we’ll see later this summer at Insight Theatre) but it’s still a powerful piece that, put in the right hands, is simply spectacular to watch. This is such a production. Catch it at New Jewish Theatre through April 6th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 or at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

Masterful Interpretation Of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” Floats Across Time In The St. Louis Actors’ Studio Production

March 20, 2014
Members of the cast of St. Louis Actors' Studio production of "The Awakening." Photo: John Lamb

Members of the cast of St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Awakening.” Photo: John Lamb

Washington University Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature, Henry I. Schvey, has transformed the scandalous and beautiful Kate Chopin novel, “The Awakening” to an ethereal production for the stage which seems to catch a moment in time that is refreshing with an other-worldly feeling that puts the audience in another place, another time and another state of mind. It’s an amazing achievement that is enhanced by a wonderful cast and a simple but effective set design.

Chopin’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, was looked upon at the turn of the century as a rebel and an immoral woman. As we get into her mind, however, we learn she is struggling with the Victorian sensibility that seems to be handcuffing people in general and women in particular. A rather strict and often abusive (at least verbally) husband, Edna seeks out resolution to her restless nature and feelings of being trapped in an era that doesn’t fit her psyche. She seeks companionship, accepts the flirtations of other men in her life, but is truly looking for peace within her own soul. The people who move in and out of her life take on an often dream-like nature as she becomes the focus of the entire play.

Emily Baker and Antonio Rodriguez in "The Awakening" at St. Louis Actors' Studio at the Missouri History Museum. Photo: John Lamb

Emily Baker and Nathan Bush in “The Awakening” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio at the Missouri History Museum. Photo: John Lamb

Emily Baker gives another sterling performance as Edna. This may be the most complex role and most difficult one to convey she’s ever tackled and she takes us on Edna’s journey through, not only the powerful dialogue within the play, but also through her subtle gestures, facial responses and pure movement. Her portrayal is pure art in every sense of the word. As her husband, Leonce, Terry Meadows also gives a poignant performance of a man who knows what is expected from a wife and knows what he wants in life. Although the words and actions of his wife confuse him, he reaches a manner of sympathy but we fear his patience may soon wear thin.

A handsome, somewhat cleverly roughish chap is the first of her dalliances as Antonio Rodriguez appears to capture her heart as Robert Lebrun. Although reluctantly  going along with her husband’s wishes to learn how to swim, she appears to be more interested in Robert’s flirtatious ways than his ability to teach her the breast stroke. She later gets tongues wagging with another supposed “affair” with one of the Beau Brummels of New Orleans society, Alcee Arobin, staunchly played by Nathan Bush.

Maggie Murphy is solid as her concerned but stalwart friend, Adele and a great comic turn is given by Christie Mitchell as a singer with a bit of a puffed-up attitude who takes a liking to Edna. Rounding out the cast are Michael Monsey and Molly Rose Fontana who both also give solid performances remaining true to the spirit of this beautiful play.

Emily Baker and Antonio Rodriguez in St. Louis Actors' Studio production of "The Awakening." Photo: John Lamb

Emily Baker and Antonio Rodriguez in St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Awakening.” Photo: John Lamb

Director Milton Zoth, who is being stretched a bit thin due to also directing the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “Day Of The Dog” opening almost simultaneously off-Broadway, handles the double-duty directing chores beautifully. His subtle yet strong touch blends perfectly with this haunting script. The Patrick Huber set design is incredible with a pole upstage with pegs holding four round-back chairs and a table that all get utilized throughout the play and his lighting design only enhances the beauty of the play. Also on stage are twin matching projection screens set at an angle on either side of the pole on which Michael B. Perkins’ wonderful video designs keep us in the various locations of the play with both still and moving backgrounds. Add the brilliant and beautiful costumes of Teresa Doggett and the wonderful sound design of Robin Weatherall and you’ve got the complete package.

This is quite an achievement for Henry I. Schvey and St. Louis Actors’ Studio. I never thought the complex and inner dialogues of “The Awakening” could be so magically transformed to the stage. Along with this astounding company of actors and the technical brilliance surrounding them, this is an experience for the audience. There is a certain feeling coming off the stage that I can’t remember experiencing anywhere else. Don’t look for them at their usual home at the Gaslight Theatre- this one is being played at the Missouri History Museum and it has a short run- only through March 23rd. Give them a call at 314-314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

 

“Soups, Stews And Casseroles:1976” Delves Into The Past And Reminds Us Of Our Present

March 19, 2014
Nancy Bell, Vincent Teninty and Susan Greenhill in the Rep Studio production of "Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976." Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Nancy Bell, Vincent Teninty and Susan Greenhill in the Rep Studio production of “Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976.” Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis closes out their Studio season with one of the plays from the Ignite! new play development initiative of last year- Rebecca Gilman’s “Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976.” Exploring the tension in a small Wisconsin town when a conglomorate takes over their cheese factory, family and friend dynamics in one household are a microcosm of what we still have today with venture capitalists and the swift take-overs of small firms just to mechanize them, boot out the workers and then earn a quick profit by turning over the company to a third party.

In this play, there’s no grey area- we’re given the black and white only and issues such as union vs. non-union, friendship vs. affiliation and loyalty vs. promotion are explored within the framework of a very tight script that only leaves one big question at the end- who wins and who loses. The new bosses have the upper hand as they try to sell the factory off after stream-lining the operation and cutting the work force but if the union organizers order a strike, everyone may lose their job and the factory may close forever.

Mhari Sandoval and Emma Wisniewski in "Soups, Stews and Casseroles:1976" at the Rep Studio. Photo provided by the Rep

Mhari Sandoval and Emma Wisniewski in “Soups, Stews and Casseroles:1976” at the Rep Studio. Photo provided by the Rep

In the meantime, we see one family struggling to come to grips with the new dilemmas facing them and their town. Wife Kat is content with submitting the occasional article to the local newspaper and helping her older friend, Joanne put together the annual cookbook which is a fund-raiser (thus the name of the play- no main dishes, no vegetables, just soups, stews and casseroles). Nancy Bell gives another solid performance as the reticent Kat. She wants to do the right thing but also sees a chance for her husband, Kim, to advance with the new company. Vincent Teninty is strong as Kim- he is obviously a capable floor manager and catches the eye of the new owner. Besides the immediate promotion, he’s also given an offer to follow the boss to Chicago as his assistant when the factory is re-sold. Susan Greenhill is a riot as the cantankerous Joanne who has an opinion about everything and doesn’t mind letting everyone know about her left wing leanings. In fact, just about everyone at the factory believes that the imminent elections will bring their savior, Jimmy Carter, in to save the day, the unions and their jobs.

One of those folks is the union rep, Kyle, played with intensity by Jerzy Gwiazdowski. He is cautious yet optimistic about his friend Kim when the new promotion pushes Kim to management’s side. He does, however, sign the grievance letter that Kyle is sending to the union. Kim and Kat’s daughter, Kelly, is given a wide-eyed yet wise performance by Emma Wisniewski. She worries about her topic for a school debate but can’t help but get caught up in the family and community dynamic going on around her. Finally, entering the mix is the new factory owner’s wife, Elaine, given a sophisticated yet manipulative portrayal by Mhari Sandoval. She gains Kat’s confidence and even gets her into circles in the community that she would never have able to crack before Elaine’s friendship. They truly do become friends but there’s still the wall of social stature between them to which neither can fully adjust.

Vincent Teninty and Jerzy Gwiazdowski in the Rep's "Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976." Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Vincent Teninty and Jerzy Gwiazdowski in the Rep’s “Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976.” Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Associate Artistic Director of the Rep, Seth Gordon, has done a masterful job of bringing the full force of this play to the forefront. There are a lot of questions brought up in the script and it could be a very difficult play to understand without the proper guidance and focus the director brings. He is ably assisted by the masterful recreation of a ’70’s kitchen, dining area and entry foyer created by scenic designer, Kevin Depinet. Lou Bird’s costumes are right on the money as well and John Wylie’s lights are a bit dark at times but enhance the production well. Rusty Wandall’s sound also evoke the proper era.

There’s a lot of ground covered and a lot of personal and all-encompassing issues paraded before us in the two and a half hours of the play. But it’s a charming look back as well as a masterful comic/drama made even better with such a strong cast. “Soups, Stews and Casseroles:1976” is something truly different and a play I think that will touch a lot of chords in both folks of “a certain age” as well as the younger audience members. The play runs through March 30th at the Rep Studio. Call the box office at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

Intriguing, Intricate, Impeccably Acted- “Red Light Winter” Hits HotCity Stage

March 17, 2014

hc-posterPlaywright Adam Rapp (brother of actor Anthony Rapp) created a raw, visceral world in his Pulitzer Prize finalist, “Red Light Winter,” and HotCity fortunately loaded their production with three wonderful actors. The play needs a serious trim as it lasts over two and a half hours, is wordy and can only hold your attention that long with some serious acting chops behind it. It’s also filled with some holes in the script that you could drive a Mac truck through but, once again, you tend to forgive when you’re mesmerized with top notch talent on and off stage.

Director Eric Little is first and foremost responsible for bringing a quality product before us. This play could easily get lost in itself without the quick pace and distinctly drawn characters. Austin Pierce is perfect as the shy, easily smitten playwright, Matt. He and his buddy Davis, played with a strong and somewhat frightening bearing by Reginald Pierre, have traveled to Europe and are now in Amsterdam when the play opens. Pierre is also an outstanding actor who towers over the smaller Pierce and quickly displays his Alpha tendencies through voice and gestures utilizing his basketball players’ hands in an often threatening manner. When he brings a “window” girl prostitute back to their shabby hostel as a gift for the reticent Matt, it sets off a spark of passion, deceit and rage that carries over into the second act which occurs a year after these incidents.

The third party in this little “party” is Christina, played with a sexy, worldly bravura by Maggie Conroy. Without saying a word, she develops a persona that would make any man melt. With a few surprises of her own up her sleeve, she eventually seduces the sex-starved Matt. As we reach the second act and find even more surprises from everyone in New York, a “what happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam” moment hits two of the characters as true feelings and desires can’t be ignored through the baggage of lies and deceit that have been woven in that patchwork of surreal moments from a year ago.

Maggie Conroy in HotCity Theatre's "Red Light Winter."

Maggie Conroy in HotCity Theatre’s “Red Light Winter.”

Rough language, actions and nudity all make this an adult venture but it brutally conveys a world that may seem commonplace to the cheating Davis (he stole Matt’s girlfriend and is now engaged to her) and even the somewhat reluctant Christina but it sweeps Matt into the whirlpool as well despite his more prudish temperament. The Alan Chlebowski set and lights help establish the two acts with jigsaw puzzle walls and smaller than normal backdrops and doors which give both settings a cramped feeling. His lights evoke a sensual mood in Amsterdam with reds and harsh whites while a softer pattern invades the New York apartment. Emily Montgomery’s costumes are perfect- particularly for the sensual Christina. The Patrick Burks sound design is heavy on Tom Waits but gets the point across. Miss Conroy’s lovely a cappella song in the first act is truly breath-taking.

There’s a lot to like about “Red Light Winter” despite its overly-long running time (there could have been some judicious cutting) and the rather raw subject matter. But these three performances keep you mesmerized and you can’t look away even during the cringe moments. “Red Light Winter” runs through March 29th at HotCity Theatre. Give them a call at 314-289-4063 for tickets or more information.

The Biggest Cast Party Of The Year- St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, Act Two

March 12, 2014

Scan 123590003The second annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards is next Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th. Tickets are $15 to the event with an option for a pre-event buffet for $15.95 which includes one drink. The dinner and cash bar will be open in a separate room from the ceremony. 

Those who attended last year’s inaugural event can tell you it’s the biggest party of the year for those involved in professional theatre in St. Louis. This year, 23 of the local theatre venues are represented with nominations in comedy, drama and musicals. It was  a banner year in 2013 and the local critics had a tough time choosing just 5 nominees for each category. We would like to thank each and every one of our theatre companies for providing us with humorous, thoughtful, powerful and extraordinary productions last year and, if the handful of productions so far in 2014 are any indication, we’ll be just as hard-pressed next year to whittle down our categories. 

theater circle logo 2013-01-19 at 7.03.59 AMThis year has an added bonus- HEC-TV will broadcast the event live including a “red carpet” pre-show event. Local composer and pianist Joe Dreyer will provide musical accompaniment throughout the evening and professional photographer Jill Ritter Lindberg will photograph the festivities as well. To make reservations for the event, presented at the Center For Creative Arts (COCA), 524 Trinity Avenue in University City, contact them sty 314-725-6555. To reserve the pre-show buffet, call With Love Catering at 314-637-7907 or online at http://www.withlovecatering.com.

See you all at this year’s second annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards. Let’s have a drink together!

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Reconceived “Rent” Rocks The Rafters At New Line Theatre

March 9, 2014
Evan Fornachon as Roger and Anna Skidis as Mimi in New Line's "Rent."  Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Evan Fornachon as Roger and Anna Skidis as Mimi in New Line’s “Rent.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Once again reinventing the way we perceive musicals, New Line Theatre has taken “Rent,” set it slightly askew and made us enjoy it despite ourselves. A lot of people on opening night were telling me they’d never really liked the show (I’ve always liked it but never “loved” it like this!). A lot of attitudes changed as we were leaving- even at intermission- and the new concept and the advantage of intimacy that New Line always offers, makes this one a big, fat hit.

Young, energetic actors/singers dominate the stage as the story of “La Vie Boheme” jumps out and meets the audience head on. In fact, a lot of audience participation includes Mimi lap-dancing, the cast reaching out and holding audience members’ hands, plenty of eye contact and several trips up the aisles as this “in your face” production connects with rather than intimidates the audience. Speaking of Mimi, local favorite Anna Skidis is powerful, intimidating and downright lovable as the tragic heroine of “Rent.” From her moving and touching meeting with Roger in “Light My Candle” to her “La Boheme” Mimi finale dying of consumption (or is that an overdose?) is one solid performance throughout. As Roger, Evan Fornachon is perfect as the brooding artist until his emotions pour out in that final scene.

Sarah Porter as Maureen wails about the moon as Marcy Wiegert and Wendy Greenwood back her up in "Rent" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sarah Porter as Maureen wails about the moon as Marcy Wiegert and Wendy Greenwood back her up in “Rent” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sarah Porter shines as the unpredictable Maureen. Her interpretation of the “Over The Moon” song is priceless and, in typical Maureen fashion, brings a whole new concept as she brings the moon down from the sky and into the audience’s face. As her on-again, off-again love interest, Cody LaShea is a delightful Joanne. Their duet of “Take Me Or Leave Me” is one of the many highlights of this production. In another off-kilter romance that seems perfectly natural is Luke Steingruby as the cross-dressing performer Angel and the heart-of-gold Tom Collins, another wonderful performance by Marshall Jennings. From a WWI soldier in “All Is Calm” last year to the sweet Marilyn Monroe look-alike in “Rent,” Mr. Steingruby proves his versatility.

Jeremy Hyatt is outstanding as the baby-faced videographer, Mark and Shawn Bowers is perfectly sleazy as Mimi’s ex while the solid cast of New Line regulars (plus a few new faces) take control of this revamped “Rent” and everybody has their moment to shine while ably backing up the featured players. It’s a total effort that shows, once again, the diversity and depth of New Line talent. Scott Miller has once again put his personal stamp on a classic show and it turns out to be yet another audience pleaser.

The cast of "Rent" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The cast of “Rent” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Justin Smolik leads the powerful New Line band and Rob Lippert has brought a whole new concept to the staging of “Rent” with his unusual set design. A huge round, raked piece dominates the center stage area surrounded by the typical low-rent look of the denizens of early 1990’s New York. From the driving “Rent” title number to the powerful first act closer right through the show’s most popular number, “Seasons Of Love” and into the touching “Your Eyes” finale, this score is pulsating, tender and just a pure delight. Now we have a production that matches these great songs and makes you actually like the people who populate the show.  This one’s a big hit, folks and a lot of dates are already sold out. Call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 and secure your seat for “Rent” at New Line Theatre. It plays through March 29th.

Teresa Doggett Brings “Shirley Valentine” To Boisterous Life At Dramatic License

March 3, 2014
Teresa Doggett as "Shirley Valentine" in the Dramatic Licesne production. Photo: John Lamb

Teresa Doggett as “Shirley Valentine” in the Dramatic Licesne production. Photo: John Lamb

You’ve got to love a woman who designs and build costumes for probably half of the St. Louis theatre scene and does the same for the Dramatic License Production of “Shirley Valentine.” But this time, she’s designing for herself in the Willy Russell one-woman comedy that is as hilarious as it is uplifting. Mired down by the “life too ordinary” syndrome that affects so many marriages, Shirley becomes daring, risqué and even a bit naughty as she takes off from her drab Liverpool life and travels to Greece with her friend. Turns out, what happens in Greece, stays in Greece- and so does Shirley Valentine.

Doubtful at first, the final straw in her need in pursuing the lust for life comes when she decides to feed a hungry dog the steak that has become the traditional meal for once a week supper and serves hubby eggs and chips instead. His overreaction spurs her on to pack her bags and leave with her friend for a three week vacation. Ms. Doggett is simply perfection as she talks to us (and her favorite kitchen wall) about her hubby, her two kids and tells us hysterical tales about all of them.  Her reenactment of her son’s grade school interpretation of Joseph and the search for lodging for the night is a masterpiece. But all of her stories are priceless and she brings them all to brilliant life. All the while she’s putting up groceries, opening and drinking a lot of wine and even cooking on a practical stove that gives the audience a healthy aroma of those eggs and chips.

Teresa Doggett as Shirley Valentine at DLP contemplates her future over a glass of wine. Photo: John Lamb

Teresa Doggett as Shirley Valentine at DLP contemplates her future over a glass of wine. Photo: John Lamb

In the second act, she’s in Greece and the stories again come fast and furious. She opens with the line, “Bet you didn’t recognize me,” and she’s right. Ms. Doggett takes on a whole new persona to meet the relaxed atmosphere and lifestyle she is now enjoying on the sunny shores of the Mediterranean. Her enthusiasm knows no bounds and we feel it as an audience member. The whole show, her optimism and the joyous spirit of Shirley Valentine come through all night long. It’s wonderful to behold and makes for one of the most exhilarating plays you’ll ever experience.

Shirley Valentine arrives in Greece in the DLP production starring Teresa Doggett. Photo: John Lamb

Shirley Valentine arrives in Greece in the DLP production starring Teresa Doggett. Photo: John Lamb

Director Lee Anne Mathews keeps that flighty, easy-going feeling up with a fast-paced but somehow laid-back nature to Shirley that makes you always feel you’re right there with her. The marvelous Matthew Stuckel set design is impressive evoking the small, cramped space that is Shirely’s apartment kitchen in the first act and then opens up for the spacious, airy feeling of Greece for her second act adventures. The Max Parrilla lights also show the contrasts of the two acts.

A bravura performance by Teresa Doggett and the feel good script that we haven’t seen for a while just remind us why there’s nothing like live theatre. Visit Dramatic License Productions in Chesterfield Mall and get your “Shirley Valentine” on. It plays through March 16th. Call DLP at 636-821-1746 for tickets or more information.