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

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.

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