Archive for August, 2014

Insight’s “The Spitfire Grill” Offers A Small Town Story With Rustic Music

August 22, 2014
Pete Winfrey as Joe and Sam Auch as Percy in "The Spitfire Grill" at Insight. Photo: John Lamb

Pete Winfrey as Joe and Sam Auch as Percy in “The Spitfire Grill” at Insight. Photo: John Lamb

Never been a big fan of country music as a whole but I usually find it more palatable in a musical (Cotton Patch Gospel, Hands On A Hard Body, etc.). “The Spitfire Grill” is a show I’ve been listening to for years and find the home-spun music with some big show aspirations a delightful, tuneful CD to pop in the car on occasion. Insight Theatre Company has finally brought the show itself to my front door and the results are a bit mixed but worth the trip for some outstanding performances even though the story is a bit old fashioned. I have never seen the 1998 film on which the musical is based, but it’s folksy charm as translated to the stage is a bit much.

Perchance Talbot, just call her Percy, comes to the town of Gilliad, Wisconsin after a five year stay in prison. Her criminal background becomes fodder for some of the folks in town as her story unfolds throughout the play. She meets the kindly and helpful sheriff, Joe, who snags her a job at Hannah Ferguson’s Spitfire Grill- the only eatin’ place in town. She next meets Hannah’s nephew, Caleb and his wife, Shelby along with the town gossip and all-around busy body, Effy. Listed in the program as “The Visitor,” we soon meet the stranger that Hannah leaves a loaf of bread out for every night and he also plays an important role in the story as his background unfolds.

Janet Wells as Hannah, Troy Turnipseed as Caleb and Jenni Ryan as Shelby at Insight's "The Spitfire Grill." Photo: John Lamb

Janet Wells as Hannah, Troy Turnipseed as Caleb and Jenni Ryan as Shelby at Insight’s “The Spitfire Grill.” Photo: John Lamb

Percy has a hard time adjusting and gaining acceptance with the small town folk but she becomes a favorite to everyone except Caleb, who feels she’s influencing his usually pliant wife. She’s gaining independence from the man who used to be a big shot but now only has his wife to boss around. As secrets unfold and Hannah’s plan to “raffle” off the Grill to the most deserving essay (along with a $100 entry fee) on why folks think they deserve to be given the Spitfire, the sporadic musical score gives us some lovely ballads- “The Wide Woods” and “Forest For The Trees” along with the haunting opening number, “A Ring Around The Moon” and the raucous First Act closer, “Shoot The Moon.” How everything is resolved and what happens to the characters, including the Grill itself, makes for a pleasant if not totally absorbing story.

Amy Loui as Effy and Janet Wells as Hannah in "The Spitfire Grill" at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

Amy Loui as Effy and Janet Wells as Hannah in “The Spitfire Grill” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

Sam Auch is a real find in the role of Percy. Her resounding, strong voice and emotional delivery make her a likable character right off the bat. Pete Winfrey also shines as the smitten sheriff and does Jenni Ryan as the long-suffering wife, Shelby. Janet Wells is a hoot as the irascible Hannah and Troy Turnipseed is powerful as the emasculated Caleb. Amy Loui gives us a great performance as the butt-insky, Effy and Paul Balfe rounds out the cast as the infamous “visitor.” Insight’s Artistic Director, Maggie Ryan, directs “The Spitfire Grill” with a deft hand and creates some beautiful stage pictures with the help of a powerful Kyra Bishop set design.

Jenni Ryan as Shelby and Sam Auch as Percy in Insight's "The Spitfire Grill." Photo: John Lamb

Jenni Ryan as Shelby and Sam Auch as Percy in Insight’s “The Spitfire Grill.” Photo: John Lamb

Catherine Kopff handles the musical direction well with a backstage orchestra that features piano, strings and accordion. The Jeff Behm lights are great as are the fine costumes designed by Tracy Newcomb. With music and book by James Valco and lyrics and book by Fred Alley, “The Spitfire Grill” is a delightful diversion and is ably assisted by a strong cast.

If you’re a big fan of the folksy, feel-good story line and the somewhat CW feel of the music, “The Spitfire Grill” is the play for you. Catch it at Insight Theatre Company through August 31st. Contact them at insighttheatrecompany.com for tickets or more information.

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The Woman, The Myth, The Monster- All Is Covered In Slightly Askew’s Season Finale

August 22, 2014
Mary converses with her "monster" in SATE's "Mary Shelley Monster Show." Photo: Joey Rumpell

Mary converses with her “monster” in SATE’s “Mary Shelley Monster Show.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

As their Season of the Monster closes with an original script, “Mary Shelley Monster Show,” Mother Nature added special effects on opening night at SATE as Shelley and her famous creation- Frankenstein’s Monster- conversed while thunder rattled and lightning shone through the stained glass windows of The Chapel. It made for an exciting night as the one-hour one act covered Mary Shelley, her famous husband and the crowd she ran around with as Rachel Tibbetts plays Mary and the versatile Ellie Schwetye plays everyone else.

This was a concept that Tibbetts and Schwetye had been working on for some time and playwright Nick Otten brought it all together giving us glimpses into the unusual world of both Mary and her famous husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Hanging out with a gang headed up most notably by another poet, Lord Byron, rumors spread about their supposed risqué behavior while Mary says their most ardent pursuits centered on their famous ghost story contests which eventually resulted in her penning “Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus” in 1818. “Mary Shelley Monster Show” centers a lot on her continuing intellectual conversations with her creation as she is often surprised by what her imaginary visitor knows and how well he read her innermost thoughts. She had created her monster with an eye on such works that impressed her as Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Coleridge’s “The Rime Of  the Ancient Mariner.” In her novel, her creation even reads works by Goethe and others- which made him a well-rounded monster so she should not have been surprised at his knowledge and ability to share cognitive thought.

Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye in "Mary Shelley Monster Show" at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye in “Mary Shelley Monster Show” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Mary frequently surprised her famous and not-so-famous contemporaries by her knowledge and depth. Pithy comments such as “a bad translation is worse than bad judgement” never failed to impress her fellow writers and, of course, her monster friend. She also shared frequent conversations with her late mother who she lost when she was only eleven days old. This tragedy also haunted her throughout her life as she felt she was responsible for killing her mother through her own birth.

Rachel Tibbetts is amazing as Mary. Her levels of emotion bring out the roller coaster of feelings she had in everyday life and even in her most quiet moments with her mother and monster conversations. As the monster, Percy, Lord Byron, Mary’s friend and rival, Claire Clairmont, Mary’s mother and a host of others, Ellie Schwetye is remarkable in her versatility. Passing backstage into one exit and immediately entering with just a slight change- a scarf, a shawl, a waistband- she immediately becomes another character. Even onstage changes occasionally occur with just a turn, a slumped shoulder or a stoop at the waist. Her “monster” appears through a scrim backed up by a rear-projecting light that gives her an odd shape and size that she further distorts through body movement. It’s quite a performance. The third, offstage, party is the powerful, booming voice of Carl Overly, Jr. As a portrait painter and interviewer of Mary, he is a striking presence though he doesn’t appear until curtain call. Director Kelley Weber has tied it all together in a package that looks remarkable and sounds as Gothic as Mary Shelley’s works.

Mary talks to her dead mother in SATE's "Mary Shelley Monster Show." Photo: Joey Rumpell

Mary talks to her dead mother in SATE’s “Mary Shelley Monster Show.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

The clever set design by David Blake consists of three-deep walls of diagonal wooden slats that rise above each other as they move toward backstage. Built in is a large scrim on stage left reserved mainly for the monster appearances and a smaller scrim stage right to accommodate Mary’s mother as she sits on a stool and chats. With Bess Moynihan’s striking lighting design, the effects become even more dramatic. Add the wonderful video design by Michael B. Perkins that travel over the wooden planks, the scrims and on a small easel and you’re treated to a show that is as visually stunning as it is remarkably acted. Ellie Schwetye also provides a wonderful sound design to flesh it all out.

“Mary Shelley Monster Show” is a wonderful, creative piece of theatre. It truly captures the essence of her time and the bizarre life she must have led. SATE, the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, presents it on stage through August 30th. Give them a call at 314-827-5760 or at slightlyoff.org for tickets or more information.

 

“The Liar” Brings An Abundance Of Laughs To St. Louis Shakespeare’s Latest

August 19, 2014

First- it’s great to be back in the reviewing saddle again. After two and a half months, Gail is doing much better despite back surgery, broken ankle, another back fracture and now impending cataract surgery. The thing we must remember is that it is all temporary and she’ll be back at full strength very soon. So, despite missing most of the summer season (all of the Muny, most of Opera Theatre, the LaBute Festival and many, many other wonderful productions on St. Louis stages), I have returned to the job I love- watching theatre and then talking about it.

Maggie Murphy and Nicole Angeli as the ladies who make life miserable for "The Liar" at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Kim Carlson

Maggie Murphy and Nicole Angeli as the ladies who make life miserable for “The Liar” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Kim Carlson

And speaking of that, St. Louis Shakespeare Company has brought us a doozie with David Ives’ “The Liar.” Adapted from 17th century French playwright Pierre Corneille’s play, it offers a lot of laughs and the usual amount of mistaken identities, outlandish characters and even some inappropriate yet somehow plausible anachronisms.

The always precise Suki Peters has directed with an eye for detail, comedic savvy and keeping the action moving- which includes adding two young ladies dressed according to the period who help move things off, on and around in a timely fashion. The title character, Dorante, is played with swagger and verve by Jared Sanz Agero. His philosophy appears to be “why tell the truth when a good lie works just as well.” Early in the play he acquires a manservant who is his extreme opposite, Cliton. Played with scrupulous honesty and charm by Ben Ritchie, Cliton tries his best to keep calm amid all the chaos. He even attempts to get lessons from Dorante in the art of lying with little success.

Jared Sanz Agero, John Wolbers and John Foughty spar in the St. Louis Shakespeare production of "The Liar." Photo: Kim Carlson

Jared Sanz Agero, John Wolbers and John Foughty spar in the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “The Liar.” Photo: Kim Carlson

John Foughty, with a bad hair day all around- head and chin- turns in a great performance as the possibly cuckolded Aclippe. He and his pal, Philiste- played with proper foppishness by John Wolbers, try to keep ahead of the silver tongues Dorante but to no avail. Also providing a bounty of laughs is the clueless father of Dorante, Geronte, given an equally befuddled performance by Robert Ashton. Even in the light of obvious contradictory lies, he never sways from the path his son leads him down.

Almost stealing the show are the ladies. Nicole Angeli as the broad minded yet stubborn Clarice and Maggie Murphy as the smitten Lucrece. Though Clarice is the object of Dorante’s affection, he mistakes her for Lucrece- which leads to the mistaken identity plot that always spices up such follies. Rounding out the cast is the marvelous Jamie Pitt as the two servants of Clarice and Lucrece. With the addition of a coat, ruffle and two outlandish versions of the same red wig, she turns from flirtatious Isabelle to stern Sabine- often in a matter of seconds.

Jared Sanz Agero instructs Ben Ritchie on the fine art of lying in "The Liar" at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Kim Carlson

Jared Sanz Agero instructs Ben Ritchie on the fine art of lying in “The Liar” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Kim Carlson

The mix of appropriate and bizarre costumes that seem to fit the piece perfectly are the work of JC Krajicek. Michael Dombek’s set design works well as do the lights of Alex Pack. Jeff Roberts’ sound design is wild and nothing probably heard during the days of Pierre Corneille (chamber music, no doubt).

Catch this delightful comedy through August 24th at The Music Center in University City. St. Louis Shakespeare Company presents “The Liar” by David Ives. Give them a call at 314-361-5664 or contact stlshakespeare.org for tickets or more information.