Archive for October, 2014

New Jewish Theatre Presents “The Diary Of Anne Frank”

October 15, 2014
The families gather to play and converse once the coast is clear in the New Jewish production of "The Diary Of Anne Frank." Photo: John Lamb

The families gather to enjoy a special treat in the New Jewish production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank.” Photo: John Lamb

What could be more fitting than a production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank” at the New Jewish Theatre? Unbelievably, they’ve never produced it there before and, with a cast that brings tears to your eyes, this is one of their finest shows ever. And that’s saying a lot because they consistently put quality productions on their stage. This is the much improved version adapted by Wendy Kesselman in 1997. It offers a more realistic and honest version of the story than the original 1955 version. Both are based on the famous diary written by the young Anne Frank when she and her family moved to a small garrett above where her father worked in 1942 in an attempt to escape the Nazi oppression that affected many Jews including those in her home of Amsterdam.

Leo B. Ramsey as Peter and Samantha Moyer as Anne share a moment in "The Diary Of Anne Frank" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Leo B. Ramsey as Peter and Samantha Moyer as Anne share a moment in “The Diary Of Anne Frank” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

This version offers a much more exuberant Anne with the giddiness of a young girl (13 years old when we first see her) and a girl who matures despite the cramped quarters and the lack of any outside activity or the normal life such a girl should be experiencing as she grows into womanhood. There is also more attention to the real plight of the Jews and a stunning denouement that her father delivers after they are captured just weeks before the final liberation. This is some powerful stuff, sprinkled with humor and a true nod to the fear they all lived under when the slightest noise might mean discovery. Although they were under strict silence during the working day when the factory was open downstairs, their evenings were mostly their own with extreme caution still the rule of the household.

New Jewish has chosen a bright, young actress, Samantha Moyer, to play Anne. Her excitement is hard to contain as she looks on this as an adventure and begins to chronicle her life there with her father, mother, sister and the Van Daan family. Bobby Miller continues his mastery of the stage with a strong outing as Anne’s father, Otto. He’s the master of comedy in most shows we’ve seen him in lately but proves he is a powerful dramatic actor as well. His final scene, choking back tears as he describes the horrors his family has gone through since their capture, is one of the most moving performances we’ve seen on any stage.

Bobby Miller as Otto Frank, comforts his daughter, played by Samantha Moyer in "The Diary Of Anne Frank" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Bobby Miller as Otto Frank, comforts his daughter, played by Samantha Moyer in “The Diary Of Anne Frank” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Amy Loui is masterful as well as Anne’s mother, Edith. As she seethes and worries about their precarious predicament, she manages to have an outward strength to help bolster her family. She is particularly good in her heartbreaking scene with a disillusioned Anne who confronts her and breaks her heart. Taylor Steward shines as the older and somewhat shy sister of Anne. Though as different as night and day, they are truly fond of each other and it shows.

The Van Daan’s are friends of the Frank family and have been invited to try to “wait out” the Nazi manhunt as well. Jason Grubbe is stern as the father and Margeau Steinau is jittery and, at times, a true bundle of nerves as Mrs. Van Daan. The two seem perfect together even when their major brawl over her fur coat sends them in opposite directions. Leo B. Ramsey turns in a first rate performance as their son, Peter. His hesitancy over Anne’s outgoing personality seems to stymie him at first but then they soon become almost “forced” soul mates as their hormones begin to kick in.

Joining the already crowded household is Terry Meddows in a superb performance as a local dentist, Mr. Dussel. At times you think he may try to take over the whole household but the strong yet gentle hand of Otto Frank takes command. Stefanie Kluba is the Christian liaison for the family who has found the attic room and makes weekly visits to bring them food, books and whatever else she finds that she thinks may ease their fears. In one particular heartwarming scene, she brings Anne a pair of red high heeled shoes that she loves but in which she has trouble maneuvering. Her cohort in aiding the two families is Eric Dean White in a fine performance as Mr. Kraler. Is it he who finally gives them up or is some other outside influence? Because eventually, a Nazi officer and two Nazi soldiers, played by Nathan Schroeder, Erik Kuhn and Craig Jones storm into the attic and take them away, just after they’ve been hearing the news from General Eisenhower that the allies are on their way and liberation seems imminent.

The two families and Mr. Dussel gather once the "coast is clear" in the New Jewish production of "The Diary Of Anne Frank." Photo: John Lamb

The two families and Mr. Dussel gather once the “coast is clear” in the New Jewish production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank.” Photo: John Lamb

Director Gary Wayne Barker makes this a powerful piece that literally sings as the families cope with each other and the outside forces that threaten them daily. The tension builds then is broken by another narrow escape or by one or the other of the inhabitants bringing a moment of joy to a household that lives in almost constant fear. Jim Burwinkel’s monumental set design offers the feeling of close quarters without destroying the flow of the play. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes add the touch of authenticity and Maureen Berry’s lights enhance the strength of this overwhelming production.

“The Diary Of Anne Frank” is a testimony to tenacity and a paean to the horrors of war and the unbelievable treatment of a whole group of people. The New Jewish Theatre production takes it all to another level as you feel all the pain, fear and sheer joy that only the indomitable spirit can bring to a family and a race that must suffer through unwarranted persecution. It plays through November 2nd. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 or contact them at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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Approachable “Antigone” Poses Old Questions But Hints At The Present At Upstream Theatre

October 13, 2014
Maggie Conroy as the title role in Upstream Theater's "Antigone." Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Maggie Conroy as the title role in Upstream Theater’s “Antigone.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

From 414 BC to 2014, echoes of tyrannical rulers and innocent victims resound at Upstream Theatre as they present a very timely production of Sophocles’ “Antigone.” With a new translation by David R. Slavitt, this is a most relevant and approachable production. Creon makes the decree that, of two brothers recently killed in battle, only one will be honored and the other shall be left unburied on the battlefield to be feasted on by birds and animals. With the news recently that a young man killed in North County was left dead on the streets of Ferguson for a seemingly unnecessary length of time before being removed to the morgue, the irony across the ages cannot be overlooked.

Eteocles receives a heroic burial while his brother, Polyneices, lies as carrion for the vultures. Their sisters, Antigone and Ismene meet and Antigone vows to bury her brother in defiance of the proclamation from the King of Thebes. When a guard discloses his discovery of Antigone burying her brother, Creon is adamant that she shall be punished, despite the fact that his son, Haemon, is planning to marry Antigone. When he locks her in a cave, a blind soothsayer reprimands Creon and tells him the Gods are not pleased with his decisions. A messenger verifies the tragic results of his actions and he is left to suffer the losses he incurs from his stubborn and unwise choices.

Peter Mayer as Creon mourns his son, played by Andrew Michael Neiman in "Antigone" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Peter Mayer as Creon mourns his son, played by Andrew Michael Neiman in “Antigone” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Peter Mayer is intense as Creon. He boasts and commands respect for his decisions and then falls apart emotionally as he carries his dead son on stage and realizes he has lost everyone including his beloved wife. As Antigone, Maggie Conroy is equally defiant in her quest for honor for her brother. A fiery performance that stands up to the intensity of Creon. As her sister, Ismene, Wendy Renee Greenwood continues her mastery of the stage that has been steadily earning her laurels. She also takes on the role of Creon’s wife, Eurydice and, without a word, expresses emotions beyond what can be said for her pain and sorrow.

The three Theban Elders act as narrators and, at times, an unwanted conscious for Creon. Dennis Lebby, Norman McGowan and Patrick Siler have most of the onstage time as they comment as representatives of the people of Thebes and play lackeys to Creon. They also provide the musical accompaniment that often becomes a part of any Upstream production. John Bratkowski also pulls double duty- as the hapless guard who must deliver the news of Antigone’s defiance to Creon and then as the soothsayer who chastises him.

Theban Elders relate the hopes and fears of the people in "Antigone" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Theban Elders relate the hopes and fears of the people in “Antigone” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Andrew Michael Neiman is strong as Haemon as he also decries his father’s actions and then decides to show his defiance to Creon in the most tragic way possible. Rounding out the cast is a remarkable performance by Nancy Lewis as the Messenger who brings Creon’s world crashing in around him.

Artistic Director of Upstream, Philip Boehm, handles the directorial duties of “Antigone” with and eye for the classic it is while still making it a play with great audience appeal. It speaks well and, with that contemporary tie-in, makes it even more powerful than usual. The Michael Heil set design is stunning in its simplicity and LaLaonnie Lehman’s costumes are spot on. Steve Carmichael’s lighting design enhances the production as well to make this a production not to be missed.

“Antigone” plays at the Kranzberg Center through October 26th. Give them a call at 314-863-4999 or visit at upstream theater@sbcglobal.net for tickets for more information.

 

Agatha Christie Baffles Us Again As Stray Dog Delivers With “And Then There Were None”

October 12, 2014
The classic curtain call as the suspects and victims strike a final pose on the stunning Stray Dog set of "And Then There Were None." Photo: John Lamb

The classic curtain call as the suspects and victims strike a final pose on the stunning Stray Dog set of “And Then There Were None.” Photo: John Lamb

It was a dark and stormy night…all of the mystery cliches come out in full force with Stray Dog Theatre’s season opener, “And Then There Were None.” Whether you remember it as “Ten Little Indians” or this title, Agatha Christie’s smart whodunit never ceases to intrigue as, one by one, guests at a party where the host doesn’t show begin to meet their maker. The audience was buzzing on opening night- both at intermissions and sometimes during the play itself- trying to guess which of the ten guests were behind it all and gasping as each body was discovered- onstage or off. It’s hard to resist a good mystery and Stray Dog has given us one of the best. A great companion piece to “The Mousetrap” that we saw at the Rep not too long ago, Agatha Christie never fails to intrigue and keep us on our toes.

Dr. Armstrong declares another victim in Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Dr. Armstrong declares another victim in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

A truly ensemble cast gathers at the island home off the coast of Devon, England. The time is early August in the mid 20th century. So the guests are dressed appropriately and stunningly by designer Eileen Engel. Teamed with the stream-lined, ultra-modern (for the time) set designed by Rob Lippert and the effective lighting design of Tyler Duenow, you’re in the mood for a good, classic mystery before the cast even settles in. Stray Dog favorite, Sarajane Alverson, leads the way as the tres chic Vera Claythorne. She really captures the spirit of the time and genre with her wonderful performance. Joining her as the first of the guests to arrive is Jeff Kargus as Philip Lombard- they later become key players in solving the mystery (or are one or the other responsible for the death and destruction?).

Rob Lippert pulls double duty in this production as he plays a minor role as the boatman who ferries the guests to the island. But does he decide to stay and surreptitiously become the killer? Yes, folks, red herrings abound and one of them might turn out to be the real thing. Lindsay Gingrich and Jason Meyers play temporary hosts as the maid and butler (of sorts) as the real host has been mysteriously delayed. Did the butler, classically, do it in this one?

Suspicions begin to fester as victims fall in Stray Dog's production of "And Then There Were None." Photo: John Lamb

Suspicions begin to fester as victims fall in Stray Dog’s production of “And Then There Were None.” Photo: John Lamb

Mark Abels does fine work as Dr. Armstrong while Zachary Stefaniak also shines as the cryptic Sir Lawrence Wargrave. Michael Juncal delights with his not-so finely honed detective skills and Ryan Wiechmann, David K. Gibbs and Judy E. Yordon round out the cast to heighten the suspect list as well as the list of victims. Stray Dog Artistic Director, Gary F. Bell, directs this production with an eye for detail and heightened suspense. He cleverly lays the clues and  handles the clever “disappearing” soldiers from the mantlepiece with style and deception.

“And Then There Were None” is about as clever a mystery as you could ask for. Despite seeing the film and other stage productions, I was fooled again. I mis-guessed what I thought I knew. I’m ready now- if someone does this one again, it’s time to look for the how and why along the way. So, even if you’ve seen this one before, don’t be so sure- you may over-think it like it did on opening night. What a fun evening in the theatre. Don’t miss Stray Dog Theatre’s opening production of the season, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” It plays through October 25th. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information.

 

“Bonnie & Clyde” Tear Up Stage At New Line With Bullets And Ballads

October 4, 2014
Matt Pentecost and Larissa White as "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Matt Pentecost and Larissa White as “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Let’s play word association- you know, I give you a word or phrase and you say the first thing that pops into your head. “Scott Miller.” Now you say “Frank Wildhorn.” Not in a million years, you say? Well, the world must be coming to an end because New Line Theatre is producing a Frank Wildhorn show but it’s not like any you’ve seen (or more importantly, heard) before- “Bonnie & Clyde.” Although it lasted only four weeks on Broadway, Scott Miller always seems to breath new life into shows that meet that kind of fate. This one is a fast-paced, toe-tapping romp through the lives of these two outlaw lovers who captured the public’s fascination during America’s depression and made heroes out of two inept, small time thieves who eventually became killers as well.

Frank Wildorn has obviously put together a musical score that is a perfect fit with the story and his country/bluegrass take makes for a spirited sound that lifts the story into much the same realm that the famous film did back in the ’60’s. Frequent Andrew Lloyd Webber contributor, Don Black has provided appropriate lyrics and Ivan Menchell’s book focuses on the lovers and their families and shows how misguided these two truly were. It makes for a great companion piece to the new kids on the block, the November Theatre Company and their production of “Assassins” playing its final week-end in town. Lots of gunfire and whacked out psychology that wreaks havoc on everyone who stands in their way.

Zak Farmer leads the congregation in "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Zak Farmer leads the congregation in “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The cast, as usual, is simply first rate. Bonnie and Clyde are both making their New Line debuts and what a wonderful chemistry they display. Larissa White, a willowy and winsome Bonnie Parker wins our heart from the start and displays a phenomenal singing voice along with a strong acting performance. As Clyde Barrow, Matt Pentecost simply shines on both levels as well. There’s electricity on stage whenever they’re together and their steam warmed up a nippy opening night in the theatre.

Brendan Ochs as Buck Barrow and Matt Pentecost as Clyde in "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Brendan Ochs as Buck Barrow and Matt Pentecost as Clyde in “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Brendan Ochs and Sarah Porter make another strong couple as Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife, Blanche. Always in and out of jail (usually breaking out), Clyde and Buck are a worry to their respective mates until Bonnie eventually delights in the fame they’re gathering. Reynaldo Arceno shows off his pipes as one of Bonnie’s more respectable suitors, Ted Hinton. A lawman bent on putting both Barrow brothers behind bars, he never gives up his pursuit of their heads and Bonnie’s heart. New Line veteran, Zachary Allen Farmer, continues to amaze with his splendid singing voice and an actor who continually has a twinkle in his eye. In this one, he’s the fire and brimstone preacher who tries to tame the town as well as these displaced lovers. His two big numbers, “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and the second act opener, “Made In America,” are highlights in a show filled with special moments.

Larissa White charms Matt Pentecost in New Line's "Bonnie & Clyde." Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Larissa White charms Matt Pentecost in New Line’s “Bonnie & Clyde.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sharing the spotlight in supporting roles are a handful of wonderful new and established New Line performers. Kimi Short and Joel Hackbarth are superb as the long-suffering parents of Clyde while Alison Helmer turns in a great performance as Bonnie’s unforgiving mother. Christopher “Zany” Clark (must be an interesting story about that nickname) is strong as the local sheriff while Mara Bollini is a riot in a short but memorable moment at the governor. Kent Coffel has a few chest and desk pounding moments as a Texas Ranger and the rest in that long list of featured players include Christopher Strawhun, Marshall Jennings, Ann Hier and Nellie Mitchell.

The new New Line band is impressive indeed headed up by Jeffrey Richard Carter. In sight at the back of the stage, Mr. Carter is as entertaining as the on stage cast as he directs the band with subtle yet striking hand gestures and head nods. As mentioned, the score is an impressive one and includes an outstanding opening sequence (where we see what is really the finale) and it leads into “Picture Show” and “This World Will Remember Me” where Bonnie and Clyde envision two different outcomes to a life leading to fame and fortune. Clyde and Buck share a special, frenetic moment in “When I Drive” and the beautiful love duet, “You Love Who You Love” features Bonnie and Blanche accepting the mates they have chosen in life. The gorgeous “What Was Good Enough For You” could easily have been called the “Bonnie and Clyde Waltz”- it’s a wonderful stage moment that takes on a dream sequence quality.

Clyde Barrow goes on a robbing spree in "Bonnie & Clyde" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Clyde Barrow goes on a robbing spree in “Bonnie & Clyde” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The incredible Rob Lippert has outdone himself with a scenic and lighting design that fit like a glove into the show’s theme and beauty. The front of a ’30’s roadster dominates the backstage area as it opens up on a highway that splits the stage. Henry Barrow’s gas station, the subtle backdrop of a bank, barbershop, sheriff’s office and jail cell are all appropriately tucked into place. The brilliant lights featuring a lot of red and stark whites along with the flashes of gunfire that fill the stage are incredible. Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert’s costumes are beautifully realized and Tim Ceradsky’s sound just adds to the thrills and chills of “Bonnie & Clyde.”

Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy bring it all together for another entertaining and fun-filled show. As I mentioned, we see the fate of the murderous lovers as the show opens and then a fitting finale features what appears to be Bonnie’s words from her number, “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” unrealistically coming true. It’s a strong ending to an evening that is full of surprises and multiple magic moments. Frank Wildorn’s “Bonnie & Clyde” plays at New Line Theatre through October 25th. Give them a call at 314-534-1111 for tickets or visit them at newlinetheatre.com for more information.

WEPG Opens Season With Family Turmoil In Joan Ackermann’s “Off The Map”

October 1, 2014
Paula Stoff Dean, John Foughty, Bob Nickles and Julia Monsey in WEPG's production of "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

Paula Stoff Dean, John Foughty, Bob Nickles and Julia Monsey in WEPG’s production of “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

Not an easy piece to describe, “Off The Map” is playwright Joan Ackermann’s look at a somewhat dysfunctional family with a few twists and turns along the way. In this West End Players Guild opening production, the Groden family lives, as the title would suggest, way off the map in the deserts of New Mexico. As seen through the narrator, Bo, as an adult, we see the family as they were when she was about ten or eleven. With a father suffering from depression, a somewhat beleaguered mother, a kindly uncle and a misguided stranger thrown in the mix, her upbringing is unconventional yet fascinating.

Matt Hanify and John Foughty share several beers in "Off The Map" at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Matt Hanify and John Foughty share several beers in “Off The Map” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Kate Weber starts things off as the adult Bo introducing us to her off the map and often off the wall family. Julia Monsey does a fine job as the young, inquisitive Bo who finds everything new and exciting. Her mother, Arlene, is given a rock-solid performance by Paula Stoff Dean. A total one-eighty from her role at Stray Dog as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” you can feel the weariness in her voice as she struggles with a husband, Charley, who hasn’t spoken more than a few words in some time and does nothing but wipe away tears from this sudden bout with depression. John Foughty, also greatly subdued from his role in the comedy, “The Liar” at St. Louis Shakespeare, gives a moving performance as the stoic Charley.

Paula Stoff Dean and Bob Nickles discuss his future as John Foughty ignores them in the background and Julie Monsey does a little eavesdropping in "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

Paula Stoff Dean and Bob Nickles discuss his future as John Foughty ignores them in the background and Julie Monsey does a little eavesdropping in “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

Another low key but strong performance from Matt Hanify as George. The fishing buddy of Bo, he eventually breaks her heart as he decides to move away, leaving her- or so she believes- totally friendless in the world. Rounding out the cast is the lanky Bob Nickles as William Gibbs. Although arriving at the Groden household as an IRS agent (the family has not paid taxes in some time as they actually have no real income, living off the land, as it were), he eventually and unexpectedly  professes his love for Arlene and decides to camp on their sofa as long as he’s allowed. Whatever his eventual plans, we realize he no longer considers himself a member of the Internal Revenue Service. He eventually winds up making some very good money as an artist- all starting with a mural for Bo’s room painted on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

Director Robert Ashton has brought some semblance of reality and believability to this somewhat outlandish script. Guiding us through the quirky Groden family, he makes the whole thing a lot more entertaining than I would have expected. Joan Ackermann has produced some off beat characters and the narrative, though plausible, is not all that interesting. This cast and director have pulled it, however, from the realm of dreary to something that’s quite fulfilling.

John Foughty as Charley in the WEPG's production of "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

John Foughty as Charley in the WEPG’s production of “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

The impressive Mark Wilson set design gives us that open, airy look of the desert Southwest and John “JT” Taylor’s lights also enhance the feel of the play. Tracey Newcomb’s costumes are perfect and the Chuck Lavazzi sound design is a strong one that moves the play along beautifully.

“Off The Map” may not totally be on the mark, but it’s a rather entertaining look at this bizarre family and their unprecedented lifestyle. Thanks to the strong cast and the moving direction, it’s worth your while. It plays at WEPG through October 5th. Give them a call at 314-667-5686 or go online at http://www.westendplayers.org for tickets or more information.