Archive for November, 2014

The Laughs (Dark and Light) Just Keep On Coming In Max & Louie’s “Chancers”

November 14, 2014
Pamela Reckamp, Nathan Bush, Donna Weinsting and Jared Sanz-Agero cautiously feel each other out in "Chancers" at Max & Louie.

Pamela Reckamp, Nathan Bush, Donna Weinsting and Jared Sanz-Agero cautiously feel each other out in “Chancers” at Max & Louie.

We’re dealing with a U.S. premiere here in Robert Massey’s funny, funny look at life in County Kildare, Ireland as “Chancers” takes a look at ethics versus survival when a winning lottery ticket becomes the prized possession in four people’s fight for the $250,000 grand prize. Intrepid acting and superb direction bring this play to life with snappy (and often rather “blue” dialogue) and a dilemma that never quite gets solved but leaves the audience somewhat to their own devices. Max & Louie Productions bring us this laugh filled play fresh from it’s Dublin premiere.

Nathan Bush as Aiden threatens his best friend, JP, played by Jared Sanz-Agero in Max & Louie's "Chancers."

Nathan Bush as Aiden threatens his best friend, JP, played by Jared Sanz-Agero in Max & Louie’s “Chancers.”

Aiden and Dee own a small convenience store in rural Ireland and business has not been booming. A blousy, rude and vindictive neighborhood harpy, Gertie, drops in every day to complain and taunt them- letting them know how much better and cheaper things are at the local Aldi and mega store. Her philosophy seems to be “if you can’t say anything nice about someone- go ahead and say it.” Add to the mix a friend of the couple who obviously dated Dee in the past, JP, who becomes the catalyst for family discordance and a nefarious plot that turns the story line upside down.

Nathan Bush is excellent as the wishy-washy husband who tries scheme after scheme to pump customer attractive perks to his store. The latest fail is a hot food bar that he’s already shut down as it was losing them money even faster. The delightful Pamela Reckamp is his long-suffering wife who is trying to get some extra money in by going to a job interview as the play opens. You realize that this is going to be another major fail. These two make a wonderful couple who, in other circumstances, would be perfect for each other.

Nathan Bush and Pamela Reckamp settle a disagreement as Jared Sanz-Agero looks on in "Chancers" at Max & Louie.

Nathan Bush and Pamela Reckamp settle a disagreement as Jared Sanz-Agero looks on in “Chancers” at Max & Louie.

The always incredible Donna Weinsting plays the irascible Gertie who wears her disdain like a letter sweater. She’s proud to be the local Debbie Downer and has a mother’s blindness for her rather perverted son who we never see but get enough info on through his escapades and a very funny yet disturbing phone call with Dee. And she provides most of the “X-rated” dialogue. Jared Sanz-Agero is a ball of fire as the life-long friend who bounces around the little shop devouring their food and drinking their soft drinks while not opening his wallet.

The crux of the plot comes when Gertie asks Aiden to check her lottery ticket and we see from the stunned look on his face that it’s a really big winner. He composes himself and tells her it’s not a winner and tries to throw it away. But Gertie likes to keep her old losing tickets, just in case. When Aiden tells JP about the ticket after Gertie has left, he tries to hatch a plot to mug her and steal it. Aiden won’t go along but when Dee returns after her failed job interview, she agrees with JP but feels they should find a more genteel route to procuring the winning ticket. Through brawls between the two men, the obvious ignored “voice of reason” from Dee and the final confrontation with Gertie, “Chancers” gives us a chance to see the worst in human nature. A hilarious transformation to mugger for JP and the absolutely absurd plans and counter plans are just a wonderful trip for the audience.

Pamela Reckamp, Donna Weinsting, Jared Sanz-Agero and Nathan Bush in a promo shot for Max & Louie's "Chancers."

Pamela Reckamp, Donna Weinsting, Jared Sanz-Agero and Nathan Bush in a promo shot for Max & Louie’s “Chancers.”

Sydnie Grosberg Ronga has directed with a frenetic pace that suits the outlandish script. Assisted by a masterful set design by Margery and Peter Spack and the strong lighting design of John Cameron Carter, this plays has the proper feel for the small Irish village. And special kudos to dialogue coach Katy Keating who brings an almost flawless dialect to all involved.

This is your last week-end to catch “Chancers” at the Kranzberg Arts Center- it’s all over November 16th. The small crowd on Thursday night when I was lucky enough to see it filled the space with laughs to a well deserved cast. Contact Max & Louie Productions at maxandlouie.com to get more information or buy tickets.

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Ethereal, Elusive Tennessee Williams Play, “Stairs To The Roof,” Opens After 67 Year Absence

November 10, 2014
Em Piro and Paul Cereghino as the young lovers in "Stairs To The Roof" by Tennessee Williams produced by Sudden View Productions.

Em Piro and Paul Cereghino as the young lovers in “Stairs To The Roof” by Tennessee Williams produced by Sudden View Productions.

Wow! St. Louis theatre just keeps getting better all the time. Those in the know realize what a wonderful theatrical community exists here and now, a new company and a new production cements that solid reputation with a Tennessee Williams play that hasn’t been professionally produced in 67 years. Despite being an early attempt at a Broadway bound play, this is a very un-Tennessee Williams play despite the echoing voice that was to eventually bring us a multitude of powerful theatrical wonders. “Stairs To The Roof” is a dream-like romance that points to a happy ending but with that underlying tension of dissatisfaction and pessimism that pervades so much of his later work.

Sudden View Productions, led by Artistic Director Carrie Houk, takes a big bite out of the theatrical apple for her first attempt. A large cast and stunning technical qualities belie what you might think would be a beginning for a new group. But SVP pulls it off with style and panache. Benjamin D. Murphy is a dreamer. Despite being trapped in a thankless job at a shirt making concern (close to Mr. Williams’ early career at the International Shoe Factory here in St. Louis), he dreams of freeing himself and his start is discovering an almost hidden stairway that leads to the roof of the factory. Paul Cereghino is sheer perfection in the role of Murphy. He literally embodies the spirit that is expressed in one of the key lines in the play, “to be free is to have achieved your life.” Throughout the performance you can detect the itch for freedom in his manner and voice inflection.

The beginnings of the love that erupts as realized by a ballet sequence in the Tennessee Williams play, "Stairs To The Roof."

The beginnings of the love that erupts as realized by a ballet sequence in the Tennessee Williams play, “Stairs To The Roof.”

He eventually hooks up with “The Girl,” played with exquisite subtlety and radiance by Em Piro. The two go on an all night spree that encompass local haunts like Washington University and the Zoo (where he frees a group of foxes that are howling for their escape) and even encounter love in the beautifully realized dream sequence featuring a lovely pas de deux featuring St. Louis Ballet dancers Clayton Cunningham and Elizabeth Lloyd. Local acting icon, Peter Mayer, is properly stern and clueless as Ben’s boss while Reginald Pierre is outstanding as the “mysterious” Mr. E who pops up throughout and then plays the major role as deus ex machina in the final sequence.

An outstanding supporting cast bring this ethereal production to glorious life. From the mechanical, rhythmic secretaries in the opening scene to the stunning circus-like dream sequence during the young lovers’ night out, this is a massive and quite successful undertaking that makes this Tennessee Williams script more than memorable. The surreal circus sequence is just one of many highlights in this unusual Tennessee Williams play. Thanks to the brilliant direction of Fred Abrahamse, the production pops with an other-worldly feel. With the talents of Marcel Meyer as set designer, costumer and choreographer, it is awash in symbolism and a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Patrick Huber’s lighting design just adds to that feel with broad strokes of color amid the touches of realism. With a theme of “blue” in Ben’s outfit, scenery and lighting and the often bluesy score of Henry Palkes, we get a real feel for the overriding themes of “Stairs To The Roof.” The music for the dream ballet in particular is a work of art in itself and makes that scene a transcendent moment in the whole production.

One of the many stunning stage pictures that encompass the beautiful Tennessee Williams play, "Stairs To The Roof" at Sudden View Productions.

One of the many stunning stage pictures that encompass the beautiful Tennessee Williams play, “Stairs To The Roof” at Sudden View Productions.

With promises of more in the near future and an eventual Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Carrie Houk and Sudden View Productions may become a major player in an already rich theatre scene in St. Louis. Despite the occasional production over the years, this is the first full professional production of this unusual Williams play in sixty-seven years. What a fitting tribute to the man who made St. Louis home despite his often derogatory remarks about our fair city. It molded him and made him the great playwright that he became. Now we get a chance to see how it started before “The Glass Menagerie,” before “A Streetcar Named Desire,” before “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and before the marvelous output over a lifetime of great and near-great plays and short stories.

It’s also the grand opening of the newly renovated Boo Cat Club- a marvelous venue in the midst of mid-town and one of many elegant residences that housed amenities such as a grand ballroom and a fully realized stage. In fact, many of Tennessee Williams’ plays were first produced in this building when it was the home of the St. Louis Artist Guild. Be sure to plan on seeing this historic play while it plays here through November 22nd.

Sumptuous “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Carries Us To Another World At The Rep

November 7, 2014
Alvin Keith as Oberon, Jim Poulos as Puck and Rebecca Watson as Titania in the Rep's "A Midsummer Nights' Dream." Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Alvin Keith as Oberon, Jim Poulos as Puck and Rebecca Watson as Titania in the Rep’s “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

One of Shakespeare’s most oft produced comedies, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” takes us to that dream world with a stunning cast, a beautifully rendered set, and clever direction at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Paul Mason Barnes, our Shakespeare guru who charmed us with his ‘Nawlins rendition of another classic, “A Comedy Of Errors,” a few years ago, delights us again with a ¬†flawless production of this one set mainly in a wood near Athens. The Duke, Theseus and his Queen, Hippolyta are transformed into Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies as they attempt to untie the knot of young lovers and rekindle their own romance in the meantime.

Michael Jean Dozier, Carl Howell, Kern McFadden, Michael James Reed and Adam Lendermon as the "performing" mechanicals in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Michael Jean Dozier, Carl Howell, Kern McFadden, Michael James Reed and Adam Lendermon as the “performing” mechanicals in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Alvin Keith is a powerful and fun loving king in his dual roles and Rebecca Watson also shines as his Queen in her two incarnations. Her wonderful turn when she falls in love with Bottom, turned into a braying donkey by Oberon, is a great moment in a play that brings us one great moment after another. Michael James Reed continues his stage magic as the boastful Bottom who, as a member of the mechanicals who are rehearsing a play to present to the Duke and his bride, is one of the most hilarious, hee-hawing asses we’ve ever seen in the multitude of productions of this play witnessed over the years. In fact, the entire group of mechanicals are all individually gifted with their own special little traits that make their eventual production of their skit also one of the funniest ever seen.

Jeffrey Omura, Gracyn Mix, Caroline Amos and Andy Rindlisbach as the mis-matched lovers in the Rep's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jeffrey Omura, Gracyn Mix, Caroline Amos and Andy Rindlisbach as the mis-matched lovers in the Rep’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Bob Walton is a fussbudget at Peter Quince, director of the show within a show with henchmen including Carl Howell, Adam Lendermon, Kern McFadden and Michael Jen Dozier. Several members also double as the fairies of the forest who play havoc with the mechanicals as well as control the outcome of everything from the sleeping Queen to the unravelling of the four young lovers who undergo several spells to sort out their eventual hook-ups.

As those young lovers, Caroline Amos as Hermia and Gracyn Mix as Helena make quite a contrast as friends and rivals for the affection of their beloveds. Ms. Amos displays great comic timing and a penchant for physical comedy. Mix also gets to “mix” it up with some delightful fisticuffs between the two ladies. As their objects of affection (though that changes at the whim of Puck), Jeffrey Omura as Lysander and Andy Rindlisbach as Demetrius equally go toe-to-toe with the physical shenanigans ¬†and their scenes as a foursome are wonderful to behold. Jerry Vogel also does nice work as Egeus, father of Hermia.

Jerry Vogel, Andy Rindlisbach, Caroline Amos and Jeffrey Omura in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jerry Vogel, Andy Rindlisbach, Caroline Amos and Jeffrey Omura in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jim Poulos ties everything together as Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck. The sprightly actor bounds around the stage and works wonders seeming to do everything but pull a rabbit out of his hat. It’s a remarkable performance that steals a show that’s full of scene-stealing moments from everyone.

Director Paul Mason Barnes weaves this magical tale with what appears to be a magic wand. He’s ably assisted by choreographer Matt Williams. James Kronzer has added another strong character in the guise of his brilliant scene design. Along with lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, the forest literally shimmers with clarity and depth. Barry G. Funderburg adds a strong sound design that includes magical moments when Puck, Oberon and others mime their other-worldly moves throughout the play. It creates a world unlike any you’ve ever seen.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays at the Rep Mainstage through November 9th. You can still enjoy this mystical, magical production by calling 314-968-4925 or visiting http://www.repstl.org.