Archive for October, 2015

Tensions Grow As Gaslight’s Dim In The Rep’s Powerful “Angel Street”

October 22, 2015
Janie Brookshire as Bella and Clark Scott Carmichael as Jack in the Rep's production of "Angel Street." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Janie Brookshire as Bella and Clark Scott Carmichael as Jack in the Rep’s production of “Angel Street.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Mystery, murder, mayhem and madness prevail on the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage as “Angel Street” provides plenty of atmosphere and a top notch cast for this trip to 1880’s London. Not only did the film version change it’s name to “Gaslight,” but the term “gaslighting” ┬ábecame synonymous with one person attempting to drive another one mad by hinting that they’ve done things they can’t seem to remember. The dimming gaslights in the house on Angel Street become a key factor in this tale of a woman fearing she may be losing her mind.

Janie Brookshire as Bella and Geoffrey Wade as Rough in "Angel Street" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Janie Brookshire as Bella and Geoffrey Wade as Rough in “Angel Street” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The story is familiar to many as the play was written in the 30’s and has been a standard in many theaters over the years. So it’s not really a mystery as it is a psychological thriller. We know early on the who’s, why’s and wherefore’s, it’s just a matter of can the culprit be captured before he resorts to more drastic measures. Bella Manningham has been married to Jack for five years and they have recently moved to the posh, three story mansion that holds more secrets than we first realize. Her mother had gone mad and her husband finds excuses to remind her of this fact when he confronts her about missing items in the house and misplaced grocery lists. Janie Brookshire is perfectly cast as the frightened wife. She is obviously slightly afraid of her husband who can fly off the handle at a moment’s notice. But she is also unsure of her sanity as she is reminded of it every time she has a conversation with Jack. Ms. Brookshire never comes unglued or gets hysterical, she simply shows signs of being deeply afraid for many reasons.

Rachel Kenney as Nancy in the grips of Clark Scott Carmichael as Jack in the Rep's "Angel Street." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Rachel Kenney as Nancy in the grips of Clark Scott Carmichael as Jack in the Rep’s “Angel Street.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

As her husband, Clark Scott Carmichael is the perfect blend of a rugged and secure man but we can tell immediately that he is a conniver and probably has something else up his sleeve as well. It’s a delightful performance that makes the audience react on several levels. While Jack disappears on one of his nightly, mysterious adventures, we hear the doorbell and in comes retired Detective Rough. Confusing both Bella and the audience at first with his matter of fact yet mysterious manner and unrelenting questions, we soon realize he is a dedicated officer of the law who is still trying to solve a decades old case that has led him to the Manningham residence. Geoffrey Wade is slick and competent as can be, giving a humorous and personable quality to Rough. He is a perfect foil to the tension that prevades the play.

Bella (Janie Brookshire) is warned by Rough (Geoffrey Wade) in "Angel Street" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Bella (Janie Brookshire) is warned by Rough (Geoffrey Wade) in “Angel Street” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The cast is rounded out by two essential pieces in the puzzle, the kindly personable maid, Elizabeth and the saucy, young maid, Nancy. Amelia White gives Elizabeth the essence of a long-standing member of the household staff who knows something is going on and tries to help in any way she can. Rachel Kenney delights as the perky young girl who we suspect may have her eye on the master and we soon see how that becomes another major plot device.

Jenn Thompson directs “Angel Street” with a straightforward and principled hand. She evokes the true suspense inherent in the play and makes the audience gasp, cheer and hold onto their seats as the climatic scene plays out with just the right amount of tension and believability. She is ably assisted by a master group of technical people. When the audience first walks into the theatre, it’s an odd looking set with the parlor of the Manningham house on the Mainstage and a fireplace that soars up a long, black backdrop. As it turns out, that backdrop is a scrim that reveals the three levels of the house including an entry hallway, two sets of stairs, Bella’s upstairs bedroom and just the hint of the third floor where more of the mystery is eventually revealed. Being behind a somewhat opaque scrim gives it an even more mysterious quality. It’s a masterpiece designed by Wilson Chin.

Janie Brookshire as Bella gets yelled at by Jack, as played by Clark Scott Carmichael during the Rep's production of "Angel Street." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Janie Brookshire as Bella gets yelled at by Jack, as played by Clark Scott Carmichael during the Rep’s production of “Angel Street.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The veteran, Peter E. Sargent, has lit this production with exquisite mood-producing highlights and shadows, including those infernal gaslights hanging on the wall. Add Rusty Wandall’s superb sound design and you’ve got the complete package to bring the whole, eerie production to life. Another complete show with every piece clicking to perfection.

It’s appropriate that the play runs through the Halloween season as it plays those mind games that can be scarier than any ghost or haunted house. Is Bella mad or does she know what Jack is doing to her? Is Detective Rough the real deal or does he hold nefarious plans? What roles do the maids play? For those unfamiliar with “Angel Street” or “Gaslight,” it will keep you guessing. For those who know the play, it’s marvelous to watch it unfold. Plan a trip to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis between now and November 8th to see “Angel Street” as it should be done- the Rep way.

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Two Wily Stage Vets Spark Hilarity With “The Sunshine Boys” At New Jewish

October 17, 2015
John Contini as Willie, hands the phone to Al, played by Peter Mayer in the New Jewish Theatre production of "The Sunshine Boys."

John Contini as Willie, hands the phone to Al, played by Peter Mayer in the New Jewish Theatre production of “The Sunshine Boys.”

The New Jewish Theatre opens their season with a sure-fire Neil Simon script, “The Sunshine Boys.” And, no matter how they got there, John Contini and Peter Mayer make this play their own. Mr. Mayer went into the play on short notice and then, due to an illness, Bobby Miller had to drop out and, with just three days before opening, John Contini stepped in and we have a hit. Looking at a long-lost art- vaudeville- Simon waxes nostalgic but gives us a brief glimpse into what made this great American entertainment so popular for so many years.

The team of Willie Clark and Al Lewis (that’s right- Lewis and Clark) were the most popular comedians on the circuit until Al decided to retire- which left Willie without a partner and without a career. Willie never forgave him and now, years after vaudeville died a slow, painful death, CBS wants to do a tribute show highlighting this famous duo and their infamous “Doctor’s Sketch.” The demise of vaudeville may once again be in the cards as Willie refuses to work with Al but eventually comes around. Through the bickering and dredging up of old peccadilloes, the two

John Contini and Jared Sanz-Agero in "The Sunshine Boys" at New Jewish Theatre.

John Contini and Jared Sanz-Agero in “The Sunshine Boys” at New Jewish Theatre.

finally reach the final dress before the live performance and almost come to blows. We quickly cut to after the show and find how friendships are resurrected and then lost again.

It never ceases to amaze me what a stellar group of actors we have living in St. Louis. On a few days’ notice, Mr. Contini not only learned lines, he brought a nuance and power to Willie that is hilarious and heartbreaking. Matching him barb for barb is the mixture of irrascability and heart-of-gold that Mr. Mayer brings to Al. These two form a chemistry that shows what these two characters have meant to each other over the years. Having seen “The Sunshine Boys” numerous times, it’s amazing how each pair of Lewis and Clark’s over the years have been so different

Peter Mayer as Al rambles on to an indifferent Willie played by John Contini at the New Jewish production of "The Sunshine Boys."

Peter Mayer as Al rambles on to an indifferent Willie played by John Contini at the New Jewish production of “The Sunshine Boys.”

yet so uncommingly good. This pair ranks among the best and, despite being local actors who have undoubtedly worked together over the years, have quickly found a bond over just a few rehearsals.

Jared Sanz-Agero is stellar as Willie’s nephew who cares for him, brings him groceries and Variety every Wednesday and even eventually offers to open up his home to Willie when he can’t fend for himself anymore. His compassion and dedication to his uncle shines through. Fannie Belle-Lebby is hysterical as Willie’s visiting nurse and the trio of Julia Crump, Bob Harvey and Leo B. Ramsey provide humor as foils in the live TV rehearsal.

The beautiful Margery and Peter Spack set design with Peter Mayer and John Contini in "The Sunshine Boys" at New Jewish Theatre.

The beautiful Margery and Peter Spack set design with Peter Mayer and John Contini in “The Sunshine Boys” at New Jewish Theatre.

Director Doug Finlayson leads the cast by the heartstrings. This is a funny, funny script coming from a man who started in the next big thing after vaudeville, early TV variety shows, Neil Simon. But it also mixes nostalgia with a keen sense of loss for this almost forgotten art form. It’s a remarkable work that truly gets better with each viewing. The lovely and poingnant set design is by Margery and Peter Spack with a great lighting design by Michael Sullivan and Michele Friedman Siler’s excellent costumes. In other words, New Jewish has once again delivered a total knock-out for their opening.

Set in 1972, “The Sunshine Boys” was a love letter to vaudeville and it continues to remind us of that bright and shining moment of American entertainment that lives on in some forms today. It’s a fine play, lovingly recreated at New Jewish. Don’t miss out on this chance to see two icons of local theatre create two icons of vaudeville. “The Sunshine Boys” plays at New Jewish Theatre through November 1st.

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