Archive for April, 2016

Emily Post Advises Macbeth, Brought To You By Dial Soap

April 27, 2016

trashlogo“Trash Macbeth” is a Shakespeare mash up you’ve got to see to believe. ERA (Equally Represented Arts) has dropped Emily Post into the middle of the Macbeth dinner scene (where audience members become guests) and then pause every now and then for a 50’s-style commercial. “Trash” becomes significant in every sense of that word as others trash Macbeth, this company trashes conventional ideas of Shakespeare’s tragedy, trash is left all around the theatre so that members of the cast bring out brooms to sweep it up after those same cast members have trashed the set. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have at a Shakespearean tragedy.

Audience participation (non-threatening) becomes apparent as you’re handed a script as you enter with your “lines.” As it turns out, everyone has the same script and it’s a short, group reading rather than an individual sweaty-palms “audition.”You’re also given a glass of some sort to put your drink in- whether purchased at the bar or some wine that’s on the table where you’re seated. You’re also greeted and “chatted up” by members of the cast in one of their characters as you’re led to your assigned seat at the table or at the overflow “groundlings” section of the audience.

trash-tableThe delightful Ellie Schwetye is Emily Post who stops proceedings every now and then- sometimes with a little bell- to advise us or the cast on proper dinner etiquette. She also doubles as one of the three witches who have a lot more than eye of newt in their cauldron. A mix of charm, athleticism and bit of caustic is our Lady Macbeth, Rachel Tibbets. She is simply a wonder as she bounces from one end of the theatre to the other invoking wrath, becoming a witch or charmingly selling us household items. Rounding out the three witches and also as Lady Macduff is an effervescent Maggie Conroy. Some of the best scenes in a show loaded with stand out moments is the three ladies as household diva witches either selling us products like Dial Soap (with hexachlorophene) or adding unusual ingredients to that cauldron.

The men are equally adept including Mitch Eagles as Macbeth who runs the gamut of joy, guilt and horror. He’s also one of the culprits of trashing the stage as, instead of blood running from his hands after the murder, he leaves a trail of shredded newspaper. Carl Overly Jr. shines as Macduff, strutting his acting chops while Nic Tayborn rounds out the cast as Banquo and other characters. Seated among the guests at the long, long table and playing on the main stage as well as the entire interior of the theatre, these actors get a real work out while bringing us a condensed yet incisive version of “Macbeth.” The dinner guests are even instructed to move their chairs away so that the final scene of the play can be played around and on top of the table. Actors are jumping on the table, using it for dramatic emphasis and trashing it as quickly as the other actors are clearing the complete dinner settings and, of course, the wine glasses.

trash-ladiesERA Artistic Director, director of and creator of “Trash Macbeth,” Lucy Cashion has brought reckless abandon to Shakespeare’s tragedy and, for those of us who have seen this play many, many times, it was a welcome, new interpretation. It’s like theatre in the round where the audience is actually in the round with the actors. Kristin Cassidy is responsible for the inventive scene design and Erik Kuhn designed the lights as well as serving as fight choreographer. Meredith Bounty’s costumes were a delight with formal clothing for the men and the 50’s looks  for the women. Rachel Tibbets even got to wear a top made from Brillo pad boxes. And the coronation outfits included a mix of newspapers and what may have been shower curtains. All in all, a very clever mix of kitsch in both style and substance.

You’re not supposed to have so much fun at a tragedy but with “Trash Macbeth,” you’ll have the time of your life. You’ll hear most of the famous Shakespeare dialogue- sometimes overlapping each other- and get an earful of 50’s nostalgia, parenting advice and other offbeat surprises. It is a bit long with close to two hours without intermission, but it does go by pretty fast. Catch “Trash Macbeth,” presented by ERA through May 7th. Visit http://www.eratheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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Some Odd Twists To Chekov As STLAS Presents “Ivanov”

April 19, 2016
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Ivanov kisses young Sasha as his wife, Anna, makes a surprise appearance during “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actor’s Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents a conventional yet slightly askew version of one of Anton Chekov’s lesser known scripts, “Ivanov.” The title character may just win the prize for the gloomiest of all of the gloom and doom folk that parade across any stage presenting a Chekov play. Director Wayne Salomon has populated the small stage with cornucopia of players who sometime leave and sometime just wait at the back of the stage until they are summoned again. Add to that the eerie blue fluorescent lights that ring the log cabin-like set and you’re in for an evening of more than the usual surprises in a Chekov tragedy.

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Lebedev entertains the crowd during a scene of St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of Chekov’s “Ivanov.” Photo: Patrick Huber

The plot is, as usual, a bit convoluted- not really hard to follow- just a lot of characters with back stories and present problems that cause many of them to lose their minds. Drew Battles is superb as the title character. His wife is dying of tuberculosis but he can’t trust the doctor who is caring for her. While he admires the advances of a younger woman, he can’t help but wish that he were free to pursue her. His frustration mounts until he literally bursts with grief and guilt. Julie Layton is delightful as the ailing Anna who relies on the prognosis of the doctor and the good care of Count Shabelsky.

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The country folk gather to gossip during “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Bobby Miller is a proper curmudgeon as the Count who must fight off advances from a young woman who is after his title. Dave Wassilak is the sketchy Borkin who adds to the grief of Ivanov as he constantly reminds him of the bills he has buried himself under. Alexandra Petrullo is the saucy Sasha who woos Ivanov and Reginald Pierre does a terrific turn as the doctor attending to Anna.

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Ivanov has one of his many breakdowns as Lebedev consoles him during St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “Ivanov.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Teresa Doggett has a lot of fun with the gossipy role of Zinaida and B. Weller adds great touches of humor as her husband, Lebedev. He reminds me a lot of Kelsey Grammer and appears to be channeling his inner Frasier Crane in this role. Rounding out the cast are Cara Barresi, Shannon Nara, Clayton Bury, Jan Meyer and Leerin Campbell. There are plenty of outbursts of humor and hilarity amid the gloom of Ivanov and a few of the other characters who are experiencing less than exemplary lives and this adds to the fun of this production.

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The eerie blue-lit stage during a quiet moment in “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Wayne Salomon keeps the play moving at a good clip and does a great job of just directing traffic with a large cast on the small STLAS stage. He makes is a play that ebbs and flows with a great mix of laughter and tragedy. That Patrick Huber set and lighting design is inspired with the cabin jutting out and those mysterious blue lights perfectly spaced along both sides and the back wall of the universal set. Teresa Doggett doubles up with a traditional and effective costume design.

Chekov’s “Ivanov” offers a translation adapted by Tom Stoppard- which may account for  some of the absurdity slicing through the Russian’s typical austere proceedings. This strong cast takes it and runs with it making it a delight for the audience. Even Artistic Director William Roth got a laugh in his pre-curtain speech when he mentioned that they forgot to put in the program that a shot will be fired during the play. He mumbled, “yeah, Chekov” as you probably can’t find a Chekov play that doesn’t have gunfire in it as per his long ago instructions- “If a rifle is hanging on the wall in Act I, it must be fired by Act III.”

Have some fun with Chekov (oxymoron?) through May 1st and enjoy “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

 

Oh, The Humanity! “Richard III”Carries On At St. Louis Shakespeare

April 12, 2016
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The Queen and her court listen to Richard as he pleads his case in St. Louis Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” Photo: Ron James

Leaving death and destruction (mostly death) in his wake, Richard III racks up an impressive kill count as St. Louis Shakespeare brings the villain back to the stage. He takes prisoners, but they don’t last long including his nephews- all to capture the crown until he meets his fate on Bosworth Field.

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The Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth and Margaret of Anjou discuss their dilemma and possible solutions during “Richard III” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

It’s after the infamous War of the Roses and Richard plots and plans to reach the crown despite several obstacles in his way. Charlie Barron is a Richard you just have to root for with his charming grin and his skewed logical thinking as he arranges for the demise of all of those in his way. Going for a limp instead of the standard hunchback (hard to carry off and do all of the jumping, fighting and scheming he must do), he uses the audience as his foil and barometer to measure the bloody path he travels. It’s a strong performance that commands the stage.

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Richard seems to be calculating the fate of one of his young nephews during a scene in “Richard III” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

As planned, George mysteriously dies in prison and the King, Edward IV is ailing and soon dies as well. Maxwell Knocke plays George and then tackles several other characters throughout the show and Chuck Winning doubles up as Edward and Sir Robert Brackenbury. Erik Woods and Brian Rolf play Ratcliffe and Catesby with conviction- loyal to Richard- to a point. Richard has trouble maintaining friendships, to say the least.

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Queen Elizabeth consoles her sickly King in St. Louis Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” Photo: Ron James

Michelle Hand does excellent work as Queen Elizabeth. Her confrontations with Richard and her dealings with Anne, Margaret and the Duchess of York are some of the most powerful scenes in the play. Jennifer Theby-Quinn is Anne, reluctantly betrothed to Richard (after he has her husband killed). She makes a formidable yet slightly frightened foil to Richard. Jeanitta Perkins also turns in a strong performance as Margaret, Queen to the soon-to-be-late Henry VI (yes, another victim of our villainous hero). She lays the curse on Richard and watches as the curses soon come to fruition. And finally, Margeau Steinau delivers the goods as Cecily, the Duchess of York. She, too, is wise to the machinations of Richard but can do little to stop him.

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Richard prepares for the battle at Bosworth Field in “Richard III” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

John Foughty’s Buckingham also becomes a loyal follower who is betrayed by Richard as so many of the court turn on him including Michael Pierce as the Marquess of Dorset, Scott McDonald’s Early of Rivers, the Earl of Derby as portrayed by Tim Callahan and Joseph Cella’s Lord Hastings. They all meet the fate of Richard’s wrath as do his young nephews as portrayed by Alex Bollini and Riley James. Rounding out the cast in multiple roles are Brennan Eller, Andre Eslamian and Erik Kuhn who gets to strike the fatal blow on Bosworth Field as the Earl of Richmond.

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Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Anne confronts Richard- Charlie Barron during the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Richard III.” Photo: Ron James

Suki Peters, Artistic Director of St. Louis Shakespeare, has done a marvelous job of directing “Richard III” with the large cast on a very small stage at the Ivory Theatre. Her stage pictures are breathtaking at times and, along with fight choreographer Erik Kuhn, has put together an impressive final fight at Bosworth. Kyra Bishop has designed a multi-level set that works well with the large cast and Scott McDonald’s lights are superb. J.C. Krajick’s costumes are impressive as well.

“Richard III” is not one of Shakespeare’s easier plays to pull off. With the convoluted plot and cast of characters, it’s sometimes hard to follow. But this production is clear and precise and moves at a very good pace. St. Louis Shakespeare’s production of “Richard III” plays at the Ivory through April 17th. Give them a call at 314-361-5664 for tickets or more information.

 

Wild Night, Wild Crowd, Wild Plays At “BRIEFS,” 5th Annual

April 11, 2016

briefs-logoYou won’t find a more diverse audience or more diverse entertainment than at the “Briefs Festival of Short LGBTQ Plays.” This is the 5th annual presentation co-hosted by Joan Lipkin, Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company, and Darin Slyman, CEO of Vital Voice. Although it only lasts the one week-end, it’s worth a shout out and congratulations to of wonderful group of playwrights, directors and actors who explore LGBTQ themes through a series of short plays or vignettes that delight a very vocal crowd.

“Baby Black Jesus” opens the night- written by Vincent Terrell Durham and directed by Jacqueline Thompson. Carl Overly and Darian Michael Garey explore the age old question of coming out to the parents. “When Miss Lydia Hinkley Gives A Bird The Bird” features five stellar actresses exploring a Victorian world of unexpected pleasures. It features Donna Weinsting, Nicole Angeli, Laura Singleton, Rachel Tibbets and Maggie Wininger bringing the James Still script to life under the direction of Pamela Reckamp.

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Ken Haller (with mic) presents the Ken Haller Playwriting Competition For LGBTQ and Allied Youth Award as Darin Slyman and Joan Lipkin look on.

Ken Haller, local pediatrician, actor, performer and all-around nice guy presented a new award named after him to a young playwright, Max Friedman and then Max’s play, “The Grind” was performed as directed by Gad Gutterman. Jared Campbell and Kai Klose explore the differences between a one-night stand and a real relationship. Then Scott C. Sickles presented his play, “I Knew It,” directed by Matthew R. Kerns. A lesson in comedic acting and timing by Lavonne Byers leads the way and she guides Shannon Nara in the way to get around a cheating husband- no matter how often it happens.

“When Oprah Says Goodbye” is a touching play by Dan Berkowitz and directed by Fannie Belle-Lebby. Thomasina Clarke, Peggy Calvin and Sarah McKenney show us the power of love and friendship rekindled. Written by Charles Zito and directed by Christopher Limber, “Runaway” shows us how family sticks together as the fear of rejection is quickly assuaged. It features Rich Scharf, Jenny Smith and Pierce Hastings.

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Kim Furlow and Emily Baker during rehearsal for Stephen Peirick’s “A Comfortable Fit” at the Briefs Festival.

The young, talented Stephen Peirick wrote and directed “A Comfortable Fit.” A mother-daughter shopping trip turns into a lesson in love and respect as they bond over shoes and lifestyles with Kim Furlow, Emily Baker and Casey Boland. Wrapping up the evening is “The Adventures Of…” written by Kathleen Warnock and directed by Ryan Scott Foizey. An old, cheesy TV serial allows a young girl discover herself- and it’s not what the audience may have expected in this nice, twisty closing line. Sarah Porter, Brian Claussen and Todd Schaefer star in this zany comedy.

A delightful evening for a good cause brings out the best in local and national artists and brings a diverse crowd together in a common cause. Everyone had a good time and I met some new friends (one I literally bumped into) and met up with old friends as well. Be sure to look out for this event when it comes up next year. It’s well worth the trip.

Lush Score And Brilliant Cast Lead Us Into “The Bridges Of Madison County”

April 9, 2016

bridgesposterMusic and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown always means something exciting is in store. Add a book by Marsha Norman and you’ve got something special indeed. “The Bridges Of Madison County” opened at the Fox and it does not disappoint- at least not entirely. The original material is a bit soapy but Ms. Norman manages to keep the script moving at a decent clip. The real star here, however is the music and lyrics of Mr. Brown and the wonderful cast assembled for this production.

Andrew Samonsky, as photographer Robert, creates a dashing figure with a set of pipes to match. The soaring score seems to be made to have him perform it. With every  moment, he creates a spot in time that simply grabs you and holds you frozen in that moment. His act one closing duet with Francesca, “Falling Into You,” is simply one of the most romantic love songs I’ve heard in some time. He tops it with his second act closer as he packs up his memories in “It All Fades Away.”

bridges-kitchenembraceElizabeth Stanley is equally impressive. It takes a moment to get attuned to her Italian dialect as she opens the show with the exposition number, “To Build A Home,” which explains how she ended up in the middle of Iowa from her home in Italy. But it doesn’t take long to get an ear for her speaking and singing dialect thanks to her charm and humor as she discovers the mutual longing between her and Robert.

Her husband, Michael- a delightful performance by John Campione- has gone to the State Fair so their daughter Carolyn- a charming Caitlin Houlahan- can enter her prize steer in the competition. Tagging along is son Bud- a great performance as a rebellious teen by Cullen R. Titman. He gets into trouble by just “growing up” at the Fair.  Add to the mix the nosey neighbor and her husband- both who turn out to be friends in need- played by Mary Callanan and David Hess and you’ve got a top-notch cast.

bridges-bridgeMRobert has come to the Midwest to shoot photos for National Geographic of the many covered bridges that dot the landscape. You can feel the tension when he and Francesca first meet and the inevitable happens. When pop and the kids are gone for these four days, it turns into a torrid affair that has promise but circumstances become the catalyst for “will she go or will she stay.” A rather fast-forward second act shows what happens and how these two discover what’s “Always Better” in a poignant close to the show.

bridges-embraceA stellar supporting cast and ensemble help to make the show outstanding under the direction of Tyne Rafaeli using the original direction of Bartlett Sher. The simple but effective set design of Michael Yeargan works well with set pieces dropping in, rolling in and moving in from both wings. And the backdrop helps with the flatlands of Iowa and even wartime Italy as Francesca reminisces. Donald Holder’s lights add to the magic and the costume design of Catherine Zuber is right on the mark.

“The Bridges Of Madison County” should be a great show for a lot of regional theaters. A bit mature for high schools but colleges and continued road companies could benefit from this breathtaking score- especially benefitting, perhaps, from a smaller stage than the Fox. It’s lush, it’s romantic and, with this cast, a true delight. You’ve got to have the voices to power this wonderful music.

See “The Bridges Of Madison County” through April 17th at the Fox Theatre.

“Hedwig” Is Relentless At Stray Dog Theatre

April 4, 2016
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Hedwig introduces herself in the Stray Dog Theatre production of “Hedwig And The Angry Inch.” Photo: John Lamb

Get ready to bang your head and any other part of your body you care to throw into the mix as Hedwig brings her show to the Tower Grove Abbey and the beat never stops in this 90+ minute journey into a world you’ve probably never seen before and will probably never experience again. “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” had a recent revival on Broadway recently leading Neil Patrick Harris to a Tony and that opened up a litany of performers tackling this most exhausting show for a performer that’s out there.

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Hedwig relaxes on the bar- open all night- during “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

In what has to be the role of a lifetime for actor Michael Baird, he commands the stage, plays into the audience and even interacts with our bartenders who are conspicuously pouring drinks before and during the show on the lower, dead-center level of the unusually high stage at the Abbey. Hedwig reveals his often sad, usually buoyant and always hilarious story as she chats with and roams into the audience. This is a concert at a dive- which is the best Hedwig can do these days. Michael Baird is as natural with the banter as he is with the explosive musical score. This is not only the role of a lifetime but his performance of a lifetime.

As his sidekick and assistant with the performance is the delightful Anna Skidis Vargas. Taking mikes and stools off and on, taking verbal and sometimes physical abuse from Hedwig, she eventually gets to shine in a solo shot after harmonizing with Hedwig in a few numbers throughout the evening. She’s a remarkable performer, fitting perfectly into any role and becomes the perfect foil as well as the equal of Hedwig in several situations.

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Michael Baird as Hedwig and Anna Skidis Vargas as Yitzhak in Stray Dog’s production of “Hedwig And The Angry Inch.” Photo: John Lamb

Also on stage for the evening is the combo known as The Angry Inch (that title and its significance will be explained during the evening) backing up Hedwig. They include musical director and keyboardist, Chris Petersen, A.J. Lane on guitar, M. Kuba on bass and Bob McMahon on drums. Some also double on vocals but mainly they make the Abbey rock with powerful melodies and the beat never stops. Also enjoying the proceedings are those bartenders- Sarajane Alverson and Luke Steingruby on opening night. They keep the libations flowing for both audience and performers.

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Hedwig and The Angry Inch perform as Sarajane Alverson tend bar during “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

Director Justin Been has the feel for this show. He keeps it moving, keeps it real and never lets the mix of drama, comedy and music stop. Tyler Duenow’s lights are a pulsing and driving counterpoint to the wonderful set of platforms and scaffolds designed by Rob Lippert. Adding to the brilliance is the wild costumes of Eileen Engel. Of course, it’s a dream job to costume Hedwig, but her other costumes are a perfect balance to the outrageousness of Hedwig.

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Hedwig emerging from the smoke as Stray Dog Theatre presents “Hedwig And The Angry Inch.” Photo: John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre has proven that they are the go-to company for rock musicals in the St. Louis area. “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” continues that legacy as this wild, unusual, transgender entertainer does what she does best- entertains. It’s the total package and you’ve just got to be there to experience the power and majesty of this incredible show with Michael Baird as lynchpin in the exotic world of Hedwig. “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” plays at Stray Dog Theatre through April 16th. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information.