Archive for November, 2016

“Boom” At R-S Theatrics Is Ionesco Meets “The Twilight Zone”

November 21, 2016
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Andrew Kuhlman as Jules and Elizabeth Van Pelt as Jo in the R-S Theatrics production of “Boom.” Photo: Michael Young

Once you catch up with the unusual rhythm of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s “Boom” at R-S Theatrics, you’re in for a wild, apocalyptic ride that resembles Theatre of the Absurd and a broad dose of sci-fi as it may have been presented in “The Twilight Zone.” It may be real, it may be imagined, it may be in the future, it’s definitely narrated by a character reminiscent of a docent in a museum. What it is for sure is highly entertaining.

Jo, a journalism student, has answered an ad for “sex that will bring you to the end of the world” (or words of a similar nature). Sounds like a casual, uncomplicated hook up but she finds something different when she meets Jules in his laboratory in a basement of one of the college academic buildings. He has another plan in mind- preparing for the end of the world as predicted by his fish. He is, after all, a marine biologist and is studying the random and unusual recent nature of the fish in his tank. He believes it signals impending doom.

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Elizabeth Van Pelt as Jo is confused by her blackouts and unusual behavior in “Boom” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Elizabeth Van Pelt is a diminutive and enticing Jo as she battles tooth and nail with the obsessive Jules, given a strong and vibrant portrayal from Andrew Kuhlman. Although he claims to be homosexual, they soon get rather hot and heavy in some pre-apocalyptic entangling. The end eventually comes to fruition (or so we’re led to believe) but is it really? Because Jo and Jules and the whole impending doom seem to be manipulated by our onstage “Rod Serling” in the guise of Barbara- a powerful and hilarious performance by Nancy Nigh. Beating on drums, flipping levers and interjecting pithy commentary on the two would-be lovers’ cat and mouse game, she’s a cross between a guide and a goddess as she seems to be calling the shots from her upstage podium a la the Wonderful Wizard of Oz- which may mean she has little power other than sound and fury signifying nothing.

This whole out of body experience is cleverly directed by Sarah Lynne Holt who runs with the absurdity and allows the audience to decide for themselves if they should read between the lines. Keller Ryan’s set design displays the Chapel’s versatile space as he uses both the small stage (leaving a bit of room for a few audience members there) and runs the action down through the center of the normal audience space- allowing seating on both sides. Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design picks it all up very well and Mark Kelley’s sound adds the right touches.

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Elizabeth Van Pelt as Jo and Nancy Nigh as Barbara in the R-S Theatrics production of “Boom.” Photo: Michael Young

From the often awkward and uncomfortable coupling (which often involves Jo leaping into the arms of Jules- even off the stage- good catch, Andrew!) to the outlandish premise and quirky dialogue to the unusual finale, “Boom” is something you don’t want to miss just because you won’t believe what you’re watching. As Rod Serling might have said, “a dimension of sight, a dimension of sound, a dimension of mind- you’re entering the absurdist Twilight Zone.” “Boom” plays at R-S Theatrics through December 4th. Give them a call at 314-252-8812 for tickets or more information.

 

 

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Fourth And Final? I Think Not- Presentation of “All Is Calm” at Mustard Seed

November 15, 2016

all-group1As most people were saying after opening night of Mustard Seed Theatre’s fourth annual “All Is Calm- The Christmas Truce Of 1914,” we hope this isn’t really the final presentation. Different casts, returning members, new singers- it all adds up to one thing- this is a holiday tradition that must go on.

If you’re one of the few folks in St. Louis who has not yet experienced this lovely and haunting piece of theatre, get your tickets now. The show has been extended again this year and will now play through December 11th. Citing real letters and documents from this World War I phenomenon, an a cappella group of ten men use songs of the period to retell the story of one Christmas Eve in 1914 when Allied and German soldiers were close enough to be heard by each other and started serenading each other with songs from their respective countries. Folk songs, Christmas carols and the like could be heard floating across no-man’s land and, eventually, even that wall was broken as they greeted each other, exchanged souvenirs and continued to sing until the next day when “war” broke out again.

all-posterIt’s an uplifting story and you get to meet a myriad of men through their own words as each story leads into another song. As usual, I finally broke down over “Silent Night” or “Stille Nacht” which, of course, resonates with the title of the show. A few changes have been made to this year’s edition, but the message and power of the piece remains. From the haunting opening of “Will Ye Go To Flanders” through the traditional “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” and “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag,” the spirit of war and camaraderie prevail. And, of course, the holiday music includes “The First Noel,” “Angels We Have Heard On High” and the haunting rendition of “O Tannenbaum.”

A strong cast of singers adds to the beauty of “All Is Calm” as the harmonies resonate from the tenors and baritones to the powerful bass voices that seem to shake the rafters (if there were any rafters). Paul Cereghino, Kent Coffel, Steve Isom, Steve Jent and Gregory Lhamon join Gerry Love, the returning (from his new success in Chicago) Antonio Rodriguez, the rich voice playing the opera singer soaring with “O Holy Night,” Luke Steinburgy, Kevin Urday and Jeff Wright. It’s an ensemble that not only sings remarkably well together, but really displays the spirit of true comrades that unite in a war none of them want.

Deanna Jent, artistic director of Mustard Seed, once again directs with a flair for the dramatic and pulling the heartstrings. Joe Schoen returns as musical director and the Kyra Bishop set, Michael Sullivan’s lights and costumes of Jane Sullivan make the complete package. I look forward to the Rep’s return of the holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol” and I appreciate the other shows of the season that inevitably show up on local stages, but “All Is Calm” is a holiday tradition that needs to extend ad infinitum.

all-group2With the extension through December 11th, it’s more important than ever to catch this beautiful story (only about an hour long) before it possibly gets put into the vault. Mustard Seed Theatre has created a monster that everyone loves and looks forward to- give them a call at 314-719-8060 for tickets or more information. This truly is a must-see.

 

“Forbidden Broadway” Makes Rare Appearance In Town At Westport Playhouse

November 8, 2016

forbEven though we have a theatre-rich community and a lot of musicals are seen by a lot of folks thanks to the Fox, Muny and other venues, the long-running and ever-changing spoof of musicals, “Forbidden Broadway,” hasn’t often played in our town. Well, it’s back and funnier than ever at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza.

It’s always the same format- four performers and one pianist as they rip through old and new shows, changing lyrics to fit the spoof and offering broad exaggerations ¬†of some of our favorites. This time around they’ve delved into some of the classics from the past including “Ambition”- a take-off on “Fiddler On The Roof” and one that always seems to pop up- an actress with a cigarette dangling from her lips and dressed in a bright red “AnnIe” dress, singing, “I’ll be 40 years old…tomorrow.”

Some new ones appear too including a put down of “Once.” I agree with this one when they say, “Once is enough.” But the old staples are the highlights of this production- I guess because they feel the St. Louis audiences may be more familiar with the older shows that have played our town like “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and even a spoof on Cameron Mackintosh who produced those two show and other big, splashy musicals. He sings about piling success on top of success by selling tacky merchandise to tie in with the shows as he opens his coat and shows T-shirts, mugs, CDs and other items- all to the tune of “My Favorite Things” but singing “My Souvenir Things.”

This cast is an energetic and talented one including Valerie Fagan, Jeanne Montano, Kevin B. McGlynn and William Selby. Between costume changes and changes of character, they are non-stop whirlwinds. With musical accompaniment by Catherine Stornetta along with some clever choreography from Phillip George and wild costumes from Alvin Colt, it makes for a complete package. It’s also directed by Phillip George and the father of “Forbidden Broadway,” Gerard Alessandrini. He created this show as a small cabaret act in 1982 and now it has grown into this world wide phenomenon.

“Forbidden Broadway” is here for a very short time- through November 13th- so plan on seeing it soon. If you’re a big fan of Broadway musicals, you probably already know about the show, but if you haven’t seen it, get thee to Westport Playhouse and treat yourself to an evening of fun and laughs. For more information, contact them at http://www.playhouseatwestport.com

Don’t Expect Any Warm Fuzzies As “Cuddles” Creeps Us Out At SATE

November 7, 2016
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Ellie Schwetye stands over Rachel Tibbets in the SATE production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble is known for just that- plays that are often slightly askew- off the beaten path of traditional fare. With “Cuddles,” the opening play of their Season of Adaptation, they manage to provide cringe-worthy status to that word. With two excellent actresses and one superb director, it somehow makes you want to give them all big hugs anyway.

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Rachel Tibbets agonizes over her sister’s absence while Ellie Schwetye talks with her new boyfriend in the downstairs parlor in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

It starts with a creepy, smoke-filled set designed by the incredible Bess Moynihan (who also provides magic with the lighting design). Newspapers hanging behind and in front of a makeshift bed given a fourposter look with acting areas of both sides of it, and the eerie and, at times, provocative music by director Joe Hanrahan, lets you know you’re in for a treat. Then a figure appears rising from the bed and, as she pulls off the thin muslin-like material, we see ¬†Rachel Tibbets (one of the original founding members of SATE) as the mysterious and ethereal Eve as she begins a “once upon a time” story that sends chills down your spine.

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Rachel Tibbets makes an eerie first appearance in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

We soon learn that she is the “monster” younger sister she describes in this off beat fairy tale and we soon meet her older sister, Tabby, in a wonderful, almost bi-polar performance by Ellie Schwetye. Eve is obviously suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome as Tabitha has convinced her that she is a vampire and must stay hidden in her room. Not only does she have a pot to pee in- she also has a separate pot to poop in and she often gets them mixed up much to the chagrin of her older sister. Eve loves her sister but when she suggests she go outside, she goes ballistic knowing that only three things kill a vampire- sunlight, beheading and hammering a stake through the heart.

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The sisters try to resolve their differences in the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Problems arise (as if these weren’t problems enough) when Tabby finds a man she’s interested in and must solve her dilemma of “caregiving” Eve. The love between the sisters is obvious despite the unorthodox way of life Tabby has carved out for them and it may take one level, two level or maybe five level cuddles to get them through it. You’ll understand better when you see the bizarre “Cuddles” by English playwright Joseph Wilde. It’s sprinkled with humor- dark and otherwise and the most unconventional story you’re likely to see this side of Halloween (just a few days late for that holiday). But, like the earlier SATE hit, “Mary Shelley Monster Show,” Mother Nature provided some special effects on opening night that enhanced an already scarily perfect show.

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Rachel Tibbets expresses her feelings to Ellie Schwetye in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Director Joe Hanrahan, a superb actor as well, has paced this production with knife-edged skill. He cuts through a script that may be a bit wordier than needed and brings every chilling moment to frightening and realistic life.With Rachel Tibbets and Ellie Schwetye as the only two performers, it really showed how much these two actresses have grown into top notch performers. Playing two completely different characters- one skittish and dominated and one authoritarian and cold, they played off each other beautifully and, in a city with a ton of acting talent, they have proven to be right up there with the best.

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Part of the spellbinding opening sequence featuring Rachel Tibbets in the SATE production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

SATE Ensemble Theatre has given us another scare for this very special season and they show how diverse they are from any other company working today. Original or adapted classics come to spectacular life in their hands. “Cuddles” plays at the Chapel through November 12th. Contact them at 314-827-5760 or at slightlyoff.org for more information or for tickets.

 

McNally’s Definitive Voice Makes “Mothers And Sons” Work At Rep Studio

November 3, 2016
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Darrie Lawrence as Katharine goes over some old photos from Cal (Harry Bouvy) in “Mothers And Sons” at the Studio of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Terrence McNally’s plays are always relevant and in “Mothers And Sons” at the Studio Theatre of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, he covers a lot of old ground with a few lessons for today’s audiences. AIDS doesn’t carry the impact it once did but the lingering effects of the dreaded disease still affects a generation who lived through some pretty rough times when it was a relatively unknown killer that ravaged the gay community. So this play basically is a gentle nudge- a reminder of what once was and how it is affecting that same community still today.

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Michael Keyloun as Will confronts Darrie Lawrence as Katharine in the Rep Studio production of “Mothers And Sons.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

A Rep and St. Louis acting treasure, Darrie Lawrence, plays Katharine- an older woman decked out in fur as she marvels at the beautiful view from a New York apartment in Manhattan’s Central Park West at play’s open. The young man she is talking to is Cal, who once was her deceased son’s (Andre) partner some twenty years in the past. She has popped in unexpectedly to confront him with two questions that have been festering for all these years- did he turn her son gay and did he give him the AIDS that killed him? From the beginning Harry Bouvy as Cal treats her with respect and calmly answers her questions- outlandish as they seem.

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Michael Keyloun as Will is reassured by Harry Bouvy as Cal in “Mothers And Sons” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Peter Wochniak

In those years since her son has died, Cal has moved on and has married (something that was not possible when Andre was still alive) his current partner, Will. He and their son Bud are in the park and soon arrive to create even more tension and perhaps begin to bring some sense of closure to her long and unhappy life. Michael Keyloun is a marvel as Will and he and Mr. Bouvy create a chemistry on stage that is truly believable. In fact, the entire cast including a marvelous Simon Desilets as Bud, elevate this script above soap opera into a very touching and relevant story. Shouting, accusations and a search for answers all dominate the action.

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Will and Cal embrace while Bud starts to warm up Katharine’s heart in the Rep Studio production of “Mothers And Sons.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Director Michael Evan Haney is also responsible for controlling the schmaltz factor and making this more than just a rehash of many other AIDS stories from the past including some by playwright McNally. He brings a toughness and tenderness to the proceedings that are a perfect balance and has the cast with the chops to deliver. The James Wolk set design is a bit complicated at first glance with and in-the-round feel with four jutting corners where action takes place throughout. It’s never distracting however and the play flows through the living room/kitchen areas quite nicely.

John Wylie’s lights enhance the set and Elizabeth Eisloeffel’s costumes are appropriate including Katharine’s coat which almost becomes a character all by itself- at least a broad expression of her character.

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Darrie Lawrence as Katharine listens intently to Simon Desilets as Bud in the Rep Studio production of “Mothers And Sons.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

“Mothers And Sons” opens the current Rep Studio Theatre season and, while not covering a whole lot of new ground, is a bright and witty script by Terrence McNally with his usual pathos. It works and will still bring a tear to your eye as the final, touching scene brings full closure (hopefully) to several lives. It plays at the Studio of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 13th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.