2016 Theatre In Review (Tongue In Cheek Edition) Volume 4

 

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Having missed a year due to my caregiving duties and seeing only a handful of plays in 2015, it’s time for another look at my musings on the theatre season just passed. Not a “best of,” just random thoughts and observations. Again, I did not see everything and missed a lot of newer venues due to time and the aforementioned caregiving (which will continue) but there was some great theatre this year and I couldn’t help but put my spin on things.

-Event Of The Year- I know, I just said this wasn’t a “best of,” but the Tennessee Williams Festival was something to behold and a marvelous moveable feast. As I said in my review of the plays I was lucky enough to see, this whole week gave me an eerie feeling. I could feel the presence of the playwright who hated his hometown in all of the productions and the spaces of “The Two Character Play” set in an old theatre that Mr. Williams used to try out some of his original works and “The St. Louis Rooming House Plays” in particular gave me chills. All of the plays and players and everyone involved brought a regal feeling to this Love Fest and became a respectful and insightful slice of life to St. Louis theatre. Thanks to Carrie Houk and all who brought this series of special moments to life.

-“Hanging Around Talking- Women’s Edition”- “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. These bitchy yet provocative bridesmaids made for some entertaining moments as they opened wounds in their own lives and the lives of those around them.

-“Hanging Around Talking- Men’s Edition”- Yes, I’m going there- Reginald Pierre and Phillip C. Dixon in “Suspended” at Upstream Theatre. Not only did they literally hang around, they brought a lot of thoughtful dialogue to an audience wondering how two guys who couldn’t move around the stage could keep us interested. They did.

-“Those Magic Moments”- A quick look at just a few of the moments that made me pause and say, “now that’s a brilliant piece of stagecraft.” There are so many but here’s a few that immediately come to mind. -Linda Kennedy unabashedly reminiscing about her days as a debutante as Amanda Wingate in Upstream’s “A Glass Menagerie.” -Edward Juvier reprising his role and delighting us with “I Am Rodolpho” in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Stages. -The eerie, symbiotic relationship of Rachel Tibbets and Ellie Schweyte in “Cuddles” at SATE. -Rachel Hanks blaring the trumpet in the Ozark inspired “As You Like It” at SATE. -The clash of two titans in “Inherit The Wind” at Insight with two titans of the local stage, Alan Knoll and John Contini. -The surprise filled interpretation of “Trash Macbeth” at ERA. -The stunning and unexpected curtain call/finale of “42nd Street” at the Muny. As I said, just a few of many magical moments on stage this year.

-“One For The Money”- One person shows are a true test of an actors’ resolve- keep us entertained all by yourself. In some cases, you’re playing one character, sometimes you’re playing several over the course of (usually) one-act. Will Bonfiglio filled the bill with his sharp interpretation of a fictitious character placating to Barbra Streisand’s whims in “Buyer And Cellar” at Stray Dog. Dael Orlandersmith not only kept us intrigued with several characters created from the Ferguson riots, but she put the show together herself using interviews with those who lived through it all. Her performance was at the Mainstage at the Rep. Another strong female performance was the indomitable Lavonne Byers as she portrayed Golda Meir at New Jewish Theatre’s “Golda’s Balcony.” The true events showed how powerful a female leader can be (U.S voters, I’m talking to you). New Jewish gave us not just one, but two portrayals of strong women as Glynnis Bell delighted with her nervous schoolteacher in “Underneath The Lintel.” And finally, how about the remarkable performance by Sarah Porter in New Line’s presentation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Tell Me On A Sunday?” She charmed us with her mix of a strong yet waif-like Emma looking for love.

-“Two For The Show”- Some great couples teamed up this year on stage including Rachel Tibbets and Ellie Schwetye in the bizarre but fascinating “Cuddles” at SATE.”Gidion’s Knot” at STLAS featured another pair of women as Laurie McConnell and Elizabeth Ann Townsend struggled with the death of a student. The gentlemen got their chance in the aforementioned “Suspended” at Upstream and then Jerry Vogel and Will Bonfiglio dazzled in “Old Wicked Songs” at New Jewish. Joe Hanrahan and Michelle Hand brought the surreal brother and sister team to life in “The Two Character Play” during the Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival and two musicals joined the fray as Insight brought us “Jon and Jen” and, though technically a few more people on stage, the two main characters of “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” were Michael Baird as Hedwig and Anna Skiddis Vargas as Yitzhak at Stray Dog.

-“Three To Get Ready”- Don’t worry, this is where I stop the numbers game. “American Buffalo” and “Three Tall Women” at STLAS, “Driving Miss Daisy” at New Jewish, Eleemosynary” at Mustard Seed and “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” at the Black Rep all showed how intriguing a play can become when a third character is added to the mix. And speaking of threes, a tip of the hat to Laurie McConnell for tackling three distinct and equally challenging roles on stage this year- the concerned school teacher in “Gidion’s Knot” at STLAS, the flirtatious vamp in “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” at the Black Rep and the outrageous, boozy Joanna in “Company” at Insight Theatre.

-“A New Take On Shakespeare’s Tragic Men”- It’s hard to make classic Shakespearean villains new and fresh but St. Louis Shakespeare managed to bring a new spin to them this year. Charlie Barron made “Richard III” move us to hate and tears with a very moving performance and Ben Ritchie took “Macbeth” to new heights with a very personal look at how the circumstances took him beyond his comfort zone. Bravo to two young actors who took a new approach to these tragic characters.

-“Faded Glory”- Two musicals appeared on the theatre scene this year that showed how youth is fleeting and how old facades emerge from promising beginnings. In “Grey Gardens” at Max & Louie, the real life Bouvier clan (Jackie Kennedy’s family) are shown in their heyday Edith and Edie Beale go from prominence and wealth to living in a hovel that used to be their magnificent mansion in a span of 30-plus years. Then, at The Rep, the return of the classic musical, “Follies” features a group of prominent players reuniting in the old theatre that is about to be torn down that housed their follies-type show. Their younger selves appear to interact bringing  back memories both good and bad and how that has affected their lives today. Two great musicals given outstanding productions.

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-“Tragedy In 2016”- Not only has it been a tough year for celebrity deaths this year, we’ve lost many local actors and other theatre folk during this most tragic year. Two of the losses were felt by a great many on the local scene. Jay V. Hall, the gracious and charming “host” at Stray Dog Theatre always went above and beyond for members of the press and, I believe, for everyone who visited Tower Grove Abbey. Whenever I requested “a” ticket, he always told me he’d save two just in case Gail felt up to attending. One of the sweetest men around. And, although I didn’t know him well, B (Barry) Weller was a wonder on stage. He always made a role his own and brought a fresh insight into every character he played- even to his final role in Chekov’s “Ivanov” at STLAS. I really fell in love with his work during Mustard Seed’s “Jane Eyre.” He took a minor role, did a Nigel Bruce spin on the character and made it a memorable one you couldn’t forget. To these two giants of local theatre and all the others we lost, a sad and final farewell.

Although there is a lot more to cover on the 2016 theatre scene, we’ll leave that to the upcoming St. Louis Theatre Circle Awards in March. I thank you for listening and reminiscing with me and I’ll see you all for the 2017 season.

 

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