Archive for April, 2017

“Oedipus Apparatus” Brings Modern Concepts To Ancient Story At WEPG

April 25, 2017
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Maggie Conroy as Jocasta and Mitch Eagles as Oedipus grasp for each other through the apparatus at WEPG’s production of “Oedipus Apparatus.” Photo: John Lamb

West End Players Guild brings Lucy Cashion’s brilliant and well directed (by Cashion as well) script to stage in “Oedipus Apparatus.” Combining the traditional Oedipus story with geometric and analytical thinking and a massive “apparatus” that fulfills the stop/time narrative aspect of the ancient legend, it adds up to a fascinating evening of riveting theatre that even includes a visit to “The View.”

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Ellie Schwetye as the Sphinx and Alicen Moser as Antigone converse in “Oedipus Apparatus” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

According to the prophecy, Oedipus was destined to kill his father and marry his mother- a theme that Sigmund Freud had a field day with (even in this production). His father, King Laius, abandoned him on a mountainside hoping he would not survive and thus not fulfill the prophecy. But those ancient Gods, along with the oracle at Delphi, had other plans and Oedipus was rescued and raised in Corinth. When he returned to Thebes, his destiny was carried out. Along the way, however, he encounters alternative narratives to his fate that all lead to the same conclusion.

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Oedipus (Mitch Eagles) gets schooled by Tiresius (Carl Overly, Jr.) in the WEPG production of “Oedipus Apparatus.” Photo: John Lamb

Mitch Eagles is a bombastic Oedipus determined to carve his own fate despite everything that leads him to his ultimate destination. Every encounter is serious as he pushes on with the help of a “time machine” apparatus that successfully stops the action and rewinds in an attempt to readjust the story. As his mother/wife, Jocasta, Maggie Conroy is impeccable as she broods over her own fate. With the help of modern technology- microphones and video in particular- she manages to deliver her message. Cara Barresi as Artemis is equally morose as her counterpart in delivering dreary epithets throughout the performance.

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Will Bonfiglio as Creon and Mitch Eagles as Oedipus in the WEPG production of “Oedipus Apparatus.” Photo: John Lamb

Will Bonfiglio packs a punch as Creon, brother to Jocasta. He delivers bad news on top of worse news to Oedipus throughout the series of stops and starts provided by the apparatus. Alicen Moser is the morose Antigone while Rachel Tibbets portrays a semi-comotose Athena who has a few issues of her own as one of the oracles. Ellie Schwetye is properly saucy as the Sphinx who allows Oedipus to enter Thebes once he has cracked the riddle she has put forth. Carl Overly, Jr. is a powerful Tiresius as he goes toe-to-toe with Oedipus.

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Jocasta (Maggie Conroy) holds Antigone (Alicen Moser) in “Oedipus Apparatus” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Rounding out the cast are Michael Cassidy Flynn as Dr. Freud and Joe Taylor as Apollo, who also plays piano throughout. They become part of the “talk show” format where a distant voice proclaims she’s always wanted to do a show with oracles of different ages and various viewpoints. This also is televised throughout the performance. Not only do we have these obvious intrusions on the classic myth, but the monstrous amalgamation of pipes and spokes dominates the scene as a series of designers takes over the elongated space of the WEPG playing area and takes the stage as the set for “The View” and the opposite end as, predominately, Jocasta’s bedroom. Those designers include Kristin Cassidy, Lucy Cashion, Joe Taylor, Jacob Francois and Ben Lewis. The Meredith LaBounty costumes are a great mix of ancient and modern styles.

Playwright/director Lucy Cashion has fashioned a wonderful post-modern production of the Oedipus myth and thrown in a series of theorems from Pythagorus and a lot of left brain talk of the radius of this and the dissecting lines of that which tend to blend an unexpected spin to the classic myth. I’m not sure if any further viewings on my part would even begin to comprehend this odd yet satisfying mix of cultures unless it’s just to show constants like mathematics and the powers of destiny. She has, however, managed to bring a brilliant production to the forefront and, despite the length of the one-act (an hour and fifty minutes) the crashing sound and the often furious pace of the apparatus startles you into an unusual fear and trepidation of Oedipus.

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Sharing their “View,” the oracle at Delphi pontificate to Creon during “Oedipus Apparatus” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

“Oedipus Apparatus” plays at West End Players Guild through April 30th. Give them a call at 314-667-5686 for tickets or more information.

 

 

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Joyous “Dancing At Lughnasa” Closes Out Mustard Seed Season

April 16, 2017
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A group shot of some of the cast of “Dancing At Lughnasa” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

It’s funny that several people I talked to after the opening night performance of “Dancing At Lughnasa” at Mustard Seed Theatre had the same reaction I did- this was the first production of this Brian Friel Tony Award winning play that I really enjoyed. It’s a charming memory play involving five sisters living in the fictional town of Ballybeg in County Donegal, Ireland. More later about my reasoning for not really getting into this play before now but the cast, direction and the whole feel of this production brought the story and the family closer than ever before.

Being a memory play, we first meet a grown up Michael, given a solid and straightforward performance by Jim Butz, as he reflects on being a 7 year old in 1936 and  living a poor yet grand existence with his mother and four aunts. Although he is not really there, he responds to his family as they occasionally interact with his young self and we see some of his handiwork like a couple of kites and a top. Jennifer Theby Quinn gives a rich and wonderful performance as Chris Mundy- the youngest sister and mother of young Michael. She is solid in her conviction to stay away from her errant husband who leaves for sometimes years at a time but then she soon becomes a giddy young girl as he re-enters her life once again. Richard Strelinger is a charmer as her husband, Gerry, who woos her once again before he leaves with promises to return to her and Michael as soon as he can.

Amy Loui is the strong pillar of the Mundy family, Kate, major breadwinner. Whenever things to go off the wheels, she always brings it all back into focus. Kelley Weber is the heart and soul of the clan as she is the chief cook and bottle washer. Leslie Wobbe is the quiet one of the bunch- Agnes. She and her sister Rose bring in a bit of money as they sew gloves to sell to the richer ladies in town. And finally, Michelle Hand is a study in enthusiasm as Rose. Though a bit addled, she manages to spark the fun times the ladies have together. Finally, Gary Glasgow shines as Jack, the older brother of the five ladies who has had his brains addled a bit as well, serving in Uganda with lepers for many years until he has become a bit too settled in the “native” ways.

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A strong ensemble highlights the Mustard Seed Theatre production of “Dancing At Lughnasa.” Photo: John Lamb

This off-beat family struggles to survive but have each others’ backs and find the fun in a world that is starting to come loose at the hinges. They have acquired a wireless which they call Marconi- since that is what is emblazoned on the front. The only problem is, it is erratic and only seems to come alive with news and music when it feels like it. But when it sparks into life, the ladies dance and sing and joy pours out of every one of them.

Director Gary Barker has brought a lust for life to this production which I cannot recall seeing before. It’s a spirited production with highs and lows that speak to the times as well as their lifestyle. He’s been blessed with a wonderful ensemble that is really dedicated to this play. Another reason I believe this production has won us all over is the work of Nancy Bell as dialect coach. There’s nothing more difficult than listening to a random set of accents that sometime work and other times do not. She has instilled a true sense of the lilt of the brogue in all the players and it pays off in a believable rhythm to this play that never falters.

The Kyra Bishop set design is a work of art in itself with a cutaway peek at the interior of the cottage and the expansive playing area outside of the house as well. Jane Sullivan’s costumes are exquisite and Michael Sullivan’s lighting design enhances the overall production beautifully. Zoe Sullivan gets into the act too with a wonderful sound design. Kudos as well to Helen Gannon as the Irish dance choreographer who brings the spirit of the “dance” to “Dancing At Lughnasa.”

Brian Friel has set several plays in this fictitious town of Ballybeg including another fine play, “Philadelphia, Here I Come.” West End Players Guild did an excellent job as well with one of his other plays several years ago, “Lovers: Winners And Losers.” But this one has always had me scratching my head until this delightfully rich production at Mustard Seed. It won’t soon be forgotten.

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Amy Loui, Michelle Hand, Leslie Wobbe and Jennifer Theby Quinn in “Dancing At Lughnasa” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

“Dancing At Lughnasa” plays at Mustard Seed Theatre at Fontbonne through April 30th. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 for tickets or more information. With this one going simultaneously with the strong performances at St. Louis Actors’ Studio and their production of “August: Osage County,” it’s a grand month for our local actresses. Go see them all.

 

 

“August: Osage County” Sparkles With Mix Of Wit And Drama At St. Louis Actors’ Studio

April 15, 2017
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Kari Ely, Meghan Baker and David Wassilak in “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Take a Eugene O’Neill family drama and throw in a little of the recently departed Don Rickles and you’ve got the highly entertaining “August: Osage County” from the pen of actor/playwright Tracy Letts. His caustic wit almost overshadows the crises throughout the Weston family that makes the death of the patriarch the launching pad for secrets and near secrets to erupt during this three act, fast moving masterpiece as presented by St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

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William Roth as Charlie leads an awkward prayer before dinner in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

We’ll let you discover the fun and games as it peels off layer after layer of hate and deceit within this classic dysfunctional family. Suffice to say you’ll laugh and cry along with them as sides are taken (and betrayed), alliances are built and even unusual love stories emerge (one heart wrenching, the other perverse). It all starts as we see Larry Dell in an opening monologue as Beverly Weston as he’s talking to the new hire, Johanna, played by Wendy Renee Farmer, a Cheyenne woman he has hired to do chores around the house. The “conversation” seems to be a rambling preamble to his ensuing suicide which brings the whole clan together for the funeral.

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Kari Ely drops in on Wendy Renee Farmer and Larry Dell in the opening scene of “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Kari Ely gives one of the most astonishing performances of her illustrious career as Bev’s wife, Violet. I know that some of the younger members of the cast (and older ones too) must have watched in awe at rehearsals as she developed this remarkable character who uses her voice, intimate and grand gestures and her biting dialogue to do- as is finally revealed- what her mother did to destroy as many members of her family as she can. She’s a tough woman to root for or even tolerate but her vulnerability comes through as well to form this unusual love/hate relationship. It is one astounding portrayal.

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Rachel Fenton standing and Meghan Baker and Emily Baker as the three daughters in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Her daughters are a varied lot as the strongest, Barbara, played with a tough outer skin by Meghan Baker, takes us on a ride of ups and downs until her second act curtain when you know this will either make or break Violet. Emily Baker is the shy, vulnerable daughter who has a little secret of her own that brings sorrow but eventually (we hope) joy to her life. The final daughter, Karen, played with random bursts of joy and almost lunacy at times by Rachel Fenton, is the most naive of the bunch and her new boyfriend becomes a focal point of a lot that makes this family erratic.

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Bridgette Bassa tries to put off the advances of Drew Battles during “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Barbara’s husband, Bill, is played with a staid, professorial tenor by David Wassilak. His dalliance with a young student of his causes consternation in their marriage which isn’t helped by their daughter, Jean, a wild 14-year old played with proper sass by Bridgette Bassa. Trying to fend off the unsightly advances of Karen’s fiance, Steve, played to the hilt of pomposity by Drew Battles, she simply brings more pain to a family which has already suffered a horrible reunion.

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Stephen Peirick and Emily Baker provide a bit of romance during the feuding in “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Violet’s sister, Mattie Fay, is given a rousing, almost Southern Belle charm, by Kim Furlow. She comes on strong and hides a few secrets of her own which tend to complicate family matters as well. Her husband, Charlie, is the delightfully droll William Roth who becomes a faint beacon of sanity in this out of control bunch. Their son, Little Charlie, brings one of Stephen Peirick’s strongest performances to the stage. His strength and pathos is a great mix and his secret is one of the more hopeful ones in the play. Rounding out the cast is GP Hunsaker as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau- a pivotal character from Barbara’s background.

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Multiple conversations going on during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Director Wayne Salomon has woven a perfect tapestry of dysfunction with “August: Osage County.” He brilliantly brings out each characters’ idiosyncratic tendencies and blends them into a whole that keeps the audience roaring with laughter while feeling for the heartbreak and tragedy of each character as well. With a brilliant cast, he has turned this production into an instant classic.

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GP Hunsaker as the Sheriff brings bad news to the family in “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Getting the feeling of grandeur of the Weston estate, set designer Patrick Huber had nowhere to go but up and he does it brilliantly with a split-level version of the three story mansion. Those familiar with the small, black box feel of the Gaslight Theatre will marvel at this achievement. Dalton Robison’s lighting design also helps create the illusion of bigness and Carla Landis Evans has created a wonderful costume design that fits each character perfectly.

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Groups gather during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

We have a cast that is nothing short of amazing from top to bottom with Kari Ely leading the way, superb direction and one of the quirkiest works of art Tracy Lett has devised. That makes “August: Osage County” a must-see for your April theatre viewing. It plays through April 30th at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio at the Gaslight Theatre. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

Stray Dog And St. Louis Shakespeare Bring Musical Tragedy And Classic Comedy To Local Stages

April 10, 2017
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“Comedy Of Errors” photo by Ron James.

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“Sweeney Todd” photo by John Lamb

The Gods of Comedy and Tragedy bring their wares to our town with “Sweeney Todd” and “The Comedy Of Errors.” Both are worthy productions that show off both Stray Dog Theatre and St. Louis Shakespeare.

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved and clever comedies- at St. Louis Shakespeare Company- brings two sets of twin brothers together after years of separation with hilarious results. Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio, are living a fine life until their long lost twin brothers come to town from Syracuse where they have lived since being parted in a shipwreck many years ago. As the father of the two “Antipholi” decries to the Duke of Ephesus, he is merely visiting from Syracuse in an attempt to track down his other twin son. High jinks with Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, happen when she mistakes the Syracusian of being her husband and the low brow comedy continues with mistaken identities and confusion until everything is resolved at the final curtain.

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“Sweeney Todd” photo by John Lamb

Meanwhile, not too far away at Tower Grove Abbey is the Stray Dog Theatre production of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Further underscored as a musical thriller, we meet Sweeney as he arrives back home in 1846 London where he was framed and sent to prison by the nefarious Judge Turpin who coveted Sweeney’s wife Lucy. Sweeney was then know as Benjamin Barker and one of his old cohorts, Mrs. Lovett recognizes him and they spark a relationship which ends up with some throat-cutting of local citizens with Sweeney’s old, faithful razors and then Mrs. Lovett cleverly concocting some very special meat pies for her bakery from the victims. It all ends like any tragedy, musical or not, with a whole lot of blood- only this time with singing!

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“Comedy Of Errors” photo by Ron James

Back to “Comedy,” director Shaun Sheley has given some broad slapstick and appropriate silliness to this version and it works well. The physical humor works with the story very well and the twins, in looks and costuming, are very convincing. Chuck Winning is a charming and confused Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio is the delightful Michael Pierce. For the Syracuse branch of each family, we have Shane Signorino is Antipholus and Zac McMillan is his Dromio.

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“Comedy Of Errors” photo by Ron James

Frankie Ferrari is the Ephesus wife, Adriana while her sister Luciana is played by Jamie McKitrick, who eventually falls for the Syracuse Artipholus and poor Syracuse Dromio is stalked by the Ephesus Dromio’s Rubenesque wife. Fine work as well from Dan McGee as Egeon, Erick Lindsey as the Duke, Margeau Steinau as the Abbess, Ben Ritchie in multiple roles and a whole town of involved citizens.

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“Sweeney Todd” photo by John Lamb

Strong singing voices dominate “Sweeney Todd” as Johnathan Hey leads the way with his towering presence and beautiful handling of the famously tough Stephen Sondheim music and rhythms. This version, which could be called “Teeny, Meany Sweeney” (teeny for the space, meany for Mr. Hey’s maniacal looks), works so well because of the close proximity to actors and audience which always highlights a Stray Dog production. The townsfolk rambling up and down the aisles and the main actors also using the audience space really makes it frightening at times.

Lavonne Byers continues her winning ways (winner of Best Actress in this years’ Circle Awards) with her precocious rendition of Mrs. Lovett. Her sweetly evil charm relies mainly on that charm and humor to win us over to a pretty despicable character. Cole Gutmann brings a strong singing voice to Sweeney’s new friend, Anthony, who falls in love with Johanna Barker (Sweeney’s daughter who is also ward to Judge Turpin). Eileen Engel is a lovely Johanna with a sweet singing voice as well. Connor Johnson is charming as the young Toby who Mrs. Lovett takes under her wing after the demise of his companion, Adolfo Pirelli, Barber to Kings, played with panache by Tyler Cheatem. Gerry Love as Judge Turpin and Mike Wells as Beadle Bamford make an amusing pair and Kay Love is saucy as the Beggar Lady who is involved in the plot twist at musical’s end.

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“Comedy Of Errors” photo by Ron James

A simple yet effective set for “Comedy of Errors” is the work of Scott McDonald and James Spurlock’s lights add the right touch. Annalise Webb designed the fun costumes which include matching ones for both Antipholus’s and Dromio’s.  At Sweeney, the intricate, two story set is the work of Rob Lippert which includes a clever “delivery system” for Sweeney’s customers. The Tyler Duenow lights are eerie and effective while costume designer Ryan Moore has done a great job including dressing Sweeney like a 1940’s dock worker to make him even more menacing.

Director Justin Been has given us an even darker Sweeney that we’ve seen before using the powerful frame of Jonathan Hey to full advantage. With a fairly large ensemble, he manages to keep controlled chaos the order of the day, particularly during the “City On Fire” sequence toward the end of Act II. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street,” runs through April 22nd at Stray Dog Theatre. Call 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information. “Comedy Of Errors” has already closed but St. Louis Shakespeare returns with a new season in August.

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“Sweeney Todd” photo by John Lamb

As always, there’s a lot of theatre in St. Louis and St. Louis Shakespeare and Stray Dog Theatre are examples of the great work done in our town. Support them and the other companies that bring great works to our stages.