Archive for September, 2017

Weird, Wild And Wonderful- “The Feast” Opens St. Louis Actors’ Studio Eleventh Season

September 25, 2017
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Spencer Sickmann watches as Jennifer Theby-Quinn admires his masterpiece in “The Feast” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Bringing bathroom humor to a whole new level, “The Feast” offers a psychological study with outrageous humor and it’s all happening at St. Louis Actors’ Studio featuring- what else- three superb actors. And it’s written by a local young man, Cory Finley, who is a graduate of John Burroughs High School (answering the ultimate St. Louis query).

In the span of 70 minutes we see a young couple on the verge of a break up, a series of men who enter their lives- all looking very much like the same man- and a mental break down of gargantuan proportions. At the center of it all is an on stage toilet that appears to be talking to someone in grunts, groans and guttural cries for help- or maybe something else.

Spencer Sickmann is Matt- a struggling artist who is on the brink of madness due to the noises from his toilet who then eventually explores the “underworld” secrets that the toilet seems to draw him into. His girlfriend, Anna, is the wonderful Jennifer Theby-Quinn who may be fed up with his obsession or perhaps driving him further into it. Both actors have very expressive faces that convey a wide range of emotions. Mr. Sickmann combines the good (but neurotic) looks of Jake Gyllenhaal with the rubber-faced look of the old comedian Charlie Callas. Ms. Theby-Quinn is delightful even as she delivers the shocking news that she’s had an affair. The two are like oil and water that somehow combine to make a satisfying comedic/battling couple.

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Ryan Scott Foizey as the plumber and Spencer Sickmann as Matt have an interesting encounter during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Feast.” Photo: Patrick Huber

The broad humor of Ryan Scott Foizey has never been more lethal than playing the role of “The Man.” He is, indeed, several men. Playing a plumber who finds nothing unusual about the toilet and then Matt’s psychiatrist who drops hints that he is well aware of the underworld secrets of the toilet people who Matt has seen- then quickly changes his tune. Are we privy to Matt’s madness at this point or is the doctor playing tricks? Next he becomes Matt’s best friend who also slips into a scenario of how the underworld are at odds with Matt because he has painted a masterpiece that exposes their “secret life. And finally he becomes the man, Connor,  with whom Anna is having the affair. It’s a remarkable performance as you recognize Mr. Foizey- but you truly believe he, with a change of glasses and costumes, becomes the embodiment of each character.

This whole, wild world draws you in with the brilliant direction of John Pierson- himself chair of the Theatre, Speech and Dance department of the playwright’s alma mater. With a great eye for the absurd combined with the ability to make the strange world seem oh, so normal. He has brought outstanding performances from all three actors who all share the same tongue-in-cheek, wide-eyed believability.

Patrick Huber’s set and lights are perfect showing off the Brooklyn apartment and turning the focal point toilet into an almost ominous fourth character with lights and the glorious sounds it emits thanks to John Pierson’s scary yet funny creaks and groans. Carla Landis Evans has designed the perfect costumes including Matt’s opening wardrobe featuring a rose, silk robe, the business chic of Anna and then the transition of The Man’s four major characters.

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Spencer Sickmann as Matt contemplates his life and his toilet during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Feast.” Photo: Patrick Huber

“The Feast” is a laugh out loud script that features an even funnier finale which may surprise. The twists and turns lead you to the ending which may be interpreted in several different ways. I thought it was obvious when I first thought about it and then I found myself thinking of several other scenarios. Let’s face it, you’re gonna love “The Feast.” It plays at St. Louis Actors’ Studio at Gaslight on Boyle through October 8th. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for more information and how to get season tickets.

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New Company, Inevitable Theatre, Brings “Unsuspecting Susan” To Life With Donna Weinsting

September 22, 2017
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Donna Weinsting as Susan in the Inevitable Theatre Company production of “Unsuspecting Susan.”

It’s not a new company- just to St. Louis. Transplanted from Dallas, Artistic Director Robert Neblett of Inevitable Theatre Company opens their stay in our area with a gem of a play called “Unsuspecting Susan” by British playwright, Stewart Permutt. Mr. Neblett had the foresight to ensure his success with the casting of local favorite, Donna Weinsting in this one woman play.

As Susan Chester, Ms. Weinsting brings the bright, bubbly and very opinionated character to life. With her background in stand up comedy, Donna has always had impeccable timing on the stage as well. During this 80 minute or so one-act, she gets chuckles and outright belly laughs from this outrageous character. She dotes on her son, Simon, who has evidently had a few questionable moments in his past due, in part, to a suspected mental problem.

It’s her gossiping about the neighbors in this small English village that bring the biggest guffaws of the night, however. A bit of a snob, she berates the local folks who question Simon’s behavior and wonder about the relationship of his new roommate in London.  It seems her son may have started to mature in his new environment and she chatters on about her visit there and her insistence to the roomie that he keep an eye on Simon.

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Donna Weinsting as Susan in “Unsuspecting Susan” ponders the bad news in the Inevitable Theatre Company production.

A somber change in tone suddenly happens when Susan gets some heart-breaking news. Again showing her versatility as an actress, Ms. Weinsting does a complete 180 as she goes through denial and then tries to explore what went wrong along the way and how she might have prevented it. It’s an astounding performance that reaches the depths of giddiness and despair in the flash of an eye.

Mr. Neblett has directed with a clever nuance that only an actress of Donna Weinsting’s talent could pull off. The production design by Bruce Bergner makes for a lovely, Hampshire setting and John “JT” Taylor’s lighting is impeccable. Christina Sittser not only has designed costumes, she also plays a small, non-speaking role in the production. Presented at The Chapel, which has become a wonderful, eclectic setting for plays, it provides a natural setting for one of the more tender and explosive moments of the evening.

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Reminiscing and gossiping by Donna Weinsting in “Unsuspecting Susan” by the Inevitable Theatre Company.

“Unsuspecting Susan” plays through September 30th. Be prepared to be rocked to your toes with the unexpected happenings and the solid performance from Donna Weinsting. Check out Inevitable Theatre Company at http://www.inevitabletheatre.org for tickets or more information.

 

Classic Production Of Classic “South Pacific” Closes Stages-St. Louis Season

September 17, 2017
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Joanne Javien as Bloody Mary and the Seabees in “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Rodgers and Hammerstein were said to have brought the modern musical to life with “Oklahoma” highlighted by the perfect marriage of story and songs. But “South Pacific” was even more innovative as it introduced, in 1949, a gritty story based on history that pulled no punches with it’s stance on several controversial issues that still plague us today. Stages-St. Louis has brought it to their stage once again and this is a powerful and gorgeous production that must be seen- even if you’ve seen the show time and time again.

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Leah Berry as Nellie and Michael Halling as Emile in the lovely opening scene of the Stages production of “South Pacific.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

The direction and musical staging of Stages’ Artistic Director, Michael Hamilton, has melded beautifully with the wonderful choreography of Ellen Isom to bring a classic telling of James Michener’s “Tales Of The South Pacific” to life with a sumptuous look. Leah Berry brings a pert and cheery Nellie Forbush to us with a powerful acting job when she discovers the secret that Emile De Becque has decided to share with her. Her singing voice is powerful and playful with the diverse score of this Rodgers and Hammerstein hit. Matching her step for step is Michael Halling as the quintessential De Becque bringing a marvelous baritone to the classic “Some Enchanted Evening” and the powerful unrequited love song of the second act, “This Nearly Was Mine.”

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Matthew Hydzik as Cable and Sydney Jones as Liat in “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Matthew Hydzik does an equally powerful turn for the tenor section as Lieutenant Joe Cable. His “Younger Than Springtime” is exquisitely sung and then he gets the powerhouse number of the night with the second act masterpiece, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.” As his love interest, Sydney Jones is a gorgeous Liat and the comedy portion of the night is brought by a solid Luther Billis as portrayed by Mark Diconzo and Joanne Javien with a delightfully bossy interpretation of Bloody Mary. Also look for some outstanding work- bringing humor to a serious situation- by veterans John Flack and Steve Isom.

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Luther Billis (Mark Diconzo) struts his stuff at the holiday show in the Stages-St. Louis production of “South Pacific.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

The ensemble work is, as usual, outstanding. My wife always preferred to be in the chorus because they usually dominate the stage work and this group of seabees and nurses do just that. I referred earlier to this production of “South Pacific” as sumptuous and a lot of that has to do with the solid set design of James Wolk and the lighting design of Sean M. Savoie. Reminiscent of the latest Lincoln Center production, they show the beauty of the South Pacific area in stunning scenes and colorful effects.

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Leah Berry and the nurses perform the iconic “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” in “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Garth Dunbar’s costumes are perfect with the possible exception of some anachronistic beige tennis shoes worn by some of the nurses. Lisa Campbell Albert does her usually steady job as musical director which brings out the lush and romantic score as well as the humor of the comedy numbers.

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The beautiful finale of “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. A powerful statement that needs to be heeded today as well as it was in 1949. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Stages-St. Louis will close next season with the other Rodgers and Hammerstein hit I mention at the opening, “Oklahoma.” For now, however, give them a call at 314-821-2407 and make sure you get to this marvelous production of “South Pacific.”

Rep Opener Takes Quantum Leap With Stunning “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time”

September 12, 2017
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Jimmy Kieffer and Nick LaMedica in “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Just days after the sad news that Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Artistic Director Steven Woolf will retire in two years, one of the most impressive plays he has ever produced hits the boards with the Simon Stephens Tony winner, “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.” This look at a brilliant teen who dazzles with his complicated mind but can’t handle day to day social situations is a totally immersive play that draws us into his world with innovative staging and a powerful cast.

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Cast members of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” overwhelm Christopher at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Marcia Milgrom Dodge is director and choreographer even though this show is not a musical. But the ensemble cast play several roles and, in the mind of 15-year old Christopher Boone, his interactions with them ranges from friendly to hostile to outright fear. She shuttles the cast around the stage in often dizzying fashion and in the midst of it all, Christopher is often overwhelmed but never loses his focus on finding the real killer of his neighbor’s dog (he has been accused) and his reality of taking an early (for his age) test of the A-levels- the British equivalent of the SAT’s. No surprises here when the test results are revealed. Dodge is able to translate this unusual world of a budding genius into a frenzied but beautiful, whirling dance of a complicated mind.

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Nick LaMedica as Christopher works out math problems during the Rep’s production of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Nick LaMedica is nothing short of brilliant as Christopher. His confidence in himself is front and center yet he is constantly stunned and amazed at what is going on about him. With a healthy dose of sarcasm and determination, he tackles the obstacles in his way as overwhelming events unfold about his family, neighbors and the painful trip he must take to London. The story draws you in but it is the reactions and emotions this young man goes through in his journey that makes you care so much about this play.

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Nick LaMedica and the cast of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Jimmy Kieffer is outstanding as Christopher’s father. He tries to protect his son but it appears that he may have ulterior motives in keeping the biggest secret from him. Amy Blackman also shines as his mother who has also been duped in this heart breaking scenario. Kathleen Wise serves as a mentor and narrator to the story as she drives the plot along while observing Christopher’s problems and various encounters.

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Nick LaMedica and the ensemble in the Rep’s production of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The ensemble cast joins in with good work by Laiona Michelle as several characters including the next door neighbor and Kevin Cutts as her ex-husband who helps turn the crux of the plot. Michael Baxter, Nathan B. Williams, Ka-Ling Cheung and Dale Hodges round out the cast who do yeoman work creating characters and keeping the mind of Christopher turning at hectic speed.

The Narelle Sissons set design is stunning and a bit overwhelming itself. Combined with the Matthew Richards lighting design, it makes for a visual feast to compare with the beautiful story unfolding on stage. Leon Wiebers costumes are effective with the odd item here and there combining to handle a cast of characters with just a handful of actors. David Bullard’s sound design also adds to the shock value of the play.

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Laiona Michelle and Nick LaMedica in “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” is a curious story that comes from the original, stunning novel by Mark Haddon. He never thought the story could be translated to film or the stage but playwright Simon Stephens cleverly treats it as a play, a mind-bending experience and a diary of Christopher’s life. And he’s got a Tony to prove his instincts were right. Catch this beautiful, powerful and heart-wrenching experience at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through October 1st. Call them at 314-968-4925 and get in on the fun and creative mind-boggling experience that is “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.”