Archive for December, 2017

Enigmatic “Remnant” Brings Imaginary World To Frightening Life At Mustard Seed

December 11, 2017
rem-hanging

Ryan Lawson-Maeske looks down as Katy Keating and Marissa Grice discuss the planning of Christ Mas in “Remnant” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Mustard Seed Theatre is opening their eleventh season just as they did their first back in 2007- with Ron Reed’s dystopian universe in “Remnant.” Although a native of Vancouver, Mr. Reed’s futuristic play is set in the more familiar surroundings of St. Louis. In fact, Artistic Director and director of “Remnant,” Deanna Jent has set the production in her own theatre in a world that has been all but obliterated by a plague 75 years ago.

A scrappy family- the Wilkin clan- has settled into the Fontbonne theatre space protecting their territory with weapons and an elaborate entry system which requires a series of “secret codes” to enter. Set designer Kristin Cassidy and props master Meg Brinkley have gathered a lot of pieces that earmark family holdings from the recent past and have scattered them throughout the rambling set. It’s a wonderful world to enter as you take your seat and wait for the play to start.

Ryan Lawson-Maeske is the patriarch of the clan, Barlow Sho’r. He opens the show practicing his skills in preparation of any assault on their property. He takes command but has hesitant moments as a Loner eventually invades their home in the form of a scary Adam Flores. His handle of Loner is appropriate as he comes loaded to take over with a curved knife that is attached permanently to his wrist. As the evening moves forward, however, we find he truly is alone and soon begins to cherish the family unit that he has stumbled upon.

rem-3shot

Michelle Hand pours “punching” for Marissa Grice as Ryan Lawson-Maeske looks on in Mustard Seed Theatre presents “Remnant.” Photo: John Lamb

In this strange tale of the future the people have developed a new version of the language that was once spoken- sort of a pigeon English that makes it hard to concentrate at the start of the play. Whether the audience gets used to it or the script falls more into conventional tone, you soon begin to understand it and follow along just fine. They have just discovered the holiday of what they call Christ Mas and they settle in to enjoy Christ Mas eve before the intruder arrives.

Marissa Grice is Barlow’s “significant other,” for lack of a better title- Delmar Nu1. A mix of kindness and caution go into her dealings with the Loner and the temper of Barlow. Katy Keating is solid as Barlow’s sister, Annagail Bookr while Michelle Hand as Kristn Taler is the elder of the group and hands down what wisdom she remembers in relating a series of tales about the Christ Mas. Her ritual and deft telling of the story is wonderful.

Michael Sullivan’s lights enhance the expansive staging area relying mainly on overhanging par lights. Jane Sullivan’s costumes are effective in portraying a future that has gone to a mixed bag of the past to recreate the clans’ style.

“Remnant” raises a lot of questions about the fear of a future that has recently been wiped clean by a devastating plague. Is everyone not in your clan an enemy? Is it safe to travel too far from your “space?” And what about the traditions like Christmas and a Supreme Being? Are they real and should you try to reconstruct the life that existed before? There is a lot of suspension of disbelief needed to really latch onto some of the concepts provided in the script but it is a fascinating look into the future and should start a lot of post play discussion.

rem-michelle

Michelle Hand delivers a story as Ryan Lawson-Maeske and Marissa Grice look on in “Remnant” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

“Remnant” plays at Mustard Seed Theatre on the Fontbonne campus through December 23rd. Contact Mustard Seed at 314-719-8060 or at mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information.

Advertisements

Deft Direction And Great Cast Moves “The Flick” Along Nicely At R-S Theatrics

December 11, 2017

At times while watching the latest from R-S Theatrics, “The Flick,” I felt it could have been a “No Exit” moment. Were these characters in some sort of purgatory waiting for hell? Or is it just three people looking for love and meaning in their rather humdrum lives? Despite the slow pace of an already long play (about 2 and a half hours), you can’t help but get caught up in their conversation as they toil away at a decrepit movie theatre.

flick-blue

Jennelle Gilreath, Jaz Tucker and Chuck Winning in “The Flick” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

We meet Sam as he is breaking in a new employee, Avery, who we discover is a whiz at playing “Six Degrees” as he connects one star to another that Sam arbitrarily hands him. In between they are sweeping up spilled popcorn and giving each other a version of their life so far and what they hope to do in the future. Sam doesn’t seem to have any goals except to move up in the chain of command and someday run the projector. That lofty job is already being handled by Rose who Sam is smitten with and Avery reluctantly becomes involved with for, shall we call it, a “one night stand?”

Chuck Winning gives Sam a sad sack on the verge of extreme anger persona. He is a likable character despite his jealous and suspicious ways. We feel for his desperation and the unrequited love he endures even after he opens his heart to Rose. A great, nuanced performance. As his mentor and enigmatic loner, Jaz Tucker becomes an unwitting foil in Sam’s romantic missteps. We don’t really get a strong handle on his depth, but Mr. Tucker makes Avery a sympathetic character despite his somewhat upbeat demeanor.

Jennelle Gilreath is a breath of fresh air as Rose. Her green hair tossing and her heart on her sleeve attitude gives us a portrayal of wild abandon that gives her the freedom to act on her whims and the world better watch out. Rounding out the cast is Tyson Cole as a sleeping man in the theatre rousted out by the cleaning crew and then later as Skylar- the new man on the clean up crew.

Joe Hanrahan directs with a slow, deliberate place to emphasize the awkwardness and lack of social skills in the characters. It works well but extends the evening even further in a slow and often rambling piece. As secrets and personalities are revealed, we learn a lot in this “slice of life” comedy. “The Flick” might fall into the dramedy category owing to the obvious desperation of these somewhat abandoned souls, but there’s enough spirit and determination and some great laughs along with heart to make it more uplifting than it first looks.

Keller Ryan has taken advantage of the seats in the Kranzberg Black Box to mold his basic movie theatre structure and it works well even though I almost thought

about sitting on the set when I first entered the theatre. The strewn popcorn and the fact that everyone else in the audience was seated facing these seats led me to a seat next to the director and another reviewer. Brittanie Gunn’s lighting design gives the set a real feel and the costumes of Sarah Porter are inspired nicely by actual movie theatre garb.

To paraphrase a famous movie trailer cliche, “in a world where long one acts have been reigning supreme,” it’s nice to get lost in a favorite pastime- the movies- and watch a play unfold with full character development and a somewhat unexpected ending.

flick-purple

Chuck Winning reads over Jennelle Gilreath’s shoulder as Jaz Tucker cleans up in the background during the R-S Theatrics production of “The Flick.” Photo: Michael Young

Playwright Annie Baker has given us a lot out of almost nothing. Catch “The Flick” as presented by R-S Theatrics through December 23rd. Give them a call at 314-252-8812 for tickets or more information.

 

Outlandish “A Behanding In Spokane” Brings Dark Humor To Actors’ Studio

December 7, 2017
be-jerry onbed

Jerry Vogel as Carmichael makes a point while Leerin Campbell and Michael Lowe look on in “A Behanding In Spokane” at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

Playwright Martin McDonagh has shocked us in the past with some pretty rough Irish inspired dark comedies and now he brings that same irreverent humor to a story set in America. “A Behanding In Spokane” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio offers an outlandish premise that can’t help but pull the audience into this bizarre world of oddly familiar characters.

Carmichael lost his hand to “hillbillies” 47 years ago in Spokane who, after the incident involving a train, cruelly waved goodbye to him with his own hand as they left him bleeding by the railroad tracks. Though giving up the need for revenge after all these years, he is still obsessed with finding that hand. Two drug dealers who aren’t exactly rocket scientists decide to try to scam him by offering a “hand” to collect his five hundred dollar reward. Add a overly happy and suspicious receptionist at the Indiana hotel where the score is to go down and you’ve got the makings of a typical McDonagh farce.

be-girl

Leerin Campbell as Marilyn gives her favorite salute as Michael Lowe as Toby contemplates their fate during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presentation of “A Behanding In Spokane.” Photo: Patrick Huber

With an exasperated demeanor, Jerry Vogel gives a strong performance as the frustrated Carmichael. From keeping one drug dealer locked in the closet while the young girl goes to fetch the hand to his banter with the receptionist, he delivers a darkly comic portrayal that Tarantino would be proud of. Michael Lowe is the bewildered Toby who, as the play opens, we think has been shot for scratching on the closet door to get out. As it turns out, Carmichael merely fired a “warning” shot past his head. What we soon find out is that Toby is not the brightest bulb in the pack and, even when his girlfriend berates him for not standing up for Carmichael’s frequent use of the “n” word, he shrugs it off.

Leerin Campbell as Marilyn is the smarter of the two low life criminals- but not by much. Her performance is grand as she even flips everyone off including the audience after the curtain call. When the two are handcuffed to the radiator by Carmichael before he goes off to investigate their further allegations, their shoe throwing bit to dislodge a gas can with a burning candle in it is a riot. Do they realize that if they knock that can over, they will all blow up a lot quicker? And then their discovery in Carmichael’s suitcase brings the dark humor to an even darker level.

be-jerrybed

Jerry Vogel as Carmichael talks to his mom on the phone after he has just handcuffed Michael Lowe as Toby to the radiator in “A Behanding In Spokane” at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

Rounding out the cast is a marvelous performance by William Roth, Artistic Director of STLAS. The dimwitted Mervyn holds down the front desk but is dressed like the Phillip Morris bellboy in the old cigarette commercials. His permanent shit-eating grin and his lethal curiosity would earn him a bullet in the head from a less tolerant villain than Carmichael. It’s almost as if Carmichael finds him too amusing to shoot.

Wayne Salomon has directed with a great insight into the absurdity of the play and the situations McDonagh has created. Dark as they are, the laughs come freely and often. Reminiscent of a David Mamet script, cursing is a way of life for all of the characters except Mervyn. Like many of his other scripts, including “The Lieutenant Of Inishmore,” the ridiculous becomes sublime. Patrick Huber has done yeoman work once again with a tight, believable set design and a strong lighting design. Carla Landis Evans provides the right touch with costuming from the punk look of Marilyn to the hilarious bellboy look of Mervyn. The only complaint might be the ragged job of wrapping Mr. Vogel’s hand to make it look like a stump. You could see his knuckles looming through the bandages.

be-william

Jerry Vogel as Carmichael can’t figure what to make of William Roth as the dimwitted desk clerk in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “A Behanding in Spokane.” Photo: Patrick Huber

“A Behanding In Spokane” is not for everyone but if you like your comedy broad and darkly absurd, it’s for you. I felt ashamed at times laughing at some of the scandalous going’s on but you just can’t help it. It plays at St. Louis Actors’ Studio through December 17th. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

“A Jewish Joke” At New Jewish Is Another Look At McCarthyism

December 5, 2017

A one man show starring the co-author is the latest at New Jewish Theatre. “A Jewish Joke” by Marni Freedman and Phil Johnson stars Mr. Johnson as the fictitious Bernie Lutz- a comedy writer from the early 50’s who soon gets swept up in the Red Scare. His fate and that whole world of McCarthyism appears to be one of the many problems sweeping the country again in the malevolence of our current administration. So the play is relevant on many levels- both as history and as history perhaps repeating itself.

Since Phil Johnson co-wrote the play it seemed odd that he had a lot of problems on opening night including some technical snafu’s that appeared to throw off his timing. Bernie has several projects in the works including those for the Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye and NBC. Over the course of this 90 minute one act, he takes and makes about 30 to 40 phone calls and the old problem of picking up a phone that still rings became the first in a line of anticipation of such a faux pas happening again and seemed to cause some trepidation on his part about when to pick up the ringing phone.

We know he’s a comedy writer but the premise of the play has him grabbing jokes out of his files whenever he gets nervous or frustrated and reading them aloud to himself? and thus to the audience. His timing was really off on a few of them- even though most are chestnuts from the period and many we’ve heard over the years. One other problem with the play is the appearance of a non-existent cat that he feeds and talks to. Since it has little to do with the plot- why introduce or, if you do, have him walk slightly off stage to do this little bit of business.

Director David Ellenstein keeps the pace moving and you can see the growing concern on Bernie’s face as he continues to take increasingly stressful phone calls about his involvement in the Communist party. So there is drama and we do have concern for his character knowing how these atrocities were carried out before Senator Joseph McCarthy was finally brought down with the stunning Senate speech- “After all of this time, Senator, have you no sense of decency?” Words that are ringing in our ears today.

No credit for the simple set but it is functional as a small office for a 1950’s comedy writer and Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design is equally effective. Peter Herman’s costuming for Mr. Johnson is fine and to the point.

This is a transplant from the Roustabouts Theatre Company in San Diego where it won a lot of awards. “A Jewish Joke” will no doubt overcome some of the problems it encountered on opening night and should be a satisfying entry into the many projects already out there about this period in history. Perhaps a look at “Trumbo” about the effects of McCarthyism on screenwriter Dalton Trumbo might be something you might want to see or the truly inspired “The Front” by Woody Allen.

jewishA little side note, a few of us were discussing the play at another play in our town and several ladies in front of us piped up and said they didn’t enjoy this play last time at New Jewish and probably wouldn’t go see it again. We finally discovered they were mixing it up with a delightful comedy they produced a few years back, “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” We encouraged them to see this one as it is something completely different. “A Jewish Joke” plays at New Jewish Theatre through December 10th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.

“Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” Is A New Christmas Tradition At The Rep

December 2, 2017
ben-3shot

Jane, Mary, Lydia and Elizabeth- the Bennet sisters- gather for “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

A relatively new play, “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley,” may have a rather cumbersome title but the joy and warmth it displays makes it a treat that we could welcome for seasons to come. In the true spirit of Jane Austen, we meet the Bennet sisters two years after Elizabeth has married Mr. Darcy and this time we’re focused on Mary, the awkward and bookish middle sister.

ben-arthur

Miles G. Jackson as Arthur- the awkward center of attention at “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by two scholars of Austen’s work and big fans as well- Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon- they have infused this new work with witty dialogue, a feeling for the elegance of Regency England and a joie de vive that runs through the tough times and the revelations during a Christmas at the Darcy home. A winning cast brings the intelligence of Austen (and thus her characters) to brilliant life.

ben-mary

Justine Salata as Mary as she contemplates her future during the Rep production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pembelry.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Justine Salata leads the way as Mary Bennet. Her lack of social skills is evident as she is content with her books and an occasional go at the pianoforte. She is not so much aloof as she is set in her ways and Ms. Salata does a masterful job of making her endearing despite her nature. Her sister Elizabeth is given a spirited portrayal by Harveen Sandhu as she tries to be peacemaker among the four sisters who each have distinct personalities and peculiarities. As her husband, Mr. Darcy, Rhett Guter displays a commanding presence and is a genial host to all of the guests- invited and not.

ben-2shot

Harveen Sandhu as Elizabeth and Kim Wong as a pregnant Jane in a scene from “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Another sister, Jane, is the sweet and understanding one- and also the pregnant one. Kim Wong gives her a mild temper and a giving heart. Her husband, Charles Bingley, is the best friend of Mr. Darcy and Peterson Townsend infuses him with a love of life and a true purpose. The last sister is Lydia and Austen Danielle Bohmer brings forth all of the flirtatious glamour of her character. Although wed (unhappily), she cannot resist a come on to another one of Mr. Darcy’s guests, Lord Arthur de Bourgh.

Miles G. Jackson delivers a brilliant performance as the awkward and bookish Arthur (guess who he winds up with?). There is an instant connection between he and Mary that neither seems to notice at first but from his shy demeanor and his tentative steps (literally), he soon wins over the audience with his good looks to his ungraceful and continual bowing to the ladies and gentlemen at the Christmas celebration. His uncomfortable handling of Lydia’s advances can only be compounded by the entrance of Victoria Frings as his (unknowingly to him) intended, Anne.

ben-anne

Victoria Frings as Anne casts another disparaging look at the Christmas tree in the Rep’s production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Arthur has inherited the de Bourgh estate but Anne has inherited most of the money. She claims that her mother had always intended for she and Arthur to marry so she could live out her days at the estate. Mistaken missives and unresolved misunderstandings soon give way to another happy ending for the Bennet sisters and, for that matter, everyone involved- even the yet again jilted Anne who, at one point, had thought she had been betrothed to Mr. Darcy. Rounding out the cast are silent butlers and maids who make the small scene changes seem natural- Max Bahneman, Johnny Briseno and Molly Burris.

Jen Thompson has directed this masterpiece with another keen eye toward Jane Austen and the manners and mores of the time. It’s wonderful that the sisters reunite in this production which adds to the feeling of the season. Wilson Chin has designed a magnificent set that simply shimmers of the holidays including the much maligned “Christmas tree” that had not quite become the popular sign of the season that it has become since then. The Philip S. Rosenberg lighting design also bathes the set in festive style while David Toser’s costumes (several changes for every character) speaks volumes for the period.

ben-tree

Harveen Sandhu as Elizabeth and Rhett Guter as Mr. Darcy in “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

This is definitely the show for this holiday season. It sparkles and crackles with hearty laughs, just the right amount of tension (even though you know things will work out alright), a few tears and a loving and hearty message for everyone at this time of year. Run to the Rep- see “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” now through Christmas eve. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

 

Polished And Impressive “King And I” Travels to the Fox

December 2, 2017

king-shipLush and beautiful to see, the old Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut, “The King And I,” has been reborn under the direction of Bartlett Sher and the national tour has stopped in St. Louis at the Fox Theatre. A splendid cast is equal to the task and makes you fall in love all over again with Anna and the way she transforms the vain and rigid King.

king-buddahJose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly make a charming couple with a lot of chemistry as he teaches her how a country is run and, as a teacher to his rather large household of children, teaches him to join the rest of the world. Mr. Llana is a young and vivacious King and his signature intro to us, “A Puzzlement,” gives a hint to the fact that he knows he might be out of touch. Ms. Kelly’s songs are the backbone of the R&H lore including “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Whistle A Happy Tune” and, of course, the iconic lesson in the polka, “Shall We Dance.” She acts and sings the part beautifully.

king-youngAs those young lovers, Q Lim as Tuptin and Kavin Panmeechao as Lun Tha are a delightful pair who share the beautiful number, “We Kiss In A Shadow.” Joan Almedilla is a courageous Lady Thiang, the King’s main wife who fights through her struggles with “Something Wonderful” as she explains how the small moments keeps her going.

king-uncleThe ensemble is amazing, particularly during the iconic “Small House Of Uncle Thomas”- a pageant that is much better on stage than listening to it on the CD. It’s a fascinating take on an American classic. Bartlett Sher’s direction and the Christopher Gattelli choreography shine in this and all the numbers. It’s a strong, new version of a classic that redefines it with a contemporary look that made his reworking of Rodgers and Hammerstien’s “South Pacific” so magical a few years ago.

king-teachingMichael Yeargan’s sets are impressive from the large ship that brings Anna and her son to Siam to the small, intimate moments. Donal Holder’s lights are dramatic as well and the Catherine Zuber costumes are perfect. Robert Russell Bennett’s new orchestrations are superb and well rendered under the baton of Gerald Steichen.

king-shallweRemembering way back when Yul Brynner made is famous “last tour before he died” tour of the show, this is a whole new reason to enjoy the beautiful score and happy and tragic story of “The King And I.” It’s a relatively short run- through December 10th at the Fox- so be sure to call and visit Siam, Anna and the King before they shuffle out of town.