Archive for January, 2018

Biology, Theories And Two Strong Women Guide Us Through “The How And The Why” At New Jewish Theatre

January 30, 2018
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Sophia Brown and Amy Loui begin to feel each other out during “The How And The Why” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Evolutionary biology is not my idea of a strong subject for a play. Nor are lengthy discussions about menstruation. But somehow two remarkable actresses and one strong director bring Sarah Treem’s unusual one-act to satisfying fruition with the New Jewish production of “The How And The Why.”

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Progess is made between Amy Loui and Sophia Brown in the New Jewish Theatre production of “The How And The Why.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Amy Loui is an established professor and researcher, Zelda Kahn, who has studied women’s biological make up and written several theories- including The Grandmother Hypothesis- which has turned the world of science on its ear. Into her office walks graduate student Rachel Hardeman played by Sophia Brown. It looks like a mentoring moment but things take a bizarre turn and we learn more about the emotional connection between these two strong willed ladies.

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Amy Loui pleads with Sophia Brown in the New Jewish Theatre production of “The How And The Why.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Despite some lofty theories and loftier language being thrown around, we get the basic hint of why the inevitable clash of ideologies erupt into pain, passion and pathos. At a local bar the bonding and healing begins and we become privy to even more exacting secrets that have helped shape these two women.

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Amy Loui and Sophia Brown in a scene from “The How And The Why” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Local playwright, actress and director Nancy Bell has directed these two wonderful actresses into a taut, if somewhat wordy script. Even ladies of such renown on local stages as Amy Loui and Sophia Brown found it just a bit tongue-tying at times to spout the scientific jargon as the 90 minute one act compounded the action. Thank goodness Nancy Bell was able to put the emphasis on the humanity of the ladies and their unique situation rather than focusing too much on the biological inferences.

Peter and Margery Spack have outdone themselves with a very realistic set design showcasing the professor’s office in Cambridge and then a local dive in Boston. All of it is surrounded by a Calder-esque set of mobiles depicting the night sky, perhaps biological symbols as well, on both sides of the center-focused thrust stage. Michael Sullivan’s lights perfectly match both locations and the Felia Davenport costumes are marvelous helping to showcase the difference between the two women.

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Amy Loui and Sophia Brown discover their differences during the New Jewish Theatre production of “The How And The Why.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

“The How And The Why” could stand a bit of trimming despite the nifty cat and mouse game the two play throughout. But the excellent performances and strong direction make it a worthy addition to this young 2018 theatre season. Catch it at the New Jewish Theatre through February 11th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.

 

 

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The Black Rep Knocks It Out Of The Park With “Fences”

January 11, 2018

fence-ronContinuing their second go round of the August Wilson complete play collection, The Black Rep has scored a big one with this incarnation of “Fences.” Led by two stalwart actors and a brilliant ensemble backing them up, this is a strong start to the 2018 theatre season.

Ron Himes is the Artistic Director of The Black Rep and an actor of great renown in our area as well. His portrayal of the flawed and bitter Troy Maxson is flawless as we see every heartbreak, disappointment and stubborn pride associated with one of the greatest characters ever created- right up there with Willy Loman. As a power-hitting ballplayer (37 home runs last season), he is facing the infamous color barrier that had held black players out of the big leagues. “Fences” takes place between 1957 and 1964 as Troy has just missed his chance to join Jackie Robinson and the other black players who were becoming common now in American ballparks. As he says, “life is a fastball on the outside corner,” something that should have made him a natural for the game but instead has led to years of “what might have happened.”

As Rose, his wife, Linda Kennedy also turns in a masterful performance. Her second act speech about the suffering she has gone through by sticking with him through all of his bravado and bitterness comes off the stage and strikes the audience right in the kisser. It’s a memorable moment that can’t be forgotten. Also, returning to town from his new home in New Orleans is Robert Alan Mitchell as Troy’s friend from the factory, Jim Bono. He gives a strong performance in a role that seems to be low key compared to the vast power of Troy, but settles in as the voice of reason.

fence-logoRichard Agnew is very convincing as Gabriel, the mentally impaired brother of Troy who has a metal plate in his head. His rambling and repetitive speeches speak well of Troy’s effect on everyone as he constantly asks, “why is Troy mad at me?” Troy, in fact, is very protective of his brother but his constant bitterness takes the biggest toll on Gabriel. Steven Maurice is fine as Troy and Roses’ oldest son, Lyons who is also intimidated by his father who constantly relates Lyons’ fate to the fate he has met- not realizing that times are changing. Brian McKinley is the youngest son, Cory, who also can do nothing to please his father. Rounding out the cast is little Lena Sanaa Williams as Raynell who does a great job as Troy’s illegitimate daughter.

Director Lorna Littleway pulls Wilson’s masterpiece a notch above as she wrenches every ounce of passion from the script and shines a light on the power and majesty of this superbly crafted play. Jim Burwinkel’s rustic set is perfect for the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 50’s Pennsylvania and the Joseph Clapper lighting design enhances the ¬†proceedings. The Marissa Perry costume design is right on the mark Kareem Deanes’ sound provides a dramatic effect to the evening.

fence-longshotA complex and involved script takes on an honest and nuanced portrayal thanks to the inspired team at The Black Rep. August Wilson’s “Fences” plays through January 21st and it’s a play you won’t want to miss. Give them a call at 314-534-3807 for tickets or more information.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes” Brings 50’s And 60’s Pop To The Repertory Theatre Of St. Louis

January 7, 2018
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The girls play a dating game in “The Marvelous Wonderettes” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Eric Woolsey

“The Marvelous Wonderettes” is similar to “Forever Plaid” but with the ladies taking charge (oh, and they aren’t dead like the guys in “FP”). Centering on a senior prom in 1958, Act I shows four girls from Springfield High who get thrown into the entertainment portion because the guys from the school who were supposed to entertain go cancelled due to a certain infraction from one their group. Then, in Act II we revisit the scene for the ten year reunion in 1968. All the while we’re treated to hit after hit of these two decades from the pop charts.

My wife and I discussed after the show- which came first, the music choice or the plot? We concur a little bit of each as some of the songs fit into the story line of the four girls making up the “Wonderettes”- some fittingly, some funny. Anyway, it’s a “marvelous” way to spend an evening in the theatre.

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The Wonderettes pose under their sign during the opening “Mr. Sandman” number in the Rep production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

The four girls are about as different as you can get from each other. Chiara Trentalange is the boyfriend stealer, Cindy Lou (or Cynthia, as she becomes in her more sophisticated personage ten years later). She couldn’t be more overt when she describes her man stealing ability sighting her “Lucky Lips.” In the second act, she is repentant and remorseful as we learn how she reformed in the ten year hiatus. This leads to some rather silly intros to songs like “Son Of A Preacher Man” and “Leader Of The Pack” (obviously the plot and characters driven by the song choices here).

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A wonderful take on “Allegheny Moon” during “The Marvelous Wonderettes” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Eric Woolsey

The object of her indiscretions is Betty Jean with a delightful performance by Iris Beaumier. Her broken heart comes in the form of “Lipstick On Your Collar” in the first act and then another tragic romance in the second act leads to “That’s When The Tears Start” and “It’s My Party.”

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The girls get the crowd going during the Repertory Theatre production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Morgan Kirner really gets the party moving as Missy. Her first act crooning of Calamity Janes’ “Secret Love” becomes a plaintiff wail and then we get the audience into the action when she pulls “Mr. Lee” from the crowd as the teacher she’s got a crush on. This leads to a pretty good performance by a befuddled older man as he sits while they sing “Born Too Late” and “Teacher’s Pet.” In the second act, it’s revealed that they got married so the poor guy has to make another stage appearance. The audience loved it.

Finally we have Leanne Smith as Suzy- sort of the Suzy Homemaker type who then makes her grand entrance in the second act pregnant. Don’t worry, these aren’t really spoilers- it’s just that kind of show. She has fun with “Stupid Cupid” in the first act and then gets to lead a medley of songs in the second act ending with the Aretha Franklin anthem, “Respect. ”

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Suzy leads the girls in a second act number set in 1968 in the Rep’s production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Melissa Rain Anderson has directed with a tongue-in-cheek whimsy and her choreography captures the magic and mystery of both decades and their differing styles. The Adam Koch set design evokes the usual vain attempt of transforming a gym to a prom theme- you can almost swell the sweat from the last basketball game played there. Peter E. Sargent’s lights empower the surroundings and the Dorothy Marshall Englis costumes bring back memories of can-can skirts and then go-go boots.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes” was created and written by Roger Bean and music director Joshua Zecher-Ross and his band have captured the mood of the 50’s and 60’s with the bounce and the ballads all coming through like a blast from the past. These four girls take to the music like fish to water. Individually they shine- collectively, they’re a force to be reckoned with.

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The girls are encircled with red ribbon and hearts during their Marvelous Dreams Medley during “The Marvelous Wonderettes” at the Rep. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Don’t come for anything heavy- just brush off 2017 with a gentler and more mindful era. Just like opening night, the audiences will be singing along (just not too loudly), tapping their toes and bobbing their heads throughout the run of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Join the happy crowd at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through January 28th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.