Archive for February, 2018

“Blackbird” Takes On New Perspective With St. Louis Actors’ Studio Production

February 13, 2018
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Elizabeth Birkenmeier confronts John Pierson in “Blackbird” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

The only other time I saw David Harrower’s play, “Blackbird” was in the mid 2000’s at the Studio Theatre of the Rep. It was difficult to watch then and it has only become more difficult all these years later. In recent months the molestation of women and under age women (and men, for that matter) has lost all credibility for the accused- and rightly so. As we watch an older man try to rationalize his victimization of a 12 year old girl when he was 40 or so, there is no sympathy left.

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John Pierson and Elizabeth Birkenmeier in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “Blackbird.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Una has found her abuser after many years and decides to visit Ray (now calling himself Peter) at his place of business. The next 80 minutes are painful to sit through and, unlike seeing the play the first time, there is no way to even begin to look at the situation from both perspectives. It is particularly telling when the audience sees what has happened to Una over the years and her mind set from the eyes of a child who thought she was “in love.”

Veteran actor and director John Pierson tackles the difficult role of Ray. He tries to make a plausible argument but you keep coming back to the fact that this girl was 12 years old when he became obsessed with her. The audience can perhaps feel his anguish but then you realize- she was 12 years old. Though convicted, he served a few years and was able to move away and map out a whole new life for himself including a new wife and family. It’s a remarkable performance from Mr. Pierson knowing that he truly is the villain in this piece.

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John Pierson leans in to make a point to Elizabeth Birkenmeier during “Blackbird” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

The unusual thing about the performance of Elizabeth Birkenmeier as Una is her ability to stand her ground yet show some vulnerability for her abuser. She was labeled everything from precocious to a slut over the years as she sank into a life of loveless sex and extreme despair. The final, surprising moments are testament to how deeply she was wounded and affected by his actions.

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John Pierson agonizes as Elizabeth Birkenmeier describes her life during the St. Louis Actor’s Studio production of “Blackbird.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Annamaria Pileggi has directed with sympathy and a much needed cry for help. “Blackbird” is not an easy show to stomach and the vivid language and descriptions of the “affair” are really hard to take. Gasps from the audience are, I’m sure, a regular part of the play as they were when I saw it. Despite that, it’s a play that needs to be seen- more now than ever. With Larry Naser-style pedophiles still out there in the world and the ties to the even bigger movement of “Me Too,” this is probably more relevant today than it was in 2005 when it was first written.

A third cast member, Sienna Hahn, does a fine job as well and Patrick Huber’s set becomes another character between the stark look of an industrial break room and the metaphor of the messy state of that room with old lunch styrofoam containers and soda cans strewn about. Mr. Huber’s lighting design also helps create the loneliness of the work place while Teresa Doggett’s costumes highlight the contrasts with Ray’s business attire emphasizing his elderly demeanor (particularly the tie stretched out over his paunch) and Una’s buttoned up style showing no skin except her face.

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Elizabeth Birkenmeier hides from the rage of John Pierson in “Blackbird” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

“Blackbird” has returned just in time to reflect the world that is changing today. It plays through February 25th at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

 

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Enigmatic “The Humans” At The Rep- This Ain’t Your Arthur Miller Family Drama

February 12, 2018
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Brian Dykstra, Lauren Marcus and Fajer Kaisi in a scene from “The Humans” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

After the first week-end of the Tony winning drama, “The Humans,” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis- the final moments have been the buzzword among those who’ve seen it. What did it mean? What the hell just happened? In a play fraught with symbolism, it was just another piece in fitting together this unusual family drama.

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The Blake clan assemble for Thanksgiving in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of “The Humans.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Loud, disturbing noises punctuate the new new ground floor apartment of newly engaged Brigid Blake and Richard Saad. Passed off as a Chinese lady in the apartment above who is into weights- no one really believes it- on stage or in the audience. Not unlike the jarring factory whistle in “Sweeney Todd,” it’s a constant reminder that we’re in for a bumpy Thanksgiving night. Add other assorted noises blamed on someone using the laundry room and the frequent blackouts in certain rooms of the spacious apartment and you get the feeling that these are perhaps metaphors for this functioning dysfunctional family.

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Lauen Marcus and Fajer Kaisi prepare the peppermint pig during “The Humans” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Lauren Marcus and Fajer Kaisi are the young couple who, despite a calm demeanor, have some tensions brewing in their life and trepidation on how the evening is headed. Brian Dykstra is the patriarch of the Blake clan, Erik. He’s the one who is perhaps holding the biggest secret which leads to the big reveal and the perplexing final moments of “The Humans.” Carol Schultz is his long suffering yet occasionally snippy wife, Deirdre, Kathleen Wise is their other daughter, Aimee, who has gone through a recent break up and the cast is completed with a stunning performance from Darrie Lawrence as Erik’s mother, “Momo,” who is mostly confined to a wheelchair.

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Brian Dykstra and Darrie Lawrence in a moment from the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of “The Humans.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Rep Artistic Director, Steven Woolf, has directed with a masterful touch in bringing out the nuances in the troubled family while maintaining the spirit of a classic family drama. The terrific dialogue over dialogue, in one sequence in particular, on the two level set is remarkable. An almost casual conversation between Erik and Richard over Erik’s bizarre dreams may lead, in part, to the unusual finale that everyone is fixated on. Does it reference his allusion to a tunnel or is it a sign of something more dire?

The Gianni Downs double decker set is a marvel. Even the vast spaces seem almost too confined for this small family. Rob Denton’s lights play a significant role and Rusty Wandall’s sound design adds the ominous touch. Dorothy Marshall Englis has fashioned a wonderful costume design. The Stephen Karam script is nothing if not fascinating. Far from traditional, it sometimes smacks you in the face with symbolic overtones and at other times revels in the spoken word of a truly great script. Nothing appears to be just what it seems and we’re constantly reminded of how much the building has become another character. In an interview in the program, Karam talks about fears- mainly following the 9-11 crisis. So fears of the outside world and fears within the family all take shape as we unravel the humanity of “The Humans.”

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The cast of “The Humans” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“The Humans” plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage through March 4th. You may love it, you may hat it- but you’ll find it fascinating and will undoubtedly join the discussion about the final sequence. Give the Rep a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.