Elusive “Caught” At The Rep Studio Will Blow You Away As It Blows Your Mind

March 13, 2018

Kenneth Lee opens the play with an art lecture in “Caught” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Truth versus lies, reality versus perception, facts versus fake news and even as basic as black versus white. These concepts are explored and dissected in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio production, “Caught” by Christopher Chen. When you enter the theatre you are handed a program but not a standard program with cast list, bios and such- instead it’s a guide to the art installation which has been constructed in front of the stage. The usher says you will receive the real theatre program as you exit this 90 minute masterpiece.

Director of “Caught,” Seth Gordon gets some stage time as he introduces the speaker for the evening, Chinese dissident and artist of these works, Lin Bo. He talks about his time in prison as a result of his art and gets very descriptive about some of the atrocities of his time behind bars. All the while he is clicking through a series of pictures that show his work and some informational background on his ordeal. Sweep away the art display and we are in editorial offices at the New Yorker.


Kenneth Lee, Jeffrey Cummings and Rachel Fenton chat in the offices of the New Yorker in the Rep Studio production of “Caught.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim,Jr.

This is where the fun begins as Lin Bo, a personable Kenneth Lee, goes through another form of interrogation by the writer of a special New Yorker piece on his life. Rachel Fenton is perfect as the sunny writer/editor, Joyce, until her questions suddenly become a bit darker and sinister. She is assisted by another member of the editorial board, Bob, played with intensity by Jeffrey Cummings. She is stern but he is a roaring lion ready to attack.


Rachel Lin and Rachel Fenton have an off kilter interview in “Caught” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The infamous fourth wall is totally shattered in the next scene when Joyce takes on a new persona to interview the playwright- a female named Wang Min who is given a spirited portrayal by Rachel Lin. Playwright, you say- playwright of what? The play “Caught?” But a man, Christopher Chen wrote the play. Don’t ask- you’ll figure it out (maybe) by attending the play, but you’re likely to find more questions than answers. This scene in particular leads us through a fanciful circular dialogue that seems to confuse and enlighten despite itself.


Rachel Lin and Kenneth Lee crack each other up during the final scene of the Rep Studio production of “Caught.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The play is like a trip through a garden maze when you come so close to finding the exit but another obstacle suddenly appears. I even appreciate the various word plays throughout including the use of the word “appropriate” in one scene with emphasis on the “Ate” meaning to take against another’s will. Then in the next scene we hear it again as appropri-ut meaning perfectly acceptable. So, on many levels this play distorts every perception of what you consider to be true and makes you wonder just what is real. Just like an ordinary day in America under Trump.

Scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan has crafted a clever and ambitious set (especially for the small Studio space) to open us up to this almost magical world. The Ann G. Wrightson lighting design also works well as do the Felia K. Davenport costumes and the subtle sound design of Rusty Wandall. Besides the stellar cast, the star of this show is director Seth Gordon who has taken this enigmatic play and turned it into an “Alice In Wonderland” for a modern age.


Things get heated as Kenneth Lee, Jeffrey Cummings and Rachel Fenton battle in “Caught” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“Caught” is at the Rep Studio through March 25th. The 90 minute, no intermission running time will leave you plenty of time to enjoy a nosh and discuss this intriguing and ethereal play- plan on thinking about it long after you’ve seen it. Call the Rep at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.



Insight Theatre Company Brings Love Story For An Older Generation To Stage With “The Last Romance”

March 9, 2018

Tommy Nolan and Joneal Joplin try to spark a little romance in “The Last Romance” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

Playwright Joe DiPietro has fashioned a great idea with an older singer sad that he didn’t get his chance with the Metropolitan Opera striking up an octogenarian romance with a woman he meets in a dog park. Add the novelty of the singers’ younger self hanging around (mainly to lead in and out of scenes with an aria) and the man’s slightly younger sister and you’ve got a love story mixed with family dependency.


Maggie Ryan as Rose tries to discourage Tommy Nolan as Carol from seeing her brother in the Insight Theatre Company production of “The Last Romance.” Photo: John Lamb

Veteran actor Joneal Joplin plays the 80 year old Ralph Bellini and is directed by another veteran actor and director, Alan Knoll. Jop is charming and flourishes the role- as he always does- with excellent delivery and a true knowledge of the character he’s playing. An easy charm and attention to his fellow actors is a key to his years of his success and he does not disappoint with this stellar performance.


Clark Sturdevant as the young man auditions for the Met while Joneal Joplin as Ralph reminisces about that day in “The Last Romance” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

As his younger self- in the playbill described as “the young man”- Clark Sturdevant is superb as he handles the snips of arias with ease. He merely walks on stage and sings or occasionally hangs like a specter observing these people in their 70’s and 80’s still trying to figure out life and romance.  The arias chosen are classic including Mozart, Offenbach, Verdi and the most popular, “Fra Quest’ Ansie” from “Pagliacci.” As Ralph’s sister, Rose, Insight’s Artistic Director Maggie Ryan does a nice turn as she is mainly indignant with Ralph’s lack of attention to her and then, in turn, upset with the attention he is paying to a woman he has met in the dog park.


Maggie Ryan as Rose tries to some agreement with Joneal Joplin as her brother Ralph in the Insight Theatre production of “The Last Romance.” Photo: John Lamb

Visiting the park without a dog may seem strange but perhaps Ralph finds it easier in his dotage to hang out in the dog park instead of trying to find romance in the younger world of visiting bars. One day he spots Carol and her Yorkie and strikes up a conversation. He weaves a certain magic over her until their relationship begins to blossom. Tommy Nolan as Carol was a bit uneven on the night I saw the play- either she was having a few problems with lines or she was so into this older character that she was having some dramatic memory lapses. She’s very comfortable for the most part but between a little twitching and some odd pauses, it didn’t quite ring true for the character.

Mention should also be made of her Yorkie who we get to see in one scene and then at curtain call- Peaches in the play, Oscar in real life. Very nice work and even gave Jop a nice little nose lick on cue. I also had a few script problems despite the lovely premise. Some of the dialogue seemed a bit stilted and sometimes predictable.  However, Alan Knoll has done wonders with the weaknesses in the script and brought us an overall satisfying production.


Joneal Joplin as Ralph and Tommy Nolan as Carol in “The Last Romance” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

The technical crew does fine work as the Landon Shaw set design worked very well as did the lights of Geordy Van Es. Teresa Doggett’s costumes are well conceived and a very nice sound design by Robin Weatherall. “The Last Romance” plays at the Kranzberg through March 18th as presented  by Insight Theatre Company. Give them a call at 314-556-1293 for tickets or more information.

New Line Cuts A Wide Swath With Unusual Production (For Them), Of “Anything Goes”

March 9, 2018

“Anything Goes” brings one hit after another at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Before the erudite lyrics and crazy internal rhymes of Stephen Sondheim wowed musical theatre audiences, the wittiest lyricists around were from the pens of Noel Coward and Cole Porter. New Line Theatre, in a departure from their more off beat fare, have decided to delve into one of Mr. Porter’s more successful shows, “Anything Goes.” It was a good choice as those clever lyrics and dynamite book by Guy Bolton, the irrepressible P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse work perfectly for this always inventive local treasure that is New Line.


The ship’s captain (Dominic Dowdy-Windsor) leads a group in a more restrained moment in New Line’s production of “Anything Goes.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Starting with those wonderful songs- standards by anyone’s measure- “You’re The Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Friendship,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and the title song are all jammed into the first act. Although “Tinpantithesis” has always blown my mind, it’s wonderful to hear these often far-reaching but effective rhymes sweeping over the delightful and often silly plot line. Gangsters, pseudo-preachers, former lovers, celebrities, politicians and even Harpo Marx make for a great set of companions on an ocean voyage that all goes hilariously wrong but somehow oh, so right.


Evan Fornachon studies a passport as Sarah Gene Dowling and Aaron Allen look on in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

As usual, Artistic Director Scott Miller, this time with co-director Mike Dowdy-Windsor, has put together a superb cast of actors/singers who carry off the powerful music with strict attention to the charm and wit of the dialogue. Evan Fornachon leads the way as the wily Billy Crocker. Not only does he sing the heck out of the role, he shows us a leading man with the sophisticated wit of Cary Grant. His versatility of moving from head-banging roles such as “American Idiot” to romantic, old fashioned musical comedy is remarkable.


Eileen Engel bring us the lovely ballad, “All Through The Night” during the New Line production of “Anything Goes.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

His love interest (at least at the outset) is the perky, gorgeous and wonderfully funny Eileen Engel as Hope Harcourt. Her duets with Billy- the bouncy “It’s De-Lovely” to the plaintive “All Through The Night” are stellar. As her mother, Jimmie Kidd-Booker is also a comedy find with her haughty yet caring ways. Don’t worry, she- like everyone else on board- eventually finds true love.


Sarah Porter as Reno instructs her “angels” during the delightful “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sarah Porter simply lights up this musical and takes it to another level with her rousing portrayal of night club singer Reno Sweeney. From her solos and duets in Act I to her belting of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” in the second act, she just shines throughout this madcap high seas adventure. Zachary Allen Farmer always steals a show no matter what role he’s playing. This is no exception as he drolly whips himself into a very stiff upper lip frenzy with his presentation of Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. From dry, understated dialogue to his “cutting loose” with “Let’s Misbehave,” he simply delights.


Sarah Porter and Aaron Allen camp it up in the New Line production of “Anything Goes.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Another great comedy team is Aaron Allen as Public Enemy Number 13 and his sidekick, Bonnie, played by Sarah Gene Dowling. Mr. Allen’s tortured look enhanced by his equally tortured body language is nothing short of brilliant. Ms. Dowling’s escapades include leading the lively, “Let’s Step Out” number- another real show-stopper. Our old buddy, Jeffrey M. Wright plays the drunken businessman who stumbles his way in and out of scenes with great addled agility and hilarity.


These little devils are really “angels” in New Line Theatre’s production of “Anything Goes.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Reno’s angels are a stunning foursome led by Larissa White, Michelle Sauer, Alyssa Wolf and Sara Rae Womack. Both Sauer and Womack also handle the sprightly choreography that captures the spirit of the 1962 version of “Anything Goes” that New Line has chosen to present. The ensemble, playing a host of characters, also add to the fun and fantasy.


Zachary Allen Farmer charms both Sarah Porter and Eileen Engel with his dashing, witty English charm in “Anything Goes” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Music Director Nicolas Valdez has also captured the true essence of this classic musical comedy. A shout out to his entire orchestra but in particular trumpet player Ron Foster. If any show needs crisp, clear notes, it’s “Anything Goes.” From the title number to the purposeful trumpet volleys of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” it was nice to hear those soaring notes from the brass section. Colene Fornachon has added a delightful mix of appropriate costumes including those “just skimpy enough” costumes for the Angels. Rob Lippert has brought his magic to the set and lighting design, transporting us back to this Golden Age.


Part of the “Anything Goes” ensemble in the Cole Porter masterpiece at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

“Anything Goes” is not, as most reviewers (and many audience members) say, the usual show you’re likely to see at New Line. But Mr. Miller and company have proven once again that they can make their own imprint on any musical- even a revered classic like this one. It plays through March 24th at the Marcelle Theatre. Give a call to 314-534-1111 for tickets or see more information at http://www.NewLineTheatre.com.

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

February 13, 2018

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

February 12, 2018

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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

January 30, 2018

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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.



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

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.


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).


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.”


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. ”


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.


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.

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

December 11, 2017

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.