The Inevitable Theatre Company makes its St. Louis debut with the regional premier of Stewart Permutt's Unsuspecting Susan, a show that starts chatty, conversational, and seemingly aimless but is filled with worries, heartache, and perspective. The show is warm and inviting, but don't get too comfortable, because you can sense there's change coming. 

The title character, Susan Chester, played by St. Louis favorite Donna Weinsting with her usual mix of humor, common sense, and relate-ability, is a recent divorcee and the doting mother of her adult son Simon. Comfortably affluent, Susan fills her days with chores like gardening and getting together to visit and gossip with her girlfriends. Though she may have been through some rough times, Susan's current life seems pleasant and relatively free of worry.

With a friendly but conspiratorial tone, Weinsting lets us know who's on the in (her best friend Elaine, even though she's going through a tough bit herself right now) and who's on the out (neighbor Jill, who seems to be drinking more often than not and has trouble managing her sons). We also learn much more about Simon, his troublesome upbringing, and newfound roommate and apartment in the city. Susan worries quite a bit about Simon, and there's clearly something troubling her, though she tries valiantly to brush it off. 

That is until the police knock upon her door in the middle of the night and DC Karen, played with the appropriate mix of authority and sympathy by Christina Sittser, informs Susan that her son is deceased and the primary suspect in a recent terrorist bombing. The news tears Susan apart in numerous ways. First, there's the loss of her beloved son. Then the questions and interrogation by the police -- rooting through her house and confiscating every bit of potential evidence. Finally, Susan learns who her real friends are, and whom she can count on for company and comfort as she stumbles through her own feelings and questions.

From the moment the police officer knocks on the door forward, Unsuspecting Susan is taut and moves along at a motivated pace. Weinsting is genuinely convincing and engaging as Susan. She capably and sympathetically wears her conflicted emotions and concerns on her sleeve, even as she pours herself another drink and ponders the changing nature of her friendships. As the story unfolds, her recollections and observations become crystal clear, her questions and fears sharply defined. A conversation that started out as familiar chatter turns dark and deeply introspective.

Unfortunately, the show leading up to this point moves at too slow and measured of a pace; I nearly lost interest in the story. It is also difficult to ascertain if the lengthy pauses and measured movements are planned or a result of nerves. Weinsting generally comes across as assured and confident in her character, but there was a definite sense of uncertainty during the first twenty or so minutes of this show. Though director Robert Neblett undoubtedly constructed the pace to lull us in, it is almost too languid, the hesitant moments just a bit too long. Fortunately, when the pace picks up is does so with clarity and purpose as well as new found energy. 

The perspective of the perpetrator's family seldom receives as much attention as the criminal or the victims and their families. Unsuspecting Susan, running through September 30, 2017, provides a window into this experience in an intimate, personal play. Effective and nicely portrayed by Weinsting, if a bit slow out of the gate, the show draws you in then knocks you back a peg as it explores a different aspect of terroristic acts. Inevitable Theatre Company can be proud of their initial offering, and I look forward to the company's next show.

 

STAGES St. Louis closes out their season with the crowd-pleasing favorite South Pacific. The musical, set during World War Two introduces audiences to a crew stationed on an island in the South Pacific region, away from the main battlefields of the War, but providing support, information, and care to soldiers. Engaging performances and a light as a feather tone enable the show to impart some serious lessons about accepting others and getting along.

Ensign Nellie Forbush, our leading lady, a nurse stationed on the island and played with aplomb and spunk by Leah Berry, has recently met and fallen in love with Emile de Becque, a native Frenchman who has lived on the island for years, played by Michael Halling. Their romance is told not only against the backdrop of the war, but also the lore of the islands, particularly the legendary Bali Ha'i, described as a paradise just a short boat ride away from the base. These are the islands where sailors and soldiers go to relax, to recover from injuries, or to find comfort and friendship from the locals. 

Without stating so overtly, the affair between the nurse and businessman stands in contrast to the usually temporary liaisons between local, brown skinned women and the predominantly white American forces. An often-overlooked aspect of the musical is how the show successfully interjects questions about racism and segregation in a way that fits, contextually, with the plot. In order to find love and happiness, both Ensign Forbush and Lieutenant Joseph Cable, played with an all-American appeal by Matthew Hydzik, must acknowledge and overcome the casual racism of their upbringing. 

Berry is effusive and always optimistic as Forbush, with a beguiling charm that almost excuses some of her behavior, and her voice capably handles the score and range of the character. Halling is a bit mysterious as the Frenchman, with a voice that smoothes over all misgivings the moment he begins to sing. Hydzik gives Cable range and emotional depth. His scenes with Sydney Jones, as Liat, Bloody Mary's daughter and the object of Cable's conflicted affection, move from heartwarming to heartbreaking. 

The supporting cast is as impressive as the leads. Joanne Javien is conniving and commanding as Bloody Mary, her rendition of "Bali Ha'i" is at once alluring and haunting. Spencer Jones and Elle Wesley are charming as de Becque's children, their opening "Dites-Moi" perfectly sets the tone and temperament of the show. Mark Diconzo delights as Luther Billis, whether he's clowning around with the guys or mooning over Nurse Forbush. Myles McHale, Chris Tipp, John Flack, Steve Isom, and Kari Ely are among the standouts in an all-round capable cast.

One of the other notable elements of the musical that is often forgotten is that not everyone gets a happily ever after. The sense of loss of life, as well as the cost of war in lives and dollars, is referenced frequently throughout the show. And prejudices that remain today are emphasized by the relationship between Cable and Liat. The company stages their liaison in a gentle, strictly PG love scene, but the follow up scenes, when Bloody Mary tries to negotiate a marriage, when Cable wrestles with very real feelings he's been taught to reject, and when Liat has her heart broken, are poignant moments that deserve to linger. Even the way Forbush struggles with her feelings for de Becque and his children feels current and worth reflection.

Filled with memorable songs and motivated conflict, the plot moves along well, though I wish some of the pacing were picked up. There are times when the show seems to slow down unnecessarily. I also expected more from the choreography and execution of the songs. The stage, light, sound, and costume design all suit the show, with costumes that nicely reflect the period and occasionally add to the humor. The familiar and well-known songs are nicely turned, but feel a bit lacking in excitement and emotional connection, and there are times when it feels the cast is "going through the routine."

All in all, however, this production of South Pacific, running through October 8, 2017, is a fine rendition of classic American musical entertainment. The cast and crew at STAGES bring the story and themes to life, guaranteeing a pleasant evening. There just seems to be a little something lacking.

 

If you've ever been in a college production you know that almost every cast party must include a little parody of the play on which you've all been working so hard. In 1982 Gerard Allesandrini, an unemployed actor, brought that special joy to an Off-Broadway house and spoofed dozens of the musicals that have become Broadway icons. The revue he wrote is called Forbidden Broadway, and his new lyrics for hit show tunes were dazzlingly funny. Well, the show keeps on going. It's been performed 9,000 times. It's been showered with awards, and over these thirty-five years Allesandrini has updated it twenty-one times. 

Now the venerable Kay's Theatrical Korps has opened a strong production of it. This latest version is called Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits. Though the show was written for only four actors singing umpteen roles, this KTK production has a cast of, I think, twenty-three -- and there are some bright talents among them. Under the very able direction of Kyle Kranes-Rutz with musical direction by Pam Goerss, these folks present a most enjoyable evening. I laughed a lot. Musical theater aficionados will especially love it, as familiarity with the great shows being spoofed lets one catch every joke and feel like an insider. But it's really a show for everybody. 

Everything is fair game. What are the hopes of an "Annie" who must sing "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll be thirty tomorrow!"

 In Sondheim shows "the words are the stars" and his self-indulgently busy, complex and difficult lyrics drive singers (and audiences) crazy -- especially when they must be sung at "circus tempo". In "Oh, No, Carol" everyone begs Carol Channing not to embark on yet another production of Hello, Dolly! Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno have a fiery cat-fight about who was the better "Anita" in West Side Story. Jean Valjean in Les Miz complains that "This song is Too High!" "The Phantom" of the opera, whose breathy voice is too dependent on a head mike and electronic reverb, is loudly coached in belting by Ethel Merman ("You don't need amplifyin'!"). Rent, Wicked, Spamalot, Cabaret all come in for their delicious ridicule. Fiddler on the Roof sings about an actor's obsession with Ambition!, Rejection!, Projection!, Complexion!  

Memorable among the too-many-to-mention talents are:

  • Mary Helen Walton in Les Miz and Chorus Line. She's graceful and sexy and quite a pro.
  • A tall, handsome leading-man type with a beautiful voice, Joe Simpson is outstanding as Jean Valjean and as Mandy Patinkin, an actor who is "Somewhat Over-indulgent."
  • Kyle Kelesoma has vocal power and he is hilarious singing "I Enjoy Being a Cat." A rather portly gent in a cat suit, he astonishingly achieves a split. 
  • Sarah Polizzi and Maggie Nold are a fierce "Chita" and "Rita."
  • Nicole Robbins is terrific as Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand.
  • Caitlin Hill makes a convincing French chanteuse with a touch of that Piaf tremolo.
  • Mina Charepoo does a beautiful "Liza One-Note."

A time or two, briefly, a singer got a little out of synch with the recorded piano accompaniment and occasionally there was an empty blackout for a few seconds between scenes. This is, after all, a community theater production, but in that category it is a very good one.

The chorus numbers are unusually fine, with beautiful power and synchrony across the stageful of singers.

Costumes are most impressive. Marie Moore, Kyle Kranes and Joan Caro have done beautiful work here. Lights by Chris O'Donovan and Megan McEntee; the set by Kyle Kranes; and chorography by Maggie Nold, Mary Helen Walton and Kyle Kranes are all top quality. 

KTK's production of Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits continues at the Southampton Church through September 24.

 

Avoid the heat this weekend by spending some time in a local theater! Welcome to this week's KDHX In Performance feature, previewing The Feast, by St. Louis native Cory Finley. There are also numerous shows continuing their run this week, ensuring a performance of interest for nearly everyone.

St. Louis Actors' Studio kicks off its eleventh season with the taut, twisting, and psychologically probing The Feast, in performance through October 8, 2017. The 2014 play, which premiered at the Flea Theater under the title Sunk, traces the impact on Matt and Anna's relationship when the sewers under their apartment open up and begin speaking. Matt's art is getting darker, strangers seem to know his fate -- storm clouds are clearly gathering directly over the apartment. Mixing traditional and mythological themes with modern realities, the show is a study of character, situation, and fear that questions our perceptions of reality as it takes multiple turns along the path to its conclusion. 

Finley, a John Burroughs School graduate, is an established playwright and the writer and director of Thoroughbred, an official 2017 Sundance Film Festival NEXT program selection. In The Feast, he smartly mixes the comic and disturbing, sometimes in surprisingly creepy ways, while creating interesting, complex situations grounded in our everyday relationships and interactions. The three-person show under the direction of John Pierson features Spencer Sickmann, Jennifer Theby Quinn, and Ryan Foizey. 

The company is offering two opportunities for audiences to see the show and meet the playwright. Finley will be in attendance for the opening night performance, Friday, September 22, and will join the director and cast for a post-show reception at the West End Grill and Pub. On Sunday, September 24, the play's director John Pierson will lead a talk back with the author and cast following the 3pm performance. Audiences are invited to attend either of these events at no additional charge.

Continuing this weekend: Tesseract Theatre presents Coupler a story set in motion on an urban train. The charming play, running through September 24, 2017, follows the twists and turns in the lives of the riders of the last train on London's Northern Line. Elements of magic, mystery, and a little pixie dust are thrown in as the six passengers learn to connect, listen, and work with each other. 

Unsuspecting Susan, continuing through September 30, 2017, is a humorous, sometimes haunting look at motherhood from the newest company on the block, Inevitable Theatre Company. The chatty show, starring St. Louis' favorite Donna Weinsting takes a surprising turn when the divorcees world is shattered by news about her son.

STAGES St. Louis wraps up their season with the always crowd-pleasing South Pacific, continuing through October 8, 2017. The musical set in World War II is filled with engaging performances and memorable songs that helped solidify Rodgers and Hammerstein's work as the upper echelon of classic American theater.

A heartwarming look at contemporary families and aging, the hilarious and insightful DOT continues through September 24, 2017 at The Black Rep. The Shealy Holiday celebration gets real, and really funny, as siblings Shelly, Donnie, and Averie learn to cope with their mother's dementia. 

Inventive staging and choreography add to the transformative The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in performance through October 1, 2017 at the Rep. Intellectually brilliant, socially awkward, and living with autism, 15-year old Christopher is determined to discover the truth about Wellington the dog. He learns much more than he expected, and audiences may as well. 

The sweet natured, musically pleasing Church Basement Ladies continues its run at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through October 1, 2017. The life-affirming show is a genuine slice of mid-American apple pie. And, as always, remember to check out the KDHX Calendar for information on art and music in and around St. Louis.

 

Welcome to this week's KDHX In Performance feature, where you'll find a little something for everyone: a story that moves across town and boundaries, a one-woman show filled with insight, musical romance on a Pacific island, a visit to St. Louis by one of the Bard's most famous kings, and a family-oriented tale of change and growth. There's also a number of excellent productions continuing in performance, so, what's holding you back? Peruse the shows below and go see a play!

Tesseract Theatre presents Coupler a story set in motion on an urban train. The new play by Meredith Dayna Levy, directed by company member Katie Pallazolla, follows the twists and turns in the lives of the occupants on the last train on London's Northern line. Elements of magic, mystery, and a little pixie dust are thrown in as the six passengers learn to connect, listen, and work with each other. They may eventually grow up; it's inevitable after all, as are lessons on love and trust.

Company artistic director Taylor Gruenloh was immediately attracted to the contemporary and relatable story, and inspired by the location. "We're excited about this production of Meredith's play, because this will be the first production of Coupler that allows the audience to come and sit on the train between stops. Not quite immersive, not quite audience participation, just a little magic in the experience." Coupler runs through September 24, 2017 at the .Zack in the Grand Center Arts District.

"For my birthday, September 15th, I thought I would do something terrifying and exciting and open in a one woman play." That's the first reply you get from local favorite Donna Weinsting when discussing Unsuspecting Susan a humorous, sometimes haunting look at motherhood from the newest company on the block, Inevitable Theatre Company. Weinsting, for one, is happy to welcome new talent and old friends to her city, stating that "Working with Robert Neblett, who brought the project to me and directs, has been a labor of love." 

Divorcee Susan Chester is a pleasant, upper-class woman whose world is forever altered by an act of unspeakable violence. "The play is a British one so I get to talk fancy and say fun words like "whinging" which I didn't think was a real word until I heard it on Game of Thrones," notes Weinsting before turning more introspective. "I felt a real connection when I picked up the script and read that when they brought it to the United States, it played at 59E59 St. Theatre in New York, which is where I performed the Neil LaBute New Play Festival last January." Opening this weekend and continuing through September 30, 2017, Unsuspecting Susan comically explores the depth of a mother's love, and Donna learned all those lines just so you'd come and see her.

STAGES St. Louis wraps up their season with the always crowd-pleasing South Pacific, continuing through October 8, 2017. The musical set in World War II is filled with memorable songs that helped solidify Rodgers and Hammerstein's work as the upper echelon of classic American theater. Surprisingly, the story also introduces ideas of racial tolerance and harmony while subtly asking if the personal and national price of war is really a cost we want to bear. Not everyone gets a happy ending, and those who do must confront their prejudice and transform. Still, the entertaining show is filled with a sense of fun and adventure; even the serious subjects are delivered with pleasant harmonies and a positive tone.

There are also a number of productions that can only be seen this weekend, adding to the sense of seasonal celebration. The Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents its sixth annual 'Shakespeare in the Streets' production, Blow, Winds, an adaptation of King Lear set in St. Louis. Local step company The Gentlemen of Vision and a 60-person choir, with members from local churches and high schools, join local professional actors in an energetic and entertaining performance. 

The free show will be performed at on the steps of the Central Library in downtown St. Louis at 8pm September 15 to 17, 2017. Seating begins at 6pm, food and beverages are available for purchase, and audience members are encouraged to bring their own chairs.

The Metro Theater Company is opening two performances of Jeremy Schaefer's Games Dad Didn't Play to public audiences. The touching family-oriented show, intended for audiences aged 6 and older, introduces us to young Lucas and his mother. The two have moved to a new city, and a new school, in order to start a new life. The award-winning play imparts lessons on understanding your past and creating your own future. Performances are at the Grandel Theatre Saturday, September 16 at 7pm and Sunday, September 17, 2017 at 2pm.

Continuing this weekend: A heartwarming look at contemporary families and aging, the hilarious and insightful DOT continues through September 24, 2017 at The Black Rep. The Shealy Holiday celebration gets real, and really funny, as siblings Shelly, Donnie, and Averie learn to cope with their mother's dementia. 

Inventive staging and choreography add to the transformative The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Rep. Intellectually brilliant, socially awkward, and living with autism, 15-year old Christopher is determined to discover the truth about Wellington the dog. He learns much more than he expected, and audiences may as well. 

The sweet natured, musically pleasing Church Basement Ladies continues its run at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through October 1. The life-affirming show is a genuine slice of mid-American apple pie. And, as always, remember to check out the KDHX Calendar for information on art and music in and around St. Louis.

 

 

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