Reviewed by Kirsten Wylder
Joke time! How many Russians does it take to change a light bulb? I'm not going to tell you because you have the opportunity to see the answer yourself! Upstream Theater's most recent production, Return of the Bedbug
, answers the age-old question right on stage. It's only one of the many moments that incite giggles, snickers, groans and outright guffaws.
Of course, this isn't your average comedy. To paraphrase one of the more mature patrons in the audience "That was the strangest thing I have ever seen." It is out there, folks. But it's out there in a smart, funny and most entertainingly head-scratching way. Upstream has once again not only met, but exceeded the expectations of their mission: "Our goal is to move you, and to move you to think."
Director Philip Boehm adapted Russian Poet Vladmir Mayakovsy's original play to include not only the political message Mayakovsky had intended, but to also show how time and culture can affect our perceptions of societies and individuals. The story centers on Ivan Vladimirovich Prisypkin, a maintenance man who uses charm to increase his income. It's his "to do" list that leads him to the home of a professor who needs a light bulb changed (cue joke) and leaves him cryogenically frozen for twenty years. Enter a cousin from the States who takes the popsicled version of Ivan to St. Louis in the good ol U (oo) S (esss) A (ahh) to live with her and her cat, Little Tiger. One day, a power outage allows Ivan to reanimate. Now he is left to find his way to fit in...or is he? Does he get a choice?
Boehm does a smash up job as director accomplishing the single most important step: casting perfectly. J. Samuel Davis gives Ivan charm and sensitivity. His last moment on stage brings about an unexpected sympathy. Kari Ely is Zoya, Ivan's love interest. Her dedication to him lasts the entire twenty years. Her pathos at the end of act one is so very Russian that the humor nearly exceeds the sincerity. Perfection. Jane Paradise is Ivan's St. Louis cousin, Lili. She brings a sense of naiveté' to Lili - a nice contrast to Ivan's streetwise nature in the first act. The roles reverse in the second when Ivan is unfrozen in a new decade and culture. Plus, Paradise has one of the best lines of the evening: "It's not heaven or hell. It's just St. Louis." Joe Hanrahan, Briston Ashe, & Don McClendon round out the cast playing multiple roles; each full of life and with distinct personality. Carrie Houk, Laura McConnell and John Clayton fill in on-camera and voice-over roles bringing new levels of absurdity and individuality to the already fun production. Live music punctuates the production making a perfect sound design.
Igor Karash's set design was inventive. Julia Graham's costumes ideally defined the characters. Patrick Huber's lighting set the mood and defined the spaces. Bobby Miller's video production brought a flawless addition to an already enjoyable evening.
This is a smart show. I recommend getting there a tad early and spending some time perusing the program. There's a plethora of information that help to follow the play and better understand what Mayakovsky (and Boehm) was trying to present. Plus, much of the information is nearly as entertaining as the show!
Upstream Theater continues to produce thought provoking, intelligent theater for St. Louis audiences. Return of the Bedbug
runs through November 11 . For reservations call 314-863-4999 or on the web at upstreamtheater.org