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Life is a construct. So the good folks at New Line Theatre suggest with their current offering, Passing Strange. It's the autobiographical Alice in Wonderland story of a real-life musician Stew, reflecting on his most formative years. A privileged, angst-ridden would-be artist seeks identity through sex, drugs, and deconstructionist European ideology. You know, same old.
There is much to appreciate in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, and credit for Insight’s thoughtful production needs to go to director Jason Cannon for giving this often-performed domestic tragedy a deliberate and coherent reading. He constructs a through line illuminating the play’s use of parallelism in a dual context that insures that the ending makes sense to the audience. The story thus seems more organic than episodic, as is a danger with this script, and that is a major accomplishment by Cannon. It almost makes sense to me now that it got a Pulitzer Prize, and I can see why a reader would think it’s extraordinary. However, it can be argued (and of course, I’m going to) that it is very difficult to feel emotion that goes beyond admiration when the show is performed.
When I went to Alton Little Theater’s 78th Season opener, The Spitfire Grill, I was expecting a Pump-Boys-and-Dinettes-excuse-to-sing-a-song-show, not the lyrical folk magic that’s on the Spitfire menu.
Victoria Grant (Janna Cardia) is a divorced, unemployed opera singer who is hungry and cold when she wanders into Chez Lui late one night. There she meets Caroll “Toddy” Todd (David Schmittou), a kindly gentleman who stands her to a hot chocolate and brandy (which is for him) over the protestations of the officious manager, Henri Labisse (James Beaman) who sounds like Inspector Clouseau. Labisse reminds Toddy of his outstanding tab, incurring one of his many minor injuries played for laughs. It is Paris, 1934, and several lives are about to change.
Yes, she could “say that,” and she made crafting double entendres into a fine art. A veritable bouquet of her most famous zingers wraps up Dramatic License’s production of Dirty Blonde with Artistic Director Kim Furlow as the extremely imitable West and John Reidy and B. Weller in various roles representing the many men in her life. Carolyn Hood directs with as much grace as Claudia Shear’s hybrid script (part play, part musical) allows.
Deanna Jent's wonderful new play, Falling, is having its premiere at the Mustard Seed Theatre—and it's the most powerful, moving new play I've seen in years. Luckily the fates are giving you another chance to see it: the run has been extended through September 18. You’ll not want to miss it.
The audience at the Rep’s 45th anniversary opener is “seeing red,” and maybe for the first time. In this case, the phrase has nothing to do with anger; rather, it means a way of receiving visual art per Mark Rothko, leading 20th century abstract expressionist painter. And playwright John Logan’s Red depicting a critical time in Rothko’s life is a tour-de-force on all levels, conceptual, artistic, and technical.
In simplest terms, theatre is a script come to life through the artistry of a capable cast and crew. I know I’m stating the obvious, but bear with me.
From the moment you enter the Kranzberg Arts Center, you sense quality: beautiful renovations, artistically-displayed concession, the open doors of the Craft Alliance gallery inviting theatre goers to browse the current installation (still in progress but already very interesting). Combined, they make a strong, positive first impression, one which is enhanced by HotCity’s comfortable, intimate, well-equipped, 90-seat black-box theatre.
No one is ever more than a few feet from the story, the actors and action. I like this very much. First impressions continue with the set: very clean, modern, smooth walls of warm earthy colors, an up-scale living room with hardwood floors, abstract wall hangings - a simple yet wonderfully appropriate design by James Holborow.
In fact, with only the most minor exceptions (pre-show music and sound quality), these first impressions carry throughout every aspect of the production.
The acting was convincing, strong and sustained. In such an intimate space, there is nowhere for an actor to "hide". Every nuance of movement, no matter how small, and of vocal expression is on display, up close and personal. Shanara Gabrielle as Cassie, Shaun Sheley as Kurt and Sasha Diamond as Tiffany did a superb job.
Lighting by Sean M. Savoie was simple, subtle and added to the telling of the story, most notably in a sequence of light cues signaling the passage of time from evening, to night, to post-midnight, to wee hours - or so I imagined, anyway, such was the suggestive yet suble power of his design. And the same can be said of costumes by Jane Sullivan and props by Meg Brinkley.
So, back to my opening comment. The artistry of actors, designers and technicians – under the able direction of Marty Stanberry – was clear and compelling. Kudos to all.
Now for the words, the play itself.
THE WINNERS is the premier production of this David L. Williams play which won HotCity’s 2010 Greenhouse New Play Festival. It is an interesting, well-conceived piece. A married couple win the lottery - and win big. Now, what to do with the money? And one of their first decisions is to hire an escort, a call girl, who will satisfy all of their sexual fantasies. ALL of them.
No, the play is not for everyone. Act I heavily relies on sensuality and seduction, an arranged meeting of the couple, Kurt and Cassie, in their living room, where the entire play takes place, with Tiffany the escort for the night's activities.
The seduction scenes are well done and tasteful – but not family fare and may not appeal to those uneasy over even suggestions of 3-way sexual encounters, much less the two women's prolonged kiss or Tiffany's partial undressing of Kurt. And there is some rough language throughout.
However, as stated, the scenes are tasteful and – more to the point - slowly evolve into a more sinister tale of money, power, self-esteem, guilt, and, possibly even, a type of love.
By the end of Act I, it is clear much more is going on among these three individuals and in each of their psyches than could have been foreseen. It whets one’s appetite – as good theatre does - for what may come. No one leaves at intermission.
Yet, something happens at intermission, something a bit inexplicable. The three people who stepped onto the stage at the top of Act II were not the same who stepped off at the end of Act I. In fact, they were so different in tone and temperament, in attitude and manner that I felt I was watching a second play, a sequel or revision of the first involving the same people, the same plot, but with characters of a very different mind-set. The tension, sinister motives and demeaning, debasing behaviors exhibited by all three characters were gone.
Why, how, when the rising tide of suspence and conflict was resolved is unclear. And, while there is certainly still a twist in the end, it doesn't seem to follow clearly in kind or intensity from what preceded.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don’t write this to discourage anyone from attending this smart, tightly written, sometimes comic, sometimes tense drama. It is a well-crafted piece. It is a HotCity Greenhouse winner – no small feat. And the playwright, David L. Williams, has more than enough credits to his name to attest to his own artistry and craft.
All in all, THE WINNERS makes for an interesting evening of theatre, in a fabulous space, staged by a very talented and practiced company. And it certainly leaves you talking - always one of the nicest take-aways of an evening of good threatre.
Unless you’ve been in a coma, you know that the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01 is upon us, and it is being observed in many public arenas, including theaters. End Days by Deborah Zoe Laufer is the New Jewish Theatre’s contribution, and it is mostly successful in balancing respect for the event with much-needed laughter. I liked it a lot.
Anybody who’s been following St. Louis theatre for a while pretty much knows that Joe Hanrahan is the undisputed King of the one-man show in this burg. And they also know that it is unusual for him to give a less than bravura performance. So, chalk up another one, as Hanrahan tackles the part of a Broadway producer who is 10% confident, 90% con-man in Craig Wright’s Mistakes Were Made.