Season's Greetings

Two prominent companies unfurl their first productions of the fall season. So far, so good.

And anything does -- especially when Carolyne Hood's Blanche is prowling about. I confess that I have never seen a thoroughly satisfying Blanche. They're always laden down with too much baggage: too much star power, too much accent, too much frailty, too much doom. If Hood is the most persuasive Blanche I've seen, it's because she arrives onstage shorn of affectation. Whether she's bantering with Mitch (persuasively played by Cameron Ulrich) or defending herself against "deliberate cruelty," Hood finds a way to serve the play rather than her own performance.

Elia Kazan, who directed the original Broadway production, wrote in his memoir, "In the end, the play was the event; not the cast, not the director. The play carried us all. In years to come, this masterful work, written out of Tennessee's most personal experience, asking no favors, no pity, no special allegiance, always moved its audience." Fifty-five years later, A Streetcar Named Desire continues to move, elate and even exhaust its audience.

Nine months from now, when we're recalling the 2002-03 theater season that will have just concluded, it's possible that we'll look back to late September as a golden moment when the masks of comedy and tragedy were illuminated by two first-rate productions. A Flea in Her Ear and A Streetcar Named Desire well may be the standards against which the remainder of the season are measured.

Anderson Matthews in A Flea in Her Ear.
J. Bruce Summers
Anderson Matthews in A Flea in Her Ear.


A Flea in Her Ear
By Georges Feydeau. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through October 11 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road. Call 314-968-4925.

A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams. Performed by the HotHouse Theatre Company through September 29 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Call 314-534-1111.

Bully Pulpit
By Pam Sterling. Performed by the Historyonics Theatre Company through September 29 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue. Call 314-361-5858.

The Historyonics Theatre Company has opened another season of hybrid theater with a production devoted to Theodore Roosevelt. In Bully Pulpit, five actors race through the life and career of America's 26th president, vainly trying to energize a script that is devoid of emotion or wit. Every few minutes the proceedings screech to a halt so that the cast can sing songs of the period, an occurrence that gives new resonance to the phrase "show-stopper."

If you don't think TR was one of America's most fascinating personalities, just watch Brian Lamb devote two hours to him on C-SPAN. But this sanitized survey of dates and events reveals so little of interest, we'd be justified in starting a petition to have Teddy removed from Mount Rushmore. The only actor to best the script is Julie Ganey as Roosevelt's spunky daughter Alice. But even she can coast on charm for only so long.

The Historyonics approach plays into the premise that the less you know about the subject, the more interesting you might find the script. But let's face it: When the show's most compelling drama occurs during an intermission raffle to determine who won the Historyonics T-shirt, something is sadly amiss.

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