The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The Theater Santa, St. Thespis, brings gifts all year long

On the first day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... One brand-new awards ceremony! Okay, so the statues won't be handed out until April of 2006, but the process began over the summer when Steve Isom, Bill Lynch, Jason Cannon and Jerry McAdams began dreaming of a way to celebrate St. Louis theater. Plans fell into place, a serendipitous connection to a St. Louis star was made and presto: the Kevin Kline Awards for excellence in professional St. Louis theater were born. (Full disclosure: I was invited to serve on the board, and happily accepted.) Judging will begin in January 2005. Let the games begin!

On the second day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Two lovely Hedwigs. Bradley Calise (Vanity Theatre) and Todd Schaefer (New Line/Washington Avenue Players Project) each took a turn as the gender-confused rock star. In one glorious weekend, with an 8 p.m. show and a late-night one, it was possible to see both Hedwigs on the same night -- a double dose of drag!

On the third day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Three great musical experiences. Camelot at Stages St. Louis, Moving Out at the Fox and Falsettos at New Jewish Theatre.

On the fourth day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Four fabulous solo shows. Mary Beth Burns in Late Night Catechism (still running at the Grandel!), Joe Hanrahan in St. Nicholas (at McGurk's and later at Café Balaban),Linda Kennedy in Pretty Fire (Black Rep) and Todd Schaefer in Fully Committed (Washington Avenue Players Project).

On the fifth day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Five rainy nights! The Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis brought a lively As You Like It to Forest Park, only to battle incessant rain that led to three canceled nights and two shows halted in the middle because of rain. Opening-night audience members took off their shoes and sloshed through the gurgling mud; some festival participants worried that the set might be sinking! In the end theater triumphed over nature (well, mostly) and St. Louis audiences were able to enjoy the free festival.

On the sixth day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Six provocative productions. These shows stirred thought, raised questions, challenged audiences: Angels in America (Stray Dog Theatre), Omnium Gatherum (HotHouse), The Disputation (New Jewish), Twelfth Night (the Rep), Boy Gets Girl (West End Players Guild) and Saltwater (International Theatre Collective).

On the seventh day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Seven plays I don't want to see again. It wasn't about performances (relax, actors), it's about the script -- at best, once was enough: blue/ orange; Home: The Musical; Man of La Mancha; The Complete History of America (abridged); Marat/Sade; Escape from Happiness; Stonewall Jackson's House.

On the eighth of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Eight companies producing theater for young audiences. With varying styles and a broad range of topics, these groups are growing audiences for the future: the Black Rep, DramaRama, Historyonics, The Imaginary Theatre Company, Metro Theatre, Piwacket Theatre, Spotlight Theatre and the education department of the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.

On the ninth day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Nine notable performances (aside from those mentioned elsewhere in this piece): Jerry Vogel as the Duke brothers in As You Like It (Shakespeare Festival); Chopper Leifheit as Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, Live! (Magic Smoking Monkey); Megan Kelly as Katarina in the gender-bent Taming of the Shrew (Hydeware); Chris Hickey as J.R.R. Tolkein in Eagle and Child (Historyonics); Sherri L. Edelen as Maria in The Sound of Music (Stages); Daniel Freedom Stewart as Malvolio in Twelfth Night (the Rep); Christopher Limber as Donald Waldman in Hearts (New Jewish); Sandra Reaves-Phillips and Eddie Webb as mother and son in Raisin (Black Rep).

On the tenth day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Ten fabulous actors in The Exonerated: Hats off to Lavonne Byers, Kim Furlow, Shawn Guy-Pitts, Ron Himes, Steve Isom, Greg Johnston, Dennis Lebby, Peter Mayer, Robert Mitchell and William Whitaker.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Eleven shows opening on November 19! As St. Louis theater critics attempted to clone themselves in order to attend all the shows opening that night, the area bloomed with talent and energy. The downside: split audiences led to small houses at some venues, and even the most theater-hearty fans were overwhelmed by the choices.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, St. Thespis brought to me... Twelve months of exciting, enraging, boring, fabulous, in-your-face, thriving, live theater. In the hope that 2005 brings even more of the same, here's this critic's personal wish list:

Dear St. Thespis, In 2005 please bring:

Intermissions for all New Line shows

A comedy for Stray Dog Theatre

New bathrooms and lobby design for the ArtLoft Theatre

Harmony among the companies sharing the Soulard Theatre

A new permanent home for St. Louis Shakespeare

A different season for Stages St. Louis

A mud-free month for the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

A bigger space for the New Jewish Theatre

Couples therapy for Hedwig and her spouse

Venues that are affordable for smaller companies

More butts in the seats

More grant money to seed the growth of St. Louis theater

 
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