The Show Must GO

It's the best of times and the worst of times for St. Louis theater companies

The show's in mid-run. It has been a success, and Mitchell aims to extend the run and move it from the black-box theater at the Regional Arts Commission to the Ivory. Problem is, the actor they had playing Michael Corleone isn't able to work the extended run, and Mitchell has had to sub in Richard Strelinger for the role.

Now, two weeks before the show opens, Mitchell is blocking a fight scene between Michael Corleone and Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo.

In the film adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel, Sollozzo is an upstart whose men tried to kill Michael's father, Vito Corleone, when he opposed their heroin-distribution scheme. The fight scene comes when Michael, at dinner ostensibly to make peace with Sollozzo and a corrupt police captain, returns from the bathroom and shoots them both dead.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis went to court to block his company's curtain-raiser, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, at the spanking-new Ivory Theatre. But New Line Theatre artistic director Scott Miller sees smoother sailing ahead.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis went to court to block his company's curtain-raiser, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, at the spanking-new Ivory Theatre. But New Line Theatre artistic director Scott Miller sees smoother sailing ahead.

In the NonProphet version of the scene, Michael grabs a blade while sitting at the table with Sollozzo. The fight scene is not particularly intricate, but Strelinger is coming to it fresh, and Mitchell has the actors run through the scene several times at half speed before he's satisfied.

Luckily, blocking the scene and getting Strelinger familiar with the script are all that Mitchell has to worry about for the time being. This is The Godfather, after all, and he has little fear the play's content will fall beyond the archdiocese's pale.

Even though the archdiocese isn't going to call the artistic shots at the Ivory — and certainly won't be signing off on the resident companies' upcoming seasons — Mitchell is leery of how the church might greet Second, the company's next offering and a play that takes as its jumping-off point the cloning of Christ.

"We're worried about Second," says Mitchell. "The stupid thing is, though, that cloning of Christ is not the focus of the play. The subject is faith: what to believe, whom to believe. Upon first glance you might think this is conceivably sacrilegious, but there's really much more to it than that."

After Second, Mitchell says, the season's fourth offering is the only other play that might attract archdiocesan rancor.

"The fourth show of the season is Laura's Bush, a satirical play by Jane Martin about a small-town librarian and a dominatrix who plot to kidnap Laura Bush. It's wild, wacky, out-there. It's not over the top, but it certainly pushes envelopes — mainly political envelopes, but ideas as well," says Mitchell.

He's more concerned about how the deed restriction at the Ivory may affect his decisions when it comes to programming future seasons.

"I know right now there's one show that I would love to do that's something they would just hate," says Mitchell, referring to Red Light Winter, a gay-themed tale of thwarted love with plenty of nudity and graphic sex scenes. "Unfortunately, now it does affect how we are going to go about choosing our plays for next season."

Hydeware Theatre's Ember Hyde is also anxious about her company's upcoming performance at the Ivory of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, by the Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht: "Are they going to have problem with a Socialist play? Will it be too long for kids? Maybe the subject matter isn't too crude for a child, but it's too complex. That little sentence [about performances geared toward 'an adult audience rather than the general public'] isn't very specific. We're going to hope that it all works out for our shows for the next season."

So far these remain just fears, and Monsignor Gardin says the archdiocese isn't exactly waiting in the tall grass for a theater company to mount something controversial.

"Everyone here has a pretty full day," says the monsignor. "Mr. Rothschild was a perfect gentleman. We trust him as far as honoring the agreement."

Scott Miller adds that he's heartened by his dealings with the archdiocese in September.

"We're not going to make choices about what shows the archdiocese won't try to block. We're going to do the shows we want to do," says Miller, whose company produces only musicals. "I may be wildly naive, but I think we're OK. We're never going to produce something that would be terrible for kids to see.

"But then again, musicals are inherently tamer than plays. So even the wildest musicals aren't anywhere near as wild as the wildest plays."

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