St. Louis Stage Caps

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene in St. Louis

Sonia Flew Reviewed in this issue.

Souvenir A musical play about the pathetic career of Florence Foster Jenkins, the tone-deaf socialite who inadvertently regaled 1940s audiences with her wretched singing, sounds like an evening of limited appeal. But this is one of those shows that, like its subject, defies easy description. True, Souvenir is about a folly, yet playwright Stephen Temperley's veritable freak show is remarkable for its restraint as well as its sweet nature. Neva Rae Powers delivers a comic tour de force as the incorrigible coloratura soprano, a woman whose high notes sound as if she's imitating a pack of hounds. As her incredulous accompanist (the curiously named Cosme McMoon), Edwin Cahill is our genial interlocutor, who steers us through this bizarre testament to the staying power of an iron will. As an aside, it's worth noting that McMoon was hired only because Madame J had fired another pianist, Edwin McArthur, for laughing during one of her performances. McArthur landed on his feet: He went on to spend 23 years as musical director of the St. Louis Municipal Opera. One can hardly fault him for having laughed at the indomitable Jenkins. Anyone who sees Souvenir is sure to be laughing a lot. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 29 at the Emerson Studio in the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $41 and $52. Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.

— Dennis Brown

Sylvia A.R. Gurney's very personal tale about how the stray dog he found in Central Park factored into his midlife crisis and strained his marriage remains frisky, charming and even sexy. Paris McCarthy works her tail off as Sylvia. A mix of Lab and poodle, she is also part siren, part slut, all combined in a relentlessly robust performance that would have us believe McCarthy is training to compete in a triathlon. But what sets this staging apart from other Sylvias is director Lana Pepper's seeming awareness that despite the theatrics of the title character, Sylvia is really about the travails of Greg, the uptight WASP New Yorker who almost fatally succumbs to a "male menopausal moment." Alan Knoll is in his element as the husband, and completely natural. Susie Wall is also strong in the too-often thankless role of the jealous wife, and Larry Dell has fun in three supporting roles. Sylvia remains a delight for all canine-loving theatergoers, mostly owing to the balance of these four actors. Performed by Stray Dog Theatre through March 28 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org. (DB)

The Reign of King Edward III The back-story on the origin of this "new" Shakespeare play — is it really a William Shakespeare play, or a collaboration, or a pastiche? — is interesting as a piece of literary forensics, but it has very little importance once the curtain rises. From this moment on, only the entertainment value of the piece as played matters — and in Donna Northcott's production, that value climbs steadily throughout the evening. Cameron Ulrich plays the titular King Edward as a loud, overbearing monarch accustomed to being right in every aspect of his life. His attempted wooing of the Countess of Salisbury (a steely Andrea Luetzeler) is comic at first, then strangely out of character, then almost murderous. The play's lumps are evident in the first act, where the language is lovely but the plot boxed-in. Act Two gives us an invasion of France and a ripping performance by Aaron Orion Baker as Prince Edward, the young man tempered in war to become a true leader of men. If Prince Edward's speech in the face of death is not true Shakespeare, Baker imbues it with the gold standard of palpable humanity that would make the bard nod approvingly. Presented by St. Louis Shakespeare through March 22 at the Orthwein Theatre, 101 North Warson Road, Ladue (on the campus of Mary Institute and Country Day School). Tickets are $20 to $22 (students $10, seniors $18 to $20). Call 314-361-5664 or visit www.stlshakespeare.org. — Paul Friswold

 
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