St. Louis Stage Capsules

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

The Country Girl Frank (John Contini), a has-been actor leveled by years of drinking, is given a final shot at the brass ring by gifted director Bernie (GP Hunsaker) in the form of the leading role in a new play. The problem is that Frank is a package deal; his wife Georgie (Erin Kelley) is his backstage support, his de facto manager, his stage mother and an albatross around his neck. Or that's how Bernie sees her, at any rate. Kelley projects waves of palpable sadness, reconciled to her union with the man she calls "a cunning drunkard." Kelley and Hunsaker lay waste to the world in their scenes together, Bernie's surety that he's Frank's only true supporter giving him a nasty self-righteousness that cannot break Georgie's stalwart yet reluctant defense of her husband. Contini's portrayal of Frank is breathtaking, a man undone by human weakness yet able to channel his frailties into magnificent performances that are only sometimes onstage. Director Jim Anthony's ruthless pacing wrings maximum drama from Clifford Odets' script. This is a show not to be missed. Presented by Avalon Theatre Company at ArtSpace at Crestwood Court (Watson and Sappington roads, Crestwood; 314-351-6482 or www.avalontheatre.org) through May 2. Tickets are $24 to $28.
Paul Friswold

Romeo and Juliet Director Robin Weatherall's slight reimagining of Romeo and Juliet is set in Palestine in 1947 during the violent buildup surrounding the birth of Israel. So Romeo (the ever-dependable Rusty Gunther) and the Montagues are Jewish and Juliet (Meg Rodd Gunther, brassy yet beguiling) and her Capulet kin are Muslim. It's a compelling setup, but nothing in the action or language ever conveys Romeo's Judaism; this becomes distracting at key moments, such as when Romeo goes to see the presumably Anglican Father Laurence (Kevin Beyer in a well-crafted characterization) for "confession." But Weatherall's decision to cast Brooke Edwards as a female Mercutio secretly in love with an oblivious Romeo is change we can believe in; Edwards imbues Mercutio's speeches with towering passion and bitter yearning. Too bad Mercutio dies in Act One. Also of note is B. Weller's absolutely terrifying turn as Capulet; his brutal argument with daughter and wife elicited spontaneous applause. Presented by the New Jewish Theatre through May 2 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue (in Forest Park). Tickets are $26 to $34 (discounts available for students, seniors and JCC or MHM members). Call 314-361-9017 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. (PF)

 
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