St. Louis Stage Capsules

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

Newly Reviewed
Abie's Irish Rose Reviewed in this issue.

The Cassilis Engagement Reviewed in this issue.

Now I Ask You In 1916, four years before Eugene O'Neill found fame as a serious American dramatist, back when he was still trying to write what everyone else wrote, he collaborated with his wife Agnes Boulton O'Neill on a very conventional comedy about a free-spirited young bride who was not so radical as she thought she was. Now I Ask You teaches us little about O'Neill, because he had not yet found his voice, but it might tell us a lot about Neil Simon, who as a novice playwright apparently was an O'Neill scholar. It's hard to imagine that young Simon did not read this O'Neill spin on the "Mother knows best" motif before he wrote Barefoot in the Park. As cleanly and simply directed by Jerry McAdams, this Muddy Waters production may not be the funniest comedy you've ever seen (hey, it's O'Neill), but it's never less than intriguing. The entire cast is appealing. Andra Harkins and Katie McGee should be out looking for a production of Barefoot so that they can repeat their knowing mother/adorable daughter combo. Through June 27 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard (in the Big Brothers Big Sisters building). Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors and active-duty military personnel). Call 314-799-8399 or visit www.muddywaterstheatre.com.
— Dennis Brown

Our Town Thornton Wilder's masterpiece is given a magnificent burnish by Gary F. Bell and a murderers' row of a cast. As Wilder intended, the smallest scenes — Dr. Gibbs (Mark Abels) shaming his son George (Kevin Boehm) for shirking his woodcutting duties, Emily Webb (Colleen M. Backer) and George sharing a strawberry ice cream soda — reveal the everyday wonders and kindness we take for granted. David K. Gibbs inhabits the Stage Manager with a homespun majesty, leading us beat by beat through a primer on humanity, simplicity and empathy. Very rarely do you see a play that ends with a large portion of the audience audibly sobbing, undone not by grand tragedy but by the common mistake of not appreciating every dull and glorious moment that was granted you. Bring a friend and a hanky. Presented by Stray Dog Theatre through June 26 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.
— Paul Friswold

The State of Marriage The true story of Ed Reggi and Scott Emmanuel's bus journey to Iowa to be legally wed frames a series of sketches that address the ins and outs of gay marriage. Some sketches are slight to the point of inconsequence — "Leviticus Limbo" is funny, but doesn't go anywhere worth the trip — while others, such as Troy Turnipseed's portrayal of the widower of a St. Louis police officer, speak eloquently and poignantly to what homosexuals suffer when they don't have legal standing as a spouse. Dieta Pepsi (Leon Braxton) makes for an eminently charming guide through the evening, and Carl Overly steals the show with his note-perfect Beyoncé. Presented by St. Louis Actors' Studio and That Uppity Theatre Company through June 20 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are $25 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2978 or visit www.stlas.org.(PF)

Ongoing
An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening Twenty-four years after he struck his infamous bargain with the Devil, Faustus spends his final hour of life not by indulging in one last round of carnal pleasures or even in recalling the untold wealth that came his way, but rather by grousing to a group of strangers, as he puts it, "about nothing in particular." With a mesmerizing desperation, his imprisoned soul rants on about how misunderstood he is; every word of the books, plays, movies and operas that have told the Faustus story, he assures us, is bogus; what we're hearing now is the nonsensical truth. Mickle Maher's quirky play spews 60 minutes of avant-garde eccentricity. Faustus — condemned, fatalistic yet still able to summon forth flashes of flourish — is the latest in a series of Joe Hanrahan's portrayals of characters hovering at death's door with a need to recount. Faustus takes that need to another dimension by also needing to apologize. For what? You had best interpret that one for yourself. Directed by Sarah Whitney and performed by the Midnight Company Tuesdays through Thursdays through June 24 at Dressel's Pub, 419 North Euclid Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-487-5305 or visit www.midnightcompany.com. (DB)

Circus Flora Circus Flora is back for its 24th annual visit. Those who've seen it before don't need to hear more; those who've never visited this little big top should ask themselves why not. Some elements never change: the intimacy, for instance, and the foolish plot that after the first few minutes becomes unnecessary. This year's edition, titled Ingenioso, is set on the plains of La Mancha in the fantastical world of Don Quixote. The circus itself is fantastical too. The wonderful Nino the Clown helms the two-hour extravaganza, which flies by with grace and ease. Prepare to be dazzled; prepare to crane your neck; prepare to discover magic in the ordinary. Through June 27 at North Grand Boulevard and Samuel Shepard Drive (east of Powell Hall). Tickets are $8 to $39. Call 314-289-4040 or visit www.circusflora.org. (DB)

Laughter on the 23rd Floor New Jewish Theatre has opened its comfortable new home at the Wool Studio Theatre with a delightful winner. Neil Simon's valentine to his formative years as a comedy writer on NBC's 1950s variety series Your Show of Shows is an always amusing and at times riotously funny evening of theater. Simon has been criticized for writing characters who succumb too easily to one-line jokes. But these raucous writers live for one-liners. So the play's form — which is itself an extended comedy sketch — is ideal for the story being told. Despite the restrictions imposed by a small stage, director Edward Coffield keeps his nine actors (including Gary Wayne Barker, Bob Harvey and Bobby Miller) moving at a brisk clip. As erratic TV star Max Prince (a stand-in for Sid Caesar), Alan Knoll commands the stage. By giving a star performance in a role that on paper is not the lead, Knoll makes us see why these lunatic writers would be so devoted to a walking time bomb. If only Simon had figured out how to end the play, surely Laughter would be better known. But until its dim final minutes, the show delivers a potent combo of humor and nostalgia. Through June 20 at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $32 to $34 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. (DB)

A Little Night Music Opera Theatre of Saint Louis mounts a lavish hybrid version of the exquisite 1973 Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical about the whims and wiles of love and lust. In his directing debut, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi has sought to channel characters first created by Ingmar Bergman in his 1955 romantic comedy Smiles of a Summer Night through Shakespare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The three principal actors — Amy Irving as celebrated actress Desiree Armfeldt, Ron Raines as the object of her renewed affections and Sian Phillips as her autocratic mother — deliver stellar performances. And the 49-piece symphony orchestra transforms Sondheim's melodies into an evening of sheer bliss. Performed through June 19 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (DB)

The Me Nobody Knows Fourteen talented teenagers compose the cast of this 1970 musical based on the writings of underprivileged children in New York City. As directed by Ron Himes and choreographed by Heather Beal Himes, there's a lot of playful vitality here, juxtaposed against raw tenacity. Some of these monologues date the show to the Vietnam-era 1960s. But the themes addressed — loneliness, poverty, loss of innocence — are all too universal. The show deals with a wide swath of teen problems, but the production itself is easy to take. Performed by the Black Rep through June 27 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org. (DB)

Eugene Onegin It's an uncomplicated story: young country girl teaches the meaning of love to selfish urban sophisticate; tragically, he understands too late. Tchaikovsky's score is equally unadorned, featuring achingly beautiful melodies woven together in a sinewy tapestry. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis director Kevin Newbury, conductor David Agler and a spectacularly talented cast all bring their A game. The singing of the text is conversational. There isn't a forced or unnatural syllable. The acting, too, is spot on; Newbury's singers give performances that reflect the intimate scale of the staging. No one goes over the top, and even the most dramatic moments have the feel of everyday life. All in all, a straightforward and intimate piece of musical theater that creates a uniquely satisfying evening of art as entertainment. Through June 27 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org.
— Lew Prince

Hamlet Hamlet's grand themes of honor, justice and the ultimately hollow pursuit of revenge entice directors to attempt perilous flights of fancy in staging. Credit goes to Bruce Longworth for resisting temptation, opting instead for a very Elizabethan production in costume and setting, and for allowing the language to provide the fireworks. Jim Butz plays Hamlet with grace and panache, both of which go out the window when the melancholy Dane gets down to the gritty business of killing those who've wronged him. John Rensenhouse's Claudius is a well-balanced foil, as duplicitous and scheming as his nephew but for venal, rather than honorable, reasons. The real world will occasionally intrude on the play owing to the outdoor setting, but not nearly as much as you might fear. Bring the family and something to eat and make a night of it. Presented by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis nightly through June 20 (no performances on Tuesdays) on Art Hill in Forest Park. Admission is free. Call 314-531-9800 or visit www.shakespearefestivalstlouis.org. (PF)

The Marriage of Figaro The natural and open voices of baritone Christopher Feigum as Figaro and soprano Maria Kanyova as Susanna set the tone in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' new production of Mozart's brilliant comic opera. Despite a last-minute replacement of the orchestra's conductor, the entire cast of fine young singers provides a spirit and passion that breathes life into Mozart's luscious melodies. The traditional high points of the opera — Amanda Majeski's emotional aria as Rosina, mourning her failing marriage, and the famed duet featuring Susanna and Rosina that was featured in the film The Shawshank Redemption, do not disappoint. Performed in English through June 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (LP)

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