St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown, Paul Friswold and Lew Prince suss out the local theater scene

Newly Reviewed
Becky's New Car Becky Foster (Susie Wall) is a hard-working, middle-aged woman who, through a sin of omission, ends up committing a sin of coition with slightly potty millionaire Walter Flood (John Contini). Steven Dietz's script is more than redolent of fantasy/wish fulfillment, and Becky breaks the fourth wall and comes into the audience for some comic business so many times that it feels gimmicky rather than necessary to the story. Throw in the too-perfect touches of Becky's understanding and supportive husband, Joe (Jerry Russo), and a son (Scott McMaster) working on his master's in psychology, and you have a made-for-cliché story that's more than happy to explain itself at every opportunity. Wall rises above the material to make Becky more than a punch line or a victim of circumstance, and Contini and Russo do their characters equal justice — Russo maybe too much: It's impossible to understand why anyone would stray from this charming man who believes in and loves Becky wholeheartedly. Presented by Insight Theatre Company under the direction of Tlaloc Rivas through June 19 at the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood Avenue (at Nerinx Hall High School), Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $30. Call 314-556-1293 or visit www.insighttheatrecompany.com. — Paul Friswold

The Immigrant Set in an obscure rural burg during the first third of the twentieth century, The Immigrant has the feel of an old family photo album — perhaps not surprising, since it was written by Mark Harelik as a tribute to his grandfather, who escaped the pogroms in Russia to begin a new life as the only Jew in an East Texas town of 1,200. This charming and thoughtful chronicle is a minimalist work; it often has the feel of old daguerreotype photos come to life. Yet it manages to ask questions about the risks and rewards of assimilation that remain relevant today. New Jewish Theatre is giving the play an impeccable production, with superb performances by Robert Thibaut in the title role and Michelle Hand as his conflicted wife, as well as Gary Wayne Barker and Peggy Billo as the banker and his wife who champion the immigrant. Through June 19 at the Wool Studio Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $34 to $36 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. — Dennis Brown

The Mineola Twins Paula Vogel invites us to observe twin sisters Myrna and Myra (both played by Patty Ulrich) as their contrasting lives play out across a span of nearly four decades. The busty Myrna, sexually repressed in the Eisenhower 1950s, is subjected to shock therapy during the Nixon years and becomes the host of a right-wing radio talk show in the George Bush '80s. Her despised sister, Myra, frolics through the '50s as a teenage slut. She goes radical during the '60s but by the '80s has found her true self as a lesbian who works for Planned Parenthood. The twins are not intended to be fleshed-out characters; rather, they personify the far extremes of an ever-polarizing America. Vogel has said that before she began to write this play she had nothing in mind. She simply wanted the challenge of facing "a blank sheet of paper." Vogel may have filled her pages with words, but the play itself remains blank. Performed by Muddy Waters Theatre under the direction of Cameron Ulrich through June 26 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 314-799-8399 or visit www.muddywaterstheatre.com. (DB)

The Royal Family George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's comic skewering of the Barrymore family and their profession still gets over even if you're unfamiliar with the reputations of the individuals, but its old-school length — three hours with intermissions — drags it down. The Cavendish family's three generations of famous actors have to overcome relationship trouble, professional trouble and legal trouble, all while vying for the spotlight in their shared home. As current star Julie, Liz Hopefl provides a strong and consistent heart for the play, struggling to keep her daughter, Gwen (Katie McGee), from quitting the stage to pursue true love even as she herself wants to resume an affair from her own youth. McGee is a fine and funny ingénue, but Joshua Thomas' swashbuckling-blowhard take on Anthony Cavendish steals every scene he's in, even from the background. An outrageous he-man prima donna who can't tolerate anyone upstaging him, Anthony is riotous even as he's terrible; his petulant hatred of a new baby for drawing attention away from himself is engagingly rotten. Directed by Steve Callahan and presented by Act Inc. through June 28 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $20. Call 314-725-9108 or visit www.actinc.biz. (PF)

The Visit Reviewed in this issue.

Ongoing
Circus Flora An acrobat on the back of a moving horse juggles fire. A young contortionist twists her body into surreal poses worthy of Picasso. Up at the top of the tent, trapeze artists somersault through the air. Down on the ground, children wear red clown noses (just three dollars at the gift shop) and pretend they're part of the circus, too. Circus Flora is back, making its 25th annual appearance in St. Louis. This year's edition, titled Vagabond Adventures, tries to spin a tale about a travelling Mississippi River steamboat in pre-Civil War days. But as usual the story is negligible. What works best here, as always, are the visuals that incite laughter, applause and even the occasional drama. All the performers, young and old, are a pleasure to behold. But best of all is the magnificent Giovanni Zoppe. Better known (and loved) as Nino the Clown, this unassuming star is a joyous performer. When he sprays the audience with crocodile tears, his timing is impeccable. When he free-falls from the top of the tent down to the center of the ring, his audacity is breathtaking. But because Nino almost never leaves the circus ring, also be sure to observe him when he's not the center of attention. Then, as he intently watches the other acts, his vigilant face gives us a clue into the high-stakes risks that are in play here. Nino personifies why, once again, the big red-and-white tent on the Powell Hall parking lot is the happiest place in town. Through June 26 at North Grand Boulevard and Samuel Shepard Drive (east of Powell Hall). Tickets are $8 to $44. Call 314-289-4040 or visit www.circusflora.org. (DB)

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