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)

The Daughter of the Regiment Opera Theatre of St. Louis' new production of composer Gaetano Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment is beautifully sung, artfully staged, frothy and entertaining — the opera equivalent of what Hollywood likes to call a "date movie." This bel canto classic, which features a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard, provides an ideal vehicle for soprano Ashley Emerson and a talented cast. Director Seán Curran's deft choreography, Kirkwood High grad John McDaniel's sure hand with the baton and a delightfully goofy cameo by Sylvia McNair make the evening complete. Through June 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $120 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. — Lew Prince

Just Desserts These four one-act plays and two monologues reveal Neil LaBute's gifts for humor and compassion while still demonstrating his renowned ability to terrify. Directors Milt Zoth and Kevin Beyer shepherd an exemplary cast through conversations about racism, loneliness, death art and infidelity, and there's not a dull moment in the bunch. It's unfair to single out one performer from the ensemble, but there's no denying the raw power (emphasis on "raw") of Emily Baker's turn as a pregnant woman confronting her unfaithful husband (William Roth). Roth plays him as a selfish bozo who's certain he can spin his affair into a marriage-builder rather than a -breaker, but Baker's wife out-smarts, out-argues and out-justifies him right to the bitter end. Hers is the sort of bracing, commanding performance you'll remember for a long time — it'll also terrify any philanderers in the crowd into serial monogamy, at least for a little while. Presented by St. Louis Actors' Studio through June 19 at the Gaslight Theatre,.58 North Boyle Avenue; Call 314-458-2978 or visit www.stlas.org . Tickets are $20 to $25. (PF)

Don Giovanni May was a tough month for sexual miscreants. The world's most feared terrorist was reduced to Osama bin Wankin', the former governor of California was exposed as the Sperminator, and the head of the International Monetary Fund turned political metaphor on its head: Rather than figuratively rape the African continent, as the Fund has been accused of doing for decades, he went and got himself indicted for physically raping an African. Appropriate, then, that Opera Theatre of St. Louis opened its 2011 season with Mozart's study of Don Giovanni's descent into Hell. Perfectly executed by conductor and Mozart expert Jane Glover, the Saint Louis Symphony and a superbly talented cast, the gorgeous score alone is worth the price of admission. Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto juxtaposes Giovanni's ruthless manipulation of those around him against wildly comic interludes, and the injection of modern elements (Giovanni kills the Commendatore with a pistol) adds a jagged edge to OTSL's production. Through June 25 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $120 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (LP)

Kind Sir Jane Kimball (Kirsten Wylder) is a successful Broadway actress, but she's in a funk because there's no man in her life. Immediately Norman Krasna's Kind Sir shows its age, but stick with it; the almost superfluous first act gives way to a more comic Act Two, as perfect gentleman — in '50s values, this means "wealthy and charming" — Phillip Clair (Jim Fuchs) arrives to sweep Jane off her feet. His unfortunate marriage, which cannot be dissolved, keeps him from fulfilling Jane completely, but it does offer the requisite dramatic tension. (If the plot sounds familiar, that might be due to the fact that Krasna turned the script into a screenplay for Indiscreet, which starred Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant.) Fuchs is a little wooden in the early going, but he warms up to give Phillip a dashing presence. Wylder is quite the glamour puss, swanning across the stage with impeccable grace; she makes Jane the most multidimensional character in the play, and she's got deliciously arch comic timing. The third act, when the lovers must overcome the twin obstacles of jealousy (Phillip) and betrayal (Jane), delivers the most consistent laughs. Presented by Act Inc. through June 19 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 Montford Point Marine The spirit of Memorial Day continues through June in the world premiere of Samm-Art Williams' emotional story about Robert Charles Wilson, who in July of 1943 was among the first African Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marines. The still-segregated Marines trained their black enlistees in Montford Point, North Carolina. The action, an amalgam of drama and comedy, plays out in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of Robert's enlistment, as well as in flashbacks to the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. In a Capra-esque account of dreams deferred, we see Robert's pride in breaking barriers as well as the toll that accompanied that pride. The cast includes Linda Kennedy as Robert's wife, Chauncy Thomas as his son and Whit Reichert in three supporting roles. The script makes enormous demands on the actor who plays Robert, and J. Samuel Davis rises to the challenge with a portrayal of range, depth and variety. Performed by the Black Rep through June 26 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $47. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org. (DB)

The Taming of the Shrew One of Shakespeare's most foolproof comedies is put to the test in the current annual production from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. The unorthodox wooing of the tempestuous Katherina by skylarking soldier of fortune Petruchio has been moved to a vague, imprecise world that, according to director Sean Graney, sometimes might be America in the 1950s. But then again sometimes it might not. There's not much for the actors to cling to here. Or for viewers either. But for those diehard Bard-ophiles who don't care how half-baked their Shakespeare is, this two-hour assemblage of shtick might provide some intermittent laughs. Performed at 8 p.m. nightly (except Tuesdays) through June 19 on Art Hill in Forest Park. Admission is free. Call 314-531-9800 or visit www.sfstl.com. (DB)

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