St. Louis Stage Capsules

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

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 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)

Pelléas and Mélisande Normally, in adapting a play for opera, a librettist replaces the dialogue with rhyming — or, at the very least rhythmic — language that can be set to music. Claude Debussy, however, took the script from Maurice Maeterlinck's French Symbolist play Pelléas and Mélisande and wrote music to sing it over. As a result, Pelléas contains none of the conventional duets, trios or other ensemble pieces that enliven most operas. There aren't even any arias. Instead, as in a play, everyone speaks in turn. The result is a very modern — and very unconventional — opera. The score is gorgeous, an almost linear series of tone poems, underpinned with enough rhythmic drive and harmonic repetition to create and sustain drama. The leads — buttery soprano Corinne Winters (Mélisande), richly expressive baritones Liam Bonner (Pelléas) and Gregory Dahl (Golaud), and spectacular twelve-year-old (you read that right) soprano Michael Meo — are unflagging in their creativity and musical good sense. The set design for this Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production is especially elegant, with eerily liquid scene changes wonderfully accented by shimmering lighting. Shadows ebb and flow to conceal and reveal cast members. Debussy, an inveterate opium smoker, would have loved it. Through June 24 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)

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. — Paul Friswold

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