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RFT's Fall Arts Guide: The Plays, Galleries and Performers to See 

MADCO brings Wallstories back to St. Louis

DAVID LANCASTER

MADCO brings Wallstories back to St. Louis

Once upon a time, the St. Louis arts community took the summer off, with a few notable exceptions (coughTheMunycough). Those days are long gone. There are art openings, plays, dance performances and book tours every month of the year. Did the Riverfront Times Fall Arts Guide have something to do with that?

Having overseen more than fifteen editions of them, I'm confident in saying "absolutely not." The local creative community flourished under its own power. If good plays were once hard to find in July of 2004, canny artistic directors soon realized they had an opportunity to fill a glaring void. Your dance company/gallery/theater troupe won't survive long in this town if you don't take your chances. As audiences grew in size, it made sense to spread out across the calendar.

With everything happening all the time, you'd think the competition for attention would be fiercer, but you'd be wrong. Artists and gallery owners go from opening to opening, vying to see everything. Dancers attend as many dance performances as they can; artistic directors share actors, costumes and props as needed. "St. Louis is not as cutthroat as Chicago/New York/San Francisco" is often said by newcomers.

There's a reason for that.

Cutthroat tactics don't result in a year-round cycle of dance, music, visual arts and theater; it ends with people nursing old wounds and fighting for attention. In St. Louis, people promote each other's work, and the work grows apace, year after year.

So what's the Fall Arts Guide for? It's a chance to see what's coming, and for figuring out now what you're going to be telling your friends about come October.

Take a look below for our picks for what to do, see and hear.

Stephanie Syjuco, Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime) (detail), 2016. Wooden platform, neutral grey seamless backdrop paper, digital adhesive prints on laser-cut wooden props, dye-sublimation digital prints on fabric, items purchased on eBay and craigslist, photographic prints, live plants, neutral calibrated gray paint, 10 x 20 x 8 feet. Courtesy the artist.
  • Stephanie Syjuco, Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime) (detail), 2016. Wooden platform, neutral grey seamless backdrop paper, digital adhesive prints on laser-cut wooden props, dye-sublimation digital prints on fabric, items purchased on eBay and craigslist, photographic prints, live plants, neutral calibrated gray paint, 10 x 20 x 8 feet. Courtesy the artist.

Stephanie Syjuco: Rogue States

September 6-December 29

Artist Stephanie Syjuco was born in Manila and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was three years old, which gave her an American education and an immigrant's eye for our national blindspots. It's these blindspots that inform the art in her exhibition Stephanie Syjuco: Rogue States, which opens at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (3750 Washington Boulevard; www.camstl.org) on Friday, September 6. The title of the show comes from her installation of 22 flags that were used to represent the flags of made-up nations in various American films. Also in the exhibit is her large-scale installation Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime), which comprises artifacts representing both colonizer and colonized societies. Cultural objects such as wicker chairs and traditional rugs Syjuco purchased online, cardboard cutouts of people and actual artifacts are mixed together in a larger-than-life diorama. Nestled in the background is a color photograph of the "stone-age" tribe of the Tasadai, found on a remote island in the Philippines in the early 1970s, who were actually modern people posed by a photographer. Rogue States continues through December 29.

Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope

September 4-22

Composer Micki Grant and director Vinnette Carroll made history with their 1971 musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. The revue was the first-ever Broadway show written and directed by black women. The show's songs are interspersed with a little bit of dialogue, the topics ranging from the inalienable right of black people to exist ("My Name Is Man") to the list of white annoyances (bad bosses, nasty clerks at the unemployment office) that populate the title track. Don't Bother Me has been praised as a combination of "block party and revival," and while the 1970s may be long gone, most of the issues remain relevant. The Black Rep opens its 43rd season with the high-energy musical. Performances are September 4 to 22 at Washington University's Edison Theatre (6445 Forsyth Boulevard; www.theblackrep.org).

Angels in America Parts One and Two

September 4-October 6

Time moves incredibly quickly. This past April, Repertory Theatre St. Louis artistic director Steven Woolf stepped down after helming the past 33 seasons. This September, incoming artistic director Hana S. Sharif embarks on her first season with the Rep. Sharif's season-opening show is definitely a statement piece: Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Parts One and Two. The Pulitzer and Tony award-winning drama tells the simultaneous stories of the early days of the AIDS crisis, a young gay couple haunted by the new plague, a young Mormon couple whose marriage is on shaky ground and the last days of hard-bitten lawyer Roy Cohn. Addiction, cowardice, lust for power and the fear of being true to yourself all factor into the groundbreaking drama. The Repertory Theatre St. Louis presents Angels in America: Parts One and Two in repertory (and on select days, back to back) September 4 to October 6 at the Loretto-Hilton Center of the Performing Arts (130 Edgar Road; www.repstl.com).

Margaret Atwood discusses The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. - (C) LIAM SHARP
  • (C) LIAM SHARP
  • Margaret Atwood discusses The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.

Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas

September 10

If you can believe it, Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale was considered science fiction, thanks to its near-future, dystopian setting. Thirty-four years of perversely regressive American politics have made it more of roadmap to our current nightmare than anyone (except Atwood) could have imagined. The Canadian author's long-awaited sequel, The Testaments, is being published this year, and to mark the occasion, Atwood appears in nationwide simulcast, Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas. Author and BBC broadcaster Samira Ahmed will interview Atwood about her career and work, and why she chose now to return to Ofred and the land of Gilead, while several special guests will read from The Testaments. The interview can be seen locally at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 10, at Marcus Ronnies Cine (5320 South Lindbergh Boulevard), Marcus Des Peres 14 Cine (12701 Manchester Road, Des Peres) and the AMC Chesterfield 14 (3000 Chesterfield Mall, Chesterfied). For more information, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957), Through, 2007–8. Wooden tables and beams and pillars from dismantled temples from the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), 216 9/16 x 334 5/8 x 543 5/16" (550 x 850 x 1380 cm.) Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. - AI WEIWEI 2012. COURTESY OF AI WEIWEI STUDIO
  • AI WEIWEI 2012. COURTESY OF AI WEIWEI STUDIO
  • Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957), Through, 2007–8. Wooden tables and beams and pillars from dismantled temples from the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), 216 9/16 x 334 5/8 x 543 5/16" (550 x 850 x 1380 cm.) Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.

Ai Weiwei: Bare Life

September 28-January 5

The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum officially reopens with a bang. Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei presents a major exhibition of work that spans the past twenty years of his career, some of which has never before been shown in the United States. Divided into two parts, Bare Life and Rupture, the show features monumental exhibitions such as Forever Bicycles (2019) and Through (2007-2008). The former is a commemorative arch built with Chinese-made bicycles, their carefully positioned tires lining up to create the image of telescoping lenses; the latter is an intersecting series of wooden pillars that pierce the surface of Qing Dynasty wooden tables. The work evokes China's own interrupted and intentionally erased history. Ai Weiwei: Bare Life also includes sculptures, photographs, films and a triptych constructed of LEGO bricks. The show runs from September 28 to January 5.

Cry-Baby

September 26-October 19

Continuing its proud tradition of righting Broadway's wrongs, New Line Theatre rehabilitated John Waters' musical Cry-Baby with its 2012 production of the show. The musical was pared down by the creators expressly for New Line's inaugural regional production, throwing out the bombast and orchestrations in favor of a more intimate show with a six-piece band. These changes brought Cry-Baby back to street-level 1954, when conformity and close-harmony singing ran headfirst into the hormones and heartache heralded by the pioneers of rock & roll. Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker is the uncrowned king of the Drapes (Baltimore's greasers). When good girl Alison falls for the tender-hearted Wade, she turns her back on all that's decent. Her jilted square boyfriend Baldwin will have his revenge on all Drapes and damn the consequences. New Line Theatre presents Cry-Baby Thursday through Saturday (September 26 to October 19) at the Marcelle Theater (3310 Samuel Shepard Drive; www.newlinetheatre.com).

Mark Deutsch will fill the Sheldon with the otherworldly sounds of the Bazantar. - COURTESY OF THE SHELDON
  • COURTESY OF THE SHELDON
  • Mark Deutsch will fill the Sheldon with the otherworldly sounds of the Bazantar.

Mark Deutsch and the Bazantar

October 8

Mark Deutsch spent several years in the 1990s in St. Louis, playing and teaching the electric bass and the double bass. His passion for the sitar and the trance music tradition seeped into his work, and he embarked on an arduous journey to create an instrument that blended east and west, bass and sitar. The result is the Bazantar, an acoustic bass with frets, a widened neck and a redesigned bridge that supports the traditional four strings with a secondary framework passing underneath that holds the tension of 35 additional sympathetic and drone strings. In Deutsch's hands, the Bazantar can sound like the music of the spheres or the song of destruction. It howls, it hums, it moans — it's a polyphony of tone and timbre, an orchestra performed by one man. Deutsch introduced the Bazantar to a wider audience at the Sheldon twenty years ago. He then decamped to the West Coast for further sonic explorations. He returns to St. Louis for a 7:30 p.m. performance Tuesday, October 8, once again at the Sheldon (3648 Washington Boulevard; www.thesheldon.org). Don't miss it, or another twenty years may pass before you have the chance to hear Deutsch play it again.

Stray Dog Theatre brings back its oft-requested production of The Who's Tommy to open its new season. - COURTESY OF STRAY DOG THEATRE
  • COURTESY OF STRAY DOG THEATRE
  • Stray Dog Theatre brings back its oft-requested production of The Who's Tommy to open its new season.

The Who's Tommy

October 10-26

Eight years ago, Stray Dog Theatre unleashed its glorious production of The Who's Tommy. It was a knock out. Associate artistic director Justin Been took the lead on staging the production, revealing his prodigious talents for arranging actors in ever-shifting tableaux. The result was a beautifully kinetic production that made pinball an exuberant celebration of life. At long last, Stray Dog will once again present Tommy in all his deaf, dumb and blind glory, with Been overseeing the production. The show is performed with a live band, as it should be, Thursday through Saturday (October 10 to 26) at the Tower Grove Abbey (2336 Tennessee Avenue; www.straydogtheatre.org).

Ein Heldenleben with Conductor Leonard Slatkin

October 12-13

Leonard Slatkin remains a beloved figure in St. Louis for his work with the St. Louis Symphony, of which he is the conductor laureate. Slatkin returns to town to celebrate his 75th birthday by — what else? — leading the orchestra through a selection of music that finishes with Richard Strauss' tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life). Despite the piece's modern popularity, it was originally greeted with critical approbation, which Strauss was very familiar with. It's a musical journey through the life of a stylized hero (often presumed to be Strauss himself), who appears, then fights his adversaries and retreats to the comforts of home and his unnamed companion. He returns to battle, earns a hard-fought piece and then retires. The piece is performed at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (October 12 and 13) at Powell Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; www.slso.org).

Jay & Silent Bob Reboot

October 15 & 17

Writer/director Kevin Smith is newly slimmed down after a serious heart attack, and re-energized. After lo these many years, he returns to his stoned-bozo version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Jay & Silent Bob Reboot. Jay is Jason Mewes, Smith's heterosexual life partner who does all the talking, swearing and snoochy-booching. Silent Bob is Smith, the enigmatic man in the trenchcoat who acts as balance to the energetic Jay. When the two Jersey boys learn Hollywood is going to reboot even their film, the two hightail it to the West Coast to either break it up or horn in on the action. Will the pairing still work if Jay can't crack jokes about Bob's girth? Only one way to find out. Jay & Silent Bob Reboot gets a special screening thanks to Fathom Events at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 15, at the Marcus Ronnies Cine (5320 South Lindbergh Boulevard; www.fathomevents.com), with a special introduction from Kevin Smith. The film plays again on Thursday, October 17, at the same theater as the back half of a double feature with the original Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Dear Evan Hansen

October 22-November 3

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's musical Dear Evan Hansen caused a national stir on Broadway, thanks to its ultra-contemporary plot. Evan Hansen is a high schooler with social anxiety being raised by his working mom, who's rarely at home. When a pep-talk letter he wrote to himself ends up in the pocket of a fellow student who commits suicide, Evan becomes involved with the grieving family. This gets him closer to Zoe, his longtime crush who's also the younger sister of the deceased. A white lie he tells to comfort the boy's parents spins out of control but also brings him closer to Zoe. Of course, Evan also is throwing out more lies all the time to keep his story afloat, and he's doomed to come back to the truth eventually. The Fox Theatre (527 North Grand Boulevard; www.fabulousfox.com) presents Dear Evan Hansen October 22 to November 3.

Humorist/woodwooker Nick Offerman performs at the Stifel Theatre November 7.
  • Humorist/woodwooker Nick Offerman performs at the Stifel Theatre November 7.

An Evening with Pete Souza

October 23

Pete Souza has worked as a photojournalist, shot for National Geographic and Life and has been the chief official White House photographer for former President Barack Obama, but he's currently most popular for his weapons-grade trolling of Donald Trump on his personal Instagram. Souza's mockery relies on his large stash of Obama photos, which he repurposes with cutting captions that underline the differences in governing style, humility and humanity between Obama and Trump. If you're wondering, Trump doesn't look very good in comparison. These photographic arguments formed the basis of Souza's book Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents. The paperback edition has 60 new pages of Souza's commentary on Michael Cohen, Brett Kavanaugh and the immigration crisis. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 23, Left Bank Books presents Pete Souza at the Grandel (3610 Grandel Square; www.left-bank.com) with the new edition of Shade. The event requires tickets and comes with a signed copy of the book.

Nick Offerman, American Humorist

November 7

Nick Offerman is a man of the people. That means he makes things out of wood, liberally quotes Wendell Berry, enjoys a nice sausage, plays a few instruments and does some acting. All of those skills come together, somehow, in his live show All Rise. He'll sing a song or two, tell a couple jokes (some off-color), perhaps outrage you with a political joke or his take on women's lib and equal pay (he's fer it) and generally amuse himself while amusing the audience. It seems effortless, but then most of life's fun moments often are effortless. Nick Offerman: All Rise takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 7, at the Stifel Theatre (1400 Market Street; www.stifeltheatre.com).

Wallstories

November 8-9

Nejla Yatkin grew up in Cold War Berlin, and the shadow of the Berlin Wall — and the oppression it represented — cast a pall over her youth. Instead of succumbing to the paranoia and hostility that fear can generate, she channeled her feelings of helplessness and terror into Wallstories, a multimedia dance piece that transformed her emotions into art. In Wallstories, recordings of other people who lived near the Berlin Wall play along with musical selections from Bach and Pink Floyd's The Wall album, all while MADCO's dance company performs in front of, on and atop a wall. Wallstories is performed Friday and Saturday (November 8 and 9) at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (1 University Boulevard at Natural Bridge Road; www.touhill.org).

Mandy Patinkin in Concert

November 10

Mandy Patinkin cemented his place in Hollywood history with his performance of vengeful swordmaster Inigo Montoya in The Princes Bride, but only after he'd secured a similarly lofty position in Broadway history. Patinkin won a Tony award for featured performer for his role as Che Guevara in the 1979 production of Evita and was nominated for best actor in 1984's Sunday in the Park with George. In the decades since, he's moved from TV to film and back to Broadway with surprising ease. It is his love of musical theater and music in general that informs his one-man show Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries. He sings classics, show tunes, works by contemporary songwriters such as Rufus Wainwright and Lyle Lovett, and his own original compositions during the show, which left New York reviewers breathless. Patinkin brings that energy to the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (1 University Boulevard at Natural Bridge Road; www.touhill.org) at 3 p.m. Sunday, November 10, for a one-time performance.

A Life in the Theater

December 6-22

In 2016, St. Louis Actors' Studio staged a beautiful production of David Mamet's American Buffalo. At the tail end of 2019, the company performs another Mamet drama, A Life in the Theater. STLAS founder and artistic director William Roth, who was so good in American Buffalo, will play Robert, an aging actor paired with Spencer Sickmann's John, a rising star. In a series of brief glances into the advancing careers, we see Robert's star dim while John's continues to burn brighter. Like a pair of binary stars locked in each other's orbit, John devours Robert's career, or perhaps Robert eats himself up with envy and anger. St. Louis Actors' Studio presents A Life in the Theatre December 6 to 22 at the Gaslight Theater (358 North Boyle Avenue; www.stlas.org).

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