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Archive for December, 2017

Souvenir
by Stephen Temperley
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
Max & Louie Productions
December 15, 2017

Paul Cereghino, Debby Lennon
Photo by Patrick Huber
Max & Louie Productions

Florence Foster Jenkins has gotten more notoriety than she could have predicted, even though she probably would have loved it. Even decades after her death in 1944, the socialite and wanna-be classical singer is probably more well-known than ever, thanks to the eponymous acclaimed film starring Meryl Streep as well as the play Souvenir, Stephen Temperley’s charming two-character comedy that’s now onstage at the Marcelle, presented by the always excellent Max & Louie productions. It’s a well-cast production that highlights an important relationship in Jenkins’s life, and provides a showcase for two immensely talented local performers.

The play tells the unlikely but true story of Jenkins (Debby Lennon) through the eyes of her longtime accompanist Cosme McMoon (Paul Cereghino), who is initially shown reminiscing about their relationship 20 years after Jenkins’s death. McMoon then goes on to tell the story of how they met, and how they formed an unlikely team, and after McMoon’s initial shock at the combination of Jenkins’s personal confidence and her lack of discernible singing talent, the working relationship grew into a close friendship.  That’s basically the story, told with much humor but in an affectionate way rather than a ridiculing way. Even though Jenkins really isn’t the great singer she imagines herself to be, she’s got a lot of personal strength, and a truly enviable level of self-confidence. McMoon, over the years, grows to admire her and even feel protective of her, and their unfolding relationship is a joy to witness. Although for the most part, the tone of this piece is comic, there are also some poignant dramatic moments, leading to a truly touching and heartfelt conclusion.

While the script itself is excellent, what makes this production shine most of all is its casting. There are two remarkable performances here. I’ve been told by several trained singers that in order to accurately portray “bad” singing on purpose, it takes a great singer, and Lennon is that and more. The beauty of a piece like this is that it gives Lennon the opportunity to show off her “bad” singing as well as–in a fantasy sequence–her genuinely great singing. Lennon also has such an endearing quality about her as Jenkins that, even though her singing is spectacularly bad, the audience loves her for it. There are so many levels to Lennon’s performance, from humor to an undercurrent of loneliness and desire to be loved. Cereghino is every bit her match as McMoon, as well, getting the chance to show off his excellent piano skills in addition to his acting. His McMoon is charming and supremely likable, as well, and the growing friendship between these two is made all the more believable because of the excellent chemistry between Cereghino and Lennon. The comic timing is first-rate, and the dramatic moments are given just the right weight, as well.

The time, place, and mood of this show is well-maintained in the technical aspects, as well. Dunsi Dai’s gorgeous set, backed by a dazzling video wall/ceiling, provides the right backdrop for the show. There are also wonderful costumes by Teresa Doggett–from Jenkins’s various costumes ranging from classy to outrageous, to McMoon’s stylish suit and tux. There’s also excellent work from lighting designers Patrick Huber and Tony Anselmo, as well as sound designer Casey Hunter. The world of Jenkins and McMoon and the overall milieu of 1930s and 40s New York is communicated with a great deal of style.

This is a remarkable production. The two leads shine, as does the whole show. It looks good and it’s thoroughly fascinating and compelling. A character who could easily be lampooned and ridiculed is given an affectionate tribute here, as is the fond friendship between the “singer” and her accompanist. This is a Souvenir worth celebrating.

Debby Lennon, Paul Cereghino
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie Productions is presenting Souvenir at the Marcelle Theatre until December 31, 2017.

 

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Remnant
by Ron Reed
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
December 9, 2017

Michelle Hand, Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Marissa Grice
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

The latest production from Mustard Seed Theatre is a revival of the very first play they presented, in 2007. I didn’t get to see that production of Ron Reed’s Remnant, but I’m glad I got to see this one. It’s a Christmas show, of sorts, but not like one you may expect.

The premise here as the audience takes their seats is that the action takes place in the same theatre space, 75 years in the future. There was apparently a worldwide plague, and a majority of the population was killed, leaving a few survivors to build a new civilization in the world that remains. It’s St. Louis, but different, and the society that remains is rougher, with varying groups struggling to make a life, and some strive to preserve what is left of the past. One family, led by the resourceful and protective Barlow Sho’r (Ryan Lawson-Maeske) and his wife, Delmar Nu1 (Marissa Grice), who are preparing a celebration with their family of a holiday they are still learning about, the “Christ Mass”. They’re sharing this celebration with Barlow’s sister, the curious and somewhat mystical Annagail Bookr (Katy Keating), and an older, well-traveled cousin, Kristn Taler (Michelle Hand), who has also invited another guest to the party–a mysterious figure known as a Loner (Adam Flores). Barlow isn’t happy, but Kristn and Annagail are insistent. As the evening unfolds, we learn more about this new, post-apocalyptic world and the new society, language and customs of the survivors, and the family learns more about this legendary “Christ Mass”, trying to figure out the true meaning of the occasion.

This is a fascinating concept, and playwright Ron Reed has created a compelling world here, along with a modified language–English, but different in syntax and adding elements of Elizabethan English as well–to form something new, which is jarring at first, but becomes easier to understand as the play goes on. The situation does seem somewhat implausible to a degree, in that it seems to me that, plague or no plague, the society depicted here would take more than 75 years to develop. Still, the characters are interesting and believable, with descriptive names–Barlow Sho’r (pronounced’ “show-er”), preserves visual and auditory elements of the past, such as various electronics, record albums, and cobbled together clips of film. Kristn Taler is the storyteller, presenting meaningful tales of how the world, and this family, got into their present situation. There’s also Annagail Bookr, the archivist and visionary, who discovers the world of the “old ones” in books, and teaches her family members to read as well. It’s a harsh world, where there’s much suspicion and dangerous figures called “Bikers” who are never seen but often talked about, and feared. There are also wandering “loners”, and the presence of one such Loner helps provide this play’s message, as this family seeks to find the true meaning of Christmas. This is a Christian story, essentially, focusing on the origins of the holiday in the Bible, but there are also struggles to separate the religious and secular meanings, as the family members often find themselves confused by the relics they find, and the Loner’s presence is seen as a threat by the suspicious Barlow, but as a blessing by others.

The excellent cast is led by Lawson-Maeske in a convincing performance as suspicious, sometimes overprotective, but also mostly well-meaning Barlow, who has good chemistry with the amiable Grice as his curious wife Delmar. There are also standout performances by Keating, truly wondrous as the wide-eyed, curious learner Annagail, and by Hand as the wise, determined Kristn. Flores is also strong in a riveting performance as the increasingly curious Loner, who wants to learn but is constantly challenged by Barlow. There’s a believable family dynamic here, and the grasp of Reed’s unique language form is convincing, as well, flowing as if it’s a natural way of speaking.

The production values here are simply stunning, with Kristin Cassidy’s expansive, multi-level set encompassing the entire performance space. There are ladders and landings, and a hatch-like door that opens, and a central stage area strewn with a vast collection of relics, from books to electronics, to various types of furniture and other items from the days before the plague. The costumes, by Jane Sullivan and Lindzey Jent, also help to maintain the atmosphere of this imagined world, as the characters dress in various ways that seems scavenged, assembled from various discarded elements of clothing of various styles and eras. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Michael Sullivan, sound designer Zoe Sullivan, and props master Meg Brinkley, as the various technical elements work together to help establish and maintain the sense of time and place.

This is an ambitious play, with a message about the true meaning of Christmas as well as giving an idea of how the elements of culture can be preserved and transformed after a great calamity, as well as being transformative themselves. The story is engaging, the cast top-notch, and the production poignant, with a mostly dramatic tone tempered by elements of humor, and an underlying tone of hope. It’s a different Christmas story, but a fascinating one and, for the most part, it works.

Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Katy Keating, Marissa Grice
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting Remnant at Fontbonne University until December 23, 2017

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The Flick
by Annie Baker
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
R-S Theatrics
December 8, 2017

Jennelle Gilreath, Jaz Tucker, Chuck Winning
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics’ newest production, currently on stage at Kranzberg Arts Center, is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Annie Baker’s The Flick.  When a show wins that prize, sometimes I find myself wondering what it was about that particular play that made it garner such recognition. This is kind of a small play–not generally the type one thinks of as an obvious major award winner. Still, there’s a lot of insight here, looking at the workers at a small movie theatre as something of a microcosm of the human condition. Now being presented at the Kranzberg Arts Center, this production boasts an excellent cast and production values that make you think you just walked into a real movie theatre.

For anyone who has ever worked at a movie theatre, there is a lot to recognize here in terms of experience, especially in terms of the everyday aspects of the job–cleaning auditoriums, running concessions, etc. I worked at one for a summer when I was in college, and I still remember the experience well. Here, playwright Annie Baker has portrayed the experience well, cast with characters who are distinctive as well as archetypal. The show opens as veteran employee Sam (Chuck Winning) is showing newcomer Avery (Jaz Tucker) how to clean the auditorium after a movie lets out.  The set, designed by Keller Ryan, is almost eerily authentic, especially in terms of how the audience is set up in identical theatre seats facing the “auditorium” of the small Massachusetts movie theatre, The Flick, as the story unfolds. We soon learn more about the somewhat secretive Sam, who has an obvious crush on the impulsive, quirky projectionist Rose (Jennelle Gilreath). We also learn about Avery, who is a serious film buff with strong opinions about what makes a good film and also about the medium of film vs. the increasingly popular digital format. The story moves at a leisurely pace, and there is an arc but it takes a while to reach its conclusion. What’s mostly on display here is the interaction between the characters as they share the mundane and not-so-mundane details of their lives, their personal struggles, moral and ethical dilemmas, affections and attractions, and more. It would be fairly easy to look at this play through a Freudian lens, in terms of Id (Rose), Ego (Sam), and Superego (Avery), although the characterizations do have a complexity that can go beyond that description.

It’s a quiet play, really, but there’s a lot going on here in terms of personal dynamics, extremely well played by the excellent cast. Winning plays Sam as approachable but also conflicted and somewhat guarded, and his friendship with Tucker’s earnest, idealistic Avery is eminently believable. Tucker is also terrific in his role, as is Gilreath as the unpredictable, somewhat manipulative Rose. The interactions of all three are what make this play, and their interplay and chemistry bring veracity to all the conflicts and trials, as well as the lighter, more humorous moments. There’s also a fine performance from Tyson Cole in two small roles, of a customer at the movie theatre, and later as another of the employees.

Technically, this production is thoroughly convincing. In addition to the great set, there are true-to-life costumes by Sarah Porter, as well as good use of lighting by Brittanie Gunn. Mark Kelley’s sound design is also great, and the use of snippets of familiar movie music in the transitions between scenes is especially effective.

The Flick is an almost deceptively simple play in terms of format. It’s essentially a workplace drama, a “day in the life” story that shows a few co-workers doing their jobs and revealing their characters through their interactions. It’s a long play, as well, but as simple and sometimes talky as the play can get, it’s never boring. Here, we see life unfolding in a simple, straightforward way, as these characters show us who they are, but there’s also a universal sense of the human condition here, as we see hopes, dreams, ideals, personal tensions, manipulations, power struggles, and more playing out on a small but truthful scale. R-S Theatrics has done a great job of bringing some excellent but not always as well-known plays to St. Louis audiences, and this is another strong example.

Jennelle Gilreath, Jaz Tucker, Chuck Winning
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics is presenting The Flick at The Kranzberg Arts Center until December 23, 2017.

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A Behanding In Spokane
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Wayne Salomon
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
December 3, 2017

Jerry Vogel, William Roth
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

With a show like this, it’s tempting to fill this review with “hand” puns and jokes, but I won’t. Or I’ll try not to, anyway. A Behanding In Spokane, by Irish-English playwright Martin McDonagh, is the latest production from St. Louis Actors’ Studio, and as is common for McDonagh’s plays, it’s a dark comedy with a macabre twist. And as is usual for STLAS, it has a great cast and dynamic direction.

This is a strange story, no question. The characters are broadly drawn, and the situation is kind of ridiculous, to say the least, but that’s kind of the point in this play. The story follows the brash, bigoted, single-minded Carmichael (Jerry Vogel), who has checked into a small-town hotel in Indiana to carry out a bizarre transaction. According to his elaborate story, his hand was cut off when he was a teenager by a group of strangers, and he’s been on an obsessive 47-year quest to find that hand. This hotel stay is another stop on that journey, where he deals with small-time pot dealers Toby (Michael Lowe) and Marilyn (Léerin Campbell), who have told him they have what he’s looking for. There’s also the curious, meddling reception desk attendant, Mervyn (William Roth), who keeps inserting himself into the situation and seems to have an unusual agenda of his own. That’s basically all I can say without spoiling too much. Basically, it’s all true to McDonagh’s style, with a pitch-dark sense of humor, a good deal of blood, and a cast of not especially likable characters who all have their own competing self-serving agendas.

A story like this depends on the right cast to make it really work, and STLAS has assembled an excellent group of performers here, led by the always-great Vogel in a confrontational performance as Carmichael. Vogel plays well against the also outstanding Roth as the enigmatic, gleefully disruptive Mervyn, who seems to hold the most power in this power struggle most of the time. Campbell, as the excitable Marilyn, and Lowe, as the often bewildered Toby, are also strong here, contributing to the overall excellent ensemble chemistry, consummately directed by Salomon with quick, sharp timing and palpable, suspenseful energy.

The small stage at STLAS’s Gaslight Theatre is effectively transformed into a small, seedy hotel room by means of Patrick Huber’s set. Huber’s lighting design and Salomon’s sound also contribute well to the overall atmosphere here. There’s also great work from costume and props designer Carla Landis Evans. The props are especially important, contributing to the macabre humor and overall shocking tone of this play.

A Behanding in Spokane is a superbly staged play, but it’s not for all audiences. It’s definitely in the “gruesome humor” category, with a special emphasis on “gruesome”. Still, there’s a first-rate cast here, and a sharp, compelling story and script. If super dark, bloody humor is your thing, this is a play to check out.

Jerry Vogel, Léerin Campbell, Michael Lowe
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting A Behanding in Spokane at the Gaslight Theatre until December 17, 2017.

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A Jewish Joke
by Phil Johnson and Marni Freedman
Directed by David Ellenstein
New Jewish Theatre
December 2, 2017

Phil Johnson
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre’s latest production, A Jewish Joke, is advertised with the tagline “A Drama About Comedy”. A one-man show starring one of the show’s playwrights, Phil Johnson, it’s a compelling drama. Looking at an important historical subject through the very personal lens of one comedy writer’s perspective, this show has an important story to tell, and for the most part, it tells it well.

The show takes place in the office of LA-based comedy writer Bernie Lutz (Johnson), who is getting ready for a the star-studded premiere of a new movie he’s written with his writing partner, Morris. Bernie and Morris have been on a roll of impending success lately, working on scripts for NBC as well as movies for stars Danny Kaye and the Marx Brothers. Bernie tells us stories about how he got into show business and about how he met Morris, as well as stories about his wife, Ellie, and various other writers including one he refers to as “Jimmy the Nice Guy”. He also talks about, and demonstrates with his jokes, the Jewish influence on American comedy writing. The atmosphere in Hollywood is hopeful for Bernie, but also somewhat tense, as suspicions abound concerning associations–either real or perceived–with the Communist party and related political movements. It’s the height of the “Red Scare” era of history, and merely being implicated as having Communist leanings is enough to ruin a career. In the midst of Bernie’s stories and jokes that he reads off of cards from a file box, we find out through a series of telephone calls that Bernie’s and Morris’s names have turned up on a list of suspected Communist sympathizers, which quickly puts their upcoming projects, including the glitzy premiere, in jeopardy. Through a series of phone calls and stories, we learn more and more of Bernie’s situation, and Morris’s, and the difficult and scary dilemma with which Bernie is confronted.

The show is presented well, with good production values and direction from David Ellenstein, costumes by Peter Herman, lighting by Nathan Schroeder, props by Laura Skroska, sound by Matt Lescault-Wood, and an engaging  performance from Johnson as Bernie. Mostly, this play functions as a personalized form of something many watching will only have read about. It’s a topic that still resonates today in several ways, but essentially as presented here, this is an intriguing period piece.

One-person shows depend so much on their central performance, and also a script that fleshes out the off-stage characters in a way that makes the audience “see” them even when they don’t actually appear. The biggest issue with this story is that I don’t feel satisfied hearing about these people solely from Bernie. The structure of the show revolves so much around telephone calls that a lot of the time is spent just waiting for the next one as Bernie rattles off more jokes, some of which are funny and some of which fall flat (maybe because I’ve heard them before). Johnson gives a fine, if sometimes overly flustered, performance as Bernie, but I kept wanting to see more characters than just him. I especially wanted to see his writing partner, Morris, make an appearance. In one way, that’s a good thing since the characters and situations are so well-defined by the script, but in another I’m not so sure because in a one-person show, the lead actor should be able to carry the stage without having the audience wish for more characters to appear.

A Jewish Joke tells a story that’s important not to forget. It anchors that story around its key central performance, and for the most part, that works, although I do find myself wondering if perhaps a different actor could make this story even more compelling. Still, Johnson introduces us to Bernie and makes this story personal in a convincing way. There’s only one more weekend to see it, and it’s worth checking out.

Phil Johnson
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting A Jewish Joke at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until December 10, 2017.

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Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed by Jenn Thompson
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
December 1, 2017

Kim Wong, Justine Salata, Austen Danielle Bohmer, Harveen Sandhu
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jane Austen sequels and adaptations are nothing new. From modernizations like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to mysteries like Death Comes to Pemberley to the countless fan stories on a multitude of sites online, writers like to get creative with Austen’s characters, with results ranging from puzzling to delightful. The latest production from the Rep, the funny and festive Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is solidly on the “delightful” end of the spectrum, with an impressive script, excellent production values and a top-notch cast.

As the title suggests, the story finds the familiar characters from Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, celebrating Christmas at the home of the now happily married Elizabeth (Harveen Sandhu) and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Rhett Guter). While Elizabeth, the main character of Pride and Prejudice, and Darcy are prominently featured, as are sisters Jane (Kim Wong) and Lydia (Austen Danielle Bohmer), the main focus of story is on the often neglected middle sister Mary (Justine Salata), portrayed here as earnest, socially awkward, and unsure of her own future as two of her sisters have married happily, one insists she’s happy in her marriage although evidence suggests otherwise, and another (the unseen Kitty) is happily spending the holiday with her aunt and uncle in London. Mary is determined to make the most of her time at Pemberley despite feeling overshadowed by her elder sisters and their husbands, and her sisters soon learn there is more to her than than had previously acknowledged. Also invited for the festivities is Lord Arthur de Bourgh (Miles G. Townsend), the scholarly and socially awkward nephew and surprising heir of the recently deceased Lady Catherine. Arthur, who is most at home among his books, isn’t comfortable with his new noble title and his unexpected inheritance of his late aunt’s home, but he’s intrigued by the Darcys and soon hits it off with Mary, as the two bond over mutual interests and soon have to deal with feelings neither of them had expected. But more surprises are in store as well, with some unpleasant news brought by Arthur’s imperious cousin, the late Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne de Bourgh (Victoria Frings).

As much as I love the source material, this show takes me as something of a surprise especially in terms of its sparkling wit and humor. I expected an interesting show, but I didn’t expect to laugh this much. I’m also impressed by how true to the spirit of Austen this story is, and how well-realized the characters are. The familiar characters of Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane and Mr. Bingley (Peterson Townsend), are here, as are Mary and Lydia, but the playwrights manage to do a great job of making them recognizable as Austen’s characters, but also of expanding on them, especially in the cases of Mary and the surprisingly nuanced Lydia. Mary has become a likable, relatable lead character here especially, delightfully played by Salata with a steely determination and a deliciously dry wit. She’s well-matched by Jackson’s highly physical, amiably awkward portrayal of Mary’s unlikely suitor Arthur de Bourgh. Their chemistry is delightful and, shall I say, adorkable. The rest of the cast is strong as well, with Sandhu’s warm, encouraging Elizabeth and Guter’s devoted Darcy, and Bohmer’s enigmatic Lydia the real standouts. What’s struck me especially about this production is the attention to the relationship of the sisters, and all four performers do well to portray a believable sisterly bond.  Ensemble members Max Bahneman, Johnny Briseno, and Molly Burris also contribute well to the story as the Pemberley household staff doubling as stagehands.

In addition to being wonderfully charming and witty, this production also looks wonderful. Wilson Chin’s sumtuously detailed set effectively brings the tastefully opulent Pemberley to the stage, and David Toser’s detailed period costumes add to the charm. It’s a Regency Christmas in all its festive glory, featuring Elizabeth’s new project, an unusual German custom called a “Christmas Tree”. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg and sound designer Philip S. Rosenberg.

This is such a fun show. With an outstanding lead performance and a first-rate supporting cast, along with stunning production values and and overall Austen-like atmosphere coupled with the festivity of the holiday season, this production is simply a winner. It’s a real treat for the holiday season. Go see it!

Justine Salata, Miles G. Jackson
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley until December 24, 2017.

 

 

 

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Steel Magnolias
by Robert Harling
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
November 30, 2017

Sarah Gene Dowling, Eileen Engel, Andra Harkins, Alison Linderer, Jenni Ryan
Photo by John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre’s latest production is of a well-known play that I, and I assume many others, have previously only seen in its even more well-known 1989 film version. On stage, Steel Magnolias is similar to the film in that it serves as an excellent showcase for a strong cast of women, only it’s notably different in structure and somewhat in focus. It’s a character study, essentially, not just of people but of a time and place as well.

Unlike the film that “opens up” the story and features some of the characters only talked about in the play, the stage version has an all-female cast and takes place in only one location, the small-town Louisiana beauty shop owned by personable stylist Truvy Jones (Sarah Gene Dowling). The play starts out as Truvy is hiring a new employee, the initially shy and guarded Annelle (Alison Linderer), and then the story unfolds in four scenes spanning a two-year period from April 1987 to November 1989. Over the course of the story, we meet several of the “regulars” in Truvy’s shop, learning about their characters and the atmosphere and traditions of the town in which they live and the people who populate their lives, even though we don’t actually meet anyone except for the six main characters. There’s the lovably cranky Ouiser (Andra Harkins) and her old friend, Clairee (Liz Mischel), who is the widow of the town’s former mayor and who shares a snarky but affectionate friendship with Ouiser. There’s also M’Lynn (Jenni Ryan), a local social worker and overworked mother whose eldest child Shelby (Eileen Engel) is preparing to get married. The story, while featuring all of the characters well, soon focuses primarily on M’Lynn and Shelby’s story, as we learn of Shelby’s desire to have children despite her serious health concerns, and M’Lynn’s struggle to accept her adult child’s decisions even when she doesn’t think they are wise. It’s a story full of character moments, lots of humor and stories of life in this small Southern town, as well as some poignant and even heartbreaking moments of drama. For the most part, though, even with the intense emotional moments, the overall tone is more comic than tragic, and the overall message seems to be one of hope through the up and down moments of life.

The casting here is strong, with all the performers suiting their roles well. Dowling gives a solid performance as the kind, dependable Truvy, and Linderer is especially impressive as the character who undergoes the most change in the play, the shy, then secretive, then fun-loving, then devout Annelle. Mischel and Harkins lend excellent support as the snarky but loving long-time friends Clairee and Ouiser, and Ryan and Engel portray a believable, poignant mother-daughter relationship as the concerned M’Lynn and the sometimes frustrating upbeat Shelby. The interplay between all six performers is strong, as well, which is essential to this play that depends largely on ensemble chemistry for its humor and its drama. The 1980’s look and atmosphere is well-maintained as well by means of Josh Smith’s detailed unit set, and the colorful, period-specific costumes by Engel and director Gary F. Bell. Tyler Duenow’s lighting also contributes well to the overall atmosphere of this production.

This is a story about women and their relationships, as friends, mothers, daughters, and neighbors. It’s also a specifically Southern play, with strong dialogue and a well-realized setting and tone. It’s essentially the same story as the 1989 film, but the structure makes some of the story elements play a little differently, and the overall tone is more intimate. It’s another memorable show from Stray Dog Theatre.

Alison Linderer, Liz Mischel, Andra Harkins, Eileen Engel
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Steel Magnolias at Tower Grove Abbey until December 16, 2017.

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