Archive for April, 2022

Triassic Parq: The Musical
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Marshall Pailet
Book and Lyrics by Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Michael Hodges
Stray Dog Theatre
April 15, 2022

Rachel Bailey, Bryce Miller, Tristan Davis, Michael Wells, Dawn Schmid
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is going on a modern prehistoric adventure with an entertainingly goofy show that presents itself as a parody of a well-known book and movie franchise. It’s not Jurassic Park, but it is, sort of; or it uses that story as a starting point before going its own way, with its funny title, silly and frequently raunchy humor, and dinosaurs galore. In fact, it’s the dinosaurs who take center stage here, played by an impressive, enthusiastic cast, and featuring some catchy songs and eye-catching production values. 

This story leans into the silly humor, and the dinosaur-theming. The lead characters are dinosaurs, and the humans are mostly only mentioned and not seen, with one notable exception–a funny “cameo” by initial narrator Morgan Freeman (Laurell Stevenson) Even the band is presented as made up of dinosaurs. billed as Pianosaurus (Leah Schultz), Guitarotops (Adam Rugo), and Drumadon (Joe Winters). Pianosaurus even figures into the story and interacts with the main characters at various points. Those main characters are, as one might expect knowing the source material, mostly velociraptors and t-rexes, with the addition of another dino called “Mime-A-Saurus” (Bryce Miller) who figures into the story both as a character and as occasional scenery. The key figures are a trio of velociraptors, The Velociraptors of Faith (Michael Wells), Innocence (Tristan Davis), and Science (also Stevenson), as well as two tyrannosaurs, T-Rex 1 or “Kaitlyn” (Dawn Schmid), and her BFF T-Rex 2 (Rachel Bailey). As is explained in the intro that echoes the film, all the dinosaurs are female, or are supposed to be, so they won’t reproduce. Well, that may have been the plan, but soon T-Rex 2 starts exhibiting some strange symptoms and behavior, which leads to some complicated situations which disrupt the established order of things that has been emphasized and enforced by the dinosaurs’ de facto leader and spiritual advisor Faith, who leads the dinosaurs’ religion that centers around worshiping the lab that produced them, as well as hiding uncomfortable truths from Innocence, who Faith refers to as her “Little Miracle”, and is consistently given special treatment, which both confuses and fascinates Innocence. In the midst of the chaos that’s building from T-Rex 2’s discovery as well as Faith’s continued avoidance and efforts to hide uncomfortable truths, Innocence goes on a quest to find the “Exiled One”, Science, who has been sent away from the others after a conflict with Faith. In the midst of the story, the referential humor continues, with jokes involving lines and events especially from the first of the Jurassic Park films. 

While there is a message here, which seems to be a lot about fear of the unknown (as director Justin Been points out in his note in the program), as well as the need for honesty and communication, what stands out the most is the over-the-top humor, including the dinosaur puns, referential jokes, raunchy moments, and more. The songs are mostly rock-based, and are presented well by the cast, who are in excellent voice. The comic timing is strong, as is the ensemble chemistry, with impressive individual performances from all, with a particularly strong turn from Davis as Innocence, who brings a great deal of presence, likability, and soaring vocals to the role. Stevenson is also a standout in two notable roles as well as a small ensemble role, showing off especially strong comic abilities. Schmid as Kaitlyn/T-Rex 1 has a strong voice as well, and a fun, quirky energy, working well with the equally strong Bailey as the conflicted T-Rex 2. Wells, as Faith, handles a difficult role well, and Miller, as Mime-O-Saurus, adds some fun comic moments especially with physical comedy. 

The look and atmosphere here are eye-catching, with a well-realized set by Josh Smith that effectively evokes the setting of the source film without exactly copying it. There’s also dazzling lighting by Tyler Duenow, as well as whimsical, colorful costumes by Eileen Engel that suit the characters well, presenting them as dinosaurs in a more stylized rather than literal way, with some flashy, rock-band like looks. And speaking of bands, there’s a great one here, led by music director Schultz, who also does well with a few small acting moments. The choreography, by Michael Hodges, is energetic and in keeping with the spirit of the production, as well.

This show started at the New York Fringe Festival before eventually running Off-Broadway, and it has the look and attitude of a fringe production. It’s not super deep or profound, and many of its themes have been done before, but it’s fun, flashy, and at SDT, boasts a great cast with strong voices and lots of enthusiasm. It provides for a fun evening at the theatre, especially if you like raunchy, irreverent humor and memorable, rock-based singing. It’s another crowd-pleaser from SDT.

Dawn Schmid, Michael Wells, Laurell Stevenson, Tristan Davis, Bryce Miller, Rachel Bailey
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Triassic Parq: the Musical at Tower Grove Abbey until April 30, 2022

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Hand to God
by Robert Askins
Directed by Andrea Urice
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
April 8, 2022

Phoebe Richards, Mitchell Henry-Eagles
Photo: St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Hand to God is one of those sharp, crass, biting comedies that’s not for all audiences, with crude humor, strong language, and uncomfortable subject matter. Still, it has a lot to say, in the words of its human and puppet characters. Onstage at St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s Gaslight Theater, STLAS’s latest production brings a lot of laughs from the audience, but for me, what shows through the most is an underlying sadness, considering the situation of the characters involved, and the culture in which they live.  

The play takes place mostly in the basement of a church, where the recently widowed Margery (Colleen Backer) is trying to channel her grief into leading a youth puppet ministry. It’s not a very big or enthusiastic effort, with only three teens involved, whose attitudes range from apathy to outright hostility, but there’s a sense of urgency because the pastor keeps asking Margery about their progress, and wants them to perform in front of the church at an upcoming service. The group includes the abrasive, foul-mouthed Timmy (Josh Rotker), the generally amiable but slightly snarky Jessica (Phoebe Richards), and Margery’s insecure son Jason (Mitchell Henry-Eagles), who seems to channel his own conflicted feelings through his puppet Tyrone. The problem is that Tyrone increasingly appears to have a mind of his own, and often appears to be telling Jason what to do rather than the other way around. The main focus here is on Jason and the increasingly difficult and ultimately menacing Tyrone, who also opens and closes the show with a pair of especially caustic, cynical monologues that only serve to emphasize the overall chaos of the world in which these characters live. In the story itself, Tyrone appears relatively passive at first, then starts injecting a few inappropriate comments into Jason’s conversations, and things get more extreme when Jason has an opportunity to take out his anger on the puppet, and Tyrone strikes back with a vengeance, affecting everyone in the play in various ways. We also get to see the strained relationship between Margery and Jason, as well as  Margery’s efforts to handle her own grief, which begin to spiral in a dangerous direction, as Timmy continues to antagonize her. There are also the awkward efforts of Pastor Greg (Eric Dean White)–who makes his attraction to Margery painfully obvious–to intervene in various ways. A variety of over-the-top, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright cringeworthy situations ensue, along with desperate and hilarious efforts to “fix” the situation caused by the out-of-control puppet Tyrone. There are also the questions of Jason’s involvement–is he consciously or unconsciously acting out his frustrations through Tyrone, or does the puppet really have a mind of his own? 

This is a show that depends a lot on timing and casting, and it impresses in those areas especially. The quick pacing adds to the overall darkly comic tone, and the cast is first-rate, led by a truly remarkable performance from Henry-Eagles as the conflicted Jason and his crass and increasingly domineering puppet, Tyrone. Henry-Eagles doesn’t miss a beat in the interplay between these two characters, also doing well with a snippet of a classic comedy routine early in the play, and credibly ramping up the intensity as events start to spiral out of control as the play goes on. Backer is also excellent as Margery, who seems meek at first, but shows more emotion and conflicting reactions as her own situation heads in a disturbing direction. White is effective as the sometimes painfully awkward Pastor Greg, and there are also strong performances from Rotker as the confrontational Timmy, and Richards as Jessica, who comes across as perhaps the most level-headed of the characters.  

Technically, the play is impressive, making the most of STLAS’s small stage with an excellent detailed set by Patrick Huber that effectively transforms from basement/classroom to Pastor Greg’s Office as needed. The truly remarkable puppet and prop design by Jenny Smith and STLAS is also memorable, as are the well-suited costumes by Teresa Doggett. There’s also strong work from lighting designer Steve Miller, sound designer Robin Weatherall, fight choreographer Cameron Ulrich, and intimacy choreographer Dominique (Nikki) Green. 

This show is definitely a comedy, but I found myself thinking a lot more about the pain behind the comic situations much of the time while the audience laughed around me. Much has been written over the years about the relationship between comedy and pain/sadness/tragedy, and that relationship is on clear display here. It’s a show that will make audiences laugh, but also can make them think, and notice just how messed up most of the characters’ lives are, as are the circumstances that got them to where they are, as well as a culture that seems to emphasize “putting on a good face” over honesty. At STLAS, what Hand to God has going for it most notably is a strong cast of impressive local performers. 

Eric Dean White, Colleen Backer
Photo: St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting Hand to God at the Glaslight Theater until April 24, 2022

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