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Archive for the ‘St Louis Theatre’ Category

Nonsense and Beauty
by Scott C. Sickles
Directed by Seth Gordon
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Studio
March 17, 2019

Jeffrey Hayenga, Robbie Simpson
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep’s closing production for its 2018-2019 Studio season is a world premiere, which had a reading last year at the Rep’s Ignite! New Play Festival. Nonsense and Beauty is a poignant story that’s inspired by real events and people, most notably the 20th Century English author E.M. Forster (A Room With a View, Howards End, etc.). With simple, effective staging and an especially strong cast, this is a compelling, promising new play.

In first hearing about this play and what it’s about, I did a little bit of research of my own because while I had known that Forster was gay, I didn’t know about his long relationship with English police officer Bob Buckingham, which is the basis of this play. Here, playwright Scott C. Sickles tells the story of their relationship and their relationships to other important figures in their lives. In fact, the effect of the play makes it more of the story of a small group than of the one couple in particular, although that relationship is at the center. The story is also the story of a different time in history, in which gay relationships not only carried a social stigma, but were actually illegal in the United Kingdom. So, when Forster (Jeffrey Hayenga) is first introduced to young Bob (Robbie Simpson) by his friend, J.R. “Joe” Ackerley (John Feltch), there’s an air of secrecy about how they conduct their relationship, and the social and legal pressures on Bob as a police officer are also made apparent. Still, the relationship grows with a sense of sweet simplicity despite the societal pressures, until Bob meets May (Lori Vega), a vivacious young nurse with whom he begins a flirtation that eventually leads to marriage. Needless to say, this complicates the situation with Forster, called Morgan by his friends and Edward by his imperious mother, Lily (Donna Weinsting). For Morgan, Bob is the great love for which his has waited, but for Bob, the situation becomes especially complicated since he seems to genuinely love both Morgan and May, and almost despite himself, Morgan begins to admire May as well. Although Lily’s presence is an obvious influence on Morgan, the real drama and focus in this play is on the relationship dynamics between Morgan, Bob, May, and Joe. The story plays out over several decades, with an air of poignancy and sadness about it, although there are elements of hope as well.

It’s a well-constructed play, for the most part, although the first act seems slow at times and some characters are more developed than others, it’s ultimately a fascinating play, exploring the complexities of love and friendship in an extremely restrictive time and place. The direction is simple and effective, and the casting is especially strong, particularly of Hayenga, who shines as the sensitive, loyal and initially lonely Forster, and Feltch as the devoted, occasionally snarky Joe. Vega is also excellent as May, and Simpson gives a fine performance as Bob as well, displaying strong chemistry with both Hayenga and Vega. Weinsting makes a memorable impression in the small but significant role of Forster’s mother Lily, as well, although for the play itself, her character seems the most extraneous. It’s a strong, especially cohesive ensemble, making the most of Sickles’ thoughtful, literate script.

Technically, the show is simply staged in the round. The set, designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge, is sparse, consisting of a simple square performance area and some furniture as needed. Bembridge also designed the lighting, which is especially evocative and helps set the tone of the play well. There’s also excellent sound design by Rusty Wandall, and well-suited period costumes by Felia K. Davenport. Overall, the technical aspects support the mood and style of the piece and reflect its period setting well.

Nonsense and Beauty is a compelling new play, with a sense of time, place, and character that’s well-defined, although it could use a little bit more defining here and there. Ultimately, it’s an effective, evocative and highly personal focus on the life and relationships of an important literary figure who was a real person, not just a name to read about in English class. It’s an excellent production to close out the season at the Rep Studio, and it’s a highly promising new play.

Robbie Simpson, Jeffrey Hayenga, Lori Vega, John Feltch
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Nonsense and Beauty in its Studio Theatre until March 24, 2019

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La Cage aux Folles
Book by Harvey Fierstein, Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Choreographed by Michelle Sauer and Sarah Rae Womack
New Line Theatre
March 16, 2019

Zachary Allen Farmer, Robert Doyle
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre has staged another remarkable production with their rendition of the modern classic musical La Cage aux Folles. As often happens at New Line, this production distills the essence of the show and brings out its human drama, emphasizing character and relationships, along with the excellent singing that I’ve come to expect from this company. In addition, it’s also sparkly and dazzling, with a strong ensemble and a truly stunning performance from one of New Line’s most recognizable players.

This production is also my introduction to this show, in terms of seeing it live. I’d heard the score many times, and seen clips of televised performances of some of the songs, but I’d never seen a production of the show before until now. I did know the story, though. It focuses on performers in a drag show at a nightclub in St. Tropez, France. Georges (Robert Doyle) is the MC of the show, and his longtime partner Albin (Zachary Allen Farmer) is the star of the show, performing as “Zaza” and backed by Les Cagelles (Jake Blonstein, Dominic Dowdy-Windsor, Evan Fornachon, Tim Kaniecki, Clayton Humburg, and Ian McCreary). Offstage, Georges and Albin live in an apartment over the club, and are attended by the enthusiastic butler/maid Jacob (Tiélere Cheatem), who is also an aspiring drag performer who wants to be in the show. Georges has a son, Jean-Michel (Kevin Corpuz), whom Georges and Albin have raised together. Now, Jean-Michel has returned with announcement–he’s engaged, and his fiancée, Anne (Zora Vredeveld) is the daughter of a prominent ultra-conservative political candidate, and he’s invited her parents (Kent Coffel and Mara Bollini) to meet his parents, but with a twist that leads to much examination of relationships, identity, and the sense of belonging for Albin, Georges, Jean-Michel and eventually most of the cast. This version is based on the most recent London and Broadway revivals, with a smaller cast than the original Broadway production, but with the catchy, memorable Jerry Herman score intact, as well as Harvey Fierstein’s insightful book and the memorable lead characters.

Casting-wise, this production shines, and particularly as a showcase for one of New Line’s most prolific performers. Thinking of all the shows I’ve seen at New Line since the first one I saw (Next to Normal) in 2013, it’s easier for me to count the shows Zachary Allen Farmer hasn’t performed in than the ones in which he has appeared. Still, seeing him here as Albin/Zaza is something of a revelation. Farmer is always excellent, but he’s especially so here, bringing out a depth and richness to both his acting and his always remarkable vocals on songs like the title number and especially the fiery “I Am What I Am” and the catchy “The Best of Times”.  Also, as with the best of performers, he brings a sheer level of stage presence that not only lights up the stage, but energizes everyone around him. A particular beneficiary of this energizing is Doyle as Georges, who starts off slowly but gets better and better as the show goes along, especially in his scenes with Farmer. The two have a strong, believable chemistry that lends poignancy to their characters’ relationship as a couple, exemplified in Georges’s ballad “Song of the Sand” and its duet reprise. Also standing out is Cheatem is a delightfully scene-stealing performance as the stylishly determined Jacob. There’s also strong support from Lindsey Jones as Georges and Albin’s friend, the vivacious restaurateur Jacqueline, and by Corpuz, who gives a strong performance as Jean-Michel, who also has convincing chemistry with Vredeveld as the sweet but little-seen Anne. Coffel and Bollini are also memorable in dual roles as two very different couples–the supportive, friendly Renauds and the more severe Dindons. There’s also excellent support from Joel Hackbarth as the club’s stage manager Francis and memorable, energetic singing and dancing from les Cagelles.

Visually, this show is striking, with a bold, flashy and very pink set by Rob Lippert, who also designed the excellent lighting. Sarah Porter deserves special mention for her spectacular costumes, from the sparkling Cagelles outfits to Jacob’s memorable attire, to Albin/Zaza’s array of eye-ctaching ensembles, many of which have a mid-80s vibe. There’s also an excellent New Line Band conducted by Music Director and pianist Nicolas Valdez, and vibrant choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, performed with flair by the cast.

This is a show I’d heard a lot about, and I knew some of the songs well, but I hadn’t seen it on stage until New Line brought it to the stage with its usual insightful, inventive style. This is a fun show with a lot of flash, but it’s also a very human show, with poignancy and wit and charm. It’s another winning production from New Line.

Cast of La Cage Aux Folles
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is presenting La Cage au Folles at the Marcelle Theatre until March 23, 2019

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The Play That Goes Wrong
by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields
Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
March 15, 2019

Michael Keyloun, Ka-Ling Cheung, Evan Zes
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The expression “hilarity ensues” easily comes to mind when thinking of the Rep’s latest production, The Play That Goes Wrong. In fact, that expression itself is an accurate and succinct description of the play itself. While a lot goes on in this show, the emphasis is on physical comedy, mile-a-minute humor, and, especially, the element of surprise. It’s a wild and wacky show, even if it’s not really about anything other than generating as many laughs as possible, and the Rep’s version boasts an energetic, comedically gifted cast.

The basic conceit of this play is initially reminiscent of another celebrated farce that has been staged memorably at the Rep–Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. Like with that play, the basic idea is that a theatrical company is putting on a production, and nothing happens as planned. What’s different here is that the action begins before the play-within-a-play officially begins, as actors and “crew members” wander the house looking for a lost dog, or a Duran Duran CD, and sometimes enlisting audience members to help repair elements of the already-crumbling set. Eventually, the play’s director and star, Chris Bean (Michael Keyloun) enters and introduces his company–the Cornley University Drama Society–and their play, The Murder at Haversham Manor. Bean plays Inspector Carter, who is investigating the murder of Charles Haversham, played by Jonathan Harris (Benjamin Curns), who starts out the play lying “dead” on a couch and trying to stay “dead” as various mishaps occur around him. The story of the play involves trying to solve the murder amid the various intrigues that arise, involving Haversham’s fiancée, Florence Colleymore played by Sandra Wilkinson (Ruth Pfirdehirt), her brother Thomas played by Robert Grove (John Rapson), and Haversham’s brother Cecil played by Max Bennett (Matthew McGloin). There’s also bumbling butler, Perkins played by Dennis Tyde (Evan Zes). While the story plays out and gets more and more absurd as it goes along, lighting and sound operator Trevor Watson (Ryan George) and stage manager Annie Twilloil (Ka-Ling Cheung) become increasingly involved in the antics onstage as well, in increasingly surprising and hilarious ways.

This isn’t the most original of concepts, but a show like this depends on the execution, timing, and energy more than a witty script. The fictional show-within-a-show is basically a stock English murder mystery, and the characters are stock concept characters, but the “play-within-a-play” conceit adds to the humor in that we see the actors acting—one who’s constantly appearing at the wrong time, another who repeatedly mispronounces words, another who responds enthusiastically to audience applause and hams it up accordingly. The stage crew members also become unexpectedly enlisted in the onstage performance, and a hilarious competition ensues as a result. More laughs come in the form of physical comedy, pratfalls, mishaps, and general mayhem that involves the actors, the props, and gradually more and more elements of the set. I won’t give too much away in terms of detail, but I will say that there are so many jokes and gags here that once you start laughing, it’s hard to stop because there’s always something that comes along to add to the pandemonium.

In a show like this in which everything is so chaotic, precision in the staging is essential, and director Melissa Rain Anderson has impressively managed to order the mayhem with energy and style. The technical aspects here are wondrous, as well, especially in the form of Peter and Margery Spack’s spectacularly whimsical set, which is the source of a lot of the unexpected humor here. There’s also top-notch lighting by Kirk Bookman and sound by Rusty Wandall, as well as delightfully colorful costumes by Lauren T. Roark.

The casting here assembles some stalwart comedy veterans of the Rep along with other impressive performers making their Rep debuts. Everyone is excellent, with strong comic timing and deliciously over-the-top performances, with the standouts being Keyloun and Rapson for their impressive physical comedy, McGloin for his delightful self-satisfied mugging, Zes for his expertly inept use of language as well as physicality, and especially Cheung for her increasingly determined, delightfully deadpan turn as stage manager and last-minute understudy.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a hilarious closer for the Rep’s 2018-2019 season, the last under retiring Artistic Director Steven Woolf. It’s one of those “throw in all the jokes and see what happens” kind of shows, staged with energy, style, and a lot of impressive technical prowess. It’s not the cleverest or wittiest of its type, but it’s still a whole lot of fun.

Ruth Pferdehirt, Matthew McGloin
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting The Play That Goes Wrong until April 7, 2019

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Well
by Lisa Kron
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
March 14, 2019

Lori Adams, Katy Keating
Photo by Ann K Photography
Mustard Seed Theatre

 

Well is an intensely personal play. The latest production from Mustard Seed Theatre assembles a top-notch cast to tell playwright Lisa Kron’s autobiographical tale that deals with health and wellness in various different aspects, physical, emotional, and relational. Essentially a comedy, there are some serious issues tackled here as well, and though the structure does seem a bit pretentious at times, it’s the personal relationships and connections, along with the strong performances, that make this production especially memorable.

Even though Well, as it’s written, is personal in itself, the original casting made it even more so, as playwright Kron played herself, surrounded by actors playing all the other roles, which I would imagine adds to the whole “meta” aspect of the story and the way it all plays out. Here, Kron is played by the excellent Katy Keating, who does an especially admirable job inhabiting the role, although the aspect of artifice is still there in a way it isn’t when the playwright is playing herself. That’s a difference that’s inherent to the situation, though, and it’s one that all regional productions of this play are going to share. This is one of those plays that announces its theatricality in its very structure, and with Kron’s witty, insightful script and Mustard Seed’s strong cast, that concept works. Here, Kron (Keating) starts out introducing the concept of her play, only to be interrupted by her mother, Ann (Lori Adams), who has dealt with chronic illness for as long as Lisa can remember. As Lisa tells the story, tales from her childhood and young adulthood are acted out by her and the rest of cast (Alica Revé Like, Carl Overly Jr., Bob Thibault, and Leslie Wobbe), highlighting her own experiences with illness and her mother’s theories about allergies, as well as Ann’s efforts to encourage racial diversity in their Michigan community in the 1960s and 70s. The structure is spelled out at the beginning, due to Ann’s intervention, the story, Lisa’s memories, and the very concept of the play are put under further scrutiny as the purpose for the story is made clear to the audience and to Lisa herself. Ultimately, this is an examination of the playwrights relationship with her mother, and with her own perspective and how that perspective has influenced her own thoughts and attitudes about life itself.

The structure of the play can seem a little overly and obviously “deconstructed” at times, but the overall concept is still compelling, especially as staged by the excellent company at Mustard Seed and led by Keating’s remarkable performance as Lisa. The story is about her, and even as her plans start to fall apart around her, Keating’s relatable presence anchors the show. Adams, as Ann, is also excellent, and the scenes between her and Keating are especially compelling. The rest of the players play their various roles well, in addition, lending solid support to Keating and Adams, as well as to the story and concept of the play itself.

The plays deconstructional nature is reflected well in its staging, as well, and its half-realistic, half-abstract set designed by Bess Moynihan. Ann’s house is well-realized on one side, while the other half of the stage is more open and adaptable. The lighting by Michael Sullivan adds to the overall tone of the show, along with Zoe Sullivan’s sound design and Jane Sullivan’s costumes, which suit the characters well and add a touch of symbolism and connection between the characters, especially Lisa and Ann.

Overall, Well is a memorable, character-driven look at personal relationships as well as attitudes toward physical, emotional, and community health. It’s particularly well-cast, even if the autobiographical aspect is altered slightly from its original presentation. It’s especially effective as a showcase for its superb cast. This is another thoughtful, memorable production from Mustard Seed Theatre.

Katy Keating, Bob Thibault, Carl Overly Jr., Leslie Wobbe, Alica Revé Like
Photo by Ann K Photography
Mustard Seed Theatre

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Farragut North
by Beau Willimon
Directed by Wayne Salomon
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
February 16, 2019

Spencer Sickmann, Joshua Parrack, David Wassilak, Shannon Nara
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio hits the campaign trail in its latest production, Farragut North. Taking an incisive, often harsh look at the world of contemporary political campaigns, this play features some sharply drawn characters and intense situations and a thought-provoking, occasionally witty script.  Onstage at STLAS’s Gaslight Theatre, this production features a strong cast of excellent local performers.

This play was also the source material for the 2011 film The Ides of March, although if you’ve seen that movie, don’t think you know what’s going to happen in this play, because it’s quite a bit different even though the initial situation and some of the characters are the same. The play opens in the midst of a fictionalized 2008 primary race, as campaign staffers for a leading Democratic presidential candidate gather at their hotel bar and swap stories. The central figure is Stephen Bellamy (Spencer Sickmann), the candidate’s press secretary, who is confident of victory in the upcoming caucus, and of the endorsement of a major political figure that will help their candidate emerge as the front-runner in the presidential race. Stephen’s boss, campaign manager Paul Zara (David Wassilak), is also confident as he prepares to travel to an important meeting in another state. As Stephen and Paul tell their stories, a newer staffer, the young and promising Ben (Joshua Parrack) listens, as does ambitious journalist Ida (Shannon Nara), who is eager for every juicy scoop that Stephen can give her. The situation for Stephen gets more complicated when Tom Duffy (Peter Mayer), the campaign manager for another prominent candidate, calls and requests a confidential meeting, and Stephen debates whether or not he should tell Paul. In the midst of the intrigue that results from the meeting, Stephen also navigates a burgeoning personal relationship with an ambitious young intern, Molly (Hollyn Gayle), and Stephen finds out that the campaign situation isn’t as simple as he had imagined. As new twists emerge, Stephen finds himself in the midst of several difficult dilemmas, and his own personal goals as well as those of his colleagues and candidate, undergo some intense challenges.

The centerpiece of the this play is Stephen’s emotional journey, which is deftly navigated here by the always excellent Sickmann, who brings an accessible relatability to his especially determined, sometimes difficult character. Wassilak is also strong as the dedicated political veteran Paul, and Mayer makes the most of his limited stage time as the tough-talking, hard bargaining Tom. There are also excellent turns from Parrack as the idealistic, aspirational young Ben, and Nara as the persistent Ida. Luis Aguilar, in a dual role as a waiter and another campaign staffer, and Gayle as Molly are also fine, although Gayle’s portrayal isn’t quite as worldly as the character seems to suggest. The strongest moments are the scenes between Sickmann and Wassilak, and Sickmann and Mayer, which crackle with energy and intensity as the intrigue of the well-constructed plot unfolds.

Technically, this production uses its space well, with a versatile if somewhat stark set by Patrick Huber. The characters are well outfitted by costume designer Andrea Robb, as well. Huber also designed the lighting, which works well to set and establish the mood and tone of the show, as does director Wayne Salomon’s sound design.

This is an intense, taut, intriguing political thriller, with much of the intensity coming from the characters’ big personalities and the great cast’s memorable performances. It’s a decidedly cynical, sometimes bleak take on the world of politics, although hints of idealism show up from time to time, only to be crushed by harsh realities and the reminder that anyone on a campaign, no matter how seemingly essential, can be replaced. St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s production brings these stark realities to the stage with crisp, biting incisiveness.  There’s one more weekend to catch it.

Peter Mayer, Spencer Sickmann
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting Farragut North at the Gaslight Theatre until February 24, 2019

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Milk Like Sugar
by Kirsten Greenidge
Directed by Nicole Brewer
The Black Rep
February 15, 2019

The Black Rep’s reputation for insightful, thought-provoking theatre continues this month with their latest production, Kirsten Greenidge’s Milk Like Sugar. A challenging piece centering on a group of black teenagers in what could be essentially any state in America, this play shines light on the legacy of systemic racism and the challenges and roadblocks that exist for African-American youth in today’s society. It’s not a long play, but it has a lot to say.

Running at approximately 90 minutes with no intermission, Milk Like Sugar takes the audience into the world of Annie (Brandi Threatts) and her friends as Annie prepares to celebrate her 16th birthday. The program lists the time frame as 2004/2005, and the place as “any urban city”, and the Director’s Note in the program highlights the themes of the play and the ubiquity of the situations presented here. Annie and her two best friends, Talisha or “T” (Tyler White) and Margie (Camille Sharp) wait in a tattoo parlor as the play begins, trying to decide on a tattoo for Annie’s birthday and a way to symbolize an agreement they’ve made to all become mothers at the same time. Margie is already expecting, and as she envisions a joint baby shower for the three friends, the girls talk about how Annie, who doesn’t have a boyfriend, can fulfill her part in the pact. There’s a boy, Malik (Dwayne McCowan), who seems to like Annie, and her friends are encouraging her to make a move. Still, Annie isn’t sure, about Malik or about the agreement, even though she allows herself to get caught up in her friends’ dreaming at first, and talk of older men (like Talisha’s unseen boyfriend), cell phones as status symbols, designer diaper bags, and more. As the play continues, we see that Annie’s home life is hectic, as her mother Myrna (Michelle Dillard) works in a demanding, unfulfilling job and dreams of becoming a writer, all while she discourages Annie from spending too much focus on school. Meanwhile, she meets a new girl at school, Keera (Jillian Franks) who is always talking about church and an idealized family life; the astronomy-minded Malik tries to interest Annie in the stars, while his own home life is also complicated; and tattooist Antwoine (Brian McKinley) tells of his own artistic pursuits. The authority figures here–parents and teachers–seem to be either absent, self-absorbed, or transient, and as Annie tries to figure out her own place in the world, she often finds confusion and conflict. It’s a challenging, compelling look at life amid a system of ingrained racism and a cycle of poverty.

There are some strong performances here, particularly from Threatts, who embodies a mixture of cynicism and hope as the conflicted Annie, and from Franks as the quirky, devout Keera, whose life is more complicated than it may first appear, as well as Sharp and White as Margie and Talisha, and McCowan as the stargazing Malik. McKinley, as Antwoine and Dillard as Myrna are also excellent in their roles, and the energy and chemistry among the friends is especially strong. The production values are also memorable, with scenic designer Rama’s symbolic, all-white set (except for Malik’s telescope), atmospheric lighting by Sean Savoie, realistic character-appropriate costumes by Marissa Perry, and excellent sound by Kareem Deanes.

The world of Annie and her friends is immediate and credible, with characters whose humanity and need for love and support shines through even in harshness of some of the situations. This is a stark, challenging play that’s sure to provoke thought and necessary conversation. It’s another memorable production from the Black Rep.

The Black Rep is presenting Milk Like Sugar at Washington University’s A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre until March 3, 2019

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Exit, Pursued by a Bear
by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Teresa Doggett
West End Players Guild
February 9, 2019

Alex Fyles, Lexa Wroniak Photo: West End Players Guild

In a St. Louis theatre weekend that featured the opening of two shows that were on the longer side, West End Players Guild’s offering veers toward the other extreme. At approximately 75 minutes with no intermission, prolific playwright Lauren Gunderson’s Exit, Pursued By a Bear has a quick pace and quirky structure to go with that brief running time. On stage at West End’s usual venue in the basement of Union Avenue Christian Church, this play features an enthusiastic cast and a lot of broad humor, and for what is being billed as a “revenge comedy”, for the most part it’s surprisingly upbeat.

The story follows Nan Carter (Lexa Wroniak), who isn’t related to former President Jimmy Carter, but she seems to wish she was because she seems to have memorized his writings, and she quotes him a lot. Nan is married to Kyle (Alex Fyles), a somewhat stereotypical brutish redneck husband who has neglected and abused Nan for too long, and now Nan has decided to take action. The play begins with Kyle duct-taped to a chair, and with his mouth covered with tape as well. Nan, along with her new friend, stripper and aspiring actress Sweetheart (Tara Ernst), and her old friend, Simon (Ethan Isaac)–who shows up in a cheerleading uniform complete with skirt at first–has decided to act out a little play to teach Kyle a lesson. Then, as she tells Kyle many times, she plans to surround him with packages of frozen venison (from the deer that Kyle has personally poached) and honey, leaving him at the mercy of the black bears in the area. Needless to say, Kyle isn’t happy, and he tries to plead his case during the moments when Nan removes the duct tape from his mouth.

The subject matter here could easily have been turned into something much darker than how this play has turned out. In fact, I was expecting something darker and grittier, but this play leads with the comedy more than the darkness. It’s an exercise in revenge fantasy, but with a more hopeful conclusion than other playwrights may have chosen. It certainly doesn’t excuse Kyle’s brutish behavior, but the focus is much more on Nan and her own personal journey of liberation, as well as her bonds of friendship with Sweatheart and Simon, along with the ideas of “chosen family” and the importance of new friends and old. Through a clever stylized structure that makes use of a screen to project a script outline throughout the course of the story, the theatrical nature of the show itself and the actions within the story are played up. I won’t say much else about the plot, except that, true to the overall tone of the play, the conclusion tends to major on hope rather than something more on the grim side. This is all played out on an excellent, remarkably detailed set by Robert M. Kapeller, and with director Teresa Doggett’s colorful, character-appropriate costumes, along with memorable projections by Michael B. Perkins, excellent lighting by Amy Ruprecht and equally excellent sound by Kareem Deanes.

Although there is a bit of stereotyping, the characters are quirky and interesting, for the most part, and the performances are strong, with Ernst and Isaac almost stealing the show in their roles, which are more broadly comedic than those of Nan and Kyle. Wroniak and Fyles, for their parts, are also strong, with Fyles managing to bring more than one dimension out of Kyle, and Wroniak presenting Nan’s case in a relatable way that’s sure to make the audience root for her. The ensemble chemistry is great as well, especially between Wroniak, Ernst, and Isaac.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear isn’t as intense as I had been expecting. In fact, as plays about revenge go, it’s especially on the tame side. What’s here, though, is a collection of quirky characters and a message of empowerment along with, in keeping with Nan’s plan, a dose of honey. There’s little, if any, real sympathy for Kyle, but that’s part of the point. The sympathy, and the story, is with Nan and her friends. This is a short play, and not as deep as it maybe could have been, but what it does have is energy, and at WEPG, a quick pace and a great cast.

Tara Ernst, Ethan Isaac
Photo: West End Players Guild

West End Players Guild is presenting Exit, Pursued by a Bear at Union Avenue Christian Church until February 17, 2019

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