Posts Tagged ‘brooke edwards’

The Killing of Sister George
by Frank Marcus
Directed by Brooke Edwards
Max & Louie Productions
July 12, 2015

Shannon Nara, Erin Kelley, Lavonne Byers, Cooper Shaw Photo by Max & Louie Productions

Shannon Nara, Erin Kelley, Lavonne Byers, Cooper Shaw
Photo by
Max & Louie Productions

What a difference 50 years makes.  The Killing of Sister George apparently caused quite a scandal when it debuted in 1965, due to its then-daring subject matter. Today, the play isn’t as shocking as it would have been half a century ago, but it’s still relevant in many ways. In fact, there are issues in this play that are probably more noticable now because of the lack of “scandal”.  As presented by Max  & Louie Productions, it’s an ideally cast production with a colorful 1960’s aesthetic and sharp, incisive humor.

The title of the play refers to June Buckridge (Lavonne Byers), an actress in a BBC radio drama who is so invested in her character, the moped-riding small-town nurse Sister George, that her friends actually call her “George”.  She also frequently talks about the characters on the show as if they’re real. George shares a flat with the younger, seemingly childlike Alice “Childie” McNaught (Shannon Nara). The two are obviously romantically involved, although that’s not explicitly stated. George is growing increasingly insecure because she thinks her character on the show may be killed off, and she’s also extremely jealous and possessive of Childie, who she apparently is afraid will cheat on her with a man. When one of the BBC executives, the prim and scheming Mrs. Mercy Croft (Erin Kelley) comes to call, George is sure that her days on the show are numbered, and Childie is concerned about her own security in various ways. Their volatile relationship is witnessed by their neighbor, the good-natured self-professed psychic Madame Xenia (Cooper Shaw), who seems to genuinely like George and distrust Childie.

The show is, appropriately, not updated for setting. It’s very much of a 1960s sensibility, and so the setting and costumes are all appropriately in-period. The production values are meticulously detailed, particularly in the costumes, designed by Bess Moynihan. Each character’s costumes reflect their personality with precision, from George’s dowdy attire, to Mrs. Mercy Croft’s severe, chic suits and Madame Xenia’s more colorful and eccentric garb. Childie’s outfits are a highlight, representing the mod 60s styles with wild, colorful patterns and stylish accessories. Dunsi Dai’s detailed set is suitably appointed to suggest the era, as well. There’s also excellent sound design by Michael B. Perkins, and an entertaining representation of George’s radio show, Applehurst.

It was the same-sex relationship aspects of the show that apparently caused such an outrage 50 years ago, although now that just plays as a matter of fact. Actually, I wonder if the other issues represented in the play have been brought into sharper focus simply because the shock value isn’t as apparent anymore. It’s still a caustic, dark comedy portraying an extremely dysfunctional relationship and characters who, for the most part, aren’t easy to sympathize with. It seems everyone has her own agenda, and the machinations just get more and more obvious as the play goes along.  Among the issues dealt with are those of personal identity, job security, age vs. youth, and art vs. marketability in the entertainment industry. The very nature of and motivations for relationships and friendship is also explored, as are the consequences of actors’ identifying too closely with their roles. Throughout, the tone is one of sarcastic, biting humor as well as some forays into despair.

Byers as George is a strong anchor to this superb cast. With a commanding presence and brisk manner, she presents George’s authoritarian nature, tempering it with a sense of obvious vulnerability, as well. She’s well-matched by Nara as the deceptively childlike Childie, who seems fairly innocuous at first but becomes increasing complex as the story unfolds. She and Byers have strong chemistry as a bickering pair, with clear affection as well as suspicion, weariness, and strong hints of fear. Their “Laurel and Hardy” routine in Act 2 is a memorable tragicomic moment. Kelley also gives a memorable performance, lending a palpable air of menace to Mrs. Mercy’s outwardly polite and cheerful manner, and Shaw is warm and engaging as the play’s most likable character and possibly George’s only real friend, Madame Xenia. All four performers work together well, maintaining the sense of pacing and energy that this show requires.

I’m impressed by the overall authenticity  of this production, set in London in the 1960s. The accents are very well done, and the sense of time and place is very believable.  It’s a play full of well-drawn characters and challenging situations, with suitably memorable performances. Even though its premise is not as shocking as it would have been 50 yeears ago, this production still feels current and challenging in ways that may not have been as apparent in 1965. It’s an incisive and sometimes brutal character study, making for an intense and thought-provoking theatrical experience.

Shannon Nara, Lavonne Byers Photo by Max & Louie Productions

Shannon Nara, Lavonne Byers
Photo by
Max & Louie Productions

The Killing of Sister George is being presented by Max & Louie Productions, onstage at the Wool Studio Theatre, A & E Building of the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex. It runs until July 26th, 2015. 

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by Doug Wright
Directed by Brooke Edwards
Max & Louie Productions
August 2, 2014

Ted Gregory Photo by John Lamb Max and Louie Productions

Ted Gregory
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

It may seem strange, at first thought, that when looking to make a statement about artistic expression vs. censorship, playwright Doug Wright chose as his subject one of the most incendiary figures in the history of world literature.  French aristocrat and writer the Marquis de Sade lived and wrote in a manner that sparked much controversy, and the literary value of his prurient writings is still debated to this day.  Wright could easily have written a more modern story about censorship, avoiding the association with the controversial Sade.  Still, after seeing Max & Louie Productions’ impeccably staged production of Wright’s Quills, it becomes more clear why Wright chose to convey his message in this manner. It’s a story of extremes–of how the extreme desire to suppress the extreme ideas of another person can often bring out the most extreme and unsavory aspects of one’s own human nature. Expertly acted and presented, this production conveys its ideas clearly and memorably.

The story here is more symbolic than factual.  While the basic facts of Sade’s imprisonment at Charenton Asylum are true, the actual situation portrayed here is Wright’s invention. When Sade’s estranged wife Reenee Pelagie (Stacie Knock) is increasingly shunned by society because of her association with the notorious Marquis, she appeals to the asylum’s newly appointed director, Doctor Royer-Collard (David Wassilak) to stop her husband’s incessant and inflammatory writing, offering generous financial compensation as incentive.  The doctor, renowned for his commitment to traditional morality and his preference for more brutal methods of curbing the behavior of his patients, enlists the more benevolent Abbe de Coulmier (Antonio Rodriguez) in implementing his plans to silence the Marquis.  Meanwhile, Sade (Ted Gregory) has been enjoying relatively lenient treatment, indulging in his literary pursuits in his well-appointed cell, sipping wine and sharing his bawdy stories with the asylum’s kind-hearted seamstress, Madeleine Leclerc (Caitlin Mickey), for whom the Abbe harbors an attraction.  Through various inducements, the doctor uses the Abbe’s genuine concern about the well-being of the patients to induce him into more and more extreme methods of enforcing the ban on the Marquis’s writing, all the while Sade continues to seek to express his ideas with increasingly brutal consequences. There’s also a subplot about the doctor’s engaging an architect (Charlie Barron) to design a palatial home for his not quite virtuous wife (also Mickey), more as a way to keep her out of the public spotlight and save his own reputation than for her benefit.

There are several messages in this play, with the central one being that externally imposed censorship of art is not only bad–it doesn’t actually work in the long run, and the subject of the censorship often becomes much more well-known than he would have been (as echoed by Wright in the audience talk-back after the show). Also, even if the works are stopped, the thoughts behind them continue, and can only grow more and more insidious. Morality, for people like the doctor, becomes as Sade declares “a convenience”, and a means with which to exercise control. The Abbe becomes something of a surrogate for the audience, as his own struggles with maintaining his own principles in the face of pressure reflect the modern struggle to find balance between artistic expression, societal expectations and personal integrity.  Amid characters like the amoral Sade and the conflicted Abbe, the real villain here is the doctor, who seeks to further his own agenda while keeping his own hands “clean”, and more damage is done from the efforts to suppress the Marquis’s writings than had been done when he had been provided all the paper and quills he needed.

Wright’s script is masterfully written, with sharp dialogue, well drawn characters and even some fantastical elements thrown in for good measure, and director Brooke Wright’s production expresses the script as ideally as I can imagine.  With strong technical aspects such as Cyndi Lohrmann’s richly appointed costumes, Dunsi Dai’s appropriately atmospheric set, and Maureen Berry’s expert lighting design, the story comes to vivid life as the mood shifts from a more genteel, light start to a noticeably darker, more primal and horrific atmosphere as the play continues. The storytelling is enhanced especially in the remarkable performances of the uniformly excellent cast, with Gregory as Sade and Rodriguez as the Abbe being the standouts.  I’ve seen Rodriguez in many shows around St. Louis, and he’s never been better than he is here, making the struggle between his compassion, the doctor’s directions, and his own personal issues readily apparent.  Gregory is all oily charm as Sade, and regardless about what one may think about his writings, as the efforts to stop his writing become more and more intense,  it’s difficult not to sympathize with him in his increasingly desperate situation. These two are the focal point of this play, although there is not a weak link in this cast. Wassilak is memorable as the steely, unflappable doctor, and Mickey and Barron both shine in dual roles–Mickey as the sweet young seamstress and as the doctor’s lascivious wife, and Barron as the dandified architect and as brutish asylum patient who participates in an ill-fated scheme of Sade’s.

This play isn’t always easy to watch, as situations grow more and more grave and extreme and the outcome is increasingly unsavory.  Still, it’s an intriguing study of the effects of censorship, hypocrisy and morality-as-control, as well as the power of artistic expression. It’s a worthy topic for thought and discussion, and regardless of what one thinks about Sade as a person or as a writer, the extremity of his situation makes for an ideal setting to explore the many angles of this topic. Kudos to Max & Louie Productions for bringing this fascinating play to the St. Louis audience, especially in such a well-crafted production.  In addition to entertaining, art can instruct, anger, provoke, inspire and inform; and this play manages to do all of those things in the course of an evening. While it’s  not for all audiences (leave the kids at home), it’s a remarkable theatrical achievement.

Antonio Rodriguez, David Wassilak Photo by John Lamb Max  & Louie Productions

Antonio Rodriguez, David Wassilak
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

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