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Posts Tagged ‘deanna jent’

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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Yasmina’s Necklace
by Rohina Malik
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
January 27, 2017

Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

At a time when immigration and the plight of refugees is at the forefront of the news, Yasmina’s Necklace is an extremely timely play for Mustard Seed Theatre to be staging. Yasmina Malik’s story centering on a matchmaking of two very different young Muslim-Americans explores many issues but is ultimately a strong portrayal of one woman’s perseverance amid serious trials. This production boasts an extremely strong cast, especially for the two romantic leads.

Sam (Adam Flores) is a young Chicago man who has recently changed his name from Abdul Samir to avoid workplace discrimination and to assimilate more into American culture. His parents, Puerto Rican-born Sara (Maritza Motta Gonzalez) and Arab-born Ali (Chuck Winning) are not pleased. They’re also not pleased with Sam’s marriage to a non-Muslim American which has only recently ended in divorce, and they’re determined to set him up with a nice girl to help him forget his troubles. With the advice and assistance of their Venezuelan-born Imam, Rafi (Jaime Zayas), they arrange an introduction to Yasmina (Parvuna Sulamain), who has fled war-torn Iraq to join her father Musa (Amro Salama) in Chicago. Musa was a respected dentist in Iraq, but has trouble finding a job in Chicago and seeks employment as a taxi driver. He’s a doting father to Yasmina, who is as uninterested in a match with Sam as Sam is, although upon meeting they gradually hit it off. Yasmina, an artist who seeks to start an organization to assist refugees, has a mysterious past that she’s reluctant to share, although we see glimpses of it in her remembrances of her life in Iraq and her relationship with childhood friend Amir (Ethan Joel Isaac), whose story we eventually learn and who figures greatly in Yasmina’s personal story and that of the prized necklace that she wears. Although her relationship with Sam is at the forefront of the story, her backstory is the key to unlocking what drives Yasmina and explains her sometimes unusual behavior toward Sam and his family.

This is a mostly well-structured play that focuses a lot on domestic situations but also features some strategically-placed flashbacks that help illuminate the story of its most fascinating character, Yasmina. With a well-realized set by Kyra Bishop that features different performance areas representing the homes of Yasmina’s and Sam’s families, as well as a central area that represents Yasmina’s memories of Iraq, the play shows some interesting portrayals of Muslim characters from different cultural backgrounds, as well as a devastating reminder of the horrors of war. Jane Sullivan’s authentic, detailed costumes and Michael Sullivan’s striking lighting design contribute well to the story, augmenting the performances of the strong cast, led by the remarkable performance of Sulamain as the compelling, enigmatic Yasmina.

Sulamain is the unquestioned star of this show, portraying a convincing, sympathetic and complex character who is trying to find a future amidst the memories of her past.  Her scenes are the strongest in the play, and she’s well-matched by Flores as the conflicted but increasingly hopeful Sam. They have a real, sweet chemistry that drives the story well. Salama as Yasmina’s loving but perplexed father Musa is also a stand-out, coming across well in both comic and dramatic moments. Gonzalez and Winning are also excellent as Sam’s somewhat overbearing but well-meaning parents, and Zayas makes a good impression as the affable Imam Rafi. Isaac as the earnest Amir is also strong, especially in the second act when his story is finally told. The strongest moments of the story, though, are those featuring the developing relationship between Yasmina and Sam, which is at turns funny, charming, intense, and fascinating.

Yasmina’s Necklace is another excellent example of Mustard Seed Theatre’s focus on portraying different cultural and faith perspectives. It’s a rich portrayal of well-realized characters that’s at once entertaining, educational, and incisive. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Maritza Motta Gonzalez, Amro Salama, Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain, Chuck Winning, Jaime Zayas Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Maritza Motta Gonzalez, Amro Salama, Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain, Chuck Winning, Jaime Zayas
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting Yasmina’s Necklace at Fontbonne University until February 12, 2017.

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All Is Calm
by Peter Rothstein
With Musical Arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
November 19 2016

Cast of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Cast of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

The saying that all good things must come to an end is playing out this season at Mustard Seed Theatre, both in theme and in practice. The story of a famous one-time truce during World War I is back for a fourth and final season, with a few modifications and changes to the cast. This is my second time seeing it, after having seen and loved it the first year it was staged. Now on stage for its final run, it’s just as compelling and emotionally stirring as ever.

When I first saw the show (reviewed here), I hadn’t known what to expect, but this year I was prepared. Although there’s a mostly different ensemble this year, it’s still incredibly well-sung, featuring classic folk songs, World War I popular songs, and traditional Christmas carols in English, German, and French.  The performers this year are all excellent, featuring Paul Cereghino, Kent Coffel, Steve Isom, Steve Jent, Gregory Lhanon, Gerry Love, Antonio Rodriguez, Luke Steingruby, Kelvin Urday, and Jeff Wright. Telling the story of the the first year of the war up until the unexpected and unauthorized “Christmas Truce”, the cast members tell the stories of real soldiers who were there.  Songs range from moving ballads, like the plaintive “Will Ye Go to Flanders?” to the more upbeat camp songs like “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag” to gloriously sung carols such as “Silent Night” and “The First Noel”.  All of the participants are in good voice, blending well to create beautiful harmonies, and featuring excellent solos from Steingruby, Rodriguez, and more.

The set, designed by Kyra Bishop  and painted by Laura Skroska, is a little more extensive than I remember it from the first production. It’s a versatile collection of platforms and movable set pieces backed by an expressive backdrop that helps to set the scene and mood, from the lighthearted moments to the more somber and emotional. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Michael Sullivan and realistic costumes by Jane Sullivan. The technical aspects work together well to help transport the audience to the time and place. Kudos as well go to dialect coach Richard Lewis for helping the cast members achieve convincing regional accents from English to Scottish to Irish, to German.

There’s still time left to see this production, but it’s a high demand show and it sells out quickly. If you’ve never seen it before, I recommend checking it out before you miss your chance. If you have seen it before, it’s well worth seeing again. It’s a profound experience, at once educational, moving and intensely memorable. After four years, it’s still a must-see, and must-hear, production.

All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is being presented by Mustard Seed Theatre at Fontbonne University until December 11, 2016.

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Kindertransport
by Diane Samuels
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
August 19, 2016

Kelley Weber, Hannah Ryan Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Kelley Weber, Hannah Ryan
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is embarking on its 10th Season staging quality thought-provoking theatre in St. Louis. Its latest production, Kindertransport, is a fictionalized tale inspired by real historical events. It’s an exploration of mother-daughter relationships and the development of individual identity as a result of life-changing circumstances. At Mustard Seed, it’s a fascinating drama featuring some truly outstanding performances.

The play gets its title from a real historical program, in which thousands of children, most of them Jewish, were transported out of Nazi Germany and given shelter with families in England. As mentioned in the playwright’s introduction printed in the program for this production, this particular story is fiction, although it was written as the result of extensive research and interviews. The story here is a representation of elements of various stories playwright Diane Samuels was told. The story she has written portrays two parallel stories–one that starts in Germany in the 1930s and one that takes place in late-1970s Manchester, England. The England story features three generations of a family–Lil (Kirsten De Broux), her daughter Evelyn (Michelle Hand), and Evelyn’s daughter Faith (Katy Keating), who is having trouble deciding whether she wants to move out of the house and live on her own. Concurrently, we also meet nine-year-old German Jewish girl Eva (Hannah Ryan) and her mother Helga (Kelley Weber), as Eva prepares for her trip to England via the Kindertransport. Helga loves her daughter dearly, but insists that she learn to take care of herself and hopes that she will be safe in England and that they will one day be reunited. Eva’s story then continues as she travels to England and meets her host family, and as she deals with her fears, her homesickness, and the distrust and suspicion of some of the locals. As these two stories unfold simultaneously, the link between the “present” and the “past” stories eventually becomes clear, and although it’s fairly easy to predict as the story progresses, I won’t spoil it here. It’s a fascinating, believable story that is best seen for itself, and it’s remarkably staged here.

The six-person cast is uniformly excellent, led by the truly extraordinary performance of high school senior Ryan as Eva. As the character who grows and changes the most throughout the production, and as the central figure in the story, casting in this role is key, and Ryan is remarkable, portraying the transition from the inquisitive but scared young girl to a conflicted teenager with much energy, heart, and incredible stage presence. She is the heart of this production, but everyone else is impressive, as well, from De Broux’s kind, supportive Lil to Weber’s devoted, determined Helga, to Hand’s secretive but resilient Evelyn, to Keating’s curious, strong-willed Faith, to Brian J. Rolf’s portrayal of various roles from a stern Nazi officer to a helpful postman to a suspicious train station guard. All the performers work well together, with excellent ensemble chemistry and believable relationships, especially between the various mothers and daughters. Profound emotion is clearly apparent here, from hope and fear to, especially, love, all portrayed convincingly by this extremely strong cast.

 Visually, the production is also stunning, with a detailed two-level set by Kyra Bishop that represents primarily the English house but also serves as an ideal backdrop for the various locations as the story plays out. The costumes by Jane Sullivan are impressively detailed, as well, reflecting the times and characters and their changes well. There’s also excellent use of lighting by Michael Sullivan and clear sound design by Zoe Sullivan. Kudos also to vocal coach Nancy Bell and German language coach Marlene Rene Coveyou for helping the cast members achieve convincing Northern English and German accents.

Kindertransport is a compelling personalization of history. Taking a profound and traumatic personal experience and highlighting the importance of mother-daughter bonds, this story is remarkably portrayed and presented on the Mustard Seed Stage. Showcasing the top-notch cast and particularly the talented Hannah Ryan in a memorable performance, this is a show that is sure to provoke much thought and conversation. It’s an important and fascinating piece of theatre.

Katy Keating, Michelle Hand, Kirsten De Broux Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Katy Keating, Michelle Hand, Kirsten De Broux
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Kindertransport is being presented by Mustard Seed Theatre at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until September 4, 2016.

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Bosnian/American: The Dance for Life
by Deanna Jent
Directed by Adam Flores
Mustard Seed Theatre
April 24, 2016

Cast of Bosnian/American: The Dance of Life Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Cast of Bosnian/American: The Dance of Life
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre’s latest project tells an important story in the history of St. Louis, and the world. The Bosnian-American  community in St. Louis has become a vital part of the city over the past two decades, revitalizing a neighborhood contributing to the overall quality of life in St. Louis. Working with Fontbonne University’s Bosnia Memory Project, playwright Deanna Jent has taken the stories of first-generation Bosnian-Americans and shaped them into Bosnian/American: The Dance for Life, a play that uses memory and metaphor to illustrate their experience in St. Louis.

This isn’t a long play. Running at approximately 45 minutes, it’s a succinctly structured, vividly told story that reflects the experiences of various Bosnian immigrants to St. Louis, including a group of young adults who meet at a coffee shop and share their memories, of fleeing war and genocide in their homeland, of moving to St. Louis, and of growing up and adjusting to life in a new city and country. This story is intertwined with the framing device of a tale told to a young girl (Carly Uding) by her grandmother (Agnes Wilcox), of “Aska and the Wolf” in which a young lamb (Melissa Gerth) is separated from her flock and must figure out how to outwit a dangerous wolf (Andrew Kuhlmann) through means of dance. The 10 cast members (also including Elvedin Arnautovic, Arnelia Bogdanic, Katie Donnelly, Amir Salesevic, Mary Schnitzler, and Bob Thibaut) all play several roles in the story, including the sheep in the “Aska” story, as well as soldiers, parents, teachers, school children and more.

This show initially played two performances at Grbic Restaurant before settling into Mustard Seed’s usual space at Fontbonne University. The set, designed by Kyra Bishop, authentically recreates the restaurant setting. The costumes by Jane Sullivan are well-suited to the various characters, including the simple and inventive use of hats and a mask to represent the sheep and the wolf. There’s also good use of lighting by Michael Sullivan and excellent sound by Zoe Sullivan. The music is provided by Salesevic on the accordion, setting the tone of the production well.

The cast is uniformly excellent. From Gerth’s brave Aska, to Kuhlman’s menacing Wolf, to Wilcox’s kind, wise Nena, to Uding’s inquisitive Ariyana, to Arnautovic and Salesevic in various paternal roles, to the entire group, the ensemble is cohesive and energetic. The stories are told with a mixture of drama and humor, and the staging is well-paced.

Simply stated, Bosnian/American: The Dance for Life is a well-told story of the shaping of a community, and that community’s impact on the city of St. Louis. Produced with the participation of members of St. Louis’s Bosnian-American community, this play serves to inform and instruct as well as celebrating the real life experiences of individuals and families.

Melissa Gerth, Elvedin Arnautovic Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Melissa Gerth, Elvedin Arnautovic
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Bosnian/American: The Dance For Life is being presented by Mustard Seed Theatre at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until May 1, 2016. 

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The Amish Project
by Jessica Dickey
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
August 28, 2015

Amy Loui Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Amy Loui
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre has begun their new season with The Amish Project. It’s an intense, thought-provoking drama that takes a real life event and makes it the centerpiece for reflections on faith, suffering, and the power of forgiveness. At the core of this production is a remarkable multi-layered performance by its lone performer, Amy Loui.

The shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania made headlines in October, 2006 for the horrific tragedy of the event itself as well as for the community’s response of forgiveness toward the shooter.  In The Amish Project, playwright Jessica Dickey has taken the basics of that event but has fictionalized many of the details. Names have been changed and some situations have been imagined for the play. Amy Loui, clad in a simple Amish woman’s dress, apron and bonnet, performs all the roles. The play is structured in a non-linear style, as various characters tell their stories and  react to the events. The idea appears to be to focus more on the concepts and emotions rather than the particulars of history, as this becomes a powerful emotional exploration of the mystery of faith and forgiveness among a group of people who are seen as outsiders in American culture.

The story is clearly presented, for the most part, although it jumps around quite quickly at times, becoming somewhat difficult to follow on a few occasions. Still, its message is profoundly clear because of Loui’s masterful performance. Though there are no costume changes to suggest the different characters, Loui’s adjustments in voice and physicality make it easy to distinguish between the characters, ranging from a very young Amish schoolgirl and her older sister, to an outraged area woman who watched the news on TV, to the shooter’s haunted wife and the feisty young, pregnant store clerk who encounters her,  as well as a sympathetic local college professor who acts as a spokesman for the Amish community, and the unsettling, preoccupied gunman himself.  Loui is able to effectively portray both female and male characters of varying ages and backgrounds with remarkable clarity, shifting between vivid characterizations without missing a beat. Much of the drama comes through the contrasting stories and portrayals, and how each character deals with the events.  Responses ranging from disbelief to rage, weariness to shock, sadness, anger, confusion, compassion and forgiveness are richly portrayed here, and Loui has the energy, presence and credibility to convey all these emotions and more. It’s a profoundly memorable, poetic and riveting performance.

The play is simply staged, with Kyra Bishop’s set suggesting the Amish schoolhouse. Loui’s costume, designed by Jane Sullivan, is appropriately authentic. The sound, designed by Zoe Sullivan, and the lighting designed by Michael Sullivan, are both used to excellent effect, as changes in light and sound effects are used expertly to suggest changes in scene or character. All the technical elements effectively augment Loui’s acting and maintain the overall mood of the piece.

The Amish Project is commendable for taking some very difficult issues and treating them with respect and depth, without descending into sentimentality or manipulation. The situations are presented with startling emotional detail, and with a vividness that is sure to stay in viewers’ minds.  Ultimately, the success of a one-person show relies on the effectiveness of that one performer, and Loui delivers an outstanding central performance with remarkable energy and sensitivity.

Amy Loui Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Amy Loui
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre’s productio of The Amish Project runs at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until September 13, 2015 

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An Invitation Out
by Shualee Cook
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
April 18, 2015

Bob Thibeaut, Richard Strelinger, Laura Ernst Photo by John Lamb Mustard See Theatre

Bob Thibeaut, Richard Strelinger, Laura Ernst
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

A few years ago, I was browsing in a gift shop and saw a sticker that said “I love my computer because my friends live in it”. I laughed because, to a whole lot of people these days, there’s a great deal of truth to that statement. As someone who has interacted online via the internet and its precursors for many years, I can very much relate to this statement, although I can also see the dangers of taking that concept to the extreme. The latest production at Mustard Seed Theatre, the world premiere production of Shualee Cook’s An Inviatation Out  makes that statement to its literal by imagining a future in which most people live virtual lives online instead of in the real world. It’s a fascinating premise, structured as an Oscar Wilde-style drawing room comedy, brought to vibrant visual life by an excellent cast and particularly striking technical elements. It takes us into a new world that’s both foreign and surprisingly familiar.

After a cleverly presented virtual introduction by an animated talking-head version of director Deanna Jent, the play introduces us to Wridget (Bob Thibeault), who designs custom avatars for online dwellers. Apparently, the majority of the world’s citizens spend their whole lives “plugged in” from age 4, paying little attention to their physical bodies and spending their days exploring virtual chat rooms, shopping malls, flight simulations, and more.  In one of these chat rooms, Wridget is hosting a party for his sister Buttercup (Julie Venegoni), who has just spent a year “unplugged” in the real world so she and her husband, FlyByNite (Daniel Lanier) could have a baby. Wridget himself is fascinated by the outside world and wishes to experience it. He thinks he can share this dream with his online love interest, Flutterbye (Laura Ernst), although others in his circle, such as the gender-bending xLuci (Justin Ivan Brown in Act 1, Nicole Angeli in Act 2), who serves as a curious mixture of critic and conscience to Wridget. There’s also Raskin (Ellie Schwetye), a friend of Buttercup’s from the “outside” who challenges Wridget to pursue his dream, and some cleverly appropriated Wildean characters such as the crazy aunt, Scandalicious (Alicia Reve’ Like) and the gregarious cleric, Reverend Variety.org (Richard Strelinger), as well as an avatar-switching maid/butler (Angeli in Act 1, Brown in Act 2).

Playwright Cook has created a fascinating and fully realized world here, populated by colorful characters who are often more than they first seem. There’s a surprising amount of depth here, and although the first act could use some tightening of the script and possibly some more comedic moments, the second act is simply marvelous. It’s challenging, intriguing, and explores issues of self-expression, entertainment vs. duty, spirituality, identity (both real and perceived) and the very nature of happiness and personal fulfillment. Using cyberspace as a setting is very timely, although there are many issues here that are universal. It’s a whimsical world with crazy character names–I love the name “Wridget” especially–but it’s also a world of surprising depth, where the very shallowness of it reveals hidden aspects of characters that weren’t initially obvious.

As Wridget, Thibeault is an engaging protagonist, able to be both charming and sullen at different moments while never becoming too melodramatic or whiny. He is well supported by Venegoni as the happy but somewhat overwhelmed new mother Buttercup, and Lanier as her sweetly goofy but earnest husband, FlyByNite. Strelinger puts in a fun comic performance as the personification of made-to-order spirituality, Reverend Variety.org, and Like is deliciously batty and endearing as Aunt Scandalicious. Schwetye is also strong as the intriguing and somewhat secretive Raskin, as is Ernst as the bubbly and aptly named social butterfly Flutterbye.  Angeli and Brown are both standouts in alternate roles, as a hilariously surly maid (Angeli), and a robotically efficient and then wildly erratic butler (Brown). They also share the role of xLuci, who is perhaps the key figure in this story as the voice of both questioning and reason, and both do an excellent job of making me believe they are the same character, albeit in different guises.  Angeli in particular gets the weightier portion of the character’s story, in Act 2, and handles it well, revealing the character’s vulnerability behind the brassy exterior.

Visually, this show is nothing short of stunning.  Mark Wilson’s set features a digital screen framing the stage, which is set with a background that looks somewhat unfinished, as is fitting since its simply the canvas on which the virtual world is built. The projections by Chris Jent–of the various avatars and other elements of the virtual world–are strikingly well-realized, as are wonderfully quirky and colorful 19th Century influenced costumes, designed by Beth Ashby. The technical is especially important in a show like this, taking us into an entirely imagined world and doing so with great success.

An Invitiation Out invites the audience to imagine what the future might be if the current online culture is carried to the extreme. Mustard Seed Theatre has taken us into a world that’s at once fantastic and believable, populated by a very strong, energetic cast. It’s a memorable world, visually striking and at times funny, witty, challenging and even frightening. Even though I’m not sure I would want to live there, it’s definitely a world worth visiting.

Bob Thibaut, Alicia Reve' Like, Nicole Angeli, Justin Ivan Brown, Laura Ernst, Ellie Schwetye Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Bob Thibaut, Alicia Reve’ Like, Nicole Angeli, Justin Ivan Brown, Laura Ernst, Ellie Schwetye
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

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