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First Impressions
Adapted from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Conceived by Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye
Directed by Rachel Tibbetts
SATE Ensemble Theatre
May 17, 2017

John Wolbers, Ellie Schwetye
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

 I’m a Jane Austen fan. I’ve read her books, seen various filmed adaptations, and like a lot of Austen fans, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of her novels. Also like a lot of Austen fans, I have a lot of strong opinions about the story and its adaptations. Austen seems to inspire a lot of strong emotions about her works, and that trait is represented well in SATE Ensemble Theatre’s latest production, First Impressions, which tells the story of Pride and Prejudice in a dynamic way while also telling the stories of many of its readers.

The basic story of Pride and Prejudice is well-known by many, whether they’ve read the book or seen many of the various filmed and staged adaptations. Here, with First Impressions, adapters Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye have given the story the SATE treatment, presenting the story in a somewhat straightforward way in one sense, but opening it up in another sense, in terms of framing, staging, and casting. Here, various testimonials of of people’s “first impressions” of the story are interspersed with the story. All the familiar characters are here, as Elizabeth Bennet (Schwetye) meets Mr. Darcy (John Wolbers) and the romantic and family drama and comedy unfolds. Elizabeth and her sisters Jane (Cara Barresi), Mary (Parvuna Sulamain), Kitty (Jazmine K. Wade), and Lydia (Katy Keating) live with their parents, the marriage-obsessed Mrs. Bennet (Nicole Angeli) and the somewhat world-weary Mr. Bennet (Carl Overly, Jr.). When the handsome, eligible Mr. Bingley (Michael Cassidy Flynn) moves into a nearby estate, the story is in motion, following Elizabeth as she learns more about the mysterious Mr. Darcy and about the world around her, populated by characters like the sycophantic Mr. Collins (Andrew Kuhlmann), the dashing but caddish Mr. Wickham (also Flynn), and the imperious Lady Catherine DeBourgh (also Angeli).  The story is narrated by Mary, and as the action unfolds, it’s often interspersed with the “first impression” stories that provide commentary not just on the story itself, but on its place in history, its appeal to people from all ages and cultural backgrounds, and also occasional critique of Austen’s perspective and her era.

It’s a fast-paced, fascinating, riveting presentation, full of motion and emotion, with characterizations that are at once true to the spirit of the book and strikingly modern. The fact that some performers play more than one role also provides interest in the form of contrast, such as Angeli’s portrayal of the meddling Mrs. Bennet, the imposing Lady Catherine DeBourgh, and the personable Aunt Gardiner. Angeli is particularly notable for portraying a Mrs. Bennet who doesn’t come across as a caricature or a cartoon as she can in some filmed adaptations. Yes, she can be silly, but Angeli provides some substance behind the silliness, and there’s a degree of affection between Angeli and Overly’s Mr. Bennet that adds a level of depth to their relationship. Sulamain’s portrayal of Mary is similarly refreshing, making the middle Bennet sister appear more thoughtful than sanctimonious. The other Bennet sisters are also strong in their characterization, from Barresi’s reserved but gentle Jane, to Wade’s excitable Kitty, to Keating’s brash, outspoken Lydia.  Flynn is excellent as both the generous, lovestruck Bingley and the charismatic but unprincipled Wickham. Kristen Strom gives another strong contrasting performance as two distinctly different sisters–the haughty Caroline Bingley, and the more humble, kindly Georgiana Darcy. Rachel Hanks is memorable as a particularly enthusiastic incarnation of Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, and also as Elizabeth’s practically-minded best friend, Charlotte Lucas, who ends up marrying the Bennets’ silly cousin, Mr. Collins, who is portrayed with a gleeful, almost morbid intensity by Andrew Kuhlman. And last but not least are Schwetye in an engaging, determined portrayal of Elizabeth and Wolbers as Mr. Darcy, giving him a more reserved and occasionally witty portrayal. The chemistry between Schwetye and Wolbers is strong, as is the chemistry among the sisters, and the staging lends to the characterization, and the sisters are often seen gathering to eavesdrop on their sisters’ conversations.

It’s a fresh, timely staging that brings out a lot of the story’s humor as well as examining its seemingly universal appeal. The set and lighting by Bess Moynihan contribute a great deal to the tone of the show. The big white tent and and minimal furnishings add to the always-in-motion quality of the play, and Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are especially impressive, featuring a blend of period details and modern flair, from Wickham’s leather jacket and pants to the colorful dresses of the Bennet sisters, and more, this is a production that celebrates the classic elements and the timeless quality of this show. There’s excellent sound design by Schwetye as well, and the use of music–mostly modern pop music rearranged as chamber music–works extremely well, especially in the wonderful Netherfield Ball sequence.

This is a fun show as well as a thought-provoking one. References to Colin Firth and Laurence Olivier are thrown in along with comments on women’s roles, the affluence of the characters, and more. A frequent theme that comes up in the testimonials is how the story can mean different things to the same person depending on when they read it.  Pride and Prejudice is a story that means a lot to many people, and although opinions can greatly vary, it’s a story that’s clearly made an impact over the generations. SATE Ensemble Theatre has presented this story well, as well as examining it, somewhat deconstructing it, challenging it, and celebrating it. Like so many of the shows SATE does, this show takes a unique approach, and it provides for a singular theatrical experience.

John Wolbers, Katy Keating, Nicole Angeli, Andrew Kuhlman, Jazmine K. Wade, Parvuna Sulaiman, Carl Overly, Jr.
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE Ensemble Theatre is presenting First Impressions at the Chapel until May 27, 2017

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Arcadia
by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
West End Players Guild
October 1, 2016

Michael Cassidy Flynn Photo by John Lamb West End Players Guild

Michael Cassidy Flynn
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

I had never seen or read Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia before seeing this latest staging at West End Players Guild. Now, I think I have a new play to add to my list of favorites. Not knowing exactly what to expect when I sat down to watch it, I was soon impressed with the brilliance of the writing, which is well showcased in the remarkable staging at WEPG.

This play is, simply put, a masterpiece of contemporary theatre. It’s so intricately plotted and the characters are well-drawn and believable. There are so many little clues to the various mysteries that unfold here, and that’s another great aspect of this play. There’s more than one answer to find.  Cleverly, the play takes place at the same English country estate in two different time periods–the present day and the early 19th Century.  We’re first introduced to the 19th Century characters including young Thomasina Coverly (Kristin Rion), the daughter of the aristocratic family that owns the estate, and her tutor Septimus Hodge (Michael Cassidy Flynn), a scholarly and somewhat romantically adventurous young man who, we eventually find out, is an old school friend of Lord Byron’s. We also meet Thomasina’s mother, the jaded aristocrat Lady Croom (Ann Marie Mohr) and her brother, Captain Brice of the Royal Navy (Anthony Wininger), as well as the family’s enthusiastic landscaper Richard Noakes (Carl Overly, Jr.), who has grand plans for redesigning the grounds of the estate. There’s also an insecure, mediocre poet, Ezra Chater (Andrew Kuhlman) who has several complaints against Septimus regarding Chater’s poetry and his wife. We spend a good deal of time in this era until we’re eventually transported to modern times, in which the ancestors of the Coverly family still own and live on the estate, including the outgoing Chloe Coverly (Erin Renee Roberts), her quiet brother Gus (Mason Hunt), and studious brother Valentine Coverly (Jaz Tucker), who is working on mathematical equations concerning the local grouse population. Another scholar has also arrived to stay with the family, English literature specialist Hannah Jarvis (Nicole Angeli), whom Valentine refers to as his “fiancee” although their relationship doesn’t seem as clearly defined on her side. Hannah’s there to work on another scholarly project–finding out the identity of a hermit who lived on the grounds sometime after the time period featured in the first part of the play.  Another scholar, the egotistical Bernard Nightingale (John Wolbers), also arrives working on yet another project involving Lord Byron’s connection with the estate, and as the modern day characters interact and do their research, the action frequently switches back to the 19th Century plot, where we learn exactly how accurate the present-day scholars’ research turns out to be. It’s a gradual process, and I’m realizing now that my description my make this all sound hopelessly dry, but it isn’t in the least. The characters are so richly drawn and the events play out in surprising and fascinating ways, dealing with important issues concerning the importance of integrity in scholarship, the process of scientific discovery, the ignoring of the roles of brilliant women in history, and more.  This is a very dense but extremely well plotted and thoughtful play, and West End’s production is a superb rendition of this remarkable script.

Director Ellie Schwetye has staged this play in a lucid, dynamic way that makes everything the audience needs to know readily apparent, although it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open because there’s a whole lot going on. The set is static throughout, with few changes to the props between the time periods. Most of what is there, is there in both eras, suggesting more of a link between the two stories. All the little clues that are dropped throughout are there for the noticing, and the period details are very well-realized, as well. Tracey Newcomb-Margrave’s costumes outfit the characters with excellent detail, from the character-appropriate modern costumes to the vibrant 19th Century attire. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Benjamin Lewis and strong sound design by Schwetye.

Even with such a wonderful script, a play like this requires a first-rate cast, and this production has that. Led by the strong, earnest performances of Flynn as Septimus and Angeli as Hannah, this cast doesn’t have a weak link. Other standouts include Wolbers in a lively performance as the pompous Bernard, Rion in a winning turn as the inquisitive, ahead-of-her-time Thomasina, Mohr as the somewhat imperious Lady Croom, Kuhlman as the defensive Chater, Overly as the energetic Noakes, and Hunt in a dual role as the silent Gus and his more gregarious ancestor, Augustus Coverly. Everyone is excellent, however, no matter the size of the role, and the ensemble chemistry–extremely important in a show like this–is superb.

Arcadia is one of those plays that makes me want to buy the script. As presented at West End Players Guild, the excellent words are brought to glorious, fascinating life. It’s a great show, and it’s only playing for one more weekend. Go see it if you can.

Nicole Angeli, Michael Cassidy Flynn, Mason Hunt, Kristin Rion, Jaz Tucker Photo by John Lamb West End Players Guild

Nicole Angeli, Michael Cassidy Flynn, Mason Hunt, Kristin Rion, Jaz Tucker
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

West End Players Guild is presenting Arcadia at Union Avenue Christian Church until October 9, 2016. 

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As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Ellie Schwetye with Original Music by Jason Scroggins and Cast
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
February 5th, 2016

Cara Barresi, Katie Donnelly, Kevin Minor and cast Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Cara Barresi, Katie Donnelly, Kevin Minor and cast
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

As You Like It is my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies. It’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s silly, it’s occasionally bawdy, and it’s extremely versatile. There’s so much that can be done with this show depending on the director’s vision. Now, one of St. Louis’s most inventive theatre companies, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, has taken the Bard’s work and given it a 1920’s Ozarks settting, a memorable bluegrass soundtrack, and an excellent, enthusiastic cast.

This is Shakespeare’s story, but it’s been a little bit streamlined and the setting updated and musicalized. Some traditionally male roles are played by women, and as women. The angry Duke Frederick and her kinder sibling Duke Senior are played as women (still called “Duke”) by one actress, Rachel Tibbetts, and the clown Touchstone (Tonya Darabcsek) and the surly forest wanderer Jaques (Rachel Hanks) are also women, among others. The story of Rosalind (Cara Barresi) and her cousin Celia’s (Katie Donnelly) flight to the forest of Arden, and Rosalind’s disguising herself as a man and entering into a teasing mock courtship with her beloved Orlando (Kevin Minor) is here, as is the story of the lovesick Silvius (Chris Ware) and the disdainful shepherdess Phebe (Mollie Amburgey). There’s also Orlando’s initially mean older brother Oliver (Will Bonfiglio), who follows his brother into the forest and a multitude of romances–both likely and unlikely–ensues.

The adaptation by director Ellie Schwetye and the musical score by Jason Scroggins, who also appears in the play as a forester and musician, is tuneful and fast-moving. In addition to the songs already included in the play, some of the more familiar spoken passages have been set to music, such as Jaques’s “Seven Ages of Man” speech and some of Orlando’s letters to Rosalind.  The actors get their moments to sing, and often play their own instruments as well. In fact, during the Arden sequences, the ensemble members often assemble in a circle onstage to play and sing.  It’s mostly bluegrass and folk styled music, including a few old standards such as “Froggy Went a’Courtin'” in addition to the Shakespearean material. And it’s all extremely well-sung, with Donnelly, Hanks, Barresi, Tibbetts, Bonfiglio and others all getting memorable solos.

The cast has been downsized, with a a few actors playing two roles, and there are strong performances all around. Barresi and Donnelly make an excellent team as cousins and best friends Rosalind and Celia. Barresi is an impulsive, lovestruck Rosalind who takes on a notable swagger in her disguise as Ganymede, and her banter with Minor’s earnest, charming Orlando is amusing.  Donnelly is a sweet but feisty, determined Celia, memorable in her scenes with Barresi and with Bonfiglio as a convincing Oliver. Bonfiglio also displays excellent comic skills in another role as shepherd Corin. Other standouts include Hanks as a particularly surly, hucksterish Jaques as well as the wrestler Charles; and Darabscek as the witty Touchstone, who engages in a sweetly goofy courtship with flighty forest-dweller Audrey (Alyssa Ward). Ware is also excellent as the besotted Silvius, playing songs on his guitar and pursuing Amburgey’s gleefully scornful Phebe with determination. Tibbetts in her dual role as both Dukes is convincingly authoritative, whether it’s in a dictatorial fashion as Frederick or as the more kindly Senior. It’s a cohesive cast that works together well, communicating the play’s sense of humor, whimsy and romance with style and tuneful flair.

The setting is established well in the technical elements of the show. The small stage at the Chapel is believably transformed in a 1920’s Ozarks Forest of Arden, with a simple but effective set by Schwetye and Bess Moynihan. Moynihan’s lighting also helps to maintain the generally festive mood, and Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are delightfully colorful and detailed, representing a variety of styles from the period and fitting the characters well.

This is Shakespeare in the Ozarks with music, and it’s marvelous. A strong cast, a great score, and lots of energy and heart highlight this joyful, witty production. It’s As You Like It as you’ve probably never heard it before, and it’s a real treat.

Cast of As You LIke It Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Cast of As You LIke It
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

SATE’s production of As You Like it is running at the Chapel until February 13, 2016.

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One Flea Spare
by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
August 19, 2015

Hannah Ryan, Charlie Barron, Kelley Weber, Andrew Kuhlman, Joe Hanrahan Photo by Joey Rumpell SATE

Hannah Ryan, Charlie Barron, Kelley Weber, Andrew Kuhlman, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE

I’m continually amazed at how much a small theatre company is able to create with limited resources and a whole lot of energy and creativity. Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble has been one of the more impressive smaller theatre companies in St. Louis, and I’ve never seen a sub-par production from them. In their latest production, the historical drama One Flea Spare, the SATE team uses their usual performance space at The Chapel to its fullest potential, presenting an intense, disturbing and remarkable production that’s sure to keep audiences thinking.

The subject matter for this play is difficult, as it’s set in London during the height of the Black Plague in 1665.  A wealthy couple, William Snelgrave (Joe Hanrahan) and his wife, Darcy (Kelley Weber) are the only survivors of their household and are about to be released from a month-long quartantine when the arrival of two uninvited guests causes the local guard, Kabe (Andrew Kuhlman) to prolong their confinement.  The two new arrivals, the young, mysterious Morse (Hannah Ryan) and the destitute sailor Bunce (Charlie Barron) upset the balance in the household and force the Snelgraves to take a closer look at their own identities and actions, as well as those of their new companions in light of the horrific tragedy that is engulfing their city.

The set is stark and simple, designed by Bess Moynihan and director Ellie Schwetye. The basic wooden platform suggests the floor of the main room in the Snelgraves’ house. In the intimate atmosphere of the Chapel, this basic set is remarkably effective at bringing the audience into these characters’ world. The brilliantly striking lighting, also designed by Moynihan, adds to the atmosphere of play, and Elizabeth Henning’s extremely detailed period specific costumes help to further set the scene and mood. All of these technical aspects work together to augment the heightening drama of this memorable, expertly written and staged play.

The drama here is in the conflict between the characters, and also their relationship with the increasingly gruesome outside world, with the realities of the plague and the presence of death in every street made all the more horrifying because it’s not directly shown. Instead, we see the characters’ reaction to their situation, and to each other. We see the initially genteel Snelgrave reveal more of his true character, along with his increasingly emboldened wife, the suspicious and desperate but concerned Bunce, and the deceptively childlike Morse, who serves as the play’s primary viewpoint character and shows that she’s a lot more clever than she initially may seem. As these four disparate characters get to know one another, and clash and conspire in various ways, they’re watched over by the looming presence of Kabe, the guard who has been put in the situation of holding the power over people who would normally have been considered his superiors in that society. It’s a rich, fascinating and occasionally highly unsettling character study, revealing how dire situations and close quarters can bring out all aspects, including the very worst, of human nature.

The cast here is universally superb.  As the play’s central character, the young and resourceful Morse, high school junior Ryan is a real find.  She brings a determined, sympathetic and mysterious quality to the character, as well as demonstrating a fine singing voice in snippets of traditional folk songs that she sings at various moments. She presents a complex portrait of this character we get to know gradually throughout the production, in her compelling stories as well as in how she relates to the other characters. Kuhlman is also a standout at the superstitious, ubiquitous Kabe, displaying a strong stage presence and a thoroughly convincing Cockney accent. An unusual relationship develops between Bunce and the long-neglected Darcy Snelgrave, which is portrayed convincingly by Barron and Weber, conveying both characters’ regrets and losses with poignancy. As Snelgrave, Hanrahan does an excellent job of portraying the outwardly polite character–and his recurring mantra “I’m not a cruel man”–and the gradual revealing of his true character.  All of these characters are nuanced and flawed, and each of the cast members portrays all of these aspects with supreme authenticity.

This is a dark play, no question.  It delves into a much written-about subject in a particularly personal way, letting us see what happens when people of different backgrounds are thrown together, but also what happens to society when such a major upheaval as a coutnry-wide epidemic takes place. SATE has brought this play to the stage with incredible skill and sensitivity. It’s another dramatic triumph for this company.

Hannah Ryan, Kelley Weber, Charlie Barron, Joe Hanrahan Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Hannah Ryan, Kelley Weber, Charlie Barron, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

SATE presents One Flea Spare at The Chapel (Skinker Blvd. and Alexander Dr.) until August 29th, 2015

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Or,
by Liz Duffy Adams
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
February 19, 2015

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts
Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, one of the more daring theatre companies in St. Louis, has begun a new season with the them of “Mistaken Identity”. The first offering in this vein is Liz Duffy Adams’ Or, which explores incidents in the life of an unconventional woman in 17th Century England, as well as her famous and infamous friends.  It explores issues of identity and social acceptability, as well as artistic expression and women’s roles in society.  As usual for SATE, it’s an intriguing and very well put-together production, with a striking visual presentation and a sharp sense of comedy.

The central figure here is Aphra Behn (Rachel Tibbetts), a Restoration-era writer and onetime spy.  As one of England’s first female professional playwrights, Behn is working on a manuscript and trying to find a producer. As Behn reflects on her life and interacts with notable and memorable figures of the day, as well as important people from her past, various historical figures, business contacts, as well as lovers of both sexes–past, and present. John Wolbers and Nicole Angeli both play more than one role, with Wolbers as both King Charles II and Behn’s former colleague in espionage, and former lover, William Scot. Angeli plays Behn’s saucy maid Maria, as well as the celebrated actress Nell Gwyn, who becomes lover to both Aphra and the King.  In a unique twist, there’s another role in the play that’s alternated between two of the performers, and to determine who plays it on a given night, names are drawn out of a bowl.

This is a fast-paced, bawdy production that needs to be perfectly timed with all the quick costume and character changes.  The cast members perform with wit, energy, and utmost precision as they carry out the intricacies of the somewhat convoluted plot.  Still, while there’s a lot going on, it’s finely tuned and well-staged by director Ellie Schwetye. Tibbetts, as Behn, has perhaps the simplest job, since she only plays one character and she is onstage for most of the play, and she performs it amiably.  Angeli plays both the brash Nell and the crass Maria–as well as the “mystery role” on the night I saw it–with verve and gusto. The third cast member, Wolbers, does an excellent job of playing two very distinct characters, the grandiose and swaggering Charles, and the suspicious, anxious William. Ensemble chemistry is essential in a show like this, and all three players work extremely well together. Angeli and Wolbers are especially memorable in their scenes together as Nell and Charles.

The set is simple, as designed by Bess Moynihan to spell out the title of the play in giant letters and also provide wing space for the actors’ quick changes. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are bold, colorful and appropriately outlandish.  It’s a small stage at the Chapel, where SATE stages most of its performances, and that familiarity has helped since they have learned to make the most of the limited space.

This is not a play for all audiences, as it’s full of crass humor and suggestive situations, although it’s hilariously entertaining for adult audiences.  It’s something of a slight plot, with a lot of action but not as much substance as it could have, but SATE has staged it well. Or, with its questions of identity and creative expression, as well as its over-the-top and meticulously executed comedy, provides for a fun, occasionally shocking, but overall entertaining evening of theatre.

John Wolbers, Nicole Angeli Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography SATE

John Wolbers, Nicole Angeli
Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
SATE

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Mary Shelley Monster Show

by Nick Otten

Based on a Concept by Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts

Directed by Kelley Weber

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

August 20, 2014

Ellie Schwetye (in silhouette), Rachel Tibbetts Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Ellie Schwetye (in silhouette), Rachel Tibbetts
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE) is closing out its year-long “Season of the Monster” with a brand new show that revolves, partly, around one of the most iconic monster stories ever.  Mary Shelley Monster Show even opens with a montage of projections of various versions of the infamous monster that’s at the heart of Shelley’s most famous work, Frankenstein. This story, though, is about much more than Frankenstein. In this innovative, technically stunning  production, SATE brings Mary Shelley and her world to life in an entertaining and thoroughly riveting manner.

The play is short but extremely contemplative, and it’s never boring.  As Mary (Rachel Tibbetts) poses for her most well-known portrait by painter Richard Rothwell (the offstage voice of Carl Overly, Jr.), she recalls the important moments of her life and the people-both real and imaginary–that inhabited it.  These characters, from the monster himself to such real-life figures as Mary’s poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, her father William Godwin, the illustrious poet Lord Byron and others, are all played by Ellie Schwetye. Through Mary’s recollections, reenactments, and an abundance of projections, we are given a glimpse into Mary’s mind as she recalls historic moments in her life, and her various relationships with those who have been most important to her.  We also see her relationship with her work, represented by her various philosophical discussions with the shadowy figure of the monster, who gradually evolves throughout the course of the show and challenges Mary to think about her relationship, as a writer, with her creation. It’s an exploration of one woman’s life and also the lives of famous literary figures and of one work in particular and how that work has survived its creator and even eclipsed her in notoriety, reflected in the play as Mary tells the monster–who questions his reality–that a creation often becomes more “real” than its creator.

What’s real here is the sheer wonder of this production, both technically and in its performances. Tibbetts gives a reflective, confident performance as Mary, portraying her various stages of life and conflicting emotions with veracity and depth.  From her regrets over the deaths of loved ones, to her deep love and near-worship of her dynamic husband, to her verbal sparring with the charismatic Byron, Tibbetts is thoroughly affecting.  Schwetye also impresses in at least nine different roles, portraying this wide range of characters clearly with, for the most part, only minimal changes in costume.  She is particularly effective as the self-confident Byron, as the reassuring ghostly figure of Mary’s late mother, as Mary’s emotional step-sister “Claire”, and especially as the increasingly confrontational monster.  Schwetye makes the transitions between the various characters seem effortless, and the chemistry between her (in her various incarnations) and Tibbetts is excellent.  Lending support to these two dynamic actresses is Overly, who never actually appears onstage but manages to make an impression with his voice, as the painter who serves as something of a catalyst and sounding board for Mary’s reflections.

Technically, this show is nothing short of marvelous. With a striking set by David Blake, along with Bess Moynihan’s atmospheric lighting, Michael B. Perkins’s abundant and colorful projections, Elizabeth Henning’s costumes and Schwetye’s sound design, this production strikes and maintains just the right mood.  It’s haunting, reflective and educational all at the same time. This team has managed to use the somewhat limited space in the small Chapel venue to its best advantage, taking the audience on a trip into Mary Shelley’s world and into her very thoughts.  This is  great example of a show in which the technical elements add to the drama of the production rather than dominating or distracting from it. It’s  a highly commendable effort from all involved.

This is a unique and fascinating play that educates as it entertains, as well as providing a basis for thoughtful discussions on the nature of writing and of an artist’s relationship to her craft. It’s another triumph for the collective creative talents of SATE. Over the past few years, this small, unpretentious theatre company has consistently turned out some of the most exciting,intriguing productions in St. Louis. I’m constantly impressed at how much the team at SATE continues to grow and stretch their limits as a company, continually trying to challenge expectations and then rising to the challenge. It’s companies like this that help make the St. Louis theatre scene great. Mary Shelley Monster Show is the latest, and quite possibly the greatest, of SATE’s many successes.  I look forward to seeing what their next season brings.

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

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