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Posts Tagged ‘inevitable theatre company’

Stiff
Written and Performed by Sherry Jo Ward
Directed by Marianne Galloway
Inevitable Theatre Company and The Risk Theater Initiative Project
March 23, 2018

Sherry Jo Ward
Photo: Inevitable Theatre Company

Stiff, like its subject matter, is something of an enigma. A one-woman show featuring Texas-based performer Sherry Jo Ward, the show has been a hit at various festivals and venues in that state, and Inevitable Theatre Company has now brought Ward, her show, and her director, Marianne Galloway, to St. Louis to present this unique production about one woman’s struggle with a rare health condition. It’s a production that has turned out to be extremely compelling.

It almost seems inaccurate to call this a play. It is a play, but it’s more than that. It’s an autobiographical one-person show, but I’ve seen those before, as well. With Stiff, things are a little more immersive than I’ve seen. First of all, there’s Ward herself, who is sitting in her comfortable chair as the audience arrives, chatting amiably with various members of the audience. Then there’s the play, and afterwards, Ward is still there, accompanied by Galloway, talking to the audience and, this time, answering questions about the performance we just saw.  The play itself is also one of those performances that’s so much taken from life, that in a lot of places it seems more like a conversation than a play, as Ward tells the audience her story and interacts occasionally with the audience and Galloway, who sits in the front row. There’s also a slide show on the big screen behind her, illustrating her story. At times, Ward interacts with the slideshow as well, such as an imagined interview with television journalist Diane Sawyer that’s at times hilarious, at other times poignant.

The subject of the show, co-produced by Paraquad here in St. Louis, is Ward’s experiences with a rare neuromuscular disorder called “Stiff Person Syndrome”, or SPS. I had never heard of this condition before, and according to Ward, there are roughly 300 people in the United States who have it. Through the course of the play, Ward walks the audience through her experience, being diagnosed, dealing with various doctors, and having to adjust to not being able to drive, as well as how her diagnosis affected her acting career and her relationships. It’s a highly personal show, told in conversational style that is often hilariously funny, as well as being gut-wrenchingly dramatic at times, to the point where the line between drama a reality is blurred and the viewer can’t always be sure what’s real and what’s scripted. Ward is a wonder, displaying a remarkable candor, energy, and humor about her condition as well as being at times brutally honest about its effects. This experience is rather like sitting in the living room of an acquaintance while she tells you about her life. It’s that immediate, and authentic. Ward’s talents in acting and writing are on clear display, but so is her almost larger-than-life personality before and after the play itself.

In addition to Ward and Galloway, there’s also support from the excellent technical crew–lighting designer Joseph W. Clapper, stage manager Rhema Easley, and master elictrician/light board operator Paige Spizzo. Inevitable Theatre Company Artistic Director Robert Neblett is also on hand during the intro and talk-back sections, helping to facilitate the discussion between Ward and the audience.

The best word I can think of to describe this production is “unique”. It’s part play, part dialogue, part comedy routine, and more. Ultimately, though, it’s all about Sherry Jo Ward, who gives a performance that’s more than just a performance. It’s an educational production, as well, informing the audience about a condition many theatregoers may not have heard of (I hadn’t). It’s a show that’s difficult to describe, but not the least bit difficult to recommend. See this. You won’t regret it.

Sherry Jo Ward
Photo: Inevitable Theatre Company

Inevitable Theatre Company is presenting the Risk Theater Initiative production of Stiff at the Kranzberg Arts Center until April 1, 2018.

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Unsuspecting Susan
by Stewart Permutt
Directed by Robert Neblett
Inevitable Theatre Company
September 15, 2017

Donna Weinsting
Photo: Inevitable Theatre Company

Inevitable Theatre Company is new to the St. Louis theatre scene, but they aren’t entirely new. The company orginated in Texas but has now relocated to St. Louis, and their first production here is currently running at the Chapel, headlined by celebrated local performer Donna Weinsting. Unsuspecting Susan is an excellent showcase for Weinsting and a promising local debut for this “new” theatre company.

In this one-act, conversational play, Weinsting plays Susan Chester, who lives a comfortable life in Hampshire, England and seems to enjoy talking about it. She has many hobbies and many strong opinions about her interests and her neighbors. She’s heavily involved in her church and the local amateur dramatic society. She likes a good drink, and she’s not shy about talking about her difficult former marriage, her ex-husband, and her troubled son, Simon, who seems to have found a new purpose in life after moving to London.  Susan is affable but also not a little entitled and self-important, and these qualities display themselves more and more as her story continues. The plot gradually builds as the conversation continues and time passes, and we hear more about Susan’s involvement in her community and in a local production of The Killing of Sister George. We also hear more and more about the unseen Simon, and the idea that she’s painting a rosier picture than what is really going on becomes obvious, as do Susan’s own veiled doubts about her ability as a parent, masked always by the air of confidence she insists on projecting. Soon, Susan’s world is turned upside down by devastating news about her son, and we see Susan’s ever-present confidence and sense of entitlement begin to unravel.

I don’t want to say much else about the plot, because the gradual revelations are important to the story, as well as to Susan’s character development. I do want to say, though, how Weinsting’s masterful performance makes this story–already intriguing “on paper”–even more fascinating. She lives and breathes this character and her world that revolves around herself and her own views of the world, until something happens to shatter her perceptions and her confidence. It’s a multi-layered performance from Weinsting, who is able to portray so much in terms of subtext while initially maintaining her self-important air. She makes the audience care about this character who can be difficult to like at times, and her emotional journey through the last third of the play is especially remarkable, as Susan explores issues of friendship, faith, societal perceptions and expectations, her identity as a person and as a parent, and more.

The production values here are impressive, as well, with a well-appointed set and excellent use of music and lighting effects. Kudos to production designer Bruce A. Bergner, lighting designer John “JT” Taylor, and costume and scenic assistant Christina Sittser (who also appears briefly onstage in a non-speaking role) as well as director Robert Neblett for setting and maintaining the mood and tone of this production.

Unsuspecting Susan could also be subtitled “Unsuspecting Audience” in a way, since so much of what happens in this play isn’t apparent at first, and Susan puts on such a good front for such a long time, and while the sense that everything isn’t as it seems becomes more obvious as the play goes on, the sense of devastation is real when the news does break. Sometimes it does seem like it takes a little too much time for the script to get where it’s going, but Weinsting makes that time worth it. This is a challenging, thought-provoking and increasingly timely play. It’s an excellent first St. Louis production for Inevitable Theatre Company, and a tour-de-force for Weinsting.

Inevitable Theatre Company presents Unsuspecting Susan at The Chapel until September 30, 2017.

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