Posts Tagged ‘moonstone theatre company’

Barefoot in the Park
by Neil Simon
Directed by Sharon Hunter
Moonstone Theatre Company
October 27, 2022

Luis Aguilar, Rhiannon Creighton
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Moonstone Theatre Company

Barefoot in the Park is one of celebrated playwright Neil Simon’s earlier works, first having been staged on Broadway in 1963, starring a young Robert Redford, who later starred in the 1967 film adaptation opposite Jane Fonda. Moonstone Theatre Company has chosen to set their season opening production in 1966, perhaps to take advantage of the late 1960s style trends, and this production certainly achieves an eye-catching aesthetic. It also features some winning performances and well-paced direction by Sharon Hunter, highlighting the more timeless elements of the play’s appeal, although the age of this script does show through in places.

This is one of those shows that, while contemporary in its time, only works as a period piece today. The 1960s setting is one of the highlights of this production, but it also highlights the changing times, including views of marriage, relationships, and perceptions of age and gender roles. The story focuses around young newlyweds Corie (Rhiannion Creighton) and Paul (Luis Aguilar), who have just come from their honeymoon to settle into a small, fifth-floor walkup apartment in New York City. Although they are still in the flush of “young love”, these two are very different in terms of personality. Corie is impulsive, vivacious, and upbeat, always looking for a new adventure in life. Young lawyer Paul, on the other hand, is more conventional, and wary of Corie’s more outgoing, quirky ways. Still, they’re obviously in love, and excited about beginning their life together, until a series of interactions calls both to question whether or not they should even be together. This is a Neil Simon comedy, so the complications tend toward the madcap rather than the introspective, and hilarious characters and situations are the focus. First, there’s Corie’s mother, Ethel (Jilane Klaus), who personality-wise seems to have more in common with her new son-in-law than her daughter. Ethel, who voices her support for the new couple, is also obviously concerned and has the tendency to want to meddle. She’s also lonely, set in her ways, and (*gasp*) 50(!), so Corie is determined to inject some excitement into her mother’s life by introducing her to their worldly, eccentric upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco (TJ Lancaster), who proves to be charming and affably wacky. Naturally, hijinks ensue, leading to the young couple’s questioning their own relationship and their attitudes toward one another and life in general. 

The show is certainly funny, and the characters and situations are never dull, especially with the excellent performances and brisk staging. Still, there are some creaky elements to the script that make it obvious how much society has changed in the past six decades. First, although both Corie and Paul learn about compromise in relationships, the major “weight” of the self-reflection is given to Corie, with elements of the old “change to keep your man” theme. Also, the attitudes toward aging, and  how people age 50+ (especially women) are perceived and expected to behave, is especially jarring. Still, there is a lot to like here, as well, and a lot of the themes are still as relatable today as they were 60 years ago.

For this production, the vibrancy comes from the excellent, very period-focused atmosphere as well as the wonderful cast. Dunsi Dai’s colorful, detailed set is a mid-century marvel, as are Michele Siler’s character-appropriate costumes, Michael Sullivan’s atmospheric lighting and Amanda Werre’s excellent sound design. The period-specific music played before the show and during the two intermissions also highlights the 1960s mood. 

As for that wonderful cast, everyone is strong, with a cohesive ensemble chemistry and excellent comic timing. Creighton as the energetic Corie and Aguilar as the more reserved Paul make a memorable pair, making the somewhat rocky arc of their relationship believable. Klaus is also strong as Ethel, who undergoes a believable transformation of sorts aided by the hilarious Lancaster, who gives a charming, scene-stealing performance as Victor. There are also excellent featured performances from Chuck Brinkley as a telephone repairman and Bob Harvey as a delivery guy. 

Overall, Moonstone’s Barefoot in the Park is a brightly atmospheric trip into the 1960s, and a fun look at how contrasting personalities and outlooks on life can influence relationships. It does have its share of dated elements, but this production, featuring its great cast and memorable aesthetic, is ultimately fun, funny, and heartwarming. It’s an entertaining opening for Moonstone’s new season.  

TJ Lancaster, Jilanne Klaus, Luis Aguilar, Rhiannon Creighton
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Moonstone Theatre Company

Moonstone Theatre Company is presenting Barefoot in the Park at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center until November 13, 2022

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Proof
by David Auburn
Directed by Sharon Hunter
Moonstone Theatre Company
March 26, 2022

Summer Baer, Michael James Reed
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Moonstone Theatre Company

Moonstone Theatre Company continues to impress with its second production onstage at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. David Auburn’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Proof is a profoundly thoughtful drama with rich characterizations and intelligent explorations of subjects from math to family relationships to struggles with mental health. It’s a challenging play to stage, and Moonstone has risen to the challenge admirably with a remarkably well-cast production.

The play tells its story with a blend of straightforward realism, flashback, and fantasy, as it explores the lives that have been affected by renowned mathematician and university professor Robert (Michael James Reed), and especially that of his younger daughter, Catherine (Summer Baer), a once-promising math student herself, who left school early to care for her father as he struggled with mental illness. In the aftermath of Robert’s death, three characters are dealing with his passing in different ways. Catherine is left struggling to cope, and also dealing with fears that she will inherit her father’s condition. Her business-minded older sister Claire (Julie Amuedo), deals with what to do with Robert’s house, and how to take care of Catherine, whom Claire views as “fragile”. There’s also Hal (Oliver Bacus), a former student of Robert’s who now teaches at the university. Hal has been looking through the many notebooks Robert left behind in case there might be some important math discovery hidden among the often incoherent scribblings Robert filled them with in his later years. As Catherine deals with memories of her father, the expectations of her sister, and her initially awkward interactions with Hal that soon reveal an obvious mutual attraction, she is forced to confront her own fears, as well as unresolved issues concerning her father’s legacy, her own future, and her mathematical gifts. 

This is a story about relationships primarily–interpersonal relationships, teacher/student, parent/child, and sibling relationships, and potential romantic relationships. It also focuses on mental health and also on individuals’ gifts, talents, and intelligence, and how they utilize them. With Catherine as the central character with the most personal issues to deal with, and Robert being a looming presence even when he’s not on stage, the other characters are developed mostly through their relationships with these two key figures. Catherine is a bundle of contradictions, and a lot of promise but also self-doubt, and she is portrayed with vivid complexity by Baer, who shines in every scene she is in, and especially in her moments with the superb Reed as Robert; and with Bacus, who gives an impressively likable performance as the initially awkward but determined Hal. Amuedo is also strong in the difficult role of the somewhat haughty Claire, who is essentially the antagonist of the piece, and her scenes with Baer are fraught with tension. It’s a strong ensemble all around, and the staging and pacing help to maintain the emotion of the story.

The action takes place at Robert’s old, deteriorating house and backyard, which are vividly realized by means of Dunsi Dai’s simply impressive set. Michele Siler’s costumes suit the characters well, and there’s also excellent lighting by Michael Sullivan that adapts well to the changing tones of the show. Along with Amanda Werre’s strong sound design, the technical aspects help to maintain the mood of the production.

There is so much going on here in terms of emotion, unfolding discoveries, and character relationships, and there are some especially intense moments, but it’s all approached deftly by the cast and director Sharon Hunter that it never seems too heavy, even though there’s a lot to think about here. It’s a profound story and a rich portrayal of well-drawn characters. The relationships between the characters and some of the more philosophical and mathematical concepts are also portrayed in a fascinating way, and I can see why this play won a Pulitzer. Proof marks another strong showing for this relatively new theatre company.

Oliver Bacus, Summer Baer
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Moonstone Theatre Company

Moonstone Theatre Company is presenting Proof at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center until April 10th, 2022

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Jake’s Women
by Neil Simon
Directed by Edward M. Coffield
Moonstone Theatre Company
November 4, 2021

Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Jeff Cummings
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Moonstone Theatre Company

Moonstone Theatre company is currently staging their first production in the studio theatre space at the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. Moonstone is a new theatre company, although it seems like they have been around for a while, considering artistic director-producer Sharon Hunter and company have managed to maintain a visible online presence (via Facebook, their website, and a podcast) over the past two years while waiting for the chance to finally stage a live production. Well, that production is here now, and it’s excellent. Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women features a first-rate cast and strong production values, making a strong impression on the St. Louis theatre scene.

Jake’s Women is one of celebrated playwright Simon’s later plays, having been originally staged in 1992, and like most of his works, it’s a comedy, although there are elements of drama as are characteristic of many of Simon’s later works. It’s early 90s origin is apparent in some of the jokes that don’t quite seem to “land” as well as they would have almost 30 years ago, but otherwise, it holds up well, speaking to universal issues of relationships, mental health, and the challenges of being a writer. Jake (Jeff Cummings) is a celebrated novelist currently dealing with writer’s block, as well as a variety of issues in his relationships with various women in his life, who appear mostly in Jake’s mind. These women include his current wife Maggie (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), his sister Karen (Hunter), his psychoanalyst Edith (Jennie Brick), his daughter Molly at age 12 (Amelie Lock) and at 21 (Carly Uding), and his late, beloved first wife Julie (Marisa Puller). All of these characters except Maggie only appear as Jake’s imagined/remembered versions who appear at first only as Jake “summons” them, although later they begin showing up on their own. Maggie, who is dealing with a strained marriage to Jake, appears both in Jake’s mind-visions and in “real life”, showing the contrast between how she really is and how Jake can imagine her. There’s also another character, Sheila (Mindy Shaw), who mostly appears in “real life”, as a new woman in Jake’s life who isn’t so sure what to think of him. As Jake debates, argues, and discusses with these figures in his life (in the real and imaginary versions), he seeks to work out his own struggles with fear of intimacy, grief over his loss of his first wife, his dependence on women, his fear of losing touch with reality, and more. It’s a fascinating, fast-paced picture of a complex character and a struggling marriage, as the relationship between Jake and Maggie is at the center.

As a Neil Simon play, this show is full of fast-paced, quick witted and self-deprecating humor, as well as memorable characters. In this production, all the characters are cast with impeccable precision. As Jake, Cummings is full of angsty energy, managing to be both obtuse and vulnerable at the same time, maintaining sympathy even when he can be stubbornly difficult. Theby-Quinn is an excellent match for Cummings as the conflicted Maggie, managing to convey a genuine love for Jake as well as exasperation with him, and a desire to discover more about herself. These two work especially well together, forming the emotional heart of this production. There are also strong performances from the rest of the cast, with Hunter as the ever-helpful but increasingly frustrated Karen, Brick as the acerbic Edith, Puller as the idealized but determined Julie, and Lock and Uding as two different versions of Molly all providing excellent support. Shaw, as Sheila, makes a strong impression in a small-ish role, as well, mostly reacting to Jake’s increasingly unusual behavior as he deals with the apparitions that she is unable to see. It’s a cohesive ensemble, bringing Simon’s quickly paced, talky script to life with emotion and verve.

The space at the Kirkwood Performing Arts center is ideal for this production, emphasizing the intimacy of the setting and working well with the style and theme of the play. Dunsi Dai’s relatively minimal set is also ideal, with both realistic and more abstract elements blending together with Michael Sullivan’s evocative lighting to highlight the more imaginative aspects of the play, as well as its very real humor and emotion. The costumes by Michele Siler and sound by Amanda Werre also contribute well to the overall tone and theme of the production, and director Edward M. Coffield’s staging is dynamic and energetically paced.

Overall, this is an impressive debut for a promising new theatre company. Jake’s Women provides a strong cast an excellent opportunity to bring this thoughtful, witty play to life. Moonstone Theatre Company is a welcome addition to the St. Louis theatre scene, and I’m looking forward to seeing more productions from them in the future. 

Cast of Jake’s Women
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Moonstone Theatre company

Moonstone Theatre Company is presenting Jake’s Women at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center until November 21, 2021

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