Posts Tagged ‘mustard seed theatre’

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Adam Flores
Mustard Seed Theatre
October 14, 2018

Eric Dean White, Chris Ware, Courtney Bailey Parker, Carl Overly, Jr.
Photo by Ann K. Photography
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is opening their 2018-2019 season with a play that’s somewhat difficult to categorize. The basic premise is simple enough to describe, but how it plays out is much more complicated than that. It’s certainly memorable, though, with strong performances and excellent production values, and enough though-provoking ideas to prompt many a conversation, contemplation, or academic essay.

So, the set-up is fairly simple, and the setting metaphysical. It’s described as a place called “Hope”, located in Downtown Purgatory, between heaven and hell. There’s a courtroom here, presided by a gruff Judge (Chandler Spradling) who is trying to get through the various cases as quickly as possible. The latest defense attorney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Courtney Bailey Parker) is persistent, however, insisting on a hearing for her client, the infamous Judas Iscariot (Chris Ware), who sits sullenly waiting for his fate to be pronounced. The prosecuting attorney, Yusef El-Fayoumy (Carl Overly, Jr.) is zealous if somewhat unorganized, and Cunningham remains determined throughout the ensuing trial in which Judas’s betrayal of Jesus Christ (Jesse Muñoz) is recounted in detail, including testimonies from Judas’s mother, Henriette (Carmen Garcia), along with various biblical figures like St. Peter (FeliceSkye), St. Matthew, Mary Magdalene and Caiphas (all three played by Ariella Rovinsky), as well as more recent historical figures like Mother Teresa (Rachel Tibbetts) and Sigmund Freud (also FeliceSkye), and Satan himself (Eric Dean White).

The format is difficult to follow at times, as it jumps around in time and space and features a mixture of perspectives. The biblical story is embellished to fill out Judas’s life story as well as provide context for the historical and fictional characters represented here. It’s not always clear where the story is going either, especially since it takes a rather sharp turn near the end on the way to a conclusion that reminds me in a way of C. S. Lewis, although a broad range of philosophies and approaches is mentioned here as well. The various situations are treated with a sometimes jarring mixture of comedy and drama, and some specific characters–especially Satan–veering wildly in tone and approach. It’s a thoughtful show, turning over and examining ideas of compassion, mercy, justice, hypocrisy, the concepts of heaven and hell, and more.

The performances are a key element of this production, with particularly dynamic turns from Parker as the earnestly determined Cunningham and Overly as the frenetic but also determined El-Fayoumy, as well as White as a Satan who is at turns smarmy, hucksterish, and deadly serious. Ware is a strong presence as the dejected, mostly silent Judas, and Muñoz is excellent in a small but memorable role as Jesus. It’s a large cast, with most of the other players playing more than one role, to excellent effect, with standouts including Tibbetts as a somewhat scatterbrained Mother Teresa, Rae Davis as the tough-talking St. Monica, Garcia as both Judas’s mother and a stubborn Pontius Pilate, and Rovinsky in a variety of roles. Graham Emmons also has a memorable moment near the end as a juror named Butch Honeywell. It’s a strong ensemble all around, with lots of energy, conveying the comic and dramatic moments with clarity.

Visually, this show is simply striking, with a scenic design by Dunsi Dai that conveys the otherworldly setting well–an orangey-red courtroom setup that serves as a backdrop for the trial and for various other locations as needed. The lighting by Michael Sullivan is also strong, along with Zoe Sullivan’s sound, contributing to the metaphysical atmosphere of the play. The costumes by Andrea Robb also suit the characters well, putting a more modern twist to the stylings of characters from various time periods and backgrounds.

This isn’t an easy play. It requires a lot of thought, and sometimes seems to present contradictory concepts of the world and various perspectives. It’s a vividly characterized story that’s part philosophical treatise, part morality play, part deconstruction, with excellent performances and first-rate production values. It’s a provocative start to a new season for Mustard Seed.

Jesse Muñoz, Chris Ware
Photo by Ann K. Photography
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Fontbonne University until October 28, 2018

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by Alvaro Saar Rios
Directed by Anna Skidis Vargas
Mustard Seed Theatre with Theatre Nuevo
June 3, 2018

Carl Overly, Jr.
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre/Theatre Nuevo

The final production in Mustard Seed Theatre’s  2017-2018 season is a collaboration with Theatre Nuevo, bringing a story to the stage that is at once informative, fascinating, and inspiring. Luchadora! tells a compelling story with memorable characters and an impressive cast. It’s a story that’s highly specific, focusing on a particular family and cultural experience, with universal themes of love, determination, and acceptance.

The story is told in flashback, with the characters from the present reacting to the situations from the past as the story unfolds. In present-day Milwaukee, Nana Lupita (Carmen Garcia) tells her granddaughter Vanessa (Isabel Garcia) a story that turns out to have a great deal of relevance to Vanessa’s current situation. Flashing back to Texas in 1968, Nana Lupita recounts a significant time in her life, and events that shaped the person she is today. The teenage, Mexican-American Lupita (Thalia Cruz) works for her father (Rahamses Galvan) selling flowers along with her German-American friends, the brother and sister Leopold (Cassidy Flynn) and Liesl (Ashley Skaggs). Lupita’s father, who struggles with chronic back pain, sends Lupita to deliver a briefcase to a woman known as The Mask Maker (Cassandra Lopez), who makes the distinctive masks used in lucha libre–Mexican professional wrestling. The wrestlers–called luchadors–are compared to superheroes, with a mystique about them and a highly devoted fan following. Whent the champion luchador El Hijo (Carl Overly, Jr.) issues a challenge to a legendary luchador who once challenged his father–also a champion–and then disappeared, a long-held secret threatens to be discovered as Lupita looks for answers, a purpose for her life, and a closer connection to her father.  Essentially, that’s the set-up. There’s also an a connecting subplot involving perceived roles of women in society, Leopold and Liesl’s older sister who ran away, and the Vietnam War.There are a lot of other details I’m leaving out because that’s the play and the best way to learn this story is to see it. Still, this play is called Luchadora! for a reason. Essentially this is Lupita’s story, and it’s one of determination, dedication, and heart.

This production does several things well. It tells an essentially timeless coming of age story while also bringing the audience into the world of lucha libre and also the Texas of the 1960s. The characters are well-drawn and the situations are credible and interesting, even though most of the plot is fairly predictable. This is a story aimed to encourage and inspire as well as inform, and it does that well, with strong, memorable performances from an excellent, enthusiastic cast. The key roles here are those of Carmen Garcia and Cruz, as the older and younger versions of Lupita. Both give strong, relatable performances, so much that the audience is drawn to identify with them, and to want to follow this story. These characters, along with Isabel Garcia’s Vanessa, drive the plot and its message–and all three performers play their roles accordingly, with excellent presence, energy, and heart. There’s also impressive support from the entire cast, with strong turns from Lopez as the Mask Maker, who becomes an encouraging mentor to Lupita; from Galvan, sympathetic and caring as Lupita’s father; from Flynn and Skaggs as her supportive friends; and from Overly as the brash, charismatic El Hijo, along with Hannah Pauluhn in an influential role as Leo and Liesl’s older sister, Hannah.

This fascinating story is aided by some excellent technical qualities, as well. David Blake’s two-level set is striking and comprehensive, showing Nana Lupita’s balcony as well as the Texas neighbhorhood of her youth and various other places as needed. The costumes by Carly Parent are also impressive–from the brightly colored luchador costumes to the period-specific attire of the different characters.  There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Michael Sullivan, sound designer Zoe Sullivan, and dynamic fight choreography by Mark Kelley.

Lupita’s world, both in present-day and in 1968, is brought to vivid life in this inpiring, entertaining, and extremely well-cast production. For audience members not particularly familiar with lucha libre, this show serves as a good introduction, as well as communicating important messages about family, friendship, and challenging rigid societal expectations about gender roles, particularly for women and girls. It’s an impressive collaboration between Mustard Seed Theatre and Theatre Nuevo.

Mustard Seed Theatre and Theatre Nuevo are presenting Luchadora! at Fontbonne University until June 17, 2018

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As It Is In Heaven
by Arlene Hutton
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
March 17, 2018

Cast of As It Is in Heaven
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

As far as I can tell, what’s most remembered about the Shakers nowadays is their furniture, and a few of their hymns. This somewhat austere, mysterious religious sect reached its peak in the mid-19th Century before falling into decline. Now, Mustard Seed Theatre takes a closer look at this community in their latest play, the compelling As It Is in Heaven. Through story and song, the excellent cast brings insight to relationships, faith, and life among the Shakers.

Set in a Shaker community in Kentucky in the 1840s, this play focuses on the women. There were men and women in Shaker communities, but they lived separately. Here, we are introduced to nine Shaker women with different roles in the community and different ideas of what it means to be a Shaker. Hannah (Ami Loui), Betsy (Alicia Reve Like), Phebe (Mary Schnitzler), Rachel (Leslie Wobbe), Peggy (Laurie McConnell), Jane (Jennelle Gilreath), Fanny (Patrice Foster), Polly (Amanda Wales), and Izzy (Christina Sittser) represent various personal experiences, stories, and roles in the community. The older, more established members are sometimes suspicious of the younger members, who seem more effusive in their faith, such as Fanny who sees visions of angels, and influences some of the younger “sisters” and troubles some older ones–especially Hannah, the leader of the group. Over the course of the play’s relatively short running time, we see the sisters at confession, at worship, and at work doing various tasks for the community. The emphasis is on simplicity, and even singing their songs in harmony is frowned upon by some of the older members, although the younger sisters continue to challenge the status quo. We also hear various background stories about the sisters, and what led them to join this community, what keeps them here, and what they think about the new things that are happening–visions, drawings supposedly “sent” from the Shakers’ deceased former leader, Mother Ann.  There isn’t a linear story as much as a series of vignettes and a building sense of tension over the “new ways” vs. the “old ways”, with some intriguing looks at ideas such as tradition vs. change, faith and doubt, generational tensions, and group thinking vs. individualism.

The cast here is strong all around, with standout performances from Foster as the somewhat reluctant visionary Fanny, Loui as the conflicted, self-doubting leader Hannah, Gilreath as Jane and Wales as Polly, who have both had difficult issues in their pasts, McConnell as eager baker Peggy, and Sittser as the youthful, optimistic Izzy. The whole ensemble is strong, though, with excellent group chemistry lending to the overall “family” feeling of this community of sisters who love each other, but don’t always get along or view life the same way, despite being members of the same devout community.  The singing is also a highlight, as the sisters sing a variety of hymns, mostly in unison but occasionally–and controversially–in harmony.

The set here is simple and elegant, as reflecting of the subject matter of this play. Set designer Cameron Tesson has created a space that represents the community’s meeting space, as well as suggestions of the surrounding land. Jane Sullivan’s costumes are also appropriately suited, with excellent period detail. Zoe Sullivan’s sound and Bess Moynihan’s evocative lighting also contribute well to the overall atmosphere of simplicity and devotion, with an ocasional air of the mysterious, as well.

I’ve used the word “simple” a lot in this review, and that’s fitting since simplicity was a revered ideal among the Shakers portrayed here. Still, “simple” is only part of the story, and the characters are richly portrayed, as are their stories. As It Is in Heaven shows the contradictions and restrictions as well as the joys of life in this unusual community, with vividly portrayed characters and a strong sense of music. Simply stated, it’s well worth seeing.

Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting As It Is in Heaven at Fontbonne University until March 31, 2018.

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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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Dancing at Lughnasa
by Brian Friel
Directed by Gary Barker
Mustard Seed Theatre
April 15, 2017

Michelle Hand, Amy Loui, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Leslie Wobbe, Kelley Weber
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Irish playwright Brian Friel’s “memory play” Dancing at Lughnasa, as staged currently at Mustard Seed Theatre, is almost like a prose poem on stage. With its strong sense of time and place, and its conceit of having the narrator both interacting with the story and also reflecting upon it, the show takes on a lyrical tone that works well. With a cast of some of St. Louis’s finest performers and top-notch production values, this is a profoundly affecting theatrical experience.

The story is told by the adult Michael Evans (Jim Butz), reflecting back on an important time in his life, the summer of 1936 when he was a 7-year-old child growing up in the small Irish village of Ballybeg. The key figures in the story are the five Mundy sisters, including Michael’s mother, the youngest sister Christina or “Chris” (Jennifer Theby-Quinn). The five sisters live together in a small cottage, including the eldest, prim schoolteacher Kate (Amy Loui), as well as the boisterous Maggie (Kelley Weber), the melancholy Agnes (Leslie Wobbe), and developmentally challenged Rose (Michelle Hand). The sisters seem to cooperate in the raising of Michael, who doesn’t appear on stage as a child–rather the adult Michael “plays” the young Michael in occasional conversations with his mother and aunts. Amid the local celebrations of the pagan holiday Lughnasa, the sisters are celebrating the return of their older brother, Father Jack (Gary Glasgow), who has recently returned from many years of missionary work in Africa, and who isn’t quite the same as his sisters remember. There’s also Gerry Evans (Richard Strelinger), Michael’s Welsh father, who never married Chris but who stops by occasionally in the midst of his travels to visit Michael and Chris. While in the past, Gerry’s visits have been the cause for much consternation, this latest visit starts out that way but grows more hopeful, at least for a while. The story that follows is a vivid picture of a time and place, as well as these richly portrayed characters and their conflicting attitudes toward the world around them and the great changes that are starting to take place. The conflict between Catholicism and the ancient local beliefs and customs, as well as changing economic realities and the roles of women in society, are among the issues that are brought up here. There’s a lot of warmth and humor here, as well as music and exuberant dancing in addition to regret and even tragedy, structured in a way that makes the story all the more poignant in that older Michael often explains future events before we actually see them play out in the story.

The cast here is excellent, led by Butz’s engaging, reflective Michael, who serves as an effective narrator but also is believable in his moments as “young Michael” interacting with the rest of the cast. All five sisters are strongly portrayed, with Weber’s upbeat Maggie, Wobbe’s wistful Agnes, and Theby-Quinn’s conflicted and sometimes moody Chris as the biggest standouts. All five actresses are strong, though, and their bond as sisters is clearly evident. Also memorable is Glasgow, in the best performance I’ve seen from him, as the weary but well-meaning Father Jack, whose personal crisis of faith becomes evident as the story progresses. Strelinger rounds out the cast in an amiable performance as the charming, always-wandering Gerry, who has some particularly effective scenes with Theby-Quinn and with Wobbe. The Irish accents are consistent throughout, as well, with the exception of Strelinger, who affects a believable English accent although his character is Welsh.

The Irish village setting is vividly realized in Kyra Bishop’s beautifully detailed set, Jane Sullivan’s well-appointed costumes, and Laura Skroska’s props. The vintage radio, called “Marconi”, essentially becomes a character in its own right. There’s also excellent sound design by Zoe Sulliven and striking lighting by Michael Sullivan. All of these technical aspects work together well, along with the strong direction and performances, to transport the audience to 1930’s Ireland.

Although I had heard of Dancing at Lughnasa before, I had never actually seen it on stage until this production. Mustard Seed’s production is lovingly, poetically told and beautifully portrayed by its strong, cohesive cast. It’s an excellent conclusion to this company’s 2016-2017 season.

Gary Glasgow, Amy Loui, Michelle Hand, Leslie Wobbe, Richard Strelinger
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting Dancing at Lughnasa at Fontbonne University until April 30, 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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