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Posts Tagged ‘sarah lynne holt’

Perfect Arrangement
by Topher Payne
Directed by Sarah Lynne Holt
R-S Theatrics
December 6, 2018

Zak Farmer, Mark Kelley, Colleen Backer, Deborah Dennert
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics

I always try to be careful with how much I reveal about the plots of the plays I review. A little bit of spoiling is sometimes inevitable, but for the most part, I try to write so that the important surprises will be kept for the viewers to see for themselves. In a play like R-S Theatrics’ latest production, Perfect Arrangement, managing spoilers is a little more difficult since the play starts out with a surprise. It’s also a play that keeps surprising as the story goes along, by way of playwright Topher Payne’s cleverly constructed script. One thing that isn’t much of a surprise, though, is the strength of the cast, since R-S Theatrics is fairly consistent in finding just the right performers for their roles.

This is a play about appearances, and secrets, and the cruelty of punishing people for who they are and forcing them into playing roles that don’t fit them.While I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, I will have to mention the initial surprise because it’s basically impossible to review this play without doing so. So, if you are someone who wants to be completely surprised about everything that happens in a show, this is your warning to stop reading now.  The first scene features a 1950’s dinner party featuring three couples–Bob and Millie Martindale (Mark Kelley and Colleen Backer), Jim and Norma Baxter (Tyson Cole and Sarah Gene Dowling), and Theodore and Kitty Sunderson (Zak Farmer and Deborah Dennert). This scene comes across as something of a send-up of the “typical” 1950s domestic setup–cocktails, cheery smiles, and adoring wives admiring their husbands. In fact, some of the dialogue, particularly from the women, is reminiscent of old-style radio show commercials, in which the characters break from the action to hawk the latest brand of detergent or some other product. The setting is Washington, DC, and Ted, Bob, and Norma all work for the State Department, helping to root out “undesirables” in their midst, such as communist sympathizers, but now, boss Ted has ordered his subordinates Bob and Norma to assist in expanding the scope of the purge beyond politics to sex, including exposing and firing employees deemed to have undesirable lifestyles, including homosexuality and promiscuity. Bob and Norma initially seem to go along, but after the Sundersons leave, we find out there’s a problem. The “perfect” little suburban setup for the Martindales the Baxters is all an act. The real couples are Millie and Norma and Bob and Jim, and they are able to maintain their appearance of being two “typical” 50s heterosexual couples by means of adjoining houses with a secret door between them. This arrangement has worked until now, but after Ted’s new order, things begin to unravel, all while the couples desperately try to maintain the fiction while doubts begin to surface, particularly for Millie, who struggles to keep up the act for the increasingly clingy and socially connected Kitty. There’s also the problem of Bob’s and Norma’s co-worker Barbara (Erin Struckhoff), who has been targeted for her promiscuous reputation but who isn’t about to keep quiet, and who brings even more surprises into the story. It’s a complex plot but expertly structured, with an evolving tone that starts out looking like it’s going to be a comedy but soon morphs into more of an intense, riveting drama. The structure cleverly reflects the theme, as well, since appearances can be deceiving.

The acting here is especially challenging since several of the characters have to play two versions of themselves–the happy, cheerful “perfect” versions and their real selves behind the masks. Everyone is excellent, especially Backer with her shifting between the perky “spokesmodel” type 50s housewife to the more conflicted “unmasked” Millie, and being genuinely torn between wanting to be accepted by society and wanting to express her true self. Dowling, as the initially more forceful Norma, is also excellent as someone for whom the fiction has become much more of a burden than a blessing. There are also strong performances from Cole, as the initially happy-go-lucky Jim, and Kelley as the more rigid, conforming Bob, who is trying to convince everyone that nothing has to change. Struckhoff, as the confrontational Barbara, also shines, as does Dennert as the initially flighty Kitty, who eventually reveals more depth to her character than is first evident. Farmer also makes a memorable impression as the character who changes the least–the inflexible, reactionary Ted. It’s an especially impressive ensemble that supports the challenging, sometimes broadly satirical and sometimes intensely dramatic script especially well.

The look and atmosphere of this show is especially important considering its specific theme, and the 1950s style has been well realized in technical director J. Keller Ryan’s scenic design. Sarah Porter’s costumes and wigs also help to achieve the 1950’s “typical suburban” look and feel. There’s also strong lighting design from Nathan Schroeder and sound by Mark Kelley, all working together in the intimate setting of the Marcelle Theatre to bring the audience into the carefully manufactured world of these characters.

Perfect Arrangement is an expertly crafted play, bringing some laughs initially but especially intense, poignant emotion as the story plays out. It’s an examination of a bygone era, but also a warning for today, as history doesn’t always change as quickly as we think it does. This is another excellent, incisive production from R-S Theatrics.

Colleen Backer, Deborah Dennert, Sarah Gene Dowling
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics is presenting Perfect Arrangement at the Marcelle Theatre until December 23, 2018.

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Boom
by Peter Sinn Nactrieb
Directed by Sarah Lynne Holt
R-S Theatrics
November 18, 2016

Andrew Kuhlman, Elizabeth Van Pelt Photo by Michael Young R-S Theatrics

Andrew Kuhlman, Elizabeth Van Pelt
Photo by Michael Young

R-S Theatrics

There’s a fish on the program cover. Don’t forget the fish, even when it looks like the world might end in a few minutes. That’s part of the premise of the truly unusual play Boom, which is the latest St. Louis premiere production from the small but innovative theatre company R-S Theatrics. Although it takes a while to figure out what’s actually going on in this play, Boom certainly makes an impression.

It starts out as a simple date arranged online, or at least that’s what Jo (Elizabeth Van Pelt) believes when a guy she just met via an online ad, Jules (Andrew Kuhlman) invites her to his basement marine biology lab at a university.  She’s a journalism student looking for a casual hookup, but we soon learn that he has other plans. In fact, her motives aren’t what they first appear, either. There’s a whole lot of that  in this play–shaking up of appearances. But wait, there’s more! As these two play out their scene, there’s a mysterious figure banging drums and flipping switches that seem to affect the actions between Jules and Jo. Eventually we learn the mysterious figure is Barbara (Nancy Nigh), who explains the best she can what she is doing and what the meeting between Jules and Jo is about.  How the two stories relate to one another is something I can’t say because it’s too much of a spoiler. All I will say is remember the fish!

This is a strange play, with elements of broad comedy, macabre humor, and a little bit of an absurdist bent.  It’s a reasonably linear story, but the reality of what’s happening isn’t made clear for quite a while. The characters are broadly drawn, from the exhaustingly optimistic Jules, played with a great deal of energy by Kuhlman; to the more pessimistic, determined Jo, played in a gutsy performance by Van Pelt, who has excellent combative chemistry with Kuhlman.  There’s also the enigmatic, disproportionately cheerful Barbara, played with excellent comic timing by Nigh, who’s importance to this story becomes more apparent as the story goes on. All three performers play their parts as approachably as possible considering the mysterious nature of the story, and the result is a lot of genuine, and occasionally disturbing, humor.

Technically, the play has been presented well. The Chapel has been set up so that the main floor is a major part of the staging area, along with the stage. There’s seating on either side of the main floor and a few seats up on the stage as well. Keller Ryan’s set effectively suggests the basement lab setting, as well as the podium where Barbara spends much of her time. There’s excellent, sharply focused lighting by Nathan Schroeder, as well, and clear, well-syncronized sound by Mark Kelley. Director Sarah Lynne Hall’s staging is dynamic as well, with the placement and movements of the characters providing a good deal of the humor.

Boom is cerrtainly an unusual play, but in its own way it’s also extremely relevant. The themes represented here are ones that are sure to provide much food for thought and conversation. It’s another excellent production from the always bold R-S Theatrics.

Elizabeth Van Pelt, Nancy Nigh Photo by Michael Young R-S Theatrics

Elizabeth Van Pelt, Nancy Nigh
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics is presenting Boom at The Chapel until December 4th, 2016. 

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