Posts Tagged ‘sarah whitney’

The Bee Play
by Elizabeth Savage
Directed by Sarah Whitney
New Jewish Theatre
September 8, 2022

Ellie Schwetye, Miles Brenton
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

According to new artistic director Rebekah Scallet in her pre-show speech, The Bee Play is the New Jewish Theatre’s first-ever world premiere. This play has had a relatively long development process, and now is brought to the stage with an engaging story, a strong cast, and NJT’s usual excellent production values. It’s a compelling, fascinating story, with a great deal of insight and potential, even though there are still a few rough edges.

The story takes place in a Bronx apartment building in the recent past (2016, according to the program). Carver Washington (Miles Brenton) is a determined and studious young man who is fascinated with bees, keeping hives on the roof of his building and speaking to the audience about the importance of bees for the health and survival of the planet. Carver lives with his ailing grandmother, Ma’Dear (Margery A. Handy), who raised him and his younger sister after the death of their mother, and who depends upon Carver for her care. His energetic sister, Paris France Washington (Riley Carter Adams) is an enthusiastic dance student who is preparing for her first big recital. Carver, who has a strong sense of responsibility to his family, also has a strong desire to attend college out of state where he can get a degree in Apiary Science (the study of bees). His grandmother is suspicious of his educational and life goals, but he has the support of his idealistic friend Devora (Ellie Schwetye), who lives nearby in an “urban kibbutz” and has hopes of changing the world for the better.  Change is a big issue in this story, in fact, as some characters fear change, others pursue it, and sometimes it happens when the characters least expect it.

There are many issues covered here, from family relationships and responsibilities, to religious differences and influence, to humans’ responsibility toward the planet and other living beings. It’s a compelling story with especially memorable characters, and some excellent dialogue and thought-provoking conversations, although some of the backstory needs a little more attention, and the second act feels a bit rushed, leading up to an ending that leaves more questions than answers and seems to happen too quickly.  There are also some somewhat confusing moments that could use further explanation.

For the most part, though, this is a fascinating show, and the terrific cast makes it all the more engaging. Brenton is a strong protagonist as the earnest, determined Carver, conveying his passion for bees and conflicted feelings about his family responsibilities especially well. His scenes with the equally strong Schwetye as the outgoing, idealistic Devora are convincing, as are his moments with the excellent Handy as the complex, somewhat enigmatic Ma’Dear. There’s also a truly fantastic performance from young Adams as the highly energetic, strong-willed Paris, showing off impressive dance skills along with marvelous stage presence. The actors work together well, making all the relationships, conflicts, and tensions believable, and conveying the moments of comedy and drama with equal strength.

As is usual with this theatre company, the technical aspects of this production are impressive. Dunsi Dai’s remarkably detailed set is both realistic and transporting. The costumes by Michele Friedman Siler suit the characters’ personalities well, and Jayson Lawshee’s lighting adds to the storytelling in atmospheric ways. There’s also impressive sound design by Schwetye, and energetic choreography by Sam Gaitsch. 

The Bee Play is a thoughtful, thought-provoking play with a lot of potential. Although there are few plotting a pacing issues that still should be worked on, it’s still a fascinating, emotional family drama that also raises some important environmental issues. It’s a memorable season opener for the New Jewish Theatre. 

Margery A. Handy, Riley Carter Adams
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting The Bee Play at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre until September 25, 2022

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Popcorn Falls
by James Hindman
Directed by Sarah Whitney
The Midnight Company
March 30, 2019

Popcorn Falls is the latest quirky, offbeat production from Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company. Hanrahan is well-known in St. Louis for his one-man shows, but he has also shared the stage with an array of excellent local performers. This time, Hanrahan and Shane Signorino team up with director Sarah Whitney to stage a hilariously energetic comedy of hopes, dreams, and a host of memorable characters.

As is usual for Midnight shows, the staging is minimal, with just a few furniture pieces and props, and that’s all that’s needed here, along with some occasional simple costume changes as the actors change from one character to another. The main figures in the story–set in the declining small town of Popcorn Falls–are new mayor Ted Trundle (Hanrahan), and janitor Joe (Signorino), who find themselves teaming up to save the town from power-hungry county executive Doyle (also Signorino) who aims to tear down Popcorn Falls and build a sewage treatment plant in its place. The ray of hope comes in the form of a financial grant that was awarded for the purpose of financing a theatre group in the town–but there isn’t one, so Mayor Trundle sets out to start one with the aim of putting on a play in order to receive the money and save the town, even after Doyle has given them the seemingly impossible deadline of one week in which to stage this production. Through the course of the show, we meet a varied cast of characters who are assembled to be part of this show, and we learn more about everyone as relationships grow, backstories are revealed, and the characters encounter a series of increasingly difficult obstacles in their efforts to save the town.

With this show, the story is fun, but it’s the performers who essentially are the show. Hanrahan and Signorino are both impressive in their energy and presence, bringing a host of characters to life, with Hanrahan’s hapless Trundle and Signorino’s regretful Joe being the anchors. Hanrahan is excellent as usual, and Signorino–who has the most characters to play–is equally impressive, introducing the audience to such different personalities as an imperious librarian, a moody teenage girl, a single mother and aspiring actress, the villainous Doyle, and more. The interplay between these actors and their characters, along with the clever staging to allow for the quick changes–including both performers playing the same character at different times when needed–adds to the comedy and flow of the production. The simple set by Chuck Winning and lights by Tony Anselmo work well to maintain the overall improvised feel of the production, supporting playwright James Hindman’s fast-moving script.

This is a simple, somewhat frantic production that gets its energy–and its heart–from its performers. It’s not a long show, but there’s a lot going on, with something of a twist to the ending that’s entirely fitting to the tone of the show. Ultimately, Popcorn Falls is a fun show.

The Midnight Company is presenting Popcorn Falls at the Kranzberg Arts Center until April 13, 2019

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