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Posts Tagged ‘sate ensemble theatre’

The Women of Lockerbie
by Deborah Brevoort
Directed by Pamela Reckamp
SATE Ensemble Theatre
November 7, 2019

David Wassilak, Margeau Baue Steinau, Sarajane Alverson, Leslie Wobbe, Kim Furlow, Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE Ensemble Theatre is continuing its tradition of thoughtful, thought-provoking and inventive theatrical productions with a soul-wrenching, poetic presentation of Deborah Brevoort’s play, The Women of Lockerbie. Told in the style of a Greek tragedy, this show looks at grief–both personal and corporate–from many angles, infusing a musical sensibility throughout. At SATE, the production is characterized by powerful performances and a strong sense of time, place, and mood. It’s at once something you might expect and something entirely new, and it’s riveting from start to finish.

The story is fairly simple, although the way it is told explores many of the complexities involved. Lockerbie, Scotland is the setting, seven years after the terrible tragedy that made the previously obscure town a household name–the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103. Here, the action begins at night in December 1995, on the anniversary of the crash. After an evening memorial service, we meet an American couple, Madeline (Margeau Baue Steinau) and Bill Livingston (David Wassilak), who lost their 20-year-old son, Adam, in the disaster. Adam’s remains haven’t been recovered, so Madeleine is roaming the hills in a futile search for some tangible sign of her son, while Bill urges her to give up the search and move on with her life. Soon, they are followed by a contingent of women from the town, led by Olive Allison (Leslie Wobbe), who has been leading an effort to get the clothes of the crash victims released to the women of the town, so they can wash them and return them to the victims’ families. They have pleaded their case to American official George Jones (Michael Cassidy Flynn), who has already declared his intention to have the clothes destroyed, but the women, including Olive, warehouse cleaning woman Hattie (Teresa Doggett), and others represented by a “Greek Chorus” symbolizing Intellect (Sarajne Alverson), Emotion (Kim Furlow), and Memory (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), will not give up their mission. This is the basic premise, but there’s a lot going on here, as the various aspects of grief are explored through the stories of each of the characters, and the Livingstons deal with how the whole situation has effected their relationship. It’s a highly personal, poetic tale that carries a heavy emotional weight, although not without rays of hope, even literally at times due to Bess Moynihan’s richly evocative lighting. There are some songs here, too, well sung by the cast, but even in the spoken moments the show takes the tone of a song of lament, deeply emotional and profound.

In addition to the excellent lighting, the physical presentation of the production is also excellent, starting with Moynihan’s highly symbolic set in which the landscape appears to be made mostly of clothes.  The costumes by Liz Henning, sound design by Ellie Schwetye, and props by Rachel Tibbetts also contribute well to overall atmosphere and tone of the production. Director Pamela Reckamp has paced the production with the right balance of energy and stillness, as well, lending an urgency at times and a sense of clear, emotional reflection when needed.

The cast of eight performers is uniformly superb. The haunting “Greek Chorus” of Alverson, Furlow, and Theby-Quinn provides a lot of the reflective, emotive sensibility of the piece, and Flynn communicates a sense of humanity in his portrayal of Jones, who is essentially the “villain” of the piece. Doggett as Hattie provides some of the needed lighter moments of the show, as well as a strong sense of determination. The emotional center of the show, however, belongs to the brilliant Wobbe as Olive, who is more complex than she first appears, as well as the excellent Steinau and Wassilak as the Livingstons, who each have their own journey of grief to navigate, separately and together. There’s strong chemistry throughout the ensemble, and a real sense of community and corporate grief and the constant drive for healing. It’s a remarkable ensemble, without a single weak link.

What else can I say in conclusion, other than that SATE has done it again. This company consistently produces the highest quality of theatre, and The Women of Lockerbie is the latest example. Bearing in mind that the subject matter is heavy and deals with the loss of loved ones and personal stories of grief, this is a highly emotional, thoughtful production featuring a first-rate cast, and a must-see theatrical experience.

Teresa Doggett, Leslie Wobbe, Sarajane Alverson, Kim Furlow, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, David Wassilak, Michael Cassidy Flynn
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE Ensemble Theatre is presenting The Women of Lockerbie at The Chapel until 23, 2019

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Antigone: Requiem Per Patriarchus
By Lucy Cashion and the ensembles at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center; St. Louis University Theatre; SATE; and Equally Represented Arts
Directed by Lucy Cashion
SATE Ensemble Theatre, Equally Represented Arts
August 14, 2019

Cast of Antigone: Requiem Per Patricarchus
Photo by Joey Rumpell Photography
SATE Ensemble Theatre, Equally Represented Arts

“Who is Antigone?” That’s a question the audience is directly asked multiple times and in different ways throughout SATE and ERA’s latest, called Antigone: Requiem Per Patriarchus.  It’s another Lucy Cashion remix of a work of classic drama, brought to today’s audiences in a way that speaks to both its timeless universality and its more personal connection with individual viewers and readers. As is usual for Cashion and for both of these theatre companies, the result is both convention-challenging and thought-provoking, showcasing a superb cast of local performers.

This isn’t your English teacher’s Antigone, although the play’s reputation as an oft-studied and assigned classic work of literature is addressed in this production. In a way, this is more than one story, and the set-up is essentially like a play-within-a-play. The set-up begins before the play “officially” starts, in a similar vein to other productions I’ve seen from both of these companies. The cast members wander the audience, each introducing herself as “Antigone”. As the play begins, the “sisters”–all clad in khaki-colored prison outfits, gather together in the middle of the floor space at the Chapel performance venue. They are all Antigone, they inform the audience, and they are in prison, but they are also dead, in some kind of in-between state, set to retell and reenact their story over and over. They read letters, they talk about the expectations and impressions that the Antigone story has produced over the centuries, and they express their solidarity as well as their individual voices. Then, in a stunning musical transition, the situation shifts, and the cast members all don flowing gowns and perform a version of the Antigone tale, with each “Antigone” taking a specific role and examining both the play itself and the timeless issues it raises, including the abuse of power and authority, men’s and women’s roles in society, speaking up for oneself and others, loyalties to families and countries, and more. The story at this point runs basically as it’s known, with Antigone standing up to her uncle, King Creon, who is refusing to allow her brother, who was killed along with another brother on opposing sides of a recent war, to be buried. As is usual for a Cashion show, the classic tale is blended with other influences, such as various cultural references and especially for this production, music. Various pop and rock songs are sampled in the production, and the cast members sing at various times. There’s also a persistent, ominous and highly effective percussion backing throughout, proficiently provided by Marcy Ann Wiegert.  There’s also intense drama and a touch of sarcastic humor. It’s one of those shows where I wish I could see it multiple times, because there is so much going on that it can be too much to process at times. Still, it’s a bold, challenging work, with an emotional resonance and a confrontational style that emphasizes both the personal and the universal about the Antigone story.

The cast is universally strong, with excellent moments from all–Alicen Moser, Victoria Thomas, Laura Hulsey, Taleesha Caturah, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro,  and Miranda Jagels-Felix, with Wiegert supplying the drums and also as a member of the show’s Greek Chorus. it’s a true ensemble piece, with the whole cast contributing and working together as a cohesive unit, bringing out the meaning and depth of the play through collaboration, although there are some individual highlights. Standouts include Moser as the imperious and increasingly conflicted Creon, Jagels-Felix as a particularly strong-willed  “main” Antigone, Caturah as the haunting, challenging blind prophet Tyresias, and Schwetye in a series of stand-up comic routines that help maintain a confrontational, iconoclastic tone as the story plays out. The ensemble chemistry is excellent, as is the use of movement throughout. It’s a dynamic production, with a suitably dynamic cast and direction.

The visuals here are memorable, as well, transforming the small space at the Chapel into an otherworldly realm that the ensemble inhabits. With simple but lush scenic and sound design by Cashion, along with Erik Kuhn’s evocative lighting and Liz Henning’s distinctive costumes, the full dramatic effect of this show is enhanced. It’s an impressive transformation of the space.

I’ve made it no secret what I think about both SATE and ERA. Both companies are bold, innovative, thoughtful, and consistently excellent in acting and staging. This Antigone is another example of that tradition of excellence. It’s timeless, but it’s also very much “now”, with themes that speak to humanity, and particularly women’s experiences, throughout history. It’s a lot to think about and a lot to see. It’s a truly stunning presentation.

Cast of Antigone: Requiem Per Patricarchus
Photo by Joey Rumpell Photography
SATE Ensemble Theatre, Equally Represented Arts

SATE and Equally Represented Arts are presenting Antigone: Requiem Per Patriarchus at The Chapel until August 31, 2019

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Classic Mystery Game
by Katy Keating
Directed by Katy Keating
SATE Ensemble Theatre
February 1, 2019

Cast of Classic Mystery Game
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

Do you like board games? Murder mysteries? Fast paced, high-energy comedy? Well, if you do, SATE has a “Clue” for you! Classic Mystery Game is writer-director Katy Keating’s parody of the well-known mystery game, Clue, as well as a tribute to the 1985 film based on the game. In the capable, creative hands of Keating and the cast and crew at SATE, it’s a fast-paced, highly physical examination of 21st century American culture as well as a riff on the classic style of the game.

Ostensibly based on the movie, this play is more based on the game itself, with a fair amount of local and topical references thrown in, including an opening video sequence that features the performance venue, the Chapel. Staged on the floor at the Chapel with the audience seated on the stage, the cast performs before a large painted replica of the Clue board. Bess Moynihan’s set design is especially clever, with that board featuring the rooms with lights around them that light up as each room is featured in the story, and a versatile set consisting of furniture and a movable door that is moved around as needed. Costume designer Liz Henning has outfitted the characters in colorful, vaguely 1950s-ish style, and Ben Lewis’s lighting helps highlight the ominous, comically haunting atmosphere. There’s also excellent work from props designers Rachel Tibbetts and Bess Moynihan, as well as fight choreographer Ryan Lawson-Maeske. The sights, sounds, and atmosphere are all set remarkably well, setting the stage for Keating’s witty, rapid-fire dialogue and fast-paced action as butler Wadsworth (Michael Cassidy Flynn) introduces the story and serves as narrator while participating in the story as well.

This is a hilarious show, with a spirit reminiscent of old-time sketch comedy shows. All the regular characters from the game are here–Col. Mustard (Carl Overly, Jr.), Mrs. White (Ellie Schwetye), Mrs. Peacock (Rachel Tibbetts), Mr. Green (WIll Bonfiglio), Prof. Plum (Paul Cereghino), and Miss Scarlet (Maggie Conroy), along with Mr. Boddy (Reginald Pierre) and two “clowns” (Marcy Ann Wiegert, Bess Moynihan) who play a variety of roles each. The styling of the show serves the story especially well, with the flat cut-out glasses used for cocktails, and the representations of the weapons from the game. Everything moves very quickly, with a story that touches on conspiracy, government cover-ups, secrets and lies, and lots and lots of scheming, as the characters assemble under a pretence, and then are driven to search throughout the house for clues once a murder occurs. Well, once the first murder occurs. Yes, there are more murders, and more surprises, a series of revelations and lots and lots of jokes. There’s wordplay and innuendo, along with physical comedy, sight gags and more as the story continues on its rapid pace until its suitably hilarious conclusion. I won’t give any more details, because that will spoil the fun. And fun, it certainly is.

The performances are strong across the board, and everyone has standout moments, with Flynn as the obvious MVP for his fully realized, energetic comic performance. This is a performance that’s sure to take a lot of energy, and Flynn plays his role well. Everyone else is also excellent and it’s difficult to single anyone out. Everyone is their own unique, distinctive character, and everyone shows incredible energy and superb comic timing. It’s an ensemble show worthy of a theatre company where “Ensemble” has always been front and center.

Classic Mystery Game is Clue with a side of whimsy and snark. It’s topical, timely, and timeless all the same, and with so many jokes that, if you miss one, you’ll probably catch the next one. As is usual for SATE, this show is offbeat, excellently performed, and not to be missed.

Cast of Classic Mystery Game
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE Ensemble Theatre is presenting Classic Mystery Game at the Chapel until February 16, 2019

 

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Doctor Faustus, or The Modern Prometheus
by John Wolbers… and Kit Marlowe
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
SATE Ensemble Theatre
November 8, 2018

Joe Hanrahan, Ashley Bauman, Talessha Caturah, Nicole Angeli
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

There’s a whole lot of “Faust” happening in St. Louis this year. The collaborative FAUSTival is continuing this month, and now it’s SATE’s turn to offer their own approach to this legendary tale. This is the fourth entry in the series, and if you thought you might start feeling a little bit of “Faust” fatigue by this point, there’s no need to worry, as SATE’s take on the oft-told tale is bold, fresh, challenging, and thoroughly compelling.

With this production, playwright John Wolbers takes Christopher (Kit) Marlowe’s version of the story and significantly tweaks it to give it a modern spin. The title character is now a woman (Ashley Baumann), and although the play is still in verse and uses Early Modern English and Elizabethan-inspired costumes for the most part, the setting is modern, with present-day cultural references included, and modern issues–or actually, age-old issues in the context of how they have manifested in modern times. The story emphasizes the temptation of Faustus and her relationships with those close to her, especially her college boyfriend Wagner (Michael Pierce) and roommate Val (Lex Ronan), as well as her business role model and mentor Carol Hapsburg (Taleesha Caturah). There’s also the various incarnations of Mephistophilis, the demon who is supposed to serve her after she makes a pact with the devil. Mephistophilis is played in turn by almost all of the remaining cast members in the show, with the exception of Nicole Angeli, who plays “The Seven”, a personification of the Seven Deadly Sins, which play a major role in Faustus’s journey of temptation and ascent to power. The play incisively deals with important issues such as the struggles for equality of women in academia and business, as well as sexual harassment, the corruption of power, and more.

Although it takes a few minutes to really get going, it soon becomes a riveting drama, with impressive performances all around. Bauman’s Faustus goes on a credible emotional journey, and her initial idealism and growing sense of ambition are well portrayed. There’s strong chemistry between her and Pierce as the devoted but eventually disillusioned Wagner and also with Ronan as her close friend, the also idealistic and magically curious Val. Ronan is also strong in her role as legendary mythological Helen of Troy and one of the incarnations of Mephistophilis. There’s also a strong performances from Caturah in three roles, including the original version of the crafty Mephistophilis, as well as the authoritavie Hapsburg and, in a memorable scene, as an elderly lady who makes an impression on Faustus. Joe Hanrahan, as a smarmy college professor and the second Mephistophilus, and Erik Kuhn and Kareem Deanes in multiple roles are also excellent. Special mention needs to go to Angeli, who deftly shifts back and forth between seven distinct personalities as The Seven. It’s a dynamic, impressive, chilling, and thoroughly memorable performance that stands out in an already excellent ensemble.

The technical aspects of this show don’t fail to impress, either. Bess Moynihan’s set is distinctive, as a series of seven columns–decorated to represent the Deadly Sins–serve as an effective backdrop for the action. The lighting design by Dominick Ehling coordinates well with the set and with the acting in a clever way that I won’t spoil here, but will make itself apparent as the story plays out. There’s also excellent use of sound, designed by Kareem Deanes, and vividly realized modern-Elizabethan fusion-style costumes by Liz Henning.

This is a Doctor Faustus for the ages, both ancient and modern, employing some modern sensibilities to communicate timeless truths about the human condition, ambition, and temptation as well as the importance of empathy and compassion. It’s another excellent FAUSTival presentation, serving also in various ways to point out the common themes the various productions have had, beyond the fact that they’re all about Faust in their own unique ways. In this production, SATE continues to challenge, impress, and provoke much thought. It’s another strong production from this excellent company.

Cast of Doctor Faustus
Photo by Anne Genovese
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE Ensemble Theatre is presenting Doctor Faustus, or The Modern Prometheus at The Chapel until November 17, 2018

 

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No Exit
by Jean Paul Sartre
Translated by Alyssa Ward
Directed by Bess Moynihan
SATE Ensemble Theatre
August 16 , 2018

Sarah Morris, Rachel Tibbetts, Shane Signorino Photo by Joey Rumpell SATE Ensemble Theatre

No Exit is one of those Important Plays that you study in English or drama class, but have you ever actually seen it? In speaking with SATE co-producer Ellie Schwetye before the show, we both commented on how many people we know (including myself at that point) had read or read about the play but hadn’t actually seen it. Well, if that’s you too, now you can see it! And not only is it being produced in St. Louis now, it’s by one of the boldest, most consistently excellent small theatre companies in town. Utilizing the rather intimate performance venue of the Chapel, SATE’s production is impeccably staged, ideally cast, and fascinating from start to finish.

The set-up and approach here are immersive, with audiences being greeted as they arrive by the blank-faced, deadpan delivery of Katy Keating’s Valet, who announces “Welcome to Hell”. The audience waits, seated around the perimeter of the Chapel on the edges of a precisely decorated room with limited furniture. As the play begins, the Valet eventually ushers in three newly deceased characters from different areas and different walks of life. The evasive Garcin (Shane Signorino) was a political activist, the confrontational Inès (Sarah Morris) was a postal worker, and the vain Estelle (Rachel Tibbetts) was a wealthy Parisian wife who insists she doesn’t belong in Hell. Over the course of the evening, the three manage to get under one another’s skin. Everyone’s in denial in one way or another, but soon the realities and brutalities of their lives are revealed as their interactions become the focus of the drama. The tension builds and the play’s conclusion produces its most famous line, which I won’t repeat here but once you hear it, you’ll probably know it. This is a classic representation of Sartre’s existentialist philosophy with sharply drawn characters and dynamic, thought-provoking diaologue veers from the dramatic to the darkly witty. It’s the kind of play people write papers about, and I’m sure there have been thousands over the years. Still, it’s a play, and it comes alive with a dynamic staging, which this production certainly is, directed by Bess Moynihan with a lucid energy that maximizes the drama.

There’s a great cast here, as well, from the unsettlingly serious Keating, a strong presence in the relatively small part of the Valet, to the contrasting characters of the three leads. Morris is all combative energy as the brutally honest, challenging Inès, with Signorino equally strong as the preoccupied, self-deluded Garcin. They are matched by Tibbetts in an impressive turn as the almost confronationally shallow, vain Estelle, who seeks her value in her desirability to men. The chemistry among all three is intense, driving the play so there is never a slow moment.

Also impressive is the complete look and atmosphere of this production. The 1940s style and character-specific suitability of the costumes by Marcy Ann Wiegert and the meticulous set design by director Moynihan make an ideal setting. There’s also impressive lighting, designed by Michael Sullivan, setting the creepy, ominous tone from the beginning. Ellie Schwetye’s sound design also adds to this tone.

This is such a precisely staged, superbly acted production, with the strength of the script shining through. Kudos also to translator Alyssa Ward, as the wit, drama, and intensity shine through the dialogue. It’s the first production of No Exit I’ve seen, but I find it difficult to imagine how this play could be done any better. It’s a milestone of 20th century drama, but here it’s made fresh and very much in the moment. Again, the excellence with which SATE has come to be known shines through. This is a show that needs to be seen.

Katy Keating, Shane Signorino Photo by Joey Rumpell SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE Ensemble Theatre is presenting No Exit at the Chapel until September 1, 2018

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Run-On Sentence
by Stacie Lents
Commissioned by Prison Performing Arts
Directed by Rachel Tibbetts
SATE Ensemble Theatre
June 9, 2018

Wendy Renée Greenwood, Margeau Baue Steinau, Jamie McKittrick, Bess Moynihan, Taleesha Caturah
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE continues to be one of St. Louis’s boldest, most remarkable theatre companies, continuing to present challenging, thought-provoking, impeccably-staged theatre primarily in the small, versatile Chapel arts venue. I’ve made it no secret what I think of SATE. I’ve yet to be disappointed by one of their productions, and they continue their streak of excellence with an intense, confrontational work originally written for the Prison Performing Arts organization. It’s called Run-On Sentence, and it’s a truly remarkable production.

This is a small-cast, one act play, set in a women’s prison and orginally performed in one. Under the direction of SATE co-producer Rachel Tibbetts, the Chapel has been transformed into a starkly furnished cell, with four bunk beds and a small bank of lockers. The story is structured as something of a flashback/testimonial, told by Mel (Taleesha Caturah), who has been incarcerated for over 15 years on a life sentence. She describes what it’s like to be in prison, which as you would expect, is rough. We meet her fellow inmates, the moody, suspicious, aspiring baker Bug (Wendy Renée Greenwood), the trusting, potato-chip loving Giant (Jamie McKittrick), who appears to be mentially challenged, and the more even-tempered Miss Alice (Margeau Baue Steinau), who has been there a long time and who leads aerobics classes for the inmates. There’s a complexity of relationships, and difficulty building trust among inmates, which is demonstrated with the arrival of a newcomer, Mary (Bess Moynihan), a first-timer with a PHd and a complicated story that doesn’t get revealed right away. Intially, Mel is annoyed by Mary, but their relationship soon develops to a point that makes Bug (Mel’s best friend) jealous and even more suspicious of Mary. There’s also a new prison guard, Officer Wallace (Kristen Strom), who tries to be fair-minded and is taunted by the inmates for being naive. Through a series of scenes we get to see the dynamics among the inmates, hear some of their stories, and see the routines and hierarchies to which they have become accustomed. The story is told in what is essentially a series of vignettes, but the major threads are about Mel and Mary, how their relationship develops, and how that relationship is affected by various revelations that happen during the course of the story. The harsh realities of prison life are emphasized, and so is the underlying uneasiness with the idea of hope–everyone wants to get out, but nobody knows for sure if and when they ever will.

This is a challenging play, with relationship dynamics at its center, along with SATE’s usual clever use of their performance space and dynamic, well-paced staging. The cast is in top form, with all players turning in powerful, memorable performances, led by Caturah as the guarded, tough-talking Mel, whose vulnerability becomes more apparent as the story progresses. The entire cast’s chemistry is strong, with the characters’ relationships immediate and credible. Everyone is excellent, with Greenwood’s unpredictable Bug and McKittrick’s somewhat childlike Giant as particular standouts. Stil, there’s not a weak link in this six-member cast, with all the players having their memorable moments, and the sense of bonding and also tension among the inmates readily apparent. The script is well-structured, revealing important information gradually, as the reason for this format is eventually made clear.

The sheer despair and monotony of prison life is on display here, as are the very real fears, grievances, and hopes of the characters. The emotions can be raw, and the drama can be tense, but there are also moments of humor, and it’s all pitched just right in this production. The simple, spare set designed by Moynihan, and the realistic costumes by Rachel Tibbetts just add a sense of authenticity to the realism of the script. There’s also effective use of lighting by Dominick Ehling and sound by Ellie Schwetye, helping to transform the performance space of the Chapel into the stark setting of a prison.

This isn’t an easy play to watch at times. It’s confrontational; it’s personal; it’s raw. It shines light on the realties of life in prison for audiences who might not know much about what that’s like. It’s also an intriguing character study and showcase for SATE’s always excellent cast of first-rate actors. Run-On Sentence is another strong example of the excellence that is SATE.

Kirsten Strom, Jamie McKittrick, Margeau Baue Steinau, Wendy Renée Greenwood, Taleesha Caturah
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE Ensemble Theatre is presenting Run-On Sentence at the Chapel until June 17, 2018

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Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck
Directed by Jacqueline Thompson
SATE Ensemble Theatre
November 9, 2017

Carl Overly, Jr., Adam Flores
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE is back again, producing their remarkably ambitious, dynamic brand of theatre and this time succeeding in transforming a theatrical classic into something that’s at once faithful to the source material and dynamically immediate for today’s audiences. Of Mice and Men, as presented at the Chapel, features a remarkable cast and truly innovative direction, making for a must-see theatrical production.

As far as I can tell, not a word of the actual script has been changed. What has changed, instead, is the subtext, and deliberate casting and directorial choices that make this old story into something new. It’s still the story of migrant farm workers in 1935 California, centering on the small-statured, world-weary George (Adam Flores) and his friend, the larger, much stronger but developmentally challenged and somewhat childlike Lennie (Carl Overly, Jr.). The story follows them as they have left a recent job and are about to start a new one. George is protective of Lennie, who doesn’t know his own strength and isn’t aware of the consequences of his actions or of the way he is perceived by others. The new job is on a ranch owned by The Boss (Jack Corey), whose son, Curley (Michael Cassidy Flynn), is highly insecure and suspicious, with a grudge against anyone bigger than him and mistrustful of his new wife (Courtney Bailey Parker). The work crew consists of a disparate group including Candy (Natasha Toro), who is drawn to Lennie and George and wants to help them achieve their dream of getting a place of their own, joining them in living “on the fat of the land”. There’s also the somewhat impulsive Carlson (Shane Signorino), the gossipy Whit (Ryan Lawson-Maeske), the more easygoing Slim (Joe Hanrahan), and stablehand Crooks (Omega Jones), who doesn’t get to share the bunkhouse and is treated with more suspicion than the other workers because he is black. The story plays out as written, as trouble continues to find Lennie and George, and tragedy follows. What’s different about this production, though, is the relationship dynamics brought about by the insightful direction and deliberately non-traditional casting, which works to emphasize the element of secrecy that’s already inherent in the plot.

The casting really does change things up, forcing the viewer to see this well-known story through a new lens. It still works for the time and place, as well. Here, the traditionally white roles of Lennie and George are played by Flores, who is Latino, and Overly, who is black but of lighter complexion than Jones, who plays Crooks and whose character is clearly treated as inferior by his co-workers. Here, a key scene between Lennie and Crooks gains new power as Crooks points out the difference in their situations, also making it clear that Lennie is unaware of the reason for this difference, although Crooks is very aware. There’s also the casting of a Latina woman, Toro, playing the traditionally white male role of Candy, although the clear suggestion, made even more obvious by a scene with Curley’s wife, is that this Candy is a woman living as a man, although few people seem to realize that fact. The relationship dynamics bring a lot to the story, making the sense of alienation and looking for a place to belong even more of a prominent theme than it was already in this story.

The casting is first-rate, with strong, memorable portrayals by all of the players. Overly, as Lennie, gives a truly remarkable performance especially, portraying Lennie’s childlike enthusiasm and a sense of longing that underscores all of his actions, and his affection and rapport with Flores as George is apparent. Flores is also strong in a poignant performance as the determined, weary and protective George. There’s also excellent work from Toro as Candy, Jones as Crooks, who also has a poignant musical moment singing “The House of the Rising Sun” at the beginning of Act 2, accompanied by the production’s musical director, Chris Ware, who is a presence throughout the production, sitting just offstage playing his guitar, supplying the music that underscores this production. There are also strong performances from Flynn as the belligerent Curley, and by Parker as his lonely wife. Corey, Signorino, and Lawson-Maeske lend excellent support, as well. It’s a fully inhabited, real, human world on stage at the Chapel, and the excellent chemistry of the cast adds much to the drama and immediacy of this production.

Also adding to the production is the strong sense of time and place conveyed in the technical elements here. Bess Moynihan’s versatile set and evocative lighting suggests an authentic setting as well as the transience of the characters. Liz Henning’s excellent costumes, Rachel Tibbetts’s props, and Ellie Schwetye’s sound design also contribute well to the overall mood of the production, as does Chris Ware’s aforementioned striking music and Lawson-Maeske’s fight choreography.

This is the story you may know, but it’s also not. It’s old and it’s new, and it’s profoundly affecting. Of Mice and Men at SATE is another superb, intelligent and challenging production from this continually impressive theatre company.

of Mice and Men-267

Natasha Toro, Carl Overly, Jr., Adam Flores, Courtney Bailey Parker, Omega Jones Photo by Joey Rumpell SATE Ensemble Theatre

 

SATE Ensemble Theatre is presenting Of Mice and Men at the Chapel until November 18, 2017.

 

 

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