Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘sate’

The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
From the novel by John Buchan, from the movie of Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Kirsten Wylder
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
November 7, 2015

 

Pete Winfrey, Rachel Tibbets, Ellie Schwetye, Carl Overly Jr. (clockwise from top left) Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Pete Winfrey, Rachel Tibbets, Ellie Schwetye, Carl Overly Jr. (clockwise from top left)
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film The 39 Steps is the most famous of several filmed adaptations of John Buchan’s 1915 novel. Patrick Barlow’s stage adaption takes both versions, condenses the story, streamlines the cast, and ramps up the comedy in an inventively staged piece that has been performed in London, on Broadway, and in various regional theatres before being taken on by the always adventurous Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Performing in a cleverly arranged production at the Chapel, SATE’s production is characterized by the sense of enthusiasm and excellence for which this company is known.

Telling the story of Richard Hannay (Pete Winfrey), a Londoner who becomes a reluctant participant in an espionage plot. When a mysterious woman (Rachel Tibbetts) who claims to be a secret agent is unexpectedly murdered, Hannay finds himself accused and goes on the run to not only clear his name, but also to stop a nefarious plot that threatens national security. His journey takes him to rural Scotland, where he encounters a variety of characters, including a woman named Pamela (also Tibbetts) who is unwillingly drawn into the adventure, with a lot of twists, turns, and surprises along the way.

The film, and the book on which it is based, are more focused on the suspense and adventure elements, but this adaptation is more of an exaggerated comedy, staged with only four performers. Winfrey, as the hapless Hannay, is the only performer who plays one role throughout. Tibbetts plays three different women with significant roles in Hannay’s story–the mysterious Annabella Schmidt, the suspicious Pamela, and a young Scottish farmer’s wife named Margaret, who helps Hannay despite the objections of her much older, jealous husband. Carl Overly, Jr. and Ellie Schwetye, billed as “Clown 1” and “Clown 2” in the program, play all the other roles in the play, trying on a range of accents and mannerisms in service to the story. All four performers are excellent, with Winfrey and Tibbetts displaying strong chemistry, Tibbetts getting to show off three distinct accents from the exaggerated German (Annabella) and Scottish (Margaret) to Pamela’s upper-class English. Overly and Schwetye are commendably versatile and energetic as the clowns, showing excellent comic timing and strong characterization in several roles each, such as the aforementioned jealous husband, a small hotel owner, and a celebrated theatre performer with a remarkable memory for Overly; and a Scottish innkeeper’s wife and assistant, a villainous spy, and various other roles for Schwetye. These four gifted performers work well to maintain the energy, suspense, and most of all the comedy of this production, with entertaining results.

The staging makes excellent use of the Chapel performance space, setting up three primary performance areas including an old-fashioned Music Hall-styled stage as well as two smaller areas to represent various locations on Hannay’s journey.  The sense of movement is well-maintained, with trips in trains, cars, and on foot contributing to the fast-moving atmosphere of the production. The set, designed by Scott De Broux, is inventive and versatile, and the costumes by Elizabeth Henning range from the historically appropriate to the more whimsical, as is fitting with the overall tone of the production. Erik Kuhn’s lighting and Schwetye’s sound also contribute well to atmosphere of this well-staged production.

I saw this show a few years ago at the Rep, and I enjoyed it, but it’s great to see what an innovative smaller theatre company like SATE is able to do with a show like this. As is usual for this company, SATE delivers a well thought-out, superbly acted and highly entertaining production. It’s definitely one to see before it closes this weekend.

Cast and crew of The 39 Steps Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Cast and crew of The 39 Steps
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

SATE’s production of The 39 Steps runs at the Chapel until November 14th, 2015.

Read Full Post »

One Flea Spare
by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
August 19, 2015

Hannah Ryan, Charlie Barron, Kelley Weber, Andrew Kuhlman, Joe Hanrahan Photo by Joey Rumpell SATE

Hannah Ryan, Charlie Barron, Kelley Weber, Andrew Kuhlman, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE

I’m continually amazed at how much a small theatre company is able to create with limited resources and a whole lot of energy and creativity. Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble has been one of the more impressive smaller theatre companies in St. Louis, and I’ve never seen a sub-par production from them. In their latest production, the historical drama One Flea Spare, the SATE team uses their usual performance space at The Chapel to its fullest potential, presenting an intense, disturbing and remarkable production that’s sure to keep audiences thinking.

The subject matter for this play is difficult, as it’s set in London during the height of the Black Plague in 1665.  A wealthy couple, William Snelgrave (Joe Hanrahan) and his wife, Darcy (Kelley Weber) are the only survivors of their household and are about to be released from a month-long quartantine when the arrival of two uninvited guests causes the local guard, Kabe (Andrew Kuhlman) to prolong their confinement.  The two new arrivals, the young, mysterious Morse (Hannah Ryan) and the destitute sailor Bunce (Charlie Barron) upset the balance in the household and force the Snelgraves to take a closer look at their own identities and actions, as well as those of their new companions in light of the horrific tragedy that is engulfing their city.

The set is stark and simple, designed by Bess Moynihan and director Ellie Schwetye. The basic wooden platform suggests the floor of the main room in the Snelgraves’ house. In the intimate atmosphere of the Chapel, this basic set is remarkably effective at bringing the audience into these characters’ world. The brilliantly striking lighting, also designed by Moynihan, adds to the atmosphere of play, and Elizabeth Henning’s extremely detailed period specific costumes help to further set the scene and mood. All of these technical aspects work together to augment the heightening drama of this memorable, expertly written and staged play.

The drama here is in the conflict between the characters, and also their relationship with the increasingly gruesome outside world, with the realities of the plague and the presence of death in every street made all the more horrifying because it’s not directly shown. Instead, we see the characters’ reaction to their situation, and to each other. We see the initially genteel Snelgrave reveal more of his true character, along with his increasingly emboldened wife, the suspicious and desperate but concerned Bunce, and the deceptively childlike Morse, who serves as the play’s primary viewpoint character and shows that she’s a lot more clever than she initially may seem. As these four disparate characters get to know one another, and clash and conspire in various ways, they’re watched over by the looming presence of Kabe, the guard who has been put in the situation of holding the power over people who would normally have been considered his superiors in that society. It’s a rich, fascinating and occasionally highly unsettling character study, revealing how dire situations and close quarters can bring out all aspects, including the very worst, of human nature.

The cast here is universally superb.  As the play’s central character, the young and resourceful Morse, high school junior Ryan is a real find.  She brings a determined, sympathetic and mysterious quality to the character, as well as demonstrating a fine singing voice in snippets of traditional folk songs that she sings at various moments. She presents a complex portrait of this character we get to know gradually throughout the production, in her compelling stories as well as in how she relates to the other characters. Kuhlman is also a standout at the superstitious, ubiquitous Kabe, displaying a strong stage presence and a thoroughly convincing Cockney accent. An unusual relationship develops between Bunce and the long-neglected Darcy Snelgrave, which is portrayed convincingly by Barron and Weber, conveying both characters’ regrets and losses with poignancy. As Snelgrave, Hanrahan does an excellent job of portraying the outwardly polite character–and his recurring mantra “I’m not a cruel man”–and the gradual revealing of his true character.  All of these characters are nuanced and flawed, and each of the cast members portrays all of these aspects with supreme authenticity.

This is a dark play, no question.  It delves into a much written-about subject in a particularly personal way, letting us see what happens when people of different backgrounds are thrown together, but also what happens to society when such a major upheaval as a coutnry-wide epidemic takes place. SATE has brought this play to the stage with incredible skill and sensitivity. It’s another dramatic triumph for this company.

Hannah Ryan, Kelley Weber, Charlie Barron, Joe Hanrahan Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Hannah Ryan, Kelley Weber, Charlie Barron, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

SATE presents One Flea Spare at The Chapel (Skinker Blvd. and Alexander Dr.) until August 29th, 2015

Read Full Post »

Or,
by Liz Duffy Adams
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
February 19, 2015

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts
Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, one of the more daring theatre companies in St. Louis, has begun a new season with the them of “Mistaken Identity”. The first offering in this vein is Liz Duffy Adams’ Or, which explores incidents in the life of an unconventional woman in 17th Century England, as well as her famous and infamous friends.  It explores issues of identity and social acceptability, as well as artistic expression and women’s roles in society.  As usual for SATE, it’s an intriguing and very well put-together production, with a striking visual presentation and a sharp sense of comedy.

The central figure here is Aphra Behn (Rachel Tibbetts), a Restoration-era writer and onetime spy.  As one of England’s first female professional playwrights, Behn is working on a manuscript and trying to find a producer. As Behn reflects on her life and interacts with notable and memorable figures of the day, as well as important people from her past, various historical figures, business contacts, as well as lovers of both sexes–past, and present. John Wolbers and Nicole Angeli both play more than one role, with Wolbers as both King Charles II and Behn’s former colleague in espionage, and former lover, William Scot. Angeli plays Behn’s saucy maid Maria, as well as the celebrated actress Nell Gwyn, who becomes lover to both Aphra and the King.  In a unique twist, there’s another role in the play that’s alternated between two of the performers, and to determine who plays it on a given night, names are drawn out of a bowl.

This is a fast-paced, bawdy production that needs to be perfectly timed with all the quick costume and character changes.  The cast members perform with wit, energy, and utmost precision as they carry out the intricacies of the somewhat convoluted plot.  Still, while there’s a lot going on, it’s finely tuned and well-staged by director Ellie Schwetye. Tibbetts, as Behn, has perhaps the simplest job, since she only plays one character and she is onstage for most of the play, and she performs it amiably.  Angeli plays both the brash Nell and the crass Maria–as well as the “mystery role” on the night I saw it–with verve and gusto. The third cast member, Wolbers, does an excellent job of playing two very distinct characters, the grandiose and swaggering Charles, and the suspicious, anxious William. Ensemble chemistry is essential in a show like this, and all three players work extremely well together. Angeli and Wolbers are especially memorable in their scenes together as Nell and Charles.

The set is simple, as designed by Bess Moynihan to spell out the title of the play in giant letters and also provide wing space for the actors’ quick changes. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are bold, colorful and appropriately outlandish.  It’s a small stage at the Chapel, where SATE stages most of its performances, and that familiarity has helped since they have learned to make the most of the limited space.

This is not a play for all audiences, as it’s full of crass humor and suggestive situations, although it’s hilariously entertaining for adult audiences.  It’s something of a slight plot, with a lot of action but not as much substance as it could have, but SATE has staged it well. Or, with its questions of identity and creative expression, as well as its over-the-top and meticulously executed comedy, provides for a fun, occasionally shocking, but overall entertaining evening of theatre.

John Wolbers, Nicole Angeli Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography SATE

John Wolbers, Nicole Angeli
Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
SATE

Read Full Post »

Bachelorette
by Leslye Headland
Directed by Rachel Tibbetts
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
May 9, 2014

Ellie Schwetye, Wendy Renee Greenwood, Cara Barresi Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Ellie Schwetye, Wendy Renee Greenwood, Cara Barresi
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Bachelorette is the latest entry in Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble’s “Season of the Monster”.  Rather than the more straightforward interpretation of “monster”, as represented in SATE’s last production of the popular ghost story The Woman In Black, this latest production explores the monstrous side of ordinary people, taking the highly stressful but usually happy occasion of a wedding  as an opportunity to delve into some of the very darkest aspects of its characters’ lives and relationships.  It’s a short, extremely intense drama that showcases some of its characters at their worst, as well as the impressive cast of actors at their very best.

When it comes to wedding preparation, you may have heard of the “Bridezilla”, or over-controlling bride.  This play, instead, focuses on more of a “Bridesmaidzilla” and many crazy and petty goings-on on the eve of a wedding.  Becky (Jamie Fritz) is the bride, but she actually doesn’t show up until late in the play, although we hear a lot about her from icy Maid of Honor Regan (Ellie Schwetye) and her friends Gena (Cara Beresi) and Katie (Wendy Renee Greenwood), who Regan has invited to a bachelorette gathering in Becky’s hotel room without Becky’s knowledge. Much debauchery, gossip and bitching ensues, as the friends (or, more accurately, frenemies) indulge in copious amounts of drugs and alcohol while revealing their true thoughts about Becky, her wedding, and each other. In the midst of this, Regan indulges in a belligerent flirtation with Jeff (Jared Sanz-Ager), whom she has just met that night, while Jeff’s friend Joe (Carl Overly, Jr.) develops a bond with the initially perky party-girl Katie, who reveals an increasingly depressed and self-destructive side as the evening’s events progress.

The casting for this show is about as close to perfect as I can imagine. All the players are ideally cast in their roles, with Schwetye and Greenwood the particular standouts.  Schwetye plays cool, controlling Regan with just the right amount of humanity and a huge dose of icy resolve, precision-aimed cruelty and a brutal self-focus.  Greenwood portrays the fragile Katie with a convincing blend of perkiness, vulnerability and edge-of-a-cliff instability, singing her heart out on the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry, Baby” in one memorable scene. As Joe, the perpetually stoned friend of Jeff’s who forms a quick connection with Katie, Overly is a strong, dependable presence. His scenes with Greenwood, as they both reveal some of their darkest personal secrets, are devastatingly truthful. Sanz-Agero, as the smug Jeff, does a good job especially in his scenes with Schwetye as the two act out their antagonistic attraction. Barresi, as the alternately aggressive and protective Gena, and Fritz as the much-maligned and seemingly clueless Becky also give strong performances.  It’s a very strong cast that brings an air of gritty authenticity to the raw and sometimes brutal proceedings of the play.

The scenic design is by Schwetye and director Rachel Tibbetts, and it works just right. Set up in the Chapel arts venue so that the audience is on the stage and the “stage” is the floor of the space, this arrangement suggests the high-class hotel room setting with just a little bit of furniture and an area rug complementing the existing bar area very well. There’s also great use of music and excellent atmospheric lighting by Bess Moynihan.  This is a dark play in its subject matter, and the overall look is appropriately stark.

This is a show about adults acting like petulant children, and it’s definitely for an adult audience with its language and themes. It’s a well-written character study that explores some of the more unsavory aspects of human nature, showing just how monstrous and cruel people can be, even toward those they claim are their friends. Although it’s not a happy show, there are flickers of compassion and humanity that bring the more brutal aspects of some of the characters into sharper focus by the contrast. It’s a sharp, incisive and undeniably provocative  experience, and another profoundly memorable success for SATE.

Wendy Renee Greenwood, Carl Overly, Jr. Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Wendy Renee Greenwood, Carl Overly, Jr.
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Read Full Post »

B. Weller, Jared Sanz-Agero

B. Weller, Jared Sanz-Agero

In a small English town at the turn of the 20th century, a young lawyer, Arthur Kipps, is confronted with a mystery, involving a local legend surrounding a mysterious apparition of a woman. Who is this Woman In Black? Is she a ghost, and is there really a link between this ethereal figure and the deaths of area children, or is the whole story just a figment of the townspeople’s imaginations? The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is a tale of mystery, terror and suspense that has become a modern classic, adapted into several films for TV and the screen, and by Stephen Mallatratt into a famously long-running play in London’s West End.   At the Chapel arts venue just off of South Skinker Blvd, members of the cast and crew with Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE) are working diligently to bring this thrilling story to the St. Louis stage. 

On this particular evening, actors B. Weller (Kipps) and Jared Sanz-Agero (the Actor) are here with director Rachel Tibbetts and Stage Manager Mollie Amburgey rehearsing and working on their accents and movement for the show. The production presents a challenge for all involved.  For Tibbetts, part of the challenge is in the venue. “The thing is we don’t have a backstage, so we have to be kind of creative”, she says.  Because there are no wings for scene changes and the Chapel is a small performance space, the plan is to use as much of the space as possible for performance, including the audience area.  “I think it works really nicely”, says Tibbetts “because of the play within the play concept, in that having the actors head out into the audience really helps”.

The play’s structure is also somewhat unusual. The story is told in flashbacks as a play within a play but with something of a twist. Weller explains that “[as Kipps]I’ve brought my horrible story to an actor, with the hopes of him giving me advice of how to tell the story, so as we go through telling the story, the actor becomes me, and then I play all the other characters.”  Sanz-Agero, as the Actor, plays the younger Kipps as the action of the story unfolds.

While Weller is no stranger to playing multiple roles (he has done so often in the past), there are some unique issues with this particular show that make the rehearsal process challenging for both actors.  “Actually” says Sanz-Agero, “this is the most difficult part I’ve ever played in my life.”  He explains that it’s the first show in which he’s had to perform in a non-American accent, among other issues: “It’s a British accent, and it’s not just a little bit of an accent. My character speaks for 2/3 of the show. My monologues go on for a page and a half. And it’s, make sure you don’t drop that dialect. On top of that you’re acting with invisible things, and miming with little invisible dogs, which is always a pitfall for any actor” in terms of making it look believable.

“Never work with invisible animals,” jokes Weller, to which Sanz-Agero adds “or invisible children, and we work with both in this!”  Weller compares the mime aspects of the show to green screen acting in films, and Sanz-Agero agrees, also emphasizing the fact that the actors almost never leave the performance area.“Everything has to happen onstage and there’s a lot of acting of heightened emotions of total terror that most people don’t do.”

The dialect in this show is another fascinating aspect of the rehearsal process, as the actors discuss how to pronounce specific words (such as “again”) as well as presenting a consistent accent.  The cast members have worked with a dialect coach, Pamela Reckamp, to help them develop believable accents. To add to the challenge, Sanz-Agero points out that “this is a dialect that no longer exists. This is like…100 years ago where they probably spoke a lot clearer”. Also, according to Tibbetts ,“[Weller] in particular plays several different characters, so his voice changes with each character.”

The actors approach their roles differently, with Weller taking a more instinctive approach with little pre-rehearsal research, and Sanz-Agero reading the book, watching several of the movies and looking up videos on YouTube. Their end goal, however, is the same: a convincing, truthful performance. “I actually find that, generally speaking, a play’s a play” says Weller when asked about the horror genre and if it requires a different approach. “You just play whatever part you’re handed. It doesn’t really matter what type it is.” You “go after your objective” agrees Sanz-Agero.

The production is a part of SATE’s current “Season of the Monster” that includes plays of various genres that highlights aspects of the monstrous to varying degrees in everyday life, according to director Rachel Tibbetts.  Comparing this show to the previous production in the series, Nine/Sketch, Tibbetts says “I think both pieces look at what a monster is much different ways. But I think with this piece, yes it’s a ghost story and it’s creepy but I think really what drives it is the sadness from the loss of these children, and that’s where a lot of the terror comes from, too.”  

B. Weller, Jared Sanz-Agero

B. Weller, Jared Sanz-Agero

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble’s production of The Woman In Black runs from October 30th through November 9th at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Dr. Check out SATE’s website for more information. You can also check out this interesting article about the production and the source material from my friend, film critic Dave Henry from ZekeFilm, at their website here.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts