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Posts Tagged ‘steven woolf’

Heisenberg
by Simon Stephens
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St.Louis, Studio
October 27, 2017

Joneal Joplin, Susan Louise O’Connor
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep is opening its Studio season with a much talked-about two-character play called Heisenberg. It’s a short play, running at just under an hour and a half, and the focus is much more on character than on the plot. It’s a clever, somewhat unpredictable script that serves as a great showcase for its two excellent lead performers.

The title of this play isn’t referenced in the story itself, but it’s one a lot of people will be familiar with, even if they aren’t well-versed in physics. Although associated with a particular scientific concept, one doesn’t really have to know anything about physics to get the gist of this title. Essentially, the first word most people associate with the name Heisenberg is “uncertainty”, and in this play, that’s the general idea. Life is uncertain, and people are uncertain, and we don’t even know how much time we have with the people who come into our lives. The story follows the quirky relationship of two very different people, the 40-something American expat Georgie (Susan Louise O’Connor) and 75-year-old Irish-born butcher Alex (Joneal Joplin), who meet at a train station in London and eventually become more involved in one another’s lives, due largely to Georgie’s persistence. Over the course of their relatively short acquaintance (six weeks, according to director Steven Woolf’s note in the program), there are lies, misrepresentations, revelations, sudden decisions, and other surprises as we learn more about these two and the qualities that draw them together. There isn’t much else to say that doesn’t spoil too much, but the real focus here is on the relationship, as these two characters grow closer and show how their relationship and their interactions with the world around them and other important people in their lives shapes their present decisions, relationship, and character.

The set here is minimal. Designed by Peter and Margery Spack, it consists mainly of two long tables and some chairs, with video screens to help suggest the setting. Nathan W. Scheuer’s lighting and Rusty Wandall’s sound also contribute to the overall atmosphere here, which is more of a suggestion of settings than a concrete representation. Marci Franklin’s costumes are well-suited to the characters and their well-defined personalities.

And it’s those personalities that are the chief focus of this show, boldly embodied by the superb actors who bring them to life. Joplin does a great job of presenting Alex as a well-rounded character even early on, when he doesn’t speak as much and is largely reacting to Georgie. There’s so much communicated in Joplin’s mere looks and reactions, and as we find out more about him as the play progresses, Joplin continues to make these revelations fascinating, and his chemistry with O’Connor is wonderful. O’Connor is equally superb as the more outwardly expressive Georgie, although we soon learn that although she’s not as reserved as Alex, she has her own secrets. The contrast and dynamic between these two characters is really what makes the play so fascinating, and the performers here make the most of that relationship.

The play is fairly simple, plot-wise, even though its driven by a series of surprises, and the ending is somewhat abrupt. The point, I suppose, is that we never really know what to expect from life, so we might as well make the most of it while we are here. Here, that lesson is exemplified by two memorable characters in this witty, poignant play. This production, with it’s terrific leads and the assured direction of Steven Woolf, carries its message well. Life may be uncertain, but this play is certainly worth seeing.

Joneal Joplin, Susan Louise O’Connor
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Heisenberg in its Studio Theatre until November 12, 2017.

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Constellations
by Nick Payne
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio

January 20, 2017

Eric Gilde, Ellen Adair Photo by Eric Woolsey Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Eric Gilde, Ellen Adair
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

It’s a two person play with fairly simple production values, and with a clever concept. Constellations, the latest production at the Rep Studio is not a long show, but it’s a fascinating one. This inventive, emotional, witty play finds its strength in its cast and in its concept, as well as in its s strong script.

This isn’t a long play, running at about 75 minutes with no intermission, but there’s a lot of story in that 75 minutes. In fact, there are a lot of stories in one. It’s a “what-if” sort of situation, focusing on a would-be couple in England, Marianne (Ellen Adair) and Roland (Eric Gilde), playing multiple variations of the same scene over and over to show many possible scenarios. The idea of multiverses is brought up by Marianne in-story, as  examining the theory is part of her line of work. Roland is a beekeeper who incorporates his work into his everyday life in some humorous ways, particularly in one scene–or set of scenes–that I won’t spoil here but it involves reciting a sweetly geeky prepared speech. As the story unfolds, the various possibilities of this pairing unfold, from false-starts, to betrayals, to break-ups and re-uniting, to health scares and potential tragedy. The structure, is mostly linear, also there are some moments that keep being revisited seemingly out of turn, but playwright Nick Payne deftly arranges the script so it’s not confusing. In fact, it’s fascinating.

Steven Woolf’s clear direction and the winning performances of the leads also contribute massively to the appeal of this play.  Gilde’s charming and sometimes socially awkward Roland, and Adair’s unconventional and sometimes brash Marianne make an excellent team, with strong chemistry and a great deal of energy. Adair is especially adept at changing the tone of a scene at the drop of a hat, joking one moment and crying real tears the next. The emotional arc of this piece depends greatly on the chemistry of these two, and they carry the story well.

Technically, this is a simply staged piece with a simple set. Designed by Bill Clarke, the set consists of a triangular “stage” backed by a glowing, crinkly backdrop that suggests clouds or possibly even brainwaves. Ann G. Wrightson’s lighting design ably illuminates the action and the backdrop in a variety of colors, and Lou Bird’s costumes are well-suited to the characters. Rusty Wandall’s sound is also clear and strong. It’s a somewhat whimsical set-up that serves the story well.

Constellations certainly isn’t the first dramatic work to explore the idea of alternate timelines, but its strong script and intimate focus on just two characters makes it compelling. The two leads definitely make the most of their roles, and it’s a story that’s prone to provoke some interesting thoughts and conversations. There’s every possibility that you will enjoy it!

Eric Gilde, Ellen Adair Photo by Eric Woolsey Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Eric Gilde, Ellen Adair
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Constellations in the Studio Theatre until February 5, 2017.

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A Christmas Carol
Adapted by David H. Bell
From the Novella by Charles Dickens
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
December 2, 2016

Jerry Vogel, John Rensenhouse Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jerry Vogel, John Rensenhouse
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

‘Tis the season for holiday-themed shows in the St. Louis theatre scene, and this year, the Rep has brought back a show that used to be staged annually decades ago. A Christmas Carol is the classic Dickens tale that has been adapted many times over the years by various playwrights, in musical and non-musical form. The Rep’s latest production, adapted by David H. Bell and performed previously by several other theatre companies, isn’t really a musical although seasonal carols abound.  It’s a technically stunning, well-cast production that keeps true to the spirit of Dickens.

As most viewers will already know, A Christmas Carol centers around the crusty, miserly money lender Ebenezer Scrooge, played here by John Rensenhouse.  After Scrooge spends Christmas Eve being his usual Christmas-hating, bah humbugging self, he gets a rude awakening when he’s suddenly visited by the spirit of his old, long-dead business partner Jacob Marley (Joneal Joplin) and warned that three more spirits will be visiting before dawn breaks on Christmas Day.  Through the visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past (Jacqueline Thompson), Present (Jerry Vogel), and Future (Landon Tate Boyle), Scrooge is reminded of what he has lost and what he could still have if he only is able to change his ways. We meet the familiar characters of Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit (Michael James Reed), Cratchit’s wife (Amy Loui) and seven children including the optimistic but ailing Tiny Tim (Owen Hanford), as well as Scrooge’s persistent nephew Fred (Ben Nordstrom), and faces from his past including his former boss Mr. Fezziwig (also Vogel) and his one-time fiancee, Belle (Lana Dvorak).  The end of the story is well-known enough, but what’s important here is how the story is told, with humor, drama, music, and a lot of dazzling effects.

The cast here is excellent, led by the impressive Rensenhouse, who makes Scrooge’s journey and ultimate reformation thoroughly convincing. There’s also strong work by Joplin as a particularly creepy ghost of Jacob Marley,  Vogel in a dual role as the bouncy Fezziwig and a Ghost of Christmas Present who resembles a cross between Santa Claus and a Christmas tree, and Thompson as an ominous Ghost of Christmas Past. There are also strong performances from Nordstrom as the kindly but disappointed (in Scrooge) Fred, Reed as the earnest Bob Cratchit, Loui as Mrs. Cratchit, young Hanford as the lovable Tiny Tim, and Kaley Bender, Justin Leigh Duhon, Kennedy Holmes, Phoenix Lawson, Nathaniel Mahone, and Kara Overlein as the rest of the Cratchit children.  Susie Wall is also excellent in a dual role as Scrooge’s feisty housekeeper Mrs. Dilber and as Mrs. Fezziwig. There’s a strong ensemble as well, playing various characters and augmenting the story with a variety of well-sung Christmas carols, contributing to the overall Victorian holiday atmosphere of the piece.

Technically, this production is particularly impressive, featuring a spectacular multi-level set by Robert Mark Morgan that serves as an ideally versatile background for the action of the play. Dorothy Marshal Englis’s costumes are also superb, ranging from the authentic Victorian-era costumes of most of the ensemble to the more fantastical costumes worn by the various ghosts, including a truly chilling Ghost of Christmas Future. Rob Denton’s lighting and Rusty Wandall’s sound also contribute wonderfully to the sometimes haunting, sometimes festive atmosphere of the production, and there are also some excellent flying effects by On the FLY Productions LLC.

Although I have seen quite a few of the filmed versions of this story, I had never actually seen a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol before. The Rep’s production certainly captures the spirit of this well-known story. It’s at turns whimsical, frightening, compassionate, challenging, and wondrous, with a strong cast taking the audience on this journey that’s at once familiar and new at the same time. It’s a worthwhile show for the holiday season.

Cast of A Christmas Carol Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Cast of A Christmas Carol
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

A Christmas Carol is being presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis until December 24, 2016.

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All the Way
by Robert Shenkkan
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
September 11, 2015

Brian Dykstra Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Brian Dykstra
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The 1960s may not seem that long ago, but for many who go to see The Rep’s lastest production of Robert Shenkkan’s All the Way, it’s a time period they’ve only heard about in history books, or school, or documentaries. The first year of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency was one that’s had profound impact on American culture, although it takes plays like this to remind us sometimes of where we have been, and also by inference, of how far we still have to go. This meticulously researched and impeccably staged production at the Rep is more than a history lesson, though. It’s a vibrant retelling of a moment in history that musn’t be forgotten.

The play starts on the day Johnson (Brian Dykstra) takes office after the assassination of president John F. Kennedy in November, 1963. Johnson, as a Southern Democrat, has a lot of ties to the “Dixiecrat” wing of his party that was characterized by a strong promotion of states’ rights and opposition to civil rights for African-Americans. The first act shows Johnson adjusting to being president as well as working for the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. The second act deals primarily with his 1964 election campaign. Johnson is a strong personality–an opinionated, strong-willed, and hard-driving politician who will go to any lengths to get his agenda through. The wheeling and dealing aspect of politics is at the forefront here, showing the manipulation and compromise that’s often required to get anything done. Particularly prominent are his dealings with eventual running mate Hubert Humphrey (Kurt Zischke), and prominent civil rights leaders, and particularly Martin Luther King (Avery Glymph), who is shown having to deal with factions within his own movement.

This play is at once profoundly educational, supremely fascinating, and somewhat discouraging, considering all the “dirty” aspects of politics that it shows along with the progress. The noble goals are often overshadowed by threats, infighting, and disillusionment. It’s a realistic and sometimes brutal depiction of the political process, with Dykstra’s dynamic, multi-faceted portrayal of the fascinating and often contradictory Johnson at front and center. Many other historical figures of the day are represented here, and aside from Dykstra, Zischke, Glymph, and a few others, most of the actors play multiple roles.  This production is particularly commendable for its use of many local St. Louis actors, such as Michael James Reed, Jerry Vogel, Ron Himes, J. Samuel Davis, and Alan Knoll in various roles.

Aside from the terrific Dykstra, the standout performers here include Reed as the scandal-plagued Johnson aide Walter Jenkins, Zischke as the hardworking but sometimes overwhelmed Humphrey, Robert Vincent Smith as a particularly smarmy FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Bernadette Quigley in multiple roles, and Davis, Richard Prioleau, and J. Cameron Barnett who each play several roles among the civil rights leaders. Glymph as King gives a generally fine performance, but lacks the sense of presence and charisma that the real King possessed. Especially when delivering some of King’s speeches, Glymph appears to be mimicking King’s cadences, but without sufficient power behind them. For the most part, however, this is a  very strong cast, many of whom seamlessly move from role to role in extremely convincing portrayals.

Technically, this production is nothing short of marvelous. The multi-level set by James Kronzer provides the ideal context for the action in this play where the action quickly moves from location to location. There are some excellent projections by Matthew Young that provide historical context and help move the story along, and Rob Denton’s lighting is first rate. The sound design by Fitz Paton deserves a particular mention here, considering the superb evocation of old-style echoing sound systems during the scenes where characters are speaking to a large crowd. Dorothy Marshall Englis’s costumes are suitably 60s, as well, helping to bring the audience into the time period and adding to the characterizations of the performers.

All the Way, is no dry history lesson, even though it deals with a time many Americans (including myself) do not remember first-hand.  It’s a remarkable portrait of a dynamic and often controversial historical figure, as well as many other notable political leaders of the day, portraying them as human beings and not saints or lifeless talking heads. Politics can be messy, but progress can and does happen. That seems to be the primary message of this piece, which has been given a thoroughly compelling production at The Rep. Whether you remember this era in American History or not, this play is a must-see.

Cast of All the Way Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Cast of All the Way
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s production of All the Way runs until October 4th, 2015.

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The Winslow Boy
by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
February 18, 2014

Jeff Hayenga, Kathleen Wise Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jeff Hayenga, Kathleen Wise
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The latest production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a classic play that brings the audience back to early 20th Century England with a look at family dynamics, politics, and social expectations. It’s a story that’s been produced many times and filmed at least twice. Staged in a decidedly measured manner, it takes a bit of time and patience to hold the attention, although it’s a good-looking show with a fine cast.

The Winslow Boy is somewhat of a deceptive title. Although the action revolves around an accusation of theft by young military school cadet Ronnie Winslow (Jay Stalder), Ronnie himself isn’t the primary focus of the plot. Instead, the story revolves much more around Ronnie’s banker father, Arthur (Jeff Hayenga)–who is determined to bring the case to trial in order to clear his son’s name–as well as Ronnie’s older sister Catherine, or Kate (Kathleen Wise), a progressive thinker and suffragette for whom the case also becomes an important cause. In the midst of the case, which eventually draws local gossip and national attention, there are romantic entanglements for Kate, as her involvement with the case brings her into conflict with her fiance John Watherstone (William Connell), and as she deals with the unrequited attentions of much-older family friend and legal adviser Desmond Curry (Michael James Reed).  As the legal proceedings stretch on, the Winslows have to deal with the urgency of finding the best legal representation, which leads them to celebrated barrister Sir Robert Morton (Jay Stratton), who they hope will help them argue their case and gain a fair trial. There’s also the challenge of having to find money to pay for legal expenses.  As the months go by, Arthur and Kate, along with Arthur’s devoted wife Grace (Carol Schultz) and their aimless older son Dickie (Hunter Canning), face dilemma after dilemma as the case becomes more and more time-consuming, and its effects on the whole family become more intense.

This is an old play, and although it’s been staged many times, this production seems somewhat dated and old fashioned, with very leisurely pacing,  an interesting but slowly developing plot, and British accents that are, for the most part, unconvincing and sometimes distracting. Still, the leading players are engaging, particularly Hayenga as the single-minded, increasingly weary Arthur and Wise as the conflicted but determined Kate.  There’s also a memorable, energetic performance by Peggy Billo as the family longtime housemaid, Violet, the supplies a lot of the play’s warmth and comic relief, along with a particularly fastidious turn by Reed as Desmond. The rest of the cast is fine, as well, although Stalder, as the young teenager Ronnie, seems rather too old for his role.

Technically, the production looks somewhat old-fashioned as well, although that’s fitting to this production.  John Ezell’s set starts out sufficiently ornate, although it’s noticeably altered and increasingly sparse as the play proceeds, reflecting the Winslow family’s financial distress.  The costumes by Dorothy Marshall Englis suitably reflect the time period as well.  It’s a good-looking play, although I find myself wishing the staging were as vibrant as the production values.

Ultimately, The Winslow Boy is an interesting play that runs a little too long, although it does get more intriguing as it goes along.  The strong production values and good cast makes the most of the somewhat pedestrian staging. It’s worth seeing for the subject matter and strength of the lead performances, as well as the little glimpse into life in a bygone era.

Jay Stratton, Jay Stalder Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jay Stratton, Jay Stalder
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

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