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Posts Tagged ‘stray dog theatre’

Monsters
by Stephen Peirick
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
June 8, 2017

Kevin O’Brien, Jeremy Goldmeier, Sarajane Alverson
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

The latest production in Stray Dog Theatre’s 2016-2017 season is a new play by local playwright and actor Stephen Peirick. Monsters is billed as a “comedy thriller”, and it certainly provides elements of both of those genres even though the “comedy” element is more prominent, at least for most of the play. With a talented, enthusiastic cast and some sharp humor and good pacing, this is a promising show, even though it does have a few issues that could be addressed.

Monsters doesn’t feature any literal monsters. The title is more metaphorical, examining the idea that seemingly good human beings can be capable of monstrous acts and attitudes. The situation is essentially a version of the “bumbling unlikely criminals” idea, with “manchild” brothers Jeremy (Kevin O’Brien) and Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier) planning a scheme for personal reasons that they won’t initially share with Davis’s wife, Andi (Sarajane Alverson), who happens across Jeremy in her basement accompanied by a strange man, who Jeremy introduces as Carl (Michael A. Wells), whom Jeremy has put in a difficult situation. The story of what exactly is happening takes a while to be told, as the nervous Jeremy is hesitant to disclose his secret. But Andi has secrets of her own that she’s trying to hide from Jeremy and, especially Davis. Another unexpected event is the arrival of Andi’s brash younger sister, Piper (Eileen Engel), who unbeknownst to Jeremy and Davis, has a habit of coming to the house on Tuesdays to do her laundry–a revelation that the jealous Jeremy, who has no such privileges, highly resents. I can’t say much more about the plot because the revelations of the various “secrets” and the motivations behind them are the centerpiece of the show. I’ll just say that some things are exactly as they seem, and other definitely are not.

The dialogue and characterization are the strongest elements of this show, along with the excellent performances. Alverson as the confrontational, sarcastic and secretive Andi, and O’Brien as the earnest, excitable and bumbling Jeremy are standouts in an impressive, cohesive cast. Engel plays against type well as the opportunistic, self-absorbed Piper, and Goldmeier is also good as the not-so-masterful “mastermind” of the “secret plan”, Davis, and Wells gives a funny, sympathetic performance as a man who spends the majority of the production being pushed around by the other characters. The characters are interesting, alternating between being sympathetic and not as likable, and generally this is a gripping, funny, entertaining and thought-provoking production, although it does have a few issues, most notably in the “comedy-thriller” designation, since the “thriller” aspect of the production–and particularly the revelation of one character’s seemingly sudden decision–that are less credible and not given sufficient build-up.  The comedy aspect is well done, however, and there are some interesting explorations of the ideas of personal responsibility, opportunism, truth and secret keeping, as well as the idea that not everything or everyone is how they may first appear.

The play does a good job of maintaining the audience’s interest, and the visual presentation is excellent, as well, with a set by Justin Been that is a realistic representation of the unfinished basement in which the action takes place. The characters are all outfitted appropriately by costume designer (and director) Gary F. Bell, as well, and Tyler Duenow’s lighting contributes to the overall atmosphere well.

Overall, this is an impressive, promising new production. While I do think there are some story and character elements that can be improved, it’s a funny and provocative play with well-drawn and well-portrayed characters. It’s definitely worth seeing, and it’s great to see a local theatre company developing such an intriguing new theatrical work by a talented local playwright.

Eileen Engel, Jeremy Goldmeier, Sarajane Alverson
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Monsters at Tower Grove Abbey until June 24, 2017.

 

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler
From and Adaptation by Christopher Bond
Directed by Justin Been
Stray Dog Theatre
April 6, 2017

Lavonne Byers, Jonathan Hey
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Sweeney Todd is such a difficult show to do. Its complex story, ridiculously complicated rhythms, and its bleak and even brutal subject matter, blended with a dark sense of humor, make this musical a challenge, to say the least. Now Stray Dog Theatre, known for its ambitious musical productions, has risen to that challenge, staging a bold, thrilling, excellently cast production of this well-known musical.

The show is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most well-known works, and it’s also possibly his darkest. A re-telling of an old British legend of the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, the story fleshes out (pun intended) the barber’s backstory. Here, Sweeney Todd (Jonathan Hey), formerly known as Benjamin Barker, has just returned from 15 years of exile in Australia, where he was sent on trumped-up charges after running afoul of the corrupt, conniving and self-righteous Judge Turpin (Gerry Love), who had eyes for Barker’s wife, Lucy. Now returned to London, the world-weary Todd is bent on revenge, especially after he hears of his wife’s fate after Barker’s exile, and the fact that the judge has taken in and raised Barker’s daughter Johanna (Eileen Engel), and now has plans to marry her. Todd learns all this from the down-on-her-luck pie merchant Mrs. Lovett (Lavonne Byers), who has her own designs on Sweeney himself and assists him in establishing a new barber shop above her pie shop. When the Judge and his accomplice Beadle Bamford (Mike Wells) continue to evade Todd’s plots to exact revenge, his and Lovett’s plans grow even darker and more ambitious, and more gruesome, in ways that feed Todd’s desire for vengeance and the customers of Lovett’s increasingly successful pie shop. In the midst of all these machinations, Anthony Hope (Cole Gutmann), a young sailor who saves Todd from drowning on his way back from Australia, meets and is instantly smitten with Johanna, further complicating Todd’s plans, and Lovett takes in young Tobias Ragg (Connor Johnson), an orphaned young man who grows increasingly suspicious of Todd. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious Beggar Woman (Kay Love) who keeps appearing and who Todd sees as an annoyance and a distraction.

There’s a lot going on in this play, and the tone is both bleak and darkly comic at different moments. It’s a large cast for the small-ish stage at SDT’s Tower Grove Abbey, but director Justin Been has staged it with a brisk energy that keeps the story going without ever appearing too cluttered. Rob Lippert’s multi-level set is superb, providing an excellent evocation of a 19th Century London street and Mrs. Lovett’s run-down pie shop, as well as Todd’s barber shop above it and various other locations as needed. Tyler Duenow’s dramatic lighting and Ryan Moore’s colorful, meticulously detailed costumes help to set the mood of the production, which keeps an urgent pace throughout as the story starts out dark and only gets darker as the story progresses. Tower Grove Abbey, with its wooden pews, stained glass windows and striking 19th Century architecture, is a fitting space for this show, and the cast uses most of the available performance space (stage and audience area) effectively.

The cast here is extremely strong, led by the brooding, looming, booming-voiced Hey as the determined, vengeful Todd. His sheer single-mindedness is at the forefront here, and his singing is strong and clear, bringing out the power of songs like “No Place Like London”, “My Friends”, and “Epiphany”. Byers, whose diminutive stature provides a physical contrast to the much larger Hey, brings a big personality to the scheming, lovestruck Lovett. Although she struggles a bit with the vocal range on her first song, “Worst Pies In London”, Byers is in excellent form throughout the rest of the production, and her blend of dark desperation and broad humor is showcased well in songs like “By the Sea”, “God, That’s Good”, and the showstopping Act 1 finale, “A Little Priest”, in which she and Hey both shine. There’s also excellent support from the rest of the cast, particularly Gutmann as the ever-optimistic Anthony, Engel as a particularly gutsy Johanna, Wells as the smarmy Beadle Bamford, Gerry Love as the creepy Judge Turpin, Kay Love as the enigmatic Beggar Woman, and Johnson as young Tobias, whose story arc is particularly affecting, although he does struggle a little bit with volume on some of his faster-paced songs. The singing is strong throughout, and there’s a strong, energetic ensemble backing the leads and filling out the stage as townspeople, customers, inhabitants of an asylum, and more.

Sweeney Todd is a show where so much is happening, and where the musical style is so challenging, that I imagine it would be easy to get wrong. Fortunately, Stray Dog’s production gets it right. It’s a sharp social critique and a highly personal tale at the same time. The tone of this show is dark and even mournful at times, but maintaining the pace and energy level is absolutely critical for this show, and that’s done well here. With an excellent cast especially in the two crucial leading roles and a top-notch ensemble, this Sweeney Todd is a chilling, thrilling, and memorable tale.

Cast of Sweeney Todd
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Tower Grove Abbey until April 22, 2017.

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A Doll’s House
by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
February 2, 2017

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre

A Doll’s House is a much-performed and studied classic of theatre by famed 19th Century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It’s been celebrated and criticized over the decades for its feminist message, and its central role has been played by many accomplished actresses. At Stray Dog Theatre, this play represents a revolution of sorts, as it brings this always good theatre company into a new level of excellence, especially where non-musical plays are concerned.

The story, set in a small town in Norway in 1879, follows pampered housewife Nora Helmer (Nicole Angeli), who lives a seemingly idyllic existence as the wife of respected local business man Torvald (Ben Ritchie), who has just accepted a prestigious job as manager of a local bank. Her husband dotes on her, calling her his “Songbird” and “Skylark” and treating her something like an overgrown child. Nora has her own children, too–two young sons (Joe Webb as Ivar, Simon Desilets as Bobby) and a baby daughter, cared for by Nora’s childhood nanny, Anne-Marie. Her house is well-appointed and her husband’s reputation is impeccable. He’s frequently visited by his old friend, the kind but sickly Dr. Rank (John N. Reidy), and revels in the prospect of his new job and the money and status it will give him and the family, including Nora, who seems to enjoy spending his money.  As simple and stereotypical as Nora may seem at first, however, we soon learn of secrets that she is hiding even from her husband. As old school friend Kristine Linde (Rachel Hanks) arrives, newly widowed and looking for a job, Nora reveals the truth about her past with Torvald, and exactly how she was able to afford a trip to Italy some years previous that proved lifesaving for him but put Nora into the debt of Nils Krogstad (Stephen Peirick), a disgraced and disgruntled employee of the bank who is at risk of losing his job when Torvald takes over, and who desperately doesn’t want that to happen. As events progress and more is revealed about Krogstad, Kristine, Dr. Rank, and especially Torvald, Nora is forced to examine the life she has led and her future with the man she’s married to but isn’t sure she knows as well as she had thought.

This play is masterfully constructed, and even though it was written over 100 years ago and is focused on a specific time and place, it still has resonance today in terms of the roles of men and women in marriage, societal expectations and personal agency. In a way, this play is something of a counterpoint to another Ibsen classic, Hedda Gabler, depicting a woman’s plight amid the expectations of society but with somewhat different circumstances and drastically different conclusions. At Stray Dog, director Gary F. Bell has staged this work meticulously, emphasizing character relationships and pacing the show with just the right balance of urgency and patience, allowing the characters’ decisions and thought processes to convey believably and with resonance.  It all takes place on an exquisitely wrought birdcage-like set designed by Robert J. Lippert, with sumptuous, richly detailed costumes by Eileen Engel that evoke the era and style of period with excellence. These qualities are strongly supported as well by Tyler Duenow’s excellent lighting and Justin Been’s clear sound.  It’s a stunning technical production, augmenting the truly first-rate performances of the cast.

As Nora, Angeli excels. I’ve seen her in many plays over the years, and she continues to impress with her sheer ability to lose herself in a role. She inhabits Nora here with an impressive mixture of girlishness, shrewdness, vulnerability, and an underlying intelligence that shows itself more as the story plays out. She makes Nora’s journey 100% credible, and she shines in all her scenes, especially with Ritchie, also impressive as the controlling, self-absorbed but emotionally dependent Torvald. Also making strong impressions are Reidy as the earnest, kind but ultimately sad Dr. Rank, Hanks as the determined, honest Kristine, and Peirick as the oily, desperate Krogstad, whose villainy has a distinct reason. The whole supporting cast is strong, as well, with Melanie Kozak impressing as the all-seeing family maid Helene, and convincing performances from Renard as kindly nanny Anne-Marie and young Webb and Desilets as the Helmers’ sons. This is a strong script, and it demands a strong cast, which Stray Dog’s production emphatically provides.

Stray Dog Theatre is an excellent theatre company, and I’ve seen some wonderful shows there over the years, especially in the area of musical theatre. With this timely, transcendent production of A Doll’s House, though, this company has achieved a new level of excellence with a non-musical play. It’s a production that manages to celebrate Ibsen and shine a light on the plight of women in society in his time as well as now. This is a challenging work, and SDT has more than met that challenge. It’s a truly superb production.

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting A Doll’s House at the Tower Grove Abbey until February 18, 2017.

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Buyer & Cellar
by Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
December 1, 2016

Will Bonfiglio Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Will Bonfiglio
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

It’s fun when you can see a new production of a show you’ve seen before and feel like you’re seeing it for the very first time. I loved Buyer & Seller when I saw last year’s production by another local theatre company. This year, though, Stray Dog is presenting the quirky one-person show featuring the delightfully talented Will Bonfiglio, and it seems like a new experience. In fact, I think I like it even more this time.

The story is a crazy one–a fictionalized tale of out-of-work California actor Alex More (Bonfiglio), who is hired to work as the only employee in an old fashioned shopping mall in superstar Barbra Streisand’s basement. The house is real, as is the basement mall, and Streisand’s book, My Passion For Design, that describes and pictures the real house and mall. What’s not real, however, is the rest of the story, which springs from the vivid imagination of playwright Jonathan Tolins and serves as an excellent showcase for a talented actor with lots of energy, and the personable Bonfiglio is perfectly cast.  With seemingly boundless reserves of bouncy, bright and approachable verve, Bonfiglio makes an ideal central figure and story teller.  He takes us throught Alex’s journey with warmth and clarity, also ably portraying various other characters in Alex’s story, including Alex’s screenwriter boyfriend Barry, various Streisand associates and relatives, and of course, Barbra herself.  His portrayal, as Bonfiglio clearly outlines at the beginning of the play, is not a direct impression of Streisand, but it’s vividly effective, portraying an underlying toughness as well as vulnerability in the superstar.  Most of the time, though, Bonfiglio is Alex, and as he tells his story and acts it out, the sense of alternating wonder, suspense, surprise, awe, and disappointment is readily apparent. It’s a superb and extremely approachable performance.

The technical elements of this play also integrate seamlessly into the telling of Alex’s story. Scenic designer Rob Lippert has created a “blank canvas” type set, all in white, on which Bonfiglio can paint the portrait of his experience. Through excellent use of projections, Tyler Duenow’s colorful lighting, and sound designer Justin Been’s evocative sound effects, the humor and drama of the story is wonderfully augmented. Director Gary F. Bell also designed the costumes, outfitting Bonfiglio in a comfortable, versatile ensemble that suits his character well.

This play is an excellent showcase for Bonfiglio as well as an insightful portrayal of the plight of an actor who wants to work, as well as the perks and insecurities of being a world-famous superstar like Streisand. Although this is not a true story, there’s a lot of truth in it nonetheless. That truth is on vibrant, hilarious display currently in this remarkable production at Stray Dog Theatre.

straydogbuyercellarcd17e

Will Bonfiglio Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Buyer & Cellar is being presented by Stray Dog Theatre at the Tower Grove Abbey until December 17, 2016.

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The Rocky Horror Show
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Richard O’Brien
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner
Stray Dog Theatre
October 13, 2016

Michael Juncal (center) and cast Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Michael Juncal (center) and cast
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

I have a confession to make–I had never seen The Rocky Horror Show before. I hadn’t even seen the movie, the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, even though I had seen several clips and heard some of the songs. I felt at a distinct disadvantage when seeing the latest production at Stray Dog Theatre. Although it’s a well-staged production with a great cast and reflective of Stray Dog’s usual excellence, I think a show like this would appeal best to those who are more familiar with the material.

The point of a show like Rocky Horror is more the experience than the actual plot. It’s a funny spoof of old-fashioned horror films, with hilariously over-the-top characterizations and some fun songs and raucous, raunchy humor, but that’s not all it is. It’s an interactive show, really, and the audience participation is what makes it work best. The audience gives energy to the performers, and the whole entertainment value is enhanced, especially when audience members are reciting lines along with the performers, singing along with the songs, and shouting responses at the characters on stage. The program wisely contains instructions that differentiate the play from the film, so things like throwing things and squirting water are not permitted, but dressing up, singing along, and talking back are encouraged. It’s the kind of experience that made me wish I had seen the film, because I was just watching a lot of the time, rather than participating because I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next, and this show is best when the audience is fully engaged.

That all said, Stray Dog’s production is extremely well-staged, well-cast, and technically impressive. The story follows naive newly engaged Brad (Kevin O’Brien) and Janet (Heather Matthews) after their car breaks down late one night and they stop at the nearest castle to use the phone. There, they encounter an unusual cast of characters led by cross-dressing mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter (Michael Juncal). Frank is working on an important project that he’s about to reveal on this very evening–his “creature”, the scantily clad, extremely physically fit Rocky Horror (Luke Steingruby). Along with his strange and enthusiastic household staff including “handyman” Riff Raff (Corey Fraine), housemaid Magenta (Maria Bartolotta), and “groupie” Columbia (Sara Rae Womack), Frank educates Brad and Janet about his life’s work, and about… well, quite a few other subjects. Led by an enthusiastic, deadpan Narrator (Gerry Love), the story is as over-the-top and campy as one would expect, with a catchy score of well-known songs such as “The Time Warp”, “Sweet Transvestite”, and “Touch-A Touch Me”.

The cast here is well-chosen and they all seem to be having a great time on stage, from the leads to the ensemble. Juncal hams it up with gleeful mischief as Frank, Matthews plays the sheltered but increasingly fascinated Janet convincingly, and she’s well-matched with O’Brien as the comically uptight Brad, and Steingruby as the eager-to-learn new creation, Rocky. There are also strong performances from Fraine and Bartolotta as the scheming Riff Raff and Magenta, and Womack as the enthusiastic Columbia. Love is also a comic treat as the narrator, and the rest of the cast is excellent as well, performing the songs with impressive presence and energy.

The staging by director Justin Been and choreography by Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner is also clever and inventive. I especially liked how the ensemble members “became” Brad and Janet’s car. Robert J. Lippert’s multi-level set is colorful and detailed, and Eileen Engel’s costumes are striking and well-suited to the characters, from Frank’s corsets to the household staff’s unique outfits to the Narrator’s military garb. There’s also excellent lighting by Tyler Duenow and a top-notch band led by music director Chris Petersen.

Rocky Horror is a funny, shocking, larger-than-life comic horror story that isn’t for all audiences (it’s definitely not for the kids), but it can be a lot of fun. I do think it will be best appreciated by those who are familiar with the material and can add to the audience participation, which contributes greatly to the fun of a show like this. Stray Dog’s production, however, is entertaining even for those who haven’t seen it before. It’s worth seeing, especially if you know what to expect.

Cast of The Rocky Horror Show Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Cast of The Rocky Horror Show
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at Tower Grove Abbey until October 29, 2016.

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Bat Boy: The Musical
Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Mike Hodges
Stray Dog Theatre
August 5, 2016

Corey Fraine, Angela Bubash, Dawn Schmid, Patrick Kelly Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Corey Fraine, Angela Bubash, Dawn Schmid, Patrick Kelly
Photo by John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre

Based on a story from an infamous tabloid, Bat Boy: The Musical is the darkly comic tale of a misfit child hidden away in a cave, and what happens when he’s discovered by the world around him. It’s a musical that started out off-Broadway and has become a modern cult classic, and it’s now on stage at Stray Dog Theatre. It’s the final show in STD’s current season, and it’s a well-cast, impressively staged production.

Stylistically, the show has essentially a sensationalist air, in the spirit of an over-the-top tabloid story like the one on which this is based. The influence of old-style “B” sci-fi movies is also apparent. Except for the main leads, most of the cast members play multiple roles of various ages and genders as needed. The title character (Corey Fraine) is originally found in a cave as two brothers and a sister (Michael A. Wells, Sara Rae Womack, and Lindsey Jones) are exploring. The initially wild “Bat Boy” quickly bites the sister, scaring the three siblings and sending their town into a panic of suspicion. The Sheriff (Josh Douglas) decides to take Bat Boy to the local veterinarian, Dr. Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly), so the doctor can decide what to do, although he’s not home and his wife Meredith (Dawn Schmid) and daughter Shelley (Angela Bubash) meet Bat Boy first, and Meredith insists on taking the boy in and giving him a loving home, eventually persuading her reluctant husband to go along with her plan. Bat Boy is soon re-christened “Edgar” and, under the instruction of Meredith, Shelley, and Thomas, quickly reveals his intelligent and sensitive nature, although the townspeople still believe him to be a monster. Then there’s the matter of Thomas, who grows jealous of his wife’s attentions toward Edgar. As the townspeople gear up for a big tent revival meeting held by a visiting superstar evangelist (also Wells), Edgar and the various Parkers have dreams, concerns, and dilemmas to deal with.

The show has the exaggerated tone of tabloid television, with lots of comedy although there is also a tendency toward melodrama. The plot gets more and more sensationalized as it goes on, with elements of horror, forbidden love, “mad scientists”, religious themes involving conservative Christianity as well as ancient Greek mythology, and more thrown in for good measure. The “message” starts out being one of the need for acceptance and understanding of differences, but the themes get a little confused as the sci-fi horror elements are further developed. The music is a mixture of modern styles, with some memorable production numbers and ballads. The slightly over-exaggerated tone of most of the production is also portrayed well by means of Mike Hodges’s stylized choreography and Cara Hoppes McCulley’s colorful costumes, all staged on Robert J. Lippert’s detailed, evocative set.

The cast here is well-chosen and full of energy. Fraine as Edgar the Bat Boy gives a strong, sympathetic performance, with a strong voice and dynamic physicality. He’s well-matched by Bubash’s feisty Shelley and Schmid’s determined, slightly mysterious Meredith. Kelly is also excellent as the increasingly conflicted Thomas, and all four leads are in excellent voice. The rest of the ensemble, all playing multiple roles, is excellent as well, helping to maintain the comically melodramatic tone of the show.

Bat Boy’s  story may be on the ridiculous side, but it’s the kind of show that revels in its ridiculousness. With memorable characters, humor, and memorable music, it’s an entertaining and crowd-pleasing tale, very well told by this excellent cast and technical crew. It’s another memorable musical production from Stray Dog Theatre.

Cast of Bat Boy: The Musical Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Cast of Bat Boy: The Musical
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Bat Boy: The Musical at Tower Grove Abbey until August 20, 2016.

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Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
by Alan Ball
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
June 9, 2016

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

It’s wedding season in St. Louis theatre. As director Gary F. Bell mentioned in his pre-show introduction to Stray Dog Theatre’s latest production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, several local theatre companies are currently staging plays that feature weddings in some way.  There are many aspects of weddings that can be featured in theatre, and for SDT, the featured production is focused on the bridesmaids. A character study that features a collection of contrasting personalities, this show depends largely on the strength of its cast, and SDT’s production certainly delivers in that area.

There are six on stage characters in this play, although several off stage characters are also important to the proceedings. Tracy and Scott, the bride and groom, are never seen but are often talked about, as is another wedding guest, Tommy, who has somehow affected the lives of most of the bridesmaids. The focus here, though, is on the “five women” of the play’s title–a disparate collection of characters who are all connected with the bride or groom in various ways, and whose personalities widely differ. There’s the bride’s younger sister, the tough-talking Meredith (Lindsay Gringrich); the devout young cousin Frances (Eileen Engel); the sexually adventurous but romantically reticent friend of the bride Trisha (Sarajane Alverson); the unhappily married Georgeanne (Shannon Nara); and the groom’s plain-spoken sister Mindy (Frankie Ferrari). There’s also the good-natured Tripp (Kevin O’Brien), a wedding guest and cousin of the groom who pursues the wary Trisha. Although there is one male character, though, the story mostly revolves around the women, and their differing stories and personalities.

There are many surprises in this script, so there’s not much I can say in detail about the plot. The tone is mostly comedic, although there are some moments of drama, and the focus is on the contrasting personalities and backgrounds of the bridesmaids, and especially their romantic experiences and their attitudes toward love and marriage. The perspectives vary widely, from the virginal Frances, who’s quick to tell everyone she’s a Christian, to the more worldly and jaded Trisha, to the confident lesbian Mindy, and to Meredith and Geogeanne, both of whom are harboring their own secrets.  The characters are well-defined and not especially stereotypical, which is a credit to the playwright, although there are also some stories that aren’t given a proper conclusion, and an ending that seems a little too tidy. Still, it’s an interesting study of these contrasting characters, extremely well-played by the excellent cast, with Alverson’s brash Trisha, Ferrari’s frank Mindy, and Gingrich’s rebellious but guarded Meredith as standouts, although every cast member has excellent moments, and the acting chemistry between all six performers is extremely strong.

The setting of a bedroom in a suburban Tennessee house in the early 1990’s is well-realized, with director and scenic designer Gary F. Bell’s set providing the ideal backdrop for the play’s action. Eileen Engel’s costumes are a highlight as well, with the colorfully tacky bridesmides dresses that seem appropriate to the era, as well as being an indication of the character of the unseen bride who would have chosen these outfits. All the technical elements are well-done, including Tyler Duenow’s lighting and Justin Been’s sound.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress isn’t a perfect play, but it’s an entertaining one. With well-defined, ideally cast characters and a richly detailed setting, the play is at turns funny, dramatic, and at times disturbing, although there is certainly a hopeful tone toward the end. It’s a memorable representation of what turns out to be an eventful wedding for the characters involved.

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is being presented by Stray Dog Theatre at Tower Grove Abbey until June 25, 2016.

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