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Shakespeare in Love
by Lee Hall (Adapted From Screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman)
Directed by Suki Peters
Insight Theatre Company
August 30, 2019

Aaron Dodd, Michelle Hand (standing), Gwendolyn Wotawa
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Shakespeare in Love is a play! Or at least, it is now. The acclaimed and somewhat controversial 1998 film was adapted for the stage by playwright Lee Hall and first produced in London in 2014. Now, Insight Theatre Company has brought the play to St. Louis in an energetic production currently on stage at the Grandel Theatre. While the show itself has a few issues in terms of translation from screen to stage, Insight has assembled a top-notch cast, and the result is a fun, highly entertaining show.

Despite the ongoing debate over its Oscar wins, my opinion on the film of Shakespeare in Love is largely positive. Maybe it didn’t deserve to beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture, but on its own merits, it’s a clever, witty, and enjoyable film. The play retains a lot of that wit, although the transition to the stage seems a bit clunky at times, in that the focus seems to be more on Will Shakespeare (Aaron Dodd) and his relationship to friend/frenemy/mentor Christopher Marlowe (Spencer Sickmann) than I remember from the film. Shakespeare’s unexpected paramour and muse, the idealistic Viola de Lesseps (Gwendolyn Wotawa) is still prominent, but doesn’t seem to have the same level of emphasis onstage, and Viola’s story takes something of a backseat to Shakespeare’s, particularly at the end. The ensemble nature of the piece is highlighted more on stage, as well, with a relatively large cast and some excellent featured roles. This is a good thing, although there is a lot of hopping from setting to setting that may flow well on screen, but can seem a bit abrupt on stage. Still, for the most part, it’s an engaging story, especially in the hands of director Suki Peters and the excellent cast. The love story is here, as is the generally broad comic tone with some serious overtones and themes, including the relationship between artists and their patrons; the roles of women in theatre and in society; the pressure of living up to societal expectations; the very nature of inspiration and collaboration, and their role in creating arts, and more. It’s a lively, fast-paced show that plays more as a comedy than a romance, at least on stage, and the biggest romance seems to be of writers/performers with their work, more than with a particular person.

The cast, as previously mentioned, is first-rate, led by the personable Dodd as the conflicted, earnest Shakespeare, the charismatic Sickmann as the worldly Christopher Marlowe, and the engaging Wotawa as the determined, stage-loving Viola. There are also strong performances from Michelle Hand as Viola’s devoted Nurse; Ted Drury as Viola’s oily fiance, the Earl of Wessex; and the memorable, stage-commanding Wendy Renee Greenwood in the small but pivotal role of Queen Elizabeth I. Other standouts include delightful comic performances from Joneal Joplin and Whit Reichert as theatre patron Fennyman and producer Henslowe. Carl Overly Jr. and Shane Signorino are also excellent as prominent rival actors Richard Burbage and Ned Alleyn. The whole supporting cast is strong as well, with a lot of energy and an excellent sense of ensemble chemistry. Overall, the Elizabethan atmosphere and the sense of what the theatrical world in Shakespeare’s day was like shines through with vibrant enthusiasm.

The Elizabethan flair is well-maintained through the play’s physical production, as well. Chuck Winning’s multi-level unit set is colorful and versatile, as are Julian King’s impeccably well-suited costumes. There’s excellent work from lighting designer Jaime Zayas and sound designer Robin Weatherall, as well. There is also a strong musical sense in this production, with period-style songs and score played by musicians Rachel Bailey, Chuck Brinkley, Ruth Ezell, Cara Langhauser, Catherine Edwards Kopff, and Abraham Shaw, and vocals by various cast members. The music especially works well for setting and maintaining the tone and era of the play.

Overall, I would say Shakespeare in Love on stage, as performed by Insight, is a success. The adaptation is not without its flaws, but the overall enthusiasm of the production and the superb cast make up for any script and flow issues, for the most part. It’s a fun show, ultimately, with a real sense of love for its characters, and for theatre itself. It’s worth seeing especially for the strong performances.

Cast of Shakespeare in Love
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre Company is presenting Shakespeare in Love at the Grandel Theatre until September 15, 2019

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Holiday Stop-Motion TV Extravaganza
Directed by Suki Peters
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
December 1, 2018

Amy Kelly, Ben Ritchie, Joseph Cella
Photo by Ron James
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre is back with all its quirky, unpolished an unapologetically silly approach to pop culture parody. The focus of their latest production is a look back at well-known stop-motion holiday specials from the 1960s and 70s, particularly the now-iconic Rankin-Bass hits Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without a Santa Claus. And there are commercials, too!

As is usual for this company, the look and atmosphere is colorful, but not overly polished in terms of production values. There’s an all-purpose holiday-themed set, whimsically painted by Fox Smith, and some clever costumes by Kayla Lindsey that suggest the look of these well-known specials without trying to look exactly like them. The energy comes from the whimsical atmosphere, the period-styled commercials, and slightly twisted and occasionally slightly raunchy approach to the story (mostly PG-13, I would say), and especially the hilarious comic performances. Many of these performers have been in Magic Smoking Monkey shows before, and the atmosphere is enthusiastic and joke-a-minute funny. Also, aside from Santa (Ben Ritchie), everyone plays two or more characters over the course of the two stories presented here. For the most part, the plots follow the specials on which they are based, with a few additions and tweaks–for instance, one source of debate about Rudolph involves the Island of Misfit toys and its not being obvious why Dolly (Payton Gillam), a seemingly typical little girl doll,  is a “misfit”. Well, this show has answer for the that. The jokes range from visual to verbal, and if you don’t laugh at one, there is bound to be another that you will find hilarious.

There’s a great cast here, as well, with standouts being Ritchie’s droll Santa, Amy Kelly’s spunky Mrs. Claus, Shannon Nara in a dual role as Clarice the reindeer and as the no-nonsense Mother Nature, Ron Strawbridge in a number of roles including the competitive Heat Miser, Gillam in several roles, and Joseph Garner as Rudolph. The biggest standout, though, has to be Robert Thibaut, who puts in two scene-stealing performances, first as Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist in the Rudolph story, and then in an old-fashioned song-and-dance act as Snow Miser in Year Without a Santa Claus. There’s a lot of offbeat energy here as usual, and it’s a fun way to appreciate some of the more kitschy elements of holiday pop culture. These two specials are classics, and they’re given a suitably over-the-top, truly hilarious treatment by Magic Smoking Monkey that’s a whole lot of festive fun.

Cast of Holiday Stop-Motion Extravaganza
Photo by Ron James
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

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AFI’s Top 100 Greatest American Films of All Time–A Parody
Written by Shualee Cook, Roger Erb, Chris Jones, and Ben Ritchie
Concept and Direction by Suki Peters
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
July 8, 2017

Ben Ritchie, Roger Erb
Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

I’m really glad there’s a list in the program for this show, just so it was easier to keep track. In typical Magic Smoking Monkey fashion, the company’s latest production, AFI’s Top 100 Greatest American Films of All Time–A Parody is fast-moving and wildly inventive. It’s also extremely funny.

Here, the AFI’s list is taken and given the Magic Smoking Monkey treatment, as the energetic, enthusiastic cast races through the list in reverse order, from Ben-Hur to Citizen Kane, with a bell ringing to indicate the changing of films.  Some are given more time than others, and the presentations range from the literal the more symbolic. It’s a fun experience to watch, and with films as well-known as most of these are, it’s fairly easy to understand the scenes even when I haven’t seen all the films (I checked off the list–I’ve seen 54 of them). The pace is quick, and there are even occasional jokes about that ringing bell, and some crossover jokes between some of the movie parodies. It’s a lot of fun, as usual.

There’s a great cast here, too, making the most of every joke and creating some memorable impressions–figuratively and literally. One of the fun conceits this show uses is to have the same performers reappear when the same actors appear in several different films. Alyssa Ward as Katharine Hepburn and Brennan Eller as Jimmy Stewart are special standouts, but the whole cast is great. Kudos to Rachel Bailey, Roger Erb, Chris Jones, Ben Ritchie, Fox Smith, and Ron Strawbridge for their versatile takes on a variety of film characters. There are also special appearances by Nate Cummings and Morgan Maul-Smith.

The creative team has done a great job as well, with great costumes by Carla Landis Evans, lighting by Justin Chaipet, sound design by Ted Drury, and slides by Dan Foster. It’s all kind of unpolished, but that’s part of the charm of these shows. Also, with the quick pacing, anything can happen, and that element of surprise lends a lot to the humor.

This show is great fun for film buffs and casual filmgoers alike. It’s an uproarious blend of movies and theatre, as well. With Magic Smoking Monkey’s usual wit, style, and goofy charm, this parody is an ideal comic tribute to classic American Film

Alyssa Ward
Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents AFI’s Top 100 Greatest Films of Al Time–A Parody, until July 7, 2015.

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Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Suki Peters
St. Louis Shakespeare
October 8, 2016

Ben Ritchie, Michelle Hand Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakespear

Ben Ritchie, Michelle Hand
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakespeare

One of the many, many things I love about Shakespeare’s plays is that they are in the public domain, meaning directors and theatre companies can stage them whenever, wherever, and however they want. Sometimes this can lead to self-indulgence, but often it can lead to some truly innovative, riveting theatrical experiences. Macbeth at St. Louis Shakespeare is a prime example of how a director’s well thought-out vision can take an established classic and turn it into something intense, immediate, and  stunningly memorable.

The story is the familiar one, with some cuts to streamline it a little and add to the fast-paced feel of this production. It’s not rushed, however, and every decision makes clear sense. The tragic story of the ambitious Scottish thane Macbeth (Ben Ritchie) and his equally ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Michelle Hand) is lucidly told here, and one of the most remarkable parts of it is in the representation of the three witches, or “Weird Sisters” (brilliantly played by Elizabeth Knocke, Taleesha Caturah, and Katie Robinson). In this production, the witches are everywhere, reappearing throughout the production as observers and participants in the action. Having them show up in various situations in other roles, but still in their witch makeup, amplifies the haunting sense of their presence and influence on the action. As the Macbeths conspire to murder the noble King Duncan (Kim Curlee) in order to help fulfill the witches’ prophecy, everything has a sense of palpable urgency. There are other figures who stand in opposition to Macbeth as well, such as the earnest, doomed Banquo (Maxwell Knocke), the determined warrior Macduff (Maggie Wininger), and Duncan’s displaced son and heir Malcolm (Eric Lindsey). The story of the insidious corruption of a thirst for power is told with glaring, visceral intensity, and the consequences of war are made real as well. It’s Shakespeare’s story, set in a mostly traditional setting, but told in a way that speaks to today’s audiences with clarity.

The cast here is impressive. Ritchie convincingly plays the title role, portraying the character’s journey from surprise to ambition to all-consuming lust for power with alacrity. Hand, as the scheming Lady Macbeth, is also superb in her role, expertly displaying the character’s manipulation and also the profundity and horror of her haunting, self-destructing remorse. There are also memorable performances from Knocke as the first devoted and then suspicious but always noble Banquo, and Wininger–who has previously played Hamlet for this theatre company–playing the usually male role of Macduff as a woman, with clear determination and a strong range of emotions, and clear skill as a warrior in the well-choreographed (by Erik Kuhn) duel scene with Macbeth toward the end of the play. There are also excellent performances from Wendy Farmer in a dual role as the witches’ queen Hecate and as the ill-fated Lady Macduff; Chuck Brinkley as the drunken Porter and as a Doctor who attends to Lady Macbeth; Lindsey as Duncan’s rightful heir Malcolm; the and an excellent ensemble of supporting performers in various roles.

The look, sound, and overall atmosphere of this production is stunningly realized by the top-notch creative team. Chuck Winning’s wood-and-metal set is a fitting backdrop for the action here, and JC Krajicek’s costumes are inventive, mostly in a traditional style but with more modern touches here and there. There is truly spectacular use of lighting designed by Nathan Schroeder, and sound designed by Ted Drury to create the eerie, haunting atmosphere and achieve some truly chilling storm effects throughout. All the technical aspects of this production are impressive, in fact, serving director Peters’ vision of a spooky, raw, fast-moving telling of this oft-told story.

There isn’t a lot of time left to see Macbeth at St. Louis Shakespeare, but I highly recommend making a trip to the Ivory Theatre to see this one-of-a-kind production. This production makes the most of the space it’s in, and director Suki Peters’ clear, bold concept comes across extremely well. I’ve seen a lot of excellent productions from St. Louis Shakespeare, but I think this is their best one yet.

Maggie Wininger, Eric Lindsey Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakepeare

Maggie Wininger, Eric Lindsey
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakepeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Macbeth at the Ivory Theatre until October 16, 2016.

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Richard III
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Suki Peters
St. Louis Shakespeare
April 8, 2016

Charlie Barron Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakespeare

Charlie Barron
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakespeare

Richard III, as told by William Shakespeare, may or may not be particularly accurate from a historical point of view. It’s clear whose side the Bard was on in the epic battle between the Houses of Lancaster and York, but what matters in drama is the how the story is told and how the characters portray that story. In St. Louis Shakespeare’s superbly cast new staging of the classic history play, raw ambition is at the forefront as Richard schemes his way to the throne.

Richard (Charlie Barron) begins the play as the Duke of Gloucester. In a series of asides to the audience that seem something like “talking head” interviews from a TV show, the unscrupulous Duke hatches and executes his plan to become King of England, starting with having his brother, George, Duke of Clarence (Maxwell Knocke) imprisoned and later killed. He wheedles his way into marriage with the (very) recently widowed Anne Neville (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) in order to secure an alliance with her family. Through the course of play Richard connives and manipulates, running afoul of the current queen, Elizabeth (Michelle Hand), the former queen, Margaret (Jeanitta Perkins), and even his own mother, the Duchess of York (Margeau Steinau). He enlists an array of henchmen and “advisors”, but his trust in them varies. Chief among these allies is the conflicted Duke of Buckingham (John Foughty), who is increasingly uneasy with Richard’s plans. Eventually ascending the throne, Richard is eventually led to war with his chief rival, the nobly depicted Henry, the Earl of Richmond (Erik Kuhn).

Regardless of historical quibbles and whose side the viewer may be on in this legendary clash, Shakespeare’s Richard is painted as a clear villain. Usually portrayed with a contorted body and a decided stoop, Richard here is portrayed by Baron as more upright in the posture department, but still as gleefully villainous. Walking with a limp is about the extent of the physical limitations of Barron’s Richard, although he brings a sharp physicality to the role, and a wily, conniving, viciously forceful manner. He holds the viewer’s attention with ease, and his scenes with Theby-Quinn’s defiantly reluctant Anne, Hand’s harried Elizabeth, Perkins’s confrontational Margaret, and Foughty’s principled, conflicted Buckingham are intensely charged. Other standouts include Chuck Winning in a dual role as King Edward IV and another of Richard’s allies, Sir Robert Brackenbury. There’s also a particularly menacing turn by Brennan Eller as hired assassin Sir James Tyrell. Erik Kuhn plays a reluctant assassin with sympathy, although his turn as the heroic Richmond is slightly less convincing. For the most part, though, this is an extremely strong cast, with too many strong performances to name.

It’s a well-staged production, with a multi-level set by Jason Townes that appropriately evokes the era. JC Krajicek’s costumes are colorful and detailed, and Steve Miller’s lighting sets the mood well. There’s also some impressive staging particularly in the battle scenes, bringing the Battle of Bosworth Field to the stage in a convincing, personal way.

St. Louis Shakespeare has brought a lot of humanity to this production. It’s easy to see Richard III, as portrayed by Shakespeare, as a monster, and while he’s clearly a villain, here he’s a decidedly three-dimensional villain. The people whose lives he manipulates, challenges and destroys are portrayed in vivid detail as well, particularly the women. It’s a fast-moving, never boring staging of this classic portrayal of of King’s ambitious, brutal ascent to the throne and his inevitable downfall. This Richard III at its most approachable, and most powerful.

Charlie Barron, cast Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakespeare

Charlie Barron, cast
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Richard III at the Ivory Theatre until April 17, 2016.

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Assassins
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Directed by Suki Peters
The November Theater Company
September 26, 2014

Cast of Assassins Photo by Katie Puglisi The November Theater Company

Cast of Assassins
Photo by Katie Puglisi
The November Theater Company

Presidential assassins seem like strange subjects for a musical, as individuals or as a group, but Stephen Sondheim is known for his unusual concepts. Sondheim’s darkly satiric Assassins is a bold choice for the brand new November Theater Company as their first entry into the St. Louis theatre scene, and it’s proven to have been a successful one.  With a strong cast full of local talent, strong direction and a consistent visual theme, this production makes for a memorable debut performance from this new company.

Sondheim and book writer John Weidman have chosen to handle their subject matter in a starkly satirical manner. The satire is broad and dark, with a rougues’ gallery of Presidential assassins and attempted assassins presented as patrons of an old-fashioned carnival, where the Proprieter (Jon Hey) is handing out guns and issuing a challenge–who wants to kill a President?  A wide range of infamous historical figures take up the challenge and enter the “shooting gallery”, with successful attempts being greeted with a large graphic that reads “Winner!”  We are introduced to a range of characters, from household names to historical footnotes, as each gets their story told with varying degrees of embellishment. There is a whole lot of dramatic license here, as characters who never could have met are portrayed as interacting and, in one case–that of would-be Gerald Ford assassins Sara Jane Moore (Jessica Townes) and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Jennifer Theby Quinn)–shown as actually working together when in fact their attempts were unrelated. All the historical license is done in the name of satire, and for the most part, it works. There’s also the Balladeer (Charlie Barron), who provides additional commentary on the lives of some of the characters and narrates some of the action, directly challenging the motives of John Wilkes Boooth (Mike Amoroso) and others. With all the characters being rather broadly portrayed, the musical gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of these people and the circumstances that drove them individually to choose such a drastic and terrible act.

Overall, I would say this show is an examination and a satire, but it is in no way a glorification of the assassins or the acts portrayed here.  The assassins are displayed with their most obvious flaws on clear display–from egotism to varying degrees of fanaticism and delusion–although there is also some thought-provoking commentary about the ever-elusive “American Dream”.  The dreadful impact of these acts on the general public is shown with much clarity especially in the show’s penultimate number–the deeply effective “Something Just Broke”, in which various ensemble members recount stories of everyday people and how they were effected by the Kennedy assassination and others.

The cast here is large and, for the most part, ideal, with strong singing and acting. Actually, although there are some great musical moments, some of the most memorable scenes are the non-singing ones, such as attempted Nixon assassin Sam Byck’s (Patrick Blindauer) bitterly comic monologues in which he recounts his disillusionment with life in tape-recorded letters to luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein and Nixon himself.  Blindauer is a strong presence as the embittered, Santa suit-clad Byck, with excellent comic timing and a great deal of attitude.  Also strong are the scenes between Townes as the scatterbrained Moore and Theby Quinn as enthralled Charles Manson devotee Fromme, with very strong comic performances from both. Theby Quinn also has a memorable moment in her duet with Nate Cummings as a particularly nerdy, simpering Jodie Foster-obsessed John Hinckley. Both performers shine singing Sondheim’s jarringly ironic “Unworthy of Your Love”–a beautifully melodic tune with disturbing lyrics about romantic obsession and the extreme lengths it drives some people to.  Other strong performances come from Barron, with his strong tenor voice, as the Balladeer; Nick Kelly as the the disillusioned and disturbed McKinley assassin Leon Czoglosz; Patrick Kelly as the gleefully fanatical and vainglorious Garfield assassin Charles Guiteau;  Amoroso as the theatrical, egotistical Booth, who becomes something of a ringleader for the assassins; and Hey, bringing attitude and presence to the role of Proprietor.

Visually, this production is consistent and striking, with Jason Townes’ multilevel set, Bob Singleton’s projections, Russell waning’s lighting design setting the mood, along with the excellent character-specific costumes by Meredith LaBounty.  There were some noticeable issues with sound on opening night, though, from failed microphones to feedback, although these were relatively minor and I’m sure they will be dealt with as the production continues.  Overall, the old-time carnival atmosphere is maintained with admirable detail, with a memorable shift in mood and focus in the climactic scene late in Act 2, achieved with a very simple scene adjustment.

As both a major Sondheim fan and a Presidential history buff, I was particularly interested in seeing this production. Although I had heard the original cast recording, I had never actually seen Assassins on stage before, and I’m glad that I got to see such a strong production. The tone of this show ranges from the ridiculously comic to the frighteningly disturbing, and director Suki Peters and her top-notch cast have presented the material in a memorable and proficient way.  It’s compelling, challenging theatre from an extremely promising new company.

Jessica Townes, Jennifer Theby Quinn Photo by Katie Puglisi The November Theater Company

Jessica Townes, Jennifer Theby Quinn
Photo by Katie Puglisi
The November Theater Company

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The Liar

by David Ives, adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille

Directed by Suki Peters

St. Louis Shakespeare

August 15th, 2014

Jared Sanz-Agero, Ben Ritchie Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

Jared Sanz-Agero, Ben Ritchie
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

I cannot tell a lie–I couldn’t stop laughing at The Liar. The recent adaptation by David Ives of the 17th Century French comedy by Pierre Corneille is the latest production from St. Louis Shakespeare, and it’s a fast-paced, witty, outrageous delight.  With some very clever writing and excellent casting and direction, this is a St. Louis area premiere that’s sure to cause a lot of honest-to-goodness laughter.

The setting is France in the 1600’s with a bit of a 1980s twist, with a few more modern touches like smart phones thrown in for good measure. It’s something of a hodgepodge, but it works surprisingly well.  The story follows bon vivant and pathological liar Dorante (Jared Sanz-Agero), who has just arrived in Paris full of wild, grandiose stories of his exploits that he uses to impress anyone he meets, particularly the truthful-to-a-fault Cliton (Ben Ritchie), whom Dorante hires as his servant; and Clarice (Nicole Angeli), a flighty and somewhat snarky young woman who is catches Dorante’s eye even though she is practically engaged to his old friend Alcippe (John Foughty).  Complications ensue when Dorante gets Clarice’s name mixed up with that of her more soft-spoken friend Lucrece (Maggie Murphy) and much confusion results, including unwelcome intervention from Dorante’s father Geronte (Robert Ashton), and more mistaken identity involving the identical twins Isabelle and Sabine (both played by Jamie Pitt), who are the servants of Lucrece and Clarice, respecitvely.

Since I’m unfamiliar with the original play, I’m not sure exactly how faithful Ives’s adaptation is, but it has obviously been embellished with some ingenious, quick-witted rhymes and contemporary use of language.  It’s full of broad characterizations, contrasting the outrageous vanity and materialism of some characters with the cluelessness of others, with hilarious encounters including an imaginary duel, a twisted Cyrano-like wooing scene, and many quick entrances and exits by characters.  The scene changes are even funny, with two costumed stage hands moving the set pieces to a soundtrack of 1980’s hits by Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, Robert Palmer and others. It’s all very precisely staged with impeccable timing by director Suki Peters, and the actors do an admirable job of keeping up the pace and making the rhyming dialogue sound natural.  Visually and technically, it’s all consistently realized, with the 17th Century French costumes augmented with a 1980’s aesthetic of bright, fluorescent colors, with puffy skirts and corsets for the women and ruffled shirts and brightly-hued jackets for most of the men, and a rainbow of wigs for all.  Costume designer JC Kajicek, set designer Michael Dombek and the entire technical crew are to commended for this very boldly realized production that manages to be both classical and edgy at the same time.

The actors here are all in top form.  As Dorante, Sanz-Agero is commanding and grandiose, and well-paired with Ritchie as the constantly bewildered Cliton.  These two have some great scenes together, particularly one in which Dorante tries to teach Cliton his techniques for deception, and Ritchie tries to copy Sanz-Agero’s broad gestures as well as his speech, to uproarious effect.  Foughty is also a delight as the theatrically suspicious Alcippe, with his “duel” with Sanz-Agero’s Dorante being another comic highlight. Angeli and Murphy make a great team as the best friends, the more caustic, manipulative Clarice and the more reserved but increasingly confused Lucrece.  There are also great performances by Ashton as the meddling Geronte, John Wolbers as Alcippe’s foppish friend Philiste, and especially Pitt as the two very different sisters–the flirtatious Isabelle and the more severe, bossy Sabine.  The players all work together extremely well, carrying off the sharp, witty dialogue and physical comedy with striking success.

While I enjoy seeing favorite familiar plays, there’s a particular joy in discovering something I haven’t seen before, and especially something like this that’s been given such an inventive approach and vibrant staging.  This play explores the different perils that can come from lying as well as from telling the truth, as well as being a witty exploration of the complications of romantic pursuits.  It may be set in 17th Century Paris, but it’s infused with many modern sensibilities and it’s sure to provide many a laugh for today’s audiences.

Maggie Murphy, Nicole Angeli Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

Maggie Murphy, Nicole Angeli
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

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