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Posts Tagged ‘theatre lab’

The Lieutenant of Inishmore
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Nick Kelly
Theatre Macabre, presented by Theatre Lab
June 23, 2017

Cast of The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Photo by Holden Ginn
Theatre Macabre

Theatre Macabre is a new theatre company in St. Louis focusing on horror, dark comedy, and other plays with a darker atmosphere. Their first production, presented in conjunction with Theatre Lab, is Martin McDonagh’s creepy comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The play isn’t running anymore, as I was out of town its first week and had to catch a performance in its last weekend. While it certainly is not for all tastes, it’s a well-staged production, and if there was still time to see it, I would recommend it for the theatre patron who has a strong stomach and a penchant for a more twisted, dark-edged type of comedy.

This story, ultimately, hinges around a cat, and characters who are extremely attached to their pets. Padraic (Charlie Barron) is the prime example. He’s a lieutenant for the INLA (a splinter group from the IRA), and he’s a brutal guy, referred to as “Mad Padraic” by his colleagues and even his relatives, like his father, Donny (Chuck Brinkley). But he still loves his cat, Wee Thomas. When young neighbor Davey (Mark Saunders) discovers a dead cat while riding his bike, he brings it to Donny, who accuses Davey of running over Wee Thomas himself, which Davey denies. Then Donny decides to tell Padraic that his cat is ill, hoping it will soften the blow when he later tells him that Wee Thomas is dead. Interrupted by Donny’s phone call in the middle of torturing a drug dealer, James (Jackson Harned), Padraic immediately breaks down and decides he has to go home to be with his beloved cat. Also involved in the story are Padraic’s colleagues, Christy (Chuck Winning), Brendan (Brock Russell), and Joey (Jake Blonstein), who have their own reasons for wanting Padraic to come home. There’s also Davey’s belligerent, zealous rifle-toting sister Mairead (Larissa White), who loves Padraic and his cause, as well as her own cat Sir Roger.

That’s really all I can explain of the plot without spoiling too much. This is a fast-paced, increasingly brutal and disturbing comedy that doesn’t pull any punches, and again, is not for the squeamish. Still, even though I would usually count myself as one who would normally be grossed out by a lot of the subject matter here, the emphasis in this production is more on the comedy, and the absurdity of the situations to the point where the more gruesome aspects are somewhat easier to take, at least for me.. It’s a well-staged production, with the emphasis on the broad portrayals of its characters, led by a dynamic performance by Barron as the violent but devoted cat owner, Padraic, and also by the strong comic turns by Saunders and Brinkley as the bumbling Davey and Donny. White is also memorable as the brash, confrontational Mairead. Winning, Russell, and Blonstein make a hilariously inept trio as well, and Harned also makes a good impression playing the small role of James.  The ensemble chemistry and comic timing is excellent here, and even as increasingly absurd as the story gets, the characterizations and pacing keep it interesting.

The production values here are striking, as well. Erik Kuhn’s simple but detailed set provides a good backdrop for the action, and there’s also great work from lighting designers and Tony Anselmo and Kevin Bowman, and by effects designer Valleri Dillard. Costume designer Sarah Porter has outfitted the cast with appropriate flair, and kudos also go to dialect coach Teresa Doggett for helping the cast members achieve and maintain credible Irish accents.

This is a wild, quickly paced, increasingly macabre play, appropriate for the name of the company producing it. It’s not for everyone, as I’ve already mentioned, but if dark, gruesome comedy is something you like, this is a good example. Although this production has now closed, it has left a memorable impression. I’m curious to see what’s next for Theatre Macabre.

Larissa White, Charlie Barron
Photo by Holden Ginn
Theatre Macabre

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Closer
by Patrick Marber
Directed by Tom Martin
Theatre Lab
January 14, 2017

Larissa White Photo by Justin Foizey Theatre Lab

Larissa White
Photo by Justin Foizey
Theatre Lab

Closer isn’t exactly a pleasant play. Essentially a character study of four interconnected lives in modern London, Patrick Marber’s play doesn’t exactly present easy situations or easy to like characters. It’s a gritty world of single Londoners looking for love, sex, validation, identity, and more. As the newest production from Theatre Lab, Closer can be fascinating, with some strong performances and clever staging. It’s an ambitious production that is certainly thought-provoking, but it’s not without flaws.

The story follows four Londoners and their increasingly messy intertwined relationships. We first meet the young, iconoclastic Alice (Larissa White) in a hospital emergency room after she’s been hit by a car after trying to cross the street without looking. She’s been “rescued” by Dan (Brock Russell), an aspiring author who writes obituaries for a newspaper, and the two begin a relationship that continues on and off throughout the course of the play. There’s also Larry (Andrew Michael Neiman), an unsuspecting doctor who happens to be there on the same day Alice and Dan meet, although it’s not until later that he’s brought into something of a bizarre love square when the manipulative Dan tricks him by way of an internet sex chat room into meeting photographer Anna (Gabrielle Greer), who likes Larry but shares something of an addictive attraction with Dan, despite the fact that Dan is still in a relationship with Alice. In the midst of all the romantic entanglements, the characters pursue their career goals and dreams, experiencing success, failure, and the challenges of compromise of ideals and struggles with ego and entitlement. The first act comes across more as a catalog of selfishness, as the character pursue their romantic, sexual and career goals with little thought of the others involved. This is the kind of play that might make you hate it if you only watch the first act, but the second act explores the characters and their situations with more depth, essentially deconstructing the situations and characters to challenge their own senses of who they are and their purpose in life.

It’s a fascinating character study, and to make this play work, casting and chemistry are essential. This production is cast well in terms of the individual performances, but its biggest flaw is a lack of chemistry in one of the key relationships, that between Dan and Anna. Greer is excellent as the conflicted and mostly well-meaning Anna, and Russell is convincing as the manipulative, needy Dan, but I just didn’t believe the intense connection and electric attraction the two are supposed to share. Both have much better chemistry with the other cast members. I believe Greer’s connection with Neimain’s earnest but hapless Larry, and Russell’s with White’s yearning, damaged Alice, but the Dan/Anna match made little sense to me as played out here. Still, it’s a compelling work of theatre, and the performances are strong in every other area, with White being the particular standout for her sometimes fierce, sometimes fragile portrayal of a complex, enigmatic character. All of the performers also exhibit credible if not perfect English accents, as well.

Technically, the show is more on the minimalist side, being staged on a mostly bare stage. Scenic designer Mark Wilson’s set relies largely on some movable furniture and on highly evocative projections. Wilson’s lighting is also striking and memorable, and the players are outfitted by costume designer Marcy Weigert in suitable attire ranging from Dan’s more preppy looks to Alice’s colorful, outrageous ensembles.

Closer is well-staged piece, although the passage of time is sometimes not as clear as it could be. The sense of tension builds well, especially in the emotionally charged second act. It’s a challenging, sometimes difficult play examining the relationships of characters that aren’t always likable, but as portrayed at Theatre Lab, they still manage to be fascinating, especially in their relationships even though one isn’t particularly convincing. Like the story itself and its characters, this production is worth getting to know even with its imperfections.

Andrew Michael Neiman, Gabrielle Greer Photo by Justin Foizey Theatre Lab

Andrew Michael Neiman, Gabrielle Greer
Photo by Justin Foizey
Theatre Lab

 Theatre Lab is presenting Closer at the .ZACK in Grand Center until January 22, 2017.

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The Pillowman
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Ryan Foizey
Theatre Lab
May 30, 2015

Eric Dean White, Darian Michael Garey, Jason C. Klefisch Photo by John Lamb Theatre Lab

Eric Dean White, Darian Michael Garey, Jason C. Klefisch
Photo by John Lamb
Theatre Lab

The Pillowman is a work that’s at once profoundly disturbing and intensely thought-provoking. It’s a challenging concept that’s constructed in a distinctive and at times fantastical style, with many ideas that are sure to provoke much thought and discussion. It’s also being presented in a thoroughly riveting production by Theatre Lab.

The story of the play is kind of fantastical but realistic. It’s set in an unnamed totalitarian state, although the detectives presented don’t seem a lot different from those seen on US television shows.  As the show opens, we are introduced to Katurian Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), a writer whose day job is in a slaughterhouse because he’s only ever had one story published. He’s been brought in for questioning by two detectives–the seemingly level-headed Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and the more hot-tempered Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). After at first being vague about why Takurian has been brought in, the detectives eventually start drawing attention to Katarian’s short stories and their often violent and disturbing subject matter. The resemblance between a few of the stories and the circumstances surrounding some recent murders of children has caused the detectives to strongly suspect Katurian’s involvement, and also that of his mentally challenged older brother Michal (Nick Kelly), who is initially being held in a nearby room.  There isn’t much I can say beyond this point that isn’t a plot spoiler, but suffice it to say that things get complicated, and the characters aren’t always as they seem. We also get to hear and see some of Katurian’s stories through the use of projections and some striking illustrations by Aaron Allen.  It’s a show that explores many concepts, including parental responsibility, sibling relationships, a writer’s relationship to his own work and his responsibility to his audience, as well as issues of freedom of speech and the roles of police and controlling governments.

There’s a whole lot going on in this play, and the emotional stakes are very high. The tension builds at a rapid and masterful pace, through the use of the sharply written script that makes great use of repetition and recurring themes, as well as Ryan Foizey’s strong direction and the brilliantly simple set by Rob Lippert that suggests a building that was once whole, but has been neglected and has been taken over by decay. The whole atmosphere of this play is well maintained from the outset, and the creepy tone of the stories becomes more and more disturbing, although there is are occasional breaks in the bleakness in the tone of the least violent story, “The Little Green Pig”, that provides a measure of hope.  We are introduced gradually to the rather violent background of the Katurian brothers as well as the detectives who are questioning them, and we are left to think and wonder what kind of world this is that they live in, and how different, really, is that world from our own?

The acting is excellent all around, led by Klefisch in a fearless performance as Katurian. As a writer whose first and ultimate love is writing, he also displays a real responsibility and attachment to his brother–a looming, alternately menacing and sympathetic presence as played terrifically by Kelly. Klefisch is the dominating force of the play, however, with his quirky mannerisms and his determined devotion. There’s strong support from White as the initially even-keeled but increasingly threatening Tupolski, and Garey as the quick-tempered Ariel, about whom there is more than it initially appears.   There’s a strong dynamic between all of the players, with Klefisch and Kelly displaying strong chemistry as brothers, and the dynamics of the scenes with Klefisch and the detectives bringing much compelling and challenging drama.

This isn’t a happy play, but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely without hope.  It’s challenging to both the mind and the senses, and audience members may, as I did, find themselves wanting to go home and watch something more upbeat after the play is over.  Still, it’s more than worth the emotional energy spent, and I highly recommend taking a trip to the Gaslight Theatre to witness this dark, thougtful, unrelenting and thoroughly compelling drama.

Jason C. Klefisch, Nick Kelly Photo by John Lamb Theatre Lab

Jason C. Klefisch, Nick Kelly
Photo by John Lamb
Theatre Lab

Theatre Lab is presenting The Pillowman at the Gaslight Theatre until June 7, 2015

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