Monday, September 01, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of September 1, 2014

[Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.]

For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's events web site.

Share on Google+

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Big Easy Murder through October 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the comedy/drama Dearly Departed September 5-14. Performances take place in the Guild theatre at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: theatreguildwg.org or call 314-962-0876.

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof September 5-October 5. "Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and one of the most touching creations in the history of Broadway, featuring such heartfelt and beloved songs as 'Sunrise, Sunset,' 'If I Were A Rich Man,' and 'Matchmaker, Matchmaker'.” Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

R-S Theatrics presents the musical First Lady Suite by Michael John LaChiusa Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m., September 5-14. "First Lady Suite provides a witty and poignant glimpse into the private lives of such women as Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mamie Eisenhower; all were First Ladies during historic times who navigated their public private lives through achievements and tragedy while always being second to their husband's job." Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue. For more information, visit r-stheatrics.com.

Photo: Zachary Stefaniak
Dramatic License Productions presents The Great American Trailer Park Musical September 4-21. "Directed by St. Louis theatre veteran actor and director, Alan Knoll with musical direction by Stephen Eros and choreography by Zachary Stefaniak, the adults-only musical is the story of a wayward stripper, Pippi, pursued by her marker-sniffing, highly combustible boyfriend. Pippi hides out in the north Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres, home to an agoraphobic housewife, her toll-collector husband and three gossiping girlfriends who also narrate the wacky story. A four-piece, on-stage band accompanies the cast of seven." Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant). For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

L-R: Melissa Gerth and Wendy R Greenwood
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Human Terrain by Jennifer Blackmer. "This world-premiere explores the treasonous relationship between a US Cultural Advisor and an Iraqi woman during the Iraq War." Performances take place through September 14 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

The University City Public Library presents historical interpreter Angela da Silva in her one-woman show Lila, a Missouri Slave on Wednesday, September 3, at 7 PM. “Lila was one of the millions of faceless, nameless black women whose contributions to the wealth of the nation transcended not only her labor, but her very soul.” The University City Library in on Delmar just east of Big Bend. For more information: ucitylibrary.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love! (No Biting) September 5-November 2. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of September 1, 2014

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by Stephen Price, Resident organist of Beck Chapel at Indiana University, on Friday, September 5, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org

The Arianna String Quartet
The Touhill Performing Arts Center presents The Arianna String Quartet in "Dynamic Duo," on Friday, September 5, at 8 PM at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri at St. Louis campus. "The season kicks off with two legendary works of the chamber repertoire that promises a night of unforgettable expression and emotional power. LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Quartet in E-flat Major, Op.127; JOHANNES BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 with St. Louis Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist Scott Andrews." For more information: touhill.org.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 29th, 2014

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

Share on Google+:

New This Week:

Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye
Photo: Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Mary Shelley Monster Show by Nick Otten Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 through August 30. "Was Mary Shelley's most famous novel, Frankenstein, really an autobiography? Is she the creator or the creature?" Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

My take: In what Tina Farmer, in her KDHX review, describes as "a very intriguing and intellectually bent production," playwright Otten and his actor/collaborators Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye have put together what looks like a fascinating experiment in story telling that allows Mary Shelley to be interviewed by her famous Monster. Ms. Farmer says it's "a thought-provoking, thoroughly entertaining performance that lingers, daring you to consider its questions." SATE has never been afraid to take chances and that fearless attitude deserves our support.

Held Over:

Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner's Siegfried in a condensed and reduced version by English composer Jonathan Dove, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, through August 30. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

My take: Union Avenue opera is topping off a highly successful 20th season with the third entry in its multi-year traversal of Wagner's "Ring" cycle. Even in Dove's reduced versions, this is a highly ambitious undertaking for this highly ambitious company, and probably the only opportunity for local opera fans to see productions of these massive works here in town. The nearest city with a large and well-equipped enough opera house to mount the full productions is the Lyric Opera in Chicago, and they won't be doing one until 2016. "All the male voices of this production," writes Gary Scott in his KDHX review, "exude richness and vibrancy, and each one displays a keen sense of articulation, accurate phrasing and solid German diction."

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline through August 31. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline's unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin' After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always... Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

My take: Call this a qualified recommendation. If you're a lover of Patsy Cline or country music in general, I think you'll have a great time at this show, which is really more of a celebrity impersonation review than a book musical per se. Jacqueline Petroccia captures Cline's voice and manner so accurately it's eerie and Zoe Vonder Haar is a hoot and a half as Louise Seger, the real-life Houston fan who became a close friends and correspondent of Cline. With over two dozen Patsy Cline hits performed to perfection by Ms. Petroccia and a six-piece band, the show is a real feast for fans. See my KDHX review for more information. The show closes on the 31st but will re-open with the same cast on September 18th.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gateway to Rashomon

Toshiro Mifune and Masayuki Mori
in "Rashomon"
Share on Google+

One man is dead.  Another admits to wielding the weapon that killed him.  On that, everybody agrees—but not on anything else.  What led up to the killing and how it all went down?  That's all lost in a confusing and contradictory mix of eyewitness testimony and personal agendas.

Is this a description of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis just a few miles north of where I'm sitting as I write this), on August 9th, 2014?  Well, yeah.  But it's also an accurate description of the plot of Akira Kurosawa's cinema classic "Rashomon" from 1950. 

The film takes its title from the great Rashomon gate of the ancient cities of Nara of Kyoto where the action takes place.  Taking shelter from the rain under the gate, a woodcutter, a priest, and a commoner share their tales of the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife by a bandit a few days before.  As each one recounts his version of testimony given to the court, which includes the testimony of the wife, the bandit, and even (via a medium) the dead samurai, it becomes clear that everyone has a slightly different version of the events, and that most of them place their respective narrators in the best light.  By the end of the movie it's still not clear "where the truth lies" (as they sing in "Hair") or even whether a real crime occurred at all.

Sound familiar?

William Shatner, Howard Da Silva,
and Edward G. Robinson in
"The Outrage"
"Rashomon" has been tremendously influential.  There have been numerous stage adaptations, mostly notably a 1959 version by Fay and Michael Kanin that ran for six months in New York with Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom in the leads.  Martin Ritt turned it into the 1964 Western "The Outrage," with a script by the Kanins and an all-star cast that included Paul Newman, Laurence Harvey, Claire Bloom, Edward G. Robinson, Howard Da Silva, and William Shatner.  Argentine composer Alejandro Viñao even made it the basis for a 1996 opera. 

The greatness and popularity of "Rashomon" rests, in part, on the universality of its story.  The wide variability of eyewitness testimony is a recognized phenomenon in law enforcement and in psychology, for example, and the conceit of the unreliable narrator has been a central  part of fiction for centuries.  The novel "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by British author Iain Pears makes an especially ingenious use of the idea. 

We're all unreliable narrators to dome degree because human perception does not operate like an electronic recording; the moment input from our eyes or ears hits our brain, our experience and expectations modify it.  As Richards J. Heuer, Jr. noted in the 1999 paper "Psychology of Intelligence Analysis" (written for the CIA), "perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records 'reality.' Perception implies understanding as well as awareness.  It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses."

So the next time you see or hear somebody tell you he or she knows exactly what happened in Ferguson on August 9th, consider the lessons of "Rashomon."  "It's human to lie," notes the Commoner at one point. "Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves…  We all want to forget something, so we tell stories. It's easier that way." 

It's possible that, as the official inquiries sift through the mass of contradictory evidence, we may eventually get to the truth—or at least a part of it.  But there are no guarantees.  Life and art imitate each other far more often than many of us realize.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 25, 2014

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.]

For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's events web site.

Share on Google+

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline through August 31. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline's unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin' After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always... Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Curtain's Up Theatre presents the musical Annie, based on the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," Thursday through Sunday, August 28-31. The performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the SIU-Edwardsville campus. For more information, visit curtainsuptheater.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Big Easy Murder through October 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Human Terrain by Jennifer Blackmer. "This world-premiere explores the treasonous relationship between a US Cultural Advisor and an Iraqi woman during the Iraq War." Performances take place August 29-September 14 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye
Photo: Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Mary Shelly Monster Show by Nick Otten Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 through August 30. "Was Mary Shelley's most famous novel, Frankenstein, really an autobiography? Is she the creator or the creature?" Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner's Siegfried in a condensed and reduced version by English composer Jonathan Dove, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, through August 30. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Insight Theatre Company presents the musical The Spitfire Grill through August 31. "In this Off-Broadway musical, a feisty parolee named Percy follows a page from an old travel book to a small town in Wisconsin and finds a place for herself working at Hannah's Spitfire Grill. The grill is for sale, but there are no takers for the only eatery in the depressed town, so Percy suggests to Hannah that she raffle it off. New York Magazine called The Spitfire Grill the best musical of 2001.” Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of August 25, 2014

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents Experimental Arts Open Improv on Thursday, August 28, at 7:30 p.m. "All musicians, artists, poets, and authors are welcome to perform with members of the house ensemble, the St. Louis Avant-Garde Ensemble featuring Tom Zirkle, percussion; Jim Hegarty, piano/electronics; Tracy Andreotti, cello; Fred Tompkins, flute; and Scott Price, guitar. Be a part of a growing community of experimental and collaborative arts in St. Louis. Bring your instrument, your words, or your canvas for an evening of spontaneous experimental creation." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents The First Annual Battle of the Divas on Friday, August 29, at 8 p.m. "Join St. Louis area singers in the 1st Annual Battle of the Divas at the Tavern. Funds raised by performers will benefit T.A.B.S. (Take a Bow Showcase), a community theater group in Belleville, IL." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Opera Preview: "Siegfried" at Union Avenue Opera

Marc Schapman as Mime
David Dillard as Wanderer
(C) John Lamb 2014
Share on Google+:

Union Avenue Opera is nothing if not fearless, often taking on works that strain the company's space at the Union Avenue Christian Church to the limit. This weekend and next, the company follows its highly praised productions of Verdi's "La Traviata" and Andre Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire" with the final production of its 20th anniversary season, "Siegfried." It's the third installment of its most ambitious project yet—Wagner's mammoth four-opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”).

The story of the "Ring" is an epic fantasy involving clashes among gods and heroes over a magic ring that gives the wearer nearly unlimited magical power but also carries with it a terrible curse. There are dwarves, giants and (yes) even a dragon—but no hobbits or elves.

As did Tolkien for his "ring" cycle, Wagner (who wrote the libretti as well as the music) used stories from Norse and Scandinavian mythology to forge a tale of the passing of the old gods and magic and the rise of humanity. For both Wagner and Tolkien, great power comes not only with great responsibility, but with certain doom as well.

To get a feel for just how ambitions a "Ring" cycle is, consider the sheer scope of the project. The four epic operas of the "Ring" were intended to be performed as a single theatrical unit over four days, running a total of around 15 hours. The shortest of the four, "Das Rheingold" ("The Rhine Gold") runs around two and one half hours while the longest, "Götterdämmerung" ("The Twilight of the Gods") clocks in at around five hours, not including intermissions. For both performers and audience members, it's a major commitment.

Clay Hilley as Siegfried
Marc Schapman as Mime
(C) John Lamb 2014
The version of the "Ring" Union Avenue is presenting is not, I should point out, Wagner's original. That would be far beyond the technical capabilities not only of Union Avenue but, indeed, of every other opera company in town. The nearest city with a large and well-equipped enough opera house to mount a full production is the Lyric Opera in Chicago, and they won't be doing one until 2016. Even Wagner had to have his own theatre built for the purpose—the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, where the "Ring" and other Wagnerian operas are performed every summer at the Bayreuth Festival.

Instead of the originals, Union Avenue is using reduced versions of the operas created in 1990 by British composer Jonathan Dove and director Graham Vick for use by smaller companies without the resources to mount full-scale productions. They're noticeably shorter, but that's not the sacrilege you might think. Wagner the librettist does not always serve Wagner the composer well, and there's much in the texts or the originals that is redundant and discursive.

This reduced "Ring" is still a big deal for a small company, though, and Union Avenue deserves a lot of credit for taking it on.

Union Avenue's "Ring" got off to a somewhat rocky start in August of 2012 with a production of “Das Rheingold" marred by some technical glitches and sluggish tempi. Things improved noticeably in last year's "Die Walküre", which packed a considerable dramatic punch. Will "Siegfried" continue that trend? The only way to find out is to see it. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., August 22-30, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information: unionavenueopera.org. Note that there is a parking lot but it tends to fill up quickly, so you'll want to get there not later than 7:30 if you can.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 22, 2014

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

Share on Google+:

New This Week:

Stray Dog Theatre's New Works Laboratory presents Stephen Peirick's Four Sugars Thursdays through Saturday, August 21-23. "Alyse and her gay best friend, Travis, are getting ready to bid adieu to their “fake” marriage of three years and celebrate Alyse having become an official U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, no aspect of their real-life relationships seem to operate as smoothly as their make-shift marriage did. This two-act, contemporary serio-comedy is written by St. Louis Playwright Stephen Peirick, who is the recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the Regional Arts Commission to help make this fully realized production of Four Sugars a reality. " Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Stray Dog's New Works Lab deserves your support for giving local playwrights a chance to present their work to an audience in a supportive atmosphere. I've performed in a couple of these shows in the past and can attest to the fact that Stray Dog gives them the same loving care they lavish on their regular shows. Stephen Peirick's name will be familiar to many of you as both an actor and playwright. His comedy Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs had a very successful run at West End Players a couple of years ago.

Photo: Brian Peters
St. Louis Shakespeare presents The Liar by David Ives, adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille through August 24. "David Ives (the brilliant mind who penned All In The Timing) offers a fresh, witty and split-your-pants funny translation of Pierre Corneille's 1644 comedy about Dorante, a compulsive liar who masterfully spins an intricate web of lies...now if he could only keep his lies straight!" Performances take at the 560 Music Center in University City. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

My take: Ives is a funny and creative playwright who has come up with a clever modern reworking of a classic French farce. In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Tina Farmer describes this as a "a fast-paced, light-hearted romantic comedy."

Photo: Ron Lindsey
Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner's Siegfried in a condensed and reduced version by English composer Jonathan Dove, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 22-30. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

My take: Union Avenue opera is topping off a highly successful 20th season with the third entry in its multi-year traversal of Wagner's "Ring" cycle. Even in Dove's reduced versions, this is a highly ambitious undertaking for this highly ambitious company, and probably the only opportunity for local opera fans to see productions of these massive works here in town. The nearest city with a large and well-equipped enough opera house to mount the full productions is the Lyric Opera in Chicago, and they won't be doing one until 2016.

Held Over:

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline through August 31. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline's unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin' After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always... Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

My take: Call this a qualified recommendation. If you're a lover of Patsy Cline or country music in general, I think you'll have a great time at this show, which is really more of a celebrity impersonation review than a book musical per se. Jacqueline Petroccia captures Cline's voice and manner so accurately it's eerie and Zoe Vonder Haar is a hoot and a half as Louise Seger, the real-life Houston fan who became a close friends and correspondent of Cline. With over two dozen Patsy Cline hits performed to perfection by Ms. Petroccia and a six-piece band, the show is a real feast for fans. See my KDHX review for more information.