Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 17, 2015

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

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New This Week:

The Cockfighter
Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild concludes their 104th season with the drama The Cockfighter Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 10-19. "At once elegant and brutal, this coming-of-age story is set against the savage backdrop of professional cockfighting. The gift of a fighting bird of his own sets a young boy on a journey to adulthood and to choices that will change him - and his family - forever. Based on the novel by acclaimed southern author Frank Manley and adapted for the stage by Vincent Murphy, it is another St. Louis premiere." There will also be a show on Thursday, April 16, at 8 PM and the playwright will conduct a special talkback session with the audience after the April 18th performance. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit

My take: Honesty compels me to point out that I am on the board at West End. That said, this production would be worth recommending no matter where it was being done. The script treats its characters with honesty and respect and asks hard questions about the choices we make in life. "A lyrical coming-of-age work," writes Lynn Venhaus at the Belleville News-Democrat, “'The Cockfighter' is tinged with hope and regret, imbued with a captivating sense of place, and enhanced by heartfelt performances." In his review for KDHX, Robert Nickles says the show "goes for the heart," and so it does. The script is not without its issues, but this generally strong production carries it well and features some first-rate performances.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Photo: ProPhotoSTL
Upstream Theater presents The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge adapted for the stage and directed by Patrick Siler with live music composed and performed by Sleepy Kitty, through April 19. Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times:

My take: Coleridge probably never intended his poem for theatrical use and, while it was required reading when I was young (back during the Roman Empire), it has probably receded from popular consciousness over the decades. How many people today would even recognize the image of having an albatross around one's neck—much less know where it came from? Still, as Judy Newmak writes in her review for the Post-Dispatch, "he avant-garde stage version playing at Upstream Theater feels completely fresh, a “dream theater” piece that blends art forms old and new. Adapted and directed by Patrick Siler, the hourlong piece uses poetry, drama, music and modern dance to wind through a story that — like a dream — coheres eloquently without constraint of logic." "The vivid imagery of this haunting sea voyage is orchestrated sublimely by Patrick Siler," says the St. Louis Theater Snob, "who adapted and directed the piece, with Jerry Vogel at the helm as the nameless title character. Vogel's commanding presence is palpable -- as heavy in grief, anxiety and remorse as he is buoyant in joy and realization." Upstream in unafraid to take chances and it looks like this is a winner.

Photo: Whitney Curtis
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Telegraph by Will Jacobs, winner of the 2014 A.E. Hotchner New Play Festival, April 16-19. "A peculiar telegraph operator, Mr. Rivers, looks for lost love in the lyricism of electrical impulse. His search is disrupted by the arrival of the very determined Mrs. Emily Stone, who brings light to the darkened corners of his Pennsylvania home. Together, they grapple with love and laughter within the abstractions of language and the rhythms of dots and dashes. Winner of the 2014 A.E Hotchner Playwriting Competition." The performances take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theater in the Mallinckrodt Student Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit

My take: When this play was still in development last fall, it was presented as part of the Hotchner Festival at Washington University. Back then, KDHX critic Steve Callahan was very taken with it. "It's a magical and engaging play," he wrote. "And it is going to receive a full production next April. I recommend it."

Held Over:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through April 18. "This raucous show within a show kicks off when a hilariously loony Victorian musical troupe 'puts on' its flamboyant rendition of an unfinished Charles Dickens mystery. Each performance ends differently depending on how the audience chooses to finish the story that Dickens didn't!" Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit or call 314-865-1995.

My take: This clever show-within-a-show musical has always been a favorite of mine. If your only exposure to Holmes' music has been his big tacky hit "Escape (The PiƱa Colada Song)," you're in for a surprise with this show with it's clever mock-Victorian score and witty lyrics. There's a good reason why it won the 1985 Tony Award. Reviews have described it as a rowdy good time. Typical is Mark Bretz's review at Ladue News, which describes this as "a clever, ingratiating production that is filled with verve and panache."

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