Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of February 19, 2016

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:

And in This Corner...Cassius Clay
Metro Theatre Company and the Missouri History Museum present And in This Corner...Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin through February 28. "This is the story of young Muhammad Ali as he struggles with racism and segregation in Jim Crow Louisville, Kentucky, how a chance encounter with police officer Joe Morgan (later to become his first coach) sets him on the path toward becoming a legendary boxer and how finally he learns that it is not enough to achieve personal success, one must also work for the good of others." Performances take place in the Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For more information:

My take: "Goodwin's script is crafted to draw in audience members of all ages," writes Shannon Cothran at KDHX, "and he has succeeded with “In This Corner....” A mixture of poetry and prose, the play manages to tell the story of a boy who becomes a champion despite living within a culture of hate while showing us the flaws that make him human." I've been very impressed with Goodwin's work at the Humana Festival in Louisville in 2012 and in 2014, so I'm not surprised to hear that the playwright has struck gold again.

Photo: Peter Wochniak
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar through March 6. "Successful corporate lawyer Amir Kapoor comes from a Pakistani family, but he long ago distanced himself from his roots to embrace life as a slick New Yorker. On course to become a partner at his law firm, Amir's carefully constructed world begins to unravel when unexpected events cause him to question his own beliefs. Raw, turbulent and unsettling, this smart drama reveals hidden attitudes toward modern culture and faith. Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama." Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit

My take: The playwright who gave us the brilliant Invisible Hand at the Rep Studio back in 2012 it again with a powerful portrayal of the problems immigrants face, especially when they're part of a demonized and poorly understood minority. How much can you assimilate before you lose your own identity? And is it ever enough for people who will always see you as the "other" no mater what you do or say? We learn from history that we do not learn from history, which makes this a very relevant play these days.

The Dispute
Photo: Valerie Goldston
YoungLiars present The Dispute: A Spectacle for Lovers and Fighters running through February 26. "It's 1744 (sort of) and an exasperated playwright with a wicked case of writer's block accidentally launches the world's first reality entertainment. Four self-absorbed teenagers, raised in total isolation, are turned loose on each other to figure out who committed the first infidelity - men or women. Baroque Farce, Euro-Dance, and The Dandy Warhols collide in this new adaptation of Marivaux's classic comedy where Courtship Etiquette turns into Mortal Combat and the only true love is the one in the mirror. The creative team that brought you Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self and other HotCity favorites make their debut as YoungLiars. Performances take place in the fourth floor ballroom at the Centene Center for Arts and Education, 3547 Olive Street in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: Composed largely of young actors who were part of the late HotCity Theatre, YoungLiars is certainly taking risks with this innovative first production, which decants an 18th century comedy into some colorful new bottles. "All in all," writes Steve Callahan at KDHX, "this debut promises great things from The Young Liars. It’s filled with quite wonderful style and artifice. "

Educating Rita
Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues their 105th season with Willy Russell's comedy Educating Rita Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, February 18-21. "Frank is a tutor of English in his fifties whose disillusioned outlook on life drives him to drink and to bury himself in his books. Enter Rita, a forthright 26-year-old hairdresser who is eager to learn. After weeks of cajoling, Rita slowly wins over the very hesitant Frank with her innate insight and refusal to accept no for an answer. Their relationship as teacher and student blossoms, ultimately giving Frank a new sense of self and Rita the knowledge she so craves." There will also be a show on Thursday, February 18, at 8 PM. 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: Looking for something uplifting amidst the vitriol and spite of contemporary politics? West End has a tonic for you in this story about learning and renewal. "Thanks to director Jan Meyer and performers Tom Kopp and Maggie Winninger," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "it’s an infectiously delightful study of two people meeting at a point in their lives where one’s ascent coincides with the other’s decline, albeit risking all for a fresh look at life."

Eve Seltzer
The Presenters Dolan present Eve Seltzer: Going Back to Gaslight Square: A History of St. Louis Jazz in Song on Thursday, February 18, at 8 p.m. "Eve makes her St. Louis cabaret debut. She has performed at The Metopolitan Room, Sylvana and Jules in NYC." The performance takes place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information:

My take: Eve has been jazzing it up at the Cabaret Project open mic (which I host) for quite a while now and is also, with her group Franglais, a familiar figure on the local restaurant and bar scene. So you could hardly ask for a better guide to our fair city's rich jazz scene. And the Emerald Room is a very cool cabaret space.

Gidion's Knot
Photo: John Lamb
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Gidion's Knot through February 28 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. "Over the course of a parent/teacher conference, a grieving mother and an emotionally overwhelmed primary school teacher have a fraught conversation about the tragic suicide of the mother's son, Gidion. Gidion may have been bullied severely-or he may have been an abuser. As his story is slowly uncovered, the women try to reconstruct a satisfying explanation for Gidion's act and come to terms with excruciating feelings of culpability." For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit

My take: This appears to be a good weekend for hard-nosed dramatic examinations of big social and political issues, with both this show and the Rep's Disgraced. "Director Lee Anne Mathews has tackled the difficult script with sensitivity and a subdued confrontational approach," writes Steve Allen at Stage Door St. Louis. "It works well in easing the audience into this slippery subject matter and gives the proper amount of tension on stage. Playwright Johanna Adams has fashioned a difficult script that opens a lot of conversation about a problem that is all too often ignored- the high suicide rate among younger people." "Playwright Johnna Adams has written a compelling and riveting if also highly disturbing drama that pushes the two performers in its one act and 75 minutes to emotional exhaustion, along with the audience," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News.

Held Over:

Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the comedy Eleemosynary Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through February 21. "Both funny and poignant, this play examines the subtle and often perilous relationship between three remarkable women: a young girl, her mother, and her grandmother. Artie abandons her daughter Echo to be raised by Echo's grandmother, Dorothea. But when Dorothea's health begins to fail, can Artie and Echo move beyond the superficiality of words and begin to build a deeper relationship?" Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at

My take: Les Blessing's play has been around for a while now and seems to be a perinneal favorite for small theatre companies. Writing for Stage Door St. Louis, Steve Allen says that he's seen several productions and "the current presentation at Mustard Seed Theatre is definitely one of the best. Three powerful actresses manage to energize us, empower us and tug at the old heart strings." At KDHX, Shannon Cothran calls it "solid and moving" while Mark Bretz at Ladue News says it's "a gentle and caring excursion into the magical and sometimes hazardous reaches of the mind and its mysterious powers."

I'll Be Back Before Midnight
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the thriller I'll Be Back Before Midnight Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through February 20. "Having suffered a nervous breakdown, Jan retreats with her husband to an old, country farmhouse where the owner delights in telling gruesome ghost stories. Before long, eerie sounds and visions are tormenting Jan. Is she suffering another breakdown or is someone trying to drive her mad?" Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit or call 314-865-1995.

My take: What could be better for a cold winter night than a tidy thriller? At KDHX, Tina Farmer says this one is "filled with enough twists and dark comedy to hold the attention of even the most jaded of mystery fans. Clues are casually dropped along the way and then neatly tied in a bow, and each character's motivations are called into question as this tale winds its way to a satisfying conclusion." Other local critics are less positive, but since I've generally been impressed by Stray Dog's work over the years, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and include this on the list.

The cast of The Weir
Cocktails and Curtain Calls presents The Weir, the award-winning play by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, Monday through Thursday at 8:00pm through February 18. It will be the first local production to utilize the new Members' Project Code, under the auspices of the Actors' Equity Association. All profits from ticket sales go directly to the artists. Performances will take place at McGurk's Irish Pub and Dressel's in the Central West End. For details on performance times and locatsions, visit

My take: We saw McPherson's play many years ago in London, and found it a rattling good ghost story: well written with plausible characters. In his review for KDHX, Steve Callahan says that "Cocktails and Curtain Calls company gives us what, to me, must be the definitive production of this beautiful play." At Ladue News, Mark Bretz writes that the company "makes an impressive debut with a grand regaling of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's chilling drama...Setting the production in an actual tavern enhances the atmosphere immensely and, combined with director Kari Ely's careful direction of a top-rate cast, makes The Weir a fanciful tale and a tonic for a deep winter's night."

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