Friday, December 13, 2013

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of December 13th, 2013

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 Black Rep presents Black Nativity: A Holiday Celebration through December 22. "Conceived and directed by Ron Himes, the first act tells a moving and traditional African Nativity story, while the second act swings into the season with joy and reverence." Performances take place at the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University. For more information:

My take: This is the closest thing to a traditional holiday show on stage this week, and reviews have been good. As Steve Callahan notes in his review for 88.1 KDHX, this is really two shows in one "The first half," he writes, "is almost an oratorio on the birth of Jesus. The stage is constantly full of bright movement and dance as we see Mary and Joseph on their familiar journey...The songs are a vivid patchwork of styles—from Handel's 'Joy to the World' to vibrant African folk-songs to a wonderful Reggae version of the "'ate-Night Shepherd's Blues' in which a shepherd bemoans that his woman done left him...The second half of the evening is probably the best Christmas cabaret you'll ever see."

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap through December 29. “The Grande Dame of suspense weaves a clever mystery that will keep you guessing till the very end. The guests at Monkswell Manor are snowed in with a murderer in their midst. Whodunit? Sergeant Trotter is determined to find out, and his investigation turns up more shocking secrets than anyone could have anticipated. Full of intricate plot twists and shuddering suspense, it is no wonder The Mousetrap has become the world's longest-running stage production.” Performances take place at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit

My take: Well, you don't get to be the longest-running stage production in modern history without doing something right. Christie was not a creator of great dialog or deep characters, but she knew how to write a rattling good mystery. "Under the thoughtful direction of Paul Mason Barnes," writes Andrea Torrance at the St. Louis Theatre Snob blog, "the cast provide strong performances, giving their respective characters enough depth beyond their first introduction to make you believe any one of them could have done it."

Clayton Community Theatre presents Room at the Inn by St. Louis playwright Steve Pokin Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, December 13-15. The play is “the story of a Homeless Shelter on Christmas Eve and the people who are thrown together during a terrible snow storm and the miracles, large and small, that transpire over the course of the evening.” Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit

My take: It's good to see a community theatre take on a holiday-themed show that isn't a light-hearted comedy or musical. It's a reminder that the real roots of this season lie in the old winter solstice celebrations, when people gathered with family and members of the community to cast light into the darkness—both real and metaphorical. "The writer shows a solid ability to present these homeless characters as mostly dignified people who have ended up on the wrong side of fortune," wrote Mark Bretz in a Ladue News review of the world premiere production by First Run Theatre back in 2008. "The play is admirable," wrote Dennis Brown in the Riverfront Times back then, "both in its intent and the way it skirts polemics."

The Gateway Men's Chorus opens its 27th season with Yule Tube, a holiday concert featuring favorite holiday songs from television and movies, on Friday and Saturday, December 13 and 14, at 8 PM. “Audiences will recognize music from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, White Christmas, the film adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and "The Charlie Brown Christmas Special," alongside popular holiday favorites like "All I Want for Christmas Is You," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." However, the concert still promises some quirky surprises that audiences have come to expect from the Gateway Men's Chorus - including holiday parodies of hits by Queen, Journey, and even Stephen Sondheim. Plus, the concert features special performances by GMC's small ensemble Harmonix, their fabulous dance team the Foot Notes, and, of course guest appearances from Santa and Cindy Lou Who.” The concerts take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information:

My take: The GMC can always be counted upon to deliver an entertaining and polished show. Expect lots of good holiday cheer and good humor.

Held Over:

Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents William Gibson's The Butterfingers Angel, Mary and Joseph, Herod The Nut And The Slaughter Of 12 Hit Carols In A Pear Tree Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM December 5-21, with an extra 2 PM matinee on the 21st. “A touching, funny, and highly imaginative retelling of the Christmas story complete with talking animals, a feminist-leaning Mary, a jealous Joseph, a fast-talking sheep, and one loud-mouthed overbearing tree. Created by one of America's major dramatists, this Christmas cartoon mixed with psychological realism brings new relevance to its timeless subject.” Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Yes, that's the same William Gibson who wrote The Miracle Worker, the oft-seen play about the young Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. The 1975 play got good notices in earlier productions, and Stray Dog has garnered its share of praise for this one. Over at Vital Voice, for example, Andrea Braun calls it "a lovely holiday gift from one of St. Louis's consistently finest and most popular theatre companies" "If you're looking to take tradition in a somewhat non-traditional direction this holiday season," writes Laura Kyro at 88.1 KDHX, "try Stray Dog's 'The Butterfingers Angel'." It's nice to see something a bit left of center at the holidays, and Stray Dog can usually be relied upon to deliver the goods.

New Jewish Theater presents the one-woman show Hannah Shenesh through December 22. The play is based on the dairies of Senesh, who worked with a British para-military group to rescue Hungarian Jews during World War II. Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: or call 314-442-3283.

My take: One-person shows can be risky propositions, but this one appears to be a winner. "Last season," writes Andrea Braun in her review for 88.1 KDHX, "NJT gave us 'Conviction,' a one-actor play that I thought was as good as any of that genre I'd seen. With 'Hannah Senesh,' the company has surpassed even that level of excellence in this production because of a perfect performance guided by a sensitive and meticulous director." She describes lead actress Shanara Gabrielle's performance as "magical" and says "the electricity in the room is palpable."

Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild and the Missouri History Museum present The Medal of Honor Rag through Sunday. “ Two guilty survivors of war, a psychiatrist and an African-American soldier awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service, verbally spar as they discuss the horrors that have traumatized them both.” Performances take place at The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For more information:

My take: First performed in 1976, Medal of Honor Rag was a nominee for both the Drama Desk and Obie Awards and got enthusiastic reviews from critics in New York and Washington D.C. It has been a while since anyone has taken it on locally, so the current production—presented in conjunction with the History Museum's The 1968 Exhibit—is a welcome addition to the scene. "Sean Belt's direction is engaging," writes Chris Gibson at, "and the action is compelling and consistently involving." Full disclosure: I'm on the board of West End Players Guild, but haven't been associated with this production in any way.

R-S Theatrics presents Oh, Hell!, an evening of two one-act plays: Bobby Gould in Hell by David Mamet and The Devil and Billy Markham by Shel Silverstein, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 7 PM. In Bobby Gould in Hell, “Bobby Gould awakens in Hell's waiting room and must argue with the Interrogator in order to save himself from eternal damnation for being “cruel without being interesting.” The Devil and Billy Markham is a “one-man, 30-page monologue in rhymed couplets tells the story of Billy Markham and his long struggle to outwit the Devil for ownership of Billy's soul.” Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church 5421 Murdoch. For more information:

My take: Well, with all the Christmas stuff popping up, somebody had to look at the season through the other end of the telescope, so to speak. I can't think of a better group to do it than R-S, where the motto is "never safe, always R-S." Besides, I'm a great fan of Shel Silverstein's work. "The two acts are filled with humor and a bit of insight," writes Tina Farmer in her review for 88.1 KDHX. "Excellent casting and direction ensures an enjoyable evening with plenty of laughter, and perhaps just a touch of self-recognition.

The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents the musical Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Lieber and Stoller Wednesday through Sunday. Performances take place in the Stage III Auditorium in Webster Hall on the Webster University campus. For more information: or call 314-968-7128

My take: If you thought Lieber and Stoller were just the authors of a couple of R&B hits, this show will set you straight. Yes, there are plenty of classic rock tunes from the 50s and 60s, but these guys were far more versatile than that. Smokey Joe's Café skips their remarkable cabaret songs but even so it's a consistently entertaining showcase of their remarkable songwriting skills. The students at the conservatory have a reputation for producing polished work and this is material that should be a good mix for their youthful energy and talent.

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