Last night, we went to see Twisted Melodies, a one-man play at the Rep. Created and performed by Kevin Roston, Jr. It tells the story of seventies soul performer Donny Hathaway. Mr. Hathaway is best remembered for his songs The Ghetto and Where is the Love, which he performed with Roberta Flack. They won a Grammy for it. Hathaway, a Saint Louis native was a musical prodigy. He graduated from Vashon High School in the city and then went on to Howard University. Just as his musical career was taking off, Hathaway became afflicted with mental illness. He was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. For treatment he was prescribed a dozen different antipsychotics. Their side effects became so onerous that he stopped taking his medications. This action resulted in the return of his hallucinations and led to his suicide in 1979.
Mr. Roston, also a Saint Louis native, began developing Twisted Melodies when he was an intern at the Saint Louis Black Rep. His play premiered in Chicago and then went onto tour the country, before this run at the Rep. This ninety-minute one act play is made bearable with Roston’s excellent musical talents. In between Hathaway’s hallucinations and fits of rage and despair, Roston is able to treat the audience with fine renditions of many of Hathaway’s musical standards. The entire play is performed in a NYC hotel room, where Hathaway spent his last night. Also of note was the play’s lighting, which skillfully renders a visual approximation of Hathaway’s hallucinations.
Preamble to last night’s performance the Rep announced that it was in severe financial difficulties. It announced that it needs to raise $2.5M by the end of the year. It followed this announcement with a plea to the audience for donations. Additionally, the Rep has announced the cancellation of a couple of scheduled plays. At least one of which we have (had?) tickets to. It also announced that it is ending its relationship with COCA, another Saint Louis performing arts institution and where we saw last night’s play. No explanation for this financial reversal has been given, but I expect that poor box office is to blame. Covid is likely to blame for the box office, but not entirely. Some of the Rep’s recent play selections have been problematic. We would be willing to eat our tickets, but I would like to hear an explanation first.