The Play That Goes Wrong

Upstaged

Another day, another night at the Rep. This time we were upstairs in the main stage theater, to see the season finale, The Play That Goes Wrong. This farce of a play skewers the classic British murder mystery, with pratfalls galore. The action begins before you know it, as actors pretending to be stage hands attempt to make last minute corrections, alas in vain. The action also continues through intermission, with actors mingling with the crowd out in the atrium. Its humor with the ineptness of a hapless acting troupe is part of a genre of theater that pokes fun at itself. A close cousin of this show is the play, Noises Off, which this one owes some debt of gratitude. Another example is the comedy Play On! Dave played Lord Dudley in it in high school, “Yes, dear.” The results are the same though, a thespian Waterloo. In this play the actors are all bumbling fools, but it is the set that is the real culprit. Literally falling down in front of you. Is there a set dresser in the house? Hopefully one who knows how to do the job. Since Dan is now doing set dressing for a living, I wonder what he would think of this show. I hope that he would not feel insulted. In the end there is not much that one can do about any of this, except to sit back and laugh.

Waitress

Outside the Fabulous Fox

We saw Waitress last night. We almost missed it, twice. The day before the show I checked our master spreadsheet, not for the Fox, but for the Rep. No Rep shows were imminent, but the Fox show was. The other near miss had to deal with the show’s start time, which was 7:30, not eight. We only realized this oversight almost too late. We drove through the rain, which took longer than normal. Late already, we had to park further away than we normally do, but in the end, we made it to the show on time or rather the show started five minutes late. Maybe to accommodate us?

Waitress is a new musical, at least to us. Much of this season’s shows at the Fox, have been either revivals or other shows that we have seen before. This newness lent the play an added freshness. Jenna, the protagonist, is a hardworking women. She is holding down two jobs. She holds her titular job as a waitress in Joe’s dinner, but she also makes all of the pies that are also featured in neon above. It is this second job that holds the most interest. The chorus “Sugar. Butter. Flour.” is a refrain that echoes throughout this musical.

Everyday, Jenna plunges two hands and much creativity into a mixing bowl. Her pies are delicious, are also creatively named and often echo major plot points. With a bun, she has more than just pies in the oven. She is pregnant and her husband is an abusive louse. Cue the blue plate special, “I don’t want Earl’s baby pie”, an egg quiche with brie and a smoked ham center. Or, “Baby screaming it’s head off in the middle of the night and ruining my life pie”, a New York style cheesecake, brandy brushed, topped with pecans and nutmeg.

Her unplanned pregnancy is further complicated when she discovers on her first prenatal appointment that the kindly female gynecologist, the woman who delivered her, has retired. Replacing her is a hunky young male doctor, “from Connecticut.” As if she doesn’t have enough problems, an illicit love affair immediately ensues. She makes “Earl murders me because I’m having an affair pie.” Made by smashing blackberries and raspberries into a chocolate crust.
This is followed by, “I can’t have and affair because it’s wrong and I don’t want Earl to kill me pie.” This is a vanilla custard with banana. “Hold the banana…”

In addition to the men in her life, the cast includes Jenna’s backup singers, the two other waitresses at the diner. Each of which has their own side story. The most entertaining of the two is Dawn, who meets the love of her life online. She is initially put off by him, she is soon smitten when she learns that they share a mutual interest in Revolutionary War reenactment. She as Betsy Ross and he as Paul Revere, “One if by land, two if by sea…” — Two people reenacting Paul Revere’s ride together. 

Beautiful

Beautiful Playbill

We saw Beautiful – The Carole King Musical last night at the Fox. We had seen this show before, when we were in London, but it was good to see it again. This musical tells the story of her songwriting career from her high school debut to her appearance at Carnegie Hall, after the release of Tapestry. I prepped for the evening’s show by listening to the soundtrack, which I had on steady rotation, while I was also preparing for next week’s plaster/paint extravaganza. I did catch the noon local NPR show that interviewed Paul Blake, the Beautiful producer. Blake had been the Muny impresario for decades and on opening night, he would introduce each week’s show. I had hoped that he would do the same for the Saint Louis debut of Beautiful, but it was not to be. After the show we did see John, my former colleague and mentor. He told me about a regular luncheon of retired Boeing engineers that I now plan to attend. You can look for me there, sitting at the old guy’s table.

Oslo

Oslo Program Cover

In 1993, the Oslo Accords were adopted. This was the last success in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Culminating in an iconic photo-op, where Bill Clinton presides over, while Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands, on the Whitehouse lawn. Rabin and Arafat later shared the Nobel peace prize, but the origin of this diplomatic win began much more prosaically, with a quiet Norwegian couple.

Husband and wife, Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul, facilitated the negotiations that eventually led to the Oslo Accord. In 2017, J.T. Rodgers adopted their story to the stage, with his Tony award-winning Broadway play, Oslo. Performed at the Rep, this is artistic director Steven Woolf’s final directorial production in his illustrious thirty-year career with the Saint Louis Repertory Theater.  

In the opening scene, Terje describes meeting Rabin, who at first comes across as a sputtering clown. “Six months later, Rabin is prime minister, and I am a fool,” says Terje. “Why? Because I saw one side of this man and assumed this meant I knew all of him.” Chance encounters lead to secret meetings. Through Rodgers, we witness not these meetings themselves, but the intervals in-between them. Set in the anteroom adjoining the negotiating room, we witness the down time between principles. Jokes are made and stories are told, lightening this three-hour history of a peace process that had some measure of success.

Juxtaposition this story, with last week’s debacle in Vietnam. Terje emphasized personal relationships in those negotiations, but he also had a plan, a strategy that he called gradualism, a policy of gradual reform rather than sudden change. Contrast this with Trump and Kim’s mano o mano quest for a deal, where so little preparation was done that the two sides can’t even now agree on what they disagreed about. It is a sad commentary on this summit that the world first held its breath and then let out a collective sigh, when no deal was reached. Fear of a bad deal being struck, just for a win, was that great. 

Fiddler on the Roof

If I were a rich man, I would pay the many kopecks needed for front row tickets to Fiddler on the Roof. Still, I was able to scrape together enough coin for a pair of seats. This was the second Russia themed show of the season, after Anastasia. Do I detect collusion? Theater tickets coincident with the SOTU was a blessing.

Fiddler debuted in 1964. I’d seen it before, both the movie and live at the Muny. This musical tells the story of Russian-Jewish shtetl life at the dawn of the 20th-century, through everyman protagonist, Tevye, a dairy man. Blessed with five daughters, their marriage prospects are a central theme. A good-natured man, he finds himself on the cusp of change and trapped between tradition and the new ideas. His conversations with God punctuate his daily travails.

I enjoyed hearing all of the old songs again (Matchmaker, If I were a Rich Man and Sunrise, Sunset) and the dance numbers were well performed. The one where the dancers balanced bottles on their heads was amazing. Everything about this show was well done. Still, unlike other recent revivals, this one did not break any new ground. Other revivals have cranked up their production values, adding a new measure of gilt. Fiddler fitting its often somber tableau was more muted, especially its lighting, which was too dark. 

Accompanying this post is a video created by Justin Barr. This movie shows a drone fly through of the Fox theater. It highlights this theater’s gorgeous faux Siamese-Byzantine décor, especially the glowing orb at the auditorium’s apex. The Fabulous Fox theater is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, with among other things, ninety cent candy bars at the concession stand.

Alabama Story

Alabama Story Program Cover

Date night, with dinner and a show, at Cyrano’s and the Rep. The evening’s entertainment was a play called Alabama Story. Set in 1950s Montgomery, it is in part based upon historical events. A children’s book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, caught the eye and ire of segregationists, because it told the story of two rabbits, a black male rabbit and a white female rabbit who fell in love with each other and married. Racists claimed that the book promoted miscegenation.

The historical half of this story centers on the conflict between Alabama’s head librarian, Emily Wheelock Reed and state representative E. O. Eddins. Eddins claimed that Reed “put stock in racial incorporation” and demanded that “This book and many others should be taken off the shelves and burned.” As a result, the library system banned the book from all libraries in Alabama. Reed, enjoyed the book, but complied to the extent that she moved it from general circulation and put it on reserve, available upon request. This made the book still accessible and thus was not a complete ban of the book. She explained, “We have had difficulty with the book, but we have not lost our integrity.” Before the year was over Eddins again found fault with Reed, who had distributed a reading list that included various controversial titles including a Martin Luther King, Jr. book.

Parallel to these historical events and mirroring the underlying children’s book, the play also tells the story of two fictional characters, a black man and a white woman. Their conversations, in chance encounters on Montgomery’s streets, recounts their shared childhood history. Playmates, while their mothers worked together in the kitchen of “the big house”, their friendship ended one day, when she innocently kissed her friend. He and his family were forced to move away. They meet again in Montgomery, because she is in town to care for her dying father, while he is in town as a civil rights worker. Through their conversations, their childhood friendship is rekindled.