Feeding Beatrice

Grand Dame Queenie, Amy Sherald, 2013

Dinner and a show. Cyrano’s for dinner. The show was downstairs in the Studio’s hot black-box of a space. The Rep went all out on set design for this play. The hallway to the space was decorated in a gothic motif, befitting the play’s mood. I was glad to know that the upstairs mainstage space was dark this week, because there was a running soundtrack of creaks and groaning timbers that if there had been a crowd up there, it would have made me very nervous. Seating was more limited than normal, with the set taking up more than the usual amount of floor space.

This is the world premiere of Feeding Beatrice. Starting just before Halloween, it is almost at the end of it run. It is set in an old Boston mansion, in one of the better neighborhoods, but is in need of repair. As the lights come on, Lurie and June Walker, a young black couple and new owners are christening their four-footed tub, au naturel. June sees a million things that need to be done to this house and seems to want them all done immediately. Lurie is less enthusiastic, but is willing to do almost anything that will make June happy. When they find a body beneath the flooring in the bathroom, covering it up again is just one more thing that needs to be done. Enter Beatrice, a young white woman with a ravenous appetite and a fondness for Shirley Temple. Beatrice proceeds to insinuate herself into the Walker’s lives, feeding all the way. She is a little quirky, not the least because she is dead. Lurie’s brother Leroy rounds out the cast, helps to fixup the house and provides some backstory. The Walker’s haunting houseguest continues to make increasing demands, threatening the Walker’s marital bliss, disturbing domesticity and obstructing upward mobility.

Weekend Update

Autumn Cedars

We’ve enjoyed this busy fall weekend. Starting Friday night with dinner and a show. Dinner was at Big Sky, our local Montana themed restaurant. The show was nearby, at the Rep. Lifespan of a Fact is a one act, three actor play. Tension ensues and the truth is held hostage in the balance, between a famous essayist and the young Harvard intern tasked to factcheck his latest work. On Broadway, Daniel Radcliffe played the intern. Acting as referee, the magazine’s editor rounds out this threesome.

Along the adage of never let the facts get in the way of telling a good story, this play’s theme revolves around the dichotomy between factual reporting and artistic license. Things are guaranteed not to go well, when the temperamental essayist is confronted by an overzealous intern and is forced to defend his 16 page essay from a 400+ page spreadsheet of “questions.” Based upon actual events, this story predates our current fake news, alternative facts universe, but also mirrors their issues with the truth.

On Saturday, we got out-of-town and drove down Farty-Far, to Gray Summit and the Shaw Nature Reserve. There was a huge traffic backup, caused by a combination of construction and an accident. Crazy how those two thing always seem to go together. Fortunately, it was going the other way and had dissipated by the time of our return. Shaw is part of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, so as members, our entry was free. This reserve was originally purchased, because Saint Louis air pollution was killing the garden’s pine trees and the preservation of their specie was sought through their relocation.

Our afternoon walk began in woodlands, following a stream, but soon we transitioned to the reserve’s tall-grass prairie, which we marched through, over hill and dale. Wide mowed trails permitted easy passage through this savanna, but I’m always left wondering at how early pioneers were able to navigate such an over your head sea of grass. The low, but still brilliant sun always seemed to be in our face and we both ended up peeling layers on this warming day.

Our hike ended by the above pictured pond, with its lining of cedars. This oft shot scene usually is photographed closer to sundown, when the light is more golden and the wind driven ripples have subsided. In the past, I have gotten near perfect reflections of these trees, but on this day that was not to be. Or was it? Enter Photoshop and see nature as God intended, if only, as in this case, in a highly stylized form. In the past, Anne and I have gone around and round over this issue of factual versus artistic photography. This picture may not show how things actually looked, but rather it shows them better than they really appeared.

Afterwards, we late lunched at Frisco, Webster’s newest hot restaurant property. We’ve tried to dine there on our regular trips to the Rep, but have always been shutout. Their mid-afternoon fare seems to be more our speed.

On Sunday, our possible trifecta of dining out came to a screeching halt, when I served lunch in, but I was able to lure Anne out on a bike ride to Forest Park. It was another perfect Fall day, whose memory we will savor in this week to come, because the weather forecast looks more like Winter than Fall, with both cold and snow predicted. We saw a snapping turtle beside the bike path. It looked like it had just crawled out of the primordial ooze, which it better be crawling back into again. We saw fellow teamies Chris and Anne on the bike path and again at the DeMun Kaldi’s. We sipped caffeinated brews together and enjoyed the last light of what has been a wonderful weekend. 

Dear Evan Hansen

Outside the Fabulous Fox

What began by accident quickly snowballs out of control. High School is frequently like that. If you are shy, then the advent of sudden fame can be disorienting. The musical Dear Evan Hansen is captivating. Like a slow motion train wreck, you cannot look away. It speeds onward towards disaster, but in the lulls leading to its end, never have I heard so many people verklempt.

Dear Evan Hansen gets its title from the opening salutation of a self-help letter that the title character daily writes to himself. Connor Murphy, an even more troubled youth pulls this letter off the printer, reads it and proceeds to tease Evan about its voiced feelings towards Connor’s sister Zoe. Evan has a secret crush on her. Connor stuffs the letter in his pocket and then noticing that no one has signed the cast on Evan’s broken arm, signs his name in big block letters. His damage done, Connor storms away and later we learn that he has killed himself.

Finding the letter, Connor’s parents assume that it was written by their son to Evan. They come to school, hoping for an explanation about their son’s death. Interviewing a stammering Evan, they implore him for some news, some help, some hope that their son was not as alienated as he seemed to them. Sensing the Murphy’s need, Evan tries to help, by not telling them the truth. One thing leads to another. Add a fake email chain, a moving eulogy that goes viral and the lies pile on top of one another. Spiraling out of control, Evan feels trapped, but in a gilded cage. The Murphy family is well-to-do. Filling the void left by Connor, they invite Evan into their family and offer him a home life that he doesn’t have and then there is Zoe too. At intermission, there is no path for Evan, but down. Don’t worry though, because with six Tony awards, including Best Musical, the second act of Dear Evan Hansen is a journey worth taking.

Hello, Dolly!

Last night, we did dinner and a show. We had dinner at Mission Taco, followed by dessert across Euclid at Jeni’s. The show that kicks off this year’s Broadway at the Fox series is Hello, Dolly! It was with some trepidation that I first learned that this revival was on the season’s schedule. This Fox series recycles or revives too many old shows for my taste, but experiencing it turned me completely around. It was a delight to see. Dolly is a matchmaker, but she is also a widow and has gotten tired of the job and now seeks a match of her own. She sets her sights on one Horace Vandergelder of Yonkers, New York. Under the guise of fixing him up with a wife, she maneuvers him for her own purposes. The time is 1885, at the height of the gilded age. Most action occurs in NYC.

On the way into the theater, we witnessed a little drama. A white man approached two black women, but his intentions were strictly honorable. He informed them that they had left one of their car windows open. Though at first startled by the encounter, the women thanked him for his kindness. Charity like this is always a joy to witness and fills my mind with thoughts of paying it forward. In Dolly, there’s an emphasis on money. Vandergelder is a rich man, worth half-a-million dollars or twelve-million in today’s currency. It is for his money, not his love that women are chasing him. A side plot of the show involves his two clerks, who with his absence, also escape to NYC, where they are left to count their nickels and dimes, all the while searching for love. By coincidence, I had earlier heard a radio interview of the Smithsonian’s new beer curator. She was asked if she could pick any era, at what time she would most like to be living in, to drink beer. She chose 1885.

Somehow in my mind thoughts of time travel appeared. I enjoy travel and time travel would be the most novel of forms. With travel though, it is always much more fun to travel in comfort and comfort requires money. Suspending disbelief it is easy to imagine get rich schemes involving time travel. Buying Apple at $22 a share comes to mind. Paying it forward is easy, but how do you pay it backward? You can’t exactly expect to be able to send a bank draft back to 1885. Carrying hard currency of the day would be required. There’s the rub. Those penny pinching clerks of Vandergelder were pinching contemporary coins. Nowadays, an 1885 Liberty seated dime has an average numismatic value of $315. You could use your knowledge of future events to make money, but what kind of fun is a working vacation? I know, gold! Today, gold is selling for $1,500 an ounce. In 1885 it went for $18. Better than coins, but an expensive vacation still. Maybe, I’ll just stay home. I’d only mess up the future anyway.

Angels in America, Part Deux

Angel of the Bethesda Fountain

We attended the second part of Angels in America, Perestroika. The action picks up where the first half ended. It is the 1985. Gorbachev is attempting to reform the USSR through an economic restructuring or perestroika. The aids epidemic is raging, with only one ray of hope on the horizon, a new miracle drug, AZT. While the first half of the play, basically setup the plot and introduced the characters, the focus of this second half is the death of Roy Cohn.

The play’s one historical character is vilified by all and does everything he can to justify that vilification. Using his political connections, he appeals to Nancy Reagan and acquires his own private stash of AZT, hoarding for himself enough medicine to treat eighty aids patients of this very rare and much sought after drug. It is all to no avail though, because while AZT was effective with some patients, it does not staunch the advancement of Cohn’s “liver cancer”.

Near the end, in combination with the morphine drip that he takes to ease his pain, visitations from the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg become more frequent. Cohn was the Federal prosecutor who secured the convictions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and insured their execution, even going so far as judge tampering. One time he asks her to sing him asleep. While reluctant, she eventually complies and sings a Jewish lullaby. Finishing, she becomes concerned that she sang him more than just to sleep, only to be startled when he gleefully gloats, “I finally made Ethel Rosenberg sing!”

During intermission, I spoke to a man whose father was investigated by Roy Cohn. After the Rosenbergs, Cohn joined Senator Joe McCarthy and his un-American activities subcommittee and became his chief deputy. McCarthy’s witch hunt, to turn a phrase, was ruthless in its search for communists, first in government, but then McCarthy turned his fire on the US Army. This led to a confrontation with Joe Walsh, an attorney hired by the Army. After McCarthy launched a particularly brutal attack on a young soldier, Walsh famously asked, “Have you no sense of decency?” The man who I spoke with, his father had been in the Army. He had been serving at Los Alamos, when called before the un-American activities committee. I asked the man what had happened to his father. “Not much, he was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood,” here in Missouri.

That confrontation with Walsh marked the end of both McCarthy and Cohn’s political careers. Cohn returned to NYC and private practice, where for thirty years he hobnobbed with the rich, while doing their dirty work too. One up and coming lad who Cohn helped out and who was later described as what Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn’s love child would look like, was Donald Trump. It has been an interesting week, what with scandal erupting into impeachment proceedings. In conjunction with this play, I am reminded of the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The play ends in 1989. The Berlin Wall has fallen and the Soviet Union is no more. With the help of Cohn’s cache of AZT, Prior is still living with AIDS after five years. The play ends at the Bethesda fountain in Central Park, where Prior promises that the great work begun will continue. 

Angels in America

My Photo Shy Angel

We launched the new theater season, with a show at the Rep, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. This seminal play was revived last year on Broadway and has made it to our little regional theater’s neck of the woods, in almost record time. Tony Kushner’s magnum opus is not for the faint of heart though. Its mature themes dealing with homosexuality, AIDS and death could easily be off putting to some theater goers. Then there is its length. Combined, both parts clock in at just under eight hours. Last night’s performance was punctuated with two intermissions, without which there would have been some serious numb-butt going on.

The cast of eight actors all handle multiple roles. Principle among them are Joe and Harper Pitt, a young married Mormon couple that are going through a rough patch, Louis and Prior, a gay couple, for whom things are about to get a whole lot worse and the non-fictional Roy Cohn, former aide to Senator Joe McCarthy, mentor to Donald Trump and all around nasty person. The time is the last quarter of the Reagan administration. The place is NYC. The AIDS epidemic is raging out of control. A diagnosis is a death sentence.

Prior announces his disease to his partner Louis, which soon sets in motion the eventual unraveling of their relationship. Roy Cohn is also diagnosed, but refuses to admit it. He is a Jew hating Jew and a queer hating homosexual and he cannot come to terms with who he really is. He diagnosis himself with liver cancer. Joe and Harper Pitt have recently moved from Salt Lake to NYC. Joe is a lawyer and is clerking for a judge. After work he takes long walks, leaving Harper feeling more alone. She fills her day with Valium fueled hallucinations.

Tickets to Angels Part One came as part on our regular season subscription. We had to buy Part Two separately, so there was a little upselling by the Rep’s new artistic director. After the show, six of the eight actors led a panel Q&A about the show. The discussion was part personal reflections and part promo for the other half of the play. We’ll see Part Two next week.

With the play’s dark subject matter, it is hard to believe that it is a comedy, but there are moments of levity. Almost any scene where the black gay male nurse Belieze appears is a hoot. Come to think of it, all of actor David Ryan Smith’s roles are great fun. The hallucinations or dream sequences are also funny. In a nod to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, Prior Walter is visited at night by the ghosts of two his ancestors, both also named Prior Walter. There is some discussion as to whether the current Prior Walter is the 37th or 41st Prior Walter that boils down to whether you count the bastards or not. My favorite scene is when Ethel Rosenberg appears as a ghost to haunt Roy Cohn for what he did to her and her husband. It is more taunting than haunting. In the end, this show is less a ha-ha type of comedy and is in a more generous sense the Human Comedy.