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.

Come From Away

Lobster-Claw

Wild night! Yellow thunderstorm boxes turned to red tornado boxes. The first one passed north of us, but a second one soon appeared over us. The Cards punted and postponed their game until today. It all worked out well though. We suffered no storm damage and sheltered in place at the Fox. Come From Away was the musical that we had come to see. This one act show tells the story of a small town in Newfoundland that unexpectedly hosted 7,000 visitors, when their 38 planes were diverted there in the wake of 9/11.

Unfortunately, it was very difficult to understand many of the lyrics and I don’t think that any Newfie accents were the cause. I suspect poor sound arranging. The Fox is a big house and filling it led to more noise than music. The parts that could be heard were interesting. I just wish that more of it could have been.

Anyway, the hockey team clinched their Stanley Cup playoff berth. Go Blues!

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.