Nonsense and Beauty

Covent Garden

Nonsense and beauty have close connections. – E. M. Forster

Another day means another play. On Saturday, we attended the Ignite! reading of the new Scott C. Sickles play, “Nonsense and Beauty”. Here is it’s synopsis:

In 1930, the writer E.M. Forster met and fell in love with a policeman 23 years his junior. Their relationship, very risky for its time, evolved into a 40-year love triangle that was both turbulent and unique. Based on a true story, Nonsense and Beauty captures the wit and wisdom of one of the last century’s great writers.

We’ve been attending Ignite! since its beginning six years ago. Each year The Rep produces three of these readings, making for a total of eighteen so far. We have attended most of these performances. “Nonsense and Beauty” is by far and away the best written play of the lot and the most mature one too. By which I mean, for many of these readings, the script is being revised right up to the moment of presentation. This often results in a still rough around the edges product. This is a natural artifact of the play writing process and as such is excusable. But when such a finely tuned vehicle like “Nonsense and Beauty” comes along it puts the others to shame. Typically, The Rep chooses one of each Ignite! season’s offerings to produce as a play. I pray that they choose this one. 

Born Yesterday

Honeycomb Moray

The character of Eddie Brock is that of an eel, who slithers into Washington, all ready to snatch up his next lucrative deal. Eddie is into junk, as in a junkyard, of which he is king. He owns 500 yards already, but now has his hungry eyes set upon claiming even more. Which is what brings him to our nation’s capital. The period is the late 1940s. The war is over and Eddie has cast his gaze across the Atlantic at the ruins of Europe and all of its scrap steel. He has already secured a senator in his pocket and with his aid all Eddie wants is for government to step aside and let him do what he does best in this world, make more money.

Following along in Eddie’s wake is first his shifty lawyer, who facilitates his dealings and Billie Dawn, Eddie’s platinum blonde showgirl-friend. Billie her baby doll voice and Jersey accent has become an impediment to Eddie’s ambitions. She lacks the social graces and intellectual acumen that Eddie needs, if she is going to circulate with him in capital high society. Enter a reporter, from the New Republic yet, who interviews Eddie. Eddie takes a shine to the reporter and enlists his help as a tutor for Billie. 

The preceding paragraphs summarize the first act of “Born Yesterday”, the final play on the main stage at The Rep for this season. This comedy has enjoyed many showings over the years, in both theater and on the screen. After seeing this show, it is obvious that this particular revival is a reaction to Donald Trump.

The play’s titled is derived from the phrase, “I wasn’t born yesterday.” In its second act, Billie attains an awakening and Eddie learns to rue his wicked ways. Not the least because he and his crooked lawyer have signed over many of his junkyards into Billie’s name in a tax scam. Also, Billie and the reporter/tutor have naturally fallen in love together.

The show is anachronistic is many ways. The prices are for one. Eddie brags about the exorbitant cost of his Capital Hill penthouse ($250 per night), which seems ridiculously cheap by today’s standards, unless of course you happen to be the head of the EPA. More glaringly out of sync with modern sensibilities and the #MeToo era is Eddie’s rude and often harsh treatment of Billie. But one thing that “Born Yesterday” does get right is its depiction of the corruption and graft that powerful and entitled men still practice to this day.

Last night’s performance was near the end of this play’s run and the house was less than full. Leavening the crowd last night were many students, both from local high schools and foreign exchange students from Webster. Two exchange students were seated behind us and it was interesting listening to them at intermission and after the show. Together they were trying to puzzle out this now seventy years old political satire and what it means today. 

Hurricane Colleen

Aquarium Starfish

Another day, another night, another play and this time the show was part of The Rep series, Ignite! Actually, more of a reading than a performance, this festival features new scripts out loud. Like the night before, this event was also in Grand Center, around the block from the Fox, at KWMU, the local NPR affiliate.

“Hurricane Colleen” was written by Tammy Ryan. Her previous work, “Molly’s Hammer”, was also an Ignite! reading, before graduating to The Rep stage. That play told the story of Molly Rush of the Ploughshares Eight and the events surrounding the 1980 attack on nuclear missile nose cones at the GE plant, in King of Prussia, PA. Since, we had attended both of those venues and with this evening that made us official Tammy Ryan groupies. After this reading, we spoke with Ms. Ryan. Anne was able to mention Carl Hiaasen, whose novels set in south Florida reminded us of Doyle, one of the characters in her current play.

Based upon Ryan’s own life experiences, “Hurricane Colleen” tells the story of two sisters meeting to bury a third. The setting is a beach house in Florida. Four equity actors comprised the cast and portray the two sisters, Maggie and Rosemary Lynch, Doyle, Maggie’s roommate and Ed, Rosemary’s husband. Ed and Rosemary are members of the 1%, while Maggie and Doyle are decidedly not. All of them though, each in their own way, are just barely scraping by. Colleen, the deceased sister, shares titular billing with an approaching hurricane. What could go wrong with a weekend at the beach?

The Humans

Reindeer Cave Painting

While not exactly a cave, the duplex of Brigid Blake and her boyfriend Rich fits the bill. It’s a ground floor/basement up-and-down, with one barred window that looks out on a cigarette littered alley. Still, it has an amazing amount of space for Manhattan. The fact that this Chinatown abode is in the flood zone only enhances its affordability. As an aside, its layout reminded us of Dan’s place.

That’s the place, the time is Thanksgiving. Once an occasion to appreciate God’s gifts, the holiday is presented here as a primordial feast. The foldout table is set, all that is lacking now is a human sacrifice, which will come soon enough. The Blake clan, all four of them (mother, father, sister and grandmother), descend upon NYC, à la the movie Pieces of April, which handles holiday melancholy with more warmth and tenderness than does this play. Rich and Brigid’s place is empty. Their belongings are still on a truck in Queens. That’s OK, the visiting Blakes unpack enough emotional baggage to fill the stage.

The Humans is funny, emotional, but also draining. By play’s end, I’d gladly cross the Blakes off from any dinner party invites. Unfortunately, even before the lights go out, the playwright had already written them off too. The Blakes are bankrupt, both emotionally and financially. It doesn’t help that boyfriend Rich is rich, a trust fund baby. Family dynamic soon devolve into a caricature of class warfare, as the 99% are eventually Ubered back to Scranton, PA. 

The Marvelous Wonderettes

The Marvelous Wonderettes

It is 1958, the night of the senior prom, at Springfield high. Go, Chipmunks! Entertainment was supposed to be supplied by the Crooning Crab Cakes, from the boy’s glee club, but their band leader has just been suspended for smoking outside the girls’ locker room. Luckily, the boys are replaced by four singers in crinolines, the Marvelous Wonderettes. What ensues is an utter charm bomb. Set in two acts, first on prom night and then the ten-year reunion’s night, we are treated to a nonstop sock-hop medley of first ’50s and then ’60s rock-and-roll hits. Being performed on the main stage of the Saint Louis Repertory Theater, this musical is the perfect balm for our often raw January weather. We loved it! 

Something Rotten in Denmark

Saint-Guilhem Cloister

Considered Shakespeare’s best play and arguably the best play ever, Hamlet has come to the Rep. The show begins in ghostly darkness and ends three-hours later, with everyone dead. The show has the usual fine production values for which the Saint Louis Repertory Theater is well know. The cast performs their roles flawlessly. Great material with perfect execution, but then why am I still left feeling underwhelmed? Is it that the script seems more like a recitation from Bartlett’s than dialogue? Or is it the countless parodies that it has spawned? 

Hamlet: To be or not to be that is the question.
Yoda: Be or be not. There is no question.

If imitation is truly the highest form of flattery, then Hamlet has no shortage of pretenders. I just became aware that the Lion King is a Hamlet retelling, only in a more anthropomorphic and African setting. Which begs the question, which two Shakespearian characters do Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog duo, represent? My money is on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Mainly though the play is just too long and is filled with too many “words, words, words”.