A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story

We went out on a cold and rainy night to see this year’s Christmas production at the Rep. The holiday movie, “A Christmas Story” is a perennial classic that can be found every year on 24 hour TBS rotation. Like many a Broadway show these days, it has also been recast as a musical. The Rep’s production is similar to all these other vehicles, feeding off of the same source material, but is also different. 

Just not very much. While, not as redundant as yet another production of “A Christmas Carol” would be, this retelling lacked any spontaneity. Everyone was all too familiar with this story. The half-full house sat mostly silent throughout the first act, before warming slightly like leftovers in the second. Symbolic of this rehashed holiday offering is Ralphie’s too often repeated line, describing his long sought gift, “A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.” The thingy was a sundial, which was funny once, but not so much after the umpteenth recitation. 

I understand that the annual Christmas pageant, with its accompanying revenue stream is a foundation for any company’s balance sheet. We’ve been season ticket holders long enough to know that next year’s inevitably edgier first show will draw only a fraction of this production’s house, but picking such a “safe” choice seems to have backfired this year. The Rep seems to have gotten more conservative over the years. Its ill-fated Off-Ramp series seems like the last time that it has boldly struck out. To bad the Great Recession killed that spirit. I’m not suggesting a return of “M. Butterfly,” but a little more adventurousness would be welcomed. Here is a suggestion. Next Christmas please bring back “Inspecting Carol.” I would enjoy seeing again this wickedly funny Dickens’ satire and unlike the current offering, I promise that I’ve only seen it once. 

A Doll’s House, Part 2

Doll’s House, Part 2 Cast

A Doll’s House, Part 2, written by Lucas Hnath, is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s famous play by the same name. We went to see it, Thursday. A group discussion followed the performance. At the conclusion of which, the cast, Tina Johnson (Anne-Marie), Caralyn Kozlowski (Nora), Andrea Abello (Emmy) and Michael James Reed (Torvald) agreed to a photo.

This play begins fifteen years after Nora famously shut-the-front-door, while walking out on her husband and children. Having never heard from her since, the household is surprised to find that first she is not dead, but instead wildly successful (She has become a women’s writer.), as she walks back into their lives through that same door. She has again run afoul of Norway’s repressive 19th-century laws and needs a divorce to make things right.

The play’s bleak set telegraphs the message that the past fifteen years have not been kind to the Helmer household, with chairs stacked in the corner and only the shadows of paintings that once hung on the walls. The actors were attired in period finery, particularly Nora, who’s costume we learned later was both heavy and hot. The play’s dialog is written in contemporary language, replete with the use of four letter words.

In addition to Ibsen’s original characters, Anne-Marie the housekeeper, Nora the wife and husband Torvald, Hnath introduces daughter Emmy. In the original play, three year-old Emmy’s was only a mute walk-on part. In this sequel she is a grown women, as willful as Nora, but unwilling to flout conventions as her mother did. Reproach is the order of the day that greets Nora upon her return. Anne-Marie is resentful that having once raised Nora, she is then left to raise her children. Torvald was deeply wounded by her act and still feels aggrieved and  Emmy would prefer to have nothing to do with the mother who abandoned her.

Ibsen’s play was a forerunner of what we now call #MeToo. In-between these points, women’s rights has enjoyed successes from the suffragettes to the feminists, but as Michael James Reed’s pictured “I Believe Her” button attests, there is still much work yet to be done. It is good to see a pioneer like Nora brought forward into the 21st-century, to continue on the struggle. 

 

 

Teenage Dick

Tower of London – The White Tower

Earlier this month, we caught the conclusion to this year’s Ignite! festival, presented by the Rep. The play Teenage Dick was read. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III, only set in a contemporary American high school. Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, second only to Hamlet, so some liberties would be expected when you are shoehorning the original five-act drama into a one-act comedy-drama. The titular character, Richard (Gregg Mozgala), is running for class president, although it might as well be king and he really is being a dick about it. Mr. Mozgala has cerebral palsy, which he uses to help define his character’s ambition. Two other students are also candidates in this election. There is Eddie (Nick Dillenburg), the incumbent, football hero, etc. As Richard’s antagonist, I believe that he is a stand-in for Shakespeare’s Edward IV. The other candidate, Clarissa (Liesl Allen Yeager), I couldn’t place in the original work. She reminded me most of Reese Witherspoon’s character Tracy Flick from the movie Election. Other characters include Buck (Shannon DeVido), who represents the Duke of Buckingham and uses a motorized wheelchair. A major theme of this play is to portray people with disabilities as real people, who are not defined solely by their disability. Anne (Tiffany Villarin) or Lady Anne is the play’s love interest. She was dating Eddie, but is wooed by Richard and they attend the Senior Prom together. The only other character is Elizabeth (Nikiya Mathis) or Queen Elizabeth. She plays the faculty advisor to the student council. Teenage Dick was billed as part comedy, but the laughs are rather sparse. What laughs there are, are delivered by Elizabeth. Whenever one of the student characters break the rules, Elizabeth is heard to yell, “Take them to the Tower!” Her best line occurs during the student president’s debate, which is being live streamed on Twitter. When things eventually get out of hand and the Twitterati commence their snarking, Elizabeth calls out, “Twitter is no place for sarcasm!” The Rep’s next main stage season still has one as yet unannounced spot in January. It will be interesting to see, if one of the three Ignite! featured plays snag that vacancy.

Corazón Eterno

Lesbian Walk Signal at Trafalgar Square

Corazón Eterno (Always in My Heart) by playwright Caridad Svich is the middle play in this year’s Ignite! festival at the Rep. This festival involves the reading of new, still developing plays before a live audience. We have been regularly attending Ignite! since its inception. This year the festival has moved from the Opera Theater rehearsal hall to the Rep’s Studio Theater, the black box, where the chairs are more comfortable. Svich’s play is a story of unrequited love. As the title implies, it has a Latin American setting and it also uses language reminiscent of Columbian writer Gabriel García Márquez. Its story is as old as Romeo & Juliet and features two star-crossed lovers separated by their families. The twist here is that the two protagonists are both named Julia and their love is the romantic love between two women.

After each reading Seth Gordon, the Ignite! artistic director comes out and quizzes the audience, asking us what aspect of the play was most memorable. I’ve always felt that this Q&A was primarily for the playwright’s benefit, giving them additional feedback on their work. I mentioned that these plays are still at a stage of considerable flux and this is especially true for this play here. I was surprised to learn while researching this post that Corazón Eterno had been performed this February in the Twin Cities. The Pioneer Press gave it a nice review, but also divulged a storyline that was significantly different. Three of the actors appeared on both stages: Mariana Fernandez, Lisa Suarez and Sasha Andreev still play Julia, Clemencia and Michael respectively. Julia still had an overbearing father, but then the other Julia (Keira Keeley) was called Julio and was played by a man. Holy gender-bending, Batman!

I’ll leave you with the following unrelated YouTube link. It shows the band Fever High playing their song “Looks Good on Paper”. It features some rather snappy bubblegum and is my nominee for this summer’s earwig. 

Million Dollar Quartet

Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all met and played together in an impromptu jam session, which Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet.” Sam had rolled tape that afternoon, from which several albums have ensued. The quartet had primarily played old gospel songs, because those were the ones that they all knew. Last night, we enjoyed the musical version of this story at the Rep. In this version of Million Dollar Quartet gospel is paid its due, with songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace in the Valley”, but the main event is all rock and roll. With twenty-two tunes in the show, there are way too many to enumerate here.

It is the intervals that make this play much more than an Elvis impersonation. The spaces between the songs, where we are given a glimpse at how these legends worked and interacted. That Christmas was a turbulent time for Phillips and Sun. Cash’s contract was up for renewal and RCA was trying to acquire Phillips’ services to help manage Presley. Sam had only a year before sold the rights to Elvis for $40,000, to keep Sun afloat. RCA’s initial response to that offer had been, “We can buy the World Series for less than that.” Acting as MC, Phillips rises above this squabbling sea of virtuosos and rides the rising tide to historical vindication, but not before a host of some mighty fine tunes are performed. At the end of the second act, each member of the quartet ‘solos’ with one of their signature songs: “Hound Dog” for Elvis, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” for Cash, “See you Later Alligator” for Perkins and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” for Lewis. The last two are played out as encores, hyping the rock concert feel of the show. The crowd was on its feet well before the lights came up and it was announced that Elvis had left the building.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. In Harper Lee’s seminal work, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch has two children, Jem and Scout and neither of them would ever believe that he was once a child. The measured patience that Atticus routinely demonstrates only serves to reinforce this belief. They would be quick to tell you that this is because he is old, “He never does anything except read.” This is a young child’s view of their parent. In Mockingbird, Lee tells us, through the eyes of a child, a story of racism and rape, set in 1930s small town Alabama. Much of the story is not very child appropriate, but Ms. Lee has imbued her wonderful characters with such grace that to hear a child tell this story makes the perfect sense.

Anne and I saw To Kill a Mockingbird performed last night on the stage of the Saint Louis Repertory Theater. Unusually for us, we saw this play that is based upon the book, performed at the beginning of its run, instead of as is more usual for us, at its end. Jem (Ronan Ryan) and Scout (Kaylee Ryan) are played by twins, giving these two young actors a natural bond to work from. Jonathan Gillard Daly ably performs the role of Atticus and the rest of the cast is also well turned out. An interesting difference between this play and the more famous film is that in the courtroom scenes the jury was not cast. Instead, here the actors address the audience as if we are the ones sitting in the jury box.

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

In 2012, I was a juror on a Saint Louis County rape trial. Save for his accuser, the defendant who was a black man, he was the only other African-American in the courtroom. Through the jury selection process, the prosecutor introduced us to the tenants of his case. The female arresting officer reinforced these points and the accuser, the defendant’s niece, confirmed them. The as advertised on TV defense attorney was certainly no Atticus Finch, but he ably got his job done. Only in retrospect and upon reflection can I now see how he did it.

The state’s most damning evidence was a video recording of the defendant’s confession, which was the result of a four-and-a-half hour interrogation. I bet that the prosecution only wanted to show the last half-hour of that recording. The part that showed the confession and not the preceding four hours that showed the coercion that he had endured. Remember, that this trial occurred before Ferguson. I was shocked at the behavior of the police. As drawn-out as most court proceedings are, it took us all day to watch that recording.

I didn’t sleep well that night. The next day, the fourth day, the last day, the jury was given the case. Our one and only vote was unanimously for not guilty. We then proceeded to pick apart the prosecutors case. Then we called for the bailiff. We had punctiliously followed our instructions, but while we were idly waiting to be called to render our verdict, one of our number started a game of hangman. The prosecutor received our verdict with both anger and petulance. Outside the courtroom, the defendant and his team thanked us individually. I felt only relief.