Mlima’s Tale

Saint Louis’s Own Raja – An Asian Elephant

Anne, Joanie and I returned to live theater for the first time in about a year-and-a-half, with the showing of Mlima’s Tale, at The Rep. We made a night of it, with dinner and a show. There were a lot of oddities about this performance, some of them Covid induced, some from the relative novelty of the experience. The venue was not at the Rep’s usual fare in Webster. We were in U-City at COCA (Center of Creative Arts). We dined in the Loop and having already sampled our two favorite restaurants there, last weekend, we tried something new, Salt + Smoke, STL style BBQ. It was good and not too WW budget busting. After dinner, we decamped to the theater. COCA has a beautiful new facility that I had visited once before as part of a bicycle ride no less. I was on one of Trailnet’s community-art rides. These rides are where various art related venues are strung together by two wheels. We did improv on that first visit to COCA. On this night, we were all seated in the audience, which was a very lonely place, what with seating available for only 10% of capacity. Masks were required and the play ran less than ninety minutes, but at least we got our toes in the water again.

Mlima’s Tale is a play narrated by an elephant, a dead elephant at that. It tells the tale of how African ivory goes from poacher in the bush to wealthy art buyers in China. It is a searing indictment of everyone involved. This play uses a story like approach, employing the La Ronde¹-inspired device of relating its story in short episodes in which one character from the preceding scene appears in the next. There are only four actors in this play. Three performers play the multitude of characters, including the poachers, a park warden, a police chief, an African government official, a Chinese collector, a Vietnamese smuggler, a boat captain, a master ivory carver and a wealthy art buyer. It is through these characters that three of the actors rotate through. The fourth actor, plays only one character that of the elephant Mlima, who is murdered in the first scene. As a ghost or more corporally as his disembodied tusks, Mlima guides us through the rest of the play. Unwillingly, he leads us from one hand to another, in the smuggling operation that is the illegal world ivory trade. A trade that has already seen the African elephant population fall from 1.5 million to 400K, since the outlawing of ivory trading and is on course towards African elephant extinction in the next twenty year or less. There are no good guys in this play. Only one victim and a multitude of perpetrators of his murder.

  1. La Ronde takes its name from an 1897 play of the same name.

The Mystery of Irma Vep

Irma Vep

We finished out the week, with another visit to the theater. This time it was at the Rep. The night’s vehicle was a light hearted farce, The Mystery of Irma Vep. This play is performed by only two actors, who between them play eight characters, with dozens of costume changes. This play is a satire of melodrama, farce and penny dreadful genres. It is loosely based upon a 1915 movie, Les Vampires. Irma Vep’s name is an anagram of vampire.

Here is the Wiki synopsis of the play:

Mandacrest Estate is the home of Lord Edgar, an Egyptologist, and Lady Enid. Lady Enid is Lord Edgar’s second wife, though he has yet to recover entirely from the passing of his first wife, Irma Vep. The house staff, a maid named Jane Twisden and a swineherd named Underwood, have their own opinions of Lady Enid. Enid is attacked by a vampire, and Edgar seeks answers in an Egyptian tomb, briefly resurrecting the mummy of an Egyptian princess. Returning home with the sarcophagus, Edgar prepares to hunt down the werewolf he blames for the death of his son and first wife. Meanwhile, Enid discovers Irma locked away, supposedly to coax out the location of precious jewels from her. Wresting the keys to Irma’s cell from Jane, Enid frees Irma only to discover the prisoner is, in fact, Jane herself, actually a vampire, and the killer of Irma as well as her and Edgar’s son. Underwood, now a werewolf, kills Jane, only to be shot dead by Edgar. In the end, Enid prevents Edgar from writing about his experiences in Egypt, revealing she was the princess herself, the whole thing an elaborate sham by her father to discredit Edgar. They reconcile.

Before the show, we had dinner at our new favorite restaurant in Webster, Frisco. Anne had their roasted chicken and I had the walleye special. Both of which were very good. This show concludes our theatrical outings for a while.

Pride & Prejudice

Pride & Prejudice

Mister Darcy. Call me, Neo. Mister Darcy, what makes you think that you are the one?

Being the one is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. But you already know what I’m going to tell you.

I’m not the one…

Sorry, kiddo, but with such a pretentious first name like Fitzwilliam, how could it be anything else? What’s wrong with just William anyway? William is a perfectly respectable name. Why did you have to go and Fitz it all up? Well, my father was a William…

So, concludes this mini-Jane Austen recap, as I imagine the Wachowski brothers might reimagine. No happy ending. No Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy. A Shakespearian ending. A tragedy. At least no one died in Act V. There were only two acts.

As you might guess, we saw Pride & Prejudice last night at the Rep. A stage production that much more faithfully retells the story of the original Austen novel. As is typical of the Rep’s holiday productions, this play was a sumptuous affair. As I write this post and all the while she is busying herself with Saturday morning chores, as is her wont, Anne reads what I’ve wrote and is not pleased. “I would not have gone there, but it is your blog.”, she said. Everyone’s a critic. It seems that there is nothing I can do that doesn’t end up messing with her. Who moved my cheese? There is no cheese. There is no spoon.

I suppose that there is something scared in Jane Austen, to people of a particular persuasion. I sense this and respect their sensibilities. I suspect that most of these people are women. As a woman, Austen, pioneered herself as a novelist, in what was before only a man’s field. Parking forever her name in the annals of literature. It is only natural that I experience some pushback, as I toy with what is dear to others, but it is not as if I had gone out and kidnapped Brontë’s Jane Eyre, with only some vague promise of returning her by Thursday next.

PS — I know that I am a day early with the Hanukkah header, but scheduling demands dictate that it be so. Happy Hanukkah!

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.