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Thursday, 21 February 2019 18:58

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of February 22, 2019

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New on this week's hit list: Angels in America at Washington U., Milk Like Sugar at the Black Rep, and The Rat Pack is Back at the Fox.

 


New This Week:


The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches Fridays at 7 pm, Saturday at 2 and 7 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, February 22 - March 3. "Perhaps Jack Kroll in Newsweek described Millennium Approaches best: "The most ambitious American play of our time: an epic that ranges from earth to heaven; focuses on politics, sex and religion; transports us to Washington, the Kremlin, the South Bronx, Salt Lake City and Antarctica; deals with Jews, Mormons, WASPs, blacks; switches between realism and fantasy, from the tragedy of AIDS to the camp comedy of drag queens to the death or at least the absconding of God." The performances take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

My take: I haven't seen the Washington University production, but if you haven't already experience this remarkable piece of theatre, I'm recommending that you do so purely on the strength of the script. As I wrote in my review of the 1996 tour of this show, Angels in America boasts some of the most intelligent and compelling dramatic and comedic writing to grace the American stage in decades.


Milk Like Sugar
Photo by Phil Hamer

The Black Rep presents Milk Like Sugar opening on Wednesday, February 13, and running through March 3. "Milk Like Sugar is an astute gut-wrenching observation of the impact of racism on African American youth. We see the cyclical nature of inherited trauma, the normalization of underfunded communities, the dire need for education that nurtures latent talent, childhood hunger, the categorization of Black youth as adults, and the injustice of the criminal system. The myth of self-determination and seeing those who cannot escape their circumstance as inferior is keeping us for mobilizing and tithing whatever time and talent we might have to give into those communities. This play affirms these children need us, just as much as we need them." Performances take place at the Hotchner Studio Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

My take: Once again, the Black Rep presents an important new lay that tackles contemporary issues in a dramatically effective way. In his review for STLToday, Calvin Wilson calls this "an intriguing portrait of working-class life in the tradition of Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun' and John Osborne's 'Look Back in Anger'...In a culture that all too frequently demonizes African-American youth, 'Milk Like Sugar' is a much-needed and admirably nuanced response." "Director Nicole Brewer and her youthful, talented cast capture the essence of this convincing and thoughtful drama," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News.


2015 cast of The Rat Pack is Back

The Fox Theatre presents The Rat Pack is Back Friday through Sunday, February 22-24, at 7:30. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. "What happens in Vegas...all started with The Rat Pack. This spirited show recreates one of the famous "Summit at the Sands" nights when the swingin', ring-a-ding group known as "The Rat Pack" was creating hipster legend with a free-wheeling, no-holds-barred nightclub act starring Vegas' four favorite sons: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop." For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: "For those of us old enough to remember what these guys were like in their prime," I wrote in my 2015 review of this show's first local apparance, :this is high-grade nostalgia. For everybody else it's a glimpse at a kind of hokey and slightly risqué show-biz magic that is long gone, in a Las Vegas that had not yet become a family-friendly theme park." This will presumably have a different cast, but my experience with the various "Rat Pack" shows has been that the celebrity impersonation are usually very impressive--sometimes eerily so. Great Art this ain't, but it is high-end entertainment. and often that's enough.


Held Over:


Avenue Q
Photo by John Flack
 

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the musical Avenue Q running through March 17 (extended from March 3rd). "Part flesh, part felt and packed with heart, AVENUE Q is a laugh-out-loud musical telling the timeless story of a bright-eyed college grad named Princeton. When he arrives in the city with big dreams and a tiny bank account, he has to move into a shabby apartment all the way out on AVENUE Q. Still, the neighbors seem nice. There, he meets Kate (the girl next door), Lucy (the slut), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie (the internet entrepreneur), superintendent Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) and other new friends! Together, they struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: www.playhouseatwestport.com.

My take: A smart, hip, and very funny parody of Sesame Street, Avenue Q is also an entertaining (if R-rated) story of college-educated twentysomethings--both flesh and foam rubber--coming to grips with the economic, political and sexual facts of life. The show is good, not-so-clean fun and always worth seeing. This production is "outrageously funny" (Calvin Wilson, STLToday). "A blend of national and local talent brings zest, exquisite precision and rampant enthusiasm to this delightful version of the Tony Award-winning musical melange of puppeteered optimism at its finest," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News.


The Crucible
Photo by Dan Danovan

Stray Dog Theatre presents Arthur Miller's The Crucible Thursdays through Saturdays through February 23. "Lies. Betrayal. Lust. In 1690s Salem, a young girl leads a Puritanical purge of witchcraft against a local farmer and his wife. As fear and excitement grow in the town, the accusations grow more ferocious and terrifying, until no one is safe, and the truth is obscured completely. Winner of the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: In a 1989 New York Times article reflecting The Crucible, Arthur Miller wrote, "Political movements are always trying to position themselves against the unknown-vote for me and you're safe." The relevance to contemporary politics could hardly be more obvious. Inspired in part by the 20th century witch hunts of the late Senator McCarthy, the play is a searing indictment of the power of mob mentality and the moral corruption of politicians who feed on it. Today the mob is on the Internet and social media, but the intellectually disreputable process is the same. I don't think it's coincidental that the last couple of years have seen a reawakening of interest in this work. In a review for STLtoday Calvin Wilson calls this a "stunning and hauntingly memorable production." "The play's four acts clock in at a total of 3.5 hours including three intermissions," writes Jacob Juntunen at KDHX, "but the quick pacing of Gary F. Bell's direction and the solid acting and design elements make the time fly by like binge watching four episodes of an online streaming drama." And, yes, I have a small part in it.


Farragut North
Photo by Patrick Huber

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the political thriller Farragut North Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm through February 24. Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

My take: Mark Bretz says this story of political intrigue on the campaign trail is "a fascinating political cautionary tale written by John Burroughs alumnus Beau Willimon, is a compelling and provocative story as told by director Wayne Salomon and his smart cast." "At a time when the absurdities of national politics are virtually unavoidable," writes Calvin Wilson at STLToday, "theatergoers might be wary of yet another reminder. But for anyone interested in how we got here, "Farragut North" offers a provocative and entertaining education." Mr. Salomon's cast includes some of our most reliable local actors.


The Hundred Dresses

Metro Theatre Company presents The Hundred Dresses through February 25 " Wanda Petronski, the new girl in Room 13, is a Polish immigrant who lives in a shabby house and doesn't have any friends. Every day she wears the same faded blue dress, but tells her new class-mates that she has a hundred dresses at home. Her classmates tease Wanda about her hundred dresses until one day she disappears from school. As guilt overtakes the children, they decide to find out what happened to Wanda and to make amends. But is it too late? Bullying, friendship and forgiveness are at the center of this play adapted from the beloved Newbery Honor Book by Eleanor Estes." The performance takes place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: metroplays.org.

My take: This 1998 stage adaptation of a 1945 Newberry Award-winning children's book deals with adult themes. "Yes, it is a children's play," writes Richard Green, [b]ut The Hundred Dresses contains all the elements, in story and characterization, of a more ambitious story." Mark Bretz at Ladue News agrees: "Metro Theater Company artistic director Julia Flood and her acting quintet do poetic justice to this sweet, affecting story by Eleanor Estes in a production tailored to children but with a message of tolerance and understanding important for all." At a time when hatred of the "other" is making a repellent comeback, this show seems very timely.


Oslo
Photo by Peter Wochniak

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the drama Oslo running through March 3. "Winner of the 2017 Tony Award for Best Play. In 1993, two bitter enemies shocked the world by shaking hands and agreeing to work toward peace. This breathtaking drama tells the story of the secretive and precarious negotiations that made that moment possible. By focusing on the Norwegian couple who brokered talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, Oslo finds the unlikely story behind this historic event." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org

My take: The Oslo peace accords might not seem as the most likely subject for a successful play, but then, neither would nuclear physics, and that didn't stop Michael Frayn from writing a hit with Copenhagen. In fact, as Ann Lemmons Pollack writes, "how the accord came to be is a fascinating and very human story about how individuals can make a difference in the world...It's a fascinating play, well written and surprisingly funny." At Ladue News, Mark Bretz writes that "Steven Woof, The Rep's Augustin artistic director, makes his final directorial effort at the helm of The Rep a smashing success with this riveting, superbly acted and beautifully modulated production."

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