YoungLiars take on William Shakespeare's violent, vengeful Titus Andronicus, the cleverly titled and smartly staged Titus Androgynous, gives the play, often cited as among Shakespeare's worst, a surprisingly effective comic turn. Instead of overwhelming, overwrought grief, we find exaggerated characters, pointedly over-the-top violence, and genuinely unexpected humor. Of particular interest is the word play that's revealed. There are layered puns, double entendres, purposeful mispronunciations, and a plethora of innuendo that easily support the interpretation when the show is pared down to focus on its comic possibilities.

The story itself is rather straightforward, if gruesome. Roman general Titus has defeated the Goths and taken their queen, Tamora, and her sons captive, sacrificing one as tribute to the gods. Tamora's bloody and exacting revenge begins the moment the newly appointed Roman emperor, Saturnanus (intended sic), chooses her as his empress.  

Tamora's sons kill the emperor's brother and brutally attack Titus' daughter Lavinia. Implicated by a forged note and bag of gold planted by Tamora's lover Aaron, two of Titus' sons are executed for the murder. When Titus discovers the truth, he kills the sons and serves them, baked in meat pies, to their mother. By the end of the show, almost everyone is dead.  

The play is packed with rage, destruction, gore, and, when presented as a tragedy, grief. As comedy, however, the incessant bloodletting fits in well with the exaggerated emotions and villainy -- gleeful excess delivered with a sinister sneer. Director Chuck Harper, costumer Maggie Conroy, and composer Paul Cereghino are absolutely synchronized in their approach and the effect is thoroughly entertaining. There's a coarse, b-movie look to David Blake's set design and Ben Lewis' lights that underscores the highly visual comic approach. This is not high drama, but some scholars, citing a general preference for graphic violence among the Globe's patrons, contend that the original play wasn't, either. Titus Androgynous is laugh out loud funny even when it's a little uncomfortable, and fantastically enjoyable, too.

Conroy, as Tamora, Jonah Walker, as Titus Androgynous, Isaiah de Lorenzo, as Saturnanus, and Erin Renee Roberts, as Aaron the Moore, are the center of this psychotically murderous tale. Cereghino, as musician and Clown, is our guide and narrator through the quickly shifting violence. Conroy and Roberts are ravenous and Machiavellian, and countered by an equally fierce Walker; their energy is stereotypically and unrepentantly masculine. de Lorenzo walks like a dancer, with an air of authority and a hint of sexual ambiguity, and Cereghino provides a delightfully constant stream of chatter, commentary, and wit that's sometimes Gracie Allen, sometimes Lou Costello, and all court jester.

Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Amanda Wales, Rachel Tibbets, Jeff Skoblow, Michael Ferguson, and the enthusiastically mischievous Katy Keating capably support the leads, with the majority of the ensemble taking on a variety of roles. Wales, Schwetye, and Keating play all the sons and Eagles and Tibbets are extra sweet as the true lovers. Skoblow is quite funny, with a sly, "Did you see what I just did? Don't tell." manner, while Ferguson's reticence indicates a (perhaps feigned) preference to stay behind his drum kit. Dressed as a London schoolboy, Keating's character is devilishly captivating. A maniacal hybrid, she's part 'Lord of the Flies' meets 'Clockwork Orange' and part sassy stewardess, with a demeanor that implies "coffee, tea, or bloody murder?"  

The twisted take employs highly mannered and stylized movements and Edwardian undergarments, specifically corsets and bloomers as the base for all costumes. Clever musical interludes speed the exposition while humorously pointing out the ridiculous nature of the original script. Malapropisms applied to character names result in sophomoric puns and there's a sense of early vaudeville, perhaps due to Michael Ferguson's expressive drumming and the accelerated pacing of the show. The resulting mash-up is darkly funny, excessively violent, and quietly androgynous, an interesting choice that may disappoint some audience members but seems ironically ambiguous from my perspective.

Titus Androgynous, running through November 11, 2017, works surprisingly well as comedy. The witty adaptation reveals unexpected jibes, puns, and excess in the pared down source that give the show an energetic boost. The comedy is completely engaging, and Cereghino's clever songs deliver the bulk of the exposition with as much humor and excess as the script. Fans of the Bard, and anyone in the mood for comedy and horror expertly blended, won't want to miss YoungLiar's unique take on the oft-maligned play.

 

The best things about the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis studio production of the 2015 comedy/drama Heisenberg by Simon Stephens (whose wonderful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opened the Rep's mainstage season) are the parts that are, as they say in the restaurant biz, locally sourced. That includes the stellar performances by Joneal Joplin and Susan Louise O'Connor, the thoughtful direction by Rep Artistic Director Steve Woolf, and the subtle but effective sound design by Rusty Wandall. 

The worst thing about it, unfortunately, is the script. Commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club, where it was performed by Mary Louise Parker and author/actor Denis Arndt, Heisenberg chronicles the developing relationship between Alex Priest, a quiet London butcher in his mid-seventies with an comprehensive love of music, and Georgie Burns, a forty-ish transplanted American with a flexible notion of truth. 

They first meet in a railway station where Georgie has just kissed Alex on the back of the neck, claiming that she mistook him for her late husband. It's a bizarre story and, as it turns out, a wholly fictitious one, along with most of the autobiography that emerges from her long comic monologue. As written, Georgie is manic, self-obsessed, and chronically dishonest--basically the sort of person most of us would cross the street to avoid. And yet Alex not only becomes emotionally involved very quickly but, even more improbably, joins her in a quixotic quest to reconnect with her adult son, who has fled to America and has forcefully severed all ties to her.

The relationship between the two feels arbitrary and unmotivated, and the play itself feels like a seriocomic sketch that has gotten too big for its britches. That might be because, as Emmeline McCabe reports in her program note, the playwright made no attempt to plot out the script in advance but instead "was inspired by the idea of not knowing where something is or where it is going"--a very free interpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle which gives the show its title. The result is a play that lacks any real dramatic shape and feels unfinished.

For me, ultimately, the rewards of this production came from watching two very talented actors create a credible relationship out of this material. Mr. Joplin's beautifully understated Alex is a subtle masterpiece, shaping a warm and sympathetic human being. Early on, Georgie accurately describes Alex as "not so much a creature of routine as a psychopathic raging monster of it." Watching him emerge from the cocoon of that routine is immensely gratifying.

Ms. O'Connor is just as impressive, rattling off Georgie's gargantuan line load in a way that makes it look as though she's riffing on the spot, and finding moments of vulnerability and even humanity in what is, for the most part, a pretty annoying character. Georgie talks a lot but reveals very little of herself; Ms. O'Connor givers her more depth than the playwright does.

Peter and Margery Spack's simple rectangular set divides the black box space in half, with the audience lined up facing each other on the long sides of the rectangle. The arrangement could have created sight line issues, but Mr. Woolf's blocking takes that into account, and his pacing keeps the show moving while still allowing room for it to breathe. This is, in short, a production that gives the script every possible advantage.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of Heisenberg continues through November 12 in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For me, the strong acting and direction didn't compensate for the weakness of the material, but your mileage may vary.

 

Though there are none of the usual openings in this week's KDHX In Performance feature, there's still news to share! Two exiting performing arts events are happening this weekend only, and there are a lot of "not to be missed" shows closing soon. Check the listings and reviews, then make sure you don't miss out. And, as always, remember to visit the KDHX Calendar for the complete list of music, arts, and events happening around town. 

The fifth annual Compass Improv Festival takes place this weekend at the Improv Shop (in its new location in the Grove). The festival includes seven scheduled performances and you're guaranteed a new show every time. You won't know what you're going to see when you walk in, but that's ok. The actors don't know either. The three-day Compass Improv Festival celebrates performance and the art of "yes and..." an approach that's as important to improv as iambic pentameter is to Shakespeare. Maybe even more so. 

The name "Compass" harkens back to the 1950s, when the Compass Players introduced this new form of acting to audiences in both Chicago and St. Louis. When the company settled in Chicago it changed its name to (the now iconic) Second City. Andy Sloey, who trained at Second City and is the Improv Shop's general manager, notes that the scene in St. Louis is strong, with about 300 participating artists in the area. Kevin Hahn, who moved to St. Louis a year a go and is producing the festival, agrees. You can see for yourself at the Fifth Annual Compass Improv Festival, with shows at the Improv Shop in the Grove, October 19 -- 20. If you really enjoy the festival, check out the shop's classes for adults at every level from beginners to seasoned artists.

Variety, the children's charity of St. Louis, presents its annual all-abilities welcome Variety Children's Theatre production Thursday, October 19 through Sunday, October 22. For its ninth production, the cast goes "off to see the Wizard" with the colorful, musical adventure The Wizard of Oz. As is the standard for the company's productions, a group of talented kids with special needs are featured in the show, accompanied by a full orchestra and local professional actors, artists, and crew. 

The Variety Children's Theatre brings the beloved story of Dorothy and her spunky dog Toto to life in a heartwarming production. We join along as they take a trip "over the rainbow" and into a world filled with new friends and important lessons. The show's positive, "yes, I can" attitude and uplifting tone will make you smile as surely as the memorable songs will keep you humming all the way home. Variety's production of [The Wizard of Oz is on stage at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the UMSL campus, with six performances scheduled over four days.

Continuing this weekend: 

If you're in the mood for murderous stories and haunting tales, you'll want to catch the Repertory Theater of St. Louis' first ever production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, running through November 5. Arguably one of the Bard's greatest plays, the dark story tells of lust, murder, and revenge among Danish royalty.

Get into the Halloween spirit in a bold but comic way with Emery Entertainment's production of Evil Dead the Musical, running through October 22 at the Grandel Theater. The fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek musical, based on the popular movie franchise, delivers all the cheesy puns and blood-spattered mess of the films and there's seating in the "splatter zone" for the most adventurous theatergoers.

Take Two Productions presents its interpretation of the popular musical Next to Normal. The contemporary story effectively explores how a typical suburban family copes with the ups, downs, and crises of living with someone suffering from mental illness. The quirky, memorable musical, in performance through October 21, is raw and realistic at times, but never without heart or a caring. Even in its darkest moments, there's a thin ray of light and a hopeful perspective lurking.

Insight Theater Company brings Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion Dr. Watson to life in Tony award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig's comic mystery Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, running through October 29. John O'Hagan and Ken Coffield are extra clever, amiable, and delightfully engaging, while Elliot Auch, Ed Reggi and Gwen Wotawa create a wonderful ensemble, with each showing theatrical flexibility and sharp comic timing in multiple roles. 

Clayton Community Theatre continues with their run of August Wilson's Two Trains Running, a beautifully reconstructed snapshot of life in a black neighborhood in Pittsburgh, circa 1969. Jobs are scarce and gentrification is taking over, pushing out the neighborhood's poor and working class residents. As they struggle to hang on, the group of regulars at Memphis Lee's diner takes refuge from a weary world, grab coffee and a bite to eat, and find solace in familiar company.

Stray Dog Theatre presents Spring Awakening, a bold coming of age tale set among a deeply private religious community. Directed by Justin Been, and delivered with a rebellious rock and roll score, the story follows a group of friends through the trials of adolescence. The musical, running through October 21, features adult themes and subject matter and is intended for mature audiences.

Upstream Theater presents Sweet Revenge, a sympathetic satire in performance through October 22, at the Kranzberg Arts Center. Considered the "finest Polish comedy ever written," the story, directed by Philip Boehm, is told from the perspective of an amateur St. Louis Polish immigrant theater troupe in the 1930s. 

Tuesdays with Morrie is an adaptation of Mitch Albom's memoir about reconnecting with his professor, mentor and friend and saying goodbye. What begins as a one-off visit turns into weekly lessons on life in the New Jewish Theatre's production of the heartwarming story continuing through October 22. 

New Line Theatre amps up the gothic rage with the St. Louis premier of Lizzie, a rock opera running through October 21, that's loud, rude, and a bit nasty. The show is blistering and powerful, filled with a punk rock ethos and riot grrrl rage as well as an outstanding cast featuring Anna Skidis Vargas, Kimi Short, Larissa White, and Marcy Ann Wiegert. 

 

It's Halloween weekend in St. Louis and there's plenty of haunting goings on. Why not start your festivities by seeing a play or musical? As a bonus, your costume will likely be welcomed and complimented! This week's In Performance spotlights both the "bad" -- a battle of will with tragic consequences all around -- and the "good," a sweetly personal story about an unexpected friendship that begins while waiting for the train. 

YoungLiars, a thoughtfully ambitious and energetic company headed by Maggie Conroy and Chuck Harper, amps ups the blood letting and body parts with Titus Androgynous, a comic interpretation of William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus that's supported by a number of critical scholars and writers. The story of the Roman general's defeat of the Goths and subsequent bitterly personal feud with the scheming Goth queen Tamora is not considered among Shakespeare's best; but it is his bloodiest, stuffed with continuous action and deviantly vicious revenge. A notable curiosity, this is the third recent retelling of the rousing but infrequently performed tale in St. Louis this season. 

It is logical and possible to interpret the show as parody "perhaps directed towards contemporary Christopher Marlowe as well as the period preference for theatrical blood and guts," Harper offers. "Viewed as comedy, the script is filled with double entendres and puns that create thematic shifts in perspective. We looked at the script from that angle and found farce." Under Harper's direction, the comedy is constant and bloody, nearly 10 quarts of stage blood are used each show. The adaptation, also by Harper, includes several new songs by Paul Cereghino that push the exposition and compress the timeline. YoungLiars Titus Androgynous: A Comic Spectacle runs through November 11, at the Centene Center for the Arts.

I ask you in all mock seriousness, what better Halloween weekend choice can horror fans have?

Steven Woolf directs Susan Louise O'Connor and Joneal Joplin in the surprisingly intimate and heartwarming Heisenberg. Georgie, an odd and impulsive woman, briefly engages Alex, an older gentleman also waiting at the London train station. She's brash and crass and outspoken, he's of a more subdued ilk. The unexpected start to their relationship turns to conversation, and the two being an awkward friendship.

The one-act show opens the St. Louis Repertory Studio Theatre's season, spinning two very disparate people into a shared orbit and exploring each character's quirks and personality. The two discover they have much in common even as they question the connection they feel. Running through November 12, Heisenberg is life affirming and uplifting, a nice reminder to "stop and smell the roses" and other extraordinary moments in our daily life. 

Continuing this weekend: 

If you're in the mood for murderous stories and haunting tales, you'll want to catch the Repertory Theater of St. Louis' first ever production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, running through November 5th. Arguably one of the Bard's greatest plays, the dark story tells of lust, murder, and revenge among Danish royalty.

Insight Theater Company brings Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion Dr. Watson to life in Tony award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig's comic mystery Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, running through October 29. John O'Hagan and Ken Coffield are extra clever, amiable, and delightfully engaging, while Elliot Auch, Ed Reggi and Gwen Wotawa create a wonderful ensemble, with each showing theatrical flexibility and sharp comic timing in multiple roles. 

 

 

It's that time of year again -- time to carve pumpkins, tell scary stories, and jump at thing that go bump in the night! If you're a fan of gory movies and spooky stories looking to add a little musical comedy to your repertoire, Evil Dead the Musical, presented by Emery Entertainment, is a perfect addition to your Halloween celebrations. Inspired by the movie franchise, the musical is a laugh-out-loud, blood-splattered romp that spoofs teen slasher flicks and Broadway with the same barely controlled chainsaw.

Five teens plan to spend their spring break in a secluded cabin in the woods. At the cabin they find an ancient book of spells and a tape recording of the spells, which, naturally, the teens play back. Evil forces are unleashed, body parts are lost, and much blood is spilled before the forces can be corralled, saving humanity. The furiously funny musical gets a few welcome pop culture updates in the company's production, but the story retains its familiar excess and the songs their catchy, pop-infused style.

The quick moving show is as humorously campy as it is horror-story messy, and the capable ensemble works their characters' stereotypical ticks and exaggerations. Trent Mills is quick-witted and inventive as Ash, all while throwing knowing glances to the audience. He's a likable hero, not too smart, but no dummy and quite resourceful. Mills does a great job of telegraphing both humor and punctuation through his frequent interactions with the crowd. Not quite breaking the fourth wall, but testing its strength. The effect works well, particularly when the majority of the audience is well aware of the story. 

Saphire Demitro is appropriately snarky and ungainly as kid sister Cheryl, and she's the only one with the instinct to flee. After her transformation to evil, she speaks in bad puns, comic asides, and gleeful curses. Amelia Hironaka is bouncy and likeable as Linda, a role usually played by Michelle Nash. Hironaka is all game, and there was no hesitation or lack of commitment to her portrayal.  

Christopher Fulton is a typical insensitive guy as Scott, while Merritt Crews, does double duty as Shelly and the professor's daughter, each a pin-up girl fantasy-like caricature of stereotypical movie females. Andy Ingram is endearingly brow beaten as Ed and quippy with attitude as the Moose, Jonathan Shaboo is country quirky as Jake, complete with a farmer's tan and Kevin Smith demeanor. Finally, Mark Willett lends his voice and a hand as Fake Shemp and the Spirit of Knowby. 

The ensemble is clearly comfortable with each other, giving the entire show a playful tone that perfectly aligns with the story and songs. Christopher Bond directs with a sensibility that doesn't know the words "too much," pushing the cast to emphasize the comic potential of every scene, costume piece, and prop. Stacey Renee Maroske uses traditional and contemporary moves in her choreography, adding Beyonce-influenced steps in one spot and a 'Dirty Dancing' life in another. What really helps to take the show over the top, however, are well timed and executed stage effects, puppetry, and animatronics. These additions add much to the visual humor and capriciously enhance the chaotic fun that begins the moment the teens cross the bridge and entire the woods. 

Evil Dead the Musical, running through October 22, is not highbrow theater, and the show, liberally drenched in stage blood, is probably not for everyone, but its appeal extends well beyond fans of the franchise. The story is hilarious take on teen horror flicks, the characters are engaging if a bit shallow, and the production is played entirely for laughs. Yes, the songs and jokes are at times sophomoric, but they're easily recognized motifs executed with smart timing and tone. If you enjoy the blood, gore, and guts of the Halloween season as much as you like a good laugh, you'll want to catch this fun production. And if you're really into the spirit of things, make your reservation in the splatter zone.

Stay Involved on Social Media