Friday, 08 February 2019 15:24

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of February 8, 2019

Written by 
"Wittenberg" at Upstream "Wittenberg" at Upstream Photo by ProPhotoSTL

This week's new entries are a new send-up of Clue, Arthur Miller's classic drama The Crucible, and a wild revenge comedy at West End.


New This Week:


Classic Mystery Game
Photo by Joey Rumpell

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Classic Mystery Game Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through February 16. "Classic Mystery Game: a parody (or a spoof, maybe a send-up, possibly a take-off). The use of parody in human culture is ritualistic, so here is SATE, once more, to perform yet another ritual. Classic Mystery Game investigates Western society in 2019 through the lens of the hilarious 1985 movie, CLUE...which in turn was investigating Western society in 1985 through the lens of McCarthyism. Perhaps by distilling our world through so many layers of comedy, as the ritual calls for, we'll discover a bit of Truth - even if it's merely a smile at the end of a funny play." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

My take: Whatever else Classic Mystery Game's PR may claim, it would appear that it is ultimately a big, entertaining, and very funny show. At KDHX, Tina Farmer says its "a comic circus of sorts, paying tribute to the fun of the board game and the campy excess of the 1985 movie. If you are looking for a genuine comedy that the whole family can enjoy or just a fun night out with friends or a date, "Classic Mystery Game"...is an excellent choice." "This is a hilarious show," writes Michelle Kenyon on her blog, "with a spirit reminiscent of old-time sketch comedy shows..There's wordplay and innuendo, along with physical comedy, sight gags and more as the story continues on its rapid pace until its suitably hilarious conclusion. I won't give any more details, because that will spoil the fun. And fun, it certainly is."


The Crucible

Stray Dog Theatre presents Arthur Miller's The Crucible Thursdays through Saturdays, February 7 - 23. There will also be a show at 2 pm on Sunday, February 17. "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." And, yes, I have a small part in it.


Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Photo by John Lamb

The West End Players Guild opens its 108th season with the St. Louis premiere of the comedy Exit, Pursued by a Bear Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, February 8 - 17. "Our twisted take on Valentine's Day is Exit, Pursued by a Bear by Lauren Gunderson, author of last season's smash hit Silent Sky. Exit is a nasty feminist revenge comedy featuring a good old boy named Kyle, his beleaguered spouse Nan and her two buddies, a sweetheart of a cross dresser named Simon and a stripper named Sweetheart. Nan has decided to teach Kyle a long-deserved lesson, and then cover him with meat and honey and feed him to a bear. Yes, it's that funny." There will also be a show on Thursday, February 14, at 8 pm. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org.

My take: I haven't seen any of the rehearsals for this production yet, but I'm on West End's play reading committee and so I have read the script. It's a hilarious wild ride that's very different in tone from Gunderson's more well-known Silent Sky. This is definitely an adult comedy, though, so leave the little ones at home.


Held Over:


Avenue Q
Photo by John Flack
 

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the musical Avenue Q running through March 3. "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.


District Merchants
Photo by Eric Woolsey

New Jewish Theater presents District Merchants: An Uneasy Comedy Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through February 10. "In District Merchants, love, litigation, deep passions and predatory lending are taken to a new level. The play wades fearlessly into the complexities of life in America. It is set among Black and Jewish populations in an imagined time and place, simultaneously Shakespearean and post- Civil War Washington, D.C. In Posner's reimagining, the play becomes less about the quality of mercy and more about how flexible a supposedly egalitarian society can be to the varied tribes struggling to find partners in America. Aaron Posner expertly blends humor, emotional truths and topics that make people think. He is able to create characters who are deeply flawed, like we are. In his "uneasy" comedy, he wants us to look at a snapshot in time, the Reconstruction Era, but what he has written is relevant to audiences today." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

My take: This ingenious update of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is "a richly entertaining re-imagining of a play that's at once timeless and timely" (Calvin Wilson, STLToday). "This is not your high school English teacher's Merchant of Venice," writes Richard Green at TalkinBroadway.com. "Aaron Posner's District Merchants is still a tale of love's many obstacles (most of them funny) and also of the poisonous nature of grievance (decidedly not funny). But this time it's all a lot more personal, and present, and maybe even political, at The New Jewish Theatre."


Wittenberg
Photo by ProPhotoSTL

Upstream Theater presents the St. Louis premiere of Wittenberg Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm (except for February 10, which is at 2 pm) through February 10. "It's October 1517, and the new fall semester at the University of Wittenberg finds certain members of the faculty and student body at personal and professional crossroads. Hamlet (senior, class of 1518) is returning from a summer in Poland spent studying astronomy, where he has come in contact with a revolutionary scientific theory that threatens the very order of the universe, resulting in psychic trauma and a crisis of faith for him. His teacher and mentor John Faustus (Professor of Philosophy) has decided at long last to make an honest woman of his paramour, Helen, a former nun who is now one of the Continent's most sought-after courtesans. And Faustus' colleague and Hamlet's instructor and priest, Martin Luther (Professor of Theology), is dealing with the spiritual and medical consequences of his long-simmering outrage at certain abusive practices of the Church. Tavern disputes, tennis duels, 16th century lounge hits, and the slings and arrows of outrageous wit will tickle your brain into overdrive." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

My take: Hamlet meets Martin Luther, with Dr. Faustus and Helen of Troy in the mix as well. It's the sort of idea that might make for an extended comic sketch, but apparently playwright David Davalos has turned it into "a whimsical journey to 16th century Germany" that "offers tasty food for thought" (Mark Bretz, Ladue News). Ann Lemmons Pollack writes that Wittenberg is "all about wit, both mental agility and humor, and we get plenty of both here." Go thou and enjoy.

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