Wednesday, 11 December 2013 20:41

Of Mistletoe, Snowmen, and Pitchforks

Written by 

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Ah, the Holiday Season. The time to roast chestnuts down with St. Charles Traditions, see the lights at the Zoo, snuggle up at Tilles Park, and see a play about the depths of Hell.

Oh, but wait, but we’re talking about R-S Theatrics here, who never cease to jolt us out of our comfort zones and reinvent Holiday Traditions. 

The last run of their third season, R-S Theatrics ends the year with a helluva two-parter, Oh, Hell! and there is no Sugar Plum Fairy involved. Gone are Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come. They have turned up the fires roasting chestnuts and present two tales straight out of Hades: Bobby Gould in Hell by David Mamet and The Devil and Billy Markham by Shel Silverstein (yes, that Shel Silverstein).

Bobby Gould in Hell (directed by Christina Rios) opens in the Underworld’s waiting room, in fact. A man sits on a chair while another sits behind a desk eating a bowl of Red-Hots. We have an idea where we are, but we expected more brutality, more torture. After a few moments go by where the scene gets progressively funnier without any dialogue at all, the Devil himself finally arrives, angry he has been taken away from his fishing trip in order to deal with the new guy in the chair: Bobby Gould.

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Bobby gives tired and predictable pleas that he was a good man, that he did the best of his abilities to lead a good life. They engage in a verbal battle of right and wrong, good and bad, truth and fantasy, as Bobby holds fast to his idea that he has been wronged. The Devil believes otherwise and shows evidence to the contrary, noting several instances where Bobby has earned his eternal stint in the underworld: selfish thoughts, even threatening acts of violence on his girlfriend. Bobby still argues. He sees an out and he must find it somewhere. As for us, the audience, we also know it might be possible, a glimmer of hope in some dusty loophole. Upon the arrival of Bobby’s girlfriend, just as bewildered as Bobby that she has ended up in the waiting room of the worst kind, things take a hilarious turn. After a Femi-Nazi rant that would drive any man to violence, we wonder if Bobby Gould might actually be a saint. The smirk on his face reinstates this. But is this enough for the Devil to hand him his get out of jail free card? 

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The Devil and Billy Markham (directed by Robert Ashton) presents another side of the writer Shel Sileverstein (most known for writing about lights in attics and brassieres on camels), a one-man monologue of crackling wit and humour shouldered solely by GP Hunsaker. This devilishly raunchy series of poetry begins as though he is channeling Frost but quickly descends into a tale of the inferno: violence, greed, lust, and parody.

R-S Theatrics is reputable for providing fast-paced, intelligent scripts, and in the hands of lesser actors and a production crew lacking that instinctual comedic timing, things would fall flat. The actors play off one another with a sizzling, controlled energy, enjoying their meaty lines and moments when they are free to go over the top. Yet the tempo doesn’t change and doesn’t allow them to go too far. The action doesn’t flounder and silences are controlled. Though the two pieces are very different, directors Christina Rios and Robert Ashton are able to showcase both through effecting storytelling and manage to present them interrelated. Oh, Hell! provocatively challenges our senses head-on. It keeps the laughs going at a rapid speed and doesn’t let us get a chance to take a breath and be properly stunned. The production gives us much to think about in hindsight on the car ride home, but R-S Theatrics’s usual combination of daring and vulnerable provides plenty food-for-thought that has audiences coming back for more.

Oh, Hell! stars Mark KelleyPhil LevelingRachel TibbettsB. Weller, and GP Hunsaker, directed by Christina Rios and Robert Ashton.

Performances continue through December 12-15th, Thurs-Sat performance at 8pm and Sun performance at 7pm.

Tickets: $20 general admission, $18 students/older adults

Located at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind Ave., St Louis MO 63109