A couple of notes first though: I haven’t included the artists behind the scenes because this would just get too long. I haven’t indicated a “best” director, but I have mentioned who directed the shows I most enjoyed, so that should tell you something. I have also not included community theatre, again not because there haven’t been worthy productions, but for the sake of space. With those caveats in mind, then, here goes:
Occasionally in these musings the word “best” will be used because it’s simply the most appropriate adjective. The best musical I saw in 2010 is still running, but deservedly sold out, is The Last of the Red Hot Mamas at The New Jewish Theatre. So much talent is in one production, and the extraordinary music of the vaudeville era is so central to the show that it is called a “revuesical.” Three women who look nothing alike play Sophie Tucker as a teenager, a thirty-something, and her fine older self, and we never think about how little they resemble each other. Phoebe Raileneau, Johanna Elkana-Hale and Christy Simmons pull this off under the guidance of director/choreographer Tony Parise. The supporting cast, Troy Turnipseed, John Flack, Laura Ackermann, Marty Casey, and Keith Parker are multitalented in their several roles each. The live musical accompaniment is also top-notch.
My favorite plays of the year in no particular order are:
Crumble – Echo Theatre Company. Great ensemble work with a standout performance from Terry Meddows. Director: Eric Little.
Equus—HotCity Theatre Company. Awesome cast led by the versatile actor/director, Jim Anthony (who also was excellent in Muddy Waters’ Desire Under the Elms and directed two shows for Avalon, as well as appearing at The Muny). Director: Doug Finlayson
Evil Dead—Stray Dog Theatre. Just a buncha bloody fun. Director: Chris Owens
God’s Ear—Echo. Beautifully convoluted writing attempts to convey the emotions suffered when the unthinkable actually happens. Lovely work by Michelle Hand, Martin Fox, and the entire cast. Director: Eric Little
a feminine ending—NonProphet Theatre Company. Proves what good actors can do with a literate script, but no bells and whistles. Rachel Hanks is new to me, but I hope to see a lot more of her. Director: Robert A. Mitchell
Hamlet—St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. Shows what can be done with ALL the bells and whistles, and a full complement of excellent performers, especially Jim Butz in the title role and Anderson Matthews as Polonius. Director: Bruce Longworth
Laughter on the 23rd Floor—New Jewish Theatre. Best comedy ensemble of the year, hands down. Not a weak link in the bunch: Bobby Miller, Bob Harvey, Jordan Reinwald (who gave another noteworthy performance under the same director in Man of La Mancha at Insight Theatre), Kirsten Wylder, B. Weller, Gary Wayne Barker, and Christian Vieira. Alan Knoll, is a standout as a character based on the mercurial, manical comedy genius, Sid Caesar. Knoll has also had a great year overall; he was hilarious in November (at St. Louis Actor’s Studio) and in Dramatic License’s holiday production of This Wonderful Life, directing himself. “Laughter” Director: Edward Coffield.
Master Class—Stray Dog Theatre: And it was a “master class” to watch the amazing performance by Lavonne Byers as Maria Callas. Then, for her next trick, Byers turned into a psycho killer mama who could give Mother Bates a run for her money in HotCity’s Slasher (Director: Chuck Harper). Master Class Director: Gary F. Bell
The Chosen—Mustard Seed Theatre: Justin Ivan Brown is seemingly everywhere these days, and that’s a good thing because he’s amazingly versatile and consistently excellent. This whole cast gives standout performances, including Richard Lewis, as good as I’ve ever seen him, and Adam Moskal, David Chandler, and Jim Leibrecht, each contributing fine work.
Anton in Show Business—St. Louis Shakespeare. Another kick-ass ensemble, this one all-women with fine work from Nicole Angeli, Amy Kelly, Sabra Sellers, Gabrielle Greer and Maggie Murphy with the M.V.P. Award going to Andra Harkins for her portrayal of three vastly different male characters—all perfectly rendered. Director: Carolyne Hood
August, Osage County—Fox Theatre Productions. I thought about leaving this show out because it was the national touring company, but Estelle Parsons and her castmates were just too good in Tracy Letts’ well-wrought sprawling family drama to omit. Director: Anna D. Shapiro
State of Marriage was an original funny/sad/important-but-not-didactic original presentation by That Uppity Theatre. The quality of the sketches and performances varied from pretty good to brilliant, but the evening provided an enlightening ride on the “marriage bus” to Iowa where gay couples can be legally wed. Dieta Pepsi is the driver, Joan Lipkin is the playwright and director, and Sally Eaton and Linda Levy-Clark play one of the couples. Need I say more?
And some great performances not mentioned above: very early in 2010, Julie Layton was a dazzling Nora in St. Louis Actor’s Studio’s A Doll’s House; late in the year, Donna Weinsting was real and funny and tragic and strong as 80-year-old Jean in Another Home Invasion, a one-actor show at Echo; Kari Ely was an incandescent Mary Tyrone in Muddy Waters’ Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Sarajane Alverson as Alexa Vere de Vere in Stray Dog’s As Bees in Honey Drown—bejeweled, bewitching, bewigged, and altogether beguiling.
John Contini as the washed up alcoholic actor, Frank Elgin, in The Country Girl at Avalon Theatre; J. Samuel Davis and Amy Loui in Oedipus King at Upstream; Kevin Beyer as “Coach” in Dramatic License’s That Championship Season and in a very different role as Pablo Picasso in West End Player’s A Picasso; Evan Jonigkeit in High at The Rep as the drug-addled teenage hustler Kathleen Turner’s Sister Jamie tries to rehabilitate; Teresa Doggett as Shirley Valentine; Linda Kennedy in Helver’s Night at Upstream. And here the first shall be last: Joneal Joplin in the role he was born for, Miguel de Cervantes, a.k.a. Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha at Insight.
A few “Best Supporting” nods not mentioned above are in order also: Ben Ritchie and Chris Jones in Desire Under the Elms as the brothers who appear in the first 15 minutes, then leave for “Californ-i-A,” not to be seen again until the curtain call; Joshua Thomas as the tormented Jamie Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night (complete with a spot on American accent); Sisters Alexis and Tyler White as the teenaged Crump sisters believably and touchingly learning to adjust to a move to New York City after the untimely death of their mother in Mustard Seed’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy.
Production That on Reflection I Think Deserves a Better Review than I Gave It: Romeo and Juliet at The Black Rep. I didn’t beat it up, by any means, but I’ve found it has stayed with me. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Shakespeare, but this update to East St. Louis circa the late 1960s was one that actually worked.
The Best Theatres You Aren’t Attending: Tie: Echo and NonProphets. Google their websites and get on the mailing lists. “Like” them on Facebook. You don’t know what you’re missing.
Best Place to Watch a Play Tie: The Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, home of Insight. Comfortable seats, properly raked (except the first two rows which can strain the neck) but it’s a nice space, and The Gaslight Theatre, home of St. Louis Actor’s Studio and new base for Citilites. The chairs aren’t cushy, but the sightlines are good and there’s a bar next door that serves your wine in real glassware. The steps are kind of steep. . . well, maybe I’m being a bit too influenced by that real glass thing. (And props to Mustard Seed who started—as far as I know—and continues serving beverages in reuseable, therefore sustaintable glass.)
Best Concessions: The Stray Dog Bakery, Mustard Seed, and the Michael Brightman “With Love” Empire.
Please keep in mind that I didn’t see everything, and I’ve certainly left out some great work by oversight. So, the last category is: Best In Show: All of the St. Louis Theatre Companies, great and small, who make being a reviewer (and theatre geek) such a great pleasure. Thank you all so very much.
BY: ANDREA BRAUN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT