Keep Live Alive Saint Louis is a free 90-minute entertainment video special produced in St. Louis for the people who miss being able to attend concert events due to the pandemic.

More importantly, Keep Live Alive Saint Louis is about all the people behind the scenes who bring you concerts everyday – ushers, ticket takers, bartenders, wait staff, sound & lighting technicians, stagehands, backstage crews, the list goes on and on.

KEEP LIVE ALIVE SAINT LOUIS, the streaming video, will premiere the weekend of Friday, March 12 on both YouTube and Facebook Live. Links to the special will be on the participating Hubbard radio station websites and at KeepLiveAliveSTL.org. You can stream it any time on demand after the event.

Media partner of the project is Hubbard Broadcasting (KSHE-95, 106.5 The Arch, 92.3 WIL, and 105.7 The Point). Not only have Hubbard’s four music stations committed promotional support, but their key on-air personalities will co-host the video special.

By making a donation, you will be helping some of those people most affected by being laid off, waiting and wanting to come back to work producing your favorite concerts and live entertainment events.

When the pandemic hit, the live entertainment business was the first to close down and will be one of the last to reopen. Key venues in the St. Louis region went dark overnight, including The Fabulous Fox Theatre, The MUNY, The Pageant, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Enterprise Center, The Sheldon Concert Hall — the list goes on and on, all the way to the countless small local clubs and theaters.

Please contribute via the Donate tab as any amount large or small will help!

Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon is featured in the special

So, come join us along with Sammy Hagar, Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon), Pat & Danny Liston (Mama’s Pride), Michael ‘Supe’ Granda (Ozark Mountain Daredevils), Stan Kipper (Gypsy, Minnie Riperton), as well as local musicians Lady J Huston, Bell Darris and Roland Johnson, comedians Paula Poundstone, Greg Warren, and Joe Marlotti, and country recording artists Lindsay Ell, and Alexandra Kay – plus special guests Mark Klose, ‘Lern’ Ewell, and Favazz from KSHE-95. Joining them will be Rizzuto and Lux from 105.7 The Point, Mason & Remy and Kasey from 92.3 WIL with Courtney Landrum and Donny Fandango from 106.5 The Arch – plus many other special guests and performances!

Podcast partners Carl Middleman and Lynn Venhaus of Reel Times Trio are included. Carl is a longtime radio veteran and Lynn is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle and longtime movies/theater reviewer.

St Louis Classic Rock Preservation Society is a producer. They are dedicated to “preserve, promote and honor St. Louis’ unique classic rock heritage and its place in music and pop culture history.”

“I’ve never witnessed such enthusiasm and dedication from so many talented people to deliver a great show for St. Louis. Their
passion is what will make this 90-minute video special a very memorable event for all of us,” said Ron Stevens, Co-Executive Producer and Director of the special.

Helming the videographer duties is Co-Executive Producer Jack Twesten, who teamed up with Ron Stevens to produce the highly successful documentary, “Never Say Goodbye: The KSHE Documentary.”



“One of the nice things about having Weber Chevrolet as an underwriter of the special is that we have been able to hire a lot of the people that have been most affected by layoffs for our location and studio filming,” Twesten said.

Co-Executive Producer Greg Hagglund, who has spent the last 35 years producing and promoting live events across the globe, said he has enjoyed working on the project.

“Knowing a lot of the people personally that have been affected by the pandemic has left a marked impression on me. It’s a reminder of how many people work behind the scenes to produce a successful live concert or special event,” he said.

Follow us on Facebook: https://facebook.com/groups/keeplivealivestlouis

KEEP LIVE ALIVE SAINT LOUIS welcomes any inquiries from local businesses that would like to participate in the underwriting of the video special program.

With the St. Louis theater community continuing to be severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Louis Theater Circle has officially canceled its 2021 awards event.

The St. Louis area is now nearing the one-year anniversary of pandemic protocol, including the virtual shutdown of all in-person theatrical events since mid-March 2020, less than one-fourth of the way through the calendar year, on which nominations are based. So few productions were mounted in 2020 that there is no way to have an awards ceremony on a scale similar to the previous eight ceremonies hosted by the organization.

Some, if not most, of the more than 30 categories wouldn’t even have a full set of our traditional five nominees. After reviewing the numbers, Theater Circle members thus have voted not to hold our traditional presentation in 2021.

Gary Wayne Barker and Jerome Davis won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for “District Merchants” at New Jewish Theater in 2020.

With more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 every day in St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois as well as elsewhere, we look forward to the eventual return of live theater. Our hope at this time is to combine shows produced in 2020 with any mounted later in 2021 for consideration for nominations for our ninth annual event, which is tentatively scheduled for 2022.

The mission of the St. Louis Theater Circle is simple: To honor St. Louis professional theater. Other cities around the country, such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C., pay tribute to their own local theatrical productions with similar awards programs.

For more information, contact [email protected] or the St. Louis Theater Circle’s Facebook page.

The St. Louis Theater Circle members are: Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Tanya Seale at Broadway World; Tina Farmer at KDHX; Michelle Kenyon at Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts; and founding members Steve Allen, Stage Door STL; Mark Bretz, Ladue News; Bob Cohn, St. Louis Jewish Light; Gerry Kowarsky, HEC Two on the Aisle; Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX; Judy Newmark, Judy’s Second Act; Ann Lemons Pollack, St. Louis Eats; Lynn Venhaus, www.PopLifeSTL.com; and Bob Wilcox, HEC Two on the Aisle. Eleanor Mullin is the group administrator.

Laurie McConnell won her second Supporting Actress Award for “The Little Foxes” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio in 2019.

Last year’s virtual ceremony can be viewed here:

https://images.app.goo.gl/PPXhBF8AbSoNcbBh9

Photo of St Louis Theater Circle taken in 2017.

By Lynn Venhaus

All grown up now, Tom Holland, the current movie action hero Spider-Man, tackles the troubled title character in “Cherry.”

It is a fierce performance and challenging role for the likable actor, who is the main reason to watch this undisciplined misfire from the Russo Brothers, gods of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for their work on “The Avengers” series.

But even Holland’s monumental efforts cannot save this generic story from itself. He does the heavy lifting, but the dark material is as airless as his blacked-out home during drug binges. The romance is run-of-the-mill – eventually two co-dependent junkies – and heroin addict stories are a dime a dozen in movies.

Based on Nico Walker’s 2018 semi-autographical book, which he wrote in federal prison while serving time for bank robberies to feed his drug addiction, the adaptation takes a literary approach by dividing his life story (35 years!) into chapters.

They are marked by title cards and Holland serves as the straight-shooting narrator who breaks the fourth wall and is candid about the sordid details.

The 336-page book was adapted by screenwriters Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot into a 2-hour, 20-minute movie that could have benefitted from better editing. The book was praised for coming out during the opioid epidemic.

The film wants to be an epic journey, but doesn’t set itself apart in any way, except for some stylized shots, and the characters lack appeal to sustain any momentum.

The dope life – high, strung out, needing drugs, scoring drugs, drifting through life in a haze – drags out the inevitable narrative. Not sure how many times we need to see addicts vomiting — but have at it.

The story begins in suburban Cleveland. His younger man phase is as generic as possible – partying, trying to find purpose, falling in love. He is an aimless college dropout who joins the Army after his girlfriend breaks up with him. However, he reunites with Emily (Ciara Bravo), and they marry before he goes to boot camp. At 19, he is sent to Iraq and the story turns very dark. He is forever traumatized by his medic duties and personal tragedies.

Cherry is not an interesting character until his combat experience in the fiery hell of Iraq makes him grow up fast.

Joe and Anthony Russo set up the “War is Hell” message well – after all, they are good at the male camaraderie and action sequences.

Upon his return to Ohio, Cherry becomes a mess – sleepless, self-medicating and angry, he starts popping oxycontin, and things go from bad to worse. His wife, still looking very young, starts shooting heroin with him.

Walker was released early from prison in 2019, and the Ohio-born Russo Brothers began their movie journey in 2020.

For an unlikable character, Holland impressively shows a genuine range of emotions, displaying how much he can stretch from saving the world devotion.

Since 2016, he has played Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avenger series and his own spin-offs, starting with “Captain America: Civil War.”

The movie’s hefty supporting cast includes an impressive turn by Jack Wahlberg as Army buddy Jimenez, but there are a lot of characters who scream here – drill sergeants, scumbag low-life friends and upset girlfriends.

The point is? War is hell and drugs are bad? Don’t we already know this? Tell us a new version by illuminating rehabilitation after frittering most of your life away.

Will people walk away with fresh insight or just walk away? 

“Cherry” is a crime drama directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, based on Nico Walker’s 2018 novel. Starring Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Gandolfini and Jack Wahlberg, it is rated R for graphic drug abuse, disturbing and violent images, pervasive language and sexual content. In theatres Feb. 26 and on Apple + TV on March 12.

By Alex McPherson

Featuring an incredible lead performance from Rosamund Pike, “I Care A Lot” is a darkly comedic roller coaster ride from start to finish. 

Marla Grayson (Pike) bases her life around taking advantage of senior citizens through fraudulent guardianships. In an unforgiving world, she believes only the most cutthroat will succeed. Once she or her girlfriend, Fran (Eiza González), finds a well-off elder, Marla acquires court permission to install herself as their “legal guardian.” She then takes charge of their finances and imprisons them in a care facility where they’re cut off from the outside world — all the while draining the poor saps of their money and sense of self.   

Suffice it to say, Marla is a stone cold sociopath. She exerts a palpable influence on those around her and rarely loses control of any situation she’s in. When she targets Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), Marla garners the attention of Jennifer’s donut-loving son, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), who also happens to be a sadistic drug smuggler. Marla and Fran must reckon with the deadly consequences. 

With shades of “Sorry to Bother You” and “Uncut Gems” sprinkled throughout, director J Blakeson’s film makes up for its lack of substance with memorable characters and an unpredictable plot.

Indeed, there aren’t many sympathetic folks in this story of greed, opportunism, and the American Dream. Viewers looking for people to root for won’t find any here. On the other hand, much of the fun of “I Care A Lot” comes from watching them destroy each other in a bloody battle of wits. As the stakes escalate for Marla and Fran, the film only grows more entertaining — not holding up to much scrutiny, but clever enough to leave a lasting impression.

Marla is a cunning, calculating, and compulsive individual. She’s able to shift personas on a whim to match different situations, always aware of her manipulative power and unflinching in the face of threats to her personal safety. These threats are usually toothless, until now. Pike absolutely dominates the screen, capturing her character’s heartlessness in a way that dares viewers to question her strength. Marla will snatch any opportunity to increase her wealth, always planning two steps ahead of her competition. It’s undeniably satisfying watching her pull strings for her personal gain — her razor-sharp dialogue simultaneously humorous and disheartening. 

 A troubled past is alluded to, but Blakeson doesn’t give Marla an involved backstory. Rather, she is an enigma who nevertheless cares deeply for her lover, Fran. This bond, though underdeveloped, gives Marla a shred of humanity despite her vile behavior.

The film’s clean, glossy shot compositions early on reflect Marla’s mastery of an amoral system disguised by artificial warmth. Later on, however, we’re able to see Marla stripped of her safety and command of the proceedings. The film’s style changes accordingly, evocative of a graphic novel and the volatile figure at the heart of it.

Marla’s a compelling antihero, earning some hard-earned respect by the film’s conclusion, but always remaining emotionally distanced. The other characters aren’t nearly as interesting, but there’s still a few standouts. Dinklage gives a scene-stealing performance as Roman, an unstable crime boss who, in a neat twist, actually has more sympathetic motivations than Marla does. Wiest is also wonderful, keeping viewers on edge regarding who Jennifer actually is.

Propelled by an eerie, synth-heavy score by Marc Canham, “I Care A Lot” moves along at a swift pace, but falters a bit by its heavy-handed finale. Plot holes abound, and Blakeson misses an opportunity to explore Marla’s psychology in more depth. Similarly, the film doesn’t add anything particularly unique in terms of social commentary — spotlighting a real-world issue of corrupt conservatorships, but adding little else to the conversation, launching itself into the firmly unbelievable.

Regardless of its missed potential, “I Care A Lot” is still a dastardly enjoyable film that fans of pitch black comedy should lap up.

“I Care a Lot” is a dark comedy thriller written and directed by J Blakeson, starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Dianne Wiest and Eiza Gonzalez. It is Rated R for language throughout and some violence, and the run time is 1 hour, 58 minutes. Alex’s Rating: B+. Available on Netflix as of Feb. 19. 

By Alex McPherson
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s third feature directorial effort, “Crisis,” provides an ambitious and gritty look at America’s opioid epidemic.

Jarecki’s film centers around three individuals experiencing the issue from wildly different angles. Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman) is a biochemist and university professor testing a new “non-addictive” painkiller developed by Northlight, a large pharmaceutical company.

After running experiments on lab rats, Brower finds that the drug is, in fact, dangerously addictive. Unsurprisingly, both the company and Brower’s university aren’t too pleased with this conclusion. Northlight officials offer Brower’s university a large grant in exchange for falsifying the data — paving the way for its FDA approval. Brower becomes a whistleblower, and he must deal with the repercussions for both his personal and professional life.

Viewers also meet Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer, undergoing his own career in crisis), a law enforcement agent working undercover amidst Armenian and Canadian drug traffickers, the latter of whom is led by a burly sap named Mother (Guy Nadon). Kelly also cares for his unstable, drug-addicted sister, Emmie (Lily Rose-Depp). Pressured to make arrests by his newly hired supervisor, Garrett (Michelle Rodriguez), Kelly and his work partner, Stanley Foster (Jarecki), attempt to set up a sting operation by bringing the two rival groups together. Suffice it to say, complications arise, and the bodies start piling up.

But wait, there’s more! The film follows architect and former addict Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), who seeks revenge after her teenage son, David (Billy Bryk), is suddenly found dead in broad daylight, after having died from an apparent drug overdose. Reimann soon uncovers a deeper, more sinister plot. She desperately seeks answers as her world crumbles around her.

Whew, and all that unfolds in a two-hour film?! Yes, dear reader, “Crisis” provides a lot to chew on, to say the least. Even though the film’s emotional impact is undermined by a jack-of-all-trades approach, these stories, inspired from true events, still hold a certain power. 

Indeed, I appreciate the topics covered — showing how ordinary people become enveloped in an epidemic pervaded by violence and the preying of those less fortunate. Even though the film’s condemnation of corporate greed and the ways addiction destroys lives isn’t anything particularly new, this is still essential information, packaged into an accessible (though at times bland) thriller/modern noir hybrid.

As the film alternates between these three characters, “Crisis” effectively puts a human face on the suffering inflicted by profiteers on the general population. Reimann stands out in particular. She’s wracked with grief and driven by a fierce, self-destructive determination. We really feel for her, and Lilly’s performance, uncompromising and vivid, stands out from the rest.

Brower’s plotline involves a lot of sitting and talking, but remains compelling throughout. Of course, the shadiness of some pharmaceutical companies has long been clear, and it’s impossible for a single man to stand up to them. It’s easy to see the trajectory of Brower’s story, but the film provides several moments of righteous indignation, where Oldman (always an endearing actor) raises his voice and argues for truth over lies.

That brings us to Kelly. Although Hammer’s portrayal is a bit muted at times, his underlying rage is apparent. It’s a shame, then, that “Crisis” doesn’t let us spend more time with him and his sister outside of his undercover operations. The scenarios he finds himself in feel similar to practically every other crime film I’ve seen. 

What results is a film painted with broad strokes rather than a more focused exploration of any particular character. These stories would have benefited from a television-style format, where specific episodes are devoted to specific characters. Bouncing back and forth between them, “Crisis” doesn’t leave much time for reflection. Add to that a Hollywoodized finale that breaks from reality and ties some characters’ arcs up into a neat bow, and we have a film that ultimately underwhelms.

Similarly, Jarecki’s filmmaking techniques are competent, but they lack flair or a distinctive style — clean and precise without remaining particularly memorable.

All this aside, “Crisis” is still highly watchable, and at times quite suspenseful. It’s a shame that recent revelations about Hammer will likely deter many viewers from watching it, as there’s much to enjoy, especially in regard to Reimann’s journey and Lilly’s heart-wrenching performance.

“Crisis” remains a solid recommendation, despite its overstuffed nature, and tackles subject matter that shouldn’t fade from public consciousness.

“Crisis” is a drama written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, starring Gary Oldman, Evangeline Lilly, Armie Hammer, Lily-Rose Depp, BIlly Bryk and Greg Kinnear. Rated R for drug content, violence, and language throughout, the run time is 1 hour, 58 minutes. It will be released in theaters Feb. 26 and on video on demand March 5. Alex’s Rating: B

By Lynn Venhaus
Feb 22, 2021. In personal remarks, President Biden led a tribute for the 500,000+ lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic that had tp resonate with all those grappling with bereavement.

In a candlelight ceremony, with a moment of silence for all those who have died this past year — more lives lost than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined — we were able to mark this enormous loss.

Biden’s empathy and firsthand experience with heart-shattering grief are important now, meaningful words to comfort those grieving. He is the man for the moment.

Around 2,000 people die from the disease every day on average (data from Johns Hopkins University), which is down from a high of more than 3,000 a day on average in mid-January. Last month, the coronavirus was the leading cause of death in America. To date, 28 million people have tested positive in U.S.

The eloquence today consoled a nation, with sincerity and sympathy. Throughout the year, though, we knew how wise and heartfelt his words on grief were. — really ever since his book on his son Beau’s death from cancer at age 46. And in a first, the night before the inauguration, they light Lincoln Memorial in a ceremony that was so very touching.

Collective grief is important. I am still grieving two major losses in 2018 and 2019, and all I can say is, it’s hard. So many triggers. It is not something you ever get over. Some days are better than others. But the kindness and compassion of friends and family help.

Joe Biden’s words have helped me navigate mourning, time and time again.

Ok, critics will say he’s longwinded, and whatever else they want to hurl at him, but he rolled up his sleeves and went to work for all Americans. Actions do speak louder than words. And we see that it’s about us, not him. His teams are working to reset some sort of normalcy to American life. And to try to end the political angle and disinformation about the virus.

His approval rating was 62% last week, which is remarkable. I ask all those who didn’t vote for him to give him a chance – I have always done that with people I didn’t vote for (even #45, but then after a few weeks, it was worse than I could ever imagine in a bizarro world that have been documented many times and we don’t have time to rehash. Moving forward. But the contrast is stunning.

Joe is a devout Catholic, a man of faith. It’s refreshing to have a president who actually prays daily — and without a big show or arranging a photo op. People can tell he is a decent man who really cares about others. Attack his policies, his viewpoint, and work towards solutions if you do, but as a country, he is addressing what needs to be done, and we need to do our part. He inherited a huge mess, not to mention the deep scars of the Big Lie.

We are desperate for leadership, strength, peace, support and reassurance.

The pandemic has changed us all. I experienced a mild case of it, and it’s terrifying, but thankfully, I recovered, and pray for many people daily who are hospitalized or for their families who have lost loved ones — a number in that growing statistic. It’s devastating and it’s real. Biden said: “Resist becoming numb.” We must. We must fight.

Godspeed, frontline workers, first responders, those dealing with coronavirus, our leaders to help get the vaccines to as many people as possible, and all those concerned about our fellow man in these dark times. Need something positive? Look for the helpers.

Here’s the whole ceremony:

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/biden-honors-lost-covid-19-76054180

By Alex McPherson

Studio Ghibli’s latest project, “Earwig and the Witch,” is a bland film lacking depth and imagination.

The story, based on Diana Wynne Jones’ book, follows Earwig (Taylor Paige Henderson), a young girl living in an orphanage in the British countryside. As a baby, she was abandoned by her mother (Kacey Musgraves), a witch fleeing powerful forces seeking her demise. Earwig, quite a bubbly individual, is content living there with her pal, Custard (Logan Hannon), and has zero interest in moving away.

Her fortunes change when she’s adopted by an imposing, scraggly haired witch named Bella Yaga (Vanessa Marshall) and her spindly, short-tempered husband named Mandrake (Richard E. Grant). Earwig becomes Yaga’s servant — mopping floors and preparing ingredients for her potions. She soon befriends a talking cat named Thomas (Dan Stevens). “Coraline,” much? As the days pass by, Earwig is trapped within this toxic household, unless she can find a way out.

Before all else, dear readers, we must address the film’s controversial animation style. Eschewing the hand-drawn techniques typical of other Studio Ghibli films, “Earwig and the Witch” relies entirely on computer-generated imagery. As a result, environments are rendered with striking attention to detail, but characters’ facial expressions lack nuance, leaving them lifeless and difficult to latch onto. Similarly, characters bluntly explain what they’re feeling at any given moment, perhaps attempting to compensate for their doll-like appearances. 

Director Goro Miyasaki (the son of legendary director Hayao Miyasaki) should be commended for breaking from tradition, I suppose. Regardless of the animation, “Earwig and the Witch” still ends up being a rather stale affair.

Unfortunately, Earwig remains irritating from start to finish. She’s fearless and perpetually optimistic. Miyazaki effectively juxtaposes her initial freedom with the repressiveness of her new environment, but she fails to grow in any meaningful way over the course of the film. Ironically, the life lessons we’re force-fed later on don’t apply to Earwig herself.

As she investigates her surroundings, the pacing slows to a crawl. Indeed, “Earwig and the Witch” extends the dullest aspects of her predicament to fill the entire runtime, becoming repetitive and mind numbing leading up to its exposition-packed conclusion. Nothing much of importance happens, as Earwig and her feline companion (primarily relegated to comedy relief) wander around aimlessly without a clear objective. Shouldn’t they want to escape? There’s no driving force to this plot, and little preventing me from watching something else.

Everything changes in the last 15 minutes, however. We’re bombarded with backstory that’s far more compelling than anything Earwig’s involved in, a sad reminder of the film that could have been. Additionally, the visuals stay frustratingly limited until the finale — providing fleeting moments of spectacle that the film should have embraced more consistently. Familiar themes are broached, including music’s communal power, but little stands out, and the end credits sequence leaves more emotional impact than anything in the main plot. 

At least the voice cast does an acceptable job with what they’re given. Grant stands out in particular, conveying Mandrake’s grumbling, volatile demeanor in an intimidating fashion.

Small children might enjoy the film’s simplistic narrative and cutesy, occasionally spooky vibes, but everyone else should steer clear and (re)watch “Coraline” instead. It pains me to write this, as a Studio Ghibli fan, but “Earwig and the Witch” just feels pointless.

“Earwig and the Witch” is an animated fantasy adventure film directed by Goro Miyasaki. It is rated PG for some scary images and rude material and run time is 1 hour, 22 minutes. Alex’s Rating: C-

Campy, quirky, sexy and deeply emotional comedy runs through Feb. 28

In an effort to provide access to the best virtual programming in the nation, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is proud to present the hilarious Hi, Are You Single?, available virtually through Feb. 28. Patrons who appreciate the cutting-edge works and the intimacy of The Rep’s Studio Series will fall in love with this autobiographical one-person show, called “compelling and fresh” by the New York Times.

Ryan is searching for love. Or a date. Or at least a hookup. From encounters with drag queens to platonic lap dances, writer/performer Ryan J. Haddad guides the audience through the gay dating scene while living with cerebral palsy, sharing his provocative take on intimacy, rejection and judgment.
“Ryan J. Haddad is one of the most compelling, authentic, funny, unapologetically open voices of the 21st century,” said Hana S. Sharif, Augustin Family Artistic Director at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. “I am excited to share his work with our community.”
Hi, Are You Single? is produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in association with IAMA Theatre Company. Directed by Laura Savia and Jess McLeod and originally developed by Laura Savia, Hi, Are You Single? was recorded in an intimate theatre setting with a live audience.
“I have wanted to introduce Ryan Haddad ever since I got to Woolly,” said Woolly Mammoth Theatre Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes. “He is a captivating storyteller who charms anyone he meets within seconds. Hi, Are You Single? asks us to examine sexuality through the lens of a queer man with a disability who is struggling to make meaning out of intimate interactions.”
Ryan J. Haddad is an actor, playwright and autobiographical performer based in New York. His acclaimed solo play Hi, Are You Single? was first presented in The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and continues to tour the country. Other New York credits include My Straighties (Ars Nova/ANT Fest), Noor and Hadi Go to Hogwarts (Theater Breaking Through Barriers) and the cabaret Falling for Make Believe (Joe’s Pub/Under the Radar). He has a recurring role on the Netflix series “The Politician” and has been featured on television in “Bull,” “Madam Secretary” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Haddad is a recipient of IAMA Theatre Company’s Shonda Rhimes Unsung Voices Playwriting Commission and Rising Phoenix Repertory’s Cornelia Street American Playwriting Award. 
Purchase an access code to view the online comedy Hi, Are You Single? via The Rep box office by calling 314-968-4925 or online at repstl.org. For $20, buyers will receive an email with a link usable any time through Feb. 28.
Hi, Are You Single? contains depictions and descriptions of sexual content, explicit language and discussion of ableism, racism, ageism and the stigmatization of HIV status. For more information, visit the Hi, Are You Single? page on repstl.org or call The Rep box office at 314-068-4025.

ABOUT THE REPERTORY THEATRE ST. LOUISThe Rep is the St. Louis region’s most honored live professional theatre company. Founded in 1966, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a fully professional theatrical operation belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, The League of St. Louis Theatres and is a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, Inc., the national service organization for the not-for-profit professional theatre. Visit www.repstl.org for more, and find The Rep on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.
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Article originally appeared in Arts For Life’s Feb. 18 newsletter. Article written by Kim Klick and Lynn Venhaus

After working as a professional actor and singer for more than 30 years in Las Vegas, including performing opera at the Venetian Hotel on the Strip, Kimmie decided to move back to her hometown.

To leave her comfort zone and start over at 45 years old was daunting.

“More than a few people thought I must have been crazy!” she said.

But she knew it was time for a change and she did have support.

She was hired to work at Nordstrom Department Stores and found an apartment in Valley Park.

“I thought I’d be satisfied with all of that, but I wasn’t. Frankly, I was quite miserable. I was lonely, broke and terribly homesick! Most of all, I missed performing.”

However, things slowly fell into place. She not only found her way into the St. Louis theatre scene but reconnected with childhood friends, settled down here and married Gregg Booker. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and found each other on Facebook.

She started researching St. Louis theater companies, sending out letters and headshots, hoping to be acknowledged, but no response.

One day in 2012, she came across an audition for an upcoming production of August Wilson’s “Fences” at Hawthorne Players.

“I hadn’t even heard of August Wilson! Can you believe that? Someone like me, who has done theatre her entire life, had not heard of August Wilson?”

She showed up, prepared but “terrified.”

“A little-known fact about me is that I had never done a ‘straight play’ before! I had always done musical theatre. So, to put myself in a position where I had to just ACT, well, it was unchartered territory for me, to say the least!”

She was offered the part of Rose, the long-suffering wife who is married to the lead character, Troy.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Fences” at the Hawthorne Players. Photo by Larry Marsh

“It’s one of the most important, historical, emotional, heartfelt roles to exist in American Theatre. I thought, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’” she said.
She did not need to fret.

“This was one of the best and most fulfilling theater experiences of my career,” she said.

For the record, August Wilson was not only an African American playwright, but also was an amazingly talented award-winning playwright who died too soon at the age of 60, Kidd-Booker explained.

“Fences” is part of Wilson’s celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle,” sometimes called “The Century Cycle,” in which he wrote 10 plays, each set in a certain decade of the 20th century.

Set in the 1957, it is the sixth play of the cycle, premiered in 1985, and like the others, explores the evolving African American experience and among other themes, examines race relations.

Troy is a Negro Baseball League player who now works as a garbageman – but can’t be a driver (yet). His bitterness is apparent and affects his family – wife Rose and sons Lyons and Cory, and disabled brother Gabriel.

“Fences” won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
“I am honored and privileged to say I performed in an August Wilson play! Being in an August Wilson play was both thrilling and terrifying. The context is historic and genuine and dramatic. His words are thoughtful and compelling and emotional,” she said.

 While “Fences” is her only August Wilson play to date, she said she is optimistic that moving forward, there will be more opportunities to educate, perform, explore and share the African American experience with everyone.

“Black History Month is just a drop in the bucket. But it is certainly a start. My hope moving forward is that we can continue to gain an understanding of each other and continue a dialogue and put fears to rest. We have many differences, but we must continue to be reminded that we are more alike than we’d like to think,” Kimmie said.

Before she debuted in “Fences,” after a year here, she was considering returning to Las Vegas.

But once she started rehearsals with the cast and crew, then bonding with everyone, she decided to stay.

“My love for theatre kept me here in St. Louis. As I began to meet other theatre people and make more and more theatre connections, I knew that this is where I belonged. These are my People!” she said.

As Eliza Haycraft in the original musical “Madam”

Kimmie recently became part of the AFL Board of Directors. She has won two Best Performance Awards for Best Featured Actress as Glinda in “The Wiz” at Hawthorne Players in 2014 and as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild in 2019.

She was nominated as Best Actress in a Featured Role as Sister Mary Hubert in “Nunsense” at Hawthorne Players in 2015 and as The Witch in “Into the Woods” at Curtain’s Up Theater in 2018.

Among her roles in regional professional theater, she played Tom Robinson’s wife in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as Lady Bird in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spellbound: A Musical Fable”and in the ensemble of “Sweeney Todd,” as “Aunt Missy” in The Black Rep’s “Purlie” and as Evangeline Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. In January 2020, she starred as brothel owner and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft in the original musical, “Madam.”

About August Wilson

August Wilson

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Penn., on April 27, 1945. His mother, Daisy Wilson, was of African American heritage. His father, Frederick Kittel, was a German immigrant.

As a child, Kittel attended St. Richard’s Parochial School. When his parents divorced, he, his mother and his siblings moved from the poor Bedford Avenue area of Pittsburgh to the mostly white neighborhood of Oakland. After facing the relentless bigotry of his classmates at Central Catholic High School, he transferred to Connelly Vocational High School, and later to Gladstone High School.

When he was 15 years old, Wilson pursued an independent education at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he would earn his high school diploma.

Following his father’s death in 1965, a 20-year-old Wilson adopted the pen name “August Wilson” — reportedly an homage to his mother — and declared himself a poet. In 1968, Wilson and a friend, Rob Penny, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater.

Wilson remained primarily focused on making it as a poet — largely to no avail — until moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1978.

Wilson wrote his first notable play in 1979,” Jitney,” for which he earned a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

The following year, his new play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was accepted at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference. The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.

“Joe Turner,” the second part of the cycle, opened on Broadway in 1988.He took home another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, this time for The Piano Lesson, following its Broadway premiere.

Wilson died of liver cancer on Oct. 2, 2005, in Seattle. His new play, “Radio Golf,” had opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Information from www.biography.com is included here.

Mrs. Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre 2018

By Lynn Venhaus
In a powerful feature-length film debut, Shatara Michelle Ford presents a gripping, relevant view of how traumatized women are still treated in the aftermath of sexual assault and the prevailing patriarchy about womanhood and consent.

Ford, who grew up in St. Louis, wrote and directed “Test Pattern,” which was shown at last year’s St. Louis International Film Festival. It won the inaugural Essy Award for best narrative feature, which is given to a film shot in St. Louis or made by a St. Louisan.

It’s about how an interracial couple’s relationship is tested after Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) is sexually assaulted and her live-in boyfriend Evan (Will Brill) drives her to several hospitals in pursuit of a rape kit.

Defying stereotypes, and with its exploration of identity and race, this work has flourished on the festival circuit, and as of Feb. 19, Kino Lorber is distributing it as a video on demand through their Kino Lorber Marquee platform (https://kinomarquee.com)

Ford’s realistic drama veers into psychological horror as everything about Renesha’s girls’ night with best friend Amber (Gail Bean) turns into a nightmare, from the predatory actions of brash e-commerce entrepreneur (Drew Fuller) to its day-after blurry, drugged, foggy trauma.

Not only does Ford delve into these ongoing systemic issues, but also features a frustrating quest to seek answers and justice that serves as an eye-opening indictment of health care inequities.

It is a lot to take on in one film, and Ford has much to say, but she uses one couple’s experiences as an intimate portrait of modern relationships and the framework to look at external forces affecting life today.

Using flashbacks in key moments, self-assured Ford establishes a loving opposite-attracts relationship between an easy-going white tattoo artist, Evan, a superb Will Brill, and a bright, beautiful black development director, Renesha, played shrewdly and delicately by Brittany S. Hall.

Interestingly, they meet during an innocuous girls’ night out of drinking and dancing. Their awkward encounters lead to a first date, then a first night together, then fast-forward to ‘now.’

As their mutual attraction has led to commitment, they have moved in together in a small starter house in Austin. Convincing in every way, their performances are intertwined in a truth.

Bored with the corporate world, Renesha has started a new job working for a non-profit, the Humane Society.  

That night, her pal Amber wants to celebrate, so she reluctantly goes to the Hacienda Social Club. Everything that unfolds screams “bad idea” – Amber, eager to party and already losing her inhibitions, falls prey to a pushy guy, Chris, (Ben Levin), who is toasting a business deal with his friend.

The flashy white guys keep the champagne flowing as they pressure each girl to drink more and dance – and despite Renesha’s repeated attempts at no, and that “I have a boyfriend,” she is stuck in this situation with her fun-loving friend, who is having a good time.

At some point, Renesha is slipped a “roofie,” the illegal date-rape drug Rohypnol, and when incapacitated, she is taken to Mike’s apartment, where he rapes her. She wakes up with little knowledge of how she got there or what happened.

A concerned and devastated Evan wants answers, insistently pursues a rape kit, but Renesha doesn’t want to go through the process. The tense journey does not go well, as each deal with their own emotional responses while facing the bureaucratic red tape of health care hell and a police report.

What is in no doubt is that they have been forever changed as a couple, tested both by gender roles and prejudice.

At only 88 minutes, the film leaves out some pertinent details, and the abrupt ending is not satisfying. But Ford’s flair for dialogue and crafting authentic characters is strong.

Cinematographer Ludovici Isodori’s has contrasted the two storylines masterfully, locations are well-chosen for a low-budget indie, while Robert Oyuang Rusli’s string-heavy score accents an entire gamut of emotions. Tchaikovsky’s “The Waltz of Flowers” from “The Nutcracker Suite” is a clever choice for a compelling scene.

Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power,” is used as the film’s tagline, and Ford has wisely applied it to a modern exploration of how women are conditioned about sex and consent. Add institutional racism from a black woman’s perspective and the power shifts between couples, and you get one potent thought-provoking film.

“Test Pattern” addresses similar territory that “Promising Young Woman” tackles and will add more to the national conversation.

Like the impressive female-directed and written 2020 social commentaries “The Assistant” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” with this film, Ford proves she is an exciting new voice. Her name can be included in the growing list of formidable female directors with something to say.

Shatara Michelle Ford

“Test Pattern” is a 2019 drama written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, starring Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill. It is not rated and the run time is 1 hour, 22 min. The film is available as a video on demand through Kino Lorber Marquee. Lynn’s Grade: B+