By Lynn Venhaus
At once an urgent call to action, historical political drama, and heart-wrenching story of love and friendship, “The Normal Heart” captures a specific time and place while resonating as a cautionary tale.

With an ensemble cast devoted to making every emotional beat authentic, Stray Dog Theatre’s brave and fearless production chronicles the growing AIDS crisis in New York City from 1981 through 1984, and how badly it was bungled.

It was a harrowing time, and gay activist Larry Kramer’s 1985 mostly autobiographical play is haunting as it conveys the confusion and chaos.

This work is a gripping account of how leaders in the gay community fought an indifferent, inefficient, and ineffective political system that ignored their plight until they couldn’t, as deaths were escalating in alarming way.

With a keen eye on the bigger picture, the company’s artistic director, Gary F. Bell, shrewdly directed principal character Ned Weeks’ journey from angry protestor to frustrated and furious advocate demanding change. It’s not just history, it’s personal.

During the early 1980s, Bell lived in New York City as the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome began decimating a terrified gay population. With the early years of another global pandemic not yet in the rearview mirror, Bell builds on that lack of knowledge and awareness to be relatable.

Many homosexuals were forced to live a closeted life, for fear of retaliation and being ostracized, or fired at work, or target of hate crimes. It was a very different time. And then, as the HIV/AIDS outbreak spread, so much fear and ignorance added fuel to the misunderstandings.

For those who remember living in the shadows 40 years ago, the pain of being unseen, unheard and dismissed during a growing public health crisis is palpable. Others who have been marginalized can identify, too.

Sarjane Alverson and Joey Saunders. Photo by John Lamb

Bell’s lean, cut-to-the-chase presentation focuses on perspective for the look back while being mindful of current parallels so that it feels contemporary and fresh.

In his best work to date, Peirick, a Stray Dog regular, brings an in-your-face intensity to Ned’s mission to make sense of what is happening while confusion reigns in the medical, political, and social circles in his orbit.

He shows how frightened Ned is for those around him, and how his laser-beam attention isn’t immediately shared by peers, much to his dismay. He pushes, he’s abrasive, he’s relentless – and eventually, he rattles the right cages and rallies others to see how the clock is ticking.

Newcomer Joey Saunders plays Felix Turner, a New York Times fashion writer who becomes involved in a serious relationship with Ned. When he is diagnosed with AIDS, how he deals with the decline from symptoms to the illness taking over his life is gut-wrenching and makes it deeply personal.

The other guys view their roles as important vessels, a duty they take seriously, as they all “go there,” daring to plumb emotions for a stunning depth of feeling.

In a dramatic turn as banker Bruce Niles, Jeffrey Wright pours out his anguish to tell how his lover died and the humiliation that followed, while Jon Hey melts down as the overwhelmed Mickey Marcus, frustrated by the lack of results.

It’s impossible not to be moved or not care about these people, to get into their heads and hearts as they confront the biggest health crisis of their time.

Stephen Henley, Jeremy Goldmeier, Stephen Peirick and Jon Hey. Photo by John Lamb

Characters get sick and die. Their lovers, co-workers, friends and family show symptoms and it doesn’t end well. Or those people refuse to accept and believe what is really happening.

Stephen Henley brings compassion to the Southern-style Tommy Boatright and Michael Hodges plays the dual roles of Craig Donner and Grady.

Three portray outsiders that are integral to the story.

A perfectly cast Sarajane Alverson is strong as Dr. Emma Brookner, who is in a wheelchair from childhood polio – a powerful visual. She is a crucial character who delivers the medical findings and sounds alarm bells

Jeremy Goldmeier has the thankless task of being the hard-edged municipal assistant Hiram Keebler and David Wassilak is buttoned-up Ben Weeks, Ned’s distant lawyer brother.

The austere set optimizes a growing set of file boxes as the HIV/AIDS cases surge and death toll mounts. Justin Been handled the scenic design and the sound work, punctuating the heightened emotions with dramatic instrumental music.

Kramer, always demanding, wanted to move the needle on tolerance and acceptance, which is why, 40 years later, this play has a far-reaching impact.

It is always hard to see so much time and energy spent on hate, even in historical context, but through art, there is also a glimmer of hope.

A play this pertinent has expanded its purpose at a time when we need to pay attention, for we must never forget. The organizers of today stand on the shoulders of giants, and Stray Dog is providing an important service to a new generation.

Stray Dog Theatre presents “The Normal Heart” from June 9 to 25, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with a Sunday, June 19, matinee at 2 p.m., at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee, in Tower Grove East. Tickets are only offered in physically distanced groups of two or four. For more information: www.straydogtheatre.org

Stephen Peirick and Joey Saunders. Photo by John Lamb

By Lynn Venhaus
Baz Luhrmann’s sensational and stylish spin on the man, the myth and the legend, “Elvis” restores the luster to the once fallen King of Rock ‘n Roll.

For those who may wonder why Elvis Aaron Presley is a cultural icon, this lovingly crafted film is the definitive exhibit A. There will be no doubt about how he became the rebel yell of a generation and shook up society’s norms in prim 1950s Eisenhower America. His raw, incandescent talent made such an impact as to forever change popular music.

Through Luhrmann’s trademark kinetic, frenetic method, he depicts a young Elvis (Chaydon Jay) as a church-going mama’s boy who grew up in poverty and how early black music influences shaped him into a soulful white singer.

That unique mix of rockabilly, country, Southern gospel, blues, and pop ballads that made Elvis stand out – and breakthrough racial barriers – is an aural delight, thanks to the massive teams of sound engineers and music technicians.

In a breathtaking and brilliant performance, Austin Butler scorches the screen as Elvis from teen heartthrob to red-hot superstar to Vegas comeback to drug-addled shell of his former self.

By bringing out Elvis’ humanity and how his identity was shaped, Butler puts an indelible stamp on one of the 20th century’s brightest supernovas. Dynamic in song, movement, and demeanor, the actor is mesmerizing in a classic “star is born” scenario.

Previously, he was Tex Watkins, one of the Manson family, in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and cast on a few television shows. It’s one of those magnetic star turns where everyone will now know who he is.

Welcome to the evolution. Luhrmann chronicles Elvis’ meteoric rise in vibrant vignettes as the singer’s sinewy sensuality electrified audiences. Oh, the scandals, the puritanical shock, and the excitement rippling through white middle-class America.

There isn’t much room for character development in the sprawling supporting cast, but the performers make the most of their brief screen time. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is memorable as a young B.B. King, hanging out with his white friend on Beale Street, while Kodi Smit-McPhee is under-used as singer Jimmie Rodgers, who helped introduce Elvis to the uninitiated.

Of significance is Sam Phillips (Josh McConville) of Sun Records, his smart receptionist Marion Keisker (Kate Mulvany) and DJ Dewey Phillips (Patrick Shearer), for without this power trio, there’d be no velvet Elvis.

Other music influences mentioned are David Wenham as country singer Hank Snow, Alton Mason as Little Richard, Gary Clark Jr. as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Yola as Sister Rosetta Tharp.

The technical work dazzles, with cinematographer Mandy Walker giving each decade a particular retro look. Editors Matthew Villa and Jonathan Redmond, who previously worked together on Luhrmann’s 2013 “The Great Gatsby,” wove news clippings, music, videos, period details and classic recreations for the ultimate sizzle reel.

Luhrmann’s wife and frequent collaborator, Catherine Martin, did outstanding work as both the costume designer and production designer, spotlighting the signature looks, humble beginnings and lavish lifestyle..

Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker

Luhrmann shows how Elvis, nicknamed “The Memphis Flash,” created a danger zone all by his lonesome. And how the naïve working-class ‘hillbilly’ and his unsophisticated parents Gladys (Helen Thomson) and Vernon (Richard Roxburgh) were taken advantage of by cagey con artist Colonel Tom Parker, who recognized a meal ticket and corralled the innocent young kid so he could pull the strings.

Part fraud, part genius promoter, Parker’s greed, power moves and deceptive practices are brought into sharper focus here, and for this sleazier damning portrait, a nearly unrecognizable Tom Hanks adopts a distinctive voice and dramatically changes his physical appearance. It’s rare to see Hanks as a villain, and takes some getting used to, as does the unusual vocal cadence.

As mastermind of the illusion, Parker is both credited and cursed in the screenplay co-written by Luhrmann, his longtime collaborator Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo +Juliet” and “Strictly Ballroom”), Sam Bromell and Jeremy Doner, with story by Luhrmann and Doner.

Luhrmann’s hyper-visual flourishes eventually find its rhythm and yields to a more conventional narrative. Now in the Army in 1958 to cool down his controversial gyrations– those swiveling hips on national television! His ‘rubber legs’! – his fateful romance with Priscilla Beaulieu is sweetly told.

Butler and DeJonge

Australian actress Olivia DeJonge, recently seen in the HBO limited series “The Staircase,” is a stable influence as the love of Elvis’ life. She was 14, he was 24 when they met while he was stationed in Germany. After a seven-year courtship, they were married in 1967 and divorced in 1973. Butler and DeJonge make the coupling work as the calm eye in the hurricane.

The movie really takes flight when it tackles how the social upheaval of the 1960s affected art and became a catalyst for pop stars wanting to be relevant. Elvis was on the verge of has-been territory as his popularity waned after a string of movie flops. His entourage, aka The Memphis Mafia, had grown unwieldy. But his trusted asset, talent manager Jerry Schilling (Luke Bracey), is an integral part of the trailblazing.

You can describe Elvis in many ways, but bland isn’t part of the vocabulary. The entertainer knew he needed a makeover, and he shrewdly enlisted record producer Bones Howe (Gareth Davies) and director Steve Binder (Dacre Montgomery) to recharge his image so he mattered again.

This is best demonstrated by the fascinating behind-the-scenes sequence of the “Singer Presents Elvis” TV special set for airing on Dec. 3, 1968. Can you imagine The King wearing a Christmas sweater and singing carols? That’s what the sponsor and Parker thought they were recording, but the hip cool people in charge pulled off a minor miracle – a thrilling combination of Elvis unplugged and off-the-charts charisma that cemented his live solo stature. Now known as the “Comeback” special, it was the highest rated show for NBC that year, and often imitated thereafter.

His back-on-top transformation reignited a fire within, and Elvis returned to live performances, establishing residency in Vegas.

But Elvis’ downward spiral in the 1970s can’t be avoided, and neither can what eventually led to his untimely death at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977.

While Elvis’ remarkable life is more material that can be contained in one feature, this film delivers the key moments for a sympathetic, complex, yet tragic, portrait. With a singular vision, Luhrmann hits the sweet spot as he achieves a new appreciation for rock ‘n roll royalty. And that’s all right.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley

“Elvis” is a 2022 biographical drama directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge and Kelvin Harrison Jr. It runs for 2 hours, 39 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking. It is in theatres on June 24. Lynn’s Grade: A

By Lynn Venhaus

Dateline June 8, 2019 and now

A wonderful night that I only attended because the film school professors chose to name an award in memory of Tim that year.

Three years ago seems like a lifetime ago.

During a meeting they arranged with us in January 2019, when Charlie and I were up in Chicago to move Tim’s things out of his apartment, three professors from DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts told us they wanted to honor Tim in some way. Which really was incredible after knowing him such a short time — but he had made such an impact on them — so of course I had to be there when they gave out the Tim Venhaus MFA Thesis Feature Screenplay three years ago.

James Gosling, winner, and me, Tim’s proud mama

I was fortunate to meet the winner, James Gosling, and his lovely wife, Janna, and they could not have been nicer, indulging me with their time. I ask him to send me the script, and he has terrific potential. He earned his MFA, is living in Chicago, and has written several more screenplays. I’ll be paying attention.

As I sat in the audience at the Music Box, I watched all the student filmmakers celebrate the end of their school year with the annual festival. There is always so much passion, energy and camaraderie with creatives, and I wondered if I had been here for normal reasons, who would Tim have introduced me to, and if he would have had something in the running.

Those dreams died with him. but his classmates have moved on to pursue theirs. I was fortunate to meet some of them in January and at this event, and I hope they are pursuing their passions. They had to navigate the pandemic, so some have been delayed in finishing projects and degrees.

I enjoyed watching the student works, and even voted on the Audience Award.

I had never seen Tim as happy as the day he was accepted into the DePaul MFA Screenwriting Program in March 2018. He had painstakingly complied with all the requirements – submit an essay, a 3-page screenplay using “two strangers in a car, Fourth of July” and recommendation letters. And links to his previous work. He made the cut for a finalist interview, and after the Skype face-to-face, he was notified that afternoon. It was one of his life’s best moments.

When he had told me he was thinking about going back to school for an MFA in screenwriting, I had encouraged it. I didn’t think the coasts would work out for him, so I suggested DePaul, because I had heard good things — and it was Chicago. Bingo! It really was a perfect fit.

He moved there Labor Day Weekend, sharing an apartment with an old friend in Logan Square. When he was home on holiday break, he was on fire talking about the classes he was going to take the next trimester, which would start Jan. 5, 2019. He was looking for his grades online, talking about his professors and classmates in reverent tones. He was proud of his screenplay, “Dad Eat Dog,” which was the hit of the class table read and he knew he had received an A.

He had been hired by a performing arts high school in Naperville to teach filmmaking in an after-school program, to start in January. He was so very excited about what’s ahead. But he did not live past Dec. 9, 2018, a week after his 34th birthday.

Among the phone calls I had to make after Christmas was to let DePaul know he wasn’t coming back, and I notified those professors he had spoke so highly of — an outpouring of glowing tributes and touching words of comfort, and to reach the high school that had hired him. What might have been. It was hard to imagine the life he would have been living at that time. I can’t let myself wonder what might have been.

Of that period of putting his life in the past, I spoke to many people and received touching notes. in the But it makes my heart happy to hear from Tim’s fellow filmmakers on what they’re up to, and their kind words. One SIUC grad sent me some of his student films that Tim had acted in, and it was like he was so present. Another DePaul student told me “he was a real gift to that class.”

Never underestimate the kindness of strangers in tough times — it’s like a ‘god wink.’

I must look up what some of those kids who won that night three years ago are up to — and DePaul was such a great program, I can’t speak highly enough.

Life goes on, and art is forever.

By Lynn Venhaus
The sixth and final installment of the “Jurassic” series is ridiculous, weird, and messy.

 In a new era, dinosaurs now live and hunt alongside humans all over the world. Four years after Isla Nublar was destroyed and this fragile balance has reshaped people’s lives, there’s another threat. The original trio starring in the movie that started it all in 1993 joins the cast of “Jurassic World” for “Dominion.”

Far too long at 2 hours and 26 minutes, two plots struggle to make sense with little connection, chemistry, and concern. Boring and repetitive, not only does the story not grab hold, but loses steam quickly.

Bad ideas abound in this screenplay co-written by Emily Carmichael and director Colin Trevorrow, with story by Derek Connolly and Trevorrow. He also helmed the overstuffed and head-scratching “Jurassic World” in 2015. He did not return for the second instalment, “Fallen Kingdom,” for J.A. Bayona was at the helm in 2018. That story set up this sequel – involving governments capturing the dinosaurs, the evil black market and big bad Biosyn.

Oscillating in tone because of sprawling set pieces that take us to the Sierra Mountains in Nevada, the dusty farmland of west Texas, an exotic Malta location where it briefly resembles a James Bond spy thriller, and the Dolemite Mountains in Italy, the film sputters in giving us too many characters in what quickly becomes a convoluted and dense storyline trying to tie the two trilogies together.

Chris Pratt as Owen Grady

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, the manufactured couple who survived the previous two “Jurassic World” movies, are protecting the cloned granddaughter of “Jurassic Park” owner John Hammond – but evil dudes lurk in the shadows ready to pounce. They have formed a de facto family out in the wilderness — but Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is 14 and rebellious. You know what’s going to happen before you see the cartoonish Bond-like thugs appear.

Meanwhile, it is a welcome sight to reunite paleontologists Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill) with chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) 29 years after the sensational original “Jurassic Park.”

While all fine actors and apparent good sports, they can only do so much saddled with this everything and the kitchen sink plot – let’s add megalomaniac mastermind Lewis Dodgson, played by Campbell Scott, in the cookie-cutter mold of Steve Jobs, which is now a villain requirement of every blockbuster-comic book movie.

Dodgson’s nefarious Biosyn Genetics, which won the contract to shelter the dinosaurs at their compound in the Dolemite Mountains, is the source of impending doom because their genetically engineered locusts are creating a plague that will ruin the world’s eco-system. Enter his partner in crime, mad scientist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong,) a character in several installments, who has a new twist to reveal.

So, it becomes a race against time as the three old-school science nerds gather evidence to take the corporate behemoth down all the while raptor handler Owen Grady and his lady love Claire Dearing, former manager of the Jurassic World theme park, try to rescue their daughter.

Oh, wait – there are dinosaurs in this movie! You might be curious about these hulking prehistoric genetically engineered beasts that now roam the earth again, but don’t exactly live in harmony with the humans.

The fact that they attempt to convince you this rather alarming occurrence is a good thing defies logic. Seriously, I already questioned the sanity of returning over and over to that island – I mean, it’s like the cast of “Lost” going back. Do you not remember what happened the last time? Of course they’re going to wreak havoc, and it’s even more ludicrous.

What started out as director Steven Spielberg’s dazzling, magnificent achievement of landmark computer-generated images, Oscar-winning visual effects and a genuinely frightening science-fiction disaster story from Michael Crichton’s bestselling novel “Jurassic Park” in 1993 has been reduced to repetitive gimmicks in the successive ones..

Trevorrow, in another example of lazy filmmaking, gives us more shots of sharp-toothed dinosaurs nipping at the heels of our escaping heroes over and over and over again.

Remember how good Owen was at training raptors? They go to that well again, adding more for multiple chase scenes and concocting a preposterous pet-like story thread home on the range.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing

However, one of the earlier set pieces is a high-octane thrill as “thoroughbred” atrociraptors are unleashed and in hot pursuit of Owen on a motor-scooter.

“Dominion” is not going to let us go without a big apex predator battle reminiscent of Godzilla vs. King Kong.

But this method of throwing every conceivable obstacle in the paths of the righteous gang turns dull and butt-numbing. Snow, ice, oceans, lakes, mountains, planes, trains, jeeps, helicopters, parachutes, science laboratories and amber mines – what could go wrong?

By nature of green screen acting, the cast is on the run most of the film, but the women do fare better than expected. At least Howard is no longer running in heels and Dern has sensible athletic shoes on throughout.

Supporting players DeWanda Wise as fearless pilot Kayla Watts and Mamoudou Athie as brilliant scientist Ramsay Cole, Dodgson’s right-hand man, are appealing additions.

“Jurassic World: Dominion” is unfortunately being released after worldwide panic during the coronavirus pandemic, and let’s just acknowledge it’s a strange juncture in history, With the rough navigation of the past two years, do I really want to be worried about dinosaurs in my backyard? No thank you to another source of nightmares.

How even more chaotic could the world be? Turns out a lot. Not sure I want to go there, for it isn’t the escape most summer tentpoles position themselves to be.

The legacy characters work, but the centerpiece second trilogy headliners struggle to find footing. Pratt and Howard have little chemistry, but genuinely convey parental concern for Maisie. Likeable Pratt seems to be there merely to stare but Howard has more heavy-lifting to do, wiggling out of jams that require great physical prowess.

Do not think too hard about the mind-boggling lapses in judgment here. Crichton was right to end his journey with “The Lost World.”

“Jurassic World: Dominion” is cinematic junk, a tired cash grab that will go down as the worst in the six-movie franchise. And please refrain from visiting that well again, for it has dried up like the DNA in the fossils.

“Jurassic World Dominion” is a 2022 action, adventure, science fiction, thriller directed by Colin Trevorrow and starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, some violence and language, it runs 2 hours, 26 minutes. In theaters June 10. Lynn’s Grade: D

Blue and Beta

Don’t have tickets yet? Some seats remain for Arts For Life’s 22nd Best Performance Awards at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, which will honor excellence in community musical theater and youth productions.

It will be the first time the annual event is live and in-person since 2019. Musical numbers from eight nominated musicals “Annie,” “Cabaret,” “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “Fun Home,” “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” “Nunsense,” “Shrek,” and “Young Frankenstein” will be performed.

This year’s venue is the Clayton Ballroom at the Frontenac Hilton, 1335 S Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis 63131. Seating will be general admission theater-style seating.

Formal attire is requested. Face masks are recommended. A cash bar and light snacks will be available for purchase.

Veteran performers and BPA winners Gerry and Kay Love are the co-hosts, and Kimmie Kidd-Booker, another BPA winner and AFL board member, will join the Loves for the opening number.

This year’s BPAs include nominees from the shortened 2020 and 2021 theater seasons. Winners will be announced in 30 categories.

The Gateway Center for the Performing Arts’ youth musicals “Annie” and “Cabaret” earned 25 nominations – 14 and 11 respectively, to lead all groups.

Goshen Theatre Project in Collinsville, Ill., received the most community theater nominations, 16, with 11 for “Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast” and five for “Nunsense.”

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild in Kirkwood, Mo., earned 12 for the musical adaptation of the fairy tale “Shrek,” while St. Louis’ Take Two Productions received 10 for their regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical “Fun Home.”

The Hawthorne Players in Florissant, Mo., received eight nominations for the jukebox musical comedy “The Marvelous Wonderettes” while Monroe Actors Stage Company of Waterloo, Ill., garnered seven for the Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation “Young Frankenstein.”

Charlie Wehde will receive a special youth musical recognition award. He was honored for the Best Youth Musical Performance for his portrayal of Jack in “Into the Woods” at DaySpring Academy.

AFL’s annual pair of talent scholarship recipients will be announced. Honorees must pursue an arts career in higher education.

The annual event was held virtually in 2020 but cancelled in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“These events recognize the incredible talent we have in St. Louis community theater and honor the passion and dedication of those who build this amazing and unique theatrical community,” said Mary McCreight, president of Arts For Life.

Arts For Life is a local not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to the healing power of the arts through its work with youth, the underserved, and the community, with its goal of “Making a Dramatic Difference.”

AFL is dedicated to promoting public awareness of local community theatre, encouraging excellence in the arts, and acknowledging the incredible people who are a part of it in the St. Louis metropolitan and metro-east Illinois region.

Nominations were announced Jan. 22 at the annual Trivia Night, which was a virtual event held during a surge in the Omicron variant cases of COVID-19 last winter. They are listed on the website at www.artsforlife.org.

Starting in mid-March 2020, productions were postponed and canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, and safety precautions have been a priority for performers and performances because of the public health crisis. Theaters are no longer dark, and judging resumed in 2021.

“While we did about half the usual number of shows in 2021, it did not diminish Arts for Life’s vision for a community recognition program,” McCreight said.

Prior to the pandemic, 15 theater groups and 10 youth-only groups participated in the BPAs As the region’s mitigations efforts were ongoing the past two years, only four youth-only groups and nine community theater organizations produced BPA-eligible musicals 2021.

BPA tickets are $25, They are available online with a service fee of $2 added: https://arts-for-life-2.square.site/ and can be picked up at the box office on event day.

For special seating needs or COVID-19 related concerns, contact [email protected]. Handicapped seating is available

Groups participating in this year’s BPAs include Christ Memorial Productions, Dayspring Arts and Education, Gateway Center for the Performing Arts, Goshen Theatre Project, Hawthorne Players, Kirkwood Theatre Guild, KTK Productions, Looking Glass Playhouse, Monroe Actors Stage Company, O’Fallon Theatre Works, OverDue Theatre, and Spotlight Productions.

For more information, visit the website at www.artsforlife.org

The Tesseract Theatre Company is moving to the Marcelle Theatre with two new plays by local playwrights. The St. Louis premieres of “The Length of a Pop Song” by Taylor Gruenloh and “All That Remains” by JM Chambers will open in July.

“The Length of a Pop Song,” directed by Karen Pierce and featuring the cast of Rhiannon Creighton, Donna Parrone, and Kelvin Urday, will run July 8 – 17.

“All That Remains,” directed by Brittanie Gunn and featuring the cast of Luis Aguilar, Melody Quinn, Morgan Maul-Smith, Nyx Kaine, Sherard Curry, and Victor Mendez will run July 22 – 31.

Performances will be Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm.

The Length of a Pop Song by Taylor Gruenloh: Lex has no choice but to move back into her parent’s house after another incident of self-harm. Her mother wants to help prepare her for an upcoming trial against an adult website hosting non-consensual videos of Lex, but Lex can’t find a reason to look forward to tomorrow.

All That Remains by JM Chambers: Gary survives a school shooting and isn’t dealing with the trauma well. Gary’s wife Elaine is trying her best to hold it all together, take care of Gary, work, pay the bills, and deal with her own sadness. Gary and Elaine can’t go on living this way forever and soon they both reach a breaking point.

The Marcelle Theatre is located at: 3310 SAMUEL SHEPARD DRIVE, SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI 63103

Tickets are available for both plays at MetroTix.com. $20 for general audience and $15 for students.

Questions can be sent to Tesseract Theatre at [email protected]

Winners to be Announced at Gala Ceremony June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza

The Fourth Annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards will recognize excellence in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms.

The annual event returns to an in-person ceremony and gala this year, taking place on June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles. Bob Bain and Joey Berlin will serve as Executive Producers. Michelle Van Kempen also executive produces the show. 

Hosts are The Sklar Brothers (Randy and Jason Sklar), St Louis natives, are actors, comedians and television and podcast hosts. The brothers notably hosted and produced History Channel’s “United Stats of America” and created and starred in the ESPN cult hit series “Cheap Seats,” besides being guest hosts on “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle.” The Sklars can next be seen on “The Nose Bleeds,” a hilarious deep dive into UFC’s history that will launch this summer on UFC’s Fight Pass streaming service.

Presenters include Alan Tudyk, Amir Mathis, Carrie Ann Inaba, Chris Hardwick, Chrishell Stause, Chelsea Lazkani, Christine Chiu, Dashaun Wesley, Derek Hough, Garcelle Beauvais, Judge Mathis, Kandi Burruss, Kathy Griffin, Kevin Kreider, Linda Reese Mathis, Michelle Visage, Padma Lakshmi, Rob Riggle, Tracy Tutor, Tyler Henry, and many more special guests.

The Critics Choice Association and nonfiction producers’ organization NPACT unveiled the nominees on May 14 for the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards, which recognize excellence in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms.

The annual event returns to an in-person ceremony and gala this year, taking place on June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

“Top Chef” leads this year’s nominations, earning nods in five categories including Best Competition Series, Best Culinary Show, and Best Ensemble Cast in an Unscripted Series, with Padma Lakshmi earning nominations for Best Show Host and Female Star of the Year. Netflix leads the networks, having projects recognized in 20 categories.

“Given its ongoing popularity across broadcast and cable networks, streaming services and other platforms, it’s clear that unscripted programming is deserving of special recognition by the Critics Choice Association,” said Ed Martin, President of the Critics Choice Association’s TV Branch. “The exciting programs and diverse personalities selected by our five nominating committees represent the best that this multi-faceted genre has to offer. The fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards ceremony promises to be our most exciting yet.”

The Sklar Brothers

Said NPACT General Manager Michelle Van Kempen, “The amazing depth and quality of unscripted programming is evident in this year’s nominees, and we’re especially excited to be able to pay tribute to them and the entire unscripted community at an in-person gala, after two virtual years. It’s truly an honor to collaborate with the Critics Choice Association to celebrate the excellence and innovation of nonfiction content

The Critics Choice Real TV Awards were launched in 2019 as a large-scale awards platform to give the robust (and still growing) unscripted genre critical attention and support. The awards celebrate programming across platforms, and also recognize industry leaders with special awards highlighting career achievements.

The Critics Choice Association monitors all awards submissions and selects the nominees in all competitive categories. Blue-ribbon nominating committees made up of CCA members with expertise in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming determine the nominees. Winners will be chosen by a vote of the CCA membership. NPACT leads the selection of non-competitive discretionary awards and awards for platforms and production companies.

About NPACT

NPACT is the trade association for nonfiction production companies doing business in the U.S. Its members are comprised of production companies of all sizes, as well as allied services companies. NPACT serves as the voice for the nonfiction creative community, providing a forum for producers as they navigate changes in media and tackle business issues. For more information visit NPACT.org.

NOMINATIONS FOR THE FOURTH ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE REAL TV AWARDS

BEST COMPETITION SERIES

Chopped (Food Network)
Making It (NBC)
RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
The Amazing Race (CBS)
Top Chef (Bravo)
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)

BEST COMPETITION SERIES: TALENT/VARIETY

Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
Finding Magic Mike (HBO Max)
Legendary (HBO Max)
Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (Prime Video)
Next Level Chef (Fox)
The Voice (NBC)

BEST UNSTRUCTURED SERIES

Couples Therapy (Showtime)
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked (VH1)
The Kardashians (Hulu)
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
We’re Here (HBO)

BEST STRUCTURED SERIES

Catfish: The TV Show (MTV)
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network)
Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (National Geographic)
How To with John Wilson (HBO)
Sketchbook (Disney+)

Is it Cake? S1. Mikey Day in episode 5 of Is it Cake? S1. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

BEST CULINARY SHOW

Cooking with Paris (Netflix)
Crime Scene Kitchen (Fox)
Is It Cake? (Netflix)
Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST GAME SHOW

Family Game Fight! (NBC)
Holey Moley (ABC)
Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
Supermarket Sweep (ABC)
The Price Is Right (CBS)
Weakest Link (NBC)

BEST TRAVEL/ADVENTURE SHOW

Alone (History)
Family Dinner (Magnolia)
Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
The Amazing Race (CBS)
The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals (Netflix)

BEST BUSINESS SHOW

American Greed (CNBC)
Bar Rescue (Paramount+)
Million Dollar Wheels (Discovery+) 
Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
Shark Tank (ABC)
Undercover Boss (CBS)

Crikey! It’s the Irwins

BEST ANIMAL/NATURE SHOW

Crikey! It’s the Irwins (Discovery)
Critter Fixers: Country Vets (National Geographic)
Eden: Untamed Planet (BBC America)
Growing Up Animal (Disney+)
Penguin Town (Netflix)
The Wizard of Paws (BYUtv)

BEST CRIME/JUSTICE SHOW

911 Crisis Center (Oxygen)
Cold Justice (Oxygen)
Heist (Netflix)
Rich & Shameless (TNT)
Secrets of Playboy (A&E)
Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller (National Geographic)

BEST SPORTS SHOW

30 for 30 (ESPN)
Bad Sport (Netflix)
Cheer (Netflix)
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team (CMT)
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers (Prime Video)

Fixer Upper: Welcome Home

BEST RELATIONSHIP SHOW

90 Day Fiancé (TLC)
La Máscara del Amor (Estrella TV)
Love Is Blind (Netflix)
Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)
My Mom, Your Dad (HBO Max)
The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On (Netflix)

BEST LIFESTYLE: HOME/GARDEN SHOW

Celebrity IOU (HGTV)
Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia)
Houses with History (HGTV)
Married to Real Estate (HGTV)
Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles (Bravo)
Rock the Block (HGTV)

BEST LIFESTYLE: FASHION/BEAUTY SHOW

Glow Up (Netflix)
Love, Kam (SurvivorNetTV)
Making the Cut (Prime Video)
My Unorthodox Life (Netflix)
Project Runway (Bravo)
The Hype (HBO Max)

BEST LIMITED SERIES

Abraham Lincoln (History)
Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes (Netflix)
Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix)
Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo (Netflix)
Theodore Roosevelt (History)
We Need to Talk About Cosby (Showtime)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN AN UNSCRIPTED SERIES

Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
The Voice (NBC)
Top Chef (Bravo)

Trevor Noah

BEST SHOW HOST

Mayim Bialik – Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez – Desus & Mero (Showtime)
Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
John Oliver – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)

MALE STAR OF THE YEAR

Jeff Goldblum – The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
Robert Irvine – Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central
Phil Rosenthal – Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
Stanley Tucci – Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN)

FEMALE STAR OF THE YEAR

Samantha Bee – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
Kelly Clarkson – The Kelly Clarkson Show (Syndicated); The Voice (NBC); American Song Contest (NBC)
Joanna Gaines – Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia); Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
Selena Gomez – Selena + Chef (HBO Max)
Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
Sandra Lee – Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PROGRAMMING BY A NETWORK OR STREAMING PLATFORM

Discovery+
HBO Max
Hulu
Netflix
TLC

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PRODUCTION

Bunim/Murray Productions
The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC)
Kinetic Content
Raw TV
Sharp Entertainment
World of Wonder

Jeff Goldblum

The MTV Movie & TV Awards returned, with Vanessa Hudgens as host of the live ceremony and Tayshia Adams hosting the second part – Unscripted.

Jack Black was honored with the Comedic Genius Award, while Jennifer Lopez accepted the Generation Award. She delivered an emotional speech, in which she thanked her kids, the people who gave her joy and her manager Benny Medina, as well as “all the people who told me to my face or when I wasn’t in the room that I couldn’t do this.”

Tom Holland and Zendaya won separate awards and for their projects. Here’s the list of winners:

SCRIPTED CATEGORIES

BEST MOVIE
Spider-Man: No Way Home — WINNER!
Scream
The Batman
The Adam Project
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Dune

BEST SHOW
Euphoria — WINNER!
Inventing Anna
Loki
Squid Game
Ted Lasso
Yellowstone

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A MOVIE
Lady Gaga, House of Gucci
Robert Pattinson, The Batman
Sandra Bullock, The Lost City
Timothée Chalamet, Dune
Tom Holland, Spider-Man: No Way Home — WINNER!

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A SHOW
Amanda Seyfried, The Dropout
Kelly Reilly, Yellowstone
Lily James, Pam & Tommy
Sydney Sweeney, Euphoria
Zendaya, Euphoria — WINNER!

Ryan Reynolds as Guy in 20th Century Studios??? FREE GUY. Photo by Alan Markfield. ?? 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

BEST COMEDIC PERFORMANCE
Brett Goldstein, Ted Lasso
John Cena, Peacemaker
Johnny Knoxville, Jackass Forever
Megan Stalter, Hacks
Ryan Reynolds, Free Guy — WINNER!

BEST HERO
Daniel Craig, No Time to Die
Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight
Scarlett Johansson, Black Widow — WINNER!
Simu Liu, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Tom Holland, Spider-Man: No Way Home

BEST VILLAIN
Colin Farrell, The Batman
Daniel Radcliffe, The Lost City — WINNER!
James Jude Courtney, Halloween Kills
Victoria Pedretti, You
Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man: No Way Home

BEST KISS
Hunter Schafer and Dominic Fike, Euphoria
Lily Collins and Lucien Laviscount, Emily in Paris
Poopies and the snake, Jackass Forever — WINNER!
Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz, The Batman
Tom Holland and Zendaya, Spider-Man: No Way Home

Ghostface and Jenna Ortega in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream.”

MOST FRIGHTENED PERFORMANCE
Jenna Ortega, Scream — WINNER!
Kyle Richards, Halloween Kills
Mia Goth, X
Millicent Simmonds, A Quiet Place Part II
Sadie Sink, Fear Street: Part Two 1978

BEST FIGHT
Black Widow vs. Widows, Black Widow
Cassie vs. Maddy, Euphoria — WINNER!
Guy vs. Dude, Free Guy
Shang-Chi bus fight, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Spider-Men end battle, Spider-Man: No Way Home

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza
Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Hannah Einbinder, Hacks
Jung Ho-yeon, Squid Game
Sophia Di Martino, Loki — WINNER!

BEST TEAM
Tom Hiddleston, Sophia Di Martino and Owen Wilson, Loki — WINNER!
Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Only Murders in the Building
Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man: No Way Home
Ryan Reynolds and Walker Scobell, The Adam Project
Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum and Brad Pitt, The Lost City

Best Kiss in “Jackass Forever”

By Lynn Venhaus
An uneasy feeling of dread grows and intensifies during the creepy “Watcher,” a competent thriller whose elements, while not exactly original, come together as a believable modern-day psychological horror show.

When her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) gets a job promotion that requires a move to Romania, Julia (Maika Monroe) accompanies him on the adventure – and plans to be supportive. A former actress, she walks around the streets of Bucharest, a stranger in a strange land, and attempts to keep busy to relieve her crushing boredom.

Only she has this uneasy feeling that she is being watched. There’s a guy (Burn Gorman) peeking outside nightly from an adjacent building. Is she imaging things or is she being stalked?

Shades of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and the proverbial female protagonist doubting herself – while men wonder if it’s her imagination or other stress triggers causing the hysteria.

Those condescending, patronizing looks that women know all too well.

Watcher with Maika Monroe

But we wouldn’t have 95 tension-filled minutes if everyone believed her, right? Maika Monroe, who effortlessly slips into the horror-genre as the pretty and smart blonde, toggles the fine line of sanity. We feel her nagging ‘What is wrong with me?’ just as we experience the unsettling surroundings from her point of view.

As an odd, lonely janitor named Weber, the versatile character actor Burn Gorman is able to project both sadness and strangeness at the same time. He does more with the thinly drawn part than likely was on paper.

In a stereotypical preoccupied husband role, Karl Glusman is nondescript as Francis, going through the motions of becoming increasingly perplexed, and alarmed, by Julia’s behavior.

It doesn’t help that the nightly news features a grisly neighborhood murder that may be the work of a serial killer. Nor that Julia doesn’t understand the language – she is taking lessons but feels even more lost when she’s surrounded by natives blithely chatting away. It all adds up to a few heebie-jeebies moments.

An interesting turn by Madalina Anea as the alluring, sophisticated neighbor Irina is a terrific addition to the claustrophobic setting.

Director Chloe Okuno, who wrote the story for the screen based on Zack Ford’s screenplay, gives a stylish, contemporary female spin on a classic old-school thriller, and it gets under your skin with her methodical approach.

Okuno employs a steady, deliberate pace and wisely chooses to play up the shadows and vary the lighting to make Julia’s solitary moments even more unsettling. Along with cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen, they frame the angular hallways, windows, staircases, and doors to build an eerie tone.

Shrewd editing by Michael Block provides well-earned jump scares and some jolting surprises just in case you were lulled into a ‘nothing’s wrong here’ feeling. Composer Nathan Halpern capitalizes and effectively adds to the spooky vibe with his memorable score.

Costume designer Claudia Bunea has made smart choices, especially for Julia, whom we can see change through her fashion choices as her misery grows. The walls seem to close in on her, and production designer Nora Dumitrescu’s selections help that with a drab Old-World setting.

But it all rests on Monroe’s shoulders to convince us of her out-of-kilter life, trying to adapt to a foreign country but feeling more isolated and alone than ever, and she splendidly comes through.

A nominee for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, “Watcher” takes a story with familiar beats and with fresh eyes, collaborators made it their own. Above all, it delivers what it promises – and is frightening in the process.

Maika Monroe

“Watcher” is a 2022 horror-thriller directed by Chloe Okuno and starring Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Madalina Anea. It is rated R for some bloody violence, language and some sexual material/nudity, and runs 1 hour, 31 minutes. It is in local theaters on June 3 and available for rental on June 21. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus

Bright before me the signs implore me
To help the needy and show them the way
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

  • Randy Newman, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” 1968

As the gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps widening in America, August Wilson’s “Jitney,” the first play of his 10-play cycle in 10 decades of history, couldn’t be timelier.

The play, which is set in the 1970s in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, has lost none of its bite, and in the loving hands of The Black Rep, it is spellbinding. A richly textured tale of economic struggles, racial tensions, fathers, sons, hope, dreams, loss, strength, and the need for and meaning of community.

A jitney refers to an independently owned unlicensed car for hire. Because regular cab drivers did not service the Hill District, Wilson presented this urban renewal scenario for a makeshift gypsy cab service.

The city has decided to condemn the building, which threatens to eliminate Becker’s Car Service, and the owner frets about finances as the other characters have worries of their own. This lyrical production is powerful storytelling at its finest.

Wilson introduces us to the men who make a living driving these cabs as they sit around a dingy office waiting for the phone to ring – as well as the relatives and passengers who stop by.

The era vibrantly portrayed is after the Civil Rights Amendment, but segregation still exists, and the characters deal with those issues. Could home ownership even be possible? The soldiers who fought in Vietnam returned home (or not) with their own stories to tell.

These passionate souls have bonded – or avoided it – through their lives’ triumphs and travails. No one’s had it easy, and the world-weariness shows. But the hope for second chances is palpable.

Featuring a superb ensemble of actors who bring out distinctive characteristics that you won’t soon forget, “Jitney” is a powder-keg of emotions and the evergreen need for connection and kindness in a cold, cruel world.

As the former mill worker who has his share of problems, Kevin Brown gives a powerhouse performance, equal parts fire and compassion.

Becker is grappling with his shame over his son’s prison time for murder. Clarence “Booster” Becker was convicted for killing a white college girlfriend, who had accused him of rape after her father found out about their relationship. As the wayward son, Phillip Dixon offers a complex performance as he seeks to patch up his rift with his dad and a fresh start.

Another standout young actor, Olajuwon Davis, plays Vietnam veteran Darnell Williams, aka Youngblood, and you can feel his desire to realize the American Dream for his family as he works two jobs.

Alex Jay is memorable as Rena, his spunky pregnant girlfriend, and brings out the yearning to be part of middle-class society as they’re starting out, their lives in front of them, dreaming of bright futures.

The cast is enlivened by the dynamic of ace performers J. Samuel Davis, who plays Fielding, and Ron Himes, the director who was called to fill in as Turnbo a few days before the show began its run. Both titans in the local theater community, they are multiple winners and nominees of the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, and their ease slipping into these roles is one of the joys of seeing them at work.

Fielding is a driver whose life has been marred by alcoholism and Turnbo, a cranky guy who knows it all, likes to stir up trouble.

Another bright spot is Edward Hill as Doub, a Korean War veteran who keeps it all together at the service.

Rounding out the cast is Robert A. Mitchell as Shealy, a local bookie who does not drive but spends his time there using the pay phone to run his numbers game, and Richard Harris as Philmore, as a hotel doorman who gets rides from the guys.

Director Himes capitalizes on Wilson’s ability to draw us into his world that is so vivid. The production is enhanced by spot-on music choices reflecting that era, an impeccably designed set by Harlan D. Penn, the always exquisite lighting design of Joseph W. Clapper and sharp sound design from Justin Schmitz. Jamie Bullins’ costume design shrewdly reflects the characters.

As Wilson chronicled African American life during the 20th century, we learned about specific journeys in a way that resonated universally. Call them ordinary people, but on stage, they create a stunning portrait of America – and they make a beautiful noise. All but one of his 10 plays are set in his hometown.

Because of the Black Rep’s unwavering commitment to Wilson’s plays, we St. Louisans have been fortunate to experience his Pittsburgh plays, or Century Cycle, in the highest quality possible.

These productions, now in the company’s second go-round, have enriched not only my theater-going but also my understanding of humanity. I look forward to the rest I have not seen.

Whether you have seen any or none, engage a ride with “Jitney” May 4-May 29.

The Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents August Wilson’s “Jitney” May through May 29 at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. For tickets, visit
For more information, visit
www.theblackrep.org