By Lynn Venhaus
If you grow it, they will come. But the sunflowers dotting our regional landscape have a brief life in the summer. Now is the absolute peak time, so don’t wait to make plans.

The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is 4,300-acres located south of the Missouri River in Spanish Lake. For years, the Missouri Department of Conservation has planted fields of sunflowers. It’s a couple miles’ drive from the entrance gate, which is located a few miles north of Interstate 270 on Riverview Drive. Take that exit, and then travel north about three miles. Follow the sign.

The location in North St. Louis County is at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and.Columbia Bottom has wetlands, forests, prairies and croplands. The area encompasses the 110-acre Duck Island on the Mississippi River as well as more than six miles of river frontage.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, July 30, 2022. Lynn Venhaus photo

The Missouri Department of Conservation reports that visitors can see sunflowers in the area from early July through the middle of August — depending on weather conditions. There is no charge.

The area is closed from one-half hour after sunset until one half-hour before sunrise, except for authorized hunting, fishing and boat ramp use.

The confluence is the fourth largest river system in the world — and can be observed from the site’s Confluence Viewing Platform, which is located at the end of the road.

The road that runs through the area has eight exploration stations along the way. It is a self-guided learning experience, and visitors can view surrounding habitats. The area offers hiking, biking and river access.

There is a visitor center with educational displays that will help guests become acquainted with the site. For educational programs that are offered to the general public, call ahead, as most require advanced registration.

I ventured there on July 30. These are my photos.

Families, couples, photographers explore the paths in early evening July 30, 2022. Photo by Lynn Venhaus

Eckert’s Belleville Farm

The two-acre field has gorgeous photo opportunities. The Sunflower Trail opened last weekend and runs through Aug. 7.

You must register online for a time and a date to visit. The cost is $5 plus field access admission for $6.50. Besides the field, the adventure includes one sunflower to cut and take home, a sunflower cookie from the bakery and a sunflower sticker. For more information, visit www.eckerts.com.

Someone put shades on a flower, so I had to include him/her in my selfie.

By Lynn Venhaus

Ah, preconceived notions. In journalism parlance, we have a phrase in the newsroom, “When you assume, that makes an ass out of you and me.” This universal truth gets a workout in the fish-of-out-water irreverent black comedy, “Vengeance.”

First-time director B.J. Novak has a lot to say about many topical and philosophical issues currently tapping into the cultural zeitgeist. Perhaps he takes on too much in this ambitious film that while hitting numerous bullseyes, has too many smug and wince-induced moments to prevent us from fully embracing a muddled message.

Novak is a droll supporting actor best known for playing Ryan Howard on “The Office” (and wrote several episodes too). In “Vengeance,” his character, Ben Manalowitz, is a condescending coastal elite. Ben might be better educated and talks a good game, but he and his toxic pals (John Mayer!) are no better than the male chauvinist pigs that feminists railed about in the 1970s. (I know, satire!)

Abilene Shaw (Lio Tipton), with dreams of being a singer-songwriter, has returned home from the big city, and has been found deceased in an oil field near an area known as “The After-Party.” Opioids are used there, and everyone thinks she has died from an overdose – except her brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook in a terrific performance), who is eager to seek revenge.

Ty calls the “Ben” in her cell phone, led to believe he is her boyfriend, and breaks what he thinks is devastating news. This jolts Ben during one of his many one-night stands (apparently), and although reluctantly, he commits to attending her funeral, as the brother is insistent.

Ty wants Ben to help him solve Abilene’s murder. Eureka! The social climber has landed on a topic ripe for a buzz-type podcast “Dead White Girl.”

He gets the green light from a nationally renowned podcast producer, played assuredly by Issa Rae, and she seems to like everything he turns in, sort of puzzling, although always has questions. This could be his big break.

He interviews her family and friends, and as Ben navigates an unfamiliar culture, he surprises himself by growing close to her eccentric family that he’s staying with, and discovers people are not what you expect them to be.

Novak’s city slickers vs. country yokels’ stereotypes are broadly drawn, and mocking the rodeo-loving, gun-toting, Whataburger devotees of the small unnamed town in west Texas is funny, to a point. But then some barbs lean towards the cruel. (I know, parody!).

As Ben evolves into a more caring, a tad less insufferable metrosexual who shipped his fancy coffee pot from Brooklyn, you can feel some genuine sincerity, especially between Abilene’s kid brother Mason, who is derided as “El Stupido” by his much older siblings.

 Besides Ty, there is Paris (Isabella Amara) and sister Kansas City (Dove Cameron), who both want to be social media influencers and crave the spotlight.

It is satisfying to see Ben get his comeuppance and discover that rural people aren’t all IQ-deficient. It’s a lesson in the country version of ‘street smarts.’

At the rodeo

The message, somewhat, is don’t judge a book by its cover.

The cast is uniformly good, especially Eli Bickel heart-tugging as the little brother missing his big sister, who let him sleep on the floor of her bedroom. And J. Smith-Cameron does a complete 180 from her Emmy-nominated turn on “Succession” as the fiercely protective matriarch.

Surprising to see Ashton Kutcher noteworthy as a philosophical music producer in the hinterlands. But then, when you realize he gave Novak one of his first Hollywood jobs on his MTV hidden camera reality show “Punk’d,” not so hard to see the connection. Novak was a field agent in the first and second seasons. As sharp-dressed Quintin Sellers, Kutcher is more than meets the initial eye.

Then, the bottom falls out in the last half hour. And everything we were led to believe the previous 70-some minutes isn’t the case, and things are topsy-turvy. The last 10 minutes are out of a completely different film, and I am still pondering ‘what just happened?’!

For the most part, the third act betrays the story – and it is hard to determine what Novak is trying to say by then.

Novak, a smart, witty guy, has a lot of potential in future projects. He should have edited more of his talking points, not cram everything into one movie.

This is likely to be polarizing, like “Don’t Look Up,” and while overall, it is confusing, Novak proves to be an original voice. Maybe next time, he won’t pick such easy targets. It would be good to see him make a splash.

“Vengeance” is a 2022 comedy, mystery, thriller directed by BJ Novak and starring B.J. Novak, Issa Rae, Ashton Kutcher, Boyd Holbrook, J. Smith-Cameron, Dove Cameron and Lio Tipton. It is rated R for language and brief violence and runs 1 hour, 47 minutes. The movie premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and opened in theaters on July 29. Lynn’s Grade: C.

BJ Novak and Ashton Kutcher

The Muny announced today that the Tuesday, July 26 performance of Legally Blonde The Musical, which opened last night, will be postponed due to flooding in Forest Park and on The Muny campus caused by record-breaking rainfall overnight.

The rescheduled performance will take place on Monday, August 1 at 8:15 pm. All tickets will automatically be rescheduled for Monday evening’s performance. Ticket holders may visit muny.org for more information. The Wednesday, July 27 performance will go on as scheduled.

“Above all else, our thoughts are with all other flood victims in the region,” said Kwofe Coleman, President and CEO. “Despite the shocking damage we found today on the grounds of The Muny, we are thankful to be able to reschedule tonight’s performance for Monday evening. I am personally grateful for everyone who adjusted so quickly and worked to make this happen.”

Tickets for tonight’s July 26, 2022 performance will be honored on the new date of Monday, August 1, 2022 at 8:15pm. If this date does not work for you, you may exchange your ticket in person at The Muny Box Office for a different performance of Legally Blonde.

Your Options:
A) Attend Monday, August 1 – no action required. Your current ticket will gain entry into the theatre.
B) Attend a different  performance of Legally Blonde – Exchanges can be made in person at The Muny Box Office, open daily 9 AM – 9PM
C) Should you be unable to attend another performance, refunds will be honored.

Have a mobile ticket? If you have downloaded your ticket, it will remain valid. If you have not downloaded your ticket yet to your phone, you will be sent a new ticket for Monday, August 1.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we get The Muny campus ready for your arrival

To stay connected virtually, and to receive the latest updates, please follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Muny’s 2022 Season includes Chicago (June 13-19), Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot (June 22-28), Disney and Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 5-13), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (July 16-22), Legally Blonde, The Musical (July 25-August 1), The Color Purple (August 3-9) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (August 12-18).

The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. As the nation’s largest outdoor musical theatre, we produce world-class musicals each year and welcome over 350,000 theatregoers over our summer season. Celebrating 103 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre.

For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org.

Forest Park outside the Muny
Bathroom

Reedy Press is pleased to announce the release of its newest local interest book, Hannibal: A Walk Through History, by Dea Hoover.

Immortalized by the writing of its most famous resident, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, Hannibal is known around the world as much for its history as for the characters it birthed.

Take a guided walk through that history in America’s Hometown. Enjoy the opportunity to trace the paths of the childhood adventures that Mark Twain shared through the stories of Tom and Huck, or follow the path of the Women of Hannibal or seek a bit more adventure with the Cave, Chaos and Cemeteries Path. Readers can use this new book to carve out their own adventure.

Local author and tour director Dea Hoover deftly guides readers around her birthplace like an old friend. Her carefully planned walks will inspire visitors to explore life along the Mississippi and create memories that last a lifetime.

Hannibal: A Walk Through History is available wherever books are sold.

BOOK DETAILS

Hannibal: A Walk Through History, by Dea Hoover,

ISBN: 9781681063249

softcover, 8.5 x 11

48 pages

$16.00 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a veteran tour director, Hannibal-born Dea Hoover is accustomed to hearing the familiar mantra, “Are We There Yet?” – thus the name of her full-service tour operation in the city of St. Louis. In 2008, Are We There Yet?, LLC expanded its operations with the acquisition of St. Louis’ first local receptive tour operation Discover St. Louis, LLC, founded in 1975.

She is the best-selling author of STL Scavenger: The Ultimate Guide to St. Louis’s Hidden Treasures (Reedy Press). Dea grew up in the Firestone tire and GE appliance store in Vandalia, Missouri that her mother still owns and operates. After moving to St. Louis to attend Washington University, Dea cut her teeth in retail at Famous-Barr, sold cars at Saturn of South County and then found her true calling as a natural-born storyteller in the guise of a tour guide. Her father foretold her future of public speaking when he enrolled her in a Dale Carnegie course at the age of 16. With her experiences as a 4-Her and as a first generation college graduate, she had the cards in her hand that she could play at different times in her adult life to find fulfillment and happiness.

Currently residing in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis with her husband Declan, they own and operate their tour companies from their home. For leisure, Dea plays weekly in a league at the Italia-America Bocce Club. She is a voracious reader attending two Book Clubs and participating in all events to do with history and even leading some. Her favorite pastime is visiting with family and friends and basking in the glow of conversation. In this age of email and texting, Hoover remains a phone talker. 

The Hannibal Lighthouse

Scheduled Events for Hannibal: A Walk Through History

Presentation and Book Signing
Tuesday, July 26 from 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Washington Public Library
410 Lafayette St
Washington, MO 63090
(636) 390-1070
Free and open to the public

Presentation and Book Launch
Wed, July 27 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Oliva on The Hill
4915 Daggett Ave
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 899-6271
Free and open to the public

Presentation and Book Signing
Saturday, September 17 from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Hannibal Public Library
200 S 5th St
Hannibal, MO 63401
(573) 221-0222
Free and open to the public

Presentation and Book Signing
Sunday, September 18 from 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.
Van-Far R1 High School
2200 US-54
Vandalia, MO 63382
(573) 594-6442
Open to the public (ticketed, admission fee)

Presentation and Book Signing
Thursday, September 22 from 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Audrain County-Mexico Public Library
305 W Jackson St
Mexico, MO 65265
(573) 581-4939
Free and open to the public

Presentation and Book Signing
Friday, September 23 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Vandalia Public Library
312 S Main St
Vandalia, MO 63382
(937) 463-2665
Free and open to the public

Mark Twain meets with childhood friend Laura Hawkins, the inspiration for Twain’s character, Becky Thatcher

The 14th Annual Robert Classic French Film Festival — sponsored by Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation — celebrates St. Louis’ Gallic heritage and France’s cinematic legacy. This year’s featured films span the decades from the 1920s through the 1990s, offering a revealing overview of French cinema.

The fest annually includes significant restorations, and this year features seven such works, including a brand-new restoration of Luis Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” which is part of our year-long Golden Anniversaries programming, which features films celebrating their 50th anniversaries.

In honor of St. Louis’ own Josephine Baker and her installation in France’s Panthéon on Nov. 30 of last year, the fest will present her silent film debut, “Siren of the Tropics,” with an original score and live accompaniment by the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra.

Every program features introductions and discussions by film or French scholars and critics. All films are in French with English subtitles.

The Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation is the event’s title sponsor.

Venue: Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium in Webster Hall, 470 E. Lockwood Ave.

Tickets: Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for students and Cinema St. Louis members. Webster U. students are admitted free. Advance tickets can be purchased through the Cinema St. Louis website.

Passes: Two types of passes are available: Five-Film Passes are $65, $50 for CSL members; All-Access Passes are $120, and $95 for CSL members.

More Info: 314-289-4150, cinemastlouis.org

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in “Breathless”

FILM SCHEDULE

For film synopses,  see the CSL website

7:30 PM FRIDAY, AUG. 5

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie/Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

Luis Buñuel, France, 1972, 102 min., color, French, Latin & Spanish, restoration, DCP

Intro and discussion by Cliff Froehlich, former executive director of Cinema St. Louis and adjunct professor of film studies at Webster University.

Josephine Baker in “Siren of the Tropics”

7:30 PM SATURDAY, AUG. 6

Siren of the Tropics/La sirène des tropiques

Henri Étiévant & Mario Nalpas (uncredited), France, 1927, 86 min., black-and-white, silent, DVD

With live accompaniment by the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra

Intro and discussion by Pier Marton, video artist and self-described “Unlearning Specialist at the School of No Media.”

7:30 PM SUNDAY, AUG. 7

Beau travail

Claire Denis, Djibouti/France, 1992, 99 min., color, French, Italian & Russian, restoration, DCP

Intro and discussion by Diane Carson, professor emerita of film at St. Louis Community College at Meramec and film critic for KDHX (88.1 FM).

7:30 PM FRIDAY, AUG. 12

Fantastic Planet/La planète sauvage

René Laloux, Czechoslovakia/France, 1973, 72 min., color, French, restoration, DCP

Intro and discussion by Andrew Wyatt, editor of and film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ The Lens blog.

7:30 PM SATURDAY, AUG. 13

Breathless/À bout de souffle

Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1960, 90 min., black-and-white, English & French, restoration, DCP

Intro and discussion by Kathy Corley, documentary filmmaker and professor emerita of film at Webster University.

7:30 PM SUNDAY, AUG. 14

Amélie/Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France, 2001, 122 min., color, French, DCP

Intro and discussion by Jean-Louis Pautrot, professor of French and International Studies in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Saint Louis University.

The Battle of Algiers

7:30 PM FRIDAY, AUG. 19

The Battle of Algiers/La battaglia di Algeri

Gillo Pontecorvo, Algeria/Italy, 1966, 121 min., black-and-white, Arabic & French, Blu-ray

Intro and discussion by Salim Ayoub, Bruce P. Robert Endowed Professor in French and Francophone Studies and director of the Centre Francophone at Webster University.

7:30 PM SATURDAY, AUG. 20

Le cercle rouge

Jean-Pierre Melville, France, 1970, 140 min., color, French, restoration, DCP

Intro and discussion by Robert Garrick, attorney, former contributor to the davekehr.com film blog, and contributor to Cinema St. Louis’ The Lens blog.

7:30 PM SUNDAY, AUG. 21

Irma Vep

Olivier Assayas, France, 1996, 99 min., color, English & French, restoration, DCP

Intro and discussion by Joshua Ray, film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ The Lens blog and host of The Lens podcast.

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”

By Lynn Venhaus
In his first feature film “Un-resolved,” Bruce Carlton Cunningham Jr. has created a gritty, sprawling tale of revenge not unlike a Shakespearean drama but set on the streets of St. Louis. He not only produced, but directed, wrote and stars as Tremaine in the ambitious project.

The story is about an ex-convict, just released from prison, who attempts to make up for the lost time with his youngest daughter, who is dying, and to reconnect with his oldest daughter, who has befriended a deadly enemy from his past.

The 2 hour and 47 minute film will screen at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 24, at the Brown Hall Auditorium of the Washington University campus, as part of the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase sponsored by Cinema St. Louis. Cunningham will be present, along with members of his cast and crew.

Bruce has been a prolific producer in St. Louis for the past 21 years. As an actor, writer and director, he has appeared in several short films, including “Ricky’s Hurt” (2016), “Retribution” (2015), “Static: A Fan Film” (2018), “Icon: A Fan Film” (2020), “Hardware: A Fan Film” (2021), a feature film, “A New Husband For Christmas” (2020) and a web series, “Gonzo” (2016).

Un-resolved

He graciously answered our Take Ten Questions:

Bruce Cunningham
  1. What is special about your latest project?
    This is my first feature film and I put a lot of work into it to make sure it was a compelling story. It was a long journey making this, but I am glad I completed it and didn’t give up.
  2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
    I started acting when I was nine years old. I would watch a lot of T.V. & movies rather than going outside to play or staying up late. I wanted to be a part of the onscreen action: car chases, jumping from buildings, flying through the air, living in different
    worlds and being different characters. That sparked my desire to act and make movies.
  3. How would your friends describe you?
    Humorous. Silly. Down to earth. No filters and no brakes. Focused. Loves to have a good time.
  4. How do you like to spend your spare time?
    I like to read, watch movies, travel, workout, shoot guns, learn new things and spend time with friends and family.
  5. What is your current obsession?
    Hmmmm, that may be private.
  6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
    I look younger than I am.
  7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
    Becoming a father was very defining because I have someone I have to pour into and be an example for. My daughter keeps me on my toes.
  8. Who do you admire most?
    I admire my mother the most. I love her wisdom and her approach to life and situations.
  9. What is at the top of your bucket list?
    I haven’t really thought about it. I’m still thinking about this one. Maybe act alongside Denzel Washington.
  10. How were you affected by the current pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through the pre-vaccine part, with shutdowns, and any lesson learned during the isolation periods?

    I definitely did not like to see and hear of all of those people dying of COVID. It was a major change, I spent a lot of time by myself and I changed my perspective on a lot of things. On the bright side, I had more time to edit my film during the shut down and that
    kept me busy.
  11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
    Take walks in the park.
  12. What’s next?
    I just finished acting in other projects. Now, I am relaxing and trying to get “Un-resolved” out to the world. Pretty soon, I am going to start writing for the next film.

    1. More About Bruce Carlton Cunningham Jr.

      Birthplace: STL
      Current location: STL
      Family: Single Father of one
      Education: B.S. Video/Film Production & Minor in Theatre. M.S. Managing Information
      Technology
      Day job: Information Technology
      First job: Hardee’s
      First movie you were involved in or made: Retribution
      Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? So far, it is between the roles of Tremaine
      (UN-RESOLVED) and George (UNDERNEATH)
      Dream job/opportunity: I would like to do a full action film.
      Awards/Honors/Achievements: None at the moment, but keep watching. When it comes to achievements, finishing my first film would be my latest achievement.
      Favorite quote/words to live by: “If there is a door, then you have to kick it down. If there is no door, then create one and kick it down.”
      A song that makes you happy: “Ali Bombaye”

Unresolved

By Lynn Venhaus
Technically brilliant but weak in coherent storytelling, “Nope” is an amalgam of tones and textures that convey horror and the strangest things.

In only his third film, director Jordan Peele, Oscar-winning writer of “Get Out,” follows up “Us” from 2019 with equal parts originality, pastiche, and satire. It’s clever, spooky, funny, and gruesome.

Two siblings, OJ and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer), are taking care of their family’s horse ranch in inland California. Their father, Pops (Keith David), built up the horse business to provide animals for Hollywood productions and became a legend. They are barely staying afloat now, though. The horses get spooked and the pair witness unexplained phenomenon that gets increasingly hostile. But fascinating – and if they can prove alien life, a financial life raft.

Kaluuya, so good in Peele’s cultural phenomenon “Get Out” and Oscar winner as Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is the laid-back horse trainer, OJ (wink-wink), who worked with his dad Otis Sr., on the dusty remote spread. His bubbly, scattered sister Emerald – Palmer in a live-wire role — does not complete tasks or take responsibility, so OJ is left being the heavy lifter.

But when weird things start happening, will they be able to successfully team up and rise to the occasion to defeat something they don’t understand?

Meanwhile, at a nearby Old West Town amusement-theme operation, former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) tries to overcome a traumatic childhood incident and entertain the masses, using the sci-fi spectacle to his advantage. At least, that is his plan.

The characters are intriguing and mysterious, but the Haywood kids’ personalities, being opposites, don’t lend themselves to building emotional connections when that would have immensely benefitted the movie.

It is clever how the siblings figure out what works and what doesn’t. With the help of a techie at a big-box store, Angel Torres, well-played by Brandon Perea, and an old-school cinematographer drawn to the mysterious goings-on – Michael Wincott, who maintains a sage but wary vibe.

Steven Yeun as a former child star

Yeun, showing yet another facet after his Oscar nomination for “Minari,” evokes sympathy, pity and at times is a pathetic, sad figure, as the former scarred-for-life child star clinging to a lower ring of showbiz as a vaudevillian showman.

Now that’s one you want to know more about – even if those two flashback scenes to the set of his sitcom are quite disturbing.

Because it’s hard to get invested in the Haywood and Park journeys when you are confused about what is happening. Peele, at times, instead of surprising us, dulls the impact by keeping us at arm’s length.

Not that there aren’t a couple jump scares, some well-placed funny lines, and escalating tension every time the power goes out or the UFO vessel swoops down on its prey. The voyager in the sky is less revealing than Ed Wood’s “Plan Nine from Outer Space” or “Unsolved Mysteries,” and that ‘less is more’ effort is frustrating.

What lessens Peele’s impact is that he struggles with pacing – from a slow-burn beginning establishing who’s who to a draggy third act. With a runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes, at least 20 minutes could have easily been shaved off.

This is an example where the anticipation is greater than the supernatural alien payoff, similarly unfulfilling like in Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” (2016) and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” in 2002. The gold standard in space paranormal visits remains Steven Spielberg’s 1977 “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” but “Nope” tackles other issues that aren’t in the ‘aliens arrive’ lane — black representation in Hollywood, entertainment spectacles, American identity and more. Some of the themes he’s using are clear, while others are opaque.

The writing, in a rather minimal slideshow way, lacks plot details that would help connect the dots and thread the needle, preferring to be stingy with any information that can illuminate or help explain the strange goings-on. Even though there are some truly creepy segments, Peele seems to strive for confusion instead of understanding.

Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood

Hoyte van Hoytema, Oscar-nominated for “Dunkirk” and Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer, has captured the grandeur of this gulch in Santa Clarita Valley, with its mountains and foothills, its dusty vastness, as well as its ominous clouds and eerie remoteness. It’s both breathtaking in scope and spine-chilling in growing the unease.

Rebecca De Jong’s production design is a marvel of kitschy western theme park with glitzy faux fun touches, the fringes of old-fashioned entertainment from a bygone era, and Mother Nature’s ability to surprise and raise goosebumps at the same time.

Composer Michael Abels, who has scored Peele’s previous films, builds both the weirdness and the growing menacing tone in his musical selections. And as with any eclectic soundtrack melding pop culture periods, is pitch-perfect in his selections of Dionne Warwick, Corey Hart and others.

 “Nope” is unlike Peele’s previous two films and allows him to stretch into interesting genre work – but had the focus been tighter, we’d be looking at a masterpiece, instead of a flawed film that I wanted to like so much more. If we could have invested more in the characters, that would have enriched the storytelling exponentially.

It really does have some marvelous moments – but at the same time, many head-scratching ones too.

A TMZ intruder

“Nope” is a 2022 horror-sci-fi-mystery thriller directed by Jordan Peele and starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, and Keith David. Rated R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images, its runtime is 2 hours and 15 minutes. In theaters beginning July 22. Lynn’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus

During the ten-minute intermission, I overheard a woman in the audience tell her companion: “I hope my kids don’t find my diaries.”

Whoa, and that reaction was before The Midnight Company’s seismic second act of “Rodney’s Wife.” I surmised other parents probably shared that sentiment at some point during this unsettling, distressing drama written by Richard Nelson.

Director Joe Hanrahan, who is eager to explore different dimensions, does not shy away from edgy or dark, thinks cinematically, and has an affinity for the period and the inner workings of show business, slowly pulling back the curtain, so to speak.

He has assembled a cast of six local acting heavyweights, who illustrate why they are so highly regarded, and the retro Italian setting is a designers’ dream.

The daughter of Rodney and his second wife, who found her mother’s diary from an eventful summer in 1962, introduces herself and takes us back to that time.

Kelly Howe is believable in dual roles, carefully choosing what emotion to display when. The statuesque Fay is a former actress who had married a widower 10 years ago. Rodney (John Wolbers) is now a fading movie actor. Is she content in her current role as “Rodney’s wife”?

In a quietly shattering performance, Howe starts out staying in the background while other big personalities suck the air out of the room — and then tries not to be suffocated.

Kelly Howe as Fay. Photo by Joey Rumpell

Her arrogant, domineering husband and his overbearing, busybody sister Eva (Rachel Tibbetts) try to control the temperature in the room. Eva was married to Rodney’s manager but is now a widow.

For people who pretend to live out loud, something is obviously ‘off,’ and subtle clues poke through the facades. Nelson builds tension, with anxiety and desperation fighting for attention in a shades of Anton Chekhov meets Tennessee Williams way, minus all-encompassing gloom and predictably overwrought hysteria.

Without spoiling any crucial plot turns, “Rodney’s Wife” has many layers and moving parts in its portrayal of a dysfunctional family. Oh, it’s complicated, all right. The melodramatic action is akin to divulging bombshells on a TV soap opera, and torching others with the secrets.

A prolific American writer, Nelson won a Tony Award for best book of a musical (James Joyce’s “The Dead” in 2000), and several Obie Awards. “Rodney’s Wife” was mounted off-Broadway in 2004 at the Playwrights Horizons, starring David Strathairn and Jessica Chastain as father and daughter.

As Fay prepares for a small celebration in a rented villa on the outskirts of Rome, well-heeled and seemingly carefree folks rush in, laughing and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Rodney’s daughter Lee (Summer Baer), who has been mostly away at boarding school and college, has surprised her father with big news — she is engaged to Ted, a smart, amiable American writer (Oliver Bacus).

Rodney is regaling his future son-in-law with boorish moviemaking stories. Turns out the actor, a legend in his own mind, is filming a spaghetti western, but this is not exactly Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name. These are the low-budget early years of the Italian fascination with the American West, before Sergio Leone would make his mark with this distinctive genre.

Dissatisfied and unpleasant, Rodney is rescued from his miserable experience by his new manager Henry (Ben Ritchie), who drops off a script that he views as more suitable for his talents, only they’d have to leave for America the next day. In addition, Henry, while professional and practical, has his own worries back home.

And why is Fay like a cat on a hot tin roof in the midst of the merriment?

Summer Baer and Ben Ritchie. Photo by Joey Rumpell

What started out as a forced happy family gathering unravels into shock and betrayals, attitudes are laid bare, and scabs are picked at and reformed. Some prefer not to play along, others mask their feelings for survival, and the perpetual role-playing is ongoing.

All six are clinging – whether to fading beauty, to their comfortable lifestyle, to forging a new identity, to the past, to keeping up appearances, their deceptions, or to whom they think they are/should be.

As the self-absorbed Rodney, John Wolters is revelatory, displaying a dramatic heft that you don’t often see when he’s trotting the boards, usually (but not always) in lighter fare. I wish Nelson had not written Rodney as a cliché.

Sartorially splendid, Rachel Tibbetts’ Eva craves the spotlight as much as her actor brother, and she fools no one as a busybody Karen trying to tell everyone else how to live their lives. Her equally loud brother indulges her, and Tibbetts embraces being abrasive in a role that’s mostly comical, but she conveys enough depth to make it more than one-note.

As the not-fully-formed 25-year-old adult daughter Lee, Summer Baer modulates the tones between dutiful daughter, her stepmom’s pal, tolerant of her hovering aunt and supportive fiancé to Ted. But what is it that she wants? A conflicted Lee doesn’t appear to be as forceful expressing what she wants as everyone around her seems to know what’s best for her.

Photo by Joey Rumpell

Although Bacus portrays Ted as assured as he’s making first impressions, it is as if Lee has blithely brought a prey into the lion’s den. You feel for this guy, hoping he’s better at seeing the red flags than we are.

Nelson has boxed himself into a corner narratively, and both Fay and Lee are frustratingly enigmatic – but the pair of actresses do everything they can for more fully realized interpretations.

However, his savvy choice of Rome 1962 is an exciting canvas for Bess Moynihan, whose scenic and lighting designs are astonishing, and for Liz Henning, whose astute costume designs are some of the best she’s ever done on local stages. Miriam Whatley has designed props that are ideally suited to the atmosphere.

Moynihan’s flair for striking production design – complete with an inviting patio –provides a good flow for character movements. Her superb lighting, especially the natural dawn, effectively establishes the shifting moods over the course of a night and day.

The drama’s impressive sleek look touches on what an attractive playground Italy was in the 1960s, not only because of the cultural revolution in movies, music, art, fashion, and style but how post-war Italy was putting fascism in the rear-view mirror and hedonism was in full throttle.

Hanrahan and company are successful in creating an intoxicating vibe of exotic travel, lush surroundings, and a pop art palette without having the benefit of idyllic sun-drenched exteriors. (I mean, we’ve seen “Three Coins in the Fountain”! I digress…).

As an example, Federico Fellini had unleashed “La Dolce Vita” in 1960 and was working on his opus, “8-1/2” (released in 1963), and he wasn’t the only director getting buzz in this new golden age. Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’avventura” also was released in 1960.

Rodney looks like a guy who could be driving an Alfa Romeo while the handsome, well-mannered Ted could be tooling down the Amalfi Coast in a Fiat, doing his best Marcello Mastroanni.

The women wear their stylish cocktail dresses and chic casual attire with aplomb, sometimes adorned with bright scarves, and their hair is fixed in elegant styles – Lee’s swept-back ponytail, Eva’s classic elegant knot. The air of luxury permeates the small space.

During intermission or before/after the show, be sure to view a special fashion collection in the Chapel, which highlights haute couture of the era, and the designers, colors and styles that were famous.

Because of the fine performances, The Midnight Company has elevated this work, sharpening the explosive interpersonal dynamics. With inspired highly skilled craftmanship from the creative team, The Chapel’s intimate space has been admirably transformed into a mid-century modern with an international aesthetic.

Using the irony of such a luxurious landscape, Nelson has basically imprisoned his characters, who are products of their time, for better or for worse, which makes the sorrow and the unspoken regrets hang heavy in the air.

The Midnight Company presents “Rodney’s Wife” from July 7 to July 23, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 10 and 17, at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis. For more information, visit: www.midnightcompany.com.

The Saint Louis Art Fair presented by Centene Charitable Foundation (SLAF) and produced by Cultural Festivals is proud to announce its 29th year as the Art Fair returns to the streets of downtown Clayton on September 9 to September 11, 2022. The Saint Louis Art Fair is a nationally juried fine art and fine craft show consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top fine art fairs.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, we look forward to welcoming everyone back this September to be a part of the magic in the streets of downtown Clayton, Missouri during the St. Louis Art Fair,” said Stacy Engles Wipfler, 2022 Chairperson. “With world-class Art, local food and drink, live entertainment and thousands of area community members sharing their love of art, I can’t think of better way to end summer and kick off fall. This event would not be possible without our generous sponsors, tremendous staff, hundreds of volunteers and our event management team leaders, and of course we also thank the City of Clayton for continued support as we lay out the groundwork for this year’s art fair.”

Hours for this year’s art fair will be Friday, September 9 from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm; Saturday, September 10 from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm; and Sunday, September 11 from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. The three-day celebration of art attracts thousands of art enthusiasts from across the region to a space filled with beautiful art, live music performances, delicious food samplings from some of the area’s premier restaurants, children’s activities, and much more.

Each year, the production team and its governing board choose a theme to best represent the mood and feel they’d want guests to experience. This year’s theme exemplifies the spirit of joy and expressiveness that Art provides to the community. To highlight the immense amount of love and connection SLAF receives from its supporters, the theme has officially been selected as, “Love is in the Art.”

“We continue to be overwhelmed by the love and support of the community and are thrilled to be bringing the Saint Louis Art Fair presented by Centene Charitable Foundation back to the streets of downtown Clayton,” said Executive Director Sarah Umlauf. “Our goal this year is simply to continue our mission to inspire and engage our community with the foremost celebration of exceptional visual art, and, of course, spread the theme of ‘love’.”

A nationally recognized art fair, artisans will be coming from more than 33 states and 3 countries with an incredible collection of sculptures, paintings, mixed media, and more on display in downtown Clayton. Something is bound to catch every art lover’s eye while capturing their hearts. As always, the art fair features a field of emerging artists, first-timers as well as returning artists and award winners who will bring their original art to town for the event. Each year, up to 1,200 artists submit to be included in the prestigious art fair. From there, jurors whittle the list down to 180 artist vendors, who are invited to showcase their creations.

Guests will not only fall in love with the Art but find entertainment from a variety of musical, dance and spoken-word performances along with a special Creative Castle area with hands-on activities for children. There will also be new, interactive artistic experiences including custom-led tours to help you, “Meet the Artists,” larger-than-life floral installations, chalk art creations, chef-inspired food demonstrations, and so much more! Please refer to saintlouisartfair.com for more details and a full schedule of new features. 

Additionally, SLAF is excited to release its 2022 Commemorative Print. The official Commemorative Print will be unveiled during a private Saint Louis Art Fair Kick-off Party on Thursday, August 11.

Sign up for Cultural Festivals’ St. Louis Art Fair newsletter and follow Saint Louis Art Fair on social media for the latest updates. Follow us on: Facebook @CulturalFestivals, on Twitter @STLArtFair and on Instagram @STLArtFair.

About Cultural Festivals and the Saint Louis Art Fair

Cultural Festivals enhances the cultural landscape of St. Louis, offering innovative programs that bring the arts to dedicated arts enthusiasts.

The Saint Louis Art Fair presented by Centene Charitable Foundation and produced by Cultural Festivals is a not-for profit corporation, designated by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 organization and is tax-exempt in the state of Missouri. Governed by a local board of directors, all support goes directly toward presentation of the annual St. Louis Art Fair and its cultural outreach programs and services presented throughout the year. Donations to the Art Fair are tax-deductible as a charitable contribution. For more information, visit www.saintlouisartfair.com.

By Lynn Venhaus

“Attention must be paid.”

In Fly North Theatrical’s hard-hitting “Assassins,” as the vainglorious actor John Wilkes Booth, a mesmerizing Jordan Wolk reminds us of those words, which were written by Arthur Miller in “Death of a Salesman” in 1949. With that, he connects these two commentaries on the American Dream.

This show, bending time and space, plunges us into a nightmare that we vividly recall but one, as the company makes clear, is no longer in the far-distant past.

Such is the unnerving grip of Stephen Sondheim’s 1990 musical, with book by John Weidman, based on a concept by Charles Gilbert Jr., as it delves into the twisted minds and violent motives of infamous criminals – four murderers and five would-be killers of U.S. presidents.

Weidman’s loose narrative features these footnotes in American history meeting, interacting, and inspiring each other in set pieces. He acknowledges the strange brew of celebrity culture colliding with deranged misfits, and Far North presents it with a raw, painful intimacy in the .Zack space.

This is Fly North’s first foray into presenting a classic landmark after offering original works in St Louis since 2017 (“The Gringo,” “Madam,” “Forgottonia.”)

The collaborative duo, music director and founder Colin Healy and director Bradley Rohlf, are at the helm, leading a creative team and cast that zealously dives into the deep end, uncompromising on the musical’s dark and disturbing nature. Its perspective is fresh, voices virtuoso and focus laser-like with minimal staging.

Lighting Designer Tony Anselmo’s work is outstanding, establishing an eerie mood through shadows and light. Costume designer Eileen Engel outfitted each character with period appropriate outfits, Healy created the sound design to add historical texture and Rohlf handled the projection design to enhance the visuals. Brian McKinley is the assistant director.

The .Zack has had some sound/microphone issues since it opened, and continues, in various degrees with an array of productions, but usually it affects musicals more than straight plays. In “Assassins,” some of the more intricate vocals are difficult to discern, but the singers project and enunciate with a lot of effort to overcome those moments, but it still happens. There is always this feeling, when you attend a show there, of “let’s hope the sound is OK.”

Thirty-two years after its off-Broadway premiere, this bold, ambitious, and revolutionary musical continues to haunt in a different way. It is one of those seminal works of the American theater, although at the time considered one of Sondheim’s least accessible. Interpretations change through the years, uniquely tapping into current political climates and realities.

The ensemble includes the mentally unstable killers of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy, and would-be murderers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford (two!) and Ronald Reagan.

Basically, mostly losers who wanted desperately to be winners, these are the little guys tired of being oppressed by the rich and powerful, railing against injustice. Or they’re just extremists on the fringe, American psychos craving attention.

In the jaundiced group number, “There’s Another National Anthem,” Sondheim wrote “For those who never win” — The ensemble sings: “No one listens.” and “Where’s my prize?”

As the Proprietor entices the group to fame and glory, sweet-voiced Eileen Engel sells the devastating “Everybody’s Got the Right” like a QVC barker — but no doubt would administer death penalty lethal injections or place a hangman’s noose with a big smile.

The seeds are planted for disaffected and alienated souls, and their insatiable need to be someone. The song, also used in the finale, is almost sinister in context by the end of the 100-minute one-act.

“Look at me!” “Attention must be paid!” (see also @prescon2022, which prepares future leaders, because #EverybodysGotTheRight to be president).

Healy and Rohlf were forced to delay their plans for this musical several times because of the coronavirus pandemic. But perhaps it couldn’t be a timelier presentation.

With razor-sharp cynicism, the clever, whip-smart creative team has produced a fully immersed take, transforming the .Zack into Prescon 2022 – you must get there early (half-hour before) to take part in “Tinfoil Hat Origami,” “Q, no A, with Marjorie Taylor Greene,” “White Collar Crime and How to Get Away With It” and “Tips and Tricks For a Perfect Rose Garden,” sponsored by Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

The run started during the Independence Day holiday weekend, at an unsettling time when political divisions are at a fever-pitch with nasty midterm campaigns heating up a summer of primaries, hearings, and mass shootings.

Of course, the musical was ahead of its time when the original off-Broadway production premiered at the Playwrights Horizons, and while still controversial, the acclaimed 2004 Roundabout revival on Broadway won five Tony Awards and a stripped down version was mounted off-Broadway by John Doyle in late 2021.

Rohlf’s re-imagining of the original carnival framing, a fairground shooting gallery, is a bull’s eye with the convention panel and recreation of vignettes, as narrated by The Balladeer, a riveting Stephen Henley, projecting melancholy and despair in a measured tone. He is the play’s soul.

As in other productions, The Balladeer performer transitions to play a conflicted Lee Harvey Oswald, and Henley imbues JFK’s assassin with a soul-crushing sadness. He is goaded into the deed by Booth, cunning in his persuasion while Oswald wrestles with his demons.

Sensitive to the issues of gun violence, Fly North uses mostly toy guns, but gunfire is used for the Kennedy assassination.

And it is jarring, and powerful, most effective in that one use, and leads up to the evocative and moving “November 22, 1963,” and “Something Just Broke,” which features Americans’ personal accounts from that day of infamy. The impact reverberated for years, as historians tell us, and anyone alive that day can recount in universal details about hearing the news and what it meant.

Such is the indelible Dealey Plaza in Dallas. And the Ford Theatre in Washington D.C., Bayfront Park in Miami, and parades, motorcades, and wherever death changed the course of history.

 “Assassins” is not just the JFK-Oswald Special, nor is it all about Booth, but Lincoln’s assassin is a major catalyst. As written by Weidman, the Confederate sympathizer is embodied more dimensionally in Wolk’s fiery orations, starting with “The Ballad of Booth.”

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Booth entered the Ford Theatre’s presidential box, where Lincoln was watching the comedy “Our American Cousin,” in the third act, and shot him in the back of the head with a .44-caliber derringer. Lincoln died the next morning. Booth escaped with another conspirator, David Herold, and they fled to a barn in Virginia, where they were finally cornered. Herold gave himself up, but Booth refused to surrender and was fatally shot by a police officer. He died on April 26, at age 26.

The show features other characters we may not know much about beyond their names. The bizarre cases of two women, who both attempted to shoot President Gerald Ford within three weeks of each other in California in 1975, are played for laughs — only they are not in on the joke.. While dark, the ineptness and the looney-tunes perception of Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and accountant-turned-hothead Sara Jane Moore is further enhanced by the manic performances of Avery Lux and Kimmie Kidd-Booker.

Lux portrays the brainwashed cultist believing Manson is the son of God and savior of the world as a woman not tethered to any reality while Kidd-Booker depicts easily agitated Moore as a loose cannon. Weidman has used creative liberties here in teaming up the unstable women.

Fromme was first, and the Manson Family mainstay, on Sept. 5, 1975, in Sacramento’s Capitol Park, was hoping to talk to President Ford about the redwoods. Armed with a Colt semi-automatic pistol that had four rounds, she aimed at Ford but there was no bullet in the magazine chamber and was immediately apprehended by Secret Service. She was 26 and received life imprisonment, paroled in 2009 after serving 34 years.

Moore, 45, had 113 rounds of ammunition when she fired a single bullet at President Ford, who was about 40 feet away, and uninjured, while she was in a crowd across the street from the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Moore later admitted to radical political views and expressed regret. She served 32 years of a life sentence and was released on parole in 2007, at age 77.

As one of the three would-be assassins not killed, Jaymeson Hintz portrays John Hinckley Jr. as a pathetic mentally ill young man who had an unhealthy obsession with actress Jodie Foster, then a student at Yale. At age 25, in Washington D.C., he shot President Reagan . on March 30, 1981. With a .22 caliber revolver, he also  wounded police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy. Press Secretary James Brady was left permanently disabled in the shooting.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent over three decades in psychiatric care. He is now released.

His duet with Fromme, “Unworthy of Your Love,” is one of Sondheim’s most heart-breaking ballads.

As the meeker but fixated marksman, Hintz holds his own on stage with the showier roles. He nails Hinckley’s schizoid personality disorder, among other diagnoses. Hintz also has some fun acting as bumbling President Ford.

This musical is not constructed to be a documentary, so the historical figures are shaped by their known backstory but in a more snapshot-type way than a History Channel recap.

Attorney Charles J. Guiteau is portrayed by Bradley Rolen as a delusional gasbag whose increasingly grandiose ramblings are dismissed as nonsense. He considered himself a “Stalwart,” the “Old Guard” faction of the Republican party, supporting Chester A. Arthur, then vice president. He purchased a gun he “thought would look good in a museum,” and followed President James A. Garfield several times, losing his nerve until destiny happened at a train station.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, as the 20th leader of our country departed for New Jersey, Guiteau shot him twice with a revolver. Garfield had only been president for three months when he died Sept. 19, from complications attributed to his doctors, and Guiteau was executed by hanging the next June. He was 40.

“The Ballad of Guiteau” and the chilling “The Gun Song” are part of his repertoire – “pull the trigger, change the world.”

After his second inauguration, the 25th president, William McKinley, another Ohioan, embarked on a six-week tour of the nation. Stopping in Buffalo, New York, to greet people at the Pan-American Exposition Hall’s Temple of Music on Sept. 6, 1901, disgruntled factory worker Leon Czolgosz concealed a handgun in a handkerchief.

The young laborer had become disillusioned by the country’s economic and social turmoil, later involved with a radical socialist group and influenced by anarchist Emma Goldman. Speaking with a Polish accent, Eli Borwick channels that anger and frustration in his powder-keg reactions.

When Czolgosz made it to the front of the line, he shot McKinley twice in the abdomen at close range. The president died a week later. Caught in the act, Czolgosz was quickly tried, convicted, and executed in an electric chair seven weeks later. He was 28.

Borwick’s bombast suits the character, particularly in his songs “The Gun Song” and “The Ballad of Czolgosz.”

As troubled Italian immigrant Guiseppe Zangara, Ryan Townsend conveys the bricklayer’s severe abdominal pain, which in his autopsy was attributed to adhesions on his gallbladder, but he had never received relief in life, even after an appendectomy.

Zangara attempted to kill president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt during a night speech in Miami, 17 days before his inauguration, on Feb. 15, 1933. He shot a .32 caliber pistol five times but missed Roosevelt, striking four others.

Without remorse, when taken to the Dade County Courthouse, he said: “I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.”

He was charged with their attempted murders, but when a victim, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, died 19 days later from peritonitis, Zangara was upgraded to a first-degree murder charge and sentenced to death. He was electrocuted in the Florida State Prison’s electric chair, nicknamed “Old Sparky,” at age 32.  

Townsend uses a thick accent that sometimes makes it hard to understand his rants. He’s part of “How I Saved Roosevelt” and group numbers, displaying a strong voice.

One of the more amusing portrayals is Sarah Lantsberger as Sam Byck, who really thought he would be a hero if he hijacked a plane and flew it into the White House in hopes of killing the much-despised Nixon. On Feb. 22, 1974, he put his plan into motion – trying to hijack a plane flying out of the Baltimore/Washington International Airport, but during the bungled incident, he killed a policeman and a pilot. He was then shot by another policeman and turned the gun on himself, death by suicide.

In two scenes, Byck is shown taping his diatribes, one to Leonard Bernstein (?!) – which can get very meta, connecting Sondheim’s contributions to “West Side Story”, and another to Nixon. Lantsberger commits to earnestly delivering his grievances. She also portrays Emma Goldman in scenes with Borwick..

Of note are Trey Marlette as a Secret Service agent and Layla Mason as Billy, Sara Jane Moore’s son that she brings along to the crime scene.

The vocals are exceptional, and the 11-piece band smoothly covers the complexities of Sondheim’s score that mixes tones and genres. Ryan Hinman, keyboards, Nicki Evans keyboards, Adam Lugo guitar, Teddy Luecke bass, Des Jones percussion, Lucille Mankovich reeds, Linda Branham Rice reeds, John Gerdes horn, Ron Foster trumpet, Joe Akers trumpet, and Adam Levin trombone, led by conductor Healy, are superb.

The ever-inventive Sondheim, whose brilliance encompassed writing lyrics of irony, emotional pain, humanity’s foibles and hunger for connection, has penned some of his most perturbing ones on our inalienable rights here. And now, after his passing in November, his words resonate from beyond the grave. “Made me wonder who we are” — “Something Just Broke.”

With the political chaos of the past decade and continued death threats against our political leaders and public servants, we have yet to fully comprehend the “Twilight Zone”-like reality that is life in 2022. After all, seditionists and malcontents tried to thwart democracy and nearly hung the vice president last year.

And after this show opened, a 22-year-old loner — who legally obtained five guns despite the ‘red flag laws,’ ripped a community apart from a rooftop as it was celebrating our 246th Independence Day.

This cogent “Assassins” certainly gives one pause about the current state of the union — If it doesn’t raise the hair on your arms, you are not paying attention.

After all, “Attention must be paid”!

Stephen Henley as The Balladeer, using his cellphone to pull up information on the assassins. Photo by John Gramlich.


Fly North Theatricals presents “Assassins” from July 1 through July 23, with a special July 4 show at 4 p.m. for $17.76. Other performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. July 7-9, July 14-16 and July 21-23, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. July 3, 10, and 17 at the .Zack building,  It runs 100 minutes and is presented in one act without an intermission. The show contains strong language, use of a racial slur as well as the use of prop firearms in the house in proximity to audience members. For more details, refer to the content warnings – which contains spoilers. For tickets, visit www.MetroTix.com and for more information, visit the website, www.flynorththeatricals.com