By Lynn Venhaus
What’s Poppin’ this Saturday? Here are our Popster Picks for the Bi-State Area (and beyond):

Live Theater: “Winds of Change” in Bevo Mill, presented by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. Free. LAST NIGHT.

One of my favorite things to do every September, Shake in the Streets this year is in my old stomping grounds. This year’s show is a delightful mix of music and comedy, performed with humor and heart.
It starts at 8 p.m. and will end about 9:20 p.m., without an intermission. There is local food and drink around the area, and it’s recommended that you come early. This is the last night, for it was performed Sept. 22 and 23 too.
The play, written by Deanna Jent, uses The Bard’s “The Comedy of Errors” as a foundation for a story on Bosnian immigrants’ contributions to St. Louis, is part of the “Shakespeare in the Streets” annual program. Come to the intersection of Gravois and Morganford, bring a lawn chair, and enjoy the spirited neighbors who love the transformed south city enclave. Lots of laughs and whoops from appreciative crowd (300 on opening night Thursday!)
Directed by Adam Flores, it features Ashwini Arora, Milly Burris, Hannah Geisz, Noah Later, Hady Matta, Youssef Matta, Colin McLaughlin, Brenda Morrison, Christina Rios, Rosario Rios-Kelley, Carly Uding and local denizens Father Mitch (Doyen, pastor of St. John the Baptist and Mark and Joani Akers of Oasis International. Edo Maajka plays the accordion and Nadja Kapetanovich performs a lullaby, “Nini Sine, Spavaj Sine.”
KTK Productions humorously explains the history of the Bevo Mill — Bill Bush, Aileen Kidwell, Chris Kidwell, Matthew Lewis, Jake Singer and Mike Singer III.
It took an army of folks to make the outdoor presentation happen. Kudos to producing artistic director Tom Ridgely, music direction and composition by Colin McLaughlin, music composition by Noah Laster, stage manager Kathryn Ballard, KTK Productions chair Joe McKenna, assistant director Miranda Jagels Felix, producer Colin O’Brien, set designer Dunsi Dai, costume designer Michele Friedman Siler, and lighting designer M. Bryant Powell.

Natalie Wood and James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”

TV: “Rebel Without a Cause” on PBS Ch. 9, 9 p.m.
James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood gained stature for their roles as conflicted suburban middle-class teenagers in this 1955 American coming-of-age drama directed by Nicholas Ray, shot in the recently introduced CinemaScope format. It opened on Oct. 27, almost a month after top-billed Dean’s tragic death in a car accident on Sept. 30. It’s his most celebrated role, and followed his Oscar nominated performance in “East of Eden.”

Offering social commentary, it was considered groundbreaking for depiction of moral decay, delinquents, parenting and generational gaps. After all, it was adapted from Robert M. Lindner’s 1944 book, “Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath.”

Mineo, Wood and Ray all received Oscar nominations. In 1998, it was ranked #59 on AFI’s Hundred Years…Hundred Movies.

Fun Fact: The most famous line: “You’re tearing me apart” was lifted by writer-director-actor Tommy Wiseau for his 2003 cult film “The Room” (the worst movie I have ever seen, and also one of the most unintentionally funny movies).

Movie: “Sidney” streaming on Apple TV Plus.
The 2022 documentary “Sidney” on the great Sidney Poitier, directed by East St. Louis native Reginald Hudlin and produced by Oprah Winfrey. You’ll hear from Sidney, his family, friends, filmmakers and fans for an indelible portrait of the artist — as a movie star, mentor and activist.
I reviewed the film on KTRS (“Mueller Furniture Presents Lynn Venhaus Goes to the Movies”) Thursday with St. Louis In the Know host Ray Hartmann. Here’s the audio: https://soundcloud.com/550ktrs/itk-lynn-venhaus-gttm-9-22-22?in=550ktrs/sets/rayhartmann

Stay tuned for an interview with Reginald Hudlin, coming soon in Belleville News-Democrat. I talked to the filmmaker Friday via Zoom.

Fun Fact: “In the Heat of the Night” was partially filmed in Sparta, Ill., which subbed for Sparta, Miss., and both Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger stayed in Belleville during the film of the 1967 film, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture (and Best Actor Steiger) in 1968.

Happening: Taste of St. Louis, Sept. 23-25, Ballpark Village, Free and open to the public.
Want to try Boardwalk Ice Cream and Waffles, Chicken Out, Hi-Pointe Drive-In, Kimchi Guys, Mission Taco Joint, Salt + Smoke, Steve’s Hot Dogs and Under the Sun SnoCones? Locally based brick and mortar food establishments can participate in Sauce Magazine’s Restaurant Row. There’s live music and other vendors that are part of the festivities. More info: https://tastestl.com

Fun Fact: On this day in 1952, Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its first franchise in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Machine, El Hombre, Uncle Albert.

ICYMI Cardinals Nation: No. 5

Can’t get enough of Albert Pujols‘ magical night Sept. 23? Check out coverage on the St. Louis Cardinals MLB site: https://www.mlb.com/cardinals (and a wrap-up article on this website).

Fun Fact: On this day in 1922, St Louis Cardinals future Baseball Hall of Fame infielder Rogers Hornsby set the National League Home Run mark at 42. That season, he also had 52 RBI’s, a .401 average and 450 total bases.

Millie Bobby Brown

Latest Trailer to Watch: “Enola Holmes 2”
Millie Bobby Brown is back in another adventure as Sherlock Holmes’ teenager sister in the sequel dropping on Netflix Nov. 4. Enola takes on her first case as a detective, but to unravel the mystery of a missing girl, she’ll need some help from friends — and her brother.

Also starring Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Adeel Akhtar, David Thewlis, Susan Wokoma and Sharon Duncan-Brewster.


https://youtu.be/KKXNmYoPkx0

Playlist: Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Listen on Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/album/smells-like-teen-spirit/1440783617?i=1440783625
On this day in 1991, Nirvana released its second album, “Nevermind.”
A critical and commercial success, by January 1992, it had reached no. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart and this lead single has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The album garnered three Grammy Awards nominations and has sold more than 30 million copies, considered one of the best albums of all-time.
Frontman Kurt Cobain was dubbed “voice of his generation,” and the album brought grunge and alternative rock to the mainstream.


By Lynn Venhaus

What treasures St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and our bi-state area public parks are! We are so fortunate to have such forward thinkers in our midst.

And because of these creative souls, ta-da! – we have a late summer treat in the form of a delightfully entertaining, high-energy Afrocentric interpretation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with original music.

During August, the TourCo has been crossing rivers and county lines, going into both rural and urban areas, and providing access to the arts that these neighborhoods may not have otherwise. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of –and the show is unlike anything you have seen before.

Six perspicacious performers present one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies by taking on multiple roles as young lovers, close-minded royal parents, mischievous fairies, and a goofy troupe of traveling actors on their way to perform at the Duke of Athens’ wedding.

The multi-talented Tre’von Griffith has directed with a clear vision, making the confusion and disorder lucid, showing us how love and joy win out in the end. Assistant director was Cameron Jamarr Davis.

The fleet-footed six dance and sing with a great deal of zest. Their spirited delivery spreads the fun by involving the audience, and it’s wonderful to see that connection. Stage Manager Britteny Henry makes sure everything moves swiftly.

That famous line: “The course of true love never did run smooth” is in this play, and that’s the crux. In Athens, Hermia is promised to Demetrius but loves Lysander. Meanwhile, Helena, Hermia’s best friend, loves Demetrius. It gets complicated when spells are cast in a magical forest, for fairies get mixed up in the romances when love potions are used on the wrong people.

A life force, Tiélere Cheatem plays Helena, Hippolyta (queen of the Amazons) and Peter Quince, and it is a graceful site, such lovely physicality to watch. Rae Davis excels as Hermia, Tom Snout and Titania (queen of the fairies), and the amusing Ricki Franklin easily switches from Demetrius to the goofball Nick Bottom – a cartwheel! — while Asha Futterman nimbly does double duty as Theseus (Duke of Athens) and Oberon (king of the fairies). Mel McCray is an agile Lysander and Francis Flute, and Christina Yancy is spry alternating as Egeus (Hermia’s father), Snug, Robin, and Puck.

Everyone should leave with a smile on their face and a song in their hearts.

Griffith, known as Tre-G, is a gifted artist and composer from St. Louis who graduated from the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston with a bachelor’s degree in music business and management. His original music enlivens the pared-down play – and the beat is contagious in getting the crowd into the show.

The imaginative costumes by local designer Brandin Vaughn are whimsical and cleverly separate the characters – and Cheatem rocks whatever he is wearing with great style.

Laura Skroska crafted a production design that is interesting, portable, and quick to assemble in all kinds of outdoor spaces.

So, what are you waiting for? You must make time to spend 90-minutes in its final free evening programs.

Originally scheduled for 24 shows, four remain (Aug. 24 – Jones Water Park in East St. Louis, Aug. 25 – Shaw Park in Clayton, Aug. 26 – Chroma Plaza in the Grove, Aug. 27 – Hermann, Mo., and final night is Tuesday, Aug. 30, the rescheduled Tower Grove Park performance, which had been rained out.

The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m. Bring your own chair or blanket. Guests can bring their own food and drink, and some sites sell items, too.

Go!

Live theater has enriched my life immeasurably, and one of the best experiences is to witness a production outside with an audience of all ages and walks of life. Connecting with others through the arts is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

One summer night growing up in Belleville, Ill., the neighborhood public school put on a version of “Tom Sawyer” on their grounds. I recall benches were placed in an alcove, but I don’t remember what age the cast members were — all I know was I was entranced. This was in the mid-1960s, and as the oldest of five kids raised by a single mom, we had very little money for extra things. The arts opened a whole new world.

Free theater! I never forgot that opportunity, and throughout my previous life staging shows outside, I marveled at the melding of art and the outdoors – it seemed so natural.

(And later, I’d realize how much work they were – moving everything outside! But I digress…And fun fact, a local professional actor who often is part of the big summer show in Shakespeare Glen was in that grade school play I saw. Small world, full circle, six degrees…and so forth).

I have been fortunate to review the festival since 2013, and one of my favorites was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the summer of 2016. It was so inspired and playful. This one, too, is doused in fairy dust. While it helps to know the basics, really the way they prepare the show makes it easy to follow for all of us.

Because my June schedule prevented me from coming earlier, I headed to the picturesque village of Brussels, Ill., population 112, on Sunday, Aug. 21, a place I hadn’t been to in 25 years! In the fall of 1997, I had taken my two sons hiking in Pere Marquette State Park and we took the Brussels Ferry across the Illinois River. This time, now living in St. Louis, I drove to St. Charles and crossed the Mississippi River on the Golden Eagle Ferry.

Winding through the narrow roads of Calhoun County, I found the town center on Main Street – and saw folks in lawn chairs at Heritage Park, enjoying the pleasant sunny day and festive spirit. The music and the likable performers were engaging everyone, and Community Engagement Manager Adam Flores warmly welcomed those gathered.

It was such a joyous communal experience – and to see people coming up to the performers afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it, well, what’s better? (And we had time to get to the ferry as twilight fell!).

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival started fostering community and continuing the Shakespearean tradition of art for all in 2001, when they first presented a free show for two weeks in Forest Park – “Romeo and Juliet.” Now a month long in Shakespeare Glen that attracts thousands, the free event is the start to summer for many St. Louisans.

St Louis Shakes doesn’t end with the big show – which was the fun and funny “Much Ado About Nothing” this June – because the TourCo works their summer magic throughout the region, and come September, we have the annual free Shakespeare in the Streets to look forward to – and this year, it’s in my old neighborhood of Bevo Mill, at the intersection of Morgan Ford Road and Gravois Avenue Sept. 22-24.

The focus will be on our thriving immigrant population in the city’s southside. Deanna Jent, who did so much work with the Bosnian Project through Fontbonne University, has written this Shakespeare adaptation with them in mind.

This December, the one and only Q Brothers Collective will present their version of “A Christmas Carol.” Winner of multiple St. Louis Theater Circle Awards for their hilarious “Dress the Part” two-hander in the ‘before times’ of early 2020, I’ve heard their audio version – courtesy of the walking tour in the Central West End in the pandemic wintertime of 2020 — and I’m ready to see their fresh take at the National Blues Museum Nov. 25-Dec. 23.

You won’t want to miss any of it.

For more information, visit www.stlshakes.org.

Guests are encouraged to call ahead to the Box Office (314-287-3348) with any park accessibility questions for the tour date they plan to attend.

It is always their hope to perform, so the decision to hold or cancel the show is rarely made before showtime (6:30 pm). In the event of bad weather, the performance may be delayed. Check social @stlshakesfest across platforms for updates or call 314•287•3348.

Bringing the magic and artistry of Shakespeare in the Park to communities throughout the bi-state region

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival (Tom Ridgely, Producing Artistic Director) kicks off a brand new regional touring production, “TourCo” bringing the magic of Shakespeare in the Park to public spaces across the bi-state area.

As the first public tour production from this initiative, Othello will travel to 24 public parks. Adam Flores (St. Louis Shakespeare
Festival’s Manager of Community Engagement & Education) directs the 90-minute adaptation starring a company of six actors. The free performances will take place nightly at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sundays from August 3-29.

“Shakespeare’s plays should be as free and available to all as our region’s great libraries and stunning public parks,” said producing artistic director Tom Ridgely in a statement. “This summer especially, we knew we had to do everything we could to share the magic of the Glen with as many communities as possible. And Othello in particular strikes straight at the heart of so many of the challenges facing our region. Experiencing it this way will be a revelation for all of us. We can’t wait to hit the road.”

The Festival will begin the tour in East St. Louis at Malcolm W. Memorial Park on August 3, with sweeping views of the riverfront and downtown skyline. It continues on to Tower Grove Park, one of the more well-known parks on the list, for night two. The Tour will visit each of the past nine neighborhoods featured in it’s Shakespeare in the Streets program as well as many smaller parks in North St. Louis. Farther stops in Illinois include Bellville, Collinsville and Edwardsville. Also included are trips to rural parts of Missouri
with a stop in Hermann (Hermann Farms) and in Sullivan, MO (Harney Mansion Grounds). The production was developed to be performed on lawns, in amphitheaters, and pavilions making it adaptable to the location.

TourCo Schedule
● TUE AUG 3 – Malcolm W. Memorial Park (185 W Trendley Ave, East St. Louis IL 62201)
● WED AUG 4 – Tower Grove Park (4257 Northeast Drive, St. Louis MO 63110) [Audio Description
Night]
● THU AUG 5 – St. Louis Place Park (2008 St. Louis Ave, St. Louis MO 63106)
● FRI AUG 6 – Love Bank Park (2851 Cherokee St, St Louis MO 63118)
● SAT AUG 7 – The Harney Mansion Grounds (332 S Mansion St, Sullivan, MO 63080)
● SUN AUG 8 – Fairground Park (3715 Natural Bridge Ave, St Louis MO 63107)
● TUE AUG 10 – Woodland Park (Pine Lake Rd, Collinsville IL 62234)
● WED AUG 11- January-Wabash Park (501 N Florissant Rd, Ferguson MO 63135)
● THU AUG 12 – O’Day Park Amphitheater (1000 O’Day Park Dr, O’Fallon MO 63368) [ASL
Interpretation]
● FRI AUG 13 – Bella Fontaine Park (9565 Bellefontaine Rd, St. Louis MO 63137)
● SAT AUG 14 – City Park (101 S Buchanan, Edwardsville IL 62025)
● SUN AUG 15 – Bellevue Park (401 Bellevue Park Dr, Belleville IL 62226)
● TUE AUG 17 – Carondelet Park (3900 Holly Hills Blvd, St. Louis MO 63116)
● WED AUG 18 – Chesterfield Amphitheater (631 Veterans Pl Dr, Chesterfield MO 63017)
● THU AUG 19 – Shaw Park (27 S Brentwood Blvd, Clayton MO 63105)
● FRI AUG 20 – Chouteau Park (Choteau Ave & S. Newstead Ave, St. Louis MO 63110)
● SAT AUG 21 – Hermann Farm (526 E 1st St Hermann MO 65041)
● SUN AUG 22 – Jefferson Barracks Park (345 North Rd, W St. Louis MO 63125)
● TUE AUG 24 – Trojan Park (6154 Etzel Ave, St. Louis MO 63133)
● WED AUG 25- Hyde Park (Salisbury St & N. 20th St, St. Louis MO 63107)
● THU AUG 26 – Heritage Park (Brussels, IL 62013)
● FRI AUG 27 – Wehner Park (7600 Hazel Ave, St. Louis, MO 63119)
● SAT AUG 28 – O’Fallon Park (799 E Taylor Ave, St. Louis MO 63147)
● SUN AUG 29 – Ladue Racquet Club (Private Event)

Othello is considered by many to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. An epic tale of political and personal intrigue, it depicts a great leader exploited by his own lieutenant, to disastrous effect. The best villains can always find the chink in a hero’s armor, and when they do, it leads to some of the best scenes in any drama. By turns shocking and profound, Othello depicts the pitfalls of jealousy and self-doubt, and how these faults can tear apart the best of us from within.

Jason J. Little, most recently seen onstage with the Festival in King Lear, leads the all local cast as Othello. Courtney Bailey (2021 Confluence Regional Playwright) appears as Desdemona, Charlie Barron as Iago, Ricki Franklin as Emilia, and previous educational touring casting members Hannah Geisz (featured in 2020 production of Cymbeline) as Roderigo, and Jesse Muñoz (2018 Romeo & Juliet) as Cassio round out the company of six.

The creative team for Othello includes designers Laura Skroska (Production Designer), Vanessa Tabourne (Costume Design), Rusty Wandall (Sound Design), Erik Kuhn (Fight Choreography) and the Festival’s tour manager since 2011, Emily Clinger.

Performances are free and open to the public and begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday from August 3-29. Performances are 90 minutes long. All ages are welcome. Guests are encouraged to bring their own chairs and blankets. Visit www.stlshakes.org for more information.

Othello is funded by Bayer Fund, Arts Midwest, and the Saigh Foundation. Specific stops on the Tour were supported by Commerce Bank, Dr. Debbie A. Depew, Michael & JiaMin Dierberg, Eric and Mary Koestner, LinkStL, Ed & Tedi Macias, Mary Nigh at RedKey Realty Leaders, Straub’s, Thompson Coburn LLP and UMB Bank.


ABOUT
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival strives to foster community and joy across the St. Louis region through the Shakespearean tradition of art for all. Since 2001, the Festival has grown from producing a single production of Shakespeare in the Park to a year-round season of impactful programming in exciting and accessible venues throughout the bi-state area. Artistic and education programs reach over
50,000 patrons and students each season and have served over one million since 2001. In 2020, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg News featured the Festival’s stand-out virtual and in-person programs.

Adam Flores is an actor, director, producer and educator based in St. Louis for over a decade. He holds an MFA in directing from Baylor University, and a BFA and teaching certification from Fontbonne University. As an actor, he has performed with over a dozen local professional companies including the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis as part of the Shakespeare in the Streets program in both New World and Blow, Winds. As a founding resident artist of Mustard Seed Theatre he worked in many capacities including helping produce and direct “Bosnian American: The Dance for Life,” a community-engaged project with the Bosnian community of St. Louis. In 2015, Flores acted as a local line producer for the “Every 28 Hour Plays” a collaboration with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the One-Minute Play Festival, and the St. Louis community in response to the Ferguson movement. He began as a theatre educator teaching in the Parkway School district. Later he was Assistant Professor of Theatre at Fontbonne University. He recently also was lead Teaching Artist for the Festival’s Shake 101 teaching residency for the past two years

TourCo’s inaugural production of Othello will visit 24 parks and gathering spaces across Missouri and Illinois in August.

OTHELLO 

AUG 3 – 29 • 6:30p • TUE – SUN

Directed by Adam Flores
Starring Jason J. Little, Courtney Bailey, Charlie Barron, Ricki Franklin, Hannah Geisz & Jesse Muñoz.

The 90-minute adaptation will feature Courtney Bailey (Desdemona), Charlie Barron (Iago), Ricki Franklin (Emilia), Hannah Geisz (Roderigo), Jason J. Little (Othello) and Jesse Muñoz (Cassio).

All performances begin at 6:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted. These shows are free, no reservations or tickets are required. Bring your own chairs, blankets and pack a picnic to meet your friends and neighbors around the corner or find a park in a new spot on the tour to explore. Join us for more free Shakespeare in the Park! Learn more at stlshakes.org/othello

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Ah, Purgatory. It’s complicated. If our fate hung in the balance between a celestial playground and a worst-case scenario, how would we feel about sin and redemption?
Using Biblical passages, historical characters, street vernacular, imagined flashbacks and behavioral psychology, prodigious playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis tests our definitions of sin and grace in a bold and epic conundrum, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”
Unusual, intense and penetrating — this ambitious Mustard Seed Theatre production is an extraordinary achievement for all involved. It’s tough, tender, edgy and above all, heartfelt.
In this sprawling and fiery opus, Guirgis explores a complex dynamic between Jesus and Judas that has confounded believers for centuries. We don’t know for certain, but Guirgis’ imagination is as limitless as it is meandering. He is a man bursting with ideas, concepts, philosophical musings and diatribes.
(And cursing. Lots o’ that among his nimble wordplay. Don’t bring the kids. Definitely for mature audiences).
Intimate in setting but big-picture brilliant in scope, the play is quite a winding – and witty — journey through time and space. So buckle up, the character clashes are riveting.
Guirgis, a 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winner for drama, for “Between Riverside and Crazy,” has given us so much to mull over that I felt as if I was cramming for a theology exam. Afterwards, I was exhilarated and emotionally spent. No test. (Or is it? Hmmm…).
But I also pondered how I would answer for my actions, decisions and interactions. I want to be more mindful, such is the effect of this play – it resonates spiritually and is rooted in reality. (Or maybe it’s the Catholic guilt rearing its ugly head. Never get away from it, no matter what age).
Assessing our lives is a natural by-product of this profound play. Oh, it’s alternately subtle, harsh, dark and funny — and more, throughout its nearly 3-hour runtime.
Because the drama’s heft is so daunting, director Adam Flores tackled the demands by shrewdly assembling a fearless cast, all up for the challenge.
His assistant director is Jacob Schmidt and Stage Manager Alycia Martin must have been a drill sergeant calling the show, for 27 characters come and go in a Purgatory courtroom.
Flores firmly moves the 13 actors as if he’s masterminding a chess tournament. It’s obviously a passion project, sparked by responding to the play in 2006, and arranging this leap of faith in the Fontbonne black box.
Previously, only Hot City Theatre staged it locally, and that was 12 years ago. The off-Broadway premiere at The Public in 2005 was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and starred Sam Rockwell as Judas, Eric Bogosian as Satan and John Ortiz as Jesus of Nazareth.
The enormous level of difficulty cannot be understated. Dramaturg Elisabeth Wurm had to make sense out of a rebel yell, full of faith and doubt, in a traditional court trial frame work. It’s thoughtful and has real depth.
Scenic designer Dunsi Dai has created a minimal set of angles and platforms, and a few symbolic nods, allowing us to visualize images suggested during the testimonies. Michael Sullivan’s lighting design enhances the post-modern atmosphere.
A defense attorney for Judas, indignant Cunningham (Courtney Bailey-Parker), argues that the disgraced disciple should not be damned for all time, that others are culpable in the greater scheme of things, while overzealous prosecutor El-Fayoumy (a dandy Carl Overly Jr.) thinks a special place in hell is just fine.
A jury will decide Judas’ fate, but not before a parade of high-profile witnesses take the stand while a cranky Judge (Chandler Spradling) presides, with a nervous bailiff (Chelsea Krenning) at his beck and bark.
Some folks are impatient, surly and obstinate about being called to testify. Just because they crossed over, doesn’t mean they shed their less appealing characteristics. Saints appear at random, offering afterlife tidbits and spouting humorous anecdotes.
Parker has a considerable amount of heavy lifting, and does not miss a beat in fervent commitment to her client. Overly is slick, cajoling and conniving.
At center is Judas, near catatonic and inconsolable. As Judas, Chris Ware projects both an innocence and a howling despair. Confused, hurt and angry, he is misinterpreted by others at every turn. He barely speaks, but when provoked, he lashes out defiantly. A sadness swells.
The leads are fierce, not intimidated by the show’s weight. While portraying multiple characters or different genders, supporting actors are integral to making it flow seamlessly. Everyone has a purpose, no matter how random it appears.
The smooth ebb and flow of the cast’s intersection is noteworthy, as each character builds upon the others — the cement between the bricks.
Performers must deliver dense dialogue, with passionate monologues tumbling out of them, emphasizing ranges of emotions coursing through their character.
The sorrow of Judas’ mother Henrietta (Carmen Garcia) opens the show. She’s in period garb. But the costumes from designer Andrea Robb bends periods, ranging from traditional to reimagined.
Later switching gears to become an angry Pontius Pilate, Garcia commands the stage with haughtiness and power, bristling at the suggestion he was to blame for Christ’s crucifixion.
The oh-so-smooth Eric Dean White brings the heat as Satan, aka Lu, oozing unctuousness and evil in his first scene. The next time, he’s a ranting megalomaniac, hurling insults, contemptuous of the process.
Those are blustery roles, meant to push buttons. Other performers shine in adrenalized vignettes, particularly the saints. Rae Davis is a delight as both Saint Monica and Simon, while FeliceSkye is laugh-out-loud funny as Saint Peter, and a character Gloria – and a hoot as Sigmund Freud.
Ariella Rovinsky presents a fresh take on Caiaphas and Mary Magdalene, while Rachel Tibbetts is a touch of Rose and a dash of Sophia in a “Golden Girls”-inspired depiction of Mother Teresa. She is also a relatable St. Thomas, stunned by his quick 180 at not being a stand-up guy when Jesus needed him.
Characters recount their beliefs and experiences, and the play becomes a multi-course meal of textures, temperatures and shared plates.
Guirgis, also an actor, appeared in Charlie Kaufman’s unwieldy film about how life works, “Synecdoche, New York,” and this piece is reminiscent in that it has much to digest, and at times, seems overwhelming. It is a long haul.
Stick with it, and you will be rewarded by two of the best moments near the end — intimate reflective exchanges that mimic a therapy session. Jesse Munoz, with a calm yet authoritative demeanor, conveys a compassionate, loving and forgiving Jesus. Graham Emmons is heartbreaking as Butch Honeywell, the jury foreman who breaks the news to a forlorn Judas. He’s compelled to pour out his remorse over self-destructive choices that haunt him forever, and Emmons – new to St. Louis stages this year – is mesmerizing.
Did we experience glimpses of heaven and hell through this erudite discourse? I think we did. Notions of what afterlife awaits us change during our lifetimes, but will forever remain an enigma, no matter how many years we’re here on earth. Simmering inferno or eternal serenity?
No questions are answered here, but plenty are raised — and that’s the point. But you’ll be thinking about the divine order of things for days. Theology students take entire semesters to explore the ideas that the playwright brings up. We had one evening.
But what a tapestry we are confronted with – through a lens of sinners and saints, friendship, free will, grief and destiny.
The New Testament version of Jesus’ final days has been interpreted different ways in popular entertainment, with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 47-year-old rock opera musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar” now a blank canvas and Martin Scorsese’s controversial film “The Last Temptation of Christ,” just to name a few. This one’s more under the radar, but a wild ride nonetheless, and worthy of attention.
MST’s earnest, fiery effort will remain one of the year’s most impressive presentations – in its execution, creative dedication and the breadth of its sheer humanity. Your reaction might not be immediate, but this one lingers.
Mustard Seed Theatre presents “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” from Oct. 10 – 28, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., but no Friday, at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, visit: www.mustardseedtheatre.com
Ann K Photography
Eric Dean White as Satan and Chris Ware as Judas.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
So, how does one find inspiration to play Mother Teresa? Rachel Tibbetts thought of a popular TV sitcom.
In “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Mustard Seed Theatre, she plays Mother Teresa and two other characters – St. Thomas and Loretta.
“Mother Teresa is such a blast. I am approaching her as Mother Teresa meets ‘The Golden Girls,’” she said.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing three characters. I love the challenge of playing with physicality and voice to move from character to the next.”
The irreverent dark comedy explores the afterlife of former apostle Judas, wanting to know if sin or grief or grace will prevail, and runs from Oct. 1 to Oct. 28, Wednesday through Sunday, with no Friday performance. It is recommended for mature audiences.

The Last Days of Judas IscariotTibbetts is not the only cast member with multiple roles or who switches genders — 27 diverse characters are woven into a courtroom in downtown Purgatory, part of a jury trial to determine if Judas should remain in Hell. After all, who’s to blame/at fault for his notorious place in history, damned for all-time, his lawyer argues.
The historical and Biblical characters are sinners and saints. The play by Stephen Adly Guirgis was originally staged off-Broadway at The Public Theatre in 2005, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Guirgis went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2015, for “Between Riverside and Crazy.”
Her longtime friend and colleague Carl Overly Jr. portrays attorney El-Fayoumy.
“Carl and I get to have so much fun on stage together. It’s also very exciting to be included in an ensemble that beautifully reflects our community,” she said.
Adam Flores, resident artist at Fontbonne University, directed the production. Locally, it is the second time a regional company is tackling the show — HotCity Theatre staged it in 2006.
Besides Tibbetts and Overly, the ensemble includes: Courtney Bailey Parker, Rae Davis, Graham Emmons, FeliceSkye, Carmen Garcia, Chelsea Krenning, Jesse Munoz, Ariella Rovinsky, Chandler Spradling, Chris Ware and Eric Dean White.
Active in regional theater for more than 10 years, Tibbetts has become one of St. Louis’ most versatile artists working today.
Little Thing Big Thing with Joe HanrahanIn the past three years alone, Tibbetts has played a nun on the run, a faux vampire, a German matron trying to make sense of the World War II fallout, Athena goddess of war, a spoiled social climber in hell, Lady Macbeth, an exotic secret agent in a Hitchcock movie parody, a Spanish painter and Harvard star-mapper.
She is a founding member of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, and has been in productions at The Midnight Company, ERA (Equally Represented Arts) Theatre, R-S Theatrics, Tennessee Williams Festival, Young Liars and West End Players Guild.
While she has been able to portray many memorable roles, one of her all-time favorite experiences was this past winter, when she played trailblazing ‘astronomer’ (data entry clerk) Henrietta Swan Leavitt in Laurwn Gunderson’s play “Silent Sky” in the West End Players Guild production.
Silent Sky, with Michelle Hand, Jamie Pitt and Rachel Tibbetts. Photo by John Lamb“I don’t know if a day has gone by since we closed where I haven’t thought about this particular line: ‘Because wonder will always get us there.’ Every aspect of working on ‘Silent Sky’ was truly an experience of wonder – the script, the director, the cast, the production ensemble,” she said.
“My grandmother passed away while working on the show. She was always supportive of me as an artist. My heart hurt, and still does, from her death, but working on the show gifted me healing,” she said.
No Exit. Photo by Joey RumpellShe has dedicated her work this year to “Grams.” And she has kept busy.
Tibbetts doesn’t only act — she directed “Run-On Sentence” for SATE this spring. With Lucy Cashion, she co-directed a new adaptation of “Antigone” at the women’s prison in Vandalia, which was a collaboration between Saint Louis University and Prison Performing Arts.
As a co-producer, she is working on a new translation of “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus” for SATE, which opens Oct. 31. She co-produced the second annual Aphra Behn Emerging Artists’ Festival with SATE this spring.
She also filmed a movie based on Anton Chekhov’s “Platonov” with ERA Theatre and Sleepy Kitty.
Theater takes up most of her waking life.
After earning a B.A. in theatre from Oklahoma State University, she found an internship opportunity with the Delaware Theatre Company’s education department.
“I had an interest in education as well,” she said, noting that she has worked with Young Audiences of St. Louis and is a graduate of the Community Arts Training Institute at the Regional Arts Commission in 2006-2007.
This year, she marked 13 years with Prison Performing Arts and is currently their Director of Youth Programs.
“It’s very much an honor to create and collaborate with the adult and youth artists in all of our facilities,” she said.
“I have been lucky enough to have always had a job in the arts since college, and I’m very grateful to make my living doing what I love to do,” she said.
Maggie Conroy and Rachel in ERA’s “Trash Macbeth” 2016She moved to St. Louis in 2003. After getting a divorce in 2006, she discovered SATE through her friend Kim. She accompanied her to a training session and met founder Margeau Baue Steinau, and two years later, she met another kindred spirit, founder Ellie Schwetye.
“I am the artist who I am and have had the opportunities I’ve had because of them,” she said.
She considers working with her SATE family “fun, exhilarating and challenging.”
“Ellie and I focus on creating an environment where people can experiment and have fun. It’s also extremely important to us to create a community where everyone – on stage and off – feel like both themselves and their work matter,” she said.
“And I’m really proud of the magic our coven creates – our coven being Ellie, myself, Bess Moynihan and Liz Henning (resident designers),” she said.
Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts accepting award for Best Ensemble – Comedy for “First Impressions” at 2018 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards. Photo by Gerry LoveShe and Ellie are the yin and yang.
“Ellie and I work well because we complement each other. We definitely are two different individuals in many ways, and I love that about us. It creates a relationship, both personal and professional, where we can continually grow from working with — and just knowing –each other,” she said.
Because wonder will always get us there.
Here are Rachel’s answers to our Take Ten Questions:
Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I was obsessed with the movie “Annie” as a little girl. I had the red dress. We owned the record. I would wander around the house singing, “Amaya, Amaya, I love ya Amaya,” because I couldn’t pronounce the word tomorrow. My mom tells me that there are moments where she wanted to get rid of the record because I just wouldn’t stop, but she didn’t, and I am thankful.
My parents always encouraged me to pursue the arts.
They were always taking me to see plays and musicals, but beyond the doors of our homes (my dad was in the Air Force and we moved a lot), I was pretty shy. I finally started taking theatre classes in middle school. It really helped me find my voice and a community. I was lucky to have an incredible drama teacher in high school and she also encouraged me.
2, How would your friends describe you?
Recently, a very dear friend, described me as a love-magnet. I love this. I think they would also describe me as loopy and they know what they mean.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
“Watching the ‘Real Housewives’ and then gossiping about the Real Housewives with my friends Andrew and Carl, hanging at the Crow’s Nest with Bess.”
What is your current obsession?
“Stranger Things.” I can’t leave Target without purchasing a new t-shirt. I now have a one tee limit anytime I leave there. I love everything about that show because it reminds me of everything I loved about my childhood – “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” “Ghostbusters.”
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
“I’m not afraid of spiders. And maybe that I’m 40.”
St. Louis Theater Circle Awards 2018, SATE winners of Best Ensemble – Comedy and Best New Play for “First Impressions”Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
“In 2006, I got divorced and I was really searching for something, so a good friend of mine, Kim, invited me to join her for a Monday night training with Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Then, I met Margeau. And two years later, I met Ellie. I am the artist who I am and have had the opportunities I’ve had because of them.”
Who do you admire most?
“My mom and dad, Paul and Judy. They are the kindest people I know. And they make me laugh so much.”
What is at the top of on your bucket list?
“To see Kendrick Lamar in concert.”
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
“Eat cheese and drink margaritas at Mi Ranchito.”
What’s next?
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” with Mustard Seed Theatre – actor; “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus” – co-producer; and “First Impressions” – directing a remount performance at the women’s prison in Vandalia, Mo.
Her parents are moving here in December, so she has that to look forward to, too.
The Cherry Sisters Revisited. Rachel is bottom row, middle.MORE ON RACHEL TIBBETTS
Name: Rachel TibbettsAge: 40Birthplace: Rapid City, South DakotaCurrent location: Where St. Louis City and Maplewood meetFamily: Paul and Jude, my parents, and my fur kids: Lyric, Monroe, and RubyEducation: B.A. in Theatre from Oklahoma State UniversityDay job: Director of Youth Programs for Prison Performing ArtsFirst job: Server at Simple Simon’s Pizza in Enid, Okla.First role: Cobweb in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”Favorite roles/plays: Effie/”The Cherry Sisters,” Every role in “R+J: A Telephone Play,” Horatio in “Remember Me,” Henrietta in “Silent Sky”Dream role/play: I don’t have one.Awards/Honors/Achievements: Best Ensemble in a Comedy for “The 39 Steps” (St. Louis Theater Circle) and SATE won “Best Production of a Comedy for “As You Like It” and Best Ensemble in a Comedy/Best New Play for “First Impressions.”
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Because wonder will always get us there…” –  from Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky”
A song that makes you happy: “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and with modern technology we can listen to it whenever we want.
“Judgment at Nuremburg” with Joe Hanrahan. Photo by Joey Rumpell.