On Saturday, Sept 24 from 12:30-3 pm, Dance the Vote STL will present Midterms Matter, a free, nonpartisan, family friendly, all-inclusive event in front of the Missouri History Museum to promote voter awareness in advance of the general election on Tuesday, November 8.  When DTV first performed for midterms at the museum in 2018, they attracted over 1000 attendees before pivoting to virtual performances during the pandemic. This is their first return to large scale outdoor events.

A highlight of the event will be taking “Missouri’s largest photo to promote the midterms”. People of all ages and political affiliations are invited to participate in this nonpartisan photo.

U.S. Presidential elections are big news worldwide every four years. But what happens in the midterm elections can have just as big an impact on the direction of the country.

“At Midterms Matter, we will energize attendees to participate in the midterms elections and exercise their precious right. Our event also honors National Disability Voter Registration Week and will feature an all-inclusive short community dance to be taught for people of all ages and abilities, including people with disabilities. Everyone is welcome,” said Joan Lipkin, producing artistic director of Dance the Vote.

Confirmed dance companies include St. Louis Academy of Dance, Ashleyliane Dance Company, Grupo Atlantico, Amara Arts, Skystone Dance Ensemble, Resilience Dance Company and others. Local singers including Carmen Garcia and Katie Dunne McGrath and Friends will perform. Speakers include Denise Lieberman of Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, Rev. Darryl Gray of Missouri Faith Voices, Katie Rodriguez Banister of Access-4-All with more to be announced.

Choreographer and co-producer Ashley L. Tate explains, “We will begin with some familiar dances including the Electric Slide and the Wobble and then teach an original, short, inclusive and accessible community dance that can be enjoyed by everyone.  This dance is for all levels and abilities!”

Additional activities will include voter registration and education, information fair with local nonprofits and community groups, kids’ activities, the Bubble Lady, food trucks, a DJ, and more.

“I am passionate about finding ways the Missouri Historical Society can help drive civic engagement,” said Dr. Jody Sowell, President and CEO of the Missouri Historical Society. “We believe public history has the power to strengthen communities. The goal of our exhibits, community tours, and public programming — like the Midterms Matter event — is to help the public make connections between past, present and future. We believe the more you appreciate a place’s past, the more invested you will be in its present and future. MHS is fortunate to play a part in helping the public make these connections and is proud to support Dance the Vote and civic engagement.”

Presented by Dance the Vote St. Louis, a program of That Uppity Theatre Company, and co-sponsored by the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis University, St. Louis ARC, Missouri Faith Voices, NAACP-St Louis County, League of Women Voters – St. Louis, Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council, National Council of Jewish Women STL, Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, National Women’s Political Caucus of St Louis, ProgressWomen, Access-MO, Paraquad, Access-4-All LLC, Equity Action Collective LLC, Immigrant Song, Missouri Centers for Independent Living, Missouri Equity Education Partnership, 350 STL, A. Philip Randolph Institute St. Louis Chapter, American Association of University Women St Louis (AAUW),Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, empower: abilities, The Link, Metropolitan Congregations United, and Conversations for Political Change.

Founded in 2016, Dance the Vote (DTV) is a nonpartisan arts organization that uses the arts to promote voter registration, education and advocacy. Performances have been featured on CBS, the Black Entertainment Network, the Higher Education Channel, American Theatre Magazine, St. Louis Magazine, the St Louis Post-Dispatch and Dance Magazine and seen by several million people.

DTV has received the IDEA Award from MindsEye, What’s Right with the Region from Focus St. Louis and the Moving Democracy Award from St. Louis Magazine as part of the 2021 A-List.

Midterms Matter is funded in part by the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, the Scarlet Feather Fund, and Rev Up!

National Voter Registration Day 9/20 https://nationalvoterregistrationday.org

National Voter Education Week 10/3-10/7    https://votereducationweek.org/

Disability Voting Rights Week 9/16/-22 https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/dvrw/

DancetheVoteStl.org

Facebook.com/DancetheVoteStl

By Lynn Venhaus
Emphasizing romantic symbolism along with its operatic life and death themes, an unconventional production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo” is cleverly staged inside a Big Top ring, re-imagined as an Italian circus — complete with aerialists, animals, singers, musicians, and clowns.

The 1951 play is this year’s centerpiece for the seventh annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, one of my favorite not-to-be-missed events since 2016.

The Mississippi-born playwright, who spent his formative years in St. Louis, came to prominence in the 1940s, and in the decades following, cemented his place as one of the most significant playwrights of the 20th century. The festival celebrates his influence and art through his enduring works and early writings.

Always a detailed retrospective with speakers, education components, readings, films, tours and more, the fest’s fresh looks have a way of bringing out further insights during its 10-day schedule.

A bold and risky move, the exaggerated flourishes — while cinematic and reminiscent of Fellini fantasies — aren’t necessary to convey the heart of the matter, which is love in a time of chaos and the push-pull of grief, desire, and hope.

While the amusing accoutrements add to the production’s overall uniqueness, Williams’ poetic flair remains at center stage.

The nimble ensemble slips into the colorful characters that are part of an Italian immigrant community on the Mississippi gulf coast.

Williams’ play, which premiered in Chicago in 1950, became his fourth New York produced piece in 1951 after “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Summer and Smoke.” It is his only one to win a Tony Award for Best Play.

Williams adapted the three acts for the movie in 1955, perhaps best known as the vehicle for which Anna Magnani won an Academy Award. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, also winning for cinematography and art direction.

Magnani, once described as the “volcanic earth mother of Italian cinema,” was a friend of the playwright. He wrote the part for her, considered her “the most explosive emotional actress of her generation.” But, thinking her English wasn’t up for the stage, she declined – and four years later, it was her first English language film role.

The earthy Serafina Delle Rose is an indelible heroine – suffering but not silent. Maureen Stapleton originated the role on Broadway, and Maria Tucci (1966), Mercedes Ruehl (1995) and Marisa Tomei (2019) played the tempestuous widow in subsequent revivals.

Under the Big Top, professional actress and academic Rayme Cornell commands the space as the fiery Sicilian seamstress.

Let’s face it, as written, both she and love interest Alvaro could be construed as antiquated over-the-top ethnic stereotypes. Chalk it up to dated material from 70 years ago. So, she and Bradley J. Tejeda walk a tightrope in dialect delivery.

Serafina is a complicated woman. Williams knows how to set up pain and passion, that’s for sure. Happily married to virile truck driver Rosario, Serafina discloses she is pregnant with her second child and that a rose tattoo appeared on her breast the night of conception, albeit temporary.

We never see Rosario but learn he ran black-market cargo for the mob underneath bananas and cheated with the delectably-named Estelle Hohengarten (Rachael Fox, on horseback). His life ends badly – shot, then his 10-ton truck crashes and bursts into flames.

Plunged into mourning, miscarriage, and misery, Cornell glowers, wails, and rages. In a well-worn pink slip, she deteriorates as a bitter recluse, refusing to face reality. A shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary gives her sustenance.

You can’t tell by intermission, but “The Rose Tattoo” is a departure from Williams’ signature dramas. Considered more light-hearted, it still has his emotional whiplash.

Deep sorrow eventually yields to comedic interplay when a chance flirtatious encounter is life-changing.

That’s when the charming Tejeda swoops in as Alvaro Mangiacavallo, a buffoonish truck driver, and the play blossoms in his presence.

Tejeda, a New York-based actor and Yale School of Drama alum, has made his mark on local stages – first at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in 2019 and then the radio plays when the festival pivoted in 2020.

Last year, he brought both a sweetness and restlessness to Tom Wingfield, an extraordinary performance in the triumphant production of “The Glass Menagerie” outside at the Central West End apartment where Williams once lived.

Bradley J Tejeda as Alvaro. Photo by Suzy Gorman.

As Alvaro, he demonstrates his prowess in physical comedy, channeling Charlie Chaplin in looks and expressions, acrobatic in slapstick and darting around the set. It’s a splendid performance, injecting the play with a needed boost of vitality.

He easily won over the audience, especially when he joked that his last name Mangiacavallo means “eat a horse.”

“It’s a comical name, I know. Maybe two thousand and seventy years ago one of my grandfathers got so hungry that he ate up a horse. That ain’t my fault,” he said, eliciting laughter.

Serafina describes him as having a clown’s face on her late husband’s body. Even with their skilled performances, Cornell and Tejeda do not spark any sensuality.

But the young couple revealing an attraction that blooms into love does. Valentina Silva, memorable in Metro Theater Company’s “Last Stop on Market Street” last winter, plays Serafina’s smart, sheltered, and neglected 15-year-old daughter, Rosa Delle Rose, with youthful elan.

Stifled by her mother during the three years since her father’s accident, Rosa rebels, wanting to go out and have some fun. You feel her yearning for freedom, eager to take flight.

She is infatuated with a wholesome sailor, Jack Hunter, who was immediately smitten with the vivacious teen at a school dance. Oliver Bacus, who is quickly making a name for himself on local stages, seen last month in The Midnight Company’s seismic “Rodney’s Wife,” eloquently delivers Williams’ distinct dialogue.

Their innocent love story is a catalyst for Serafina to change, to let go, and that is illustrated by aerialists Annika Capellupo, Natalie Bednarski, Sage McGhee and Maggie McGinness of On the Fly Productions, with choreography by owner Jason Whicker. It is a lovely, graceful sight — but does this illuminate or distract?

The aerialists use satiny scarlet ribbons of fabric, which is the shade of a shirt Serafina is sewing, requested by her husband’s mistress to give her “wild like a gypsy” beau on their one-year anniversary, which is the last day he’s alive.

So much of Williams’ writing deals with symbols – consider the rose itself, with red buds a sign of romance, love, beauty, and courage. Here, it is a symbol of new beginnings too.

Understanding Williams’ dreams and desires has always been part of the fest, and the focus on Italy explores how visiting the country, soon after his first wave of success, was restorative to his psyche.

Giddy with fleeting joy and discovery of his new happy place, Williams dedicated his “love-play to the world” to his partner, Frank Merlo, an Italian American from New Jersey who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II: “To Frankie in Return for Sicily.” They met in 1948 in Provincetown, Mass., and spent 15 years together. Merlo died of lung cancer at age 43 in 1963 while Williams lived to age 71, passing in 1983.

The supporting cast captures the local flavor, and the quirky people he immortalized on paper.

Assunta, Serafina’s friend with psychic abilities, is played by Carmen Garcia with an air of mystery. She senses that “something wild is in the air.” Holly Maffitt is the “Strega,” considered a traditional witch, because the fates are part of this narrative.

Tyler White, a lively presence whenever on The Black Rep’s stage, is delightful as part of the neighborhood’s gossipy hens, as is Julia Crump as perky busybody Bessie.

Harry Weber is both teacher Miss Yorke and Father De Leo, the community’s strict moral gatekeeper.

The always fun to watch Mitchell Henry-Eagles enlivens the proceedings as an accordion-playing salesman and a doctor. Tony Viviano occasionally pops up to sing.

They serve as a Greek chorus of sorts, observing, moving in and out. Director David Kaplan likes to keep the players in motion, engaging the audience, and breaking the fourth wall.

Kaplan is well-versed in Williams’ aesthetic as one of the preeminent interpreters of his works. He is the curator and co-founder of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival, now in its 17th year.

St. Louis experienced his perceptive vision in the dynamic “The Rooming House Plays,” four short plays he staged in the Stockton House, a local Victorian mansion, for the 2016 inaugural fest.

Williams’ works on longing and loss always move me more when we are in close quarters or exposed to a different canvas, so that I can feel the lyricism, make a specific connection. So, the cavernous Big Top was a challenge, but the cast’s immersion helped considerably.

James Wolk’s innovative set brought out an entirely new dimension, using multiple frames and shutters to stand in for doors and windows. The versatility punctuated the scenes, and the cast, adept at quick changes, did not lose a beat. Obviously, well-rehearsed, and efficient work by all.

The sound, however, had some issues Friday but was worked out. Designer Nick Hime engineered the sound and operated the board.

Jess Alford’s lighting design made use of dusky twilight in the early evening. Michele Friedman Siler’s thoughtful costume design differentiated the characters, and she effectively mixed textures.

This daring production has many moving parts, including four goats and a horse, which is difficult to pull off smoothly, and the esprit de corps is apparent. Stage Manager J.M. Bock and assistant stage manager J. Myles Hesse kept it flowing smoothly.

Williams was fascinated by the ebb and flow of time, which is a major component here. Between 1948 and 1959, he had seven plays produced on Broadway. This early one, however, is one of the few happy endings – because they found love in a hopeless place.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents “The Rose Tattoo” Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Aug. 28 at The Big Top in Grand Center, 3401 Washington Avenue. For more information and tickets, visit www.twstl.org, and for a complete schedule of events.

The schedule includes a free showing of “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone,” based on Williams’ novel which he adapted for the screen in 1961, starring Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty. It will take place at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at St. Ambrose Church on the Hill, 5130 Wilson Avenue.     

A Bocce Tournament starts at noon on Saturday, Aug. 27, at the Italia-America Bocce Club, 2210 Marconi Avenue.                          

Prism Theatre Company announces the playwrights, directors, and cast of Prism’s first annual Spotlight On festival of new works, sharing the stories of women playwrights throughout the bi-state area. Each night of staged readings will be followed by a talkback with the actors, playwrights, and Prism creative team. 

ACADEME.compassion by Dr. Laura Perkins

Friday, August 13th, 2021

Directed by Wendy Greenwood

A whimsical romp inside the final test of graduate school:  an oral defense of the written exams.  The premise of this academic tradition seems simple enough. Yet, three faculty with wildly different motivations complicate what should be a pro-forma ritual.  In comps, an epic battle ensues; passions flare, emotions erupt, and manipulative moves threaten the student’s chances for success.  

Starring: 

Kelly Howe as Dr. Stepoloni

Eleanor Humphrey as Student

Phil Leveling as Dr. Trout

Kay Love as Dr. Fenmore

See the Dove by Laurie McConnell

Friday, August 13th, 2021

Directed by Rayme Cornell

When a friendless white woman encounters a homeless Black man in a city park, their contentious first meeting morphs into mutually satisfying verbal skirmishes as they battle prejudice, loneliness, Sarin, and Spanx to find friendship and love among pigeons and doves.

Starring:
Eleanor Humphrey as Ava/Pidge

Don McClendon as Jay

Kelly Schnider as Evelyn

Stay Awhile by Dana Hall

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

Directed by Wendy Greenwood

Samantha has been concerned about her mother, Janice, since her father’s passing. This play deals with complex grief and how it impacts the entire family.  It illustrates the changing landscape of mother/daughter relationships.  It’s a window into the world most families do not talk about.

Starring: 

Carmen Garcia as Janice

Kelly Howe as Samantha 

Bandera, Texas by Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

Directed by Trish Brown

A dramedy about marriage, motherhood, and the women who came before us and paved our way, “Bandera, Texas” follows Liz, a native New Yorker forced to relocate to the Texas Hill Country for her husband’s job. She is visited by her long-dead grandmothers, who help her adapt to her new life and remind her that an uprooted woman can grow wherever she is replanted when she knows who she is and carries the people and places she loves inside her. 

Starring: 

Carmen Garcia as Genevieve

Sam Hayes as Liz

Kay Love as Mary

Jeffrey David Thomas as Dave & 11 others

Tickets are $10 minimum donation and can be pre-purchased through the Prism website.  

The mission of St. Louis’ newest professional performing arts organization, Prism Theatre Company, is to promote the work of women and emerging artists, on stage and off, through the lens of theatre for the new world.  We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques.

Prism Theatre Company is the brainchild of Trish Brown and Joy Addler, St. Louis-based theatre-makers and longtime collaborators.   

Trish Brown, a professional director, actress, and theatre educator, has directed regionally, as well as in Canada.  She is a proud associate member of SDC, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.  She holds an MFA in Directing from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and worked professionally in Chicago for a number of years before returning to the St. Louis area.   A process-based, ensemble director, Trish is trained in and utilizes a number of acting methods in her work while specializing in the Michael Chekhov technique.  She is a founding member of The Moving Dock Theatre Company, a Chicago-based company dedicated to the actor’s creative process through the use of the Chekhov technique.  Theatre education is also a passion of Trish’s and she has taught in regional arts programs such as COCA in St. Louis and Hinsdale Center for the Arts in Chicago.  She is now a Professor of Theatre at Principia College.  Her educational productions have won numerous recognitions, including two Best Production for the  State of Illinois awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  Trish also loves directing film and coaching actors for stage and screen.  

Joy Addler is a St. Louis area stage manager, company manager, and nonprofit professional. A proud graduate of The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University, Joy has a BFA in Stage Management and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. She is also a member of the Actor’s Equity Association. Currently, Joy works as the Performing Arts Manager for Variety the Children’s Charity, overseeing their inclusive chorus and dance programs throughout the year, as well as serving as the Company Manager and Production Stage Manager for their annual Variety Theatre production. In addition to her work at Variety, Joy works as a freelance AEA stage manager throughout the St. Louis area.  

Addler and Brown began work on Prism Theatre Company over 18 months ago in a pre-pandemic world.  The company was a long-time dream of these partners who wanted to provide a home for artists from all walks of life to shine, especially women.  “As members of the St. Louis theatre community, and in talking to our friends in the community, we noticed a gap in the opportunities for women to really be at the forefront,” says Joy Addler, Prism’s Managing Director. “We want to provide a safe space for the voices of women to really shine and take center stage.” Though the company’s mission puts women at the forefront, men are also an important part of Prism’s work.  “We love all artists and welcome men into Prism, as actors, technicians, directors, designers, and Board members.  Nothing at Prism is exclusionary,” says Trish Brown, Prism’s Artistic Director.      

Prism is also designed as a home for new and emerging artists.  “Because I’m passionate about theatre education, fostering new and emerging artists was an important aspect of Prism,” says Brown.  “I remember graduating from college with my BA in Theatre and wondering, ‘OK, what now’?  It was difficult to break into the theatre scene in a meaningful way.  Few companies were open to mentoring young artists at that time.  We want Prism Theatre Company to be a place where emerging artists can work with kind, collaborative, seasoned professionals so they can learn, grow, build their resumes, and make connections.”    

Theatre artists who are interested in joining Prism’s Board of Directors or Company may contact Prism at [email protected]. Prism invites actors to like us on Facebook for access to audition details for future productions. 

ABOUT PRISM THEATRE COMPANY

Prism Theatre Company seeks to champion the voices and stories of women from all walks of life, giving emerging artists a platform to showcase their work with seasoned professionals. We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques.

Learn more about Prism on our website, Instagram, and Facebook.

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.