By Lynn Venhaus

Two oil-and-water grown brothers, Valene and Coleman Connor, constantly bicker and fight like two Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robots – but real physical and psychological damage takes place in “The Lonesome West.”

That’s a calling card of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, whose works, often involving dysfunction, are mostly bleak, dark, and if a pitch-black comedy, outrageously funny.

Such is the case in West End Players Guild’s hardscrabble production, running through May 8, of McDonagh’s 1997 play, part of his Connemara trilogy (Tony winner “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “A Skull in Connemara” being the others). It was Tony nominated for Best Play in 1999, when it transferred to Broadway.

The middle-aged brothers escalate violence over the most mundane things – such as bags of Taytos’ ‘crisps’ (chips). Think “The Odd Couple,” only more gruesome and foul-mouthed.

While McDonagh’s contemporary play is not as well-constructed as Sam Shepard’s “True West” about two battling brothers that at times, resembles a Looney Tunes’ roadrunner and coyote cartoon, the material is suitable for an acting showcase.

And WEPG rises to the challenges, with strong production values and outstanding performances.

It’s just that hurling insults gets tedious, and the story has no where to go after two and a half hours.

The amount of physicality required of Jeff Kargus as Valene and Jason Meyers as Coleman is enormous, and they are ferocious onstage, with a toughness and single-mindedness that is stunning.

Their agility in movement is matched by their full immersion into the Irish dialect, which is superb all throughout the two-act drama-comedy.

The remarkable dexterity Kargus and Meyers display as these difficult characters indicates much dedication to getting all aspects right. One must note the superb work of fight director and weapons supervisor Michael Monsey for his intense choreography.

Kargus, never better, has long passages of dialogue to deliver as the more sympathetic and dutiful brother, as Meyers’s Coleman is maniacal, likely a psychopath, has shot his father and will likely kill again – and no one would be surprised if Valene was his target.

Shades of Cain and Abel, and that is not a joke. Both are examples of arrested development, but Connor is a one-note character compared to Valene. As the hot-head, Meyers outbursts of rage quickly build in a matter of seconds, but he is not always convincing in depicting menace. He’s downright cruel about his brother’s religious figurines – and you’ll find out about the dog soon enough.

Valene isn’t entirely innocent, for they have antagonized and done horrible things to each other over the years. Kargus does a fine job conveying his character’s peculiarities perfectly, including a fascination with the old ABC western “Alias Smith and Jones,” which ran for three seasons from 1971-73, patterned after the wildly popular film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Apparently, it made a huge impact on Valene as a youth (or maybe home video).

The reason it is brought up in conversation is part of a bigger discussion on suicide, and whether the individual goes to heaven or hell. The Catholic Church believes those who kill themselves do not ascend to heaven, although there is some debate.

When a rash of suicides in the small town take place, people talk. Which leads to the old TV show discussion, because actor Peter Duel, 31, died of a self-inflicted gunshot after the first season.

That’s only one of the stream-of-conscience discussions in the shabby abode where the brothers live in the rural town of Leenane, in County Galway, where there is a shocking underbelly of mayhem and far too many strange-circumstances fatalities.

Scenic designer Brad Slavik has fashioned a very specific kitchen-living room combo with splendid detail while Frank Goudsmit’s props establish how the brothers live in an old farmhouse.

Tony Anselmo’s lighting design reflects the different moods and a more unsettling nighttime, while Jenn Ciaverella manages a sharp sound design – the Chieftains’s folk music is a good choice to play before the show and during intermission.

Under Robert Ashton’s fluid direction, the ensemble works together well, with Ted Drury as the hapless local priest Father Welsh and Hannah Geisz as Girleen Kelleher. Their comic timing is crisp, as is their ability to not break character, no matter how daffy or audacious the dialogue sounds.

Drury’s booze-swilling, advice-giving priest is hell-bent on saving the brothers’ relationship, but realizes it’s hopeless, and his despair is palpable.

Ashton has included a handy reference sheet to explain some of the Irish terms, such as poteen – meaning moonshine. You’ll see the men drinking copious amounts of the hooch, which is made from potatoes.

McDonagh, an Oscar nominee for writing “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” doesn’t seem to have an endgame here, which is frustrating, but at least what WEPG does with it is impressive.

Photos by John Lamb

West End Players Guild presents Martin McDonagh’s “The Lonesome West” from April 29 through May 8 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union in the Central West End. For more information or tickets, visit westendplayers.org

The West End Players Guild is employing touchless ticketing, socially-distanced seating and indoor masking of all patrons, front of house staff and volunteers.

West End Players Guild closes out its 110th season with Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West, a four-time Tony Award nominee on Broadway (including Best Play of 1999).  The show opens Friday, April 29 and runs through Sunday, May 8 in the theatre at the Union Avenue Christian Church in the Central West End.  

Set in Leenane, County Galway, in western Ireland, this darkest of dark comedies offers multiple murders and suicides, periodic drunken rages and fistfights, a couple of knife attacks, random acts of sacrilege and oodles of despair.  Like the two other plays in McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy, it would be a rather sad story if it wasn’t so outrageously funny. 

The story revolves around brothers Valene and Coleman Connor who, as the play begins, have just buried their father, recently deceased as the result of a shooting accident.  Valene and Coleman are a middle-aged and embittered pair.  They have nowhere to go in their lives and are in no hurry to get there.  Neither brother is especially saddened by the death of their father.  Each seems animated instead by his all-consuming hatred of the other.  They spend their days and nights brawling over the most trivial and mundane of slights, both real and imagined, much to the dismay of their parish priest, Father Welsh.  Welsh fears (not unreasonably) that the brothers are headed for a violent end, and is on a mission to salvage their relationship at any cost.

Robert Ashton directs the WEPG production which features Jason Meyers as Coleman Connor, Jeff Kargus as Valene Connor, Ted Drury as Father Welsh and Hannah Geisz as Girleen Kelleher, a flirtatious teenager who makes a living selling her family’s poteen (Irish potato moonshine) door-to-door.  The Connors are among her most frequent top-volume customers. 

WEPG will present The Lonesome West in seven performances at 8 p.m. Thursday (second week only), Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, April 29-May 8.  Tickets for all performances are now on sale at www.WestEndPlayers.org/tickets.

West End Players Guild this season employs touchless ticketing, socially-distanced seating and indoor masking of all patrons and front-of-house staff and volunteers.  For full details on our public health policies, please visit www.WestEndPlayers.org/covid-19-policies/.

Mark Abels photos

Tickets are on sale for The Midnight Company’s St. Louis premiere production of Mickle Maher’s It Is Magic at MetroTix.com.  Performances, at Kranzberg’s Black Box Theatre, are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays October 21 through November 6, with all shows at 8pm.  Tickets are $15 for Thursdays and $20 for Fridays and Saturdays.  The production will be following all Kranzberg Arts Foundation safety protocols, including proof of vaccination for entry, and masks at all times.

It Is Magic is a sorrowful and hilarious meditation on the deep, ancient evil at the heart of the community theatre audition process, and an investigation into the mysteries of theatre-making itself.  Two sisters, community theatre veterans who’ve never had the chance to contribute artistically, are holding auditions for their adult version of The Three Little Pigs in the theatre basement, while the group’s pretentious artistic director is attending, then avoiding, opening night of his MacBeth on the MainStage above.  A third sister appears, and reality becomes really magical at the local playhouse.

It Is Magic premiered in Chicago in May, 2019, and Third Coast Review called it “…one of those love letters to theatre…delightfully wacky,” while New City Stage said “Any show that juggles loving critics and tearing their throats out is good in my book.”  Midnight has previously presented two Mickle Maher plays, The Hunchback Variations and An Apology For The Course And Outcome of Certain Events As Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening.  

Mickle Maher plays have Off-Broadway and around the world, and have been supported by grants from the NEA, the Rockefeller MAP fund, and Creative Capital. They include There is a Happiness That Morning Is; Song About Himself; The Strangerer; Spirits to Enforce; Cyrano (translator), The Cabinet; Lady Madeline; The Pine; and An Actor Prepares (an adaptation of Stanislavsky’s seminal book). He is a cofounder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck, and has taught playwriting and related subjects at the University of Chicago, Columbia College, and Northwestern University. He recently wrote the book and lyrics for a new musical about basketball, commissioned by the Catastrophic Theatre of Houston and Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. And he’s currently adapting the graphic novel Berlin by Jason Lutes for the Court Theatre.

Suki Peters will direct It Is Magic.  In Spring, 2022, Suki will play the bride in Cherokee Street Theatre’s adaptation of Kill Bill, and she will direct Once for R-S Theatrics.  The cast for It Is Magic includes Nicole Angeli as Sandy, desperate to get a part in a play, the part being the lead role of the Wolf in her sister’s play.  Nicole was most recently seen in Metro Theater’s It’s A Wonderful Life, in West End’s Photograph 51, and in Stray Dog’s Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House.  Michelle Hand portrays her sister, the first-time, aspiring playwright, Deb.  This past year Michelle was in Max & Louie’s Tiny Beautiful Things and SATE’s Zoom show Tonya And The Totes In Subterrstrata.  Carl Overly Jr. is Tim in the play, another actor vying for that coveted Big Bad Wolf role.  Carl was in recent productions of St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s King Lear and COCA’s Billy Elliott, and upcoming will direct Rimers Of Eldritch at St Louis University.  Chrissie Watkins will be Elizabeth, arriving from seemingly nowhere to land smackdab in the middle of the audition process.  Chrissie was seen in Alpha Players’ The Mountaintop this summer.   And Midnight’s Artistic Director, Joe Hanrahan is in the role of Mortier Civic Playhouse Artistic Director Ken Mason, as arrogant, self-absorbed and sporadically brilliant as any Artistic Director comes.  This year Joe has acted in Midnight productions of Here Lies Henry, and in his own scripts of Now Playing Third Base For The St. Louis Cardinals Bond James Bond, My Violin My Voice at the St. Louis Fringe Festival, and Tonight’s Special at the St. Louis Theatre Showcase.  He will next be seen in his new script, Midnight’s Tinsel Town in December.

Linda Menard will be the Stage Manager for the show, Elizabeth Henning is designing costumes, Kevin Bowman is designing the set and lights, and Ted Drury will design sound.

For more information, visit MidnightCompany.com  

R-S Theatrics is thrilled to announce their return to live theatre with the St. Louis premiere of Breadcrumbs by Jennifer Haley, running October 8-24, 2021, at The .ZACK (3224 Locust St.).
In Breadcrumbs, a reclusive fiction writer diagnosed with dementia must depend upon a troubled young caretaker to complete her autobiography.  In a symbiotic battle of wills, they delve into the dark woods of the past, unearthing a tragedy that shatters their notions of language, loneliness, and essential self.  Dallas Morning News calls Breadcrumbs “timely and touching,” while DC Theatre Scene says, “It is an act of boldness, to be done only by a playwright in absolute command of her gifts…”  

This production will be directed by R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt.  The cast includes Jodi Stockton as Alida and Julie Amuedo as Beth/Mother.  The design team is Costume Designer Amanda Brasher, Lighting Designer Karen Pierce, Sound Designer Ted Drury, and Scenic & Properties Designer Sarah Lynne Holt.  The team is rounded out by Stage Manager Lucy Bowe, Dramaturg Rachel Hanks, Resident Intimacy Coordinator Tress Kurzym and Resident Graphic Designer & Photographer Michael Young.

Breadcrumbs will perform Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00pm.  General admission tickets will be $20, available through MetroTix or at the door.  Audio description for the blind and partially-sighted from MindsEye will be available during the Sunday, October 10th performance.  The October 15th performance will be followed by a presentation and discussion of the effects of trauma and dementia on brain development and behavior with Rachel Hanks, production dramaturg and licensed clinical social worker with a specialty in neurobiologically-informed interventions for traumatic stress and developmental trauma.

In accordance with Kranzberg Arts Foundation and R-S Theatrics guidelines, all audience members age twelve and up will be required to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, a negative PCR test dated within 72 hours of the performance start time, or a negative antigen test dated within 24 hours of the performance start time.  Other than actors onstage, everyone over the age of two must remain properly masked in The .ZACK at all times.  This production is funded in part by the Arts and Education Council.  Breadcrumbs is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

R-S Theatrics is a small professional theatre company in residence at Kranzberg Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri.  Our mission is to present St. Louis-area professional premieres of work that introduces new voices to important conversations in our community.  Since launching in May of 2011, R-S has produced acclaimed productions of ParadeIn the HeightsEvery Brilliant Thing, and The Motherf**ker with the Hat, among many others.  

Jennifer Haley is a playwright whose work delves into ethics in virtual reality and the impact of technology on our human relationships, identity, and desire. She won the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a Los Angeles Ovation Award and the Francesca Primus Prize for her play, The Nether, which premiered at Center Theatre Group and was subsequently produced at The Royal Court Theatre with Headlong in London. Other plays include Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, which premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville 2008 Humana Festival, and Froggy, in development with Center Theatre Group and American Conservatory Theater. Jennifer’s work has been developed at The Banff Centre, the Sundance Theatre Lab, O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, Lark Play Development Center, PlayPenn, Page 73, and the MacDowell Colony. She is a member of New Dramatists in New York City and lives in Los Angeles, where she founded the Playwrights Union. 

Director Sarah Lynne Holt (she/her) has been a theatre artist in St. Louis since 2001.  She holds a directing degree from Millikin University and has helmed shows at The Midnight Company, Solid Lines Productions, The Q Collective, Kirkwood Theatre Guild, That Uppity Theatre Company, PRIME, The Non-Prophet Theater Company, and The Tin Ceiling.  At R-S Theatrics, she has directed boomA Perfect Arrangement, and numerous other projects, including four years of shows in partnership with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s WiseWrite Young Playwrights’ Festival.  She began working with R-S in 2014, served on the Board of Directors from 2015-2018, and has been Artistic Director since January 2020.  Sarah previously held staff positions with Arcon Radio Players, The Non-Prophet Theatre Company, Last Chance Theatre, and Blue Lemon Theatre Group.Complimentary review tickets are available to media by request.  To reserve tickets, request a full press packet, or get more information, contact Sarah Lynne Holt at [email protected] or visit R-S’s website at r-stheatrics.org.

By Lynn Venhaus

Set in Dublin, “Bloomsday” is a little charmer that whisks you away to the Emerald Isle in a time travel love story. (Yes, you read that right).

Written by Steven Dietz in 2017, the playwright has an ear for the rhythms of youthful adventurers and the wistful reminiscences of older adults.

“Bloomsday” highlights James Joyce’s use of the Irish capital city’s landmarks during an ordinary June 16 in 1904, the setting for his masterwork novel, “Ulysses,” which was published in 1920.

There is such devotion to the novel that every June 16, fans dress up as characters and celebrate Bloomsday in Dublin, some making a pilgrimage.

With his literary use of modernism, the Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and critic is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

The West End Players Guild opened its 110th season with Dietz’s witty drama, which had been postponed from last year during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. His play, “This Random World,” was previously performed in the Union Avenue Christian Church basement.

With minimal staging representing several locales, West End is well-suited to produce such an intimate play. The pleasing set design features a view of Dublin’s shops and pubs lining cobblestone streets, with excellent artwork by Marjorie Williamson and Morgan Maul-Smith.

Four endearing performers star as a young couple, Robbie and Caithleen, in scenes from 35 years ago, and as the older Robert and Cait one day last June.

Megan Wiegart and Jeff Lovell. Photo by John Lamb.

Jeff Lovell, topped with a straw boater hat familiar to Joyce fans, plays the 55-year-old American college professor Robert, whose life changed during one magical day. He was 20 years old and taking a walking tour highlighting James Joyce’s Dublin.

That’s when he met tour guide Caithleen, 20, played with verve by Megan Wiegert. She won Robbie’s heart that day — but he did not take her back to America with him. Why not? The dreamer in her was certainly willing.

Wondering what might have been with “the one who got away” is the focus in this no-frills yet delightful production. The takeaway is to make the most of the present before it is past because we can’t get back lost time.

The cast conveys the urgency to pursue that road less taken so that looking back isn’t such a heartache. Dietz injects humor into the discoveries as the quartet moves back and forth through time, reliving the impetuousness of youth as the older adults look back with regrets and “what ifs.”

Could it still happen after all these years? The older Robert, with the benefit of hindsight, has returned to Dublin for a reunion with Caithleen, who now calls herself “Cait.” However, he finds the spunky young Caithleen instead, having somehow traveled back in time to that only day they spent together. She remains full of wanderlust, and he remembers her attractive qualities.

The young – and directionless — Robbie is played earnestly by an energetic John T. Moore, and the older Robert realizes he should have been more decisive.

Colleen Heneghan is a sweet-natured Cait, playing the spry but aged woman with a twinkle in her eye and a song still in her heart. The yearning to experience all that life offers is still there, although she basically settled for complacency. In her conversations with her younger self, she is surprisingly candid and explains her choices.

Both women have worked to perfect convincing Irish dialects, and those lovely lilts are uplifting.

Costume Designer Tracey Newcomb has outfitted the foursome in suitable attire for travels, age and time periods while Jackie Aumer accented the scenes with appropriate props.

The four are an engaging ensemble – all making their WEPG debut — and the creative team has made this a memorable romantic comedy. Director Jessa Knust, also making her debut, has ensured that the unusual format is understandable. She was assisted by Karen Pierce.

Celtic folk tunes are used effectively to set a merry mood, and Ted Drury’s sound design is noteworthy, with Mason Hagarty crisply operating the sound board. Jacob Winslow has done a nice job with the lighting design.

I felt like I was on an interesting journey, which is a good thing after being mostly housebound during quarantines and the 18-month public health crisis.

After all, no one is alone in wondering what might have been. Having some interesting points to ponder was entertaining live theater.

John T. Moore, Colleen Heneghan, Jeff Lovell, Megan Wiegart in “Bloomsday.” Photo by John Lamb.

The show has seven performances from Sept. 17 through Sept. 26, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday starting at 8 p.m. on the second weekend and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union in the Central West End. For tickets and more information, visit www.westendplayers.org

This season, the theater company is employing touchless ticketing, socially distanced seating and indoor masking of all patrons and front-of-house staff and volunteers. They are operating under special policies and procedures to minimize the risk of Covid-19 transmission and infection.  For full details on our public health policies, please visit www.WestEndPlayers.org/covid-19-policies/.

By CB AdamsContributing Writer

“Travels With My Aunt,” a 1969 novel by Graham Greene and adapted into this play by Scotsman Giles Havergal, is 10 pounds of story stuffed into an evening clutch bag. The micro-synopsis of the globe-trotting plot is that it involves the tentacled way a flamboyant octogenarian aunt tractor-beams her nephew, a stuffy retired banker with a penchant for raising dahlias, into the intrigue of her nefarious-but-not-really shenanigans.

It’s a farcical, preposterously picaresque and broad play with too much set up and a rushed conclusion. The Brits (think Monty Python to Benny Hill), have a special knack for this kind of silly comedy – the kind that breezes along asking for little of the audience, aims for titters rather than guffaws, and reveals English culture for all its myopic, stiff-upper-lip foibles.

Photo by John Lamb

It’s also the type of script that actors and directors find irresistible. And who can blame them — the men, anyway? The four-man ensemble gets to practice (and practice and practice) their British accents (plus a few other world dialects) while quick-changing into the play’s 25 male and female characters at the drop of hat, or a wig or a mustache or fedora, as required. No wonder Greene’s story has been adapted into this play, a radio play, a movie (directed by George Cukor, no less) and a musical a few years back. If he were still alive, “Travels” would have made a terrific one-man show starring Robin Williams at his maniacal, hyperactive best.

Lindenwood University’s summer repertory theatre, ACT INC’s
production of “Travels With My Aunt,” directed by Emily Jones, provides a
theater experience with a dutiful, earnest exuberance comprising one part “the
old college try” and one part “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” This manly ensemble
adroitly transitions among the play’s characters while keeping the action
moving breezily along.

The strength of this production is in this ensemble, rather
than the four individual actors – Anthony Wininger, Ted Drury, Jake Blonstein
and Timothy Patrick Grumich – who are (to their credit) interchangeable. This
interchangeability at its best is fun to watch, and requires an impressive
range of physicality and improv-like energy. The biggest laugh of the night was
the creation of a men’s restroom, complete with two urinals, using two stacks
of suitcases. At its worst, this interchangeability leaves one with a
linguistic hangover that sounds like four bland, generic degrees of Dame Edna
Everage.

Staging this relatively short one-act in the round was certainly
a highlight. The compass-like octagonal stage was a clear and effective way to
anchor each actor with his trunk filled with props, and enabled each to move
about as the action demanded. The minimal lighting was unobtrusive in the best possible
way and put the emphasis of each scene on the actors’ abilities. Likewise, the
sound design was restrained and tasteful.

Unlike the aunt in the title, this play isn’t aging well or
all that interestingly, which begs the question of why ACT INC has revisited
this script. The jokes about marijuana and sexual promiscuity (and even the
occasional profane language) land rather like quaint quips instead of the edgy bon
mots that they may have been in 1969. Some timing misfires and line flubs
notwithstanding, the obvious talents within ACT INC deserve a better vehicle.
To coin an old advertising slogan, this isn’t Greene done right, it’s merely a
trifle – Greene done “lite.”

Photo by John Lamb “Travels With My Aunt” continues at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts, Lindenwood University, June 22-23.