By Lynn Venhaus
A 10-time Tony winner’s national tour comes to the ‘Lou, world premieres of “The Roommate” and last chance to see a whole roster of shows. There is a feast of choices as we usher March in, and spring can’t be far behind. Here’s what’s on local stages.


“Annapurna”
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Gaslight Theatre
N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis
Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 3 p.m.
Feb. 14 – March 1
www.stlas.org
314-458-2978

Laurie McConnell and John Pierson star as Emma and Ulysses in Sharr White’s play about love and loss in the backdrop of the Colorado Rockies. Once married, they have a child, but haven’t seen each other for a long time.

Our review:
https://www.poplifestl.com/oh-those-ties-that-bind-an-extraordinary-annapurna-at-st-louis-actors-studio/

The Band’s Visit touring show

“The Band’s Visit”
Fox Theatre
527 N. Grand
Feb. 25 – March 8
www.fabulousfox.com

Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2018, this joyously offbeat story is set in a remote town where a band of musicians arrive, lost. They bring the town to life in unexpected ways. This is an adaptation of a 2007 Israeli film, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. It is performed without intermission.

Here is our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/unforgettable-music-big-heart-distinguish-tony-winner-the-bands-visit-at-the-fox/

“The Ever After”
Curtain’s Up
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 6:30 p.m.
Dunham Hall, SIUEdwardsville
www.curtainsuptheater.com

A cheesy talk show host invites familiar fairy tale characters who have been estranged for 20 years to reconcile on the show.

Brett Amber


 “Flanagan’s Wake”
Emery Entertainment
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza
635 Westport Plaza
Jan. 24 – March 21
www.playhouseatwestport.com

This interactive hit show from Chicago is set in an Irish pub, and Flanagan’s family and friends give him a comedic memorial with plenty o’ pints, crazy sing-a-longs and witty tales.
Cast includes Brian Ballybunion, Fiona Finn (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), Mickey Finn Father Damon Fitzgerald (Patrick Blindauer), Kathleen Mooney, Mayor Martin O’Doul

Our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/flanagans-wake-a-raucous-raunchy-ribald-romp/

“Ghost”
Metro Theatre Company
Feb. 2 – March 1
Fridays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
3610 Grandel Square
www.metroplays.org

World premiere of a new play adapted by Idris Goodwin from Jason Reynolds’ award-winning bestseller for young readers. Castle Cranshaw, aka “Ghost,” has only known running, but he runs for all the wrong reasons until he meets Coach. Directed by Jacqueline Thompson and stars

“Men on Boats”
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University
Feb. 21 – March 1
Edison Theatre on campus
pad.artsci.wustl.edu

John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers is a 19th century journey.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep”
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Feb. 14 – March 8
Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus
www.repstl.org

One dark and stormy night…two actors play eight characters, with a few dozen costume changes, a lot of wigs and a blending of classic horror, B-movie mysteries and farce.  
Charles Ludlam’s supernatural comedy includes a newly revived mummy, a mysterious portrait, a family curse and a howling werewolf.

Our Review: https://www.poplifestl.com/campy-farce-irma-vep-cant-hold-audience/

“The Office! A Musical Parody”
Emery Entertainment
March 4 – 8
Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
Tickets: Metrotix 314-534-1111 or one hour before showtime at Grandel box office.
www.theofficemusicalparody.com/tour

Dunder Mifflin is opening an office near you. This is the third North American tour of the unauthorized off-Broadway show, written by Bob and Tobly McSmith. It is still playing at the Jerry Orbach Theatre at 210 West 50th Street in NYC.

Mashable calls it “the world’s most elaborate inside job, created with a whole lot of love, just for fans.” It’s a typical morning at Scranton’s third largest paper company until, for no logical reason, a documentary crew begins filming the lives of the employees.

“Picnic”
Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts
Feb. 20 – March 1
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Stage III Auditorium
www.webster.edu
314-968-7128

William Inge’s play is set in a small town one Labor Day Weekend in the joint backyards of two widows. One lives with her two daughters and a boarder; the other is a woman and her mother. A studly young man, Hall, comes to town, and the resulting electrical charge causes some friction.

Photo by John Lamb


“The Roommate”
The West End Players Guild
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Additional Thursday show Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Union Avenue Christian Church
733 N. Union at Enright
www.westendplayers.org
314-367-0025

St. Louis premiere of Jen Silverman’s contemporary comedy has been described as “The Odd Couple” meets “Breaking Bad.” Sharon, a divorced empty nester takes on a roommate in her Iowa City house – and Robyn has come from the Bronx. She has a mysterious, shady past who moves around a lot. She is everything Sharon is not — a vegan and gay, for starters. They begin to influence each other in surprising ways.

“Saint Joan of Arc”
The University Theatre at Saint Louis University
Collaborative piece with Prison Performing Arts
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand
Tickets: www.metrotix.com

Inspired by love of God and country, Joan became a 15th century French military leader. This is a contemporary retelling directed by Lucy Cashion.

“Spell #7”
The Black Rep
Wednesday at
Feb. 19 – March 8
A.E. Hotchner Studio at Washington University.
www.theblackrep.org


Ntozake Shange’s Spell #7 is a choreopoem set in a bar in St. Louis frequented by Black artists and musicians, actors, and performers. In a series of dreamlike vignettes and poetic monologues, they commiserate about the difficulties they face as black artist.


“Transluminate”
A short-play festival
The Q Collective
Thursday and Friday, Feb. 27 and 28, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 4 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Chapel
6238 Alexander Drive
www.theqcollective.theater

“The Vagina Monologues”
St. Louis College of Pharmacy
Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
Academic and Research Building Auditorium
4531 Children’s Place, St. Louis, MO 63110
Tickets: $5 at the door (cash only) or available for purchase on Eventbrite ahead of time

Note: All proceeds from ticket and dessert sales will go directly to Lydia’s House in St. Louis

Eve Ensler’s play is based on interviews with more than 200 women. With humor and grave, the piece celebrates sexuality and strength. Through this play and the liberation of this one-word, countless people throughout the world have taken control of their bodies and their lives.

The play gave birth to V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against all women and girls. Activists are working to end harassment, rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sex slavery. (https://www.vday.org/homepage.html)

It is sponsored by the Department of Liberal Arts and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. For more information, email [email protected]

Lydia’s House works in faith to end domestic violence by being a place of healing and a voice of hope for abused women and their children.” (https://www.lydiashouse.org/)

By Lynn Venhaus
“The Mystery of Irma Vep” is the play that went wrong — and not in a funny way. Its once-red hot reputation for absurdity and daring has dimmed as the overwhelming digital world of content has surpassed its satiric mix of genres three decades later.

Mashing up B-movie mysteries is no longer novel and spoofing Victorian melodrama is too creaky, even in drag. And despite its look-hard-to-read-between-the-lines allegory for monsters and terminal illness, none of it registers with this 21st century audience. Sadly, the show never catches fire and the material lands with a loud thud.

Playwright Charles Ludlam’s campy farce is a specific scenario that may make clever interactive dinner-theater but somehow seems saggy and dated in 2020, especially as a major production. Artistic Director Hana S. Sharif described it as one of the all-time great comedies, the 1984 original won Drama Desk and Obie Awards, and in 1991, it was the most produced play in America.

Thirty-six years later, no matter how they focused on the ‘monsters in society’ during the AIDS epidemic, its message is lost in translation because this script is not engaging.

Think the goofy merriment of Monty Python, or even Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on the old “The Carol Burnett Show.” They are timeless but this show is not. Why doesn’t it work? Are the dark-and-stormy-night manor gimmicks no longer effective? It’s old Abbott and Costello hijinks set in an outdated supernatural world.

When the dense pop culture landscape has given us vampires next door, the walking dead roaming our cities and ghost hunters flourishing in recent years, “Irma Vep” doesn’t even have quaint going for it.

Esteban Andres Cruz, photo by Jon Gitchoff

Out of touch and out of tune, the show is in sorely need of a trim, as its construct fails to engage in two too-long acts on The Rep’s mainstage. Clearly, a 90-minute running time would have helped, instead of prolonging viewers’ misery, and the pace could have picked up.

Unlike the 2005 parody adaptation of Hitchcock’s 1935 movie “The 39 Steps,” which turned into a surprising amusing romp, this jumble of ancient family curse, mummy and howling werewolf is not interesting. When they went to Egypt, they lost me and it went downhill from there.

A “Penny Dreadful” is a psychological thriller that features dark mystery and suspense, but when this show is intended for laughs, neither the comedy nor the horror ignites. That’s a shame because the odd day-glo weird angles set by scenic designer Michael Locher looks terrific – although some sight line issues and what is with the giant skull? — and the lighting by designer Marie Yokoyama is spooky and effective.

This play was produced years ago in The Studio, and that intimate space seems to be a better fit than the larger auditorium. It could have benefited the two actors who try very hard to keep a momentum that involves playing eight characters and a few dozen costume changes and wigs. Bless those dressers, who get a herculean work out.

Nimble Esteban Andres Cruz and Tommy Everett Russell are obviously accomplished actors and look fabulous in the bold, elaborate costume designs by Sara Ryung Clement. They are trying hard to entertain, especially in the colorful drag outfits, and play off each other well.

But the frolic seems forced. This is a show that sorely needed a fresh interpretation, but director Nelson T. Eusebio III didn’t hit the refresh button to deconstruct what didn’t age well, but went big visually with the souped-up focus on outrageous drag looks and gender politics. That’s unfortunate because the production is an epic letdown.

Is it trying to do too much? To be more things to more people? To have hidden meaning when people aren’t looking for it? To create magic, you need a spark, and why isn’t it there?

And by the number of audience members who left at intermission, it’s not connecting with core subscribers. I was hoping it would find it’s “legs,” but there is obviously something that’s preventing people from getting into the story. The adventure isn’t all that adventurous.

Photo by Jon Gitchoff

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents “The Mystery of Irma Vep” Feb. 14 – March 8 on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, visit repstl.org. For the box office, call 314-968-4925.