"Eye on the Sparrow: The World Within St. Louis"

photo by Tony Schanuel

Play: “Eye on the Sparrow: The World within St. Louis”

Group: Gitana Productions

Venue: Xavier Hall Theatre, Saint Louis University, 3733 West Pine Mall

Dates: May 28, 29, 30, June 4, 5, 6

Tickets: $12-$15; contact 314-721-6556 or gitana@stlouis.missouri.orggitana@stlouis.missouri.org

Story: Cecilia Nadal, founder/producer of Gitana Productions, describes “Eye on the Sparrow” as “a look at the human sparrow around us: People who are ordinary citizens, who demonstrate fellow feeling and love for the strangers that come into their lives.” Playwright Lee Patton Chiles puts that theory into effect in a drama concerning a 40-something corporate attorney whose life abruptly changes when her position is down-sized. Forced to take public transportation when her company car is taken from her immediately, she begins the process of bonding with strangers and learning more about people in metropolitan St. Louis who previously were nothing more than footnotes in the daily news or statistics in the metro ledger. A cheerful bus driver, a talkative cabbie, a friendly neighbor and a mysterious woman in white who sings in the back of the bus all help Harper Lessing learn more about herself and the community around her.

Highlights: Gitana Productions is a well-intentioned, non-profit arts and education company that describes itself as providing “global healing through music, dance and drama…a rarely seen diversity of international and local artists on stage using a variety of creative forms representing traditional and innovative impulses.” Playwright Chiles, who also serves as director for “Eye on the Sparrow,” offers a dramatic outlet for folks engaged in the group’s feel-good efforts on stage.

Other Info: While the sentiments are noble and the efforts are genuine, there’s a simplistic feel to Chiles’ script in this latest dramatic exercise for Gitana. It almost seems at times like the play is written for a grade-school audience, even if adults also can appreciate the emotions behind the approach. Characters are rather one-dimensional as they proceed to their inevitable conclusions. As a result, you might find yourself detached and lacking engagement if you’re looking for intellectual or challenging material.

Still, there are some nice efforts contained in this modest, two-act drama. Thomasina Clarke brings an earthy and amiable presence to the role of Carla, a woman raising a niece while juggling her own personal life. William Ketterer nicely captures the cadence and sweetness of a mentally challenged young man who befriends Harper and tells her of his devotion to his unseen girlfriend, with poignant results.

L.A. Williams has fun as a Kenyan immigrant who loves his job as a taxi driver and discussing politics, and Ruth Latchison-Nichols demonstrates her talents as a singer on a number of a cappella tunes as Harper’s ‘angel’ in the back of the bus. Healy Rodman does a nice enough job as the dazed and confused Harper, slowly reacting to the warmth of the folks around her. Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II provides solid musical accompaniment on flute, saxophone and drums, while Chelsea Russell adds humor as bus regular Ms. Sally.

Chiles’ direction is a bit of a paint-by-numbers approach, and as such thwarts any dramatic development in the presentation, but as a lesson about tolerance it gets the job done. Tim Poertner’s set essentially revolves around the inside of a nicely effective Metro bus and he also provides the accompanying lighting, while Michele Siler’s costumes pleasantly decorate the characters.

“Eye on the Sparrow” is an inoffensive but rather perfunctory bit of drama, heavy on life lessons but spare with artistic flair.

Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.