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\"yobul
yobul yogurt

Teddy Ivanov grew up amid the sheep-covered mountains and farmlands of Bulgaria, where yogurt was a daily dietary staple. Like generation after generation for 13 centuries before him, Ivanov was taught by his family to make true Bulgarian yogurt \u2013 which is unique in that it contains Lactobacillus bulgaricus, a culture specific to Bulgaria that is credited with promoting longevity. \u201cBulgaria has the highest percentage of centenarians on the planet due to daily consumption of real yogurt containing this unique bacteria native to the country,\u201d Ivanov says.

When Ivanov came to the U.S. almost 20 years ago, he brought his culinary skills \u2013 including yogurt-making \u2013 with him. And now, the former restaurateur and former chef at Thomas Jefferson School in south St. Louis County is giving the metro area a taste of that talent with the fall launch of his own yogurt brand, Yobul!

Ivanov searched for years for yogurt that tasted like the Bulgarian treat he grew up preparing and eating, but none of the American market\u2019s brands stacked up to the flavor, texture and health benefits of yogurt made in Bulgaria, widely considered to be the homeland of yogurt.

A family trip home to Bulgaria, where Ivanov, his fianc\u00e9e and daughter enjoyed homemade yogurt for breakfast every day, was the catalyst for his new venture to bring true Bulgarian yogurt to the U.S.

Ivanov spent two years researching how to perfect his own yogurt. What makes Yobul! different are the Lactobacillus bulgaricus live and active cultures, selected by a small company in Bulgaria and shipped to a small farm in Fenton, Illinois, where the yogurt has been in small-batch production since September. The production process is cup-set, meaning the milk and cultures are left to incubate at no lower than 115\u00b0F in each cup for approximately five hours, giving the yogurt its texture. Then, the yogurt is refrigerated for about five hours before being delivered to stores. \u201cWe make it in small batches so we can control the quality and outcome,\u201d Ivanov says.

Yobul! contains only local, farm-fresh, whole cow\u2019s milk and Bulgarian live and active cultures in its plain yogurt. \u201cThere are no additives and no sugar \u2013 it is sweetened with 100 percent Stevia leaf extract, so it is good for people who are more health-conscious,\u201d Ivanov says, adding that Yobul!\u2019s flavored yogurts \u2013 rose and coconut \u2013 are made the same way, with only the addition of organic flavor extract. Next spring, Ivanov hopes to use sheep\u2019s milk, available seasonally, to blend with or take the place of cow\u2019s milk in some of the yogurt. Among its benefits, sheep\u2019s milk is richer than cow\u2019s milk in protein, calcium and other vitamins.

The fresh flavor and smooth, silky texture also set Yobul! apart, Ivanov says: \u201cIt has a refreshing, tart taste. You just have to try it \u2013 it\u2019s like nothing you can try on the U.S. market.\u201d Plus, it is made up of 35 percent calcium versus 15 to 20 percent calcium in many mainstream yogurts and aids in easier digestion due to low levels of lactic acid. \u201cTwo cups of our yogurt provide 70 percent of the daily calcium needed for most adults,\u201d he says.

The unique yogurt is available locally at United Provisions in the Delmar Loop in University City, Global Foods Market in Kirkwood and Balkan Grocery in Chesterfield, as well as at several international food stores in Chicago. \u201cIn Chicago, the city with the largest Bulgarian population outside of Bulgaria, they are going crazy for it,\u201d Ivanov says.

Next year, Yobul! plans to introduce two new flavors \u2013 orange and raspberry \u2013 and to expand to more stores in St. Louis, Chicago and beyond. \u201cI want to introduce true Bulgarian yogurt to the U.S.,\u201d Ivanov says. \u201cIt tastes like home.\u201d

Yobul!, balkantreasure.com

Available locally at:

\"yobul
yobul yogurt 2
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Story: Successful playwright James M. Barrie enjoys regular visits to London\u2019s Kensington Gardens, circa 1909, with his dog Porthos. One day, after the painful failure of his latest play, Barrie befriends a woman named Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four young sons. He soon learns that Sylvia is a widow raising the lads alone, including the oldest, and very serious, Peter.

Barrie\u2019s marriage to his actress wife Mary begins to suffer as he spends more time with the Davies in the park. Meanhwhile, his producer, Charles Frohman, informs Barrie that it\u2019s time for him to produce another hit to fill Frohman\u2019s hall and coffers as well. Barrie shows him a script he\u2019s written, but after hearing Sylvia\u2019s opinion the playwright decides that he needs something fresh and different rather than a formulaic version of previous works.

As Barrie spends more time with the Davies, his marriage ends in divorce and rumors of his relationship with Sylvia, although platonic, sweep London. Barrie is unfazed by the criticism and continues his friendships with Sylvia and her sons, even as Sylvia\u2019s health begins to deteriorate and also against the wishes of her strong-willed mother, Mrs. du Maurier.

While playing with the boys, who eventually are won over by this man-child\u2019s zest for games and silliness, Barrie begins to shape his greatest work: Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn\u2019t Grow Up. An elaborate production that includes scenes of \u2018flying\u2019 as well as pirates, a crocodile and a flickering light called Tinker Bell, the show is an immediate hit. But will the ailing Sylvia see it?

Highlights: The story behind the story of Peter Pan is a refreshing and delightful concoction of high-stepping choreography, intelligent lyrics and a lush, beautifully written score that make for an evening of engaging entertainment for children and adults alike. Handsomely mounted and energetically performed, Finding Neverland makes for an ideal holiday treat at the Fox Theatre.

Other Info: For someone who has never liked anything associated with Peter Pan, not even in childhood, Finding Neverland for me is an unexpected and delightful treat. Writer James Graham based his book on David Magee\u2019s screenplay for the 2004 film of the same name that starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet as well as Allan Knee\u2019s play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan.

Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy wrote the infectious music and witty lyrics that provide enjoyment throughout the two acts and two and a half hours of this production. Memorable moments are plentiful, led by the dazzling Circus of Your Mind number that builds the show to a rousing crescendo shortly before the end of the first act. The title number, Neverland, is a tender, affecting ballad sung poignantly by Kevin Kern as Barrie and Christine Dwyer as Sylvia, the latter in particular displaying a wonderfully clear and soaring soprano voice.

Kern is a good fit as the genial but somewhat shy playwright, who seems thick as a brick to the gossip about him and the widow Davies but who genuinely enjoys engaging her children in games and imagination. Dwyer well represents Sylvia\u2019s wholesome and caring persona, although allusions to Sylvia\u2019s health throughout the presentation portend a dark conclusion.

There\u2019s outstanding work by Tom Hewitt as Barrie\u2019s friend and producer Frohman, who is quick with a quip but also worried about keeping his company gainfully employed with a new and much-needed Barrie gem. Hewitt also is deliciously amusing as the villainous Captain Hook, who first comes to life as Barrie\u2019s repressed alter ego.

Joanna Glushak does a fine job as the officious Mrs. du Maurier, a lady of society who has no tolerance for her widowed daughter engaging in any shenanigans, real or imagined, with a married playwright, especially with the gossip that ensues. Crystal Kellogg capably portrays the frustrated Mary Barrie and Noah Plomgren has fun as Mary\u2019s foppish fling, Lord Cannan.

The four Davies boys are alternately played throughout the show\u2019s run at The Fox by Jordan Cole, Finn Faulconer, Tyler Patrick Hennessy, Ben Krieger, Eli Tokash, Colin Wheeler and Mitchell Wray. On opening night Tokash did a fine job portraying the overly serious Peter, still stinging from the death of his father; Falconer was the happy-go-lucky George; Wray played the amenable Jack; and Cole was the impish young Michael.

Members of Frohman\u2019s acting troupe include Dwelvan David as the pompous Mr. Henshaw, who is miffed at portraying a dog; Matt Wolpe as the \u2018artiste\u2019 Mr. Cromer; Lael Van Keuren and Victoria Huston-Elem as Miss Jones and Miss Bassett, respectively; and Thomas Miller as the long-suffering stage manager Elliot, who resembles the pirate Smee ever so slightly. Sammy does yeodog work as Barrie\u2019s faithful canine Porthos.

Dee Tomasetta is a graceful Peter Pan, aided by Adrianne Chu as Wendy and Cameron Bond as the troupe\u2019s Captain Hook.

Technically, Finding Neverland is an absolute marvel. Scenic designer Scott Pask teams with projection designer Jon Driscoll to paint a handsome portrait of London\u2019s lavish Kensington Gardens, which Kenneth Posner\u2019s lighting design bathes in a rainbow of colors.

There are lavish costumes courtesy of Suttirat Anne Larlarb, including pirate garb, sound design by Jonathan Deans and \u201cillusions\u201d by Paul Kieve, \u201cair sculpting\u201d by Daniel Wurtzel and flying effects by Production Resource Group.

Fred Lassen\u2019s music supervision enhances the wonderful score, with orchestrations by Simon Hale and musical direction by Ryan Cantwell. A special shout-out is deserved by choreographer Mia Michaels, whose exaggerated steps and sweeping moves are given wide, glorious expression by the ensemble.

Meticulously overseeing the entire performance is director Diane Paulus, who takes full advantage of the expansive Fox stage to give extra flair and drama to scenes such as the Act I finale, Stronger, as Kern belts out Barrie\u2019s inspired anthem to his new work while a pirate ship is \u201cconstructed\u201d in the background.

Finding Neverland is tender, affecting, amusing and rousing all at once. It\u2019s a land you might very well want to visit to cap off your holiday season.

Musical: Finding Neverland

Group: Touring Company

Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand

Dates: Through December 18

Tickets: From $20 to $88; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com

Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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\"MonasHiRes-01.jpg\"
MonasHiRes-01.jpg

A mainstay on The Hill recently got a complete makeover: Mona\u2019s, An American-Italian Joint, which opened in October. The new concept replaces Modesto Tapas Bar & Restaurant, which closed in mid-August after 15 years in business.

\u201cWe just decided that it was a good time to close Modesto. We really just wanted to do something fresh and wanted to end on a positive note,\u201d says owner Brendan Marsden. \u201cMona\u2019s is something I\u2019ve had in mind for a long time but never considered putting in this space. After much contemplating, I thought it was the perfect fit.\u201d

The 3,500-square-foot building underwent a complete transformation, repurposing many materials from its previous incarnation. To highlight the theme, tables come covered in a laminated gingham topped with menu place mats. Yellow and blue hues give the room a bright, inviting feel juxtaposed with raw industrial elements.

\u201cWe wanted to invoke a little bit of traditional Italian-American style into a very contemporary space,\u201d says Marsden, who did all the design work with his staff on the new venue, which seems as if it would provide a delightful dinner before catching American Buffalo at The Gaslight Theatre.

Marsden named the casual restaurant after his mother, who is of Sicilian descent. Julie Block Fernandez is a partner, with Jessica Mansfield serving as the general manager. Carlos Hernandez \u2013 who also works with Marsden at his other concept, Whitebox Eatery \u2013 acts as the executive chef.

\u201cIt\u2019s a very approachable menu with familiar ingredients but a new take on Italian and new American cuisine,\u201d says Marsden. \u201cWe\u2019re working with new presentations of some familiar dishes and new combinations.\u201d

Mona\u2019s pizzas, for instance, feature a Roman-style crust. The basic dough gets its uniqueness from getting rolled out thin until it\u2019s nearly transparent. Pies get cooked in a brick-lined deck oven at 650 degrees for about four minutes, resulting in a remarkably delicate crust.

Pizzas are divided into red or white options. Choose from specialties including meatball, muffuletta and the D.F. with pork belly, pineapple, caramelized onion and avocado salsa . A shrimp scampi pizza features bacon and parsley.

Highlights from the appetizer and salad menus include garlic knots with provolone fondue and tomato confit; pickled-zucchini fries with Parmesan-buttermilk dipping sauce; and fried green tomato salad with butter lettuce, fresh cheese, black olives and white-balsamic dressing.

Pastas include a house lasagna with sausage Bolognese as well as gnocchi with pork belly, caramelized onion, roasted-corn cream sauce and cheddar. For dessert, choose from bread pudding, a Limoncello torte, butterscotch pudding and more.

At the bar, expect a predominately beer- and wine-based menu with limited cocktail selections. Eight wines are available on tap. Happy hour is available Monday through Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m., featuring beer, wine and appetizer specials.

\u201cI think Mona\u2019s takes some trendy concepts like rustic American cuisine, which is so popular right now, and adds some low-country influence,\u201d says Marsden. \u201cI intentionally didn\u2019t do research on this concept because I wanted it to be what I wanted it to be. You\u2019ll see some things on the menu you might not expect, presented in an Italian way.\u201d

Mona\u2019s, An American Joint-Italian, 5257 Shaw Ave., St. Louis, 314-772-8272, monasjoint.com

"}, {"id":"2ba542a0-2332-5d7b-b66c-e0ce6e3f7874","type":"article","starttime":"1481220000","starttime_iso8601":"2016-12-08T12:00:00-06:00","lastupdated":"1481226783","priority":35,"sections":[{"arts-and-culture":"arts-and-culture"},{"features":"arts-and-culture/features"}],"application":"editorial","title":"Delicious Holiday Reading for the Little Ones","url":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/article_2ba542a0-2332-5d7b-b66c-e0ce6e3f7874.html","permalink":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/delicious-holiday-reading-for-the-little-ones/article_2ba542a0-2332-5d7b-b66c-e0ce6e3f7874.html","canonical":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/delicious-holiday-reading-for-the-little-ones/article_2ba542a0-2332-5d7b-b66c-e0ce6e3f7874.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":2,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"Sheila Oliveri","prologue":"To keep the festive atmosphere at the forefront of your bustling holiday schedule, set aside special time with the young ones you love.\u00a0","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":["ready readers","hanukkah bear","gingerbread christmas"],"internalKeywords":[],"customProperties":{},"presentation":"","images":[{"id":"35d3a719-ecb1-5eec-a6d8-8a86d5616467","description":"","byline":"","hireswidth":null,"hiresheight":null,"hiresurl":null,"presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"400","height":"336","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/5d/35d3a719-ecb1-5eec-a6d8-8a86d5616467/584985de152c7.image.jpg?resize=400%2C336"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"84","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/5d/35d3a719-ecb1-5eec-a6d8-8a86d5616467/584985de152c7.image.jpg?resize=100%2C84"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"252","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/5d/35d3a719-ecb1-5eec-a6d8-8a86d5616467/584985de152c7.image.jpg?resize=300%2C252"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"860","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/5d/35d3a719-ecb1-5eec-a6d8-8a86d5616467/584985de152c7.image.jpg"}}},{"id":"45cd512a-dafb-5f01-a41c-bd5cb614314c","description":"","byline":"","hireswidth":null,"hiresheight":null,"hiresurl":null,"presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/gif","width":"451","height":"600","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/4/5c/45cd512a-dafb-5f01-a41c-bd5cb614314c/584985de353ef.image.gif"},"100": {"type":"image/gif","width":"100","height":"133","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/4/5c/45cd512a-dafb-5f01-a41c-bd5cb614314c/584985de353ef.image.gif?resize=100%2C133"},"300": {"type":"image/gif","width":"300","height":"399","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/4/5c/45cd512a-dafb-5f01-a41c-bd5cb614314c/584985de353ef.image.gif?resize=300%2C399"},"1024":{"type":"image/gif","width":"1024","height":"1362","url":"http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/4/5c/45cd512a-dafb-5f01-a41c-bd5cb614314c/584985de353ef.image.gif"}}}],"revision":10,"commentID":"2ba542a0-2332-5d7b-b66c-e0ce6e3f7874","body":"
\"gingerbread
gingerbread christmas

During the holidays, everyone\u2019s to-do list grows \u2013 with accommodating visiting relatives, planning special meals and attending community celebrations. As a result, they can become overwhelming for both adults and children.

To keep the festive atmosphere at the forefront of your bustling holiday schedule, set aside special time with the young ones you love. Harness their anticipation-fueled energy, and start new traditions by pairing memory-making cooking and baking experiences with soon-to-be-favorite children\u2019s books like the pair recommended here.

Author Eric A. Kimmel\u2019s amusing and entertaining Hanukkah Bear centers on a hungry bear awakened from his winter\u2019s sleep by a delicious smell wafting into his den. He follows the smell into the village, to the front door of Bubba Brayna, the best latke-maker in town.

Each year, all of Bubba\u2019s neighbors, including her special guest the rabbi, visit her cottage to play Hanukkah games and enjoy her delicious latkes. However, Bubba\u2019s a bit hard of hearing and doesn\u2019t see quite as well as she once did, which leads to a rousing encounter between her and the wandering bear.

\"hanukkah
hanukkah bear

Mike Wohnoutka delightfully illustrates Kimmel\u2019s tale, with warm golden tones lending an air of safety and comfort to the scenes. Children will revel in the silliness of Bubba\u2019s interactions with her mistakenly identified visitor as they see their own holiday traditions being carried out by the enormous bear.

Best of all, a recipe for Bubba\u2019s latkes ends the book, supplementing the great family fun of enjoying Kimmel\u2019s story with parents and children spending time together making latkes.

Another wonderful story to pair with holiday treat-making, Gingerbread Christmas marks the newest offering from award-winning author/illustrator Jan Brett.

This story, the latest adventure of Brett\u2019s beloved Gingerbread Baby, finds him leading a freshly baked gingerbread orchestra at the Christmas festival in the town square. When a girl in the crowd realizes the conductor and anthropomorphic instruments are edible, the Gingerbread Baby and his friend Matti lead the villagers on a merry chase to protect their music-making friends.

Children will love finding the Gingerbread Baby hiding among the ornaments and garland on the large pop-up Christmas tree at the end of the book.

Brett\u2019s colorful, lushly detailed illustrations depict a traditional Swiss mountain village with its human and animal inhabitants. Brett once told some schoolchildren it takes her \u201can hour to draw an inch\u201d of illustration, so each two-page spread in Gingerbread Christmas forms an intricate work of art. As a result, in keeping with Brett\u2019s style, the elaborate picture insets on each page give clues to past and future story actions, providing parents with opportunities to engage their children in remembering and predicting upcoming actions.

At Ready Readers, we know that \u201cKids Who Read Succeed!\u201d Reading aloud daily provides a strong foundation for early literacy. If you enjoy reading and sharing the magic of books, please consider becoming a volunteer for Ready Readers and reading aloud to a classroom of preschool children in an underserved area of St. Louis. Visit readyreaders.org for more information.

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Story: When 72-year-old widow Daisy Werthan drives her new car through the back of the garage her son Boolie decides that her driving days are over. She\u2019s now had three accidents in a matter of months while attempting to navigate thoroughfares in post-World War II Atlanta and enough is enough.

Against Daisy\u2019s strenuous objections, Boolie hires a chauffeur named Hoke Coleburn to drive her around town for errands, social gatherings, visits to her temple or any other reason. Boolie is 60 years old himself and looking for steady employment since his last job ended.

Boolie informs Hoke that, although Hoke reports daily to Daisy\u2019s home, he actually is working for Boolie and can\u2019t be fired by the cantankerous Mrs. Werthan. At first Daisy predictably chafes against the idea of not only not driving herself but also being held \u2018hostage\u2019 to her son and her black chauffeur.

Eventually, though, Daisy and Hoke forge a relationship that carries them through 25 often turbulent years, as the Civil Rights movement rises up to challenge centuries-old racism in the Old South as well as a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism, something Boolie as a bank manager understands all too well. Perhaps Daisy and Hoke really do need each other.

Highlights: Atlanta-born Jewish playwright Alfred Uhry is the only American writer to win a Tony Award, an Academy Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Driving Miss Daisy is one of three superior efforts in his \u201cAtlanta trilogy.\u201d For its 20th anniversary season, New Jewish Theatre offers its second rendition of this heart-warming drama with affecting performances by J. Samuel Davis, Kathleen Sitzer and Eric Dean White that leave a warm glow in appreciative audiences.

Other Info: Along with Parade and The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Uhry\u2019s Atlanta trilogy artistically maps the course of Jewish life in the Old South in the early to mid-20th century. Driving Miss Daisy is the last work chronologically, set between 1948 and 1973.

Dunsi Dai\u2019s scenic design is one of tasteful d\u00e9cor, set in Miss Daisy\u2019s living room at stage center with Boolie\u2019s office at stage left and the shell of a fancy vehicle at the front of stage center. Daisy regularly informs Hoke and Boolie about her impoverished upbringing, so her home is a model of restraint despite her late husband\u2019s financial success.

Costume designer Michele Friedman Siler delineates various eras in the story primarily through how she dresses Boolie, adapting to the times from a sharply tailored suit in 1948 to a bright burgundy sport coat a quarter-century later, along with golfing attire that went out with the arrival of Arnold Palmer and an explosion of the sport's popularity in the \u201850s.

Meg Brinkley\u2019s prop design carefully adds to the look of the show, with framed family portraits, rotary phones, old-fashioned clocks, etc., and Mark Wilson\u2019s lighting underscores the sepia-toned \u2018feel\u2019 of the work. Zoe Sullivan\u2019s sound design provides a bounty of pop tunes through the decades, while Nancy Bell\u2019s dialect coaching is noticeable in the characters' Southern twangs, notably Boolie\u2019s.

Director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga, who writes in program notes that she\u2019s never seen a production of Driving Miss Daisy in the 28 years since it premiered, maintains a sure, steady pace that matches the tempo of the characters, moving her players around Dai\u2019s judiciously appointed set to give the show continuity and an easygoing flow.

The players do strong, subtle work in depicting the changes not only in society but also in their bodies with the advancing years. Thus, White evolves from a robust 40-year-old man into a still vibrant albeit slower 65-year-old.

Davis masterfully conveys Hoke\u2019s congeniality but also is adept at showing darker moments, such as when Hoke recalls seeing the father of a childhood friend hanging dead in a tree with his hands tied behind his back. There\u2019s also a touching moment when Hoke mildly chastises Daisy for a last-minute invitation that justifiably hurts his feelings.

Sitzer, although verbally stumbling a few times in a Sunday evening \u00a0performance, is convincing as the independent but lonely title character. She shows Daisy as set in her ways but also reveals the older woman\u2019s gradual acceptance and even love for the affable chauffeur foisted upon her by her son.

White completes the trio of performers with a well-modulated and tender portrayal of Daisy\u2019s important but also loving child. He\u2019s especially revealing in a scene where Boolie tells Daisy why he won\u2019t join her at a banquet honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after the Civil Rights leader won the Nobel Peace Prize, noting the subtle ways in which a Jewish businessman could soon find himself and his company suffering from a white boycott.

Driving Miss Daisy is a tender, quietly told tale rich in emotion as well as a road map of the struggle for civil rights by minorities that continues today.

Play: Driving Miss Daisy

Company: New Jewish Theatre

Venue: Wool Theatre, Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive

Dates: December 7, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, 18

Tickets: $39.50-$43.50; contact 442-3283 or newjewishtheatre.org

Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of John Lamb

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Story: It\u2019s been several years since Phil and Jessica lost their only child, Samantha. The middle-class couple believe that their daughter died in a terrible accident on local railroad tracks, but officially her death was ruled a suicide.

Since that time they have gone through extensive litigation that has left them destitute and still bitter and frustrated about the unchanged verdict. Jessica has attempted to move on but she is aggravated by Phil\u2019s inability to do so.

Phil is well respected as a high school teacher in their small community, but unknown to Jessica he has just lost his job. Meanwhile, Jessica\u2019s brother Richard, a university scientist who has helped his sister financially in the past, reveals that he\u2019s about to come in to some major money as researcher on a lucrative project financed by a major pharmaceutical company. Allysa, a rep for the pharma firm, also happens to be a current love interest of Richard\u2019s.

When the sole reporter for a local newspaper belatedly takes an interest in covering Phil\u2019s crusade, he turns up some interesting information about the drug used to treat Samantha and its ties to the new drug being backed by Richard, for which he\u2019s done no real research. Was Phil right all along about the initial drug\u2019s fatal effect on his daughter? And will more children be endangered by its successor?

Highlights: Tesseract Theatre, whose mission is to \u201ctell big stories small,\u201d opens the sparkling new .ZACK Arts Incubator performance space with a world premiere presentation of a play by its artistic director, Taylor Gruenloh. The \u201cZack,\u201d another in the growing list of theatrical performances spaces developed by local philanthropists Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, adds to the burgeoning Grand Center theater district in stylish fashion.

Other Info: Gruenloh\u2019s two-act drama was first presented as a staged reading under the title Samantha\u2019s Field at the 2015 Hollins Playwrights Festival. Gruenloh continues to hone his work and, while it still needs considerable tweaking, it is a credible piece that marks a substantial improvement over several of the company\u2019s efforts in the past three seasons.

A problem with this version is the static pacing by managing director Brittanie Gunn that mars too many scenes. Rather than have an audience sit patiently (or maybe impatiently) during languid stretches between the numerous scenes in each of the two acts, it might be a better idea to facilitate quicker entrances than are presently used.

Also, while there are scenes at stage left in the office of a pharmaceutical director, perhaps an area could be set aside for the newspaper room at stage right, allowing most of the story to continue as is in the center of the spacious stage while also speeding up the action by shifting to another area rather than going dark for numerous changes. Just a thought.

Artists responsible for the scenic design, lighting, projections, etc. aren\u2019t noted in the program, but there is good use made of the screen behind the main set showing some pastoral scenes in the small town and its surroundings. A couple of desks serve as the newspaper \u201croom,\u201d while a kitchen table and chairs represent the home shared by Phil and Jessica.

Gruenloh does a good job presenting an interesting and topical story, focusing on the psychological impact of the young girl\u2019s death on her grieving parents as well as the growing consciences, or lack thereof, among some other characters.

Carl Overly Jr. does a fine job as the well-meaning Phil, whose obsession with his daughter\u2019s death threatens to destroy his marriage. Musa Gurnis shows the love that Jessica still has for Phil despite the stress he has put both of them through with exhaustive legal crusades.

Phil Leveling capably conveys the brotherly love of Richard for his younger sister as well as his willingness to cut corners to advance in his career, while Julianne King as Alyssa shares his reluctance to give up the good life even if lives hang in the balance. Taleesha Caturah plays Alyssa\u2019s numbers-oriented boss Kim, who is more concerned with an upcoming Hawaiian vacation than any scruples over products.

Maurice Walters II is very good as a former big-city reporter who\u2019s been consigned to covering local sports and feel-good stories for the small-town paper run by Ed, a genial editor who took over the generations-old publication following the death of his father years earlier. Don McClendon brings an easy grace to the latter role, showing Ed\u2019s admiration for his enterprising reporter as well as his frustration about Maurice\u2019s yearning to do real investigative journalism that might hamper advertising.

Adverse Effects shows definite promise both as a serious play and also for the continuing development of Tesseract Theatre.

Play: Adverse Effects

Group: Tesseract Theatre

Venue: .ZACK Arts Incubator, 3224 Locust Street

Dates: December 9, 10, 11

Tickets: $10-$17; contact metrotix.com or 534-1111

Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

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Story: Dixie Longate welcomes you to her very own Tupperware party. Dixie has been hawking the plastic items for about a decade now, and she\u2019s pretty darned good at it, too. Her alter ego, actor Kris Andersson, says that he has made $25,000 to $30,000 a month selling the famous product, more than enough to support a once-struggling actor.

Dixie dispenses homespun humor with dialogue faster than one of those can openers featured in the Tupperware catalogue placed on seats throughout the Playhouse at Westport Plaza. She also weaves in the fascinating history of Brownie Wise, the single mother who changed the American landscape with her marketing skills in the 1950s. Brownie reached out to homemakers whose creativity was stifled in the male-oriented era even before the Mad Men arrived.

With the help of audience participants, Dixie demonstrates how products from the company started by Earl Tupper actually work, with a healthy dose of comedy in the process. Now, pay attention; there may be something you\u2019d like to purchase.

Highlights: The comedy comes in staccato bursts in this one-woman (well, one man in drag) show. Dixie\u2019s non-stop banter keeps audiences entertained throughout the one act and 90 minutes of this \u2018real\u2019 Tupperware party for \u2018just folks\u2019 like us.

Other Info: Dixie does have a very annoying habit of repeating words and phrases, which grows tiresome far too early in the show. Sure, that\u2019s part of the trailer lady\u2019s persona, but a little of that schtick can go a very long and tedious way.

There are, though, amusing elements that help give Dixie\u2019s Tupperware Party a much-needed boost from time to time. Several tacky, \u2018home-made\u2019 videos appear on a simple white screen behind the stage, featuring our intrepid hostess mouthing messages she repeats on stage in unison with the video. They\u2019re just bad enough to be funny and to maintain the illusion of Ms. Longate and her sales pitches.

Dixie tells us that she\u2019s actually been one of the top sellers of Tupperware, something referenced in a New York Times article about the show. So, go figure. What\u2019s indisputable is how Dixie takes time before the show to mingle with her audience, handing out candy and engaging in friendly conversation with her name-tagged constituents, putting everyone at ease.

What isn\u2019t really funny but actually interesting and also poignant is her description of Brownie Wise. As Dixie notes, Wise was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Business Week, way back in 1954, in a decade when women were frequently invisible.

But, even though Earl Tupper made Brownie a vice president of his fledgling organization, their relationship ended acrimoniously a few years later. Earl was jealous of Brownie\u2019s notoriety and celebrity status and thus exiled her from Tupper. Neither Earl nor Brownie was the same after that unfortunate schism.

Dixie wistfully observes near the end of her performance that people might say, \u201cWho is Brownie Wise?\u201d Nearly all of them, though, she says, have heard of Tupperware, and many a woman has benefited from Brownie\u2019s marketing acumen. Wise perfected the art of selling a product through home parties hosted by ladies hawking the plastic \u2018crap\u2019 that Dixie demonstrates with enthusiasm and aplomb.

The program for Dixie\u2019s Tupperware Party features a very brief bio about \u2018Dixie\u2019 and how her show opened off-Broadway in 2007, receiving a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance. There are also a few paragraphs about Brownie Wise and what she did for American women as a businesswoman pioneer, offering them a practical occupation as well as psychological support.

Dixie has a grand time demonstrating her wares, throwing off risqu\u00e9 double-entendres freely along the way and mixing it up with a number of audience volunteers who are good sports when thrust upon the stage, even in embarrassing moments. That\u2019s the way it is at Dixie\u2019s Tupperware Party, y\u2019all.

Play: Dixie\u2019s Tupperware Party

Company: Emery Entertainment/Jack Lane

Venue: The Playhouse at Westport Plaza

Dates: Through December 18

Tickets: $60; contact metrotix.com or 534-1111

Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photo courtesy of Emery Entertainment

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Story: Los Angeles-based actor Alex More is between a rock and a hard place. His job as \u201cmayor of Toontown\u201d at Disneyland, while less than challenging to the artist, nonetheless paid the bills. Now, after his snarky dispatching of a child was overheard by a parent, More is unemployed.

So, when he hears about a job opportunity at the palatial Malibu estate of none other than eccentric star Barbra Streisand, he\u2019s interested. After being grilled by Barbra\u2019s office manager, Alex is hired for a most unusual position: He\u2019s to be the sole proprietor of a \u201cstreet\u201d lined with \u201cshoppes\u201d in the basement of Barbra\u2019s barn.

First of all, how many barns have basements? Barbra\u2019s does, though, \u2018cuz she was inspired by a real museum in Delaware. She also penned a coffee-table book in 2010 titled My Passion for Design, about her home and the collection of stuff the actress/director has collected through the decades. She also took the photographs, thank you very much.

Alex finds his job just a bit tedious, not to mention weird. Dutifully, though, he dusts the counters in the doll shoppe, clothes store and antiques area. One day, while listening to the incessant whirr of the frozen yogurt machine, he\u2019s visited by a customer. The customer, actually. The owner herself.

Thus begins a most unlikely relationship between nervous clerk and savvy shopper, who stay within their roles while negotiating \u2018bargains\u2019 and catering to the whims of the buyer. Alex regales his boyfriend Barry with tales of adventures in that odd basement, which at first amuse and then annoy the aspiring screenwriter.

Alex certainly knows who Barbra Streisand is. But what does she think about him? Does she express any curiosity about Alex? Or is he just the clerk in her private mall?

Highlights: Stray Dog Theatre, always interested in presenting an offbeat or quirky tale in the holiday season, strikes comedy gold in this weirdly wonderful one-man show, thanks to impeccable direction by artistic director Gary Bell and an ingratiating performance by Will Bonfiglio.

Other Info: Bonfiglio is a complete delight from start to finish in this bouncy, one-act, 90-minute comedy that also has moments of poignancy. In fact, he\u2019s better as Alex than the talented young man who played that part in a production at The Rep\u2019s Studio Theatre early in 2015.

A winning smile and infectious charm help Bonfiglio navigate this winsome story in highly agreeable fashion. He portrays Alex as a good-hearted chap who is in awe of the legendary performer, and yet also devoted to his bizarre duties as lonely shop clerk. In a basement. In a barn. On an estate.

While the story is fiction -- which Alex informs us right up front \u2013 it\u2019s easy to be swept away by this oddly fascinating tale. It\u2019s hilarious when Barbra departs from a fancy party in her home one evening to sneak a frozen yogurt from Alex. It's even funnier when she sends her husband, actor James Brolin, to order \u201chis\u201d yogurt of exactly the same flavor and style a little while later.

Bonfiglio carries off all the characters with an easy-looking confidence. Alex is wide-eyed and endearing, the office manager is all business but with just enough understanding and Brolin is the same handsome, amiable chap who charmed Alex\u2019s mother on TV decades earlier as Marcus Welby, M.D.\u2019s enterprising young associate.

There\u2019s just the slightest stumble late in the play when Barbra and Barry start to sound like each other. For the most part, though, Bonfiglio gives each character his or her distinctive personality, complete with meticulous mannerisms and unique inflections.

A highlight of the show is watching \u2018Barbra\u2019 and \u2018Alex\u2019 parry and thrust over the price of a prized doll in one of the owner\u2019s \u201cshop-pees,\u201d as Alex impishly calls them. Bonfiglio wonderfully conveys a back story about the doll and her \u2018family\u2019 concocted by Alex, who is thankful for his improvisational background.

Bell smoothly paces the proceedings, positioning Bonfiglio in different areas of the stage for maximum storytelling impact. La Streisand is very much in evidence, thanks to some clever projection designs by Justin Been, which complement the handsome set designed by Robert Lippert that features several elegant-looking pieces of furniture.

Tyler Duenow classily lights it all for additional effect. Bell\u2019s costume design is casual chic for the genial Alex and Been adds a sound design that is a nice combination of serene and easy listening.

Buyer & Cellar, written by Jonathan Tolins, is an agreeable, lightweight foray into the fanciful, made all the more charming by Bonfiglio\u2019s charming and captivating interpretation.

Play: Buyer & Cellar

Company: Stray Dog Theatre

Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue

Dates: December 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17

Tickets: $20-$25; contact 865-1995 or www.StrayDogTheatre.org

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

Photos courtesy of John Lamb

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Story: In Charles Dickens\u2019 classic holiday tale a curmudgeonly businessman named Ebenezer Scrooge in Victorian London finds his life harshly evaluated on Christmas Eve by three spirits. They\u2019ve been sent to Scrooge\u2019s home by his late partner Jacob Marley, who decries that he never realized in life the fact that \u201cmankind was my business.\u201d

Now, seven years to the day of his death, Marley returns in ghostly form to warn his surviving partner to mend his ways, lest Scrooge end up joining other wretches in the after-life who lament their selfish ways while on Earth.

Is this, as Scrooge surmises, just the after-effect of some disagreeable food? Or can the tyrannical boss and skinflint actually change his ways to save his soul?

Highlights: After an absence of 35 years, A Christmas Carol returns to The Rep in a new adaptation by David H. Bell that shows a slightly different view of Dickens\u2019 enduring story of redemption and salvation during the holiday season.

For its golden anniversary season The Rep has mounted a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears, filling its offering with shiny acting performances and a glittering array of technical achievements cleverly designed to brighten the holiday spirits of its patrons.

Other Info: Bell sets his version in a warehouse owned by Marley and Scrooge, where the confiscated remains of homes shuttered by foreclosure have reaped grim profits for the two accountants. In Robert Mark Morgan\u2019s imposing scenic design the stage at The Rep is filled to the rafters with a jaw-dropping potpourri of the \u2018favorite things\u2019 of the unfortunate and displaced, whose belongings hover above the set on a second tier that also allows access for Marley\u2019s ghost.

The spectral aspects of Dickens\u2019 work are accentuated with brilliant lighting designed by Rob Denton that highlights the arrivals of the various spirits, along with the dazzling special effects of On the FLY Productions, including an impressive dissolution of The Ghost of Christmas Future right before our eyes.

Further enhancing the stylish look of proceedings are the handsome costumes designed by Dorothy Marshall Englis, from the tattered togs of street urchins to the fashionable finery of Marley, Scrooge\u2019s nephew Fred, his former boss Fezziwig and others.

There\u2019s formidable storming brought to the fore through Rusty Wandall\u2019s menacing sound design as well as some cheerful renditions of many a Christmas tune arranged by music director Jeffrey Carter, which serves as delightful dance music for the characters to execute sprightly steps under the tutelage of movement supervisor Ellen Isom.

Bell\u2019s breezy adaptation is actually a bit too quick, as the second act seems to truncate Dickens\u2019 overly familiar tale too much, leaving out beloved scenes various patrons may recall from the sundry versions they\u2019ve seen or heard through the years. An extra 10 minutes in Act II would still allow the theater to empty out in less than two hours and better complement the more satisfying first act.

As for the performances, director Steven Woolf expertly maneuvers his large ensemble seemingly effortlessly around The Rep stage. They delightfully swell street scenes as well as Fezziwig\u2019s festive holiday party, viewed wistfully by the robed Scrooge as he accompanies the Ghost of Christmas Past.

John Rensenhouse is an affecting Scrooge, as much for his expressions of haunted remorse and poignant recognition of laughter and love in days gone by as by his animated disdain for the people who \u201cwaste\u201d a good work day every December 25th. Scrooge\u2019s salvation is seen up close and personal in Rensenhouse\u2019s gradually increased recognition of his surroundings, as Scrooge sees visions of his ex-fiancee, his lovable old boss and a best friend left behind by Scrooge\u2019s greed.

Rep veteran Joneal Joplin marks his 100th appearance on The Rep stage with a delicious turn as the avaricious Marley and his regret-filled specter. The large ensemble includes a number of local favorites, including Jerry Vogel as the genial Ghost of Christmas Present as well as Scrooge\u2019s first employer, the jovial Fezziwig. Susie Wall scores as Scrooge\u2019s long-suffering maid and also as the fun-loving Mrs. Fezziwig.

Michael James Reed shows the innate kindness of Scrooge\u2019s faithful and warm-hearted employee, Bob Cratchit, while Amy Loui delineates the love shown by Mrs. Cratchit for her husband as well as her contempt for his penurious boss. Young Owen Hanford is delightful, too, as the Cratchits\u2019 youngest child, Tiny Tim, whose upbeat outlook belies his serious medical condition.

Jacqueline Thompson is impressive as the blindingly radiant Ghost of Christmas Past and Landon Tate Boyle shines as both the impressionable Young Scrooge and also the ominous Ghost of Christmas Future, which warns Scrooge about the dangerous children known as Ignorance and Want.

Ben Nordstrom delights as Scrooge\u2019s affable nephew Fred, and Chris Tipp makes for a fine Dick Wilkins, Scrooge\u2019s former best friend and fellow apprentice. Lana Dvorak is touching as Belle, the girl Scrooge unfortunately loved just a little less than the money he coveted.

Woolf craftily coaxes spirited performances by the voluminous players across and around the stage, bringing out fine efforts by an ensemble featuring Kaley Bender, Justin Leigh Duhon, Kennedy Holmes, Phoenix Lawson, Nathaniel Mahone, Kara Overlien, Libby Jasper, Jack Zanger, Peggy Billo, Grace Clark, Madison Dixon, Elise Edwards, Susannah Egley, Spencer Jones, Cole Joyce, Alan Knoll, Lily McDonald, Ronan Ryan and Donna Weinsting. The energized children in the cast capably represent The Muny Kids program.

Missing for nearly three dozen years, A Christmas Carol returns to The Rep with a handsome, heart-rending presentation with which The Rep has blessed us all.

Play: A Christmas Carol

Company: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Venue: Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road

Dates: Through December 24

Tickets: $18-$88.50; contact 968-4925 or www.repstl.org

Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of Jerry Naunheim Jr.

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Story: Donny Dubrow is holding court in his Chicago resale shop, giving words of wisdom about the importance of breakfast to his young prot\u00e9g\u00e9 Bobby. He also reports on last night\u2019s poker game, where Donny dropped a bundle to his friend Fletcher and a woman acquaintance.

When Donny\u2019s poker pal Walter \u201cTeach\u201d Cole stops by, Donny tells him about a customer he had recently who inquired about a vintage American buffalo nickel Donny had displayed at his counter. The man asked about its price but Donny says that he wisely deferred to the potential buyer, who then offered $50. Donny countered with a higher number. Eventually they compromised at $90.

That gets Donny thinking about what the coin must really be worth, and the possibility of heisting it from the purchaser\u2019s home. He asks Bobby to keep an eye on the man. Bobby later reports that he saw the customer with a travel case leave his house, so that the man\u2019s home is ripe for burglarizing.

Teach is skeptical that the unproven Bobby can carry his weight in such a plot and strongly suggests to Donny that Teach be his partner. Donny insists that Fletcher join them, while gently trying to inform Bobby that he\u2019s out of the plan. Alliances among these men, though, are fleeting, which hinders their already shaky chances at success in this \u201cbusiness\u201d deal.

Highlights: St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season with a return to several of its favorite playwrights, including David Mamet. The prolific writer\u2019s first Broadway success was this three-character, two-act drama that opened originally in Mamet\u2019s native Chicago in 1975 before playing Broadway two years later.

American Buffalo has had a rich history of productions, featuring star turns by Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, William H. Macy and others. Add this raw, pulsating version by St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio to that list of noted presentations.

Other Info: What first impresses one about this version is Christie Johnston\u2019s eye-popping scenic design. Somehow, she fills the minuscule Gaslight Theater stage with a cornucopia of used treasures in Donny\u2019s junk shop, circa 1975, with a bicycle hanging above the set, old TVs balanced on top of each other and assorted chotchkes on view. That\u2019s in addition to three specific areas for the single set: A dilapidated couch at stage right, a counter and plain refrigerator in the middle and Donny\u2019s desk at stage left.

Props designer Carla Landis Evans complements this garish place of \u201cbusiness\u201d with assorted knickknacks, including a black, rotary phone and flimsy card table, that fill the cluttered set. It\u2019s her costume design, though, that offers a knowing glimpse into these characters from the underbelly of Chicago, namely Teach\u2019s blindingly gold shirt and shoes in the first act that shout out \u201cI have an over-inflated opinion of myself.\u201d

Director John Contini maintains the seedy, sordid atmosphere in which this trio of derelicts resides, coaxing convincing interpretations of Mamet\u2019s low-life characters from his superb cast. His players carry the cadence of the playwright\u2019s coarse, vulgar street poetry, a terse patter conveyed in Mamet's visceral dialogue.

Peter Mayer, William Roth and Leo Ramsey present three-dimensional portrayals of Donny, Teach and Bobby, respectively, enhancing the gritty realism in the forlorn world of these hangers-on. Contini has them move about the compact stage in such a way as to convey a flow to the action, heightened with a violent crescendo late in the second act that utilizes Shaun Sheley\u2019s well-orchestrated fight choreography.

All three actors shine in communicating Mamet\u2019s profanity-laced dialogue, with only occasional hiccups. Their conversation is emitted in short, staccato bursts that underscore the limited range of men who live on the fringes of society. Mayer is almost paternal in Donny\u2019s \u2018tutoring\u2019 of the manic junkie Bobby, while trying to be the voice of reason with the high-strung Teach as well.

Roth effectively presents Teach\u2019s blustery, clueless ways, also showing the character\u2019s instincts for survival as Teach describes his own skewed interpretation of free enterprise. As Bobby, Ramsey is an animated, hyper street kid low on brains but eager to please his seedy elders by demonstrating his loyalty and reliability to carry off \u201cimportant\u201d tasks, something Teach skeptically disdains.

Dalton Robison\u2019s harsh lighting matches the tenor of this tale, while Contini provides a sound track frequented with pop hits from the \u201870s, especially Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Mamet has a distinctive voice in American theater, filled with vulgarity that may seem out of place to more refined or sensitive ears. His characters in American Buffalo, however, speak the poetry of the streets in stirring, striking fashion as emblematic of America as that historic title coin.

Play: American Buffalo

Company: St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio

Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle

Dates: December 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18

Tickets: $30-$35; contact 1-800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com

Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of John Lamb

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\"prime

Kyle Kratky, managing director and show runner, left, and Andrea Standby, artistic director.

Roughly a month ago, a new theatrical troupe here hit the stage both figuratively and literally, as PRIME theater company presented The Transmigration Show in St. Louis\u2019 Southampton Presbyterian Church.

\u201cThe show went great!\u201d relates PRIME managing director Kyle Kratky, who also served as showrunner for the Nov. 5 production. \u201cWe had a good-sized audience, and the plays were suitably weird, varied and magical.\u201d

Weird, varied and magical all seem apt adjectives to describe PRIME\u2019s debut production, whose conception and development Kratky credits to Andrea Standby, the company\u2019s artistic director. \u201cTransmigration (or rebirth, or reincarnation) is the belief that the soul does not die with the body, but begins a new life in cyclic existence,\u201d explained preproduction PRIME promo material for The Transmigration Show. A subject for primo beach reading? Probably not.

\u201cStandby saw an opportunity to explore a topic she personally found interesting in Transmigration, but the key really came when we realized that the form and function of this kind of show worked perfectly with the idea of two souls \u2026 reincarnated through many lifetimes,\u201d Kratky says. \u201cArt works best when the thematic ideas can interact directly with the utilitarian side, when form and function align with our artistic ideas.\u201d

Those ideas and related ideals underlie PRIME\u2019s tagline, \u201cThe Home of the Now,\u201d he explains.

\u201cFor Standby and I, we are interested in removing pretension and artifice from theater where possible,\u201d Kratky says. \u201cPRIME will initially produce a kind of pressure-cooked form of theater that will live in the present day, in the world we all live in now. \u2026 We are making theater for and of the present, and we are doing it with a strong sense of immediacy and urgency. This is the now.\u201d

In what sounds like an aspirin-by-the-handful logistical nightmare, that aesthetic informed The Transmigration Show, whose production imposed severe temporal restraints on seven playwrights, six directors and six casts.

Those grounded in the arts might remark on formal similarities between PRIME\u2019s debut and initiatives elsewhere, like influential cartoonist Scott McCloud\u2019s 24-hour comics, The 24 Hour Plays in New York and entrepreneur Mark Ruppert\u2019s 48 Hour Film Project.

\u201cWe call our approach a 24-hour new-play festival, because every show will ideally include more elements than just a performed series of plays \u2013 possibly visual art, spoken word, music or more,\u201d Kratky says.

\u201cI have been producing and participating in shows produced in 24 hours for more than a decade in Chicago, St. Louis, Madison, [Wisconsin,] and beyond. This type of show has roots stretching back to the 1970s. Over the past two years, we\u2019ve developed our own special sauce to flavor and bring texture to our style of show.\u201d

Kratky provided more detail on that two-year gestation by Standby and him.

\u201cWe wanted to create bold, eclectic, accessible theater for a large range of audiences, and we wanted to bring together a wide range of audiences in that process, including writers, performers, visual artists, musicians and more,\u201d he relates.

Kratky expounds at length on where he and Standby envision PRIME fitting into St. Louis\u2019 extant theatrical milieu \u2013 that is, how they believe their company and its productions will compare to other companies\u2019 work.

\u201cBefore we formed PRIME, we talked with local theater movers and shakers and found that we could create a kind of art not currently covered exclusively by any theater company here,\u201d he recollects. \u201cWe want future shows to be co-producing with other local theater companies. Ideally, we want to bring our unique, honed technique and process to other companies and work together to create original, dynamic plays together with local artists.

\u201cPRIME is uniquely positioned because many of our artists are veterans of this kind of urgent theater. We have connections not only to the local community but also to artists all over the U.S. and the world.

\u201cFor our first show, The Transmigration Show, we had artists from Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Toronto in addition to local participants. For future shows, we are vetting artists from all over the world, including one living in Japan. We have a strong network of artists interested in producing impactful theater with bold stories for the stage.\u201d

Kratky understandably describes PRIME\u2019s form of producing theater as \u201cfast-paced\u201d and notes that that pace demands from participating artists \u201ca state of action.\u201d He also expands on a mention in the company\u2019s introductory material of creating \u201craw, welcoming and unorthodox theater for all, encapsulating the ephemeral while encouraging community engagement.\u201d

\u201cThis is the central mission for PRIME,\u201d Kratky says. \u201cOur brand of fast-paced production and peeling away the layers of artifice and pretension is designed to live in a raw state, but we will always balance that with creating stories that are accessible and welcoming for everyone, regardless of race, age or social status. We are honing and crafting our productions to focus on issues and themes impacting local communities.\u201d

Directly, Kratky continues that aesthetic reflection.

\u201cFor us, the very nature of theater is improvisation,\u201d he says. \u201cWe can plan for years and months, but theater is, to us, a living, organic form of art because it requires a live audience to participate. Their involvement necessarily changes the stories and how they are viewed.

\u201cNow that the show has come and gone, we\u2019ll be spending the next few months to develop next year\u2019s shows and to perform a full analysis of how our process played out. There will undoubtedly be changes. PRIME will always be asking, \u2018How do we get closer to emotional honesty, to telling the truth with integrity and playfulness?\u2019\u201d

Intriguingly, in The Transmigration Show, Standby sought \u201cto include local visual artists and to use their works of art as the visual inspiration for each play,\u201d Kratky says. He and Standby also sought to reinvent Southampton Presbyterian Church, the unconventional site of that unconventional first production, \u201cto visually craft it into a living art installation, a kind of malleable canvas on which unique stories could be served,\u201d Kratky says.

\u201cWe procured a range of visual artists to submit work for this show,\u201d he adds. \u201cMany artists created works expressly for this show, reflecting themes of death, rebirth, karma and destiny. Writers for the show were each assigned one artist whose submitted work served as a visual muse. The plays were written using these works of art as inspiration, as a kind of visual vocabulary.\u201d

Having successfully staged the company\u2019s debut, Kratky ultimately reflects briefly on PRIME\u2019s post-Transmigrational future, with regard to four productions foreseen for 2017 and other potential events involving the company.

\u201cWe can\u2019t reveal much yet, but it is safe to say that none of our shows will be the same,\u201d he notes. \u201cEach festival will have different goals, themes and flavors. Each will have a unique process to blend with those variations. PRIME isn\u2019t interested in repetition.

\u201cExpect the unexpected.\u201d

PRIME, 314-884-1647, facebook.com/primetheatrestl

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\"AsiaNoodles-01.jpg\"
AsiaNoodles-01.jpg

At River City Casino, an addition that debuted in September features a new baccarat room and restaurant: Asia Noodles. The opening follows the launch of Ameristar Casino\u2019s Asia.

While Asia features full service, Asia Noodles offers a quick-service-style setting with a smaller menu that focuses primarily on noodles and Vietnamese dishes.

The entire room, including the gaming area, dining area and kitchen, totals 3,000 square feet, with approximately 600 square feet allocated to the dining area, which seats 27. Like its sister restaurant, the space features a black-and-red color scheme in a contemporary setting.

The kitchen is headed by River City Casino\u2019s executive chef, Joshua Schlink, along with sous chef Thuy Nguyen and specialty cook Quoc Huynh. Asia\u2019s chef de cuisine, Hai Ying Bushey, advises on a number of dishes as well.

For instance, Bushey\u2019s pho and wonton soup are prominent highlights that cross over from Asia\u2019s menu. The pho features a broth made from beef knuckle and beef-marrow bone, simmered for 10 to 12 hours with spices including star anise, cinnamon, ginger and onion.

Choose from a variety of options for the pho, including ph\u1edf \u0111\u1eb7c bi\u1ec7t \u2013 a special combination with sliced eye of round beef, tripe, tendon, lean beef brisket and meatballs.

Additional items unique to Asia Noodles\u2019 menu include egg-noodle and clear-noodle soups such as a h\u1ee7 ti\u1ebfu m\u00ec \u0111\u1eb7c bi\u1ec7t, with barbecue pork, shrimp, crab stick and vegetables. G\u1ecfi g\u00e0, or Vietnamese chicken salad, is made up of shredded free-range chicken tossed in fish-sauce vinaigrette. All of these dishes would make perfect choices before seeing boom from R-S Theatrics.

Other highlights include more carryover items from Asia\u2019s menu, such as crispy, caramelized, garlic-sauce-covered chicken wings, Vietnamese eggrolls and spring rolls stuffed with vegetables, vermicelli noodles, shrimp and pork.

Asia Noodles also offers a section of standards including pad thai, General Tso\u2019s Chicken, beef and broccoli, and house-fried rice with your choice of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or vegetables.

The beverage menu features sodas, beer, wine, juice and a selection of Vietnamese staples such as caf\u00e9 s\u0169a n\u00f3ng made with roast-chicory coffee, ice and sweetened condensed milk. Iced green tea and soybean milk also are available.

Asia Noodles, 777 River City Casino Blvd., St. Louis County, rivercity.com/dining/asia-noodles

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Honk!

A delicious playfulness suffuses the untitled central installation to Charles P. Reay\u2019s latest exhibition at the Bruno David Gallery, \u201cDADADADA.\u201d

That installation \u2013 involving a sextet of faux geese (none \u201ca-laying,\u201d by the way) and four tubes of oils \u2013 visually reads like a 3-D avian hommage to the 1898 painting His Master\u2019s Voice. The painting in question, which subsequently became a recording-industry trademark, famously shows a puzzled pooch named Nipper peering at an ancient phonograph.

Reay amusingly recounts the backstory of the installation\u2019s inclusion in \u201cDADADADA.\u201d

\u201cSeveral pieces related to Marcel Duchamp, and the geese are an allusion to his ready-mades,\u201d he says, referring to the French artist and champion of the Dada movement (which, from roughly 1915 to 1922, slipped a whoopee cushion onto the armchair of fine art) and the everyday things, like a urinal and a snow shovel, which Duchamp appropriated and repurposed as objets d\u2019art.

\u201cAs history: I brought many of them into my studio last fall [2015] to simply keep me company. I moved them about now and then, and thought about them, and in midwinter, I gave them tubes of paint to give them a more elevated purpose. Bruno saw them during a studio visit, and we added them to my latest show \u2013 where, in the center of the gallery and asking several questions, they calmly contemplated nascent art in the form of the tubes of oil colors.\u201d

Used in the installation, he adds, were fiberglass, enamel, flocking, steel and metal paint tubes.

Professionally, Reay lays claim to serving 42 years as a design principal at Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, the international architecture-engineering and interior design juggernaut founded in St. Louis in 1955 and nowadays known, simply, as HOK.

Prior to that, he also worked in his own office and \u2013 another major-league credential \u2013 in the Eames Office, shepherding the legacy of the protean husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames, two of the most influential visionaries in architecture and furniture (as well as industrial and graphic design, fine art and film) during the latter half of the 20th century.

\u201cThe last several years have allowed more time to concentrate on studio art,\u201d Reay says, mentioning shows at the Bruno David Gallery not just in 2016 but in 2011 and 2014.

From this year\u2019s show, he briefly reflects once more on those six geese, referring to Duchamp\u2019s pseudonymous urinal-centered work.

\u201cI have, once or twice, related them to the Society of Independent Artists, a flock that M. Duchamp, a founder, resigned from in protest over the treatment he received over the rejection of R. Mutt\u2019s Fountain sculpture from its first annual exhibition, in 1917,\u201d says Reay.

\u201cBut that\u2019s pretty tough to suss out, so I\u2019ve kept that to myself.\u201d

To learn more about our featured artist, visit chipreay.com.

St. Louis-area artists who wish to be considered for future installments of this monthly department of Ladue News should email inquiries to bhollerbach@laduenews.com with \u201cArt and Soul\u201d in the subject line.

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\"christmas
christmas travel

Call me a rebel, but I love leaving home at Christmastime and traveling to locales across the globe. Doing so constitutes a sociology lesson akin to a wedding \u2013 interesting to experience even if it\u2019s not your celebration. In Europe, Christmas markets are an old tradition, one I participated in last December. They\u2019ve begun to spread to the U.S. \u2013 from New York City to Hermann \u2013 but to see them at their peak, take advantage of off-season fares to cross the Atlantic for an unforgettable holiday abroad.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg claims to be the oldest of the Christmas markets, dating back to 1570. It styles itself the \u201ccapital of Christmas,\u201d maybe because of nine distinct markets in various locations there, all within a reasonable distance of one another. An easy, hill-less city for strolling, it boasts lots of pedestrian streets and a quiet, efficient tram system.

If you\u2019re seeking major atmosphere, you\u2019ve come to the right place. Decorative lights festoon the streets, musicians play nonclich\u00e9d tunes and the scent of mulled wine wafts across the crowds. It\u2019s a toss-up which is more interesting: shopping during the day, when the city\u2019s architecture can be admired, or at night, when the fairy-tale feeling richens.

The vendors in these markets work in chalets \u2013 rustic-looking wood booths with gingerbread cutouts decorating the eaves. What do they sell? Certainly the name and setting evoke visions of cunning wooden toys hand-carved by ancient grandfathers sitting beside wood-burning stoves, but most of what\u2019s on offer is mass-produced. You\u2019ll find detailed model cars, winter accessories, lotions and soaps, and Christmas decorations ranging from wee glass figurines to huge stars lit from within \u2013 popular exterior home decorations for the holiday. Roasted chestnuts can be found at the market near the Strasbourg Opera House, and scattered about are spots serving foie gras sandwiches.

Dusk into the evening might be the optimal time for the large market around Place de la Cath\u00e9drale. The magic is great then, with warm lights on the cathedral creating a backdrop to the chalets, the crowds and the Christmas decorations. Lots of restaurants and caf\u00e9s lie nearby, some facing the square.

Daytime best suits another particularly charming place, the intimate neighborhood called Petite France, a United Nations World Heritage-listed historical area. Balconies on certain of the half-timbered buildings might have figures of the three kings \u2013 one of the two markets here is named for the trio \u2013 and a boutique hotel sports chic red-orange Christmas trees outside. The river Ill flows around and through the city and looks particularly nice from Petite France. noel.strasbourg.eu/en

Montreux, Switzerland

Although off the beaten path when it comes to Christmas markets, Montreux makes an exquisite winter setting, with snowy Alps above Lake Geneva\u2019s shore and belle \u00e9poque buildings throughout town. At night, lights float near that shore, looking like multicolored jellyfish.

Its busy market stretches along the lakefront promenade. Although smaller than Strasbourg\u2019s markets, in many ways the offerings at Montreux\u2019s seem more diverse. Also, most of the shoppers seem to be Swiss rather than guests from across Europe and beyond.

Leather goods, large fire logs and jewelry appear alongside more-expected items. Food, too, varies and abounds even more, both for gifts \u2013 plank-smoked fish created in a chalet, for instance \u2013 and for eating on-site or to go. One entire pavilion, in fact, centers on chowhounds, offering specialties like sausage, sauerkraut, sp\u00e4tzle or rosti, a Swiss dish similar to a potato pancake. Pastries, confections and gorgeous glac\u00e9 (or candied) fruits that look like jewels similarly abound. Surprisingly, not much Swiss chocolate \u2013 a staple found almost everywhere else one shops \u2013 retails there. montreuxnoel.com

As one of the best things about Christmas markets, visitors can set their own pace and take a break to sit and have coffee or wine, or to people-watch. Just wear warm, comfortable footwear, and prepare for a singular experience. \u00a0

Travel Tips:

Strasbourg

The easiest way to visit Strasbourg involves flying into Paris and changing planes, or taking a train into the city\u2019s heart.

The holiday season marks a very busy time there, with travelers from all over strolling and shopping. Weekends in particular make it hard to find a hotel room. Using Airbnb, I rented a small apartment about three blocks from the cathedral. Had it not been full, I would\u2019ve stayed at Le Bouclier d\u2019Or, a lovely place in the heart of the historic Petite France neighborhood. (1 Rue du Bouclier, 03 88 13 73 55, lebouclierdor.com/en)

Delicious food for breakfast, lunch and in-between meals can be found at Salon de The Grande Rue, as can over-the-top d\u00e9cor. The bright-red interior resembles the lining of a jewel box, and the pastry case looks irresistible. (80 Grand Rue, 03 88 32 12 70, salondethegrandrue.fr)

Traditional Alsatian food abounds in Strasbourg, like flammenkuche, a thin-crusted tart of cheese, onion and bacon. I also enjoyed a splendid meal at La Hache, a dark, modern bistro across from the Old Customs House that combines contemporary and traditional fare. (11 Rue de la Douane, 03 88 32 24 32, la-hache.com)

Beyond shopping, boat tours that show a different side of Strasbourg still operate this time of year, providing a change of pace. (batoramashop.com)

Montreux

You can easily fly into Geneva and take one of its trains, which run directly from the airport to Montreux, gliding along Lake Geneva.

I stayed with friends, but if you\u2019re not so lucky, the very desirable Fairmont le Hotel Montreux Palace overlooks the promenade by the lake. Some rooms even sport balconies. (Avenue Claude Nobs 2, 41 21 962 12 12, fairmont.com/montreux)

While Montreux citizens parler fran\u00e7ais, Switzerland\u2019s food, like its linguistic milieu, is influenced by French, German and Italian cuisine. In the city\u2019s center, La Rouvenaz leans Italian and features excellent seafood; given its popularity, try to reserve a table. (A small hotel also lies upstairs.) (Rue du Marche 1, rouvenaz.ch/en)

Shopped-out visitors can enjoy the Chateau de Chillon (about which the British poet Lord Byron wrote), a small-gauge railroad that scales the mountains, as well as a casino with ties to gonzo rocker Frank Zappa and the band Deep Purple. However, Freddy Mercury \u2013 who fronted the operatic rock band Queen until his untimely death and whose statue stands on the promenade \u2013 ranks as the local musical icon; Mercury loved Montreux, bought property and recorded his last album in the city.

Brunsli

Yields | 3 to 4 dozen cookies |

Brunsli is a chocolate-almond spiced cookie traditionally served around Christmas in Switzerland and found at many Swiss bakeries. Yield size will depend on size and shape of cutouts.

| Preparation | In a food processor, combine almonds and sugars until finely ground. Add chocolate to processor, and chop until fine. (Do not overprocess; chocolate will melt.) Add spices and egg whites, and mix by hand until dough comes together. Chill dough for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350\u00b0F, and prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. On a surface covered with sugar, roll dough to about \u00bd-inch thickness. Cut out cookies with a 2-inch cookie cutter (heart- or star-shaped), and transfer onto prepared pan. Put cookies in oven, and reduce temperature to 325\u00baF. Bake for 15 minutes or until firm. Be careful not to overbake, or cookies will harden too much. Garnish with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

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