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Among the storybook standards of the end-of-the-year holiday season \u2013 including Charles Dickens\u2019 A Christmas Carol, arguably the work that \u201ccreated\u201d that season as it\u2019s largely come to be celebrated in the U.K. and the U.S. alike \u2013 few can equal the much-loved longevity of The Nutcracker, which, according to custom, the Saint Louis Ballet will revisit in slightly more than a week.

Gen Horiuchi\u2019s nationally acclaimed terpsichorean company will gift area arts aficionados with 11 performances of that classic, at varying times and ticket prices, daily between Dec. 15 and 23 in the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

As chronicled in Ladue News in November 2015, Horiuchi is approaching the end of his second decade as director of the local company, and that two-act ballet scored by the Russian Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky has numbered among its offerings from the first. With his inherited company, in fact, Horiuchi has staged The Nutcracker often enough to qualify for an honorary vice presidency with Planters.

In that light \u2013 and in light of the fact that his professional career began early in the 1980s under the New York City Ballet\u2019s iconic George Balanchine \u2013 Horiuchi previously sketched the degree to which he\u2019s striven to \u201cmake it new,\u201d to reference a famous proclamation from 20th-century poetic titan and firebrand Ezra Pound, regarding long-standing ballets in general and Tchaikovsky\u2019s holiday hurrah in particular.

That effort has continued since 2015, Horiuchi notes. \u201cI updated some of the dance sequences in the party scene in Act I so far,\u201d he says of the latest production. \u201cAnd we have quite a few new casting [decisions] for the principal roles, such as Sugar Plum Fairy in Act II and Snow Queen and King in Act I this year.\u201d

Ah, casting. For The Nutcracker, that two-syllable adjective speaks behind-the-scenes volumes, an origami swan unfolded into a technical spec sheet.

According to an email from the company, the production will involve all of its dancers, as listed on the Saint Louis Ballet\u2019s website at press time: Mark David Bloodgood, Michael Burke, Lauren Christensen, Rebecca Cornett, Colin Ellis, Kaila Feldpausch, Elliott Geolat, Ericka Goss, Lauren Heebner, Amy Herchenroether, Audrey Honert, Brenna Housman, Lauren Lane, Elizabeth Lloyd, Alexis Matthesen, Michael McGonegal, Tiffany Mori, Kimberly Morse, Kate Rouzer, Matthew Ruske, Raffaella Stroik, Gregory Tyndall, Milan Valko, Lori Wilson and Vanessa Woods.

The same email notes that nonadult members of the cast will come from the company\u2019s school and number roughly 100 youngsters.

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Of course, since its 1892 debut in St. Petersburg, Russia\u2019s second-largest city, The Nutcracker has enjoyed a rather storied existence. Ironically, according to one source, critics of that debut \u201cranged from lukewarm to downright hostile in their reviews.\u201d

Perhaps as a result, 42 years passed before England hosted the ballet\u2019s first complete performance outside Russia, in 1934, and after that, fully a decade passed before its first complete performance in the U.S., by the San Francisco Ballet under Balanchine student Willam Christensen, in 1944. Yet another decade passed before Balanchine himself and the New York City Ballet staged it, in 1954.

Intriguingly, one historical high point of The Nutcracker involved a local connection. That is, the first complete recording of the ballet in digital stereo came from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, reportedly in 1985 on a double CD from RCA. Nowadays, many American ballet companies reportedly generate more than a third of ticket revenues each year from performances of The Nutcracker.

Julie Abernathie, director of finance for the local company, confirms that estimate. \u201cSaint Louis Ballet\u2019s Nutcracker revenue comprises over half of our total ticket sales revenue,\u201d she says. \u201cNutcracker revenue is about a third of our total revenue, including donations and ticket sales.\u201d

The customary joyful audiences soon should flock to the Touhill, and Tchaikovsky\u2019s holiday chestnut self-evidently remains popular with the Saint Louis Ballet\u2019s director. From all past performances of The Nutcracker under his direction, in fact, Horiuchi experiences no difficulty in citing the one he found most memorable.

\u201cLast year\u2019s production,\u201d he says. \u201cIn fact, I always update the production \u2013 choreography and staging of the ballet \u2013 each year, so the year before is always the one that most stands out in my memory.\u201d

Similarly, as an audience member instead of someone involved with the production, he displays bracing frankness, sans any false modesty, when pressed to cite the prior interpretation of The Nutcracker in general that has most impressed him.

\u201cMy own,\u201d Horiuchi says. \u201cI was not completely impressed with any of the productions I have seen before.\u201d

Saint Louis Ballet, 636-537-1998, stlouisballet.org

The Nutcracker in a Nutshell

What: The Nutcracker performed by Saint Louis Ballet

When: Dec. 15 to 23

Where: Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, One University Blvd., St. Louis

Information: 636-537-1998, stlouisballet.org

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Story: Chinquapin isn\u2019t the biggest city in Louisiana, but its residents get by OK. A group of women in particular keep up on the local news through their regular visits to Truvy\u2019s beauty shop, which her husband set up in the carport of their home. Truvy has the parlor stocked with the latest magazines for ideas about hair, fashion and other subjects.

A young woman named Annelle applies for a job with Truvy and does well enough for the owner to hire her. She\u2019s a sweet girl but a bit mysterious. She hesitates when Ouiser, one of the regular customers, asks her if she\u2019s married. \u201cThis is not a hard question,\u201d says Ouiser while awaiting Annelle\u2019s reply.

Other ladies stopping in include Shelby and her mother, M\u2019Lynn. They need to look perfect for Shelby\u2019s impending wedding day. M\u2019Lynn frets about Shelby\u2019s condition, not just because she's her only daughter but also since Shelby\u2019s diabetic and needs to monitor her blood sugar. M\u2019Lynn\u2019s concerned as well about her headstrong daughter\u2019s desire to have children, even though Shelby\u2019s physicians have warned against that.

Also on hand is Clairee, widow of the town\u2019s long-time high school football coach. Clairee misses her late husband but still enjoys going to the football games to root on her favorite team. She\u2019s also interested when she learns that the local radio station is on the market to be sold.

Over the course of three years, these soul sisters share their joys and sorrows as they rely on their mutual love to give them the strength they need to bolster each other in times of travail as well as enjoying life\u2019s pleasures.

Highlights: Stray Dog Theatre artistic director Gary Bell\u2019s rendition of Robert Harling\u2019s affecting drama is a well-crafted tribute to the show\u2019s 30th anniversary and a nicely wrapped holiday package for Stray Dog\u2019s audiences as well. Bell\u2019s studied direction and his agreeable cast\u2019s winning portrayals make Steel Magnolias sparkle like a favorite Christmas tree ornament.

Other Info: Bell saw the original production on Broadway in 1987, which featured Margo Martindale as Truvy. Several notable actresses have performed in various editions of Harling\u2019s love letter to his own late sister, including Barbara Rush, June Lockhart, Carole Cook, Joely Richardson, Rosemary Harris, Christine Ebersole, Frances Sternhagen and Marsha Mason. The 1989 film version had a stellar cast comprised of Dolly Parton, Shirley Maclaine, Julia Roberts, Darryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Sally Field.

No surprises there. Harling\u2019s sweet, funny and poignant story offers a half-dozen sterling roles for women, each presented with affection and endearment. That goes for the cantankerous Ouiser (\u201cI\u2019m not crazy, I\u2019ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years\u201d) and the independent Shelby as well as the good-hearted Annelle and the rest of the ladies.

Bell has assembled a strong cast who nurture their roles with nuance and fine comic timing while also mining the nuggets of tender drama along the way. They perform on Josh Smith\u2019s suitably ramshackle set, which features drab paneling from some 1960s rathskeller that serves a functional purpose in a converted carport, with appropriate accoutrements for a beauty salon.

Tyler Duenow adds lighting that draws attention to the chairs around which hair styling, gossiping and serious discussions occur, and Justin Been furnishes the accompanying sound design with pop music standards of the \u201880s and the voice of the local station's DJ (Kira Somach). Bell and Eileen Engel provide the well-appointed costumes, from the elegant attire of the professional M\u2019Lynn to the worn togs of the cash-strapped Annelle.

Sarah Gene Dowling nicely fills the bill as the weary but willing Truvy, who dispenses kindness while deadpanning jokes about her layabout husband and rowdy sons. Liz Mischel shows humor as the practical, good-natured Clairee, who keeps her razor wit sharp by countering the caustic, grouchy Ouiser (\u201cYou\u2019re unusually happy today, Ouiser. Did you run over a small child?\u201d).

Andra Harkins makes optimal use of the juicy role of Ouiser, storming into the salon with bravado as she rails against the incessant gunplay of her neighbor, who happens to be M\u2019Lynn\u2019s husband and Shelby\u2019s father, but also having a soft spot for her aged dog Rex and even some love for the other gals.

Jenni Ryan shows M\u2019Lynn\u2019s deep love for her daughter as well as stern, maternal concern for the girls\u2019 fragile health, while Alison Linderer succeeds at depicting the steady development of Annelle from throwaway wife to party girl to born-again Christian, maintaining her good nature along the way.

As Shelby, Eileen Engel convincingly displays the free spirit who chafes at her mother\u2019s protection as much as she respects and admires M\u2019Lynn. She shows Shelby\u2019s unfailing high spirits and good nature even in the face of adversity, epitomizing the indomitable communal spirit of these women.

Bell directs with a sure and steady touch, maintaining the focus on Harling\u2019s fun-loving but also tender script. True to its title, Steel Magnolias is a testament to the enduring strength of the bond shared by the fine ladies of Chinquapin.

Play: Steel Magnolias

Group: Stray Dog Theatre

Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue

Dates: December 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16

Tickets: $25-$30; contact 865-1995 or StrayDogTheatre.org

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of John Lamb

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Story: In this sequel two years later to Jane Austen\u2019s novel, Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters are gathering for the Christmas holidays in 1815 at the home of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth (Bennet) Darcy. Visiting are Mrs. Jane (Bennet) Bingley and her husband, Mr. Charles Bingley, as well as middle sister Mary Bennet of the five Bennet sisters and younger sister Mrs. Lydia (Bennet) Wickham. Sister Kitty and their parents will arrive Christmas Day.

Also in attendance is Mr. Darcy\u2019s good friend, Lord Arthur de Bourgh. He\u2019s come directly from college, which has been a comfort to him, a place both for study and solace. Like Mary, the painfully shy Arthur prefers the company of a good book to unpredictable people, although he\u2019s a nice enough fellow. With his parents now deceased, Arthur finds himself the baron of his own estate.

Both Elizabeth and Jane are pleasantly surprised that Mary is a bit more sociable and agreeable than she had been in their formative years. For her part, the always serious Mary is positively impressed with Arthur\u2019s scholarly pursuit of knowledge. They even have copies of the same obscure scientific reference source. What are the odds?

While Arthur gingerly makes his way to utter a line or two in Mary\u2019s presence, he unwittingly becomes the object of pursuit of the flirtatious and apparently unhappily married Lydia. Add to that the unexpected arrival of Arthur\u2019s imperious cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh, with some startling news of her own, and this holiday could prove even more controversial than the presence of a seasonal \u201ctree\u201d in the stately Darcy drawing room.

Highlights: The Rep offers its patrons a handsome holiday treat with this presentation of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. It\u2019s brightly packaged with the smart, stylish writing of playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and the impeccable performances of an inspired cast under Jenn Thompson\u2019s carefully crafted direction.

Other Info: Miss Bennet recently won Chicago\u2019s Jeff Award for Best New Play, and it\u2019s easy to see why. It features the crisp albeit flowery dialogue prevalent in Austen\u2019s stories. One can assume that both Gunderson and Melcon are Austen aficionados by this loving update on the lives of the (mostly) vivacious Bennet sisters who fill the pages of Pride and Prejudice.

Thompson works here with a technical staff equally devoted to honoring the 19th century writer whose works are known for the full-bodied characters she created. Wilson Chin\u2019s handsome set design displays the elegant drawing room in the splendid Darcy manor, with an anteroom at upper stage right where Mary regales the gathering with her skills at the pianoforte or sometimes simply to play in solitude.

It\u2019s illuminated in refined fashion by lighting designer Philip Rosenberg, with an elegant sound design courtesy of Toby Jaguar Algya.

Costume designer David Toser dresses everyone in their finest holiday splendor, with the lads sporting proper gentleman\u2019s attire and the ladies resplendent in their own patrician wardrobes. Dialect coach Joanna Battles furnishes them as well with the proper diction of the well-educated, 19th century English society.

Thompson\u2019s effortless pacing belies the production\u2019s two acts and two hours and 20 minutes, which disappear as quickly as Lydia\u2019s attempts at intellectual conversation. Even if some of the situations are resolved a bit too easily, her performers are so ingratiating that an audience can overlook minor script problems, especially in the spirit of the season.

Miles Jackson charms and entertains in glorious fashion throughout as the bumbling but kind-hearted Arthur. His awkward albeit sincere efforts to converse with the intellectual and extremely practical Mary are enchanting and humorous in his highly polished performance, which is epitomized by his entrances and approaches to other characters, always filled with trepidation.

Justine Salata\u2019s rendition of Mary is every bit as whimsical and offbeat, as she carefully depicts Mary\u2019s clinically studious nature gradually allowing the possibility of her heart seeking the fulfillment which her mind already possesses. Her on-stage chemistry with Jackson is appealing and amusing.

Austen Danielle Bohmer fills the vacuous Lydia with sufficient flirtatiousness to be more troublesome than endearing, but also depicts Lydia\u2019s own growth and self-awareness in the course of the comedy. Harveen Sandhu shows the self-confidence and steady presence in Elizabeth\u2019s personality, while Kim Wong capably portrays Jane\u2019s gentle and loving ways.

Rhett Guter and Peterson Townsend are entertaining as the men in the Bennet sisters\u2019 lives, Darcy and Bingley respectively, who know the best course for marital happiness is to defer to their charming wives, offering what \u2018manly\u2019 counsel they can to the naive Arthur. As Anne de Bourgh, Victoria Frings comes on like Cruella de Vil before subtly revealing the fissures in Anne\u2019s iron-clad nature, with assist from the playwrights in their quest for a happy ending.

Devotees of Austen doubtless will delight in this tasty confection so intricately prepared by Thompson, her cast and staff as well as playwrights Gunderson and Melcon. At least two Austen neophytes found it irresistible as well.

Play: Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

Company: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

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

Dates: Through December 24

Tickets: $18.50-$89; 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: Bernie Lutz isn\u2019t easy to like. He\u2019s constantly on the phone, wheeling and dealing, schmoozing with powerbrokers for assignments as one-half of the comedy-writing team, Lutz and Frumsky. He\u2019s a bit obnoxious and full of himself, feverishly dropping one-liners like chocolates for his listeners while he dabs his sweating brow with his handkerchief.

It\u2019s the early \u201850s, and the 54-year-old Bernie has made a good living in Hollywood since he and Morris Frumsky began their careers in show business as kids in their native New Jersey. They worked their way up from a nickelodeon and vaudeville to performances in the Catskills, the New York Yiddish theater and then into the ranks of comedy writers for the likes of The Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye and NBC, all of whom are awaiting scripts from the talented pair.

This day has started promisingly, as Bernie picks up the tuxes he and Frumsky will be wearing to the premiere showing of the major motion picture, The Big Casbah, for which they supplied the screenplay. Who knows? There could be Oscar nominations, but at the least they\u2019ll be hobbing and knobbing with the pretty and powerful on the red carpet that evening.

Bernie even has sent half a dozen dresses to his beloved wife Ellie to select one to wear for the special occasion. Suddenly, though, there\u2019s a big problem: Red Channels, sub-titled The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, has been published by the right-wing journal Counterattack.

The booklet contains the names of 151 actors, directors, writers, producers, journalists, musicians and others who have alleged ties, past or present, with the Communist Party. Both Bernie and Morris appear on the list for reasons Bernie can\u2019t fathom. When he\u2019s contacted by a local reporter about it, Bernie learns that he is accused of having attended a fund-raiser for a well-known leader in the American Communist party.

Bernie describes himself with a laugh as apolitical and that his office \u201cis a comedy sanctuary.\u201d Indeed, his prized possession is a small box filled with jokes written on index cards, which he keeps at the ready on his cramped, utilitarian little desk.

As the day advances, Bernie learns that the scripts developed by Morris and him are being rejected and that their projects are being canceled at an alarming rate. A friend of a friend gives him the name of an FBI agent who might be able to help the frantic Bernie in his predicament.

Hallelujah! The G-man, it seems, is willing to make a deal with Bernie: Just provide some names of \u201cknown communists,\u201d and Bernie can go about his career. Oh, by the way, there\u2019s an extra incentive: Bernie\u2019s knockabout father, a lifetime source of irritation to his son, has a checkered past as well.

The FBI investigator, though, has faith that Bernie will do the right thing. Is it finally time for the yuk-it-up Bernie to take a stand?

Highlights: Phil Johnson delivers a moving and memorable performance in this sobering tale about the \u2018red scare\u2019 era of Senator Joseph McCarthy in an astounding one-man performance with a script that is all too uncomfortably contemporary.

Other Info: Johnson co-wrote this one-act, 90-minute \u201cdrama about comedy\u201d with Marni Freedman, winning Best Drama at the United Solo Fest NYC 2017. He delivers a tour de force performance , bringing Bernie to fretful and fearful reality on the cozy New Jewish Theatre stage.

Director David Ellenstein matches the sizzling writing with a production that beautifully builds tension in disarmingly subtle fashion before Bernie\u2019s life takes a precipitous dive aboard a runaway train of innuendo. Ellenstein moves Johnson effectively around a fairly barren set which features that tiny desk, a hat rack and a small end table.

The desk and table are filled with Laura Skroska\u2019s wondrous props, including an edition of the Los Angeles Times heralding an American attack on \u2018red\u2019 aircraft, doubtless in Korea, as well as a black, rotary-dial phone, a canister filled with pencils and a portrait of Bernie\u2019s wife.

Costume designer Peter Herman matches Bernie\u2019s personality with a shabby, poorly tailored suit and a bland pair of glasses, while Matt Lescault-Wood adds an ominous sound design.

What\u2019s most impressive is Johnson\u2019s emotionally compelling performance. He moves Bernie from a glib huckster who shills cheap jokes with abandon to a desperate man clinging to his life and his livelihood by slowly measuring his own words and what they mean to him and others.

His presentation is highlighted in a heart-rending scene when he describes an early date with his wife and how her response to bigotry and danger affected him. The second-best scene serves as the show\u2019s climax, as the audience gets a measure of who the real Bernie Lutz might be.

A Jewish Joke is both humorous and harrowing. Johnson powerfully displays the good, the bad and the ugly, not only in Bernie but in the American political climate of the 1950s \u2013 and today.

Play: A Jewish Joke

Company: New Jewish Theatre

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

Dates: December 6, 7, 9, 10

Tickets: $39-$44; contact 442-3283 or newjewishtheatre.org

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

Photos courtesy of Eric Woolsey

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Story: Carmichael has a problem. His left hand was severed nearly half a century ago when a group of \u201chillbillies\u201d chased him near his home in Spokane, Washington, put his hand on a railroad trestle and watched as it was ripped off Carmichael\u2019s arm. They then had the additional audacity to pick up his severed hand several hundred yards down the track and wave \u201cgood bye\u201d with it to Carmichael.

They shouldn\u2019t have done that. The 17-year-old Carmichael survived that ordeal and then set about on a lifelong quest to (a) seek vengeance against the quintet of attackers and (b) find his missing appendage. He\u2019s long since taken care of the former goal, but has spent 47 years searching for the latter.

That mission has brought him to Lake County, Indiana in 1992. He\u2019s been contacted by Marilyn and Toby, a pair of young lovers who professed to have located said hand. When they show up with a \u2018hand\u2019 at the seedy hotel where Carmichael is staying, he\u2019s disappointed to see that the appendage isn\u2019t his.

That\u2019s unfortunate for Toby and Marilyn, because Carmichael decides to terrorize them for their foiled sleight-of-hand (sorry). When Toby reveals that Carmichael\u2019s real hand is back at their house, the stranger handcuffs them to a radiator and lights a candle which is affixed to a can of gasoline. If Carmichael finds the hand at the address they give him, he\u2019ll be back in time to snuff out the flame.

Toby and Marilyn are hysterical. Their fortunes seem to change when Mervyn, a daffy clerk at the hotel, discovers their predicament. Certainly, they reason with Mervyn, a call to the police is in order. Mervyn, however, is a different kind of quirky. He\u2019s pre-occupied with getting people to listen to his travails, even if they\u2019re a captive audience. Will common sense prevail?

Highlights:\u00a0St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio welcomes the holiday season with something completely different, an arresting comedy by Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. It\u2019s far from his best work but does have its moments of delight and daffiness, abetted by the amusing work of director Wayne Salomon\u2019s spirited cast.

Other Info: McDonagh\u2019s portfolio includes several outstanding gems such as The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Cripple of Inishmaan. The latter two benefit from McDonagh\u2019s ear for the rough, rowdy language of western Ireland, where he spent his summers as a lad. Combined with those colorful colloquial characters is McDonagh\u2019s penchant for violence-laced comedy, which works against the odds.

Not so with A Behanding in Spokane, at least not to the same extent. This 2010 effort was McDonagh\u2019s first attempt to set a play in The States for reasons not all that clear. He crafts a quartet of losers, more or less, aiming for a modern version of The Gang That Couldn\u2019t Shoot Straight with a wannabe Sam Shepard script.

That\u2019s not to discount the performances culled by Salomon from his players. Jerry Vogel is assuredly menacing as the obsessed Carmichael, a character portrayed by Christopher Walken on Broadway in the play\u2019s limited run there. Vogel\u2019s Carmichael can be alternately charming and dangerously deviant, and since he carries a revolver he is clearly in charge.

His interplay with the other characters is both eerie and unsettling. When Marilyn questions why he cares about a hand that long since has lost its usefulness, Carmichael scarily and defiantly answers, \u201cBecause it\u2019s mine.\u201d

Leerin Campbell and Michael Lowe are amusing as the third-rate cons who are trying to up their game from weed-dealing to fraud. Their combined IQ barely hits triple digits, but Campbell and Lowe give them an oafish, exaggerated appeal (except to an audience member on the opening Saturday, who loudly and angrily shouted his disapproval as he left the theater. Campbell and Lowe remarkably resumed their performances with nary a glitch).

William Roth has a fine time as the giddily goofy Mervyn, an odd character even by McDonagh standards. Roth, dressed up like a Phillip Morris cigarette commercial back in the day, adroitly holds his body rigidly in place while Mervyn utters a cascade of gibberish and nonsense which serves primarily to annoy the other characters and exacerbate their tension.

Salomon takes advantage of Patrick Huber\u2019s deliciously dumpy set design, which features a hotel room with drab, dirty walls, a pair of windows to a fire escape and two doors serving as an entrance and a closet. Huber\u2019s lighting accentuates the seedy look and carryings-on, with Salomon adding sound design. Carla Landis Evans provides a delightful touch with the garish props as well as costumes which underscore the nether nature of the characters.

If you\u2019re looking for a creepy, vulgar and darkly comic evening of theater, A Behanding in Spokane fits the bill. If not, don\u2019t say you haven\u2019t been warned.

Play: A Behanding in Spokane

Company: St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio

Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle

Dates: December 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17

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

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of Patrick Huber

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\"2016.12.09_Wildlights_MicahUsher-6407-2.jpg\"
2016.12.09_Wildlights_MicahUsher-6407-2.jpg

Each year, decade after decade, terra firma and the firmament have embraced joyfully throughout the metro area in exquisite holiday lighting \u2013 and 2017 constitutes no exception, with manifold displays of the confluence of stellar and earthly already delighting visitors.

Among such displays, one of the area\u2019s most reliable locales for getting lit remains equally reliable, at the holidays, for seeing the light: Anheuser-Busch\u2019s downtown St. Louis brewery.

Although some St. Louisans still feel less than star-struck by Stella Artois, even the most hardhearted anti-Belgians likely continue to revere the display at the magisterial landmark, which will blaze till Dec. 30.

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brewerylights_clydesdales.jpg

The Pestalozzi Street monolith is offering complimentary all-ages tours from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, except on Christmas Eve and Christmas proper. Also, a wristband for a quintet of 5-ounce zymurgic treats will go to each tour guest of legal drinking age.

Beyond the tours, the brewery\u2019s offering an ice rink, a s\u2019mores station, a buffet in the Biergarten, children\u2019s games on its patio, fire pit fun and three special packages. Some of those extra offerings carry a price tag, it bears noting; interested parties should call 314-577-2626.

More than half a million lights brighten another local landmark: the Saint Louis Zoo, near the city\u2019s western edge, in famed Forest Park.

Its display also includes illuminated animal fixtures \u2013 big surprise, in context \u2013 and other attractions and technically bears the title U.S. Bank Wild Lights, reportedly named one of the nation\u2019s top three zoo light displays by USA Today.

Like the brewery\u2019s display, the zoo\u2019s shines till Dec. 30, albeit from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. every day of the week. Also, unlike the brewery\u2019s, this display involves a ticket price that varies in diverse ways. Here, interested parties should call 314-781-0900.

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_DSC2160.jpg

A third local landmark, the Missouri Botanical Garden, more or less at the center of the municipality of St. Louis, is tempting sidereal enthusiasts with an outdoor walk exceeding a mile and offering them the opportunity to go totally Copernican in its glorious Garden Glow.

That annual event runs daily from 5 to 10 p.m. through New Year\u2019s Day, and the garden\u2019s website helpfully suggests, \u201cMondays and Tuesdays are ideal for those hoping to avoid larger crowds.\u201d Ticket prices vary, by the way; interested parties should call 314-678-7442.

The garden\u2019s website also promotes the comforts and cuisine of its own Sassafras Caf\u00e9 and Caf\u00e9 Flora to visitors to the Garden Glow, which it similarly positions as an ideal romantic location for matrimonial proposals. The garden likewise offers special proposal packages for $175 to $250.

No exploration of local seasonal displays of luminosity could qualify as complete, of course, without a mention of Winter Wonderland in Ladue\u2019s own Tilles Park.

That stellar celebration \u2013 the website for which reads, \u201cCelebrating 32 Years of Holiday Memory Making\u201d \u2013 will twinkle till Dec. 30 (except on Christmas Eve).

Vehicular traffic and ticketed, advance-reservation carriage rides through Winter Wonderland run Sunday through Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, it bears noting, remains reserved solely for carriage rides.

The price of admission, paid at the exit, varies according to the type of vehicle involved \u2013 whether a family auto, a limo, a commercial transport van or a tour bus \u2013 and the park accepts no credit or debit cards.

Otherwise, holiday light-lovers willing to travel just a trifle have three splendid options.

The first of those options, the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois, has been displaying holiday lighting since 1970.

Its display this year runs through Dec. 31 \u2013 although the shrine understandably closes Christmas Eve and Christmas proper \u2013 from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Although admission to the shrine\u2019s display costs nothing, its website gently suggests, \u201cDonations are accepted to help us continue bringing this family tradition to our community each year.\u201d

The website also notes, \u201cTuesday is a fabulous night to visit the Way of Lights to avoid large crowds and enjoy discounts on activities such as camel rides!\u201d Self-evidently, certain attractions, like the camel rides, aren\u2019t free.

Candlelight Stroll of Faust Historic Village, the second of the \u201ctravel a trifle\u201d options, takes place in Chesterfield\u2019s Faust Park on Friday, Dec. 8, from 6 to 9 p.m. and the next day from 5 to 9 p.m.

\u201cExplore the customs of holidays of the past on this self-guided stroll through the festively adorned rooms with historically dressed docents in attendance,\u201d urges the display\u2019s website.

Admission prices vary, payable in cash at the gate, although the website notes that potential visitors can indeed use credit cards in advance by calling 314-615-8328 or visiting the St. Louis County Parks & Recreation website.

The third and final of the \u201ctravel a trifle\u201d options, Holiday in the Park at Six Flags St. Louis, takes radiant revelers to Eureka. That event runs through New Year\u2019s Day.

Beyond its customary rides, edibles and family entertainment, Six Flags\u2019 website notes it \u201cwill be transformed into a winter wonderland with thousands of colorful lights, carolers performing classic yuletide favorites, personalized meet-and-greets with Santa and his helpers, and everyone\u2019s favorite Looney Tunes characters.\u201d

To further tempt potential visitors, the website cites \u201chot chocolate, cider, custom fudge, holiday-inspired funnel cake flavors and many other traditional favorites.\u201d

Dates, times and admission prices vary; potential visitors should contact Six Flags.

Ironically, just a year before the local Six Flags\u2019 1971 opening, musical legend Joni Mitchell composed a song about revisiting paradise that the rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young then transformed into an anthem, a song titled \u201cWoodstock.\u201d

\u201cWe are stardust,\u201d the chorus to that anthem assures listeners. \u201cWe are golden.\u201d Golden, yes \u2013 as well as argent and scarlet and cobalt and a host of other heavenly hues, now twinkling merrily throughout the metro area.

• Anheuser-Busch Cos. LLC, 1200 Lynch St., St. Louis, 314-577-2626, brewerylights.com

• Faust Historic Village, 15185 Olive Blvd., Chesterfield, 314-615-8328, stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation

• Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, 314-678-7442, missouribotanicalgarden.org

• National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, 442 S. De Mazenod Drive, Belleville, 618-397-6700, snows.org

• Saint Louis Zoo, One Government Drive, St. Louis, 314-646-4771, stlzoo.org

• Six Flags St. Louis, P.O. Box 60, 4900 Six Flags Road, Eureka, 636-938-5300, sixflags.com/stlouis

• Tilles Park, 9551 Litzsinger Road, St. Louis, 314-615-8371, stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation

\"Grotto
Grotto 475 1.jpg
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Story: Anna Leonowens, an English widow living in Singapore in 1862, takes a job as teacher for the children of King Mongkut of Siam, the Southeast Asia nation now known as Thailand. The ruler wants to modernize his country to some extent, although not abandoning the polygamy which allows him to have many wives who have borne him 57 children to date.

He is interested in having Anna teach English and other subjects to the many children he favors as well as some of his wives. From the outset, a sometimes contentious relationship develops between Anna and the King, who have different recollections of a house she says was promised to her for living quarters in her contract to teach.

The King learns much from Anna, seriously attempting to have his government looked upon respectfully by England and other European nations, lest it be conquered and taken over as a protectorate, a fate which has befallen nearby Burma to France.

Anna helps the King prepare for a visit by English dignitaries to prove he is not a \u201cbarbarian,\u201d as the two develop a mutual respect for each other, albeit still frequently disagreeing to the chagrin of the King\u2019s staff and family. Eventually that respect grows stronger in the hearts of the two, who nonetheless cannot admit their feelings toward each other.

When Tuptim, a Burmese girl given to the King by the potentate of Burma, stages a play based on the American anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom\u2019s Cabin, she incurs the disapproval of the King. That disapproval turns to anger when Tuptim attempts to escape with her lover, a young scholar named Lun Tha.

The King threatens Tuptim with severe punishment after she is caught but is startled when he is reprimanded publicly by Anna. The world is changing too quickly for the King and he may not be able to adjust in time.

Highlights: A superior rendition of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical,The King and I, currently is gracing the stage at the Fox Theatre. This touring presentation directed impeccably by Bartlett Sher makes clear how it won the Tony Award for Best Revival in 2015, soaring on its stellar acting, lush singing and impressive choreography.

Other Info: The original Broadway production of The King and I opened in 1951 and ran for nearly three years and 1,250 performances, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress for Gertrude Lawrence and Best Supporting Actor for a relatively unknown actor/director named Yul Brynner. It featured music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the 1944 novel, Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon, which in turn was inspired by Leonowens\u2019 memoir.

Among other productions and revivals, a revised version opened on Broadway in 1996, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival. In 2015 a Lincoln Center Theater production directed by Sher won four Tony Awards, once again winning for Best Revival of a Musical.

There is much to admire in Sher\u2019s version. Jose Llana takes ownership of the role of the King, one indelibly associated with Brynner in the minds of patrons north of 50. Llana\u2019s King is virile, robust and commanding but also inquisitive and a tad vulnerable, too, traits which make his character more endearing. Additionally, Llana has a good touch with the King\u2019s lighter lines, while also displaying a charming chemistry with Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna.

Kelly possesses a clear, invigorating voice which she uses to great effect on familiar tunes such as I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You and especially Hello, Young Lovers, in which she recalls her own happy times with her late husband. She also brings a feisty verve to Anna.

Llana and Kelly verbally parry and thrust enchantingly throughout the show\u2019s two acts and nearly three hours of performance, highlighted by a scene where Anna begrudgingly attempts to stay \u201cbeneath\u201d the king no matter how low his posture. It\u2019s an amusing and endearing scene capsulizing the battle of their two minds and spirits.

There\u2019s very strong supporting work by Q Lim as the ill-fated Tuptim, who displays a remarkable soprano on the duet, We Kiss in a Shadow, with the capable Kavin Panmeechao as her lover, Lun Tha. Joan Almedilla delivers an excellent portrayal of Lady Thiang, chief wife of the King and keen observer of all that goes on around her.

Anthony Chan delights as the King\u2019s heir apparent, Prince Chulalongkorn, and Brian Rivera offers a steady presence as the sage prime minister, Kralahome. Rhyees Stump does well as Anna\u2019s son Louis and Patrick Boll doubles as an English captain and also as Anna\u2019s former flame, diplomat Edward Ramsey. Darren Lee and Keira Belle Young contribute as the King\u2019s assistant Phra Alack and Anna\u2019s prize pupil, Princess Ying Yaowalak, respectively.

Especially magnificent is the second-act ballet, The Small House of Uncle Thomas, originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins and here expertly adapted by Christopher Gattelli, whose stylized movements match the haunting chords of Rodgers\u2019 music.

Catherine Zuber\u2019s costumes are resplendent, Ted Sperling\u2019s music supervision is exquisite and the sets designed by Michael Yeargan are a joy unto themselves, as columns cascade down from the rafters and billowing curtains serve as pivot points for the performers in sundry scenes, accentuating especially the Shall We Dance? number featuring Kelly and Llana, all lit precisely by Donald Holder.

Sher\u2019s direction is focused and crystalline clear throughout, while his fluid pacing moves the show briskly forward as it maintains audience interest. There\u2019s little to quibble with and much to admire in this exhilarating take on an old story.

Musical: The King and I

Group: Touring Company

Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand

Dates: Through December 10

Tickets: From $40-$115; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com

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

Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy

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Story: Sister, the scourge of parochial schools everywhere, is back. She welcomes us to her classroom, where \u201cJ.M.J.\u201d (as in Jesus, Mary and Joseph) in cursive is positioned strategically at the top of the nun and teacher\u2019s chalkboard.

She also has a bulletin board with photos of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and Trump as well as a picture of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The photo of the 45th president juxtaposes oddly with the others, as many of us recall long-ago childhood. Sister also has a table full of Christmas presents which she says she\u2019ll be awarding to \u201cstudents\u201d who answer questions correctly.

You\u2019d better know how to answer, though, as much as what. You must speak in complete sentences and begin your comment with \u201cSister,\u201d as in \u201cSister, my name is (full name only), and Santa Claus is based on St. Nicholas.\u201d Your reward might be a holy card or a paddleball, depending upon Sister\u2019s whim.

Since it\u2019s the holiday season, Sister\u2019s assistant Paul at the piano leads the class in several rousing Christmas songs prior to Sister\u2019s arrival. When she hears us singing Jingle Bells, though, she advises us to change the lyrics to \u201cOh, what fun it is to ride with baby Jesus in the sleigh,\u201d since it\u2019s his birthday, after all.

If you\u2019re not on your best behavior, you could be saddled with a demerit or even put in the corner, facing the wall if you\u2019re especially insubordinate. Sister then tells us that we\u2019re going to re-enact the Nativity (the birth of Jesus) and in doing so solve the millenia-old mystery of \u201cwhat ever happened to the Magi\u2019s gold?\u201d

Sister questions why the Magi were called the three wise men when they announced the purpose of their arrival to Herod, arguably the cruelest king of all time. She speculates that while Mary found quick use for frankincense and myrrh (\u201cThey\u2019re in a barn, after all\u201d), what happened to the third gift of gold? Mary and Joseph could have rented a suite at the nearby inn with that cash.

So, Sister borrows a page from the popular cable series, Forensic Files, to trace the steps of what might have happened on that first Christmas night. With the help of volunteer \u2018students\u2019 costumed as Mary, Joseph, animals, shepherds, wise men and even The Little Drummer Boy, she searches for clues to this mystery.

Highlights: Sister\u2019s Christmas Catechism is a rollicking sequel of sorts to Late Nite Catechism, the comedy which draws upon indelible memories of Roman Catholics who were taught by nuns in their grade school (and, for some, high school) years. Mary F. Zentmyer is priceless in the role of Sister in the current hilarious production at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza.

Other Info: Zentmyer\u2019s bio in the program notes that she was raised Catholic herself and taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. The costume designer for this version has Sister dressed in the black tunic, white scapular and black veil (I think those terms are correct) worn by the Ursuline nuns of my own grade school experience, not the modern garb favored by many nuns today.

That\u2019s appropriate, though, because while the setting may have an occasional modern touch such as that Trump photo, it feels more like 1962, thanks to Zentmyer\u2019s uncannily precise depiction of Sister. Zentmyer also possesses quite an amazing memory, because she remembered the names of virtually all of the people she called upon from the audience on opening night.

She makes the most of that recall in shaping comic images of various \u2018students,\u2019 but it's all in good-natured fun. After all, what Catholic wasn\u2019t humiliated in class once or twice in childhood? Zentmyer\u2019s gift for improvisation is evident throughout the two-act performance, which features a fundamental, barebones script which is liberally padded with Zentmyer\u2019s knack for comedy on the fly.

Zentmyer is one of six actresses who portray Sister from the Chicago-based company Nuns 4 Fun Entertainment, Inc., which stages productions of the original Late Nite Catechism by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan from 1993 as well as Christmas Catechism. Zentmyer has been performing as Sister since 1996, relying upon both her childhood recollections of her Catholic education as well as her own innate comic timing.

While Christmas Catechism draws heavily upon Roman Catholic religious and educational experiences, its humor is universal and apt to appeal to adults of all stripes and variations. After all, it isn\u2019t easy being a kid, as Sister\u2019s second act ably demonstrates when audience members are costumed in ridiculously funny outfits to re-enact that first Christmas night.

With Thanksgiving over, the holiday season is in full throttle. Ample stores are available for the requisite shopping, but take time to treat yourself if you can to the mirth of Sister\u2019s Christmas Catechism. There\u2019s a candy cane in it for you, too.

Play: Sister\u2019s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi\u2019s Gold

Company: Emery Entertainment

Venue: The Playhouse at Westport Plaza

Dates: November 28 through December 3

Tickets: $50; contact metrotix.com or 534-1111

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photo courtesy of Neil Reynolds

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\u201cThe street finds its own uses for things.\u201d

More than three quarters of the way into \u201cBurning Chrome\u201d \u2013 the prescient 1982 short story by William Gibson, the grudging godfather of contemporary cyber-blather \u2013 the narrator makes that observation, which seems spookily relevant to an exhibition now on display at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

\u201cThomas Struth: Nature & Politics,\u201d the ticketed exhibition in question, opened Nov. 5 under the oversight of Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings and photographs, with Hannah Klemm, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art. It runs till Jan. 21 and strongly suggests that humanity itself may number among the \u201cthings\u201d for which the street finds uses.

Struth, born in Germany in 1954, previously focused his artistic attentions \u2013 as well as a camera that allows the production of photographs more than 12 feet wide \u2013 on such subjects as streets, skyscrapers and, amusingly in this context, museums.

The present exhibition, notes a museum press release, focuses on \u201cspaces which are not accessible to most people, such as aeronautical centers, robotics laboratories, surgical suites and nuclear fusion facilities,\u201d and derives from photo shoots in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. (the last almost necessarily, in that Struth divides his time between Berlin and New York).

Lutz gamely discusses the exhibition, with one understandable proviso: \u201cI don\u2019t want to cross the line too far in over-interpreting Struth\u2019s own images \u2013 especially because I think that he\u2019s deliberately building in a lot of ambiguity to them and letting them be points of discussion rather than making specific statements.\u201d

That said, the glorious jumble of one of the gallery exhibition\u2019s pieces \u2013 Stellarator Wendelstein 7-X Detail, Max Planck IPP, Greifswald, from 2009 \u2013 might tempt museum visitors to wonder whether Struth is arguing in his work that humanity\u2019s cultivating a new landscape or merely creating an upscale landfill. The piece calls to mind the interior of a manufacturer of some sort after a seismic disaster.

\u201cI think the important thing here is that Struth\u2019s working in the present or near-to-present moment, where things are in flux \u2013 where we literally don\u2019t know if a big scientific experiment into which we\u2019ve poured tens of millions of dollars will actually work,\u201d Lutz says.

Visually more sedate works like Mountain, Anaheim and Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia, both from 2013, seemingly grapple with distinctions between authenticity and something like inauthenticity \u2013 para-authenticity, perhaps. The first involves a Disneyland attraction; the second, the Georgia Aquarium, one of the world\u2019s largest aquatic institutions.

\u201cBoth of these images do explore our relationship to nature \u2013 how it\u2019s so mediated these days and the extent to which we\u2019d go to re-create nature for entertainment,\u201d Lutz says. \u201cThe technical requirements of maintaining the reef in the Atlanta aquarium are mind-boggling.\u201d

Otherwise, Struth\u2019s robocentric piece Golems Playground, Georgia Tech, Atlanta, also from 2013, references a Jewish folkloric entity whose existence depended on a single Hebraic letter, in a heavyweight distinction (in some accounts, anyway) between the words emet (\u201ctruth\u201d) and met (\u201cdeath\u201d). Lutz briefly mulls whether that title might have originated by accident or by design on Struth\u2019s part.

\u201cI\u2019m not sure I can say how accidental or purposeful the name Golems Playground might have been \u2013 I think the scientists who work there and named the space deserve some credit,\u201d he says. \u201cBut like so many of the images in the show, once you dig deeper, you discover these layers of meaning that are quite purposeful. So much of the show is about this notion of giving visual expression to creative ideas that are coming into physical being, so the name Golems Playground fits into that rather perfectly.

\u201cThere are other places in the exhibition where Struth directly confronts the engagement of the human body with technology \u2013 whether it\u2019s medical science and those undergoing surgery, or an ancient bronze sculpture that seems to be under attack by a huge particle accelerator, or even machines in laboratories that seem to evoke, in an anthropomorphic way, Frankenstein in some sense.

\u201cLike Mary Shelley\u2019s Frankenstein, Struth would seem to be asking, \u2018What is technology being used for? When do we know if it\u2019s gone awry?\u2019\u201d

Finally, visitors to the museum might puzzle over whether Struth\u2019s 2010 Hot Rolling Mill, Thyssenkrupp Steel, Duisburg spotlights the Second Industrial Revolution

at a time when some prognosticators are celebrating (!) the fifth \u2013 and to ponder

how much his work in the exhibition spurns distinctions like that.

\u201cI see Hot Rolling Mill in some ways as a nod back to Struth\u2019s teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and their own focus in the 1970s on documenting a vanishing part of Germany\u2019s industrial past,\u201d Lutz says. \u201cAnd in contrast to the shimmering complexity of many of Struth\u2019s recent subjects, this one points to a technology that we can all relate to \u2013 something straightforward and durable, making steel.

\u201cBut unlike earlier depictions of steel plants by folks like [American painter and commercial photographer] Charles Sheeler or [German photographer Albert] Renger-Patzsch, which were rather heroizing, Struth\u2019s image feels a bit dark and worn, with an underlying sense of unease \u2013 like an inferno.\u201d

Saint Louis Art Museum, One Fine Arts Drive, Saint Louis, 314-721-0072, slam.org

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'Tis the season to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, as well as people of goodwill on stages throughout the area. So grab your coat and scarf, and venture into the cold for this season\u2019s highlights:

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THE REPERTORY THEATRE ST. LOUIS

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is described in a news release from The Rep as \u201can imagined sequel to [Jane] Austen\u2019s Pride and Prejudice. This time, the bookish middle child of the Bennet family finally has her day. Overshadowed by her four sisters, Mary Bennet finds hope for a new life beyond her family from an unexpected holiday romance.\u201d This play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon opens Wednesday, Nov. 29, and runs through Christmas Eve.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis, 314-968-4925, repstl.org

PLAYHOUSE @ WESTPORT PLAZA

It\u2019s CSI: Bethlehem when Sister of Late Nite Catechism renown attempts to answer that ever-perplexing question from yuletide long ago. Sister\u2019s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi\u2019s Gold runs from Nov. 24 through Dec. 3 at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Mary Zentmyer reprises a role she\u2019s played since 2007 and bases her character in part on a nun who taught her in high school.

It\u2019s An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas when Evan Tyrone Martin re-creates the velvet vocal style of the late crooner from Dec. 7 through 17. Then, from Dec. 27 to 30, Westport presents Oddville, starring comedian Dave Shirley in a story that uses physical comedy, multimedia imagery and props in \u201ca comedy that has no borders,\u201d according to Westport publicity.

Playhouse @ Westport Plaza, 635 Westport Plaza, St. Louis, 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com

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ST. LOUIS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The St. Louis Symphony has several holiday concerts on tap, including Gospel Christmas: A Soulful Celebration With Diane Reeves on Dec. 14 and the Mercy Holiday Celebration concert from Dec. 15 through 17. Symphony resident conductor Gemma New joins the Holiday Festival Chorus led by Kevin McBeth for performances of classics, carols and familiar favorites.

The symphony will also present its Vivaldi Holiday Celebration from Dec. 1 through 10, with the choral favorite Gloria as well as Vivaldi\u2019s most popular work, The Four Seasons, with a modern twist featuring mandolinist Avia Avital.

St. Louis Symphony, 718 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314-533-2500, slso.org

THE BACH SOCIETY OF SAINT LOUIS

The Bach Society of Saint Louis presents its Christmas Candlelight Concert on Dec. 19 at Powell Hall, 718 N. Grand Blvd., featuring Handel\u2019s Messiah, as well as favorite holiday carols, joined by soloists and members of The St. Louis Children\u2019s Choir.

The Bach Society of Saint Louis, 3547 Olive St., St. Louis, 314-652-2224, bachsociety.org

STAGES ST. LOUIS

The Performing Arts Academy of STAGES St. Louis performs \u2019Twas the Night Before Christmas from Dec. 1 through 3 and from Dec. 8 through 10 in the Kent Center for Theatre Arts. \u201cThis enthralling take on the Christmas classic is a singing, dancing holiday fantasy with icons such as Rudolph and the Abominable Snowman,\u201d the organization\u2019s website notes.

STAGES St. Louis, 1023 Chesterfield Parkway East, Chesterfield, 636-449-5775, stagesstlouis.org

MUSTARD SEED THEATRE

Mustard Seed Theatre opens its 11th season with a return to a previous hit show, Remnant, from Dec. 7 through 23. Ron Reed\u2019s postapocalyptic drama looks at a world in which customs such as \u201cChristmas\u201d are mysterious and challenging. Artistic director and founder Deanna Jent will direct the production at the Mustard Seed Theatre at Fontbonne University.

Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, 314-543-1111, mustardseedtheatre.com

STRAY DOG THEATRE

There are nonholiday shows this season as well. Opening Nov. 30 and continuing through Dec. 16 at Stray Dog Theatre will be Robert Harling\u2019s popular drama Steel Magnolias, which centers on a group of women who share friendship, fun and heartaches at a Southern beauty parlor in the 1980s.

Stray Dog Theatre, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis, 314-865-1995, straydogtheatre.org

NEW JEWISH THEATRE

Phil Johnson wrote, alongside Marni Freedman, and stars in A Jewish Joke from New Jewish Theatre from Nov. 29 through Dec. 10. Johnson portrays a comedy writer in the 1950s whose life as a \u201cspineless Hollywood sellout\u201d is put to the test when he\u2019s blackli sted for apparently having communist ties and pressured by the government to provide a list of names of friends and colleagues for their suspected political ties.

New Jewish Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur, 314-442-8283, newjewishtheatre.org

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THE FABULOUS FOX THEATRE

Rodgers and Hammerstein\u2019s venerable classic, The King and I, returns to The Fabulous Fox Theatre for a run from Nov. 28 through Dec. 10 in a new Lincoln Center Theater production that won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival. The Fox also will present another Rodgers and Hammerstein staple, Cinderella, from Dec. 27 through 31, as well as the latest touring production of A Christmas Carol by the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, which has toured the nation every holiday season since 1979.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314-534-1111, fabulousfox.com

ST. LOUIS ACTORS\u2019 STUDIO

Running from Dec. 1 through 17 at the Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave., is St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio\u2019s presentation of A Behanding in Spokane, British playwright Martin McDonagh\u2019s first play set in the United States. McDonagh \u2013 who specializes in grisly humor and horror, and also created The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore \u2013 weaves a story about a man who spends half a century in search of his missing left hand, not something you hear about every day.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio, 360 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis, 314-458-2978, stlas.org

MAX & LOUIE PRODUCTIONS

St. Louis Theater Circle winner Debby Lennon returns to Max & Louie Productions from Dec. 15 through 31 when she portrays the wealthy and eccentric heiress Florence Foster Jenkins in Stephen Temperley\u2019s \u201cfantasia\u201d titled Souvenir. Meryl Streep earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2016 film version as Jenkins, whose passion for singing was not paired with a voice to match its fervor. Paul Cereghino will co-star in this production at the Marcelle Theater in Grand Center, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive.

Max & Louie Productions, 15 Topton Way, No. 1C, St. Louis, 314-534-1111, maxandlouie.com

R-S THEATRICS

R-S Theatrics presents the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Flick, from Dec. 8 through 23, at Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Blvd. A rundown Massachusetts cinema serves as the setting for a story about the battles and heartbreaks between three lost souls amid the empty seats.

R-S Theatrics, 314-252-8812, r-stheatrics.com

PEABODY OPERA HOUSE

Peabody Opera House launches its 2017-18 season when Elf the Musical returns to its stage for a holiday run from Dec. 26 through 28.

Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market St., St. Louis, 844-854-1450, peabodyoperahouse.com

MISSOURI WOMEN\u2019S CHORUS

Also on the hectic holiday calendar are the Missouri Women’s Chorus presentation of Songs of the British Isles on Dec. 3 at Union Avenue Christian Church (missouriwomenschorus.org), the Great Russian Nutcracker at The Fabulous Fox on Dec. 23 and Mannheim Steamroller Christmas holiday music concert at The Fabulous Fox Theatre on Nov. 25.

METRO THEATER COMPANY

Children\u2019s holiday entertainment includes Metro Theater Company\u2019s presentation of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates at The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, from Dec. 5 through 30 (314-932-7414) and The Little Dancer: La Muse at COCA (Center of Creative Arts, 524 Trinity Ave., St. Louis) from Dec. 15 through 17 (314-561-4877). From Dec. 16 through 23, The Rep\u2019s Imaginary Theatre Company will be performing The Nutcracker in a version written by Sarah Brandt, directed by Suki Peters and featuring music and lyrics by the late Neal Richardson. Call 314-968-4925 for tickets.

WINTER OPERA ST. LOUIS

Winter Opera St. Louis will present its annual Holidays on the Hill concert at Dominic’s on the Hill on Dec. 5 and 6, featuring a four-course dinner and a holiday program sung by Winter Opera artists (314-865-0038 or winteroperastl.org), and Saint Louis Cathedral Concerts presents Christmas at the Cathedral on Dec. 9 and 10, featuring the St. Louis Archdiocesan Choirs and Orchestra in concert (314-533-7662 or cathedralconcerts.org).

Between seeing some of these productions, perhaps you\u2019ll have time for holiday parties, seasonal greetings and even everyday activities. Happy holidays to one and all!

"}, {"id":"cad3ba3e-ceec-11e7-be7f-dfa8ab4a73e3","type":"article","starttime":"1511290200","starttime_iso8601":"2017-11-21T12:50:00-06:00","lastupdated":"1511290727","priority":40,"sections":[{"features":"arts-and-culture/features"}],"application":"editorial","title":"Rogue Theatre Debuts with Pair of Ionesco One-Acts: Theater Review","url":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/article_cad3ba3e-ceec-11e7-be7f-dfa8ab4a73e3.html","permalink":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/rogue-theatre-debuts-with-pair-of-ionesco-one-acts-theater/article_cad3ba3e-ceec-11e7-be7f-dfa8ab4a73e3.html","canonical":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/rogue-theatre-debuts-with-pair-of-ionesco-one-acts-theater/article_cad3ba3e-ceec-11e7-be7f-dfa8ab4a73e3.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":2,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"by Mark Bretz","prologue":"Story: In The New Tenant, a caretaker shows an empty apartment to a potential renter. While she mindlessly babbles on, the man takes a rather eccentric look around the place. After he decides it meets his specifications, he orchestrates a most peculiar process for requiring his movers to fastidiously arrange his possessions in deliberate and impractical fashion.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":["alton","eugene ionesco","theater of the absurd","rogue theatre","the tenant","the new tenant","the lesson","new theater company","the rogue house","milton schoolhouse"],"internalKeywords":[],"customProperties":{},"presentation":null,"images":[{"id":"afc8f902-ceec-11e7-aa8d-cbea00961272","description":"","byline":"","hireswidth":null,"hiresheight":null,"hiresurl":null,"presentation":null,"versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"608","height":"760","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/fc/afc8f902-ceec-11e7-aa8d-cbea00961272/5a1475317793c.image.jpg?resize=608%2C760"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"125","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/fc/afc8f902-ceec-11e7-aa8d-cbea00961272/5a1475317793c.image.jpg?resize=100%2C125"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"375","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/fc/afc8f902-ceec-11e7-aa8d-cbea00961272/5a1475317793c.image.jpg?resize=300%2C375"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"1280","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/fc/afc8f902-ceec-11e7-aa8d-cbea00961272/5a1475317793c.image.jpg"}}},{"id":"ba24e906-ceec-11e7-aa4e-9b9eaede1728","description":"","byline":"","hireswidth":null,"hiresheight":null,"hiresurl":null,"presentation":null,"versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"608","height":"760","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/b/a2/ba24e906-ceec-11e7-aa4e-9b9eaede1728/5a147542d44fa.image.jpg?resize=608%2C760"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"125","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/b/a2/ba24e906-ceec-11e7-aa4e-9b9eaede1728/5a147542d44fa.image.jpg?resize=100%2C125"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"375","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/b/a2/ba24e906-ceec-11e7-aa4e-9b9eaede1728/5a147542d44fa.image.jpg?resize=300%2C375"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"1280","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/b/a2/ba24e906-ceec-11e7-aa4e-9b9eaede1728/5a147542d44fa.image.jpg"}}}],"revision":4,"commentID":"cad3ba3e-ceec-11e7-be7f-dfa8ab4a73e3","body":"

Story: In The New Tenant, a caretaker shows an empty apartment to a potential renter. While she mindlessly babbles on, the man takes a rather eccentric look around the place. After he decides it meets his specifications, he orchestrates a most peculiar process for requiring his movers to fastidiously arrange his possessions in deliberate and impractical fashion.

The slightest deviation from his suggestions makes the man uncomfortably distraught, so everyone tries to comply with his bizarre behavior.

The Lesson tells the tale of a tutor who accepts a new student into his home. She\u2019s a bit vapid but pleasant enough. Her wealthy parents have decided to give their daughter one-on-one schooling to help her get through some rough patches in her education.

While the professor\u2019s maid welcomes the student into his classroom, she warns her employer to be on his best behavior lest he repeat certain activities he\u2019d rather forget. He acknowledges the maid\u2019s concerns, but he\u2019s obsessed with teaching methods that are unorthodox at best. What exactly will the new student learn?

Highlights: A new company called The Rogue Theatre offered a pair of one-act plays by absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco in its inaugural production in Alton earlier in November. Some intriguing performances helped make the evening both arresting and entertaining.

Other Info: Artistic director Jeremiah Harvey noted in the production\u2019s program how Rogue Theatre came to be. It occupies the upper level of the Milton Schoolhouse, which was built in the early 20th century and lately has been remodeled. It\u2019s the home of a popular Alton meeting place called Maeva\u2019s Coffee and now the locale for this new, professional, non-profit theater.

Rogue introduced itself with a pair of one-act plays by 20th century absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco. The Romanian-born, French immigrant focused much of his work on characters who lived in an off-kilter world, one which served as the linchpin for the theater of the absurd.

The protagonist in each of the two stories presented is eccentric to say the least, and yet his behavior is either ignored or coddled, even to dangerous extremes. Harvey and Scott Brady directed this pair of bizarre tales translated by Donald Watson with precision and an obvious love for the unusual.

The former work, The New Tenant, was the more enjoyable of the two. Brady portrayed \u201cThe Gentleman\u201d in consistently amusing fashion, complementing the \u2018normal\u2019 behavior of \u201cThe Caretaker,\u201d who was portrayed by Jean Heil.

Brady\u2019s character filled his time drawing circles on the floor with chalk, using a piece of string to ascertain where in the modest room to place his copious belongings and recoiling in panic like a threatened vampire from the window he insists be hidden behind a shade. His long, exaggerated strides and antic behavior contrasted effectively with the constant jabbering of Heil\u2019s caretaker, whose friendliness turns to unpleasantness and hostility when the gentleman reacts adversely to her banter and movements.

Lisa Hinrichs, DJ Pieper, Gabriel Hayes and Jayson Heil played a quartet of movers who respond to the gentleman\u2019s odd requests with a shrug or by simply ignoring him, Hinrich\u2019s and Pieper\u2019s characters even offer suggestions on how best to stack the gentleman\u2019s possessions for optimal effect.

The Lesson is a more disturbing tale and a less satisfying one because of its drawn-out, tedious approach to its inevitable conclusion. There is good use of a projection design courtesy of Josh Douglas and Harvey which suggests an ominous connection between the professor\u2019s creepy educational technique and a totalitarian state.

Additionally, Douglas provides some convincing special effects along with a sound design that fits both vignettes. The set design by Maxime-Jean Viau contrasts the two plays with a barren room for The New Tenant, which allows for the addition of sundry pieces of furniture, and a classroom for The Lesson in which each object is identified with a label, such as \u2018chair,\u2019 \u2018table,\u2019 etc.

Brady effectively shows the professor moving from a meek teacher euphoric at his student\u2019s mastery of \u2018brilliant knowlege\u2019 such as 1 plus 1 equals 2 to a steadily declining and dangerous predator. Heil does fine work as the maid, who appears to wield surprising influence over her employer.

As the student, Hinrichs steadily conveys the range of emotions exhibited by the carefree girl who is initially elated by the professor\u2019s praise but soon realizes disturbing aspects of his personality.

Rogue Theatre returns in February with a drama titled Transferred: A Story about Life after Death, as well as other events prior to that. For more information visit the company\u2019s Facebook page.

Plays: The New Tenant and The Lesson

Company: The Rogue Theatre

Venue: The Rogue House, 1320 Milton Road, Alton

Dates: Run concluded

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

Photos courtesy of Rogue Theatre

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Whether it\u2019s sipping on a Cup of Sunshine, Fake Coffee or Calm Yo\u2019 Tummy, Big Heart Tea Co. wants to help start your day in a healthy way.

Since 2012, the St. Louis-based business has been hand-blending herbal and medicinal teas with a goal of making people healthier and happier. \u201cWe\u2019re a tea company founded on promoting [the antioxidant-rich herb] turmeric, educating people about the life-changing benefits of tea and coming up with products that are approachable for people\u2019s everyday lives,\u201d says founder Lisa Govro.

Through her own trial and error and research and development over the past five years, Govro has honed a process of hand-blending all-natural herbs into teas she says are more flavorful and aromatic than other varieties because they\u2019re freshly made in small batches once a month. \u201cWe break the herbs, and that releases essential oils, which is flavor, but also [medicinal],\u201d she says.

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In 2014, Govro stepped away from growing her one-woman operation, then called ReTrailer Tea Co., to focus on the birth of her daughter. This March, the entrepreneur returned to her company full time and relaunched it as Big Heart Tea Co. \u201cI decided to rebrand to bring focus back to our consumers\u2019 self-care and self-love and healing themselves and their loved ones with herbal tea,\u201d she says. \u201cWe\u2019re a softer tea, with a lifestyle application, because you not only can have a cup of our tea [but] there [also] are different food applications you can use with the tea.\u201d

Today, Big Heart offers seven specialty tea blends, most of which include its signature main ingredient, tulsi, or holy basil, along with different organic medicinal herbs and sweet spices for a healthy boost and a pleasing flavor profile. \u201cIf you follow the package instructions on how to make our tea \u2013 at a lower temperature for a shorter time than typical brewing methods \u2013 you\u2019ll enjoy a lot more nuance of flavors, such as the sweetness notes in the rose tea,\u201d she says.

Big Heart\u2019s flagship tea, Cup of Sunshine, features tulsi, turmeric, ginger, peppercorn and cinnamon, and its chai is blended with antioxidant-rich red rooibos tea, tulsi and sweet spices, including ginger, cinnamon and peppercorn. The brand\u2019s Cup of Love is a naturally sweet rose tea, while Royal Treatmint is a refreshing mint-and-lavender blend. Calm Yo\u2019 Tummy is a savory lavender-and-fennel tea to destress and stimulate digestion.

Although most of the company\u2019s teas are decaf, it does have two caffeinated offerings: Fake Coffee, a chocolatey blend of cacao, roasted chicory, dandelion root and sweet cinnamon, and Edith Grey, a citrusy African black tea infused with bergamot and blended with rose. The business also carries caffeinated iced tea sourced from Malawi in southeast Africa.

Since its spring relaunch, Big Heart has grown to four staffers and tripled its business, Govro notes. Its tea blends can be found at bigheartttea.com and in about 30 St. Louis restaurants, including The Mud House, Café Osage and Pastaria, as well as in 12 states across the country.

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Some of the biggest challenges the company has overcome were proving its concept in the market and finding its niche in the local neighborhood, Govro says. Once the business rebranded, it was able to gain more financing to expand its growing operation from a downtown St. Louis culinary incubator to a new location in Gravois Park, at 2615 Winnebago St.

With more space to expand, Big Heart developed its newest product: Sunshine Dust, a stone-ground, hand-blended, water-soluble decaf powder that’s an organic mix of ginger, turmeric, lemongrass and peppercorn. Inspired by matcha (a stone-milled green tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony), Sunshine Dust has a fiery flavor from herbs that may help fight inflammation, stimulate digestion and improve your immune system, according to Govro. “It’s also easily applied into your food experience, from smoothies and juices to savory dishes and sweet pastries,” she adds, noting that recipes incorporating Sunshine Dust can be found on the company’s blog, bighearttea.com/blog.

More new products are percolating at Big Heart this year, including a holiday line of tea blends featuring a selection of chocolate teas that is set to launch on Black Friday.

Govro also has a goal of making her company\u2019s herb ingredients 100 percent traceable: She is traveling this fall in India to explore the farms where herbs for teas are grown. \u201cWe currently work with an herbal importer, and we know about the general region, but not about the farms,\u201d Govro says. \u201cOur long-term goal is to be 100 percent traceable and know everything about all of the ingredients in our teas, from the farmers who harvest them to how they are compensated and treated as laborers to their agricultural practices.\u201d

Adding a cup of Big Heart Tea to your daily routine is a simple change you can make in your everyday life to improve your well-being, Govro notes. \u201cIt\u2019s a nice, comforting way to start and end your day.\u201d

Big Heart Tea Co., bighearttea.com

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"}, {"id":"2fe6ea24-ca27-11e7-93ca-2bf1d2a23a36","type":"article","starttime":"1510765500","starttime_iso8601":"2017-11-15T11:05:00-06:00","lastupdated":"1510766134","priority":40,"sections":[{"features":"arts-and-culture/features"}],"application":"editorial","title":"West End Players Guild Offers Charming Rendition of 'Stones in His Pockets': Theater Review","url":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/article_2fe6ea24-ca27-11e7-93ca-2bf1d2a23a36.html","permalink":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/west-end-players-guild-offers-charming-rendition-of-stones-in/article_2fe6ea24-ca27-11e7-93ca-2bf1d2a23a36.html","canonical":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/west-end-players-guild-offers-charming-rendition-of-stones-in/article_2fe6ea24-ca27-11e7-93ca-2bf1d2a23a36.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":1,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"by Mark Bretz","prologue":"Story: An American production company arrives in County Kerry, Ireland, circa 1996, to film a movie with famous actress Caroline Giovanni. They set up camp in a small village and proceed to hire many of the local residents as \u2018extras\u2019 in the film. Charlie Conlin and Jake Quinn, two single lads in their 30s, are among the fortunate villagers who are selected for sundry background scenes. They\u2019re delighted with the prospect of making very good money, by their standards, for something different and exciting compared to their own modest existence.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":["ireland","county kerry","stones in his pockets","west end players guild","union avenue christian church","marie jones","the quiet man","theater","review"],"internalKeywords":[],"customProperties":{},"presentation":null,"images":[{"id":"7d9dee2c-ca25-11e7-a5a8-cf3fa69e84f5","description":"","byline":"","hireswidth":2700,"hiresheight":1800,"hiresurl":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/7/d9/7d9dee2c-ca25-11e7-a5a8-cf3fa69e84f5/5a0c7102cce28.hires.jpg","presentation":null,"versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"760","height":"507","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/7/d9/7d9dee2c-ca25-11e7-a5a8-cf3fa69e84f5/5a0c7102ca6c6.image.jpg?resize=760%2C507"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"67","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/7/d9/7d9dee2c-ca25-11e7-a5a8-cf3fa69e84f5/5a0c7102ca6c6.image.jpg?resize=100%2C67"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"200","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/7/d9/7d9dee2c-ca25-11e7-a5a8-cf3fa69e84f5/5a0c7102ca6c6.image.jpg?resize=300%2C200"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"682","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/7/d9/7d9dee2c-ca25-11e7-a5a8-cf3fa69e84f5/5a0c7102ca6c6.image.jpg?resize=1024%2C682"}}}],"revision":4,"commentID":"2fe6ea24-ca27-11e7-93ca-2bf1d2a23a36","body":"

Story: An American production company arrives in County Kerry, Ireland, circa 1996, to film a movie with famous actress Caroline Giovanni. They set up camp in a small village and proceed to hire many of the local residents as \u2018extras\u2019 in the film.

Charlie Conlin and Jake Quinn, two single lads in their 30s, are among the fortunate villagers who are selected for sundry background scenes. They\u2019re delighted with the prospect of making very good money, by their standards, for something different and exciting compared to their own modest existence.

Jake had moved to America for a while but returned to County Kerry out of homesickness as well as a lack of success in The States. Charlie has shuttered his video rental business, hammered down by a chain company which offers its customers more variety. He's written a screenplay about his experiences which he hopes will interest one of the movie company\u2019s producers.

Caroline insists on mingling with the locals in order to attempt an \u201cauthentic\u201d Irish accent for her role. The buttoned-down director just wants to get the film wrapped up within budget, while his harried assistant tries to corral the free-spirited villagers into a cohesive unit.

The extras are led by Mickey, an aged resident who boasts of being the last remaining survivor from the cast of The Quiet Man. He fancies himself a veteran of this sort of thing, but still insists on swilling down his booze regardless of warnings from the producer.

The mood on the set changes abruptly after a troubled young man named Sean, rebuked in a local pub by Caroline one night, kills himself by walking into a lake with his pockets filled with stones. Charlie, Jake and the others are shocked at the Americans\u2019 refusal to let them take time off to attend Sean\u2019s funeral, and vow to make a statement. Will they jeopardize their own flings at fame by doing so?

Highlights: Marie Jones\u2019 whimsical, bittersweet story is given a touching tribute by director Steve Callahan and the talented twosome of Jared Sanz-Agero and Jason Meyers in a sparkling West End Players Guild presentation.

Other Info: Jones\u2019 two-act work, primarily a comedy but interspersed with substantial moments of drama, stipulates that just two actors perform some 15 characters in the course of her story. The beauty in the performances of Sanz-Agero and Meyers is that both are convincing in the myriad parts they play, making it easy for the audience to absorb Jones\u2019 tale.

With the minimal props provided by costumer and scenic designer Tracey Newcomb, such as a scarf or a variety of caps, Callahan\u2019s two players convincingly assay a variety of roles with aplomb amidst the shortest of moments between switching roles.

Newcomb offers a painted backdrop of an Irish countryside with the story\u2019s obligatory cows pictured for effect, nicely underscored by Nathan Schroeder\u2019s lighting. Chuck Lavazzi adds a sound design filled with Irish jigs and spirited folk music, while choreographer Cindy Duggan crafts entertaining moves graciously handled by the pair of actors.

Dialect coach Richard Lewis knows his way around a brogue or two and serves admirably tutoring Sanz-Agero and Meyers in their speech. For his part, Callahan seamlessly moves the story forward with a pacing that is neither forced nor hectic, surely allowing the duo on stage to ply their craft in appealing fashion.

Both Sanz-Agero and Meyers shape their sundry characters with subtle differences, whether a shuffling gait, an affectation or a furrowed brow. They succeed by allowing Jones\u2019 story to play itself out in a casual style which avoids confusion with its simplicity.

Actress/writer Jones has enjoyed substantial success with Stones in His Pockets since its debut in 1996, capturing both the buoyant optimism and the crushing sorrow of its Irish characters. West End Players Guild\u2019s rendition is a charming and affecting foray into the hearts and souls of the tale\u2019s County Kerry denizens.

Play: Stones in His Pockets

Group: West End Players Guild

Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.

Dates: November 16, 17, 18, 19

Tickets: $20; contact 367-0025 or WestEndPlayers.org

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photo courtesy of John Lamb

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Story: Fatherless Prince Karl Franz, heir to the kingdom of Karlsberg, is sent by his grandfather King Ferdinand incognito to the University of Heidelberg to live as an ordinary student and also to improve his social skills. He\u2019s accompanied by his beloved tutor, Dr. Engel, along with his stuffy valet Lutz and Lutz\u2019s own assistant Hubert.

Karl Franz quickly makes friends with a trio of young students who encourage him to join them on their rounds of drinking and carousing. He also becomes smitten with Kathie, a waitress and the niece of Ruder, owner of the rustic Inn of the Three Gold Apples.

Karl Franz and Kathie soon fall in love, but there are complications. After all, Kathie is a commoner. Also, the prince has been engaged since childhood to the Princess Margaret, although he has never met her. Additionally, Kathie says that an older cousin in another village has proposed marriage to her.

When King Ferdinand takes ill, Karl Franz is visited by Princess Margaret and her mother, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, with news that he must go back home for his marriage to Margaret. Karl Franz promises Kathie that he will soon return, but a couple of years go by all too quickly. With his grandfather\u2019s death, Karl Franz is now king and constantly under surveillance.

However, when he hears the news of Dr. Engel\u2019s death in Heidelberg, Karl Franz makes the journey there and soon inquires about Kathie. Before he can catch up with her, Margaret meets Kathie for the first time. Although Margaret also loved another, she now is in love with the king and asks Kathie to refuse any wedding proposal from Karl Franz.

Kathie complies with Margaret\u2019s request. The king then announces his plans to marry Princess Margaret, but not before he and Kathie vow their eternal love to each other, even though they will remain apart.

Highlights: Winter Opera St. Louis opened its 11th anniversary season last weekend with an enchanting rendition of Sigmund Romberg\u2019s operetta, The Student Prince. Strong vocal performances by Caitlin Cisler as Kathie and John Stephens as Dr. Engel enhanced this sprightly production.

Other Info: Stage director Dean Anthony did a fine job keeping this light-hearted, entertaining piece moving at a comfortable pace, aided by a cast that was fully committed to its roles, both musically and as actors. The work\u2019s prologue and four acts, which were composed by Romberg with book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly, were performed around a single intermission, crisply done in two and a half hours.

Conductor Scott Schoonover led a spirited reading of the score by the Winter Opera orchestra, bringing an airy interpretation which accented the show\u2019s comic moments while also supporting several fine vocal turns.

Chief among those was Cisler\u2019s performance as Kathie. Soprano Cisler demonstrated a smooth, lovely voice which augmented the operetta\u2019s more intriguing moments, such as the Deep in My Heart, Dear duet with Andrew Marks Maughan as Karl Franz.

Tenor Maughan offered an ingratiating performance as the love-struck prince, who thoroughly enjoys life as a student and then finds his true love with the local waitress Kathie. He blended well, too, with St. Louis native John Stephens as Dr. Engel, whose powerful, persuasive voice worked handsomely on the upbeat piece In Heidelberg Fair and others in the show.

Karla Hughes shined as Kathie\u2019s boisterous colleague Gretchen and Will Macarthy did well in the role of the loyal Hubert. Gary Moss amused in the role of the pompous Lutz, while director Anthony suitably doubled in the part of Count von Mark, the prime minister of Karlsberg. Ellen Hinkle was an understanding Princess Margaret, another character stifled in true love.

Others contributing to the production\u2019s success were Joel Rogier, Zachary Devin and Clark Sturdevant as Karl Franz\u2019s student pals Lucas, Detlef and von Asterberg, respectively. Karen Kanakis capably portrayed Grand Duchess Anastasia and Jacob Lassetter was solid as Ruder. Ryan Keller did well as Tarnitz, the captain who loves Princess Margaret, with Victoria Menke as Countess Leyden, lady in waiting to the princess.

Scott Loebl\u2019s scenic design featured some panoramic background paintings along with an appearance of an old German college town, with Jon Ontiveros providing lighting. JC Krajicek dressed everyone in suitable finery for both upper and lower classes, with a notable assist from wig and makeup designer Jessica Dana.

Winter Opera next offers its traditional Holidays on the Hill in concerts on December 5 and 6 at Dominic’s, 5101 Wilson Avenue. The company then returns to the Viragh Center on the Chaminade campus on January 26 and 28 for performances of Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers). Visit www.winteropera.org or call 865-0038 for additional information.

Opera: The Student Prince

Group: Winter Opera St. Louis

Venue: Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts, Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 South Lindbergh

Dates: Run concluded

Photos courtesy of Winter Opera

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