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Late in 1859 the young woman marries another slave named Moses at a ceremony presided over by their owner, Master James. Despite the conditions, Hannah looks forward to a life with Moses. The Civil War is looming, however, and Master James is succumbing to a fatal illness. 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Story: Hannah Louise Ballard has lived her entire life in slavery to a white man who owns an estate in Prince George\u2019s County, Maryland. Late in 1859 the young woman marries another slave named Moses at a ceremony presided over by their owner, Master James.

Despite the conditions, Hannah looks forward to a life with Moses. The Civil War is looming, however, and Master James is succumbing to a fatal illness. He reassures Hannah that she\u2019ll be taken care of after he passes and that she won\u2019t be separated from Moses.

Sure enough, Master James dies and, contrary to what he said, the provisions in his will state that his slaves will be separated between his surviving family members, including his wife and his nephew, John Allen. Hannah and her friend Malinda are sent to work for Master James\u2019 widow while Moses is put in the custody of John Allen.

Moses vows to escape and asks Hannah to join him, but she is fearful and remains behind. The Civil War rages on, with John Allen forced into conscription while his business flounders. Besieged by the bank, John Allen sells several of his slaves, including Hannah and Malinda, to a plantation owner in Georgia, oblivious to their pleas for mercy.

While the United States remains in civil war, Moses makes his way to Canada where he earns a living as a blacksmith, thanks in part to the interest of a publisher who wants to tell Moses\u2019 story to Canadians and Europeans.

Meanwhile, another slave named Henry strikes up a friendship with Hannah and Malinda on the Georgia plantation. After the Civil War ends, the trio make their way back to Maryland to help Hannah in her search for Moses and the infant son she had been forced to leave behind.

As her separation from Moses continues for several years, Hannah finally agrees to Henry\u2019s wedding proposal. They invite Malinda to stay with them on land Henry has purchased to farm, and begin to raise their own family. Moses, however, continues his own quest to be reunited with Hannah. Despite all of their travails, and the years and thousands of miles that separate them, will he find her?

Highlights: The Black Rep closes its 2017-18 season with the world premiere of a moving, profound and magnificent drama written by Nikkole Salter. Searing performances by an excellent ensemble under Ron Himes\u2019 astute direction make Torn Asunder a poignant and unforgettable saga.

Other Info: Salter based her two-act drama on research done by Professor Heather Andrea Williams in her book, Help Me to Find My People, \u201ctrue stories of newly emancipated African-Americans trying to overcome the ever-present vestiges of chattel slavery to reconnect with their families,\u201d according to The Black Rep news release. Salter was commissioned by Williams and Kathy A. Perkins to write the script.

Torn Asunder is presented on a beautifully atmospheric set designed by Dunsi Dai, with a sloping walkway at stage left ripe with symbolism and living quarters at stage right which serve as the home of Master James, the Canadian publisher and other scenes.

The background projection design conceived by Geordy van Es is filled with rows of shelves in John Allen\u2019s general store or fields where Henry, Hannah and Malinda toil away while the Civil War explodes around them. It\u2019s all hauntingly illuminated by Perkins\u2019 rich and evocative lighting design and filled with numerous props furnished by Kate Slovinski which underscore the story.

Kareem Deanes\u2019 evocative sound design is filled with songs of the era, both African-American tunes sung by workers in the fields and also by popular songs of the era. Daryl Harris\u2019 costumes range from the utilitarian threads for slaves to the fancy attire favored by the Southern ruling class.

Himes elicits superior performances by his truly outstanding troupe of players, who make Torn Asunder pulsate with affecting emotions as well as depicting the tortured history of the nation, especially in the South. When Moses is asked by a Canadian, e.g., whether he had any \u201cnice\u201d masters, he replies, \u201cThat\u2019s a question only asked by someone who has never been a slave.\u201d

LaShunda Gardner delivers a heart-wrenching portrayal of Hannah, a good-hearted soul whose motivation throughout is to devote her life to others, searching for the bonds of a strong family life against all odds. Her wails of anguish against injustice and torment permeate the spacious Edison Theatre throughout the nearly three-hour performance, a time which flies by under Himes\u2019 masterful pacing.

There is wonderful work by Myke Andrews as Moses, who is willing to take a risk to obtain the freedom he yearns to experience, regardless of any tragic consequences, and a man who is equal to Hannah in his devotion to his spouse.

Brandi Threatt is outstanding as Hannah\u2019s devoted friend Malinda, who is not above using her wiles with the lascivious slave owners to help herself as best she can and who looks out for the less practical Hannah with a sisterly love. Carl Overly Jr. is excellent as the jovial, realistic Henry, who loves Hannah but also understands her commitment to her husband Moses and is willing to help her regardless of however hopeless his devotion may be.

Graham Emmons shows every side of the manipulative John Allen, who chafes at the injustices he believes are inflicted upon him by his own father but who shows a callous and cruelly indifferent side when considering the plight of Hannah, Malinda and others.

Rounding out the excellent cast is Alan Knoll, who brings poise and polish to a number of smaller roles, making each one distinctive and memorable, including Master James, the French Canadian publisher, a venal Georgian plantation owner, an unfeeling executor, a bureaucratic Freedman\u2019s Bureau Agent and others.

Torn Asunder is a remarkable piece of theater, elevated to epic status by Salter\u2019s marvelous prose and a cadre of searing, unforgettable performances by Himes\u2019 accomplished players.

Play: Torn Asunder

Company: The Black Rep

Venue: Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. at Washington University

Dates: April 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29

Tickets: $15-$45; contact 534-3810 or www.theblackrep.org

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

Photos courtesy of Kathy Perkins

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As an entrepreneur, Omobola \u201cBola\u201d Taiwo-Akande has successfully adapted a time-honored tactical football maxim to the kitchen: When in doubt, Bundt!

Beyond serving as a pharmacist with Fitzpatrick Pharmacy, Taiwo-Akande has parlayed a love of baking, maternally nurtured during her girlhood, into a sideline, 80 Proof Bakery, which specializes in cakes of that form that differ significantly from standard Pillsbury-type ingredients.

More specifically, Taiwo-Akande\u2019s cakes, to whatever extent, incorporate the kick of liquor. The featured collection now showcased on 80 Proof Bakery\u2019s website comprises three varieties: Bola\u2019s Rum Cake, Irish Whiskey Cake and Bola\u2019s Chocolate Vodka Cake.

Over time, the general popularity of Taiwo-Akande\u2019s cakes with family and friends led her to found 80 Proof Bakery in December 2015.

Since then, the acclaim for those cakes has been growing slowly but surely.

Early in February, notably, Piccione Pastry, at the extreme western edge of St. Louis\u2019 West End neighborhood, added two of Taiwo-Akande\u2019s signature Bola cakes to its menu, both by the slice ($3.50) and by the cake ($40).

Also, just last month, the website of Kansas City, Missouri\u2019s bake magazine praised Taiwo-Akande\u2019s mix of liquor and more standard baking ingredients, noting that it \u201ccreates an extra-moist cake and provides the perfect balance between sweet and spice.\u201d

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The arrangement with Piccione Pastry augments 80 Proof Bakery\u2019s by-the-cake sales through its website, which also mentions orders large or small and customized orders. The venture\u2019s Facebook pr\u00e9cis likewise mentions accepting pickups and deliveries within the metro area.

Richard Nix Jr. \u2013 the head honcho of Piccione Pastry and president of Butler\u2019s Pantry \u2013 reflects on the rationale for adding Taiwo-Akande\u2019s Bundt cakes to the former venture\u2019s menu. \u201cWe\u2019re always looking for new products that either we can produce or other young, talented artisans [can],\u201d he says. \u201cShe\u2019s been producing two flavors for us, and they\u2019ve been selling really well.\u201d

Nix noted that he has been friends for some time with Taiwo-Akande and her husband, Benjamin Ola Akande, the president of BOA Consulting and senior advisor to the chancellor at Washington University (as well as a columnist for Ladue News).

He also explodes with laughter when asked about his favorite. \u201cThe chocolate-vodka\u2019s incredible!\u201d Nix says. \u201cBut I have to say, the vanilla- rum, which is her authentic recipe from Nigeria, is probably my favorite. They\u2019re both incredibly moist.\u201d

As she came of age in that West African nation, Taiwo-Akande credits her mother with instilling in her a love of baking. When asked what her mother most loved to bake, she cites \u201cgolden poundcakes, meat pies, fruitcakes soaked in spirits for months. I loved them all.\u201d

Taiwo-Akande similarly reflects on the main lessons her mother taught her about the art and craft of baking. \u201cNot to be disappointed because things don\u2019t always turn out perfectly \u2013 half of the cake might be stuck in the pan after all your hard work,\u201d she says. \u201cBeing patient. Sometimes the process might be tedious, but the end result is so satisfying.\u201d

Regarding the time and experimentation it took to refine the recipes for her three flagship cakes, Taiwo-Akande likewise confesses to \u201ctrials and errors and many, many terrible, terrible cakes.\u201d

She also specifies the importance of creativity. \u201cMy mom always suggested adding just a tad more, especially when referring to butter or booze,\u201d she continues a bit impishly.

Perhaps necessarily, of all the manifold varieties of cakes in existence, one can\u2019t help wondering what led Taiwo-Akande to choose the Bundt for her bakery\u2019s flagship offerings.

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\u201cI remember reading somewhere that a Bundt cake is a \u2018self-decorating cake,\u2019\u201d she confesses. \u201cAll you need is the perfect glaze drizzled over the cake to highlight its fluted edges and ridges. Bundt is perfect as is, like a woman with all the right curves. The cake always comes out supermoist.\u201d

On average, she estimates baking 25 to 50 Bola cakes each week. The diameter of the standard 80 Proof Bakery Bundt cake measures roughly 9 inches, Taiwo-Akande says, and she recommends that it be sliced into 12 \u201cadult-size\u201d servings.

In addition to whiskey and rum, which tend to have pronounced gustatory profiles, Taiwo-Akande addresses what led her to use vodka, a spirit with customarily little taste.

\u201cUsing a neutral spirit such as vodka, when combined with other flavor elements, truly enhances the taste,\u201d she says. \u201cMost [liquor-infused] cakes will be very moist and stay fresh until you are done with it and even longer if refrigerated.\u201d

Perhaps in the interests of secreting proprietary information, when questioned about the brands and varieties of spirits she uses in baking her Bola cakes, Taiwo-Akande mentions nothing more specific than dark rum and premium vodka.

Beyond her recent arrangement with Piccione Pastry and upcoming introduction of two signature cakes to Straub\u2019s, Taiwo-Akande also briefly reflects on her short-term plans and long-term hopes for 80 Proof Bakery.

\u201c[The] short-term plan is to continue building a broad and committed customer base and to eventually become a recognizable and subscribed brand nationally and perhaps globally some day,\u201d she says. \u201cI want to believe that we are at the very beginnings of something exciting.\u201d

80 Proof Bakery, 314-692-2645, 80proofbakery.com

"}, {"id":"6cf16dfb-c166-5e35-a73d-3af314021773","type":"article","starttime":"1524157200","starttime_iso8601":"2018-04-19T12:00:00-05:00","priority":40,"sections":[{"features":"arts-and-culture/features"}],"application":"editorial","title":"Dinner & A Show: Jesus Christ Superstar","url":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/article_6cf16dfb-c166-5e35-a73d-3af314021773.html","permalink":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/dinner-a-show-jesus-christ-superstar/article_6cf16dfb-c166-5e35-a73d-3af314021773.html","canonical":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/dinner-a-show-jesus-christ-superstar/article_6cf16dfb-c166-5e35-a73d-3af314021773.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":1,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"Mark Bretz","prologue":"Stray Dog Theatre hits a number of high notes as well as some occasional clunkers in a generally appealing version of this masterpiece.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":[],"internalKeywords":[],"customProperties":{},"presentation":null,"images":[{"id":"d663e01b-34bb-52fb-aee6-73516d4d9d64","description":"","byline":"Photos courtesy of John Lamb","hireswidth":null,"hiresheight":null,"hiresurl":null,"presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"960","height":"640","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/d/66/d663e01b-34bb-52fb-aee6-73516d4d9d64/5ad62b1f4b97a.image.jpg?resize=960%2C640"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"67","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/d/66/d663e01b-34bb-52fb-aee6-73516d4d9d64/5ad62b1f4b97a.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/d/66/d663e01b-34bb-52fb-aee6-73516d4d9d64/5ad62b1f4b97a.image.jpg?resize=300%2C200"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"683","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/d/66/d663e01b-34bb-52fb-aee6-73516d4d9d64/5ad62b1f4b97a.image.jpg"}}}],"revision":5,"commentID":"6cf16dfb-c166-5e35-a73d-3af314021773","body":"
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Story:\u2002The final week in the life of Jesus Christ is depicted in this two-act musical written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice.

Highlights:\u2002Stray Dog Theatre hits a number of high notes as well as some occasional clunkers in a generally appealing version of this masterpiece.

Other Info:\u2002Director Justin Been sets this rendition in \u201ca distant future in the Golgotha Territory currently under occupation by the Roman Empire.\u201d Huh? Whatever. That\u2019s mainly an excuse for the goth makeup and wig designs cleverly created by Miles Bledsoe and some torn togs fashioned by costume designer Eileen Engel for the throngs, as well as some arresting garb favored by Pilate, Caiaphas and Annas.

The bizarre, but highly effective, set designed by Josh Smith uses a twin-tiered approach, including double doors at the back of the top level through which Pilate, Herod and others can make their grand entrances, as well as steps that can be overpopulated with the masses seeking solace from Jesus. It\u2019s all lit creepily and moodily by Tyler Duenow, highlighted by some brooding moments by Judas setting up Jesus\u2019 betrayal.

Choreographer Mike Hodges and Been use all of the space available at the Tower Grove Abbey, including sundry aisles, to accommodate Hodges\u2019 musical moves by the apostles or the mob calling for Jesus\u2019 head on Good Friday.

Music director Jennifer Buchheit\u2019s musicians hit some rough notes on opening night, especially in the overture, but for the most part acquitted themselves with Lloyd Webber\u2019s infectious score, which after nearly 50 years still provides a dazzling counterpart to Rice\u2019s intelligent and insightful lyrics.

Buchheit (who also serves as pianist) and her players are situated strategically behind the set, with Kelly Austermann on reeds, Aaron Doerr on guitar, Steven Frisbee on violin, Mike Hansen on percussion, Liz Kuba on horns, Michaela Kuba on cello and M. Joshua Ryan on bass. These days, it\u2019s apparently tough to find a saxophone player to perform the sizzling solo in \u201cDamned for All Time,\u201d which once again is deleted in this version, as it was with the NBC-TV \u201clive\u201d special on Easter Sunday and last year\u2019s production at The Muny.

Performances run the gamut from stellar to so-so, but the three principals all shine in superior interpretations. Omega Jones makes a pensive, cerebral and emotional Jesus, delivering his tunes with a powerful and haunting voice on \u201cHosanna,\u201d \u201cPoor Jerusalem,\u201d \u201cGethsemane (I Only Want to Say)\u201d and others.

He also pairs winningly with Heather Matthews (as Mary Magdalene) on the lilting number \u201cEverything\u2019s Alright,\u201d while Matthews demonstrates her own excellent voice on the show\u2019s famous ballad, \u201cI Don\u2019t Know How to Love Him.\u201d

As Judas, Phil Leveling\u2019s singing is satisfactory, while his acting is outstanding, getting to the heart of the apostle\u2019s trepidation about where his revolutionary pal\u2019s preaching will take all of them, including Jesus\u2019 \u201cright-hand man,\u201d Judas himself. Leveling carefully crafts Rice\u2019s superb lyrics on the pensive \u201cHeaven on Their Minds,\u201d then feverishly works to save himself on \u201cDamned for All Time\u201d before headlining the raucous title number near the show\u2019s conclusion.

Riley Dunn masterfully delivers the cunning lyrics behind \u201cSimon Zealotes,\u201d while Jonathan Hey brings a sinister, commanding presence to head priest Caiaphas with his booming bass on \u201cThis Jesus Must Die.\u201d Hodges overdoes it a bit as Caiaphas\u2019 leering associate Annas.

Lavonne Byers isn\u2019t the best singer, but her acting proves impressive as the troubled leader Pilate, who dreams he\u2019ll be blamed for all that goes wrong. As Herod, Gerry Love makes a grand entrance, complete with showgirls, as he impishly interrogates his quiet prisoner in \u201cKing Herod\u2019s Song.\u201d Somehow, it seems that Byers and Love would have been more impressive if their roles had been reversed, but that\u2019s likely a minority opinion.

Kevin Corpuz is fine as Peter, while Tristan Davis, Corey Fraine and William Humphrey do well as underling priests. The exuberant ensemble, which even cavorts through seating areas, includes Michael Baird, Maria Bartolotta, Ebony Easter, Stephen Henley, Lindsey Jones, Tim Kaniecki, Kevin O\u2019Brien, Belinda Quimby, Dawn Schmid and Chrissie Watkins.

Although the choreography is generally stylish and successful, it doesn\u2019t seem to make a lot of sense to have Byers, Love and even Matthews, if memory serves, gyrating to various moves, blurring their characters in mob scenes. Oh, well.

Jesus Christ Superstar is such an iconic work (it started as an album, after all) that any performance may lend itself to unflattering comparison to the watershed LP.

Still, Been has demonstrated his own unique vision for accomplished pieces such as Tommy, Ragtime and others, so why not give Jesus Christ Superstar a go? The many performances already sold out attest to the continuing popularity of the first hit by Lloyd Webber and Rice all those years ago.

Group:\u2002Stray Dog Theatre

Venue:\u2002Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.

Dates:\u2002April 20-22, 25-28

Tickets: $25 to $30; contact 314-865-1995 or straydogtheatre.org

Rating:\u2002A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5

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Story: Lola is a wife, a mother and a journalist who has plenty to keep her busy. Nonetheless, she willingly signs on as a \u201csocial visitor\u201d for an elderly man named Lenny. Once a week Lola pops by Lenny\u2019s home to check in on him and hopefully make his lonely days just a little brighter.

That\u2019s a challenge because octogenarian Lenny, who had enjoyed a productive career as a physician, now struggles to remember the most mundane things. Lenny suffers from dementia and is frustrated most, it seems, by his inability to get his TV remote control to work.

Lola knows about Lenny\u2019s condition as well as his background. She is aware that his wife passed away a couple of years ago and that he has two adult sons who phone him regularly, maybe even daily. None of this registers with Lenny, who usually has the same vacant, distant look in his eyes when Lola questions him.

A good-hearted, generous spirit, Lola steadfastly reminds Lenny of her name not once but several times on each occasion she visits. He usually thinks she\u2019s a maid or a cook or a nurse, someone who can fix little problems that are annoying him.

Lenny can carry a conversation just enough to frustrate all but the most valiant souls who would be willing to push that boulder up the same hill each and every time they would see him. Lola certainly qualifies as such a kind-hearted person, but she can get worn out by the damage Lenny can cause, such as his unknowing destruction of valuable family memorabilia.

And yet, Lenny\u2019s relentlessly deteriorating mind raises some surprisingly shocking questions to Lola\u2019s thinking, queries which give her pause and force her to re-examine her own life. She knew when she signed on to visit Lenny that it would be tough slogging, but it\u2019s doubtful she could have envisioned the depth of the devastation. Can she herself survive Lenny\u2019s sad state?

Highlights: Touching, endearing performances by Jerry Vogel and Kari Ely elevate this heart-wrenching drama by Ron Elisha in a strong production at Upstream Theater which marks its American premiere.

Other Info: Elisha is an Israeli-born Australian physician who has written dozens of plays and won several writing awards in Australia for his literary efforts. While A Tree, Falling isn\u2019t startlingly different or revolutionary in its revelations, Elisha has a knack for conveying the relentless emotional devastation which dementia and Alzheimer\u2019s disease have on an afflicted person\u2019s family and friends.

Christie Johnston\u2019s scenic design is superbly rundown and squalid, highlighted by a terribly deteriorated table and walls with peeling paint where Lenny lives. It\u2019s a depressing sight, coupled with his crumpled and forlorn bed in the corner at stage right and an old-fashioned, small and fading refrigerator and a pot-bellied stove at stage left. Additionally, Johnston adds bizarre geometrical designs in the floor and walls which can indicate a life gone awry.

Laura Hanson adds to the downbeat effect with costumes which accentuate Lenny\u2019s lack of care about his appearance, while Tony Anselmo\u2019s lighting underscores the squalid conditions with hauntingly bleak illumination. Katie Schoenfeld\u2019s props match the forlorn conditions of Lenny\u2019s surroundings, while Michael Dorsey adds the supportive music and sound design.

As director, Dorsey keeps a steady, sure pace for the one-act, 80-minute drama, which is not without its humorous moments. That\u2019s due in large part to Vogel\u2019s wry interpretation of Lenny. His version of the addled and often agitated man answers Lola\u2019s questions with logical responses which are funny in their directness and especially whimsical considering Lenny\u2019s debilitating condition.

Ely\u2019s Lola contrasts succinctly with the often irascible, contrary Lenny, fastidiously working to bring cheer and optimism to his increasingly mundane existence. When she discovers various horrors perpetrated by the clueless Lenny, however, Lola eventually dissolves into a valiant woman who waves the white flag of inevitable surrender to the fates. Ely\u2019s pained face and slumping body portray that resignation beautifully.

There are no easy answers to dementia, something Elisha steadily drives across with his crafty play. A Tree, Falling, however, succeeds most in its faithful adherence to seeking the best in human nature at any time.

Play: A Tree, Falling

Group: Upstream Theater

Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand at Olive

Dates: April 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29

Tickets: $25-$35; contact upstreamtheater@sbcglobal.net or 669-6382

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

Photos courtesy of ProPhotoSTL.com

"}, {"id":"b1cba4f8-4286-11e8-b1f3-4b6f5eed8df2","type":"article","starttime":"1524000660","starttime_iso8601":"2018-04-17T16:31:00-05:00","lastupdated":"1524001363","priority":40,"sections":[{"features":"arts-and-culture/features"}],"application":"editorial","title":"'The Dresser' Is an Affecting Paean to a Bygone Theatrical Era: Theater Review","url":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/article_b1cba4f8-4286-11e8-b1f3-4b6f5eed8df2.html","permalink":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/the-dresser-is-an-affecting-paean-to-a-bygone-theatrical/article_b1cba4f8-4286-11e8-b1f3-4b6f5eed8df2.html","canonical":"http://www.laduenews.com/arts-and-culture/features/the-dresser-is-an-affecting-paean-to-a-bygone-theatrical/article_b1cba4f8-4286-11e8-b1f3-4b6f5eed8df2.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":2,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"by Mark Bretz","prologue":"Story: England isn\u2019t the safest place to be during World War II. Its citizens all too well recognize the frequent air sirens which indicate another aerial attack by Germany\u2019s military squadrons on the stalwart Brits. Still, life goes on as normally as possible in the English provinces, where Sir and his troupe are performing another in his uninterrupted streak of Shakespearean portrayals. Whether it\u2019s Richard III or Othello or King Lear, Sir has been treading the boards for decades while missing not a single performance, he says.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":["the dresser","gaslight theater","st. louis actors' studio","bobby miller","ronald harwood","sir donald wolfit","theater","review"],"internalKeywords":[],"customProperties":{},"presentation":null,"images":[{"id":"c4dfc18c-4259-11e8-b5a3-877eeb46042b","description":"","byline":"","hireswidth":null,"hiresheight":null,"hiresurl":null,"presentation":null,"versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1080","height":"733","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/4d/c4dfc18c-4259-11e8-b5a3-877eeb46042b/5ad61c53b3534.image.jpg?resize=1080%2C733"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"68","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/4d/c4dfc18c-4259-11e8-b5a3-877eeb46042b/5ad61c53b3534.image.jpg?resize=100%2C68"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"204","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/4d/c4dfc18c-4259-11e8-b5a3-877eeb46042b/5ad61c53b3534.image.jpg?resize=300%2C204"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"695","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/4d/c4dfc18c-4259-11e8-b5a3-877eeb46042b/5ad61c53b3534.image.jpg?resize=1024%2C695"}}},{"id":"d472f222-4259-11e8-af62-33db0da242a4","description":"","byline":"","hireswidth":null,"hiresheight":null,"hiresurl":null,"presentation":null,"versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1080","height":"721","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/d/47/d472f222-4259-11e8-af62-33db0da242a4/5ad61c6dd3397.image.jpg?resize=1080%2C721"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"67","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/d/47/d472f222-4259-11e8-af62-33db0da242a4/5ad61c6dd3397.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/d/47/d472f222-4259-11e8-af62-33db0da242a4/5ad61c6dd3397.image.jpg?resize=300%2C200"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"684","url":"https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/laduenews.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/d/47/d472f222-4259-11e8-af62-33db0da242a4/5ad61c6dd3397.image.jpg?resize=1024%2C684"}}}],"revision":4,"commentID":"b1cba4f8-4286-11e8-b1f3-4b6f5eed8df2","body":"

Story: England isn\u2019t the safest place to be during World War II. Its citizens all too well recognize the frequent air sirens which indicate another aerial attack by Germany\u2019s military squadrons on the stalwart Brits.

Still, life goes on as normally as possible in the English provinces, where Sir and his troupe are performing another in his uninterrupted streak of Shakespearean portrayals. Whether it\u2019s Richard III or Othello or King Lear, Sir has been treading the boards for decades while missing not a single performance, he says.

These days, Sir is doddering and prone to forgetfulness, which makes the job of Norman, his faithful dresser for 16 years, all the more daunting. While Sir\u2019s actress wife, Her Ladyship, constantly implores Sir to retire, he spurns all thoughts of giving up his profession.

On this particular night, however, he\u2019s panic-stricken that he can\u2019t remember how King Lear begins hours before the show is to start with him in the title role. In addition to checking his wardrobe, Norman oversees Sir\u2019s mental demeanor as well, patiently coaching Sir on his lines even as the aging actor alternately berates and compliments Norman on his valiant efforts.

There\u2019s a war out there, says Sir, and his audience expects and deserves a bit of sanctuary from the horrors of the reality they face on a daily basis. Behind the scenes, though, Sir\u2019s dictatorial grip on his group and his own faculties is diminishing by the day and the hour. Can Norman coax Sir through another in his endless string of performances with any semblance of sense to it?

Highlights: Bravura performances by John Contini as Sir and David Wassilak in the title role propel director Bobby Miller\u2019s studied and affecting rendition by St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio of Ronald Harwood\u2019s sad but also funny tale of life in the theatrical trenches.

Other Info: Playwright Harwood based his two-act drama on his own real-life occupation at one time as dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit, one of the last of the actor/managers in English theater. The Wikipedia entry about Wolfit isn\u2019t entirely flattering and neither is Harwood\u2019s portrayal of the fading Sir in his drama.

Warts and all, Contini portrays Sir as robust, virile, vile and vulnerable simultaneously throughout the show\u2019s two acts, which Miller paces smoothly and briskly. Additionally, Miller\u2019s use of the entrance aisle to the Gaslight Theater works very well to tell this tale of a bygone era. It\u2019s especially effective in the second act as Sir\u2019s behind-the-scenes entourage anxiously awaits whether he\u2019ll remember his lines.

Contini blusters and bellows convincingly as the tyrannical, self-centered thespian who firmly believes that he and not the play is the thing. He shows Sir reveling also in his entrepreneurial abilities to keep afloat his theatrical empire, which in reality is on its last legs.

That overblown self-confidence allows Sir to exploit an impressionable young actress such as Irene, who in the capable hands of Bridgette Bassa delivers the story\u2019s most resonating thoughts about the art form known as theater. Bassa contrasts well with Missy Heinemann as Her Ladyship, who in the words of Norman was an earlier version of Irene, snared with equal fervor by the lascivious Sir but long since immune to his advances.

Opposite Sir\u2019s bellicose behavior is Norman\u2019s timid and dutiful demeanor as his loyal assistant, which Wassilak handles with aplomb. Slowly wringing his hands in fretful fashion when not boosting Sir\u2019s ego with undeserved praise, Wassilak also indicates Norman\u2019s spiteful and petty nature as he lashes out peevishly against others who encroach on his \u2018territory.'

Emily Baker presents a suitable foil to Norman as stage manager Madge, who would rather refund the audience its money than endure the uncertainty of Sir\u2019s careening ability to perform effectively, yet willing to give Sir another try.

There\u2019s amusing work by Richard Lewis as Geoffrey Thornton, an aged and uncertain colleague who regularly is browbeaten by the thoughtless Sir, and Chuck Brinkley as a gruff, curmudgeonly actor who isn\u2019t prone to fawning or fearing Sir, as evidenced in some carefully crafted, humorous scenes. Anthony Heidemann and Jeremy Goldmeier complete the cast as a silent pair of \u201cLear\u2019s men\u201d in the touring show.

Miller makes the most of the exquisite set designed by Patrick Huber, which belies the minuscule Gaslight Theater stage with a dressing room at stage right and a hallway at stage left which leads to Sir\u2019s room as well as unseen rooms beyond his on one side and access to the troupe\u2019s stage at the other, with an outside wall fashioned also at stage left.

Credit props designer Jess Stamper for the myriad photos on stage and the old-style telephone in the hallway, Teresa Doggett with the threads which fit the era adorning Norman and Her Ladyship, Dalton Robison for the pinpoint lighting and Miller for the sound design, replete with wailing air sirens.

The Dresser is an affecting and well-written paean to a life in the theater as well as a sobering study of the title character and his sad, lonely existence. The show must go on!

Play: The Dresser

Company: St. Louis Actors\u2019 Studio

Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle

Dates: April 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29

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 Patrick Huber

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Story: The final week in the life of Jesus Christ is depicted in this two-act musical written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice.

Highlights: Stray Dog Theatre hits a number of high notes as well as some occasional clunkers in a generally appealing version of this Lloyd Webber/Rice masterpiece.

Other Info: Director Justin Been sets this rendition in \u201ca distant future in the Golgotha Territory currently under occupation by the Roman Empire.\u201d Huh? Whatever. That\u2019s mainly an excuse for the goth makeup and wig designs cleverly created by Miles Bledsoe and some torn togs fashioned by costume designer Eileen Engel for the throngs as well as some arresting garb favored by Pilate, Caiaphas and Annas.

The bizarre but highly effective set designed by Josh Smith utilizes a twin-tiered approach, including double doors at the back of the top level through which Pilate and Herod et al can make their grand entrances, as well as steps which can be over-populated with the masses seeking solace from Jesus. It\u2019s all lit creepily and moodily by Tyler Duenow, highlighted by some brooding moments by Judas setting up Jesus\u2019 betrayal.

Choreographer Mike Hodges and director Been use all of the space available at the Tower Grove Abbey, including sundry aisles, to accommodate Hodges\u2019 musical moves by the apostles or the mob calling for Jesus\u2019 head on Good Friday.

Music director Jennifer Buchheit\u2019s musicians hit some rough notes on opening night, especially in the overture, but for the most part acquitted themselves with Lloyd Webber\u2019s infectious score, which after nearly 50 years still provides a dazzling counterpart to Rice\u2019s intelligent and insightful lyrics.

Pianist Buchheit and her players are situated strategically behind the set, featuring Kelly Austermann on reeds, guitarist Aaron Doerr, violinist Steven Frisbee, percussionist Mike Hansen, Liz Kuba on horns, cellist Michaela Kuba and M. Joshua Ryan on bass. These days, it\u2019s apparently tough to find a saxophone player to perform the sizzling solo in Damned for All Time, which once again is deleted in this version, as it was with the NBC-TV \u201clive\u201d special on Easter Sunday and last year\u2019s production at The Muny.

Performances run the gamut from stellar to so-so, but the three principals all shine in superior interpretations. Omega Jones makes a pensive, cerebral and emotional Jesus, delivering his tunes with a powerful and haunting voice on Hosanna, Poor Jerusalem, Gethsemane and others.

He also pairs winningly with Heather Matthews on the lilting number Everything\u2019s Alright, while Matthews demonstrates her own excellent voice on the show\u2019s famous ballad, I Don\u2019t Know How to Love Him.

As Judas, Phil Leveling\u2019s singing is satisfactory while his acting is outstanding, getting to the heart of the Apostle\u2019s trepidation about where his revolutionary pal\u2019s preaching will take all of them, including Jesus\u2019 \u201cright-hand man,\u201d Judas himself. Leveling carefully crafts Rice\u2019s superb lyrics on the pensive Heaven on Their Minds, then feverishly works to save himself on Damned for All Time before headlining the raucous title number near the show\u2019s conclusion.

Riley Dunn masterfully delivers the cunning lyrics behind Simon Zealotes, while Jon Hey brings a sinister, commanding presence to head priest Caiaphas with his booming bass on This Jesus Must Die. Hodges overdoes it a bit too much as Caiaphas\u2019 leering associate Annas.

Lavonne Byers isn\u2019t the best singer but her acting proves impressive as the troubled leader Pilate, who dreams he\u2019ll be blamed for all that goes wrong. As Herod, Gerry Love makes a grand entrance, complete with showgirls, as he impishly interrogates his quiet prisoner in King Herod\u2019s Song. Somehow, it seems that Byers and Love would have been more impressive if their roles had been reversed, but that\u2019s likely a minority opinion.

Kevin Corpuz is fine as Peter, while Tristan Davis, Corey Fraine and William Humphrey do well as underling priests. The exuberant ensemble, which even cavorts through seating areas, includes Michael Baird, Maria Bartolotta, Ebony Easter, Stephen Henley, Lindsey Jones, Tim Kaniecki, Kevin O\u2019Brien, Belinda Quimby, Dawn Schmid and Chrissie Watkins.

While the choreography is generally stylish and successful, it doesn\u2019t seem to make a lot of sense to have Byers, Love and even Matthews, if memory serves, gyrating to various moves, blurring their characters in mob scenes. Oh, well.

Jesus Christ Superstar is such an iconic work (it started as an album, after all) that any performance may lend itself to unflattering comparison to the watershed LP.

Still, Been has demonstrated his own unique vision for accomplished pieces such as Tommy, Ragtime and others, so why not give JCS a go? The many performances already sold out attest to the continuing popularity of the first hit by Lloyd Webber and Rice all those years ago.

Musical: Jesus Christ Superstar

Group: Stray Dog Theatre

Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue

Dates: April 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28

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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\"AS11-40-5903HR.jpg\"
AS11-40-5903HR.jpg

From the personal through the international, history operates on manifold levels, but this Saturday, the Saint Louis Science Center welcomes a historical exhibition of planetary significance.

\u201cDestination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission,\u201d the ticketed exhibition in question, runs from April 14 to Sept. 3, commemorating the United States\u2019 visionary efforts to transport astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins safely to and from the moon \u2013 efforts that culminated with Armstrong\u2019s \u201cone small step\u201d onto the lunar surface on July 21, 1969.

\"Command
Command Module Splash Down - S69-21698.jpg

Originating from a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the National Air and Space Museum \u2013 both units of the Smithsonian Institution, the nation\u2019s preeminent general cultural treasury \u2013 \u201cDestination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission\u201d includes more than 20 artifacts, many of which were involved in the mission, among them:

Of 200-plus Smithsonian Affiliate organizations, Kathrin Halpern, project director at SITES, explains what led the Smithsonian to choose St. Louis\u2019 institution as one of just four to host \u201cDestination Moon.\u201d

\u201cIn developing the tour, we at the Smithsonian endeavored to reach as many different regions of the country as possible in the available window of time,\u201d she states from the nation\u2019s capital. \u201cTraveling objects such as the Apollo 11 command module require many special considerations.\u201d Those considerations greatly winnowed the list of candidates to host the exhibition.

Halpern otherwise dubs the local institution \u201cone of the leading science museums in the country,\u201d mentioning its skilled, professional staff, strong reputation for educational programming and community ties to the early space program, \u201cincluding the work done by the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. and other companies that contracted with NASA.\u201d

\u201cDestination Moon\u201d first visited Space Center Houston, appropriately enough; after St. Louis, the exhibition will travel to the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and ultimately grace The Museum of Flight in Seattle.

\"Apollo_Command_Module3.jpg\"
Apollo_Command_Module3.jpg

Bert Vescolani, president and CEO of the local institution, seems more than pleased at the Smithsonian\u2019s choice of cities. \u201cWe\u2019re honored and privileged to be selected to receive this prestigious exhibition, not only for the science center, but because it places St. Louis\u2019 contributions to space and flight in the national spotlight,\u201d he says.

\u201cBringing some of the most cherished items in the Smithsonian\u2019s collection to St. Louis is exciting for the region and provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to many around the region to see these precious artifacts.\u201d

Initial SITES discussions about the exhibition began in 2014, Halpern relates, noting that preparations for it demanded considerable time and effort. Local preparations proved equally exacting, according to Vescolani.

\u201cThe \u2018Destination Moon\u2019 exhibition from the Smithsonian is about 5,000 square feet, and we have augmented the experience with 8,000 square feet of interactive exhibits,\u201d he says.

\u201cThrough the augmentation, guests will feel transported back to the 1960s, including a living room with artifacts from our collection set up to re-create a lunar landing watch party. Visitors will also have the chance to perform a moon landing on a video game, climb into a re-creation of the command module and lunar module, as well as create their own mission patches.\u201d

Following the celebrations for the 2019 golden anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Halpern says, the exhibition\u2019s artifacts will return to the Smithsonian\u2019s National Air and Space Museum for placement in a newly constructed gallery.

She also provides details on dealing with the logistics of what Vescolani cites as his personal highlight of the exhibition.

\u201cThe command module Columbia on its transport ring weighs over 13,500 pounds, plus the heavy equipment needed to move it,\u201d Halpern says. \u201cIt\u2019s also oversized in height and width.

\"2012-0026_2013-02663\"
2012-0026_2013-02663

\u201cMuseums wishing to host the exhibition had to provide engineering reports certifying that this object could be safely moved into an exhibition gallery, that the floors could hold the weight and that the gallery met stringent environmental and security specifications.\u201d

Vescolani reflects on his own memories of the Space Age triumph. \u201cI was very young when we landed on the moon and don\u2019t remember a lot,\u201d he says. \u201cBut based on the excitement and world\u2019s attention, I couldn\u2019t help but be captivated by this amazing accomplishment and, like many children, dressed like an astronaut and pretended to explore new worlds. I\u2019m sure [the Apollo 11] landing on the moon helped inspire me and many others to pursue an interest in science and discovery.

\u201cThe mission of the Saint Louis Science Center is to ignite and sustain lifelong science and technology learning. Wouldn\u2019t it be awesome if the first person to walk on Mars was inspired by a visit to the science center?\u201d

Saint Louis Science Center, 5050 Oakland Ave., St. Louis, 314-289-4400, slsc.org

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Story: In 1656 Baruch de Spinoza, son of a successful Sephardic (Portuguese) Jewish merchant, was interrogated (or actually tried, as director Tim Ocel comments in his program notes) about his controversial beliefs. His scandalous thinking held that God was nature and vice versa, which led to him being accused of atheism by the Christian powers in Amsterdam for his radical, non-traditional view.

Referred to as the \u201cnew Jerusalem,\u201d Amsterdam (and The Netherlands in general) was considered a haven for Sephardic Jews who were driven from Spain and Portugal by the Inquisition beginning in 1478. Even before that, Jews had been forced to convert to Catholicism dating back to 1391.

While Jews in Amsterdam enjoyed greater freedoms in religious and economic spheres, they nonetheless were denied certain political privileges such as participation in municipal government. Their own leaders, being cognizant of their fragile freedom, monitored their Jewish congregations to avoid unwanted encroachment by the Christian government.

When Spinoza\u2019s opinions became known, he was brought before both Christian leader Abraham van Valkenburgh and rabbi Saul Levi Mortera as well as Gaspar Rodrigues Ben Israel, a member of the Jewish Parnassum. Spinoza is ordered to explain himself and his thinking lest he suffer \u2018cherem,\u2019 a form of shunning in the Jewish community.

As Spinoza describes his thought process, he appears to win over the initially skeptical Mortera. Yet, after addressing Mortera\u2019s references to Maimonides\u2019 13 Articles of Faith in response to Mortera\u2019s queries, Spinoza is declared unfit for society. A cherem officially was issued against Spinoza when he was just 23 years old, and shortly thereafter he was expelled from Amsterdam.

Highlights: Director Tim Ocel makes shrewd use of an excellent cast to bore through an often dense script by David Ives in shedding light on an important historical event perhaps little known by many people in the 21st century.

Other Info: The unwieldy sub-title for this two-act play, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656, sums up the dry and often overly obscure writing employed by Ives in telling this true tale.

First produced Off-Broadway in 2008, New Jerusalem is one heavy evening at the theater, leavened only occasionally with much-welcomed humor, as Ives speculates on what might have happened on that day to lead to the ''cherem' decision.

Spinoza, known alternately as Baruch, Bento or Benedictus (all meaning \u2018blessed\u2019), is played ingratiatingly by Rob Riordan, which helps move the plodding story along somewhat. Riordan\u2019s Spinoza is an affable young man, hopelessly in love with a young woman, Clara van den Enden, who is very fond of him but refuses to marry him.

She\u2019s the daughter of an ex-Jesuit with his own radical views and knows how unpleasant controversy can be. Some of the best moments in this two-hour, 30-minute drama are the affecting conversations between Spinoza and Clara, who is played in a strong and moving performance by Karlie Pinder.

The character of Clara is in stark contrast to the curious depiction of Spinoza\u2019s sister, Rebekah de Spinoza. Her petulance and peevishness seem out of kilter with the more staid characters presented by Ives elsewhere in this thick, often static work. Jennifer Theby Quinn, a fine actress, does what she can but that isn\u2019t enough to salvage this crude caricature of a 16th century Jewish woman.

John Flack brings his customary grace and conviction to the role of the respected and erudite Mortera, showing the intense personal strain to which the rabbi is willing to go to aid his beloved student, albeit unsuccessfully. In contrast, Jim Butz expertly depicts the rigid, self-righteous dictates of van Valkenburgh, who really just wants everyone to think like him and damn the consequences for them if they don't.

Doing fine supporting work are Greg Johnston as Ben Israel, a kind and caring member of the Parnassus who becomes increasingly angry and agitated as Spinoza digs in his heels, even if pleasantly, with Ben Israel consequently fuming fire and brimstone in retaliation against the upstart. Will Bonfiglio subtly shows the considerable complexity in the personality of Spinoza\u2019s pal Simon de Vries, who may not be who he at first appears.

Riordan\u2019s character, though, is the cynosure of this tale and he is up to the gravity of that reality with a fascinating and well-etched portrayal. His interactions with all of the other characters are the best parts of Ives\u2019 convoluted script, which doesn\u2019t measure up to several other finer efforts by the lauded playwright.

The action, what little there is, plays out on a handsome and evocative set designed by Peter and Margery Spack, which taps into Spinoza\u2019s love of mathematics with a grid that is open on all sides, complete with a checkered floor and mini-walls which offer easy entrances and exits for the players.

Michele Friedman Siler\u2019s costumes exquisitely dress the performers and capture the ages of the various characters, while the set is carefully illuminated by lighting designer Jon Ontiveros. Margery Spack adds some finely selected props.

Director Ocel keeps the focus on the intense conversations which dominate New Jerusalem, but after a while that intensity begins to wear thin. This telling of New Jerusalem probably will result in some terrific post-show discussions which New Jewish Theatre has scheduled during its run. There certainly is plenty to ruminate about in Ives\u2019 labored script.

Play: New Jerusalem

Company: New Jewish Theatre

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

Dates: April 11, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 21, 22

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

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

Photos courtesy of Eric Woolsey

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Story: It\u2019s New Year\u2019s Eve 1999 and two teenage girls, Christina and Adiel, are in love with each other. Chris is the daughter of missionaries who are working in northern Uganda and Adiel is a young woman in the village where they have opened their church and mission.

The young lovers decide to marry in a private and secret ceremony, although Adiel insists on including several traditional elements, such as Christina being the \u2018husband\u2019 in their union. As they move forward with their vows at the church, they\u2019re interrupted by a young soldier who climbs in through a hole in the roof.

He\u2019s just a boy, 13 years old, and he\u2019s already been wounded. Initially afraid of him, the girls try to reason with him. They learn that his name is Pika and that he\u2019s been consigned to the military in a brutal and escalating civil war. When an older soldier arrives searching for Pika, the hiding kids surprise him as they attempt to escape. Several shots are fired and Adiel and the older soldier are struck by bullets.

Nearly 15 years later, Chris returns to Uganda with the ashes of her late father. It was his wish to be buried in the Ugandan soil near the church which he had built. The present pastor there, Paul, is set to celebrate his wedding anniversary that day with his wife Ruth.

However, Ruth informs him that a young villager named Francis desires to see the pastor. Francis is very ill, with notable lesions on his body, but Paul is reluctant to care for this member of his flock. Eventually acceding to the wishes of Ruth, he agrees to meet with Francis.

Everything is upended, however, with the arrival of Chris. The sight of the church, and the sad memories which it conjures, stirs her to question who exactly this new pastor is. Does she know him from her troubled past? Are there more scars from that horrible civil war about to be re-opened?

Highlights: West End Players Guild closes its 2017-18 season with this two-act drama which was the hit of the annual Humana New Play Festival in Louisville in 2016. Hansol Jung\u2019s story is accorded a fine rendering by director Linda Kennedy and her disciplined, four-player ensemble.

Other Info: While Jung\u2019s drama is somewhat straightforward, telescoping expected conclusions in its second act, it\u2019s nonetheless an interesting little story which shows the ravages of war and its cruel aftermath. She also sets up the misery for the two girls in Act I by depicting the intolerance toward homosexuality in the repressive social environment of Uganda, at least in this one particular village.

It can be a difficult play to view in that the primary character, Chris, is often unpleasant and unappealing with her cynicism and caustic reactions, or at least that\u2019s how Frankie Ferrari portrays her. Even at nearly 30 years of age in the second act Chris seems aimless and bitter about her life, albeit with some good reasons.

By contrast, the two characters portrayed by Jazmine Wade show the beauty and charm of two different African women. In the first act, Wade capably conveys the intrinsic sweetness and love of young Adiel, both for Chris and for her home village, while in Act II she showcases the sophistication and inclusive love of \u201ccity woman\u201d Ruth, who now lives in the village with her pastor husband Paul.

Darrious Varner does a good job portraying the vulnerability and betrayed innocence of Pika, who trembles before God and seeks absolution for the atrocities he\u2019s been forced to commit by the army. Varner also is effective in the second act as Francis, a young gay man who has been ostracized not only by his community but even by the pastor to whom he looks for solace.

As Paul, Reginald Pierre brings a commanding force to the outwardly genial pastor whose facade is slowly chipped away by the arrival of the unwelcome Chris and the awful memories her presence evokes. Pierre impressively displays the breadth of his character with all of its hidden flaws erupting unexpectedly. He also is convincing in the first act as the menacing soldier.

Kennedy utilizes the simple but effective set designed and lit by Renee Sevier-Monsey, which features the inside of the church and its altar area where all of the action takes place. Tracy Newcomb designed the colorful costumes adorning Adiel and Ruth and also defines the difference in Chris\u2019 ages in the two acts with clothes suited to her respective ages.

Adrian Bowers adds original compositions and Chuck Lavazzi is responsible for the sound design. Michael Monsey serves as combat consultant to help make the brief skirmishes realistic.

Kennedy succeeds in keeping the focus on the characters in Cardboard Piano, which are really more interesting than the predictable plot. On the whole, West End Players Guild\u2019s rendition of the star of the 2016 Humana Festival delivers the goods about this sad and sorrowful tale.

Play: Cardboard Piano

Group: West End Players Guild

Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.

Dates: April 12, 13, 14, 15

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

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

Photo courtesy of John Lamb

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Story: Life is confusing for Rosencrantz but not without its simple pleasures. For example, he\u2019s won the last 92 coin flips he\u2019s bet against his friend Guildenstern, who has incorrectly guessed \u2018tails\u2019 each time. What are the odds of that?

There\u2019s much more to Rosencrantz\u2019s dilemma, too. For starters, he\u2019s not even sure that he is Rosencrantz. Perhaps he\u2019s really Guildenstern? It\u2019s a possibility, he thinks, although Guildenstern, who appears to be a tad more intellectual, discounts that readily enough. Guildenstern is more concerned with the very nature of their existence and what it all means, if anything.

Both of them are fast friends with the Danish Prince Hamlet, who\u2019s out of sorts these days, what with his father, King Hamlet, dying and his uncle, the king\u2019s younger brother Claudius, usurping the throne as well as marrying Hamlet\u2019s mother, Queen Gertrude, in very short time. Unsettling it is.

Claudius has summoned the two couriers to instruct them to find out why exactly Prince Hamlet has gone off the deep end. They attempt to question Hamlet but he\u2019s too wily and evasive for them. Meanwhile, the pair comes in contact with a group of actors who are preparing to perform a play for the king and queen per Hamlet\u2019s instructions. Rosencrantz is pretty much baffled by The Player, leader of the performing troupe, and his skilled ensemble.

While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to keep their jobs, and their lives, by spying on Hamlet, they find themselves aboard a ship headed from Denmark to England. Also on board are The Player and his troupe, who have fled Denmark because they angered King Claudius with their skit. Hamlet may also be aboard in hiding.

The couriers are in possession of a letter from Claudius instructing them to kill Hamlet, but somehow Hamlet switches that with another letter calling for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Eventually, the duo realize that their fates are sealed, which is accepted by Rosencrantz but puzzles Guildenstern.

As The Player tells them that all roads lead to death, his troupe plays out the final scenes from Hamlet and an ambassador announces that \u201cRosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.\u201d

Highlights: The dizzying imagination of Tom Stoppard\u2019s razor-sharp mind is in evidence throughout this brisk, brilliant comedy currently being given a delightful rendering by St. Louis Shakespeare.

Other Info: Artistic director Suki Peters infuses this fast-paced, cheery production with a number of top-notch performances which glean the essence of Stoppard\u2019s clever, creative wit. Still fresh and intoxicating more than 50 years after its debut, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead blends the existential absurdity of Waiting for Godot with The Bard\u2019s penchant for sharp, telling dialogue.

Stoppard takes two minor characters from Hamlet and fleshes out their murky existence with his own brand of biting humor. Director Peters benefits from sparkling performances by Robert Thibaut as the slow-witted Rosencrantz, Ted Drury as the pensive Guildenstern and Isaiah Di Lorenzo as the crafty, cunning Player to anchor this engaging presentation.

Thibaut plays the simple Rosencrantz in the grand tradition of Stan Laurel, Lou Costello, Dick Martin and others who made fine careers playing the simple foil to their supposedly superior partners. Thibaut is earnest, wide-eyed and generally accepting of any fates that befall him, good or bad.

Drury, conversely, shrewdly portrays Guildenstern as a minor cog in a very big wheel, attempting his best to understand his raison d\u2019etre as well as the bigger meanings in the universe and the decisions of vengeful kings.

He also is responsible for a sensational sound design, incorporating theatrical tunes by Queen and Styx as well as Genesis\u2019 Land of Confusion and even Christopher Cross\u2019 paean to Greek mythology, Don\u2019t Pay the Ferryman. Who does that?

Chuck Winning\u2019s accessible scenic design allows for sundry columns, canopies and barrels used in either or both acts, well lit by Kevin Bowman. Meredith LaBounty\u2019s eccentric costumes are amusing in and of themselves, with Hamlet sporting a \u2018God Save the Queen\u2019 T-shirt while The Player is bedecked in theatrical makeup and a Scottish kilt for extra effect.

Di Lorenzo fills The Player with all sorts of savvy understanding of life as a stage and all the men and women merely players, doing so with relish and considerable elan. His enthusiastic troupe is comprised of Joe Garner as the sad sack Alfred as well as Michael Pierce, Megan Wiegert, Cliff Turner and Genevieve Collins, all adept in their curious roles.

Scott McDonald makes for a fine, brooding Hamlet, Nicholas Kelly is an imposing presence as the glowering King Claudius, Eileen Engel is a dutiful Ophelia, Dan McGee is a pliant Polonius and Wendy Renee Greenwood does well as Queen Gertrude, happy to be in power at any expense and even slightly concerned about the welfare of her son.

Stoppard certainly is smarter than the average playwright and a pretty funny guy as well, sprinkling humor amidst his philosophical musings. Perhaps Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but the vitality of this invigorating play lives on.

Play: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Company: St. Louis Shakespeare

Venue: Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue

Dates: April 12, 13, 14, 15

Tickets: $15-$20; contact 361-5664 or brownpapertickets.com

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

Photos courtesy of Ron James

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Story: Inspired by Ron Chernow\u2019s biography, Alexander Hamilton, this musical presents the life of Founding Father Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became General George Washington\u2019s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and later served as the first Treasury Secretary of the fledgling United States of America.

Highlights: With book, lyrics and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton explodes out of the starting gate and maintains an exhilarating pace throughout. It\u2019s a glorious and transfixing theatrical achievement and, even with its dramatic license stretching the truth, an important lesson in American history as well.

Other Info: First produced by the Public Theater in New York City, Hamilton won 27 awards for its Off-Broadway debut in 2015, followed by 11 Tony Awards for its Broadway incarnation in 2016 as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its Tony Award cache included Best Musical as well as Best Book, Best Score, Best Choreography, Best Orchestrations and Best Direction.

There is no mystery why. Hamilton utilizes a variety of musical genres in its lively, compelling score including hip-hop, Broadway, jazz, rap, rhythm and blues and pop to tell the story of the man who had as much to do with the establishment of the American form of government as anyone else.

Miranda\u2019s diverse cast keeps the energy level on adrenaline throughout the show\u2019s two acts and three hours of performance time, which zips by in a flash. The show begins with an ensemble rendition of the title tune, which informs the audience of Hamilton\u2019s humble beginnings as an illegitimate child whose father abandoned him and his mother, leaving Alexander an orphan in the West Indies upon her death when he was just 12.

Pointing out that the musical is \u201cinspired\u201d by the Chernow biography helps account for some historical inaccuracies, such as the fatal duel between Hamilton and his nemesis, Aaron Burr, which happened in 1804 and not just after the presidential election of 1800. Additionally, it\u2019s jarring to see diminutive actor Chris De\u2019Sean Lee portraying the 6\u20193\u201d Thomas Jefferson, even though his performance skills are top-notch.

Still, this musical is every bit as good as you\u2019ve heard it is. Miranda\u2019s score is filled with catchy, pulsating numbers which contain intelligent, insightful lyrics, such as the hesitant Burr\u2019s lament, Wait for It, or the ambitious Hamilton\u2019s theme, the invigorating My Shot.

Through it all, Andy Blankenbuehler\u2019s stylish, infectious choreography blends with Thomas Kail\u2019s expertly-paced direction to keep the large ensemble moving briskly about David Korins\u2019 handsome, two-tiered set in sweeping, seemingly perpetual motion.

That extra level in the scenic design allows for grand, eloquent gestures by the insurgent colonists\u2019 sagacious leader, Washington, as well as an opportunity for the showboating Jefferson to descend to the masses at the start of Act II from his free-wheeling days as ambassador to France.

Howell Brinkley\u2019s luminescent lighting design and Paul Tazewell\u2019s lavish 18th century costumes show why they also captured Tony Awards. Significant contributions are made as well by sound designer Nevin Steinberg and hair and wig designer Charles LaPointe.

It\u2019s jaw-dropping to hear the performers rap out Miranda\u2019s exquisite lyrics in rapid patter to the lively musical arrangements created by Miranda and Alex Lacamoire under Julian Reeve\u2019s musical direction. Lacamoire also supervises the 10-piece orchestra comprised of keyboards, percussion, drums, bass, guitar, violins, viola and cello. The music is stirring and stunning as it accompanies every carefully choreographed step by players on stage.

Austin Scott leads this inspired touring company with a standout performance in the title role, showing Hamilton\u2019s indefatigable drive and work ethic as well as his ceaseless quest for knowledge and action. Scott deftly handles Hamilton\u2019s romance with Eliza Schuyler as well as the platonic love he shares with Eliza\u2019s older and savvy sister Angelica.

He delivers conveying less savory aspects of Hamilton\u2019s life as well, such as his ill-advised infidelity with a woman named Maria Reynolds while he\u2019s away from his family while working in New York City.

Also outstanding is Nicholas Christopher in the role of Burr, who serves somewhat as narrator looking on while his friend and eventual adversary Hamilton reaps the benefits of adulation and the gratitude of Washington with his drive for success. Christopher\u2019s tenor serves him grandly on numbers such as The Room Where It Happens and Wait for It.

De\u2019Sean Lee wittily portrays Jefferson as a scheming opportunist and a bit of a fancy don as well as doubling as America\u2019s great ally in the Revolutionary War, France\u2019s Marquis de Lafayette. Chaundre Bloomfield Hall serves well both as Jefferson\u2019s fellow Virginian and eventual president James Madison and Hamilton\u2019s friend Hercules Mulligan.

Carvens Lissaint brings gravity and wisdom to the role of colonial leader George Washington, both in war and in peace as the upstart nation\u2019s first president, while Peter Matthew Smith is humorous in the role of England\u2019s off-kilter King George, who revels in the hope that America will self-destruct.

Julia K. Harriman and Sabrina Sloan provide excellent voices and dramatic scope as sisters Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler, respectively, while Isa Briones does well as youngest Schuyler sister Peggy and the duplicitous Maria Reynolds. Alexander Ferguson handles the part of Maria\u2019s conniving husband James Reynolds, who blackmails Hamilton for a time, while Ruben J. Carbajal serves ably as abolitionist John Laurens and Hamilton\u2019s oldest son Philip.

Hamilton is breathtaking in its epic scope, both from theatrical and historic viewpoints. It\u2019s a history lesson wrapped in a rollicking, rambunctious and richly rewarding musical romp, every bit as good as its reputation.

Musical: Hamilton

Group: Touring Company

Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand

Dates: Through April 22

Tickets: From $95-$350; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com.

Limited tickets are available daily at The Fox box office, as well as 40 tickets offered at $10 apiece for each performance through a lottery. For details, visit www.foxstl.com

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

Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus

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\"crisis03.JPG\"
crisis03.JPG

A 7-year-old\u2019s self-portrait, in acrylic or something similar on canvas, shows the smudge-faced but smiling artist sporting a simple white T-shirt that declares, in gray shading into black, \u201cI CAN.\u201d This constitutes just one example of the longtime therapeutic art and play program at Saint Louis Crisis Nursery.

\u201cBecause art and play therapies do heal the hearts of the kids that stay at the nursery, the name fits perfectly,\u201d says DiAnne L. Mueller, who has served as the organization\u2019s CEO for roughly a quarter of a century. Such therapies almost necessarily gain in prominence in April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, with Mueller\u2019s organization \u201csimultaneously providing nurturing care to 47 children, 24-hour helpline support to parents, and trauma-informed counseling and parent education to more than 5,300 families,\u201d according to the nursery\u2019s website.

\u201cOur Healing Hearts program began over 20 years ago, with one art therapist,\u201d Mueller recalls. \u201cFive years ago, we added a play therapist. Between the two of them, 154 kiddos receive art or play therapy every month. That\u2019s approximately 1,837 children every year who benefit from this amazing program. We estimate that over 22,000 children have had a chance to work through tough times with the Healing Hearts program.\u201d

Like most of the nursery\u2019s programs, Healing Hearts developed from the observed impact of trauma and stress on the children the crisis nursery serves \u2013 largely recurrent crises, mental health concerns, domestic violence and homelessness.

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\u201cMore than 90 percent of the children receiving therapeutic interventions at the crisis nursery have experienced difficult situations \u2013 witnessing their mother being severely abused, living in a neighborhood where gunshots can frequently be heard, chronic homelessness and inconsistent parenting by a mentally ill parent ... ,\u201d Mueller says. \u201cArt and play therapy interventions focus on helping children increase feelings of safety and increasing coping skills.\u201d

With its individualized, goal-centered therapeutic plans, Healing Hearts particularly benefits 3- to 12-year-olds \u201cwho have difficulty verbalizing their feelings and those who struggle with significant losses, trauma, past abuse, unresolved grief [and] adjustment of family problems or who have problems with physical illness,\u201d Mueller continues.

\u201cThe use of art and play therapy helps to build relationships between the child and therapist, assist children in dealing with trauma and distress, and support growth and change. The Healing Hearts program allows children to explore their feelings and concerns related to their situation and learn to cope with the trauma they\u2019ve experienced.\u201d

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She adds that the nursery\u2019s trained therapists document outcomes precisely and use diverse techniques and devices in working with youngsters, \u201cincluding journaling, dollhouses, therapeutic books and games, paint and clay, puppets, construction paper, yarn, beads, pipe cleaners, paper towel tubes, empty boxes \u2013 almost any material available!\u201d

One recent product from the program, created by a 6-year-old in what looks like gouache or tempura on barnwood, depicts a cardiac icon, \u2665 rendered in green, blue and violet and encased in a second rendered in cherry, tangerine and lemon \u2013 because, according to a sweet (if inverse) quotation from its creator, \u201ca cranky heart feels better when it\u2019s around a happy heart.\u201d

\u201cArt and play are the natural \u2018languages\u2019 of children,\u201d Mueller says by way of providing more specific background on art therapy. \u201cThrough art and play, children express and communicate what they\u2019re unable to talk about due to age, developmental delays or the trauma of what they\u2019ve experienced. \u2026 The crisis nursery added the Healing Hearts program as a part of our mission to keep kids safe and build strong families.\u201d

Ultimately, though, Healing Hearts\u2019 successes hinge on a good old-fashioned human touch.

\u201cPerhaps more than other kids, crisis nursery kids treasure one-on-one time with an adult,\u201d Mueller says. \u201cTo have an adult focus on them, listen to them and help them feel better is so valuable to their development. Often a child who\u2019s struggling with fear or anger before a Healing Hearts session will return to the group happier, smiling and ready to play.\u201d

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When asked about Healing Hearts testimonials from her organization\u2019s young charges, whose identities the nursery vigorously shields, Mueller cites the work of the nursery\u2019s play therapist with a 12-year-old boy whose family was struggling with homelessness.

\u201cTogether, they used Play-Doh to make different faces \u2013 happy, sad, scared \u2013 and they talked about each of the feelings,\u201d she says. \u201cThe little boy was able to talk about how scared and angry he was.\u201d

Mueller continues with another anecdote from the program: \u201cA 10-year-old girl staying at the nursery worked with the art therapist using construction paper, buttons, glitter, paint and yarn, and talked about having to change schools numerous times as her father looked for work. She was sad because she had to leave her home and her best friends behind.

\u201cThe art therapist helped her realize that at each new school, she was able to make new friends and adjust. At the end of the session, the little girl had constructed a beautiful heart and said, \u2018My heart has bumps and bruises, but it is still shiny.\u2019\u201d

Saint Louis Crisis Nursery, 11710 Administration Drive, No. 18, St. Louis, 314-292-5770, crisisnurserykids.org

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Helping to Heal Hearts

Themed \u201cA Garden of Hope,\u201d the Saint Louis Crisis Nursery\u2019s annual Razzle Dazzle Ball takes place on Saturday, April 7, at the Westport Sheraton Chalet Hotel, says DiAnne L. Mueller, its longtime CEO.

Mueller characterizes that major fundraiser as \u201ca glamorous evening of dinner, dancing, live and silent auctions, live music and specialty cocktails as over 550 of St. Louis\u2019 most distinguished citizens come together to support the crisis nursery\u2019s mission of preventing child abuse and neglect.

\u201cThe sold-out 2017 Razzle Dazzle Ball raised over $300,000 to help the crisis nursery keep kids safe and build strong families. Because the need in the St. Louis area continues to grow, the goal this year is to exceed that amount.\u201d

Tickets for the 2018 Razzle Dazzle Ball are already sold out, but questions about other types of support can be addressed to Bonnie Define, the nursery’s community relations director, at 314-292-5770 or bonnie@crisisnurserykids.org.

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How must it have felt, there in the turquoise murk, to gaze into the eyes of antiquity?

That question may well occur to viewers of \u201cSunken Cities: Egypt\u2019s Lost Worlds,\u201d a ticketed exhibition now open at the Saint Louis Art Museum. The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 9, showcases ancient Egyptian artifacts discovered by an expedition in a bay on the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria.

French maritime archaeologist Franck Goddio \u2013 founder and president of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology in Paris \u2013 led the expedition.

\u201cOur search for the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion started in 1996,\u201d Goddio relates from the far side of the Atlantic. \u201cIt took us years to map the research area \u2013 overall 11 by 15 kilometers [6.8 by 9.3 miles] \u2013 in today\u2019s Aboukir Bay with various geophysic devices.

\u201cIn 2000, we had some electronic evidence that an area located 7.5 kilometers [4.7 miles] from the present coast concealed ancient remains hidden in the seabed. We conducted test archaeological excavations the same year. They soon revealed the presence of a long structure made of large limestone blocks. It was evident we were in the presence of a temple-surrounding wall. We were just in the heart of the city.\u201d

Beyond having discovered that archaeological treasure-trove, Goddio is curating \u201cSunken Cities,\u201d which Lisa \u00c7akmak, the museum\u2019s associate curator of ancient art, is co-curating locally.

The exhibition comprises not only 250 pieces found by Goddio and his team but also \u201ccomplementary artifacts from museums in Cairo and Alexandria, some of which never have been shown outside of Egypt,\u201d according to a press release from the local museum.

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Also according to that release, Thonis-Heracleion occupied the Nile delta, reaching its zenith as Egypt\u2019s main Mediterranean port in that nation\u2019s Late Period (roughly 664 to 332 B.C.). By the year 800, though, various natural disasters combined to sink both it and nearby Canopus, and their ruins lay undisturbed 30 feet beneath the Mediterranean\u2019s surface for more than a millennium.

The press release otherwise notes of the exhibition that this will be \u201cits first viewing in America,\u201d having previously appeared in institutions in Zurich, London and Paris.

Among the exhibition\u2019s manifold magnificent artifacts, amateur Egyptologists may find themselves puzzling in particular over a 7.2-foot-tall granitoid bust identified only as \u201cthe black stone queen.\u201d Helpfully, \u00c7akmak tentatively identifies the enigmatic artifact as a tribute to Arsino\u00eb II, something of a femme fatale born in 316 B.C.

\u201cShe has a fascinating story that we explore in the [personal] audio guide \u2026 ,\u201d \u00c7akmak says. \u201cShe was married three times. Two of those marriages were disastrous \u2013 imagine plotting, assassination attempts, murdered children and so forth. After the second marriage, to her half-brother, she fled [from Eurasia] home to Egypt, where she married her full brother, Ptolemy II, and as a result, she became queen of Egypt.

\u201cShe was very influential, and upon her death, her husband had her deified and decreed that every temple in Egypt had to have a cult statue of her. We think that this statue was the cult statue of Arsino\u00eb II housed in the temple of Serapis at Canopus.\u201d

The exhibition features artifacts involving not only that Egyptian deity, Serapis, but also the god Amun and the bovine god Apis, with at least one modest, settee-sized sphinx for good measure. Certain of the theological discoveries in the exhibition defy even the venerable Bulfinch\u2019s Mythology, though, like the hippo-headed Taweret, the goddess of fertility and childbirth, and the flooding-related god Hapy, a red granite statue of whom looms almost 18 feet tall and weighs 6 tons.

Not all of the artifacts, it bears noting, mass that much, with \u201cSunken Cities\u201d including much smaller statuary, as well as such pieces as a 3.5-inch-high lekythos, a container for oil; a 7.4-inch-diameter phiale, a drinking bowl; and a 14.7-inch-tall canopic urn, a mortuary device.

In that light, \u00c7akmak reflects on the professional challenges of tackling curatorial duties on a project of such prominence.

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\u201cMy approach was that \u2018it takes a village,\u2019\u201d \u00c7akmak says, \u201cand I believe that\u2019s true regardless of the size and complexity of the show. This has been my first exhibition in the museum\u2019s special-exhibition space, so I relied upon my colleagues in all different departments, who all have far more experience than me.

\u201cIt was also helpful that we had a certain narrative that we were expected to follow. While we did make changes to the narrative, it meant that I didn\u2019t have to start from scratch \u2013 there was already a really strong base upon which to build. Due to the conditions of our museum and our galleries, we had to make certain changes and adapt the narrative and the overall feel of the show, and that was exciting. It makes this version of the exhibition different from the version that toured around Europe.\u201d

Reflecting on the exhibition\u2019s diversity, \u00c7akmak continues: \u201cWhat I love about this show is that there are no pyramids, no mummies and no desert \u2013 three things that I think a lot of people associate with ancient Egypt. The focus of this show is quite different, and I think it will surprise and delight visitors to see a different side of ancient Egypt.

\u201cThe show focuses on coastal towns that were very nautical, and I think often people don\u2019t think of water as being the backbone of Egyptian civilization. Without the Nile, there would be no ancient Egypt! These cities show us that Egypt, while not necessarily a seafaring society, was certainly a river-faring culture, and boats and boat imagery feature prominently in their cosmological and religious beliefs.\u201d

Goddio himself also reflects on the magnitude of his expedition and the exhibition, stating: \u201cThe moment you realize you have found what you were looking for is extraordinary. Discovering things that people who lived in ancient times left behind is an amazing experience. My team and I are still overwhelmed by the dimension of the city. Although we perform expeditions every year, we are still at the beginning of our research there.\u201d

Then, just a bit ruefully, he adds, \u201cWe will have to continue our work for the next 200 years.\u201d

Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, 314-721-0072, slam.org

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Story: Sherry Jo Ward is an accomplished actress who has performed regularly in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for many years. A couple of years ago she began experiencing alarming symptoms throughout her body.

After several trips to various physicians, eventually one doctor suggested that she may be suffering from \u201cStiff Man\u2019s Syndrome,\u201d a condition which affects approximately one person in a million. Now known as Stiff Person\u2019s Syndrome, it\u2019s an incredibly rare disease which impairs mobility and causes unexplained pain.

Ward has shaped a one-act, 60-minute production around her condition. The original Risk Theater Initiative production was the unanimous standout at the 2017 Festival of Independent Theatres in Dallas.

Highlights: Ward\u2019s drama is given a compelling performance by her under the direction of Marianne Galloway in its regional premiere in the St. Louis area.

Other Info: Ward was honored as Best Actress at the 2017 Festival of Independent Theatres and Stiff was recognized as Best New Play by the Dallas/Fort Worth Theatre Critics Forum. She also has been nominated for the Baylor School of Medicine\u2019s 2017 Circle Care of Human Spirit Award and NORD\u2019s 2018 Rare Impact Awards.

The absorbing drama is presented in an informal, casual discussion fashion, as Ward addresses the audience about her condition, informing with humorous slides which accompany her performance. She demonstrates considerable humor and courage in her presentation, aided by Galloway\u2019s carefully crafted direction.

Her approach can alter drastically, though, with the slightest unexpected twitch or body movement, sending an alarming note through the audience. Using her accomplished professional skills, the poised actress regroups before resuming her eye-opening show and telling about her rare condition.

Joseph Clapper provides a supportive lighting design which accentuates more sober moments in the delivery as well as enhancing its surprisingly humorous aspects.

Inevitable Theatre Company\u2019s presentation is made in partnership with Paraquad, the local non-profit organization whose mission is to empower people with disabilities to increase their independence through choice and opportunity.

Play: Stiff

Group: Inevitable Theatre Company

Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand at Olive

Dates: March 29, 30, 31, April 1

Tickets: $15-$25; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com

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

Photos courtesy of Inevitable Theatre Company and Mark Oristano

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