Story: To paraphrase protagonist Clifford Bradshaw, “there was a place called The Kit Kat Klub in a city called Berlin in a country called Germany…and we were all fast asleep.” Bradshaw, an American novelist wannabe, has traveled to Europe in 1929 in search of his muse, first in London, then in Paris and now in Berlin.
Story: What does a talent agent do when her prime client, a suave and popular leading man, has a “recurring case of homosexuality”? Well, if the agent is Diane and the matinee idol is Mitchell, she does her mighty best to submerge his true identity. In fact, lesbian Diane even poses as Mitchell’s ‘beard’ to allay any fears or concerns by the general public about his manliness.
Story: An ornate chair at stage left and a stately desk at stage right rather starkly adorn the stage for an appearance by one William-Henry Ireland in London in 1826. He’s there to publicly explain how, some 30 year earlier, he fooled the experts and conned the public into believing that he had unearthed a treasure trove of original letters, poems and even a hitherto unknown full-length play by none other than The Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
Story: Playwright William Gibson re-imagines the Nativity story from a variety of unusual perspectives. Joseph, e.g., is in love with the much younger Mary, but is logically confused and annoyed when he learns that she is pregnant and even more puzzled by her explanation. And who is this dapperly dressed individual who claims to be an angel sent by God to herald the arrival of the Messiah?
Story: It’s springtime, and S Mart employee Ash has the perfect place selected for some off-campus hijinks. It’s a desolate cabin in the woods, hard to access and far removed from any bothersome neighbors. So, what could go wrong, right? He rounds up his girlfriend and S Mart colleague Linda, lovelorn sister Cheryl, wise-cracking best friend Scott and Scott’s new-found, trampy squeeze Shelly for a raucous romp in the hinterlands.
Story: Complicated Lives is comprised of four short, one-act plays by local playwright and actor Stephen Peirick.
Story: Business is not exactly booming, much less blooming, at Mushnik’s Florist Shop on Skid Row. It’s so bad that Mr. Mushnik informs his two employees, Seymour and Audrey, that’s he’s going to close it down.
Story: Wealthy art dealers Flanders and Ouisa Kittredge have invited an important contact named Geoffrey to their swank New York City apartment to hopefully make a tidy $2 million profit on a Cezanne they’re selling. While the three of them converse, a young black man knocks at the door. He tells Flan and Ouisa that he is a classmate of their children at Harvard and that he’s in town awaiting the arrival of his dad, noted actor Sidney Poitier, who will be directing the film version of Cats.
Story: It’s the early 1920s, and Rose is determined to make her mark in show business. Not as an entertainer on the vaudeville circuit exactly, but rather as an impresario who knows what’s best for booking agents and small-time venues in the many cities she visits with her two daughters, Dainty June and Louise. Rose pushes her children to extreme limits in her efforts to make the younger of the two, June, a bona fide star.
Story: Chiclet Forrest wants desperately to be included in the fun times of the local Malibu surfer group. She’s a bit reserved, perhaps because of the quiet life she lives with her mother. It’s 1962, and Mrs. Forrest likes to dress up and sip a martini while doing the domestic chores.
While the local theater scene felt less ‘busy’ than the last few years, a couple hundred productions were available to patrons in search of something new—or something familiar and beloved—to entertain them. Of the approximately 135 productions I viewed this year, dozens were splendidly presented. The following list ranks the 11 productions that made the most impact—in one reviewer’s opinion—in this fabulous year:
The year 2012 was tumultuous in many respects, so perhaps fittingly Wicked is the title of the production that brings down the curtain on the last 12 months. A record drought plagued the St. Louis area, temperatures sweltered in an elongated summer and the area’s economy staggered toward a slow but steady recovery. All of this took place in the face of impending doom predicted centuries ago by the Mayan calendar.
Play: Fully Committed
Story: Sam is a struggling young actor in New York City. To make ends meet, he toils away taking reservations in the cramped, windowless basement office of a tony restaurant in Manhattan. A typical day for Sam is dealing with upper-class sorts making calls for the ‘best’ table at the trendy establishment, as well as taking myriad and maddening orders from the maitre d’, the executive chef and his co-workers. He also gets to listen to the sundry excuses offered by his talent agent for Sam’s meager acting assignments.
Story: A group of teenagers in late 19th century Germany grapple with their emerging sexual drives and desires, trying to fit into their rigid, repressive society. Between the stern, authoritarian discipline of their teachers and the lack of any clear direction by their parents, they stumble through controversial issues including rape, abortion, homosexuality and physical and sexual abuse as they struggle to comprehend their own identities.
Story: Life is fine for the residents of Armadillo Acres, a trailer park in the town of Starke, Florida, a hamlet of 5,500 residents that boasts at least two stripper joints. Trouble is brewing, however, because tollbooth collector Norbert wants to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary with agoraphobic wife Jeannie at the Ice Capades. Jeannie hasn’t ventured outside since their infant son was abducted two decades earlier, and Norbert’s level of frustration is at a fever pitch.
Story: Picking up where Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches ended, Prior Walter copes with his diagnosis of AIDS in early 1986. His lover, Louis, has abandoned him in his critical condition and taken up with Joe Pitt, a conservative, Mormon, Republican attorney who struggles to come to terms with his own homosexuality. Joe’s wife, Harper, a depressive agoraphobic, relies on pills and her own hallucinations to cope with the imposing and impersonal vastness of New York City, thousands of miles from the Salt Lake City of her youth. Joe’s mother, Hannah, has moved from Salt Lake City to her son’s home in Gotham, at first to deal with his stark confession but eventually to care for her mentally ill daughter-in-law.
Story: Prior Walter XXXIV (give or take two numbers) is devastated by alarming news he receives late in 1985: He has an infectious disease called AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Prior, who is the latest in a long, long line of WASPS who trace their lineage back to the days of William the Conqueror in 11th century England, shares his terrible diagnosis with his Jewish lover, Louis. While Louis is sympathetic and shaken by Prior’s affliction, he increasingly distances himself from his partner as the disease accelerates.
Story: A 20-year drought has resulted in Draconian measures for the residents of a decaying metropolis on the outskirts of a mysterious place called Urinetown. Under strict guidelines enforced by the monolithic UGC (Urine Good Company), impoverished denizens must pay for the privilege to relieve themselves at public urinals that have become the only sanctioned outlets for the most basic of human needs. When Bobby Strong, an assistant urinal custodian, sees his father carted away to Urinetown after relieving himself freely in a public area, the lad leads a revolt of the oppressed against greedy corporate kingpin Caldwell B. Cladwell.
When we finally caught up with the always-involved and charismatic Mary Strauss, she had just watched the season premiere of the Masterpiece Classic series Downton Abbey, starring Maggie Smith as the imperious Dowager Countess of Grantham. “I am really enjoying that show!” she admits. “And I just love Maggie Smith!”
The year 2011 yielded an abundance of significant news in local theater. Eleven presentations stood out above the rest. In ascending order, here’s a list of the year’s best productions:
Story: What’s worse than not being in the holiday spirit? Not being in the holiday mood while being unemployed, that’s what. Such is the case for our intrepid protagonist, who is tired of calling home to Mom from his New York City apartment to ask for another loan to make the rent. So, when he sees an ad for workers wanted for seasonal employment at Macy’s, he subjects himself to the rigorous if somewhat bizarre interviewing process.
STORY: Mr. Walker, a captain in the English Army during World War II, is missing in action and presumed dead. Devastated, Mrs. Walker takes solace in her only child, young Tommy, as well as the lustful embrace of a new lover. When Captain Walker arrives home at the war’s conclusion, he confronts his wife’s lover and kills him in a struggle. As his parents advise Tommy to “disremember” the murder, the traumatized boy sinks into a catatonic state, unable to see, hear or speak.
Play: “The Visit”
Play: “Dark Matters”