Story: It’s 2092 and survivors in the St. Louis area have come to grips with their post-apocalyptic environment. A global plague has killed all but a few ‘remnants,’ and even they are scarred by their awful fate, which has left them communicating in a backward, stilted language.
Now, on Christmas Eve the clan of Wilkin in “No One Land” gathers together to celebrate the ‘Christ mass.’ Barlow Sho’r and his wife Delmar Nu1 welcome their guests, Annagail Bookr and Kristn Taler, to exchange gifts and to listen to Kristn Taler tell wonderful tales about the past.
Outside their sanctuary, ‘loners’ and ‘bikers’ prowl the premises, foraging for whatever items of value they may discover in menacing fashion. Barlow Sho’r distrusts them all, arming himself with sundry weapons to protect his shelter.
Thus, when a loner penetrates their enclave, Barlow Sho’r is ready to kill him or at the least banish him to the outside. The women, however, welcome the loner in the spirit of the season. Warily, Barlow Sho’r and the loner arrive at an uneasy truce during the Christ mass. Can they learn from each other in this strange, scary and surreal new world?
Highlights: Mustard Seed Theatre opens its 11th season by revisiting the play which kicked off its inaugural season in 2007. Alternately ominous and hopeful, Remnant conveys the spirit of the holidays in sobering yet optimistic fashion, especially under artistic director Deanna Jent’s carefully studied eye for details and a cast which embraces the show’s underlying messages.
Other Info: As you enter the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, you find yourself in a dystopian world cleverly constructed by scenic designer Kristin Cassidy. Fully three-fourths of the space is filled with bric-a-brac which conveys the hoarding mentality of Barlow Sho’r and Delmar Nu1. It’s especially remarkable under Michael Sullivan’s lighting, which pinpoints an array of Christmas lights throughout the main performance area.
Zoe Sullivan’s sound design adds to the intrigue with eerie, desolate notes, offset when the Ray Conniff Singers belt out Christmas tunes from LPs played on an old stereo, one of the many delightful props (a beat-up typewriter is another) furnished by Meg Brinkley. All of this contrasts starkly with the Mad Max-style costumes created by Jane Sullivan, high fashion in a low world.
Ryan Lawson-Maeske and Adam Flores bring plenty of testosterone to their respective roles as the distrustful Barlow Sho’r and the wary loner, respectively. Lawson-Maeske offers an athletic, acrobatic performance as the host of the Christ mass, a man who clearly doesn’t understand the message of the ‘mass’ but enjoys its spectacle elements.
Flores, with a scary tattoo on his head and a brooding black outfit, sits apart from the revelers as the ‘other’ clearly stepping into treacherous territory. He brings out the loner’s humanity, though, as the character slowly embraces the warmth of the women’s welcome to him and their message of acceptance.
Marissa Grice and Katy Keating are splendid as the agreeable Delmar Nu1 and Annagail Bookr respectively, the former welcoming guests to her decorated den with comfort and collegiality, the latter wide-eyed at a typewriter gift with which she composes presents for each of the survivors gathered together.
Michelle Hand, who portrayed Annagail Bookr in the original Mustard Seed rendition of Ron Reed’s 1989 fable, returns in the role of Kristn Taler in this version. She carefully recites a trio of tales as the storytelling Kristn Taler, each one designed to incorporate elements of “the Old Ones” and the “Bible” days, with Michael Sullivan’s lighting lowering to hone in on her as she entertains and informs her rapt audience.
The original Mustard Seed presentation mentioned “geographic adjustments” of Ryan’s cautionary story by Jent, Flores and Emily Immer. This version alludes to the lands of “Kan-sass” and “Miss-yuri” as well as a poetic allusion to “the silver rainbow glittering in the sky” in St. Louis.
Jent’s direction opens up the theater to convey a vast expanse as well as physically setting the loner on one side against the other members of the group during Kristn Taler’s stories, using interludes of silence to underscore the unsettling surroundings.
Most importantly, Remnant conveys the true meaning of the season, an understanding which can transcend the most horrible of fates in an uncertain future.
Company: Mustard Seed Theatre
Venue: Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, Big Bend at Wydown
Dates: December 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23
Tickets: $30-$35 (or Pay with a Can/Pay What You Can on December 14 and 21); contact 543-1111 or mustardseedtheatre.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb