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Illuminated empty theatre and stage

Stories: In Candy Says, a quiet, middle-aged man in the near future named Harry calls for the services of a robotic prostitute. When ‘Candy’ arrives, she tells Harry that she can adjust her looks or her dimensions to please him in any way he desires for the next two hours.

The truth, though, is that Harry is lonelier for conversation than he is for sex, and thus they begin a mutually beneficial dialogue. While she is aware that she isn't human, Candy learns that she does have the embryonic yearnings for human feelings that become nurtured by Harry’s compassion.

Origins of Love is a theatrical cabaret conceived by former St. Louisan Khnemu Menu-Ra, now based in Chicago. With the notable assistance of two other migrants from The Lou to the Windy City, Antonio Rodriguez and Terrie Carolan (who was missing due to illness last Thursday), tunes are weaved around snippets of Shakespearean dialogue judiciously selected by Menu-Ra as he contemplates ‘What is a man?’ and what is this feeling called love?

Highlights: Both of these brief but intriguing works underscore the purpose of the St. Lou Fringe Festival, namely bringing together diverse acts from the metro area as well as contributing companies from other cities and states to explore artistic expression in a free-fall atmosphere of conviviality and collaboration in the city’s artistic hub, The Grand Center.

Other Info: Directed by Kimberly Lawson, Origins of Love is a clever concept by Menu-Ra that utilizes lines from various plays and sonnets by William Shakespeare to set the stage, so to speak, for tunes that bolster The Bard’s thoughts with songs and words by 20th century composers and lyricists such as Stephen Sondheim, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Norah Jones, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Willie Nelson, Mika and others.

Menu-Ra and pianist Leah Luciano did some shuffling on the day of last Thursday’s performance when Carolan was unable to participate. While it was disappointing to miss former St. Louisan Carolan’s contribution to the presentation, Luciano demonstrated her own clear voice on several of the songs to fine effect.

D. Mike Bauer, another accompanist on guitar, brought a country touch to the goings-on on his well chosen selection. Rodriguez, who’s done his own cabaret at the Gaslight Theater, was delightful both with his singing but especially with his theatrical interpretation of the judiciously culled lyrics.

Menu-Ra was captivating as he carefully articulated the thoughts and feelings projected in Shakespeare’s uniquely gifted style, although a greater range of dramatic interpretation on the tunes Menu-Ra performed would give this stylish cabaret additional ballast.

Still, the eclectic breadth of songs covering country, rock, ballads and show tunes fit neatly into the production’s construct, resulting in a most satisfying performance.

Carl Wickman wrote and directed Candy Says, enthusiastically and graciously welcoming audience members to his affecting one-act work. His touching script revealed surprising depth, especially when enacted as compellingly as it was by Terry Meddows and Rachel Hanks.

Wickman’s poignant script is reminiscent of Rod Serling’s classic TV series, The Twilight Zone, in its essential humanity and surprising twists, captured in the pinpoint performances of its two players.

Before and after the play, Wickman introduced The Candy Band, a musical quintet comprised of Max Farver, Gus Knobbe, Eleanor Marsh, Bruce Umbaugh and Garrett Bell performing a number of songs composed by the Velvet Underground.

The fourth annual St. Lou Fringe Festival is history now. Despite the significant challenges of Mother Nature throughout the two weeks of performances, it’s apparent that executive director Em Piro and her colleagues have enlivened the area arts scene with the enthusiasm, energy and excitement encapsulated in the infectious spirit of their St. Lou Fringe.

Play: Candy Says

Company: Carl Wickman

Venue: Kranzberg Theatre

Cabaret: Origins of Love

Company: Random Acts Theatre

Venue: Duet

Dates: Runs completed