By Lynn Venhaus

Anyone who has experienced grief knows that moving forward, life is measured by “Before” and “After.”

“The Whale” delves into the mental and physical health problems of a morbidly obese recluse, showing us the “After” and explaining the “Before” in an emotionally honest drama by Samuel D. Hunter.

In yet another well-cast, impeccably directed production, St. Louis Actors’ Studio imbues this gut-punch of a script with empathy and authenticity.

In his play, Hunter forces us to see the complexities in human nature, so impressions aren’t so easily defined, and judgment can wait. He has crafted flawed characters who have dealt with adversity and challenges in very different ways. Yet, they are stuck in time.

First presented in 2012, Hunter later wrote a bleak screenplay adaptation for the 2022 film that won two Oscars – one for Brendan Fraser’s performance and the other for makeup.

The film, while much dimmer inside the claustrophobic apartment, is very similar to the stage play, yet the characters are more severely portrayed, and redemption doesn’t seem plausible.

Set in a small town in northern Idaho, over the course of a week, four people interact with a nearly immobile Charlie (William Roth) in his dingy living room – nurse and friend Liz (Colleen Backer), estranged daughter Ellie (Nadja Kapetanovich), ex-wife Mary (Lizi Watt), and Mormon missionary Elder Thomas (Thomas Patrick Riley).

All affected by loss and loneliness, they are each wrapped in their own cocoons, and grace has eluded them. Director Annamaria Pileggi has drawn out nuances among this exemplary cast as they reveal truths about themselves. You feel their misery, but you also see signs of hope.

In a brave, towering performance, William Roth has never been better as Charlie, a sensitive soul whose heartache and regrets have led to self-destructive behavior. A writing instructor who now conducts classes online, he has ballooned to 600 lbs., suffers from congestive heart failure and is on a trajectory to imminent death.

Roth has delivered virtuoso performances before, notably as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and as Charlie Aikin in “August: Osage County,” both at St. Louis Actors’ Studio, which he founded and is the artistic director.

William Roth as Charlie. Photo by Patrick Huber

But this realization is both heartfelt and haunting. Hunter enlists many ways to display Charlie’s self-loathing, visually masking his pain with an eating disorder, and describing memories from what had been an ordinary life. Roth disappears into the role, wistfully recounting happier times at the seashore with his wife and child, and then later being with his lover and former student Alan. Will he ever forgive himself for what he perceives are his failings?

Using a colloquial term, Charlie has “let himself go.” Eating his feelings since Alan’s death eight years ago, he has guilt in his psyche – but passion in his heart for literature. You feel his remorse – and his enormous capacity for love.

Through grading papers, talking to his class via computer, and reading aloud their essays, Charlie displays a fine mind, a keen grasp of literature, what authors meant, and encourages self-expression.

Conveying that love for the written word that once gave him great joy makes it much sadder that, sidelined by grief, he’s not the teacher he once was, and not entirely comfortable connecting with his students (yet, astute in his comments). The isolation, as reflected in that tiny room, is crushing.

He also has vast unconditional love for his daughter Ellie, a sullen teenager who feels abandoned and lashes out cruelly. After years of no contact, he has attempted to reconnect with her, and she is seemingly unreachable – tough, rebellious, impulsive.

Her mother, angry and filled with rage too, has kept her from establishing a relationship with her father. At 17, she hates everything and everybody, and is flunking out of school. She is repulsed by his appearance, but visits anyway — after all, he is writing her English papers, and there is a pledge of money.

Displaying hostility, confusion, forlornness, and defiance, Nadja Kapetanovich is a knockout in a finely textured performance as Ellie. It’s a sensational breakthrough performance in regional theatre.

Kapetanovich, Riley, Watt, Backer, Roth. Photo by Patrick Huber.

Thomas Patrick Riley also has a breakout opportunity as Elder Thomas, and he’s splendid. He has the most complicated backstory of them all, and represents the evangelical religion that Hunter focuses on as a root to issues expressed here, particularly religious homophobia, and pointedly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

More dots in the plot are connected through Liz, the tough-love nurse played with heartbreaking compassion by Colleen Backer, whose ability to shift moods between comic and dramatic is one of her finest features.

Liz is Alan’s sister, so there is that. And she’s trying to keep Charlie healthy and alive, but also enabling him with high-fat, high-sodium foods (fried chicken, sub sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts and soda). She offers comfort while admonishing him with lectures. It’s an endearing performance by the always entertaining Backer.

In a brief but pivotal role, Lizi Watt blows in as the blustery ex-wife Mary, whose resentment is at a full rolling boil. She’s full of outrage, and vents to Charlie on how exasperated she is about their daughter. While she’s snarling, she’s also drinking copious amounts of vodka. It’s apparent that Ellie is a mirror image of her mother.

What is interesting about these hardened characters is you see them mentally and physically soften when confronted with Charlie’s predicament – if only fleeting. There is also more humor in the play than I recall from the film, which are moments of relief from the grim subject matter and the blame game volleys.

Wearing an impressively designed body suit by Angela B. Calin and engineered and constructed by Laurie Donati of the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, Calif., Roth’s physicality is key to the character, portraying the very real struggles of someone so overweight as to be in pain from the slightest exertion.

Costume Designer Teresa Doggett also worked skillfully on Roth’s prosthetics to ready him for this appearance on stage, and her casual outfit choices for the five actors were on point.

Patrick Huber’s scenic and lighting design reflects the slovenly quarters but also Charlie’s thirst for knowledge, with crammed bookshelves and papers everywhere. Props designer Emma Glose did a fine job littering the apartment with discarded food boxes, beverage containers and academia.

Caleb D. Long supervised the crafts parts as technical director. Another standout is the sound design by Kristi Gunther, also production manager, which incorporated hearing seaside noises like seagulls and the waves on the beach to evoke pleasant memories.

Others responsible for shaping this tight production: Bryn McLaughlin was the assistant director, and stage manager Amy J. Paige, with Glose her assistant.

This show’s cast was able to let us into their world, tinged with melancholy, and indicate the possibility of mercy, which is a final grace note.

And we can debate the ending for a long time, but I choose triumph, even if it is just in the teeniest glimmers of change that may be ahead for all.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “The Whale” Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. April 5 through April 21 at The Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle. For more information: stlas.org.

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By Lynn Venhaus

Unrelentingly grim, the harrowing action film “Civil War” is a provocative look at a nightmarish “What If?” scenario — and claims to be science fiction as it’s set in the future.

Disturbing real-life events in recent years have stirred up thoughts of a domestic doomsday, a cataclysmic reckoning with armed militias if our country’s structures of power, authority and social norms are subverted.

Projecting a second Civil War without getting too deep into politics, British writer-director Alex Garland has escalated America’s current divisions to envision a ravaged war-torn landscape with refugee camps, resistance fighters, military checkpoints, and violent conflict zones. We don’t see how it starts, just that it did, and the nation is engulfed in violent conflicts.

He focuses on the press documenting the atrocities in besieged areas, and their struggles to work and survive in a dystopian dictatorship. Those ethics and their costs personally are a key part of the story.

As a professional journalist for 46 years, I found this very raw and realistic film triggering. It ramped up my anxiety from start to finish, so it’s hard for me to separate fact from fiction here. 

However, as a film the technical work is first-rate while Garland’s screenplay, meant to be an allegory, is a tad wobbly.

It’s no coincidence that the national release date, April 12, just happens to be the day in 1861 that the first — and so far, only — Civil War started. (Note: The film did have its premiere at SXSW on March 14).

This much is true: Actions have consequences. We can all agree on that.

And whether you’re alarmed by seeing a partisan extremist holding an assault rifle and asking what kind of an American are you while he stands next to a mass grave is going to determine how you feel about this hard-hitting but not entirely convincing film.

The primary character is Kirsten Dunst as Lee Smith from Colorado, a bold, taciturn war photographer patterned after the famous World War II chronicler Lee Miller, who embedded with the military in Europe, and was among the first in Dachau concentration camp after liberation.

Dunst plays Lee as a hardened risk-taker who eventually shows signs of being weary of all the horror she’s witnessed. Wagner Moura is her more gregarious but still jaded colleague Joel, a reporter for Reuters News Service.

Their dispatches are defining images for a homeland where some folks are pretending it’s not happening. Their next assignment is taking them from New York City 800 miles away to D.C. to interview the president. 

With no mention of a name or party affiliation, he is serving his third term and is played with gravitas by Nick Offerman. We do know he abolished the FBI, and a bit of dialogue refers to an ‘anti-fa massacre.’

The pair are trying to get to the White House before rebel factions do, and complications arise with the addition of two passengers. 

Their professional rival, a grizzled veteran named Sammy from the New York Times, tags along – and he’s played by first-class character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson.

The film’s strength lies in the performances, with Cailee Spaeny a standout as Jessie, a novice photographer whose encounter with her role model Lee leads to her inclusion in the car. Lee is reluctantly forced to take Jessie under her wing, and it’s on the job training in a hurry.

Garland prefers to keep a distance instead of emotionally engaging us, as the desensitized journalists are sketched in broad strokes. Fueled by adrenaline, they fearlessly rush into danger while others flee it – because that is what they do.

Garland uses snapshots of their work to demonstrate the impact of visual images in telling a story. Cinematographer Rob Hardy’s vivid work is exceptional as he contrasts the bucolic countryside with the bloody chaos of bombings. Hardy has collaborated with Garland before, on his acclaimed “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation.”

While journalists are notorious for gallows humor, these cynical correspondents go about their jobs with workmanlike precision. Yet, the trauma they witness has changed them – although we don’t get too many details.

That is a frustrating aspect of this film – the lack of specifics, which is intentional, but confusing because it is so vague. I get Garland’s point that he’s trying to be sly, but whether he’s lensing the aftermath of apathy or anarchy — or both — is unclear.

Several states have alliances, and soldiers from the Western Forces are headed to the capital. Don’t waste time trying to figure out what California, Texas and Florida are up to because you’re not going to find out.

Garland has written some of the best sci-fi films of the new millennium, including “28 Days Later,” “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go.”

His films always pack a visceral punch, and for this one, the examples of torture and war crimes are grisly. Just as chilling, though, are glimpses of random weaponized citizens roaming in quaint small towns.

Editor Jake Roberts has done a fine job of plunging us into the darkness and despair of this depiction. The sound work is award-worthy, from the loud bursts of ricocheting bullets to the primal screams you don’t hear.

However, for all its bravura, the film’s needle-drops are puzzling, and are more jarring than appropriate. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s odd choices in music don’t seem to fit the action that we’re witnessing.

In the controversy-courting “Civil War,” a Brit gives us an unsettling look at a fractured America without much rhetoric, which could be a clarion call if it wasn’t so detached in its details.

Yet, it’s impossible not to be affected in some way by it. We have been watching similar footage in other countries, and now, this hits close to home. Garland is fueling opinions, that is for sure. Given such an inflammatory subject matter, the post-release debates should be interesting. 

(As Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.” — Judge Taylor)

“Civil War” is a 2024 action science fiction film written and directed by Alex Garland and starring Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Sonoya Mizuno, and Nick Offerman. It is rated R for strong violent content, bloody/disturbing images, and language throughout, and runs 1 hour, 49 minutes. It opens in theatres April 12. Lynn’s Grade: somewhere between a B- and a C+.

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By CB Adams
It must have been a challenge trying to fill the Stifel Theater on April 5 for a program with the St. Louis Symphony and guest conductor Ward Stare playing backup band to The Music of R.E.M. Die-hard symphony goers might have resisted a hybrid program of orchestral interpretations of R.E.M. songs and the “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra” by the band’s bassist, Mike Mills.

The program might have been overshadowed by the reputation of R.E.M., one of the most influential rock bands from the early 1980s to the early aughts, known for their melodic-yet-enigmatic sound, poetic lyrics and the distinctive vocals of frontman Michael Stipe.

On the other side of the spectrum die-hard R.E.M. fans who want nothing less than the band to reunite (good luck with that), might have resisted the program for softening and diluting R.E.M.’s potent oeuvre. Despite the challenges of such perceptions or expectations, St. Louisans delivered a respectable showing while the symphony Mills delivered a satisfying experience that beautifully integrated rock elements into classical structures.

The first half of the performance were two sets of “Orchestral Reconstructions” of R.E.M. songs by composers Carl Marsh and David Mallamud. It is these two composers who deserve the kudos for this portion of the program – come for the R.E.M., stay for Marsh, Mallamud and the SLSO.

Emphasizing a desire for originality, Mills expressed his preference for orchestral pieces that incorporated R.E.M. melodies in innovative ways rather than relying on conventional symphonic embellishments. And that’s exactly what was most interesting and intriguing about these works.

Other than the occasional recognizable phrase, they weren’t really recognizable as R.E.M. songs. Even if you knew nothing of R.E.M., these reconstructions stand alone as enjoyable experiences. For instance, you wouldn’t miss Stipe’s plaintive howl in “Cuyahoga” even if you knew the song – that’s how differently distinctive Marsh’s interpretation is.

Mills and McDuffie in concert with Winston-Salem Orchestra. J Farley Photography.

Several years ago, Mills approached Marsh with a commission, inviting him to “deconstruct” several R.E.M. songs (a mix of hits and personal favorites) and create new orchestral compositions from their elements. Marsh is known for his eclectic blend of classical orchestration and contemporary electronic elements, crafting immersive soundscapes that traverse genres with depth and innovation.

Mills tasked Marsh deconstructing five R.E.M. songs: “Pilgrimage” from Murmur (1983), “Cuyahoga” from Life;s Rich Pageant (1986), “Near Wild Heaven” from Out of Time (1991), and “Try Not To Breathe” and “Everybody Hurts” from Automatic for the People (1992). Marsh’s approach to “Everybody Hurts,” R.E.M.’s iconic song, involved exploring variations of the dominant piano line’s triplet patterns.

To complement Marsh’s contributions, Mills enlisted David Mallamud, a renowned composer and arranger, to deconstruct another set of R.E.M. songs. Mallamud’s selections included “Fall on Me” from Life’s Rich Pageant (1986), “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” and “The One I Love” from Document (1987), “Find the River” and “Man on the Moon” from Automatic for the People
(1992), and “Supernatural Superserious” from Accelerate (2008).

Mallamud’s approach differed from Marsh’s, resulting in a single long suite composed of his six deconstructed pieces that began that flowed from the Intro and Bargaining through Denial, Anger, Depression and Acceptance. All interpretations were strong, but the last song, a jaunty “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” was the clear crowd-pleaser.

The second half of the performance featured Mill’s own “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band, and Orchestra,” which is a hybrid of a song suite and a true concerto. The piece is a collaboration between Mills and lifelong friend and violin virtuoso Robert McDuffie, who is known for his appearances with prestigious ensembles like the New York and London Philharmonic Orchestras.

Debuting in 2016, the concerto has been performed a dozen times and explores a unique fusion of rock and classical elements. Unlike previous attempts at blending these genres, the concerto stands out for its focus on melody, effectively marrying the raw energy of rock with the sophistication of a string ensemble.

Divided into six sections, the concerto resembles more of a diverse suite than a cohesive violin-centric composition. Notably, the orchestration and additional music contributions from David Mallamud underscore the collaborative nature of the piece. As you might expect, the rock influence predominated during this performance, with Mills assuming his role on bass alongside McDuffie, William Tonks on guitar and Gerry Hansen on drums.

Unlike previous attempts at blending these genres, the concerto stands out for its focus on melody, effectively marrying the raw energy of rock with the sophistication of a string ensemble. This was most evident in “Stardancer’s Waltz,” during which McDuffie fully explored a variety of riffs that could make the tune an enduring standard.

Mills in concert at another hall with this touring show.

He showcased remarkable confidence and strength in his rendition of melody lines and demonstrated mastery in precision, fluidity and speed. He also displayed skills that would challenge even the most adept electric guitarists, which contributed immensely to the success of this hybrid concerto.

Another crowd-pleaser was “A Little Nightswimming,” a poignant, piano-driven track from R.E.M.’s acclaimed 1992 album, Automatic For The People – and a personal favorite. “Nightswimming,” is one of the best songwriting achievements that Mills made with R.E.M. and the concerto’s version was a beautiful, graceful duet between Mills and McDuffie.

For those who took a chance on the SLSO’s R.E.M. performance (let’s call ourselves shiny, happy people), the experience demonstrated that the mutability of music is a big tent that can accommodate hybridizations among genres. After all, classical composers from Bartók and Dvořák to Copland and Williams have drawn folk songs and popular music, infusing classical compositions with the rich cultural
tapestry of their respective regions. And you can add Mills to that list.

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By Alex McPherson

Bone-crunchingly violent and layered with social commentary, director Dev Patel’s “Monkey Man” is an action thriller that packs a real punch, in more ways than one.

Our unnamed protagonist (Patel), called the Kid in the credits, lives in the perpetually dark slums of Yatana (a fictional city modeled off Mumbai), where skyscrapers overshadow the have-nots below, and religion is used by those in authority as a tool to retain power above all else.

The Kid makes ends meet working as a fighter in an underground club run by the sadistic Tiger (a typically unhinged, scenery-chewing Sharlto Copley). Performing under the guise of a character named Monkey Man, the Kid gets paid when he loses matches and only receives his full fee if Tiger sees him bleed in the ring. 

It’s a bleak existence; a reflection of the Kid’s tortured soul molded with trauma, quietly biding his time to get enough money for a gun and find the moment to strike back. Kid’s fury stems from a tragic childhood, wherein the corrupt police chief Rana (Sikandar Ker, perfectly detestable) murdered his mother, Neela (Adithi Kalkunte), while Rana and his cronies, under guidance from a blatantly evil spiritual guru Baba Shakti (Makarande Deshpande), burned his forest-dwelling community to the ground to take their land. Kid’s hands are scorched and rugged: a reflection of his past and the vengeance he’s compelled to deliver against Rana one day.

When the Kid was little, Neela told him the story of the Hindu deity Hanuman, who consumed the sun (thinking it was a fruit), was stripped of his powers, and gradually reacquired them to lead an army against forces of evil. This story left a deep mark on the Kid, and helps further his desire for righteous payback.

The Kid finds a high-end nightclub/brothel called Kings, run by Queenie (Ashwini Kalsekar), that’s frequented by Rana and his cronies. The Kid swiftly gets hired as a kitchen worker via returning Queenie’s “stolen” wallet and returning it to her (depicted like a Rube Goldbergian system of handoffs among crowded city streets and rooftops). He befriends Alphonso (Pitobash), a gangster working for Queenie who owns a super-charged tuk-tuk and provides most of the film’s comic relief.

After helping Alphonso win a large bet on one of Kid’s matches in exchange for a promotion, the Kid is granted access to the VIP room, where Rana often makes an appearance. The Kid also meets the beautiful Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), a prostitute working for Queenie who shares the Kid’s deep-seated anger against authority figures.

The stage is set for maximum carnage, complete with a trusty canine who helps transport the Kid’s pistol of choice in a back alley handoff. Suffice to say, however, that the Kid’s machinations don’t go exactly to plan. Hyper violence ensues, the Kid is on the run, and unlikely allegiances form.

He fights resourcefully, and cartoonishly brutally, for the marginalized and to achieve some sort of justice for the wrongs committed against him and his community, starting from the bottom and willing to fight all the way to the top: taking no prisoners along the way as he gradually embodies the Hanuman of legend. 

Indeed, “Monkey Man” is an unrelenting thrill ride from start to finish, directed with sustained energy by Patel. It’s an abrasive, kinetic experience with rough edges that only add to its provocative charm. With balls-to-the-wall (and knives-in-mouths-to-throats) action sequences, cultural representation, and a tragic emotional core (unflinchingly detailing the horrors of India’s caste system and the cycles it perpetuates), “Monkey Man” effectively carves its own niche in the action genre while paying tribute to its cinematic inspirations, more “The Raid” and “Oldboy” than a mere “John Wick” knockoff. 

And boy oh boy, do those action scenes hit hard. “Monkey Man” is chock-full of gonzo, wince-inducing violence (which sometimes doubles as slapstick comedy) that lands with tangible force. Patel and cinematographer Sharone Meir find an excellent balance between clarity and chaos, throwing viewers into the action with dynamic camerawork that runs, flips, and swerves with each strike, putting us right in the thick of it, fighting to keep up with the carnage on display. 

Anything and everything at-hand is used at combatants’ disposal (microwaves, firecrackers, good ole’ chompers), and Patel most assuredly does not cut away from gnarly impacts. The flow of these sequences syncs with the Kid’s own arc, expertly reflecting his growth from an impulsive man seeking justice to someone fighting for a purpose beyond himself. 

Patel, lean and ripped, with expressive eyes that convey a man driven by self-destructive determination, brings pathos and frightening, live-wire energy to the role. We see a man wracked with trauma, guilt, and possessing a fierce desire for revenge, communicating multitudes through his haunted eyes alone as someone willing to go to any length to find some semblance of peace through violence. 

Patel’s performance would, by itself, sell the Kid’s rage and thirst for vengeance, but part of the thrill of “Monkey Man” is how the film brings viewers into his world and mind. Meir’s frenetic, grimy cinematography (complemented by a badass soundtrack and dramatic, percussive score by Jed Kurzel) flies through Yatana’s seedy underbelly and grows more controlled over time, evolving as the Kid evolves, hypnotic in its eventual singularity of form and vision. 

Scattered flashbacks mix in tranquil memories of Neela’s teachings with the shocking massacre of their village, forcefully emphasizing the thoughts that dominate the Kid’s every waking moment and sometimes becoming downright horrific. This establishes the grim momentum of a wronged man charting a path towards revenge and, likely, his own death. 

But later on, when the Kid is saved from near-death and subsequently trained by the hijra (a tribe of third-gender people marginalized by Baba’s government) to confront his trauma and follow in Hanuman’s footsteps, “Monkey Man” becomes almost euphoric. The jagged, at-times clunky film that came before morphs into something more confident, assured, and focused on what it wants to be.

We’re witness to a rousing training montage that’s electric in its musicality and depth of feeling – the claustrophobic intensity of what came before releasing in a kind of focused catharsis for the Kid, and by extension, us as viewers, as the film leans into hallucinogenic imagery and brings in actual news footage of modern day India.

The resulting film, while familiar in its revenge-genre-beats, is almost uncomfortably effective at putting us in the Kid’s psyche: religion and rage guiding him towards bloody salvation underneath the story’s deceptively simple “Eat the Rich” appearance.

It’s to the film’s credit that we’re with the Kid nearly every step of the way, stepping back once the end credits roll to examine what’s been gained and lost along his anarchic path – self-actualization or loss of personhood, and if his actions even mean anything for the future of Yatana. Patel, provocatively, leaves us to come to our own conclusions.

Whether or not the film’s commentary on the state of India today is particularly insightful, too, is up for debate (and something I’m not qualified to evaluate with my limited cultural knowledge), but as a crowd-pleasing action film that finds new avenues into a familiar genre, “Monkey Man” delivers the goods, albeit not for the squeamish. It’s an experience that deserves recognition (and the big screen treatment, thank you Jordan Peele), and signals Patel as a director capable of something truly legendary in the future.

“Monkey Man” is a 2024 action thriller directed by Dev Patel and starring Patel, Sharlto Copley, Adithi Kalkunte, Ashwini Kalsekar, Makarande Deshpande, Sikandar Ker and Sobhita Dhulipala. It is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use, and the runtime is 2 hours, 1 minute. It opened in theatres April 5. Alex’s Grade: A-.

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By Lynn Venhaus

“Xanadu” is a silly bunch of nonsense – and that is its intention. A spoof of the ridiculous 1980 romantic musical fantasy movie must be playful, and Stray Dog Theatre leans into the stage musical comedy sendup with full-bodied camp.

The theater company’s affinity for broad comedy romps is well-known, and they’ve presented these types of crowd-pleasers for years, from “Evil Dead: The Musical” and “Triassic Parq” to Charles Busch’s oeuvre “Red Scare at Sunset,” “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” and “Psycho Beach Party,” among them.

And they gleefully double-down on this show’s cheesiness. Director Justin Been takes great delight in skewering the movie’s premise as a turgid soap opera that’s part “Saturday Night Live” sketch (think of the deliberate exaggerated acting in “The Californians”) and part old-timey Hollywood studio system dream factory, sprinkled with fairy dust.

To fully understand the surprising transformation from movie to Broadway, here’s a little backstory. Somehow, after the film was totally trashed upon its release, it developed a cult audience, and then in 2007, a stage adaptation was Tony-nominated for Best Musical. Stranger things.

The comical book was written by Douglas Carter Beane, who won a Drama Desk Award for it and is known for his musical adaptations of “Cinderella” and “Sister Act.” He wrote the 1995 movie “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” Stray Dog Theatre produced his Tony-nominated play, “The Little Dog Laughed,” in 2014.

Being familiar with the movie “Xanadu” is not a prerequisite to enjoy this farcical show, but it helps if you have some knowledge of ancient Greek mythology, for Beane incorporates the shlocky epic “Clash of the Titans” into his themes, including the Immortals.

Photo by John Lamb

The wackadoodle screenplay by Richard Danus and Marc Rubel was already inspired by the 1947 Rita Hayworth movie “Down to Earth,” which features muses showing up to teach Earthlings a lesson. Fun fact: Xanadu is the exotic name of Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan’s summer palace.

This far-fetched plot doesn’t take itself seriously – or shouldn’t. Set in Los Angeles, the 44-year-old movie focused on a beautiful muse (pop star Olivia Newton-John riding the ‘Grease’ wave) who inspires a young hunky artist (Michael Beck, fresh from “The Warriors”) and his older friend (Gene Kelly! Yes, the ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ icon) to convert a dilapidated auditorium into a hip roller-skating club, all set to the beat of Yacht Rock songs.

She is forbidden to fall in love with a mortal, but two mean-spirited sisters (Calliope and Melpomene) concoct a curse, and chaos ensues. Is it surprising that it was nominated for six Razzie Awards?

At the first Golden Raspberry Awards in 1981, the movie lost the worst picture award to another truly awful musical, “Can’t Stop the Music,” which was a pseudo-autobiography of the Village People and starred then-Bruce Jenner (now Kaitlyn), Oscar nominee Valerie Perrine and Steve Guttenberg (Gotta love the ‘80s!). But the “Xanadu” director Robert Greenwald did take a Razzie home.

See if this makes any kind of sense: Artist Sonny Malone – Phil Leveling having a blast doing ‘beach’ dressed like Malibu Ken and talking like a righteous dude – has completed a mural at Venice Beach that he’s not satisfied with, so he wants to end it all.

He has a chance encounter with Clio, a muse masquerading as a fetching Aussie named Kira who roller skates and wears leg warmers. She sprang eternally from the Mount Olympus artwork, and her effect has made him change his mind. She is played with a wink and a smile by Shannon Lampkin Campbell.

They pair well on their duets “Suddenly” and “Suspended in Time.”

Shannon Lampkin Campbell and Phil Leveling. Photo by John Lamb

However, she didn’t arrive alone. Because Sonny envisioned the Immortals, her six sisters (Zeus’ daughters) magically appear, cavorting in their goddess cosplay – two are guys in drag.

Eight are part of the ensemble in multiple roles: Mateo Bluemel, Sarah Gene Dowling, Lindsey Grojean, Chelsie Johnston, Madison Mesiti, Drew Mizell, Katie Orr, and Lauren Tenenbaum.

Dowling, as Calliope, and Johnston, as Melpomene, inject much humor in “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic,” two of Electric Light Orchestra’s power-pop songs added to the stage musical.

Sonny’s new dream is to turn an old theater into a roller disco. He tries to convince a wealthy real estate magnet Danny McGuire, a former Big Band musician, to give him the property, and eventually they become partners. But the road to success is rocky.

Kira’s presence re-awakens part of Danny’s past where he had a memorable fling with a look-alike named Kitty. This is all played for laughs, as well it should. That leads to a snazzy ‘40s-style song-and-dance because Gene Kelly played the film role, so of course (“When You’re Away from Me”).

Scott Degitz-Fries, a lithe dancer whose smooth moves on local stages are always admirable, is effortless in these dancing sequences. He has mad roller-skating skills and is a former competitive figure skater (made it to the national finals in high school), so he also served as roller-skating consultant.

Everyone else is trying very hard, and skills vary, but you can’t knock people doing their best given such a demanding challenge.

Photo by John Lamb.

Choreographer Mike Hodges worked the moves out with Degitz-Fries, and he created the bouncy musical group numbers so that it accurately resembles late ‘70s, early ‘80s dance-floor action: “I’m Alive,” “Magic,” and “All Over the World,” with a grand “Xanadu” are bright spots.

A mash-up scene that attempts to duplicate the movie’s “Battle of the Bands” between The Tubes, which was a rock band then (you may recall their 1983 “She’s a Beauty”), and an Andrews Sisters type girl-group circa World War II. Called “Dancin’,” it is a tad messy, and the ill-fitting costumes hamper the girl duo in their movements because of the clingy fabric. Cute little hats, nevertheless.

Costume designer Colleen Michelson’s dresses are mostly distracting and unflattering. Overall, the muses’ cheap-looking chiffon outfits don’t seem suitable, with tacky designs and shoddy material – unless it’s done on purpose? Are they meant to be versions of flimsy Johnny Brock Halloween costumes for quirky ‘80s looks? Costumers must adhere to budgets, but to me, the styles are a disconnect for the female characters. Now the Mount Olympus white gowns are fine, and the guys’ attire is, too.

Music director Leah Schultz and her zesty band keep the beat peppy – Adam Rugo on guitar, Randon Lane on second keyboard, and Joe Winters on percussion. They have added some amusing riffs, too.

Leveling is strong leading the power ballad “Don’t Walk Away” that ends Act I on a good note, while the finale “Xanadu” gets the crowd on their feet.

Campbell set the right tone for Newton-John’s signature 1975 hit “Have You Never Been Mellow” that was added to the stage musical and winds up a memorable ensemble piece.

Photo by John Lamb.

ELO’s Jeff Lynne is credited with music numbers, as is John Farrar, Newton-John’s longtime producer. Their work propelled the soundtrack to skyrocketing sales that ended that year with twice-platinum numbers.

Director Been also simply constructed the set so that movement could flow on the small stage, and it was illuminated well by lighting designer Tyler Duenow.

Because of its lightweight goofy premise that can only be stretched so far, one’s relieved when the wrap-up comes around 2 hours (with an intermission). Pacing is uneven at times, and the show can get a little shaggy. The meaning of this falderal? “Xanadu” is “true love and the ability to create and share art.”

The film came out at a time when everyone had been trying to duplicate the magic of “Saturday Night Fever” and disco, so hot for a brief time, was waning. And the stage musical came out at a time that jukebox musicals were emerging as a trend, such as “Mamma Mia!” and the retro “Hairspray.” Ah, that elusive “Next Big Thing.”

This production of “Xanadu” is well-meaning fluff, with entertaining tongue-in-cheek performances, so don’t expect more – just go with the good vibes coming from kitschy pop culture.

“Xanadu” is going to hit people differently, depending on when and how this tale came into their lives – whether they were young listening to the soundtrack on their Walkman, or today, enjoying a sentimental walk down memory lane.

Photo by John Lamb.

Stray Dog Theatre presents “Xanadu” from April 4 to April 27, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. April 14 and April 21 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2348 Tennessee Ave, St. Louis, MO 63104/ For tickets or more information, visit www.straydogtheatre.org

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Nada Vaughn, whose dedication to music and theatre in St Louis began as a schoolgirl and flourished in later years as an integral part of Clayton Community Theatre, is this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient at the 9th Annual Theater Mask Awards on April 20.

She was part of school plays as a youth, majored in voice and minored in theater and education in college, and retired from teaching music at Bishop DuBourg High School in 2010.

Nada Vaughn

After that, she devoted more time to music, theater, and art. At Clayton Community Theatre, she has been board president, producer, director, music director, assistant director, stage manager, house manager, concession manager, sound designer, and on crews for sets and lights.

She received a TMA award for directing “A Soldier’s Play” in 2021, and has directed “Black Coffee,” “Unexpected Guest,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Night Must Fall,” “Two Trains Running,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Murder on the Nile.”

Tickets are now available for the Arts For Life annual awards ceremonies for community theater recognition.

Through the nonprofit organization AFL, the TMAs have honored drama and comedy plays since 2015.

This year’s 9th annual Theatre Mask Awards will take place starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, at the Royale Orleans banquet center, 2801 Telegraph Road, St. Louis, Mo. 63125. Doors open at 10:30 a.m.

Awards will be presented in 17 categories as lunch is served. Cocktail attire is suggested. Tickets to the event are $30 + $2 service fee. Table seating is available at 10 per table. A full meal will be served, and a cash/card bar will be available.

O’Fallon Theatre Works topped all TMA nominations with 23, with a production-leading 12 for “Radium Girls” and 11 for “Emma: Portrait of a Lady.”

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild followed with 16 overall, six for both “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” with Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” garnering four.

Monroe Actors Stage Company in Waterloo had a total of 14, including 10 for “Unnecessary Farce,” three for “Father of the Bride” and one for “Fuddy Meers.”

Act Two Theatre in St. Peters earned 12 TMA nominations, including 11 for “Peter and the Starcatcher” and one for “Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses.”

Other groups receiving TMA nominations included Clayton Community Theatre, Looking Glass Playhouse and Theatre Guild of Webster Groves.

“This has been one of our best years yet for community theatre plays, and it shows in just how many of the productions received nominations,” said TMA Chairman Melissa Boyer. “I am so proud of all of our groups that put all their heart into these productions, and of all of our judges that take the time to go to so many shows.”

Mark Lull

Mark Lull returns as the master of ceremonies after hosting in 2022. A 10-time AFL nominee, he won Best Performance by a Comedic Actor as Uncle Fester in Alfresco Productions’ “The Addams Family” in 2015.

A retired school principal, he has performed at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, The Muny, and with other theater companies in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is currently teaching early childhood education at St. Louis Community College and serves as vice president on the AFL board of directors.

Tickets are available online with a service fee of $2 added: https://arts-for-life-2.square.site/.

A combination ticket for both TMAs and Best Performance Awards, at a discounted price of $50 with a $2 service fee, is available, but must be purchased by April 12.

The BPAs have honored musical theater in community and youth productions for 24 years. The awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, June 30, at 2 p.m. at the Keating Theater at Kirkwood High School. Formal attire is requested, and the event will be reserved-style seating. Soft drinks and snacks will be available in the lobby. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.

The event will include performances from the top musicals nominated in the three Best Musical Production categories. Tickets to the show are $30.00 + a $2.00 service fee per ticket. Seating is reserved seating.

Cast members of “Calendar Girls,” and director Deanna Jent, which Kirkwood Theatre Guild presented in 2022, winner of best comedy at the TMAs April 2023, with trophy presenter Natalie Klick. Photo by Chuck Hill.
Cast members of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” at Hawthorne Players, and director Ken Clark, which won Best Drama Production at the 2023 TMAs. Chuck Hill Photo.

AFL Community Theatre Awards

Nominations are listed on the website, www.artsforlife.org.

Arts For Life is a local not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to the healing power of the arts through its work with youth, the underserved, and the community, with its goal of “Making a Dramatic Difference.”

AFL is dedicated to promoting public awareness of local community theatre, encouraging excellence in the arts, and acknowledging the incredible people who are a part of it.

“Arts For Life provides a community recognition program. These events recognize the incredible talent we have in St. Louis community theater and honor the passion and dedication of those who build this amazing and unique theatrical community,” said Mary McCreight, AFL president.

Nomination and selection of the community theatre awards are done by a special committee, i.e., the Theatre Recognition Guild, made up of theatre critics, drama teachers, professional performers or artists, members of community theatre groups, and people who just have an avid interest in theatre.

This committee reviews each of the theatrical productions as an audience member and scores each participant in each category.  

Theatre groups within a 35-mile radius of Clayton, Mo., who hold open auditions for non-paid actors are invited to participate.

For more information, email afltrg@artsforlife.org or visit the website, www.artsforlife.org

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By Lynn Venhaus

In the words of Roy Hobbs, “God, I love baseball.”

Now that the season has started and the Cardinals home opener is April 4, I’m ready to dig into the always and forever America’s pastime. And we’re returning to Movie List Monday (no fooling!). Through the years, I may have changed the rank of these favorites, but they embody everything I love about movies and my favorite sport. They are timeless. And I am unabashedly sentimental.

I grew up in a family of jocks, and the sounds of baseball are part of the soundtrack of my childhood. One of my uncles played in “The Show” for a few years. My first MLB game was at Comiskey Park in Chicago on May 15, 1962, when my dad’s brother, Marion “Bud” Zipfel, was on the Washington Senators. His parents, his brother (my dad) and his twin sister (my aunt), and I drove up in the wee hours of the morning. I was 7 years old, and even though the Senators lost to the White Sox 4-3, I was entranced by all the hoopla – the exploding scoreboard!

So those warm summer nights listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck on the radio on our screened-in porch were as much a part of the ’60s as riding bikes. listening to Beatles records and reading Nancy Drew. My brothers Mike and Matt always had gloves and bats in their hands. We’d call for them to come home for dinner after spending their afternoons on our neighborhood sandlot — Brennan’s empty lot a street over.

Matt was a gifted athlete, and was a fierce catcher. He played for Belleville West High School, American Legion and went on to Western Illinois University, but later transferred to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and played for the Cougars, then was a catcher in the Mon-Clair League, for the Belleville Buds.. He was a teacher and coach for 35 years until his untimely death from a terminal illness in 2019. We scattered some of his ashes on the home field of his youth.(Frame of reference: think Bill Murray in “Meatballs.” That was Matthew John Zipfel.)

Being part of Cardinal Nation means we have shared experiences, and we can talk about Pujols’ crushed clutch home run against Houston in the 2005 National League playoffs, Jack Clark’s walk-off three-run homer against the Dodgers in 1985, Ozzie’s flip every home opener, Gibby’s record-breaking 17 strikeouts against Detroit in 1968 (we watched the game in P.E. class!) and the two strikes away in 2011.

I have so many fond memories of watching the Cardinals in the World Series during the ’60s, ’80s, 2000s and beyond, with Game 6 in 2011 the all-time greatest victory in my lifetime. We are instantly bonded by talking about those experiences — even with strangers at the grocery store.

Visiting stadiums has been another favorite activity — there is nothing like a Cardinals vs. Cubs match in Wrigley Field, but I’ve been fortunate to see the Green Monster at Fenway, the fountains at the KC Royals, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Texas Rangers, and more. The rituals of baseball have been part of my family all our lives: “Here Comes the King!”

As a film buff, any baseball movie would be must-see viewing, but what makes it special? Is it the combination of drama and comedy in the challenges, the classic characters — underdogs, heroes and villains, and high-stakes triumph and misfortune that draw us all in? What makes the leap to a fan-favorite that you can watch again and again? I have lost count of how many times I’ve watched my favorites. And how many times friends and family quote these movies.

On a Saturday night in April 1989, I remember how seeing how transfixed the audience was by “Field of Dreams.” Nobody knew much about it, and here was Kevin Costner, becoming the “It” actor after “Bull Durham” a year earlier and “The Untouchables” in 1987, playing an Iowa farmer. Sportswriters I knew had talked about the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, and that was my only frame of reference. What a magical experience — we left the cinema with a spring in our step, knowing that we had seen something special. And now it’s part of our culture.

And leads to shedding tears — the father and son catch scene in “Field of Dreams’ gets me misty-eyed every time. (and well, when MLB played in Dyersville, Iowa, for real, emotions ran high). There may be no crying in baseball, but I certainly have reached for a tissue a time or two when watching baseball movies.

For every smart “Moneyball,” there are less than stellar attempts (“Mr. Baseball,” “Million Dollar Arm”), and for every heartwarming “The Sandlot,” there are pale imitations. I wish they were all winners, but it’s hard to achieve that special mix of relatable comedy/drama and action..

Two films on my list did not have a theatrical release, “61*” was an HBO original, and far superior than many traditional studio films — it is a masterpiece, and directed by Billy Crystal. “Long Gone Summer” was on ESPN in 2020, directed by Edwardsville, Ill.’s outstanding documentarian A J Schnack. He gets it, he lived it too.

I’ve whittled down a long list to 20 favorites, with streaming information. What are some of yours?

Kevin Costner, Gaby Hoffman, Burt Lancaster.


1. Field of Dreams (1989) – OK, John Delaney’s riff on nonsensical sequences in the movie at this year’s Oscars was very funny. Yet, I defy anyone to listen to Major League Baseball players recite James Earl Jones’ monologue about “people will come, Ray” as they did for the opening of the 2015 season and not be moved.

It’s tradition, it’s generational, it’s spiritual. “It reminds us of all that once was good…and it could be again.”
It was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Phil Alden Robinson’s screenplay and James Horner’s unforgettable music score.

It evokes so many different emotions and is very personal to many moviegoers, and let’s leave it at that. But what a great turn as Moonlight Graham by Frank Whaley and Burt Lancaster, and Ray Liotta is marvelously nuanced as maligned Shoeless Joe.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Starz. Available to rent on various platforms.

Robert Redford

2. The Natural (1984) – Ah, the mythology. Cue up Randy Newman’s iconic Oscar-nominated score. Zero in on the bat named “Wonderboy” and be in awe of Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography.

The unforgettable story of Roy Hobbs, “the best there ever was,” a middle-age ballplayer whose mysterious past has blocked his clear career path to baseball greatness. Yet, he persists. Barry Levinson’s adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s bleaker novel has a terrific heavyweight cast led by Robert Redford , including Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher, Robert Duvall as Max Mercy, Kim Basinger as Memo Paris, Richard Farnsworth as Red Blow, Barbara Hershey, as Harriet Bird, Robert Prosky as the Judge, Darren McGavin as Gus Sands,. Joe Don Baker as The Whammer, and Oscar-nominated Glenn Close as Iris Gaines, his childhood sweetheart.

When seeing a great baseball moment, I often feel like the giddy batboy, when the lights are sending sparks all over the field.
Currently streaming on Starz, but you can rent it on various video platforms.

Barry Pepper and Thomas Jaynes in “61*.

3. 61* (2001) – In 1927, Babe Ruth crushed 60 home runs. In the summer of 1961, two very different Yankees pursued the same record — Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. This drama, directed by mega-fan Billy Crystal, gets everything right. And after Mark McGwire broke that record in 1998, this puts that achievement in perspective. We know what happens, but like “Air,” it is the disclosing all the personal tidbits that makes it so compelling. Barry Pepper’s never been better as Maris.

Currently streaming on Max and available to rent on various platforms.

Oscar nominees Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

4. Moneyball (2011) – Sabermetrics — literally a game-changer in Major League Baseball. Filmmakers took Michael Lewis’s book and made a funny, intelligent underdog story that was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, story by Stan Chervin), Actor (Brad Pitt), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Editing and Sound Mixing. Stats are a big part of sports, but the engaging story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s attempt to put together a team with the lowest budget in the league is full of star charisma. Beane uses computer-generated analysis to draft players. Dare I say this film hits it out of the park? What a strong supporting cast too – Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe and Chris Pratt as a young player are my favorites in a very colorful cast.

Currently streaming on Netflix and AMC+ and is available to rent on various platforms.


5. The Sandlot (1993) – Benny the Jet, Ham, Smalls, Yeah Yeah…you know them, you love them. “The Sandlot” rode to immortality on its word of month as a blast of nostalgia for anyone who played ball as a kid. This is the movie that gave us “You’re killing me, Smalls!” and continues to evoke universal warm feelings. When Smalls (Thomas Guiry) moves into a new neighborhood, he joins a group of kids to play ball with — and their antics are the stuff of summers long ago. There is a keepsake ball, a dog called “The Beast” and more in this delightful comedy that came out on April 1, 1993, and continues to elicit big grins to this day.

Currently streaming on Disney Plus

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig.

6. The Pride of the Yankees (1942) – Gary Cooper is the iconic Lou Gehrig in this classic that even has Babe Ruth playing Babe Ruth! Nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and actor, it won one – for editing. This tear-jerking film traces the private life and the public heroics of the “Iron Man” who played in 2,130 consecutive games before losing his battle with the nerve disease ALS. There isn’t a dry eye when Cooper gives the famous “Luckiest Man” speech at his farewell day in 1939.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Peacock, and is available for rent on various platforms.

7. Eight Men Out (1988) – Writer-director John Sayles smartly delves into the worst scandal in baseball history, when seven players on the Chicago White Sox, distressed by their owner Charles Comiskey’s cheap wages, agree to throw the 1919 World Series for a group of professional gamblers. Forever known as “The Black Sox Scandal,” the backstory is complicated, and adapted from Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book.

A strong cast gives these ruined real-life characters emotional heft, including D. B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson, John Cusack as Buck Weaver, David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte, James Read as Lefty Williams, Charlie Sheen as Hap Flesch, Gordon Clapp as Ray Schalk, Michael Rooker as Chick Gandil, John Mahoney as Kid Gleason, Bill Irwin as Eddie Collins, and Don Harvey as Swede Risberg.

Currently streaming on MGM Plus and Roku channel and available for rent on various platforms.

Kevin Costner, center, with Robert Wuhl at left and Tim Robbins at right.

8. Bull Durham (1988) – In retrospect, a darn fine script by Ron Shelton nails the idiosyncrasies and nomadic lives of players. Shelton, who also directed, was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay.

It’s a love triangle set against the backdrop of a minor league town. Poetry-loving Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) chooses one player from the Durham Bulls to take under her ‘wings’ each season, Her choices are narrowed down to Ebby LaLoush, an eccentric pitcher that she nicknames “Nuke,” and 12-year-veteran Crash Davis, a catcher — with Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner in those parts that cemented their place in baseball lore.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and available to rent on various platforms.

Yogi Berra

9. It Ain’t Over (2023) – Friends, family, broadcasters, and former players tell the story of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (1925-2015), the beloved St. Louis-born baseball legend who became famous for his funny proverbs and all-star career. This lovingly crafted documentary about one of our hometown heroes gives Yogi his due as not only a baseball great but colorful personality and family man who served our country valiantly in World War II.

Best known today for his sayings, like “It ain’t over till it’s over” and “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” now dubbed “Yogi-isms,” the movie showcases his popularity for philosophical nuggets as well as his easy-going demeanor. But his catching days are often overshadowed by those proverbs that became national catch phrases. He had a Hall of Fame career during the golden era of baseball in New York, playing for the Yankees from 1946 to 1963. The film’s meticulous details illustrate what a remarkable life he led.

Currently streaming on Netflix and available for rental on various platforms.

Tom Hanks and Geena Davis.

10. A League of their Own (1992) – A little known story, at the time of release, expertly transformed into a warm and wonderful comedy by director Penny Marshall. Before he won two Oscars, Tom Hanks was hilarious as a washed-up manager Jimmy Dugan who must mold the Rockford Peaches into contenders in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which played during World War II. The rest of the cast is stellar: Geena Davis and Lori Petty are the dueling sisters, Madonna’s in center field and Rosie O’Donnell is on third. All together now: “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Currently streaming on Peacock and AMC+ and available to rent on various platforms.

Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire summer of 1998.

11. Long Gone Summer (2020) – A fine documentary on the Big Mac- Slammin’ Sammy mania takes you right back to the moments 26 years ago, a time-capsule of one of the most memorable seasons in the history of baseball, when St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record of 61. The timing was right — it was four years after the 1994 strike, bringing fans back to the game with a lot of excitement and drama.

And then 15 years later, those feelings would be tarnished with the steroid-use revelations, and the film addresses the aftermath. The Congressional hearings took place in 2005, when the House Government Reform Committee looked into the allegations of steroid use in Major League Baseball and the adequacy of the league’s response. McGwire would admit to steroid use in 2010, claiming it was for injuries and he would have still hit the home runs. It was around the time he was hired as a hitting coach with the Cards. Sosa has always denied it.

Edwardsville’s own A.J. Schnack skillfully directed, and the noteworthy music score is by Belleville native Jeff Tweedy, of “Wilco” fame. It’s a gem, and was originally on ESPN’s “30 for 30.”

Currently streaming on Disney +.

Kansas City Monarchs pitching great Leroy Satchel Paige warms up at New York’s Yankee Stadium August 2, 1942 for a Negro League game between the Monarchs and the New York Cuban Stars. Paige was considered a top prospect for the major leagues after baseball’s commissioner ruled that there were no provisions barring players of color from the majors. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)

12. The League (2023) – Not to be confused with the long-running TV show, “The League,” this is a documentary on the triumphs and challenges of the Negro League and how it not only changed baseball but America, too. Some of the greatest players — Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell got their start in the league before MLB integrated.

Directed by Sam Pollard, who was nominated for an Oscar along with Spike Lee for “Four Little Girls,” and made the compelling docs “Mr. Soul!” and “MLK/FBI.” He has thoughtfully crafted together archival footage and interviews with legendary players as well as scholars who put perspective on this part of baseball history.

Currently streaming on Hulu and available for rent on various platforms.

Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen

13. Major League (1989) – Writer-Director David S. Ward, who won an Oscar for “The Sting” screenplay, crafted an entertaining — OK predictable, script. But the humor lands — my two sons quoted it all the time — and you betcha it’s silly. The plot is that the new owner of the Cleveland Indians wants to field a bad team so she can move them to Miami but three washed-up players help an astounding turn-around against all odds.

The tagline was: “When these three oddballs try to play hardball, the result is totally screwball” and this cast delivers — especially Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes, Tom Berenger, as Jake Taylor, Dennis Haysbert as Pedro Cerrano, Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn, Charlie Sheen as Ricky Vaughn , James Gammon as manager Lou Brown and Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle bring a lot of oomph to their roles.

Currently streaming on Max and available for rental on other platforms.

14. 42 (2013) – Chadwick Boseman made a strong impression as courageous Jackie Robinson in this inspiring biopic that chronicles the legend’s battle to break the racial barrier in baseball. In 1946. Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey recruited Robinson to be the first black Major Leaguer, which became a challenge because of racism from hostile players and fans, but he finds support as well. Writer-director Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of “L.A. Confidential” and was nominated for “Mystic River,” blends dramatic tension, romance and tight baseball action in a traditional style. Robinson, who died of a heart attack at age 53 in 1972, was a private person, so the movie doesn’t jazz up things to make it more flamboyant. The strong cast standouts include Harrison Ford as Rickey, and Lucas Black as teammate Pee Wee Reese.

In 1997, baseball commissioner Bud Selig retired Jackie’s number 42, and allowed those who already had it to still use it, but as of 2014, no player will ever have it again.

15. Bad News Bears (1976) – The 2005 remake can’t hold a candle to the original — even though through a modern lens, it’s wrong on so many levels. Yet, 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes because a team of misfits prevails.. In its day, it was laugh-out-loud funny. I mean, Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, a failed minor league hopeful as a grumpy Little League coach and Tatum O’Neal as pitching phenom Amanda Whurlitzer, her follow-up to her Oscar-winning performance in “Paper Moon.” A classic rag-tag team of scrappy underdogs will always be a fun watch.

Currently streaming on Showtime and available to rent on various platforms.

Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor.

16. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976) – A sports comedy about a star of the Negro Baseball League Bingo Long who leaves his team and convinces other stars to join him as free agent players touring the towns of the Midwest. Directed by John Badham, who would direct “Saturday Night Fever” the next year. What a fabulous cast! Headed by Billy Dee Williams as the pitcher BIngo Long, James Earl Jones as catcher Leon Carter, and Richard Pryor as right-fielder Charlie Snow.

Currently streaming on Starz and available for rental on various platforms.

Dennis Quaid and Angus T. Jones.

17. The Rookie (2002) – Dennis Quaid plays Jimmy Morris, the real-life Texas chemistry teacher and baseball coach who makes the major leagues at 35 and plays two years for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He agreed to try out if his high school team made the playoffs. It’s a crowd-pleaser directed by John Lee Hancock, who directed “The Blind Side,” and knows how to craft appealing family-friendly stories.

Playing his family are Rachel Griffiths as his wife, Angus T. Jones as his son and Brian Cox as his dad. A great example of not letting your dreams die.

Currently streaming on Disney + and available to rent on various platforms.

Rory Culkin and Trevor Morgan.

18. Chasing 3000 (2010) – Ray Liotta liked the script and joined the cast as the adult Mickey, so he narrates and also bookends the movie. It’s a sincere, heart-tugging tale of two brothers who idolized their childhood hero Roberto Clemente. After moving away from their beloved Pittsburgh, they embark on a road trip to see Clemente try to get his 3,000 hit the summer of 1972, and that turns into quite an adventure.

Writers Bill Mikita (his story), Cris D’Annunzio and director Gregory J. Lanesey capture that love of baseball, community and family ties, and yes, hits all those familiar beats, but there’s just something about its earnestness that draws us in to this true story. Those of us geezers who like to talk about the great players we’ve seen ion the field know how special Clemente was — and there is a reason MLB gives an annual award honoring the life of “The Great One.” Trevor Morgan is the elder brother, Mickey, a ballplayer, and Rory Culkin plays his brother Roger, who has muscular dystrophy. Their mom is played by Lauren Holly and Seymour Cassel is in the role of Poppy, their grandpa.

Come for the brother bonding and hero worship, stay for the late great character actor M. Emmet Walsh’s turn as a guy who helps them out — he has a Stan “the Man” story, too. Sometimes, a feel-good throwback to the ’70s hits the sweet spot. And don’t forget to have tissues close by.

Currently streaming on Peacock and available for rent on various platforms.

Blake Jenner plays Jake, Glen Powell plays Finnegan, Temple Baker plays Plummer and Forrest Vickery plays Coma.

19. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) – Writer-Director Richard Linklater’s free-wheeling blast-from-the-past comedy gives us a slice-of-life look at college baseball players in 1980. It’s very specific to a time and a place, and it reminded me so much of my youngest brother, who played college baseball, and youngest sister, who played college volleyball (see reference above to growing up in family of jocks), who were of that era. It may meander, but Linklater’s a master at creating vivid characters and believable dialogue. Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner and Ryan Guzman lead a young cast that also includes up-and-comers Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell and Zoey Deutch.

It is only available to rent on various platforms.

20. It Happens Every Spring (1949) – Admittingly, I haven’t seen this since my youth, but I recall how much my family loved this movie. Having St. Louis as the team doesn’t hurt! A college chemistry professor (Ray Milland) discovers a formula that makes a baseball repelled by wood. He tries out for the St. Louis Cardinals, and his screwball becomes his big-league ticket. Jean Peters plays his girlfriend and Paul Douglas is fun to watch as a teammate.

It is available to rent on various platforms.

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By Lynn Venhaus

Heartwarming and heartbreaking, “Molly Sweeney” lingers.

Albion Theatre’s intriguing first foray into producing an Irish play is a poignant mix of comedy and drama that prompts further reflection.

Three engaging performers, all delivering memory monologues without interaction, warmly relay their perspectives in an intimate setting that becomes quite special.

A master storyteller, playwright Brian Friel (1929-2015) followed in the grand Irish tradition of entertaining people through emotional connection. Considered one of the best modern dramatists, he published 24 plays, including “Philadelphia, Here I Come,” “Translations” and “Dancing at Lughnasa.”

In this thoughtful 1994 work, he intertwined hope and despair, fantasy and reality, and fate and destiny. He based his title character on a true story brought to light by famous neurologist Oliver Sacks, in an essay “To See and Not See,” later published in “An Anthropologist on Mars.”

The nearly unsinkable Molly is inspired by an Oklahoma man who had been functionally blind his whole life and underwent a rare operation to partially restore his sight, at the urging of his fiancé, in 1991. While initially the surgery was a success, the consequences were something else entirely.

In splendid lyrical prose, Friel weaves the frames of mind of three distinctive characters, whose meditations on their life choices are at once universal and specific – the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the triumphs, and the losses. This cast grabs our attention by pulling our heartstrings hard.

Molly (Maggie Wininger), 41, has been blind since she was 10 months old. An optimist despite her affliction, she takes delight in the simple pleasures of her life in Ballybeg, a fictional Irish town. She talks about her friends and neighbors with great affection, and is married to spirited Frank (CJ Langdon), who finds joy and wonder in nearly everything.

He persuades Molly, along with an eye surgeon, Mr. Rice (Paul Gutting), to go through an operation that may restore her sight. He thinks she’ll be complete. After all, what does she have to lose? (oh, in hindsight…).

Langdon, Wininger and Gutting. Photo by John Lamb

A radiant Wininger imbues Molly with cheer and charm. She’s realistic about the condition she lives with, daring not to dream of happiness ever after.

As their travails unfold, the trio spurs thoughts about how we perceive our place in the world, how we affect people and how we are affected by others during our lifetime learning processes.

C.J. Langdon, a newcomer to St. Louis, is impressive in his regional professional debut. As Frank, a tad off the wall, he’s enthusiastic in his outlook on life and dearly loves his wife, although he’s not as accomplished as others. His heart is pure, like Molly’s, and he is very funny.

Mr. Rice, the surgeon, has had more hard knocks than he wants people to know about, but his telltale sign of trouble is the copious amounts of whiskey he consumes. A once promising doctor, a tough betrayal sent him reeling, and he’s a shadow of his former self. But somehow, he pulled it together to give Molly back her sight. Will it restore his career?

Returning to the stage after 15 years’ absence, Gutting is a strong force, conveying his character’s success and failures in measured tones, and the regret is palpable.

The beauty of a black-box stage is how we can witness these deeply felt performances up close, and the attentive actors put their personal stamp on them.

Robert Ashton has superbly cast and directed this show, welcoming a shining Wininger back on stage after a real-life break to become a mother of two while introducing a fresh young talent in Langdon and heralding an admirable comeback by Gutting.

All three are marvelously in sync as they subtly shift tones, veering from elation and exuberance to deflated and melancholy.

Sadly, this trajectory reveals how Molly’s inherent gaiety about her independent life that Wininger beautifully embodies at first will seep away as she wrestles with all the expectations that sight has done to her psyche  – and how she was influenced by these two well-meaning men (they have their own dreams about being heroes).

Wininger bends her whole body to show us how Molly has used touch, smells, sounds and her own adaptations to live productively. It’s a noteworthy expressive performance physically besides nailing an appealing regional accent and captivating us with her tales.

In Friel’s examination of their lives, he raises questions about our quests for improvement at others’ expense if we’re comfortable with our life — perhaps we should be content with the cards we’re dealt. We should think about what we want, and not base decisions to please others, and maybe those urging us to change should step back.

The observations are sharply in focus in Albion’s finely put together work. An expert team behind the scenes – Gwynneth Rausch as assistant director and stage manager, Erik Kuhn’s effective minimalist set design, Eric Wennlund’s astute lighting design and Ashton’s precise sound design – keep attention on the characters.

Costume designer Tracey Newcomb dressed them in comfy attire appropriate to their social place – an attractive print dress for Molly, casual sweater for Frank, and then jacket and corduroys for the doctor.

Albion always spotlights music reflecting their shows’ culture, and their pre-show and intermission pieces are written by Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th century blind harpist, composer, and singer that some consider Ireland’s national composer.

It suits the presentation well, just like everything assembled for this stirring piece.

First performed in Dublin, “Molly Sweeney” arrived in America in 1996 for an off-Broadway production by Roundabout Theatre starring Catherine Byrne as Molly, Alfred Molina as Frank, and Jason Robards as Mr. Rice. That show won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. A revival happened in 2013 in west London, then the Irish Repertory Theatre performed it on screen in 2020.

Albion’s smart choice allows us to delve into Friel’s discerning sensibilities and vivid characters passionately refreshed by Wininger, Langdon and Gutting. The narrative is as indelible as the actors.

I appreciated their eloquent interpretations very much, introducing me to a play I was unfamiliar with, and now will not forget.  

Albion Theatre presents “Molly Sweeney” March 15 through March 31 at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, 501 N. Grand Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63103. For more details on tickets and times, go to Albion Theatre: https://albiontheatrestl.org/tickets/

Photo by John Lamb
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By Lynn Venhaus

Inspiring and empowering, “Cabrini” is a remarkable portrait of the saintly frail and fearless nun who lived the virtues of faith, hope and charity every day, and made a huge difference in the world.

Francesca Cabrini believed that “one gesture of love can change everything,” and was driven to make life better for others. She arrived in New York City in 1889, accompanied by five nuns from the order she founded, Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in 1880, in Lombardy, Italy.

Surrounded by disease, crime, squalor, and impoverished orphaned children, she set off on a daring mission to convince the hostile mayor (John Lithgow) to secure housing and healthcare for fellow immigrants. By using her entrepreneurial skills, she built a lasting empire of hope, despite obstacles and chronic ill health.

Frances Xavier Cabrini was canonized as the first U.S. citizen to become a saint in 1946 and is the patron saint of immigrants. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, helping to transform the squalid Five Points neighborhood in lower Manhattan into a safe refuge for abandoned children among the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” (Emma Lazarus, Statue of Liberty 1883).

The touching film, produced by the faith-based Angel Studios, is directed by Alejandro Monteverde, who was responsible for last summer’s “Sound of Freedom,” which is now among the highest grossing independent movies of all time.

Monteverde has illuminated Cabrini’s good deeds while overcoming adversity, clashing with the powers-at-be, and achieving goals against all odds. Some of the conflicts are very melodramatic, such as a violent pimp’s rage against helping the nuns and his vicious assaults on one of his prostitutes,. Vittoria (Romana Maggiora Vergano). She becomes a valuable part of the sisterhood. (Sadly, though, the other nuns are not given much time to showcase their development.)

While the local priest, Father Morelli (Giampiero Judica), was unsympathetic, Cabrini gained allies in an altruistic Dr. Murphy (Patch Darragh) and compassionate journalist Theodore Calloway (Jeremy Bobb) at the New York Times, whose hard-hitting expose that ‘rats live better than children’ opened others’ eyes. A fierce advocate, he continued to document her efforts to build an empire of hope.

As the entrepreneurial-minded Cabrini, a captivating Cristiana Dell’Anna conveys her strength. conviction and unwavering devotion, and is a considerable presence on screen. 

Tiny but mighty, she cuts an imposing figure in her black cape and veil – almost as if she was a superhero, not unlike Gotham City’s caped crusader, The Dark Knight.

Photo by Angel Studios

In taking on the political patriarchy and the Catholic Church male-dominated hierarchy, she called them out for their ethnic and gender discrimination. Most of those actors come across as cardboard villains, in the mold of dastardly cartoonish Snidely Whiplash. 

However, the filmmakers cast John Lithgow as the xenophobic mob-boss type mayor who favored the elite over the downtrodden “wretched refuse,” so he is a credible character, if over the top.

Veteran actor David Morse plays Corrigan, an Irish archbishop who doesn’t want to rock the boat, kowtowing to the influential mayor, and Oscar-nominated Giancarlo Giannini plays Pope Leo XIII, who was entranced by Cabrini’s gumption, but fretted that her ambitions were too grand.

Her mantra was always “we are bold — or we die,” and the dialogue reflects her zeal.

With a clear-cut confrontational agenda, screenwriter Rod Barr crafted exchanges such as this:
Mayor Gould: “It’s a shame that you’re a woman, Mother. You would have made an excellent man.”
Cabrini: “Oh no, Mr. Mayor, men could never do what we do.”

Illustrating how tenacious she was in her dedication, helping others who were dismissed, disregarded, disrespected and dehumanized to have their dignity restored, is an uplifting and timely message for today.

Two months premature at birth, she was in poor health for most of her life. After a dire diagnosis in her 30s that she likely only had three years to live, she managed to defy death until age 67 in Chicago in 1917. During her lifetime, she helped build 67 orphanages, schools and hospitals, and her order has gone on to build hundreds more across the world.

It’s an incredible legacy brought vibrantly to life. The studio’s production values seem to get stronger with every film: Carlos Lagunas’ sweeping scenic design contrasts the opulent :gilded age with the immigrants’ slums, and costume designer Alisha Silverstein modestly created the class divisions in the outfits as well.

Cinematographer Gorka Gómez Andreu framed scenes in mostly dark and light contrasts, using sepia tones for large group scenes. Notable was that he presented the19th century hallowed halls of civic buildings, churches, the Vatican, and stately mansions in such a towering way to make them dramatic cinematically as a small figure enters them, clad all in black, determined to turn ‘no’s’ into ‘yesses.’

The music score by Gene Back is grandiose, and over the credits, Andrea Bocelli sings “Dare to Be” with his young daughter Virginia, which Back co-wrote. As a character, Mexican opera tenor Rolando Villazon shows up as Enrico DiSalvo.

Monteverde could have been tighter — the film runs 2 hours, 22 minutes, and more judicious with the repeated scenes of her near-drowning as a child, but mostly, he zeroed in on Mother Cabrini’s courage and character for maximum effect

We are left with her words ringing in our ears: “What kind of world do we want, and what will we do to achieve it?”

“Cabrini” is a 2024 biographical drama directed by Alejandro Monteverde and starring Cristiana Dell’Anna, John Lithgow, David Morse, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeremy Bobb and Romana Maggiora Vergano. It is rated PG-13 for thematic material, some violence, language and smoking .and runs 2 hours, 22 minutes. It opened in local theatres in March. Lynn’s Grade: B.

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By Lynn Venhaus

Why does contemplating personal accountability and public responsibility remain a potent topic these days?

Questions to ask ourselves, and the debate is put under a microscope in an outstanding example — New Jewish Theatre’s piercing, emotionally devastating production of “All My Sons.”

The illusions we live with – about families, neighbors, and success – results in an acting master class and impeccable direction.

A fascinating drama that showcases one of playwright Arthur Miller’s most explosive commentaries on the American Dream, director Gary Wayne Barker carefully calibrates the intensity while slowly peeling back the layers of gripping moral dilemmas.

In an ensemble full of revelatory performances, each actor brings fresh interpretations to a family – and their friends – unraveling because of secrets and lies. As we have discovered throughout history, it’s the cover-up that is so damaging – and with ripple effects because of an egregious swindle.

Seventy-seven years ago, “All My Sons” debuted on Broadway, and in many ways, is still relevant today. It was Miller’s first commercial hit and paved the way for his other epic commentaries on capitalism, American ‘exceptionalism,’ tangled loyalties, and the price for self-delusion, appearances, and power: “Death of a Salesman” in 1949, “A View from the Bridge” in 1955 and “The Price” in 1961, among them.

Miller based this on a true story, after reading a newspaper article about a similar incident.

Lintvedt, Johnston, Heil and Loui. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

He has created vivid characters that live in an all-American neighborhood in an Ohio town in the late 1940s, where the locals would like you to believe that they’re living the high life in a setting not unlike a Norman Rockwell illustration.

And scenic designer C. Otis Sweezey was inspired by those popular Saturday Evening Post depictions of post-war prosperity.

The Kellers have been affected by World War II in several ways – their two sons, Chris and Larry served, but Chris (Jayson Heil) came home and works in the family-run munitions factory while Larry did not – he’s been missing in action for more than three years, and everyone but his mother Kate (Amy Loui) has given up on the likelihood that he is alive.

But more than that, military contracts were part of the family business, and selling defective parts has had serious repercussions.

Joe Keller (Greg Johnston) made a careless decision that came to light after faulty aircraft equipment was shipped overseas, resulting in 21 pilots’ deaths.

This misdeed, which he has rationalized and created an alternate reality about, sent his neighbor and partner Steve Deever to prison, while Joe was falsely exonerated, and his sentence commuted.

Still suppressing the secret that has upended their lives and torn apart the people around them, the Kellers are forced to deal with consequences. And a storm is coming, in that carefully cultivated backyard of theirs.

Rarely has a World War II story focused so harshly on disenchantment amidst the winning rah-rah attitude afterwards as incisive as Miller’s play.

Confronting their greed and delving into those expectations that wreak havoc in ordinary lives, supplies the actors with richly textured material.

Johnston, outstanding in last year’s “Uncle Vanya” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio and “The Nerd” at Moonstone Theatre Company (also directed by Barker), has never been better as the patriarch who rules with an iron fist.

In his big booming voice, Johnston, as Joe, boasts about reclaiming his life, thinking that nothing has changed, but everything has, and denial is his tragic flaw.

His son Chris is racked with guilt, and has invited his brother’s girlfriend, Ann Deever (Kristen Joy Lintvedt), to stay at their house. They’ve reconnected and fallen in love, keeping it hidden from his parents. Now, he’s ready to pop the question.

But it’s complicated. Not only was she Larry’s sweetheart, but Ann is the daughter of Joe’s business partner whom he blamed for shipping defective cylinder heads. Ann has not visited her father since he began his prison sentence and believes in his guilt.

Photo by Jon Gitchoff

While Joe was focused on making money and providing for his family, he basically put “America’s sons” in harm’s way through his dishonesty. What is that price worth and what communal responsibility do we have for the greater good?

Joe clings to his power, not believing he put freedom in jeopardy, but the fissures become significant. And this downfall, classic tragedy-style, is meticulously measured by a cast at the top of their game, directed with exceptional precision by Barker.

With a sure hand, Barker brings out the deceptions that everyone in this neighborhood lives with, flush with economic success. It is thoroughly compelling and thought-provoking as he shapes the momentum.

In his perceptive way, Miller delves into moral questions about protecting your family – even though others will be negatively affected, and the nature of being complicit in someone else’s crimes.

Kate, the grief-stricken mother, deludes herself that Larry will return, and finds solace in any reason to continue the fantasy – even astrology that a kind neighbor, Riley Capp as Frank Lubey, works on for her.

A razor-sharp Loui smoothly alternates a quick-silver range of emotions as she won’t admit the obvious and demonstrates how trauma has affected her – nervous and tormented by insomnia, headaches, nightmares. Loui goes beyond the dutiful wife and mother depiction to earn our sympathy – and pity.

Heil conveys Chris’ duty, honor and loyalty in a stunning, powerful performance that builds into an unavoidable catastrophe. Confused and uncertain, he shows both the internal and external struggles in a deeply felt, moving portrait that is a breakthrough role for him.

As the girl next door, Lintvedt is a standout as well. In a smaller but pivotal role, Joel Moses commands attention as Ann’s fuming brother George, a son desperately trying to exonerate his father as the fall guy.

He shows up, seething and full of rage, and stirs up a dark cloud, escalating Miller’s tightly constructed tension. The collateral damage will soon be extensive, and these performers deliver in gut-wrenching fashion.

Zahria Moore and Joshua Mayfield as the Baylisses. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

The local doctor Jim Bayliss (Joshua Mayfield) is pleasant but growing more cynical in acclimating to social post-war life while his straight-shooting wife Sue (Zahria Moore), a nurse, has claws that come out in more contentious ways.

The cast also includes sunny Summer Baer as cheerful neighbor Lydia Lubey, who stayed there and has three kids, and 10-year-old Shane Rose in his debut as a local youngster, Bert.

 Michele Friedman Siler’s stellar vintage costume design captures the era in comfy casual attire, with George traveling more formally in suit, tie, and hat. Dennis Milam Bensie provided the wig design. Katie Orr’s props match the period as well. Amanda Werre’s sound design is exemplary, and Denisse Chavez’ lighting design provides interesting contrasts.

“All My Sons” grapples with split-second ethical decisions that are life-changing, and this latest New Jewish Theatre production is dramatically impactful and hard-hitting. It should not be missed.

New Jewish Theatre presents “All My Sons” from March 21 to April 7, with performances Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, MO 63146. Individual tickets are $27- $58 and are available by phone at 314.442.3283 or online at newjewishtheatre.org.

In line with the difficult themes of war and readjustment to civilian life, the New Jewish Theatre has decided to partner with the Veteran’s Community Project for an exclusive post-show discussion following the March 31 matinee show. After the curtain closes, audience members will have the chance to learn about the work they are doing to provides high quality and well-developed strategic services that enable Veterans to meet the challenges of day-to-day living, resolve immediate crises, and move towards permanent stability.

Photo by Jon Gitchoff.
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