By Lynn Venhaus

Epic in scope and intimate in execution, Tesseract Theatre Company’s “The Inheritance” Part I is a monumental achievement that leaves one exhilarated and eagerly anticipating Part 2.

A rich tapestry of yearning, desire, melancholy, fear, joy, hope, community, and love is written vividly and perceptively by Matthew Lopez.

This Tony and Olivier-Award winning play is surprising in its wit and depth of feeling as we’re hit with this tsunami of talent meeting moment after moment.

This magnum opus on what it’s like to be gay in America is boldly directed by Stephen Peirick and seamlessly acted by a passionate ensemble that radiates charm and conviviality.

It takes place decades after the AIDS epidemic while three generations of gay men grapple with those past tragedies, and the legacies of shame, secrets, and loss, especially at a time when hard-fought rights are available, yet shifting political tides make them vulnerable.

 What does it mean for the future? Intertwining a sprawling cast of 13, Lopez examines healing, survival, what home means and a class divide, inspired by E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel “Howards End.”

Because Forster examined class differences and hypocrisy in British society in the early 20th century, so does Lopez project his characters in the early 21st century.

Alex C Moore plays Morgan and Walter. Photo by FF.

Moments of grace and laughter abound as the knotty entanglements of life unfold. Lopez tackles the complexities we all face, connecting characters, ambitions and eras in a swirling, dizzying, fantastical way. It is specific to the LGBTQIA+ experience, but allies will be able to relate.

Where to begin with this marathon of a show that defies conventions and embraces universal truths?

Employing an uncommon structure, Lopez nimbly name drops in a dishy soap-opera way, using familiar – and amusing — pop culture references, while being profound about generational experiences with textured, novelist flourishes.

The production’s 7-hour runtime may be daunting, but do not be intimidated by its two parts. Yes, it is a commitment, but the rewards are vast, especially when everyone involved has given their all, and it shows.

Part 1, which is from Summer 2015 to Spring 2017, is 3 hours and 10 minutes. The first act is 75 minutes, followed by a 15-minute intermission, then the second act is 55 minutes, followed by a 10-minute intermission, and final piece of Part 1 is 52 minutes.

Part 2, which is set from Spring 2017 to Summer 2018, is 3 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission and a brief pause. I look forward to returning to find out what’s happening with these people.

Keeping the momentum was obviously Peirick’s goal, and it is riveting from start to finish, never sagging.

However, the way the multi-layered show is structured is an investment, as it has many moving parts and themes that intersect. Sure, it’s imperfect, but hello…

It takes a broad canvas and narrows it down, starting in a classroom, where out-and proud gay men in their 30s are instructed by E.M. Forster, known as “Morgan,” to shape their own stories.

Gabriel Paul as Toby and Chris Kernan as Eric. Photo by FF.

Yes, the legendary author Edward Morgan Forster, who lived from 1879 to 1970, and besides “Howards End,” wrote the novels “A Room with a View” and “A Passage to India,” all later adapted into Merchant and Ivory films.

This is a conceit that is a master stroke, and not far-fetched. While the contemporary characters here chastise Morgan for hiding his sexuality publicly as a gay man – homosexual acts in private weren’t decriminalized until he was 83 – he is a guiding light.

According to biographical data, in 1963, Forster wrote: “How annoyed I am with society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges…that might have been avoided.”

While that is not forgotten, he never gave up on love and believed all his life that “the true history of the human race is the history of human affection.”

So, it’s no wonder that this play is based on his 343-page “Howards End,” demonstrating empathy and understanding, and especially with the full-circle motto: “Only connect.”

In “The Inheritance,” Morgan’s advice comes from a place of love and wisdom. In a preternatural performance, Alex C. Moore navigates the role like a captain on a ship, respected and in command. He’s an imposing, mesmerizing figure in dual roles.

“One may as well begin with Toby’s voice mails to his boyfriend,” he says with confidence, and the students appear to begin making up the work as they go along.

Toby at the disco. Photo by FF.

The interconnectedness of the characters is engrossing. Political activist Eric Glass is cultured and likes bringing people together. He’s mindful of making a difference in the world and his heritage. Chris Kernan plays him as committed but easygoing.

His boyfriend, aspiring playwright Toby Darling, is reckless and hedonistic, drawn to the limelight and lives in the moment. Gabriel Paul’s performance bristles with electricity — he’s a hot spring of emotion, giving off Icarus vibes.  

They are the main couple, but the secondary pair are two older, longtime companions –
Walter Poole and Henry Wilcox – wealthy gentlemen with social graces and an enviable lifestyle. Jon Hey as the capitalist billionaire Henry and Moore, as Walter, the caretaker/partner, ingratiate themselves as learned men of money and manners.

In another dual role, a captivating Tyson Cole is Adam, a flirtatious and adventurous rich kid who disrupts Eric and Toby’s lives.

For all of Toby’s faux bravado, there is an undercurrent of turbulence and mystery, particularly when Toby is drawn to a street hustler, Leo, also played by Cole. Paul’s intense Toby, as troubled as he is, driven by fame and his libido, is a remarkable achievement in complexity.

Cole superbly manages to play both his roles surreptitiously, distinguishing them in subtle ways. In his Prague monologue, he shows exceptional bravery.

Lopez has created a circle of friends that feels like a warm cocoon, in a way that Mart Crawley’s play “The Boys in the Band” couldn’t in 1968, or wasn’t, in its 2018 revival. They are a Greek chorus, not unlike Bobby’s married friends in the Sondheim musical “Company.”

It’s that dichotomy – outside in a not-so-kind world, and inside their sanctuary that is contrasted so sharply.

Through overlapping dialogue, the actors establish characters and their place in Eric and Toby’s orbit, while Kernan anchors this landscape. Eric has fostered a supportive environment, and now his life is topsy-turvy in both unexpected and anticipated ways.

He traverses the slab stage to center it as his family homestead, and then deals with all the aggravations of ‘being.’

Photo by FF.

A sweet friendship between Walter and Eric develops, and their conversations are lovely reminders of the people we meet on our journey, and how they influence our thoughts and deeds.

Howards End was the name of a country house in the novel, and a similar property is prominent in this play. It takes on different emotional and sentimental meanings, which is another interesting aspect, and best not be spoiled in a review. Its impact is earned in ending Part I.

Peirick’s scenic design expands on the blossoms of a significant cherry tree, and he has placed artwork based on several photos he took during his NYC travels on the walls, pointedly referencing the Bethesda Fountain at Central Park.

One of my favorite flavors of this show is that New York City is also a character, for it’s as much a love letter to the island as it is a contemplation on the big picture.

Lopez’s dialogue reminds one of NYC’s lure, of its magical quality as the center of the universe, its unparalleled cultural offerings, and its encapsulation of hopes and dreams.

“Every summer, waves of college graduates wash up on its shores to begin the struggle toward success and achievement,” one character says, and as the mother of two sons who did just that, it resonated.

Of course, people will compare this to the landmark “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” whose two parts “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika” opened on Broadway in 1993. After all, its themes are metaphorical and symbolic as it explored AIDS and homosexuality in the 1980s.

“The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer is another touchstones – addressing the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City between 1981-1984.

These bellwethers inform and add emotional depth to this exercise, for advocacy isn’t confined to the past, a crucial message.

Tyson Cole is Adam and Leo. Photo by FF.

Warning to the audience: Because part of the show takes place in 2016 with social liberals re-enacting election night shock (and for some, horror), that could conjure up some “things.”

Depictions of relationships include frank dialogue and stylized moves for sexual encounters. Adam’s lengthy explicit monologue about a euphoric erotic experience in a gay bathhouse in Prague leads to a terrifying realization of the danger of unprotected sex, and immediate action with PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, medicine taken to prevent HIV).

The supporting players are lively and animated, and transform into whatever they are tasked with, which adds to the show’s unique appeal. For instance, Kevin O’Brien shifts into two parts as one of Henry’s spoiled entitled sons and Eric’s fiery progressive activist boss Jasper.

Kelvin Urday and Nic Tayborn are funny as an anxious singular-focused couple expecting a baby through a surrogate. Jacob Schmidt and Sean Seifert are young Walter and Henry. Stephen Henley is the other spoiled entitled son of Henry. Donald Kidd is Tristan and Margery Handy is Margaret, and they both factor into Part 2.

While the subject matter is serious, levity is present, including a whole discussion on whether camp is necessary as an ostentatious example of gay-ness.

This massive undertaking has involved the outstanding skill sets of many local technicians – lighting designer Tony Anselmo, sound designer Jacob Baxley, technical director Kevin Sallwasser, assistant director Dani Mann, stage manager Rachel Downing, production manager Sarah Baucom and dialect coach Mark Kelley – and their accomplishments are noteworthy.

Part I is an extraordinary piece of theatre, enhanced by its fully alive cast and the creative team’s commitment to telling truths in this special way. “Only connect” is a good motto to leave a theater with, where you just saw brilliance shine.

The Inheritance cast. Photo by FF.

This production is for mature audiences. May contain mature themes, language, nudity, sexuality, violence, satire and/or progressive ideas.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents “The Inheritance, Parts I and 2” April 26 – May 5 at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. Part 1 is presented Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. April 28. Part 2 is presented Thursday and Friday, May 2 and 3, at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on May 5. Both Parts 1 and 2 are presented on Saturday, May 4, with Part 1 at 2 p.m. and Part 2 at 7: 30 p.m.

For tickets, visit:

By Lynn Venhaus

Surely, Christina Rios must be the Energizer Bunny in disguise, for she is non-stop, the epitome of a multi-hyphenate. Fourth grade math teacher by day at The Wilson School in Clayton, she is an actor, director, opera singer (trained lyric coloratura), producer, vocal coach, and intimacy coordinator — and is the mother of four children. She and her husband, Mark Kelley, moved to their dream home this summer. In her case, the plate is not just full, but spilling over.

Next project: Directing a new adaptation by John Wolbers of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for St. Louis Shakespeare, to be presented Sept. 29 – Oct. 7 at the Robert Reim Theatre in Kirkwood.

Christina’s resume includes a long list of challenges, so why should juggling five things at once ever be different? She was the artistic director and frequent director of new-to-St. Louis works at R-S Theatrics from 2009 to 2019.

This past year, she’s played Blanche in Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound” at New Jewish Theatre last winter, part of the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night” in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen, and played the exasperated mom of four daughters in “In Bloom,” part of the New Play Festival at Tesseract Theatre Company this summer, acting alongside real daughter Rosario Rios-Kelley.

So, why is she tackling directing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for St. Louis Shakespeare? She discusses her vision and her views about creating art at this time in a very different world.

The cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” includes her husband, Mark, also the sound designer and fight choreographer, and her son, Samuel Rios-Kelley. Principal roles are Mike Stephens as Theseus, Lexy Witcher as Hippolata, Molly Stout as Hermia, Jordan Duncan as Demetrius, Rhiannon Creighton as Helena, Noah Laster as Lysander, Mark Kelley as Quince, Fox Smith as Bottom, Luis Castro as Flute, Laurell Stevenson as Starveling, Dan Higgins as Snout, Riley Stevio as Snug, Jodi Stockton and Bryce A. Miller as Titania, Chuck Brinkley and Stephanie Merritt as Oberon, Tielere Cheatem as Puck, Ebony Easter as Peaseblossom, Remi Mark as Moth and Samuel Rios=Kelley as Boy.

Choreography by Mary Mathew, technical direction by Victoria Esquivel, costumes by Olivia Radle, scenic design by Morgan Brennan, Props by Meg Brinkley, lighting design by Erin Reilly, and sound design/fight choreography by Mark Kelley.

For more information, visit

Todd Schaefer as Macheath and Christina Rios as Lucy Brown in “Threepenny Opera” in 2015 at New Line Theatre. Photo by Jill Ritter.

Q & A with Christina Rios

1. What is special about your latest project?

” I feel like we’ve all been in or seen ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at least 20 times, but it has always bothered me that Titania and Oberon never actually apologize for the chaos that they create with their fight, not to each other and definitely not to the world – I’m hoping this production speaks to that and offers some closure there.

“I also love the idea that the fairies can be other beings and ‘poof’ to wherever they want to go because…they’re fairies! I never understand why we, as directors, get characters that are immortal and then walk them around the stage like they’re plain old mortals – hopefully our fairies get to have a bit more fun.

Molly Stout as Hermia and Noah Laster as Lysander rehearsing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

“We’ve also made Theseus and Hippolyta very ‘Harry and Meghan’ so it’s a royal marrying a commoner now and I think that allows for the tension and ultimately for the ‘awwww’s when they have their wedding dance.

“Speaking of this dance: Mary Mathers has choreographed a GORGEOUS piece that I think everyone should see! And finally, because our sound design can be summed up by calling it ‘Bridgerton Millennial Mixtape.'”.

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

“Wow, great question! I was always going to be a doctor, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon for most of my life, and acting and singing and performing was always just a fun thing I did to blow off steam. I feel like I tripped and landed in an impromptu audition for the head of a music program and suddenly medical school got switched out for opera school and I guess I never stopped.”

3. How would your friends describe you?

“I’m trying to keep the rumor going that I’m mean…but they’d probably say something about me being empathetic and warm…but don’t believe them.:

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?

I have 0 of that. BUT sometimes I do ignore things I should be working on and when I do: it’s ‘Law & Order SVU’ all the way! Olivia Benson is the life-giving elixir we all need more of.”

Keith Thompson, Christina Rios and Marshall Jennings in “Jerry Springer the Opera” at New Line Theatre in 2015. Photo by Jill Ritter.

5. What is your current obsession?

“My house! We just bought a 120 year-old home a few months ago and I feel like I’m living in a castle! I can’t stop taking pictures of the way the light hits different parts…so I end up just treating my home like a toddler – ‘OOOOh!! Look at this, look how cute this room looks!’

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

“I’m really 142 years old but I stay young by drinking the tears of my enemies…OR: I guess that it’s hard to upset me because I’m wildly compartmentalized (thanks, trauma!) so it makes it look like I have the thickest of skin, but really it’s because it all just gets pushed WAAAAAY down.”

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

“Going back to school was terrifying – especially as a much older human…so much so that I asked my friend who was babysitting to please not tell anyone just in case I failed and had to drop out. But I graduated with my Master’s, in the height of the pandemic, with a 4.0. And that was sort of my ‘wait, can I seriously do ANYTHING I put my mind to??’ moment.”

8. Who do you admire most?

“Anyone who isn’t afraid of the truth, growth, and the betterment of the world.”.

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?

“It used to be smelling the Corpse Flower but I just did that! It was so stinky!!! I guess next up is for me to be present when my children all see France for the first time.”

Mark Kelley and Christina Rios at the 2017 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards. Three performers from R-S Theatrics’ production of “Boom” were nominated: Nancy Nigh, Elizabeth Van Pelt and Andrew Kuhlman. Photo by Lynn Venhaus.

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?

Oof. I mean, I’m a raging introvert so the isolation wasn’t actually that hard – especially because it was 6 of us in a 1,300 sq. ft. house 😆 But you know, it really sucked because I guess I thought we all learned something.

Suddenly nurses and artists and teachers FELT like they cracked the code on getting the respect they deserved because we were ALL so hungry for entertainment and we all finally allowed ourselves to see the emotional toll that healthcare was taking on the people we’d always taken for granted and no one had really taken into account how much work teachers actually do until they had to start carrying some of the load.

“…and then it feels like, as SOON as we started inching our way out of isolation and back towards ‘the new normal’ it’s like we all totally forgot and it was back to being disrespectful towards educators and health care professionals and absolutely right back to devaluing the arts.

“Everyone says, ‘we don’t know how to make audiences come out again’ or ‘no one wants to leave their home now that they can order just about everything’ but art…you know…it’s never been about the product. If you think like that, it’s already part of the problem.

“The whole point of theatre, at least for me, is the collective experience of sitting in a darkened room and being told a story with strangers – and you all agree that you’re there and you’re there together and ready to be changed together. It’s a nonverbal contract that allows us all to be safe and at the same time, challenged. We sit and we watch and we are moved and if all of it comes together…a whole lot of the time, we leave better people than when we came. And you can’t do that from a couch in your living room, alone – it comes from being a part of something larger than yourself. And I think that’s beautiful.

“Moving forward we have to recognize that ‘artist’ is a career and therefore should be treated as one. We need to stop devaluing some aspects of art and prioritizing others. We need to remind the audiences that we cannot create what cannot be shared and that our cycle of effectiveness only works if we are all present. Cities, states, and this country needs to double down their funding efforts to make art happen all over and to not allow cost to be the prohibitive part of the process.”

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

“I love to go to Cherokee and just sit and watch the world go by while I have a refreshing beverage and delicious meal.”

12. What’s next?

“I’m doing the thing I’ve wanted to do for years!! I’ll be producing theatre in Hermann, Mo. WITH the people of Hermann AND St. Louis – I feel like we’re never going to advance as people if we just shout at each other over screens, so the idea is half the cast/staff from St. Louis and half from Hermann, and we all convene to create a show – one that we couldn’t have done without each other.

“The StL folks will stay in town for production week and on production weekends and the hope is that we all leave the production having been in each other’s spaces for so long that maybe we are all a little better for it. And then also, the people of Hermann have entertainment that’s not only for tourists but is by and for everyone!”

aida Gruenloh as Camilla, Catherine Analla as Lorelei, Rhiannon Creighton as Rosalind, Christina Rios as Dorothy, Rosario Rios-Kelley as Eileen in Tesseract Theatre Company’s “In Bloom,” a new one-act play by Gwyneth Strope. Photo by Taylor Gruenloh

More About Christina Rios

Birthplace: Complicated but my family is in California and I grew up mostly in St. Louis
Current location: Ferguson
Family: I have a partner that I have been legally bound to for 13 years and 4 children ranging in age from 7-21
Education: I am a doctoral candidate and will receive my doctorate in May 2025, I also have a master’s degree and a couple of bachelor’s
Day job: Math teacher at a local, independent elementary school
First job: Mr. Wizards, baby! Basically worked for FroCus!
First movie you were involved in or made: Hmm…I think the first one that really became anything was a low budget horror movie that was shot in 2006 (?).
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? Directing “Adding Machine,’ ‘Parade,” “Mr. Burns,” “The Light in the Piazza,” and “A Man of No Importance” were all absolute highlights of my life. Being in “Twelfth Night”in 2023, with a cast of almost entirely BIPOC actors was fulfilling on a level I’ll never be able to truly articulate.
Dream job/opportunity: I want to direct opera in much the same way I have directed for years – on a small budget, telling stories, and showing people that these stories are actually all about them.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: hahahahahahahaha – yeah, I’ve never even been nominated for anything 
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Art is a necessity, not a luxury” (it was me, I said that) and “You cannot be what you cannot see” (also me, I also say that a lot)
A song that makes you happy: Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”

Christina Rios as Blanche in “Broadway Bound” at New Jewish Theatre

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Passion drives the characters and the R-S Theatrics production of a miraculous
little musical that has something to say. The title “A Man of No Importance” is
a misnomer, for Alfie Byrne is a remarkable human being whose significance is mirrored
in the faces of his fellow Dubliners.
In a blockbuster musical theater climate that regularly serves feel-good fluff and
spectacle, Broadway heavyweights Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty wrote pensive
Irish-inflected music and lyrics and four-time Tony-winning playwright Terrence
McNally penned the book for a heartfelt rumination on friendship, acceptance,
creative expression and social mores for a 2002 Lincoln Center production.
This unconventional off-Broadway diamond in the rough feels like a pot o’ gold
discovery today. McNally, whose bold work on gay themes has been heralded
worldwide, adapted the 1994 film “A Man of No Importance” starring Albert
Finney into an introspective work of substance, a fanfare for the common man with
wry humor and touching moments.

Unlike the grand ambition of their masterpiece “Ragtime,” McNally,
and Ahrens and Flaherty, through their songs, give meaning to modest people and
their small-scale dreams and desires. And it’s in a specific setting – a working-class
Dublin parish in 1964, with quaint characters, during a time of innocence as
the world is changing.
With grace and laser-focus, director Christina Rios has created a cozy setting
that feels like the earnest characters are in your living room, that they are
part of your daily life and live next door.

“A Man of No Importance” at R-S TheatricsThe snug space gives the top-flight cast an opportunity to
gel like a community – the way an amateur theater group does, how church parishes
do, and why co-workers, pub mates and newcomers connect. You feel their moods,

Good-natured Alfie Byrne (Mark Kelley) is a bus conductor
by day, with a poet’s soul, and a creative force at night. Inspired by his
mentor Oscar Wilde, he fervently directs the St. Imelda’s Players, coming alive
fired up by art.

While kind and outgoing, he is also forlorn, a square peg
trying to fit into a round hole, as Alfie is a closeted homosexual when it was
still a crime in Ireland.

At home, he lives with his surly sister Lily (Stephanie
Merritt), who finds his hobbies peculiar, particularly his penchant for making
foreign dishes for dinner distasteful – Bolognese sauce, curry? She has decided
not to marry until he does, which adds to her exasperation. Merritt’s strong vocal
prowess is displayed in “The Burden of Life” and the touching ‘Tell Me Why” in
second act.

Stephanie Merritt and Michael B. PerkinsHer blustery steady beau, Carney (Michael B. Perkins), is the neighborhood butcher. Quite a ham on stage, he leads his enthusiastic castmates in the upbeat “Going Up!” – a fun song any thespian can identify with, setting the stage for the rehearsals to come.

But in an ugly character development, Carney also thinks it
is his moral duty to make the local church aware they are putting on “pornography,”
for he is appalled at Alfie’s choice for the next production – Wilde’s controversial
“Salome,” based on the tragic Biblical characters.

Miffed that he’s not the lead, Carney riles up the ladies’
sodality while the rest of the troupe are trying to find a way to costume the
seven veils and paint a realistic dummy head of John the Baptist. He wraps his
thoughts around it in “Confusing Times.”

Perkins has several stand-out songs, including the dandy comical
duet with Merritt, expressing outrage about Alfie’s proclivities “Books.”

Perkins also doubles as the flamboyant Wilde in dream
sequences, handling both with aplomb.
While Father Kenny (Dustin Allison) is shutting down the program, the church
hall teems with cast members, and we are introduced to a quirky assortment of folks
in this interesting patchwork quilt of a show.

Alfie loves these people. They’re home. They’re his “other”

Lindy Elliott as AdeleThere are the housewife diva-wannabes who flutter about him
– Miss Crowe (Kay Love), Mrs. Curtin (Nancy Nigh), Mrs. Grace (Jodi Stockton)
and Mrs. Patrick (Jennifer Theby-Quinn). Besides Carney, on the men’s side is
widowed Baldy (Kent Coffel), Rasher Flynn (Marshall Jennings) and Ernie Lally
(Dustin Allison).

All gifted singers, they are outstanding in the ensemble
numbers “A Man of No Importance,” “Our Father,” “Art” and several reprises. Nigh
has fun carrying out Naomi Walsby’s tap choreography in “First Rehearsal.”

Alfie has a secret crush on his co-worker, bus driver Robbie Fay (Kellen Green). He’d like to cast him as John the Baptist but Robbie’s not convinced. A lovely young woman, Adele Rice (Lindy Elliott), is new to town, and Alfie’s inspiration to tackle his mentor’s masterwork. Could she be his “Salome”?

Elliott, very impressive in this key role, sweetly sings a
reprise of “Love Who You Love,” and she and Kelley have a touching song
together, “Princess.”

Kellen Green as Robbie

As the handsome, conflicted Robbie, Green is terrific, trying
to find his way — and has a secret too. He robustly delivers “The Streets of
Dublin,” one of the show’s best numbers, and has a moving duet, “Confession” with
Kelley. He shows his prowess on the violin and in a reprise of “Love Who You
Love” as well.

Another highlight is Kent Coffel’s tender rendition of “The
Cuddles Mary Gave,” as the character Baldy mourns his late wife.

Anchoring the whole shebang is Mark Kelley, a revelation as
Alfie. He understands this sensitive soul and his pain. He imbues Alfie with so
much conviction that his bittersweet songs, “Love’s Never Lost” and “Love Who
You Love” are affecting and the triumph of “Welcome to the World” is

As the dialect coach, sound designer and fight
choreographer in addition to the lead, Kelley has galvanized this production.
The fight is realistic thanks to assistant fight choreographer Rhiannon Skye
Creighton and Perkins as fight captain.

The Irish accents are spot-on and never waiver – kudos to
the cast’s commitment on getting it right. It makes a difference setting the
proper tone, and the lived-in quality of the production is noteworthy.

Kent Coffel and Mark KelleyThe orchestra is very much a key part of the production,
and not just because conductor Curtis Moeller doubles as a character, Carson.
The cast interacts with them and vice versa, and they excel at giving an authentic
Celtic sound to the score. Moeller is on keyboard, with Benjamin Ash on bass,
Twinda Murry and Hanna Kroeger playing violins, Emily T. Lane on cello, Adam
Rugo on guitars and Marc Strathman on flutes. They achieve a lush sound that piquantly
flavors the show.

Amanda Brasher’s costume designs are a treat. She nailed the characters perfectly, from vintage frocks to the nubby knit sweaters to the assortment of hats defining personalities. Stockton’s Mrs. Grace wears a stunning ballet-slipper pink lace two-piece suit straight out of Jackie Kennedy’s closet.

The musical is a slow simmer but worth the investment as the sympathetic characters ripen. While the story spotlights a different time in another country, it illustrates the universal social awakening that “Love is Love is Love.” And being accepted for who you are is a worthy topic no matter when or where.

R-S Theatrics’ “A Man of No Importance” is to be admired
for its wholehearted mounting of a little-known show, illuminated by a talented
group of performers who feel like family at the finale.

Jodi StocktonR-S Theatrics presents “A Man of No Importance”
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 7 p.m., Aug. 9 – 25, at the Marcelle
Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive in Grand Center For more information or for
tickets, visit
or call 314-252-8812.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
With its lush, unusual score and seductive setting, “The Light in the Piazza” is swoon-worthy in many aspects.
Regarded as demanding to present because of its music and dramatic complexities, this intricate musical heightens realism and challenges the most confident vocalist.
Its Tony-winning neoromantic score and orchestrations by Adam Guettel, grandson of icon Richard Rodgers, have more in common with opera and classical music than traditional showtunes, without any pop references.
Nevertheless, the cast of R-S Theatrics’ production rises to master the harmonies and embrace la dolce vita. Guided by music director Sarah Nelson, whose work is exceptional, with assured stage direction from Christine Rios, they project a confident grasp of the material.

Some of the lyrics are in Italian, and silky-smooth voiced Tielere Cheatem, as Fabrizio, is impressive, particularly in his fluid renditions of “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” and “Passeggiata.” His family, the Naccarellis, speak impeccable Italian and deliver richly textured vocals – Kent Coffel as Signor, Jodi Stockton as Signora, Stephanie Merritt as Franca and Micheal Lowe as Giuseppe.
Special mention must go to Italian language coach Myriam Columbo, for it feels organic.
It’s the summer of 1953, and the well-to-do Southern matron Margaret (Kay Love) returns to Florence, Italy, where she spent her honeymoon. With her innocent 26-year-old daughter in tow, her joy is tempered by the special needs of the developmentally delayed Clara (Macia Noorman), who was hit in the head by a Shetland pony at age 10. She matured physically but not emotionally/mentally. It is more subtle than obvious, but when Clara gets upset, she behaves like a petulant child.
The melodramatic story is adapted from a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, which became a turgid 1962 movie starring Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton (?!? as Fabrizio). The 2005 Broadway show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won five. It had both fans and detractors, and I was one of its sharpest critics, particularly of the book by Craig Lucas.
Not a fan of the 2007 touring production, which was swallowed in the Fox, was devoid of sympathy for the mother and did not have an ounce of nuance in what I considered a duplicitous transaction.
Not so here – surprise! – because of the performances and the interpretation, although they can’t help that the book has some issues.
Several key elements soothed my misgivings, but mainly it was because of Kay Love’s splendid performance as the Southern matron Margaret, which is the lynchpin to the whole show.
Love earns our sympathy right away – it is a virtuoso performance that highlights her outstanding vocal talent while giving her a juicy role in which to shine. You feel her dilemma, and the emotional rollercoaster she endures. Her North Carolina accent is refreshingly soft and does not overpower her character,  thanks to dialect coach Mark Kelley.
All that guilt Margaret carries is shown on Love’s face, along with the regrets of a lackluster marriage, and a life, though comfortable, spent in service to others. She’s exasperated keeping tabs on an excited Clara, who encounters a young Florentine, Fabrizio. It’s love at first sight for both.
As Clara, Macia Noorman’s accent weaves in and out. Noorman and Cheatem work well together, but she seems more tentative in the duets and went sharp or flat more often in her vocals, particularly when paired with someone. However, her “Clara’s Interlude” is quite lovely.
Rios does not make this entanglement of two star-crossed families overwrought, rather keeps focus on the complicated romance and culture clash. As Margaret wrestles with the couple’s wedding plans, she must decide if she believes in love and her daughter’s happiness. Her husband Roy (Robert Doyle) is of no help, or empathy.
In addition to their superb vocals, the actors playing the Naccarelli family stand out. Kent Coffel plays the haberdasher father with such authority that you believe he is a Florentine of stature while a winsome Jodi Stockton has a nice motherly moment explaining the proceedings to the audience.
Stephanie Merritt gives considerable oomph to the tempestuous Franca so that she is not just a caricature, and soars in her number, “The Joy You Feel.”
While Love imbues her numbers with emotion, her rendition of the finale “Fable” is stunning, all the more remarkable because it follows a fabulous “Love to Me” sung by Cheatem. Love has a sweet duet with Coffel, “Let’s Walk,” before two families join together.
The power of the cast’s voices match the character demands, and Nelson’s musical work must be recognized, for the level of difficulty is understood.
The expressive orchestra adds so much, with Terri Langerak playing a glorious harp, Emily Lane on cello, Kelly LaRussa on violin, Jacob Stergos on bass and Nelson on piano. Their expert skill provided a luxurious sound that elevated this show.
The location also prominently figures into the presentation. Florence is an alluring city of Renaissance masterpieces in the Tuscany region of Italy, with its postcard Mediterranean landscapes, ancient history, and extraordinary art, culture and cuisine. It’s also a character.
The look and feel of this show combines tantalizing adventure with a traveler’s awestruck sense of wonder, providing atmosphere along with sense of time and place.
The piazza, a town square, is where we meet a very tight ensemble, crisp in purposeful movements and welcoming in demeanor. Chris Kernan, Jason Meyers, Louisa Wimmer, Robert Doyle, Melissa Christine, Lindy Elliot, Ann Hier and Anthony Randle are a compelling chorus.
Keller Ryan’s scenic design allows for this tableau to come alive with a captivating vibrancy while Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design provides a burnished glow.
They all look marvelous, too — chic fashion choices by costume designer by Ashley Bauman enhanced the characters’ personalities.
Margaret can’t help but be swept away by the scenic views and the teeming crowd, and neither could I. The intimate staging, the strong creative aspects and the level of talent add up to a must-see production.
R-S Theatrics opens its eighth season – The Season of the Not-so-Perfect Past — with the St. Louis premiere of “The Light in the Piazza” Aug. 10 – 26, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m., at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis, 63103. Tickets can be purchased through For more information, visit