By Lynn Venhaus

Local treasure John Contini is at his best in a vibrant, vigorous portrayal of legendary actor John Barrymore that is both funny and sad at the same time, but never sags or lags for a second.

It’s a remarkable tour-de-force for a seasoned pro used to delivering classic portrayals of Shakespeare, Albee, Miller, Mamet and more during a career that has spanned over 40 years.

Barrymore came to prominence for his stage work, notably an acclaimed “Hamlet” in 1922, and went on to become one of the most influential and idolized actors of that era. His movies included “Grand Hotel,” “Beau Brummel,” “Dinner at Eight,” “Twentieth Century” and “Svengali.”

He died at age 60 in 1942, and by then, his sordid personal life had eclipsed his professional accomplishments.  

But even with the title “Barrymore,” it’s not a one-man show. One of the most surprising aspects of this captivating work is that it’s a two-hander, and sparring with an offstage prompter, Frank the stage manager, offers insight into the actor’s twilight years.

Frank is voiced by Alexander Huber, and his shifting moods come through loud and clear –exasperated and stern as he pleads and cajoles with the once-great but in serious decline star to get his act together and complete the tasks at hand, which is rehearsing for his comeback as “Richard III.”

The famous actor is, by turns, insufferable, mean, vainglorious, rueful, flamboyant, distressed, ribald and pitiable, and Contini is seamless as he swiftly moves in and out of Barrymore’s many moods.

Playwright William Luce depicts Barrymore a few months before his death as he is rehearsing the Shakespeare tragedy which would be a revival of his 1920 Broadway triumph. This is fiction, of course.

The setting is a small stage that he has rented to prepare for what he hopes will be his comeback. But he is too far gone, ravaged by alcoholism and hard living. But he sure has hilarious stories to share.

In two acts, he jokes with the audience, breaking the fourth wall, imitates his siblings Lionel and Ethel, both legendary actors themselves, and reminisces about better times. He had been married four times and is candid in sharing sexual exploits and off-color jokes.

Luce’s play was produced on Broadway in 1997, with Christopher Plummer in the title role. He won the Tony Award for his performance and reprised the role in a 2011 film adaptation.

Contini has portrayed the superstar thespian before, for the former Avalon Theatre Company at the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court in 2009 and won a Kevin Kline Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play.

While Contini commands attention from start to finish, what is also noteworthy is Erin Kelley’s supple direction. Kelley co-founded the Avalon Theatre Company and served as its managing artistic director for seven years. However, this is a fresh interpretation of that show.

Also lending their talents to this superb collaboration is scenery and lighting designer Patrick Huber, bathing the stage with a ghost light and minimal illumination for a forlorn effect, and costume designer Teresa Doggett, whose wise sartorial choices dress Barrymore in a dapper suit for the first act and in a well-worn regal outfit for King Richard III in the second act.

Emma Glose’s prop designs create a bygone era’s theatrical tools and provide a few of the actor’s possessions. Kristi Gunther, production manager, and Amy Paige, stage manager, keep things moving at a swift clip.

A witty and wise work, “Barrymore” showcases artistry while offering both comedy and pathos in a virtuosic production.

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “Barrymore” in a limited engagement Dec. 1 -10 at the Gaslight Theatre, 360 N. Boyle. Performances are Friday through Sunday Dec. 1-3, and Tuesday through Sunday, Dec. 5-10, at 8 p.m. except for Sundays, which are at 3 p.m. General admission tickets are $40 each plus fees, $35 each plus fees for students with valid ID and seniors 65+, available via Ticketmaster or at the theater box office one hour before showtime. For more information, visit stlas.org or email help@stlas.org.

By Lynn Venhaus

Throughout history, class wars have ended badly for many people, overt often for people in the lower class, and less so for the ruling class.

But class never matters when people show you their true selves.

Such is the complicated “Bitter Fruit,” a 2018 social commentary-human drama by Argentinian playwright Hector Levy-Daniel, “El Fruto mas amargo,” which has been translated from Spanish by Philip Boehm.

Boehm, Upstream Theater’s artistic director, wanted to bring it here for the U.S. English language premiere, so he not only translated but also directed it in a deliberately mysterious way.

Since 2005, two-thirds of the plays Upstream has produced have been U.S. or world premieres, with the goal to not only “move you” but “move you to think.” And they always do. This is a play to mull about, for at its center is a logical question on identity that has dramatic consequences. How can you deny who you really are, and what does that say about us as a society?

The playwright’s focus on identity crisis has roots in Argentina’s Dirty War, when from 1974 to 1983, an estimated 9,000 to 30,000 were killed by the state, or disappeared, in a right-wing effort to eliminate leftist political adversaries, including writers, students and journalists. Others were imprisoned.

Their children were not always killed, and sometimes, they were put up for adoption or given to supporters of the right wing.

There are children born during this period that don’t know their real identities because they were adopted by their captors and given new lives. They either discover this fact or never know the truth, but there isn’t any justice or peace amid the inequality that rages, along with political corruption.

According to the play’s notes, about 500 children were affected and the Argentine government is still sorting it out after years of protests from grandmothers.

In this quietly devastating production, a committed cast provides complex portraits of people representing different factions of entitlement and insincerity, of loss and lies.

However, as good as actresses Jane Paradise, Jennifer Theby-Quinn and Michelle Burdette Elmore are, all members of the Actors’ Equity Association, they are not Latino women, and they are playing characters named Luisa, Maria, and Teresa respectively.

Isaiah Di Lorenzo has a small but important supporting role as Pedro Coltinari, the labor representative in factory negotiations, and in flashbacks, as Maria’s teenage paramour. He establishes his character’s pure heart and breaking point in only a few scenes.

None of the four identify as Hispanic — although the play never specifically states Argentina or alludes to the Dirty War, and there are no accents used, so…but it is perplexing, and does raise questions.

If it’s vague on purpose, so be it. Nevertheless, these days, people tend to notice whitewashing. It may not be as egregious as, say Laurence Olivier as “Othello” and John Wayne as Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror,” but it is something that crossed my mind, especially given Upstream’s commitment to shows with global themes involving marginalized people.

Set in a mansion, it’s late night or early morning, depending on your perspective, and a new maid, Luisa (Paradise), is up to prepare her mistress some tea, as requested as she waits for her daughter. Upon arrival home, haughty Maria, demands to know who this interloper is in her home.

As played coldly by Theby-Quinn, Maria is a cruel woman who has no qualms about making people feel inferior in her presence. She lacks compassion and a conscience, brought up in wealth, sheltered from the world. She is now running her father’s cotton mill with a tight fist and a disdain for the workers. They are in financial trouble, and Maria is tough about negotiations. Her mother, Teresa (Burdette Elmore) is clueless (or is she?).

Yet, once upon a time, Maria fancied a local boy, someone beneath her in social status, and those scenes reflect a person she used to be but is far removed from now.

Teresa, who was kept in the dark about that relationship, is oblivious to other behaviors and sentiments as well, and Michelle Burdette Elmore portrays her as if she’s firmly entrenched in a bubble — and a bit la-di-da.

Luisa’s gaze is a tad too intense for Maria, who is threatened by the new maid, for she views her as a spy who has infiltrated the home on behalf of the workers in the factory. Paradise’s gut-wrenching performance is the show’s highlight.

As tension increases – especially with suspicious deaths, and characters smolder, the secrets, deceptions, and denials are slowly disclosed.

Another of the show’s high points is original instrumental music performed by guitarist Lliam Christy. The minimalist scenic design by Patrick Huber represents a small portion of a large estate, with ornate touches to indicate affluence, darkly lit by Steve Carmichael to reflect shadows. Costume designer Michele Siler selected outfits according to economic status.

The playwright challenges memory and how sacrificing love shows true colors. It’s not an easy play to understand. Because one is off-guard, it is hard to relate to – however, Paradise’s performance as a crushed woman who has lost everything is haunting. Nevertheless, it brings attention to a tragic, dark time involving innocent children – and is that ever over?

Upstream Theater presents the US premiere of “Bitter Fruit,” by award-winning playwright Héctor Levy-Daniel in a translation by Philip Boehm, Oct. 13 through Oct. 29. It is 1 hour, 30 minutes, without intermission. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and at 7 p.m. Oct 15 and 2 p.m. Oct.22 and 29, and take place at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information: www.upstreamtheater.org, For tickets, visit: https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/upstream-theater-bitter-fruit

Photo by ProPhotoSTL

By Lynn Venhaus

Women leading lives of quiet desperation are hanging out on a rooftop one sweltering summer evening in red brick south city St. Louis.

Intrigued? In the smartly written and well-acted “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House,” you are not going to get a pat script here. In fact, St. Louis playwright Liza Birkenmeier’s comedy-drama provokes more questions than answers – but in a good way.

It’s Friday, June 17, 1983. The time, date and place are firmly established if the play does not, or refuses to, fit into tidy boxes. The songs of that summer, catchy radio hits, immediately take you back to that period as they blare out of a boombox.

NASA nerds can point to that night as the eve of astronaut Sally Ride’s groundbreaking achievement as the first American woman in space as part of the Challenger Space Shuttle mission.

To these unfulfilled women hanging out in the sticky humid air “near Highway 55 and the Mississippi River,” they realize this is a giant leap forward for women, at least professionally. But for Dr. Ride, she can’t acknowledge that she’s gay until she announces it in her obituary nearly 30 years later, revealing her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.

However, it’s still a big-deal achievement that they are in awe of – risky, bold, adventurous. Not spoken out loud is that it was just a different time – that uncomfortable putting on a front to not make waves move so many accepted as the way it had to be.

They are stuck in ruts of their own choosing, as they stay in second gear living inauthentic lives. Harriet and Matilda, seemingly lifelong friends who share a deeper relationship and should be self-aware that their failure to launch is self-inflicted, display a palpable bond and familiar shorthand. Whatever is currently troubling them is suppressed in exchange for quips and vague discontent.

The setting is Harriet’s place, a sanctuary above where the hum of her air-conditioning unit dripping water – that irritates her landlady Norma (Lizi Watt)—is a nuisance that she’s ignoring.

As played by the intuitive Lindsay Brill, Harriet’s a wallower, a quick-to-be irritated woman going nowhere. She has returned from visiting her dying mother in Florida, carrying plenty of emotional baggage, and is drinking a beer and eating ice cream straight out of a carton for dinner. There is mention of a boyfriend, but that reeks of convenience.

She’s as restless as bestie Matilda, who has stopped by, still wearing her waitress uniform, singing snippets of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and griping about her sick child and lack of a supportive husband. Clearly a life choice that she seems ill-suited for, as she tosses off quips and complaints. She brings up that she is smart, a chip-on-the-shoulder retort — after all has an MFA in poetry. We can tell her verbal skills are highly evolved, and Bridgette Bassa breezes in as a force to be reckoned with – but maybe she’s all talk?

These two women may rhyme together, but nothing else does in their fragmented lives. It would be an ordinary, insignificant night, but it’s not, really.

Birkenmeier, now living in New York City, made her off-Broadway debut with this play, which premiered in 2019 after being commissioned by Ars Nova in New York. It was a New York Times Critics Pick and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Drama.

RN Healey

This is her return to St. Louis Actors’ Studio as a playwright, after her astonishing performance in “Blackbird” in 2018, nominated for Best Actress in a Drama by the St. Louis Theater Circle. She appears to have an old soul and a sharp wit.

Annamaria Pileggi directed her then, and helms this current production, intending for us to read between the lines. Pileggi, STLAS’ associate artistic director, is assured in drawing out the personalities of these dissatisfied women who sadly lack the tools to take the reins of their own lives.

They are ‘meeting’ for the Two Serious Women Book Club, but really, that’s not happening, although newcomer Meg comes over to join them by invitation. Now Meg, as played by an assertive RN Healey, is everything these two are not: comfortable in her own skin. Wearing a rock band T-shirt and showing tattoos while wearing scrubsi, she could easily stand up and unapologetically sing “I Am What I Am” at a nearby karaoke.

Are Harriet and Matilda afraid of pursuing their own journeys, hiding in the trappings of a humdrum life because it would be too difficult to take the road not traveled?

That’s for you to ponder – especially if you think we are our choices.

 For certain, this production features vibrant, fully realized performances, punctuated by an astute selection of songs of the day. (Brilliant choices – especially the misunderstood “Every Breath You Take” hit by The Police, not a love song suitable for weddings).

You will hear the sounds of loneliness, remembering what you had and what you lost.

Patrick Huber’s interesting rooftop set design captures the modest space of multiple story flats, with thrift shop finds, aided by Kristi Gunther’s effective lighting design, using accent lamps and strings of lights as twilight falls.

Emma Glose’s sound design is crisp and clear, and her props selection reflect life 40 years ago. Abby Pasterello has wisely chosen appropriate costumes, hair and makeup looks. And as always, Stage Manager Amy J. Paige keeps things flowing smoothly.

This robust 90-minute production indicates Birkenmeier has a special voice and showcases a tight quartet who were at ease playing complicated females. We can look back now, and say affirmatively women have come a long way.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” Oct. 6-22, with Thursday through Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at The Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or at the box office one hour prior to the performance. For more information, visit www.stlas.org

Lindsay Brill, Bridgette Bassa

By CB Adams

Benjamin Britten said that “Composing is like driving down a foggy road.” He could just as easily been describing the experience of attending Union Avenue Opera’s production of his “Turn of the Screw.” Many know the story from junior high school English lit or from one of the 12 – 12! – films that have adapted the Henry James ambiguous novella about ghosts (or not) and innocents (maybe).

Union Avenue Opera’s (UAO) production of “Screw” keys off of the story’s enigmatic opacity of the goings-on at Bly, a country house in Essex and augments the story’s ambiguities with an immersive cerebral-ness. The experience begins with the two-level set (designed by Laura Skroska and lighted by Patrick Huber) that is part Hill House and part Rose Red – Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, respectively. The set has the perfect amount of goth to visually augment Britten’s tautly composed opera with libretto by Myfanwy Piper and is perfectly scaled for Union Avenue Christian Church’s compact stage.

Much has been written about the duality of Britten’s use of musical characterizations for “Screw” since its debut in 1954. This duality concerns those characters who can be interpreted as moral (the Governess, Miles, Flora and Mrs. Grose) and those that could be considered of the more ghostly or spiritual persuasion (Peter Quint and Miss Jessel). The former are surrounded by uncomplicated music and the latter with music that is amorphous and other-worldly. As the opera progresses the two styles become ever more entwined and intense – and ending with a profound feeling of disquiet.

Dress rehearsal for Union Avenue Opera’s production of The Turn of the Screw on July 5, 2023

UAO’s production of “Screw” is richly nuanced, compelling and emotionally powerful, and that’s thanks mostly to the direction of Nancy Bell and the strong cast, including Meroë Khalia Adeeb as the Governess, Sophie Yilmaz as Miles, Cecilia Hickey as Flora, Christine Brewer as Mrs. Grose, James Stevens as Peter Quint and Alexandra Martinez-Turano as Miss Jessel. Adeeb, Yilmaz and Martinez-Turano are making their UAO stage debuts in this production.

As the opera begins, a “character” named Prologue, played by James Stevens (Peter Quint later on), provides the background to the plot and sets the action in motion. On stage are blindfolded characters, and Prologue (or is he Quint?) removes the blindfolds.

As the opera “unfolds” in this moment, it seems Prologue’s removal is a visual metaphor for what is about to be revealed. Yet, the opera’s climactic, mysterious final scene lends itself to multiple interpretations, not a clear revealing. This brilliant effect is thanks to Bell’s direction.

This production’s performers are well balanced and well cast, top to bottom. Stevens in his dual roles delivers a riveting performance in both as he slithers from taunt to seduction to malevolence.  As the Governess, Adeeb’s performance stands out among the others.

She provides an impressive range of technical voice control and realistic acting during her transformation from the poised servant we meet at the beginning to the unraveled, emotionally undone  protector in the final scene.

Christine Brewer as Mrs. Grose embodied her character fully through her effective acting and her rather authoritative singing with impressive dynamic control and proper diction. Yilmaz provides a Miles with an unsettling dissonance. Her voice offers the higher pitch of the boy she portrays – a sort of reverse castrati.

Britten’s score receives a beautifully haunting rendition by the UAO orchestra, led by conductor Scott Schoonover.

Dress rehearsal for Union Avenue Opera’s production of The Turn of the Screw on July 5, 2023

Union Avenue Opera presents “Turn of the Screw” at 8 p.m. on July 7, 8, 14 and 15 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Boulevard. For more information, visit www.unionavenueopera.org

James Stevens as Quint

By Lynn Venhaus

Ah, existential angst. Few acting roles are as consequential as the ones in Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and few casts are up to the stimulating challenge like the outstanding ensemble is at St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Expert craftsmen present deeply felt and moving performances, as they peel off the many layers of Chekhov’s tortured characters like they are giving a master class in rejuvenating a classic 19th century work.

To portray how a family’s ordinary life on a rural estate is disrupted by a self-centered relative and his alluring younger second wife one summer, each performer shades the subtext, making sure the melancholy is perceived and yet, displaying glimmers of joy.

Smooth, insightful direction by Annamaria Pileggi makes every corner of The Gaslight Theatre’s intimate black box crackle with tension and melodrama as messy family entanglements unfold.

Greg Johnston makes the vain retired university professor Aleksandr Vladimirovich Serebryakov thoroughly detestable. He has lived in the city for years on the earnings of his late first wife’s rural estate. You can understand his brother-in-law Vanya’s resentment and how his faithful wife Yelena has fallen out of love with this irritable, demanding man.

As the beautiful Yelena, Jennelle Gilreath Owens makes her misery palpable and her torment realistic over two other men professing their love, as she has beguiled them with regal bearing, and intelligence.

John Pierson as Uncle Vanya. Photo by Patrick Huber.

As lovesick Vanya, aka Ivan Petrovich Voynitsky, John Pierson gives one of his finest, most explosive performances – and I didn’t think he could top “Blackbird” and “Annapurna,” but he burns bright as an agitated powder keg of conflicting emotions and seethes, consumed by grudges, and fumes, because of the rejections and his many regrets. It’s also a surprisingly physical part, too.

Grumbling Vanya and his devoted niece Sonya have kept the crumbling estate going, all in service to the professor, and he is hopping mad at giving his life to such a thankless role. His sister, first wife, is Sonya’s mother and this was her estate.

In a devastating performance, Bryn McLaughlin is heartbreaking as beleaguered Sonya, written as “plain” but kind, and wise beyond her years. She is in love with the visiting doctor, Mikhail Astrov, who only has eyes for Yelena, and endures countless agony as a woman without any prospects for marriage. McLaughlin, a young actress fairly new to St. Louis, breaks through in this memorable role.

Our empathy for Sonya is strong. As the rock of the family, she clings to her idealism as well as her practical nature, still hopeful and understanding of her circumstances. She soothes her malcontent uncle, even though she is deserving of happiness too.

Michael James Reed is commanding as the visiting country doctor Mikhail Lvovich Astrov, glum yet charismatic. His provincial existence isn’t fulfilling, and neither is his medical work, although he takes it very seriously.

He is clueless about Sonya’s unrequited love, which causes her hard-to-bear sorrow. She has poured her heart out to her stepmother, not realizing the sparks between her and the good, but hard-drinking, doctor. He is drawn to spend more time there and things get topsy-turvy.

Photo by Patrick Huber

In supporting roles, Jan Meyer is Maria Vasilyevna Voynitskaya, Vanya’s out-of-touch mother; Eleanor Mullin is caring, pragmatic housekeeper Marina Timofeevna; and Michael Musgrave-Perkins is good-natured Ilya Ilych Telegin, a poor landowner, who is nicknamed “Waffles” for his pockmarked skin, and lives on the estate as a dependent. His music added a pleasant cultural note.

Patrick Huber’s set design is visually appealing and practical for country living in a sweltering summer. Teresa Doggett’s costume design outfits each character well, especially Owens. One quibble — McLaughlin’s wig is too large and heavy for her delicate face.

This version of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” was adapted by contemporary playwright Neil LaBute in 2020, and he has retained the passion and intensity without chopping much, to my recollection. Any changes he made aren’t jarring or noticeable, and the length is still three hours.

This Chekhov work has been adapted many times on stage and in film, and inspired other works. The fact that its chaos is relatable today – lonely people living in isolation, family hierarchies, and even the doctor’s talk of ecological problems and destruction of forests — is remarkable.

Vanya is one of Chekhov’s four classics, written in 1897 and directed by Konstantin Stanislavski at the Moscow Art Theatre two years later, following “The Seagull” and before “The Three Sisters” and “The Cherry Orchard.”

Because of his penchant for realism, Chekhov is credited with establishing modernism in theater, and Stanislavski took the ‘between the lines’ concept one further with the “Method” acting blueprint for many performers.

His influences remain, and it’s refreshing to see how much we can relate to his bleak visions on lost youth, disappointments and finding our purpose – but with some satiric touches, too. For a classic to work in the 21st century, it must have a vitality and teach us anew.

In 2016, St. Louis Actors’ Studio presented “Ivanov,” which was a tall order with 14 people in the cast but was an effective, smart work with stellar performances.

Greg Johnston, Jennelle Gilreath Owens. Photo by Patrick Huber.

The skill shown throughout this ambitious work is exceptional, and another crown jewel for St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” from Feb. 17 to March 5, with 8 p.m. shows on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays, with Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Feb. 23 and March 2, at the Gaslight Theatre, at 360 North Boyle in the Central West End. Tickets through Ticketmaster or show up at the box office half-hour before curtain. For more information: www.stlas.org.

Photo by Patrick Huber
Michael James Reed, Michael Musgrave-Perkins, John Pierson. Photo by Patrick Huber

By Lynn Venhaus

A fascinating piece that combines intricate magic feats with intimate storytelling, “Forget Me Not” is an uncommon presentation.

Illusionist Kyle Marlett engages with an original and autobiographical one-man show that is much more than sleight of hand magic tricks and stunning visuals. As nifty as those inspired bits are, they are part of a bigger picture.

This is not your flashy extravaganza with pulsating music and fancy lighting that you often see as show biz spectacles — nor is it lacking artistry. Quite the contrary. It’s a one-of-a-kind rumination on learning, living, and leaving a mark, done with tender care.

This ambitious production appears to be a solo enterprise, but it’s not, for he has an accomplished cohort. Gunnar Sizemore, an actor who has appeared as Micah in the TV series “Nashville,” is Marlett’s co-creator. He is a director and voice actor, too, known for voicing Bao in the TV series “Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny,” among others.

The unusual set design – walls of boxes, some opening for effect, was co-designed with Patrick Huber. Several boxes hang from the ceiling, and are timed to drop as part of the show.

Kyle Marlett “Forget-Me-Not”

The subdued atmosphere includes low lighting and smoky effects, and the sound is soft. Huber was the lighting designer, too, and Marlett designed the sound.

Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Marlett shares his life story in a measured tone, with striking visual flourishes along the journey – such as recounting the times he and his brother shared giant bowls of cereal after school.

He has been estranged from that brother because of drugs. His brother’s woes and his father’s alcoholism didn’t make for a happy childhood, and he grew up escaping into his own fantasy world.

Magic enthralled him from the get-go and determined his path. His story’s unique, yet familiar, and that’s the endgame goal here – to engage people in a memorable way.

It’s doubtful that you’ve seen anything like it before. I know I haven’t.

Marlett has more than 1.5 million followers online and has been on such television shows as “The Tonight Show,” “Penn and Teller’s Fool Us,” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He has also produced magic for movies and streaming series. A few years ago, he appeared at The Gaslight Theatre “in a very different show,” he told me.

Now, this show’s purpose is to focus on more meaningful connections. You know, the heavy stuff – Why are we here? What happens after we’re gone – who will tell our stories? What impact can we have? The clock is ticking, so how do we go about being remembered?

Marlett respectfully asked the audience for their thoughts, and to share some details, while he incorporated magic into the structure. Without razzle-dazzle, they were quite impressive – and the audience reacted warmly.

 This is a departure from the customary fare at St. Louis Actors’ Studio but follows that theme of connection that’s been ever-present in our post-pandemic (well, post-vaccine) world.

The feeling of a shared experience, like live theater represents, remains.

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “Forget Me Not,” Dec. 3-18, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. in The Gaslight Theatre. It is 75 minutes without an intermission. Box office 314-458-2978 or www.ticketmaster, or one-hour before each show. For more information, visit www.stlas.org or contact help@stlas.org.

By Lynn Venhaus

Sympathies shift as does time in the twisty relationship drama “Fiction,” presented by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio as a study in the stories we tell ourselves.

Playwright Steven Dietz explores “What would you do if you had to live with a secret that you thought you would die with?”

That complicates life for sophisticates Linda and Michael Waterman, who are both writers, thus the verbal jousting throughout the two acts.

Their literate lives will be turned upside-down with the diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor (hers) and the revelation of an affair (his).

After Linda’s devastating news, she asks her husband to share his diaries with her. Who can refuse a dying person’s wish, right? He agrees – tearing out a page – and his entries disclose what happened at a writer’s retreat with a young Abby, an administrator at The Drake Colony. Rut-ro.

With his customary witty dialogue, Dietz examines the blurred lines between fact and fiction, truth and lies, reality and imagination. Does discretion spare pain or make betrayal worse? Can couples overcome deceit? Is “memory the better writer” as Michael states?

And what kind of mind game are we exactly in for here?

As cagily played by Lizi Watt as Linda and William Roth as Michael, their carefully constructed worlds come to a head when they are forced into edgy territory – and are backed into a corner.

The very opinionated and glib Waterman defends his journaling by describing it as fiction. A rather stressed Linda conjures up scenarios in her head, as she thinks she knows him well enough to figure out what happened. He described Abby as a lethal combination of beauty, danger, youth and wit.

As they revise facts, trust breaks down. Then Michael reads Linda’s diaries. Well, who is keeping secrets now? And what isn’t disclosed on the hand-written pages?

What a tangled web Dietz has weaved into two hours, adding plot twists – and a few contrivances to make this more confounding rather than easily filling in the blanks.

William Roth, Bryn McLaughlin, Lizi Watt. Photo by Patrick Huber.

What the Watermans have been telling themselves for 20 years is that their longtime relationship is built on honesty and candor. After all, they are writers. But the irony is that sometimes, those adept at the written word aren’t always the best communicators when it comes to expressing feelings and deep thoughts one-on-one.

Confrontations will expose vulnerabilities and appear to be ripping scabs off old wounds. And what’s with this mysterious Abby, and how long was she in contact with Michael? How does she know Linda?

Agile at rapid-fire banter, Watts and Roth are convincing, if not enitrely relatable, as the pair – his character tends to pontificate, and her healthy self can get snippy, but you do feel for her current predicament. His novels are so popular they’re made into movies while her one acclaimed book, “At the Cape,” a fictionalized account of her sexual assault in South Africa, is long in the rearview mirror, and she now teaches creative writing. Linda is tough and confident, not a pushover.

As Abby, Bryn McLaughlin plays her close to the vest when she appears before and present, shading her ambiguously. She holds her own in scenes with the older established characters.

This three-hander, deftly staged by Wayne Salomon, digs deeper into the gray areas of relationships that aren’t so black-and-white. Salomon’s a master at dissecting ordinary people and their motivations, as he has shown in an illustrious career spanning 50 years.

In recent years at STLAS, he’s done sharply defined work with “August: Osage County,” “Three Tall Women,” and “Farragut North.” This one, with its enigmatic premise, is indeed a challenge.

While the actors are smooth and obviously well-rehearsed, given the dexterity on display and their earnest analysis to make the material understandable, the stumbling block is the play’s structure.

The time shifts are not always clear, which is intentional. There are minor changes in costumes to reflect the year depicted, a smart move by costume designer Carla Landis Evans.

When we first meet the couple at a café in Paris (really?), they seem to have a comfy rapport. Dietz’s idea to start with a high-spirited argument on best rock vocal performance is clever, for we immediately ascertain they’re Boomers, with each taking a side – he’s adamant it’s John Lennon in “Twist and Shout,” and she’s making a case for Janis Joplin for “Piece of My Heart.”

Music, being the universal language, helps us size up the characters. But turns out, this is their first meeting, and they eventually marry. It sets up their rhythms, for couples tend to have their own shorthand..

This shift in time will keep us off-guard, particularly with the back-and-forth on the Abby sequences, and perhaps more at a distance that we should be as we’re trying to keep straight what’s accurate.

Then, there is the matter of mortality. The reason she’s reading his diaries is that she’s going to die soon (three weeks, or as she puts it, “twenty meals.”) Spoiler alert: But then, lo and behold, doctors say ‘oops!’ and never mind — due to an “oncological misapprehension,” she’s given a reprieve, so that makes things stickier for what’s out in the open. But then… (won’t spoil the rest). And if she has a malignancy tumor, undergoing treatment, wouldn’t that affect her behavior?

These choices are debatable, and the off-kilter nature can be frustrating, if that’s how you sense it. I can see where deciphering the relationships can become chore-like.

In all narratives, talking about writing can get in the weeds with theatergoers, while showing the writing process is even trickier. I can see responses vary about the two.

Should our lives be an open book in our intimate relationships? Dietz brings up questions, but are his points persuasive?

Are the characters unreliable narrators? Things are open to interpretation, depending on your viewpoint. And given human nature, perspectives will vary.

The setting, designed by Patrick Huber and carried out by Andy Cross and Sarah Frost, is minimally staged to focus on the verbal fireworks. No bookshelves, such as those artfully staged for Zoom, for the backdrop.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio, now in its 15th season, is looking through the lens of life’s fundamentals in several productions this year.

Their selections always bring up provocative issues that make a viewer consider how they think and feel, which results in an interesting experience worthy of discussion.

“Fiction” was produced in a workshop setting through ACT Theatre in Seattle in 2002, then presented at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., and later, off-Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre in 2004.

Active for 30 years, the prolific Dietz is one of the most widely produced playwrights in the U.S. Locally, his works “Bloomsday” and “This Random World” have been performed by the West End Players Guild. “God’s Country,” “The Nina Variations,” “Lonely Planet,” “Shooting Star” and “Private Eye” are among his many plays, often staged in regional theaters. Always witty and frequently insightful, Dietz’ comedy-dramas intrigue.

This much I know is true – the truth is uncomfortable but lies are worse. Although this brings up thought-provoking topics, whatever Dietz was going for in “Fiction” doesn’t land wholly satisfactorily, although the performances are genuine and the production work sincere.

William Roth, Lizi Watt. Photo by Patrick Huber

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “Fiction” by Steven Dietz from Oct. 7 to Oct. 23, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 p.m. at The Gaslight Theater at 358 N. Boyle in the Central West End.

For tickets, visit https://www.ticketmaster.com/the-gaslight-theater-tickets-st-louis/venue/50324 or purchase at the box office prior to showtime. For more information: www.stlas.org

By C. B. Adams
“Eugene Onegin,” the opera based on Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel of the same name, inspired another great writer, Anton Chekhov, to write a short story-cum-homage to the opera, “After the Theatre.” In it, Chekhov observed, “There was something beautiful,
touching and romantic about A loving B when B wasn’t interested in A. Onegin was attractive in not loving at all, while Tatyana was enchanting because she loved greatly. Had they loved equally and been happy they might have seemed boring.”

Good point. And, as we all know from yet another member of the Russian literati, Leo Tolstoy, “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This is a review of Union Avenue Opera’s production of “Eugene Onegin,” not a Russian Lit course. But, as the opera builds to its final act, one must decide whether the lead characters’ unhappiness resonates in a fulfilling way. Do we cheer Tatyana as she finally
spurns Onegin after he ungraciously spurned her two acts earlier?

Do we feel Onegin’s misery and despair at his impending loneliness? Do we cheer his comeuppance? Or do we embrace that tragic ambiguity?

It’s the players more than the libretto that help shape any (or none) of those answers. This year has been an interesting St. Louis opera season for strong women. Opera Theater of St. Louis put forth a tough-gal “Carmen,” sung by Sarah Mesko, and Union Avenue
offered a resilient Tatyana sung by the Russian-born-and-trained Zoya Gramagin, making her Union Avenue debut.

Dress rehearsal for Union Avenue Opera’s production of Eugene Onegin on July 5, 2022.

Even in Act I, when Tatyana is a young and naïve country woman writing a gushy love letter to Onegin, Gramagin used her clear soprano to imbue Tatyana with innocence and undercurrent of strength. This Tatyana was no Cinderella, and this was most evident by Act III when she is now married to a prince. Onegin finally becomes smitten and she spurns him. Of all the characters in this “Onegin,” Gramagin’s Tatyana was the only one who seemed to have truly changed, placing her at the emotional core of this production.

Balancing the youthfulness of Tatyana was baritone Robert Garner as Eugene Onegin. Garner’s voice was rich, emotive and a pleasure to experience, though it was a challenge to identify with his narcissism and dismissiveness. Some “bad guys” you learn to like
(think Walter White in “Breaking Bad”), others you just have to endure. Garner’s Onegin was handsome, rakish and self-centered – qualities that he neither shed nor eschewed.

The only reward for his inability to change seemed to be the lonely life that awaits him. Onegin may have been the last character on stage, but Tatyana had the best last word as she operatically and metaphorically dropped the mic. This being a Russian opera, with libretto by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky no less, it’s appropriate to liken it to a matryoshka doll, with production elements nestled inside production elements.

Tatyana and Onegin may be the protagonists in the story, but they also require equally strong performances from the ensemble, which they certainly had in Union Avenue’s production. In fact, other than Garner’s Tatyana, tenor William Davenport as Lensky provided the
most engaging and relatable performance. His superb voice, especially during the “friendship” aria in Act II, was a highlight, and his ability to reveal Lensky’s character was well matched to Onegin’s shallowness.

Rounding out the solid cast was Melody Wilson as a Tatyana’s younger sister/bestie, Olga, and basso Isaiah Musik-Ayala as Tatyana’s princely husband, Prince Gremin, who delivered a powerful area about her. Also nestled inside this matryoshka was a solid supporting cast and chorus and the always-fine orchestra under the direction of Scott Schoonover.

Dress rehearsal for Union Avenue Opera’s production of Eugene Onegin on July 5, 2022.

Union Avenue’s modestly sized stage provides challenges for large casts – a challenge that stage director Octavio Cardenas successfully surmounted. When the stage was full to the gills, it never felt constricted or distracting, not even during a peasant dance or polonaise, choreographed by Jennifer Medina.

One of the weakest elements of this matryoshka was Patrick Huber’s scenic design that included a series of tall, birch-like trees that worked well in Act II, but less so in later acts. The costumes by Teresa Doggett were superb, but some of the props appeared a bit
tired.

“Eugene Onegin” was a fine way for Union Avenue to return to its home stage after two years in the pandemic hinterlands. And at the conclusion of the performance, with Gramagin’s Tatyana still pleasantly in mind, one might remember of something from
Boris Pasternak in another tragic Russian love story, “Doctor Zhivago,” “If it’s so painful to love and absorb electricity, how much more painful it is to be a woman, to be the electricity, to inspire love.”

Union Avenue Opera presents “Eugene Onegin” July 8, 9, 15, 16 at 8 p.m. at Union Avenue Christian Church. For more information,
visit www.unionavenueopera.org

Dress rehearsal for Union Avenue Opera’s production of Eugene Onegin on July 5, 2022.

By CB Adams
Before the lights dimmed and the 8th annual LaBute New Theater Festival began, this reviewer felt pity instead of anticipation – pity for the nine playwrights who had to endure a two-year, pandemic-induced delay for their works to be fretted and strutted upon the intimate performance space at the Gaslight Theater.

During the festival’s four-week run, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents two sets of five one-act plays selected in 2020 – a Whitman’s Sampler (something for everyone!) of short dramas. Each slate includes “St. Louis,” written by the festival’s founder and namesake, the Tony-nominated, acclaimed writer and director Neil LaBute.

Two years may have felt like an eternity to playwrights and public alike, but the first set of one acts, running from July 8–17, delivers a collectively gratifying experience resonating with relevance to the current zeitgeist.

The first set includes Aren Haun’s “What Else is New,” John Doble’s “Twilight Time,” Willie Johnson’s “Funny Thing,” and Fran Dorf’s
“Time Warp,” as well as LaBute’s “St. Louis.”

Experiencing this evening of one acts is like reading a short-story collection. You might not enjoy every play (not all in the first set are one-hit wonders), but taken together, they are engaging, thought-provoking and satisfying. When soliciting for one acts, the LaBute
Festival seeks plays that feature no more than four characters. They should be crafted specifically to exploit the Gaslight’s intimate, 18-foot square performance space with quick changes in scenery, setting and set moves.

For theater-goers who love plays that focus on the fundamentals of dramaturgy – plot, character and theme – the LaBute Festival is a must-see, based on this first slate.

The plays presented this year are diverse, yet share a common thread, if not a common theme, of human connectedness:

“What Else is New,” set in a diner, involves Bruno (and his suitcase), an unhoused loner (replete with an annoying need for conversation and more tics and twitches than Brad Pitt in the film “12 Monkeys”) and Mark, a disinterested college art student who works the counter. t’s a marvel to watch the two characters circuitously connect.

“Twilight Time,” concerns a chance encounter between Benjamin and Geraldine, two disaffected youths who discover they are both planning their suicides. Though not as humorously death-drenched as “Harold and Maude,” they connect over common political and other opinions and soon make plans to live, perhaps happily ever after.

“Funny Thing” is anything but funny as the four-month relationship between Older Man and Younger Man is stuffed into a blender and set to frappe. The resulting, non-chronological plot makes frequent pivots that are easy to follow, thanks to fine acting and effective lighting changes.

No one dances in “Time Warp,” but, as the song goes, “…With a bit of a mind flip / You’re into the time slip / And nothing can ever be the same…” For those of us who like stories that explore the possibilities presented by punctures in the time- space continuum, “Time Warp” delivers a mind-bending – and ultimately harrowing – tale involving Brian, a Vietnam War army psychiatrist, his wife, Beth, a curiosity shopkeeper, CG Young, and a specter-like painter and fellow soldier, Joey Passarelli. The warping of time and circumstance ensues, though not in a science fiction sort of way.

LaBute’s “St. Louis” (presented in both sets of the festival) could have been titled Stand and Deliver because that’s what this play’s three characters do: they stand and deliver (as does the entire play itself). St. Louis does not concern itself with Ted Drewes, the Arch or any other tourist destinations. There are a few compass- point references to St. Louis, such as the Central West End, but the true location
of this one act is the triangulated world and relationships of the three monologists, She, Her and Him. The climax of the relationship – the connection – among these characters is too good to spoil.

But, climax aside, the most noteworthy achievement is how the story is unfolded by the three characters, each in a pool of
light and each speaking as if to their own offstage interlocutor. Separately, and yet collectively, they stand and deliver their part of a shared, very personal history. Under the deft direction of Spencer Sickmann (himself a seasoned actor), the actors collectively embrace their characters and deliver these short plays with confidence, believability and chemistry.

And, in the case of “Twilight Time,” they surpass the play itself. Mitch Henry Eagles plays triple duty in “What Else is New,” “Funny Thing” and “Time Warp.” All are fine performances, but the standout is as the Younger Man in “Funny Thing.” His character is whiplashed by the on-again/off-again relationship he shares with Older Man and Eagles easily flips between “should I stay” or “should I go?”

Bryn McLaughlin does double duty as Geraldine in “Twilight Time” and She in “St. Louis.” Her performance in the former is the strongest in that play, and in the latter, she’s even better as she projects a strong, confident counterpoint to the bro-ish Him. As Him, Brock
Russell plays a character one loves to hate, or vice versa, and that dichotomy is testament to his ability to fully reveal the complexities of Him.

Eric Dean White demonstrates tremendous range playing the twitchy chatterbox Bruno in “What Else is New” and, a couple of one acts later, as the sensitive psychiatrist and husband in “Time Warp.” The nervous energy he pours into his Bruno is as exhausting as it is exhilarating.

In the case of these one acts, to call the sets, lighting and costumes bare bones is a compliment. As in most literary short stories, there’s nothing extraneous and everything must serve a purpose in black-box one acts. In this first slate of plays, that’s exactly what Patrick Huber achieves with the flexible sets and lighting, as does Carla Landis Evans with the costume designs.

Set One of the LaBute New Theater Festival runs July 8-17 at at the Gaslight Theater, 358 N Boyle Ave. Set Two runs from July 22–31. Times are 3 p.m. on Sundays and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, www.stlas.org
All photos by Patrick Huber

.Union Avenue Opera announces three new garden concerts taking place this spring.

This summer, Union Avenue Opera will make its highly anticipated return to its home stage within the historic Union Avenue Christian Church at 733 N. Union Blvd, just north of the intersection of Union and Delmar Boulevards.

Known for its commitment to presenting operas in their original language, Union Avenue Opera will offer a three opera festival season opening with Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Eugene Onegin (July 8, 9, 15, 16) which last appeared on the UAO stage in 2003 to great critical acclaim. The season will also see the return of Verdi’s riotous Italian romp Falstaff (July 29, 30, August 5, 6) which the company last produced in 2005. Rounding out the 2022 season will be the UAO debut of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s charming A Little Night Music (August 19, 20, 26, 27).

“Moving back to our home stage after these harrowing two years away is a joyful outcome to the uncertainty we have faced during this pandemic” said UAO Founder and Artistic Director Scott Schoonover. “Our first two productions are personal and audience favorites from our 28 years of producing opera – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Verdi’s Falstaff. These new, vivacious productions welcome back to our stage many returning artists and several debut singers. Director Octavio Cardenas will make his UAO debut with Eugene Onegin bringing his own special brand of visceral, physical directing to the UAO stage. Jon Truitt returns to direct Falstaff (Jon’s favorite
opera) with his proven comedic style, and Maestro Stephen Hargreaves will return to the UAO pit.”

“Our third production is a company and composer debut with Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. I’ve wanted to bring this show to UAO for many years and am so thrilled it is finally happening!” said Schoonover. “Annamaria Pileggi will return to direct this stellar cast headlined by St. Louis’ own Debby Lennon as Desirée. It is a wonderful story with so much memorable music which finishes up a season that certainly offers something for everyone! I know we say often, but this one is truly a season not to be missed – it is chock-full of amazing voices, actors, orchestra and stage technicians eager to get back to great storytelling on the intimate UAO stage.”
Single tickets range from $35 to $55 and are available at unionavenueopera.org or by calling 314-361-2881. Discounts are available for Seniors (65+), Military/Educator, and Young Audiences (under 18). All performances start at 8:00PM and free parking is available in the lots behind the venue and overflow parking is available on the street. 

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s: EUGENE ONEGIN

July 8, 9, 15, 16 at 8:00PM
Presented in Russian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Directed by Octavio Cardenas
Libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky and Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky


A cautionary tale of what was, what was not, and what could have been.
Tatyana, a lovesick girl from the countryside, declares her love for Onegin and finds herself spurned by the disenchanted aristocrat. Onegin, indifferent to the feelings of others, disregards Tatyana’s advances to pursue Olga, his friend Lensky’s betrothed. A duel commences and Onegin finds himself victorious albeit deeply tormented. He returns years later to find Tatyana happily married to Prince Gremin. Struck by her beauty, Onegin declares his love
for her only to find himself face to face with the folly of his naïveté. Eugene Onegin is a sophisticated and melancholy masterpiece by one of classical music’s most universally beloved composers. Tchaikovsky’s lush melodies are enhanced by the opera’s unique folk tunes, infectious waltzes, and passion-soaked arias bringing to
life Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel like never before.

Under the baton of Artistic Director Scott Schoonover, Robert Garner (Nabucco, Nabucco) and William Davenport (Hoffmann, Les contes d’Hoffmann) will return to UAO in their role debuts as Onegin and Lensky respectively. No stranger to the role of Tatyana, Zoya Gramagin will make her UAO debut alongside Andrew W. Potter as Prince Gremin. Melody Wilson (Fenena, Nabucco and Mrs. Miller, Doubt) will return as Olga along with local artists Debbie Stinson as Madama Larina, Victoria Carmichael as Filippyevna, Marc Schapman as Triquet, and Benjamin Worley as Zaretsky. This will be acclaimed stage director Octavio Carendas’ UAO directorial debut. Patrick Huber will provide scenic and lighting design with costume design by Teresa Doggett.

Eugene Onegin – Robert Garner
Tatyana – Zoya Gramagin*
Lensky – William Davenport
Olga – Melody Wilson
Filippyevna – Victoria Carmichael
Madame Larina – Debbie Stinson
Prince Gremin – Andrew W. Potter*
Monsieur Triquet – Marc Schapman
Zaretsky – Benjamin Worley

Giuseppe Verdi’s: FALSTAFF

July 29, 30, August 5, 6 at 8:00PM
Presented in Italian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Stephen Hargreaves
Directed by Jon Truitt
Libretto by Arrigo Boito


Drink. Cheat. Scheme. Repeat. Just don’t get caught unaware
Old, lecherous, and down on his luck, Sir John Falstaff can’t resist the ladies. The fool hatches a plan to reverse his ill-fortune and sets his sights on not one, but two married women. Sharper than they look, Alice and Meg discover the odious Falstaff’s plan to unceremoniously seduce them and trick them out of their fortunes. The women band together and with the help of Nannetta and Dame Quickly, they concoct a scheme to teach him a lesson he’ll never forget and to put him in his place once and for all. Add in a jealous husband, a pair of young lovers, and a touch of the supernatural and what ensues is a sophisticated comedy filled with failed plans and botched disguises. Verdi’s riotous romp Falstaff bubbles with irrepressible wit and charm in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

On the heels of last summer’s company debut, Robert Mellon (Figaro, Il barbiere di Siviglia) will lead the cast of returning artists as Sir John Falstaff. No stranger to the UAO stage Brooklyn Snow (the Heroines, Les contes d’Hoffmann, and Cunegonde, Candide) will be reunited with her Candide co-star, Jesse Darden (Candide) as the two young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton. St. Louis-based husband and wife duo Jacob Lassetter and Karen Kanakis will portray Ford and his wife Alice for the production as Janara Kellerman (Rosina, Il barbiere di Siviglia) returns as Dame Quickly, and Melody Wilson will again be seen on the UAO stage, this time in her role debut as Meg Page. A trio of St. Louis based artists round out the cast with Clark Sturdevant as Bardolfo, Mark Freiman as Pistola, and Anthony Heinemann as Dr. Caius. Stephen Hargreaves conducts while Jon Truitt directs. Lex Van Bloomestein’s set designs and Teresa Doggett’s costume designs will be enhanced by Patrick Huber’s lighting design.

Sir John Falstaff – Robert Mellon
Alice Ford – Karen Kanakis
Ford – Jacob Lassetter
Nanetta – Brooklyn Snow
Fenton – Jesse Darden
Dame Quickly – Janara Kellerman
Meg Page – Melody Wilson
Bardolfo – Clark Sturdevant
Pistola – Mark Freiman
Dr. Caius – Anthony Heinemann

Stephen Sondheim’s: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

August 19, 20, 26, 27 at 8:00PM
Presented in English with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Suggested by a Film by Ingmar Bergman
Originally Produced and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince


Lovers reunite, passions reignite, and new romance blossoms in the magic of music on a mid-summer’s night.


A Little Night Music explores the tangled web of affairs centered around the glamorous actress Desirée Armfeldt and the two married men who love her: a lawyer by the name of Frederik Egerman and Count Carl-Magnus Malcom.

Both men—as well as their jealous wives—agree to join Desirée at her family’s estate for a scandalous “Weekend in the Country” under the watchful eyes of the wry family matriarch and harmonizing Greek chorus. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, it is no wonder A Little Night Music won the Tony Award for Best Musical. From the romance of the night waltzes to the hauntingly beautiful “Send in the Clowns,” Sondheim’s sweeping score is infused with humor and warmth weaving together musical theatre and operetta seamlessly in this tantalizing tale.

Debby Lennon (Mrs. Mullin, Carousel) returns to the UAO stage to lead this stunning cast as Desirée Armfeldt under the direction of Annamaria Pileggi, and Scott Schoonover conducts. Also returning to the UAO stage are Peter Kendall Clark (Older Thompson, Glory Denied) and Brooklyn Snow, who makes her second appearances of the season, as the newly married Frederick and Anne Egerman. Eric J. McConnell makes his UAO stage debut as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm and Leann Schuering (Josephine, H.M.S. Pinafore) as his wife Charlotte. Local actor Teresa Doggett, best known for her work as UAO’s costume designer for the past fifteen seasons, makes her UAO stage debut as the matriarch Madame Armfeldt alongside Amy Maude Helfer as the restless maid Petra and Arielle Pedersen as the young Fredrika. A bevy of St. Louis talent round out the cast including James Stevens as Henrik Egerman, Jordan Wolk as the butler Frid, and Grace Yukiko Fisher, Gina Malone, Sarah Price, Joel Rogier, and Philip Touchette as the “Liebeslieders”. C. Otis Sweezey will provide scenic design for A Little Night Music along with costume design by Teresa Doggett and lighting design by Patrick Huber.

Desirée Armfeldt – Debby Lennon
Frederick Egerman – Peter Kendall Clark
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm – Eric J. McConnell*
Charlotte Malcolm – Leann Schuering
Madame Armfeldt – Teresa Doggett*
Anne Egerman – Brooklyn Snow
Henrik Egerman – James Stevens
Petra – Amy Maude Helfer*
Fredrika – Arielle Pedersen*
Mrs. Nordstrom – Gina Malone
Mrs. Anderssen – Grace Yukiko Fisher
Mrs. Segstrom – Sarah Price*
Mr. Erlanson – Philip Touchette
Mr. Lindquist – Joel Rogier
Frid – Jordan Wolk

A Little Night Music is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized
performance materials are also supplied by MTI. www.mtishows.com
*UAO stage debut

Opera in the Garden
In anticipation of the season, UAO will bring classic opera front and center in its 2022 Opera in the Garden – Garden Concert Series Fundraiser this spring. Launched in 2018, as a House Concert Series, UAO moved the concerts outdoor in the fall of 2020 for the safety of its artists and patrons and were some of the first, live, operatic performances held in St. Louis during the pandemic. Each concert will feature two UAO artists from the upcoming season performing an eclectic and entertaining selection of arias, art songs and musical theatre favorites, and will showcase a scholarship winner from UAO’s 2022 CRESCENDO! program along with a guest instrumentalist from UAO’s talented opera orchestra.

Sunday, May 8 at 5:00PM
Our opening concert will take place on Mother’s Day and headlined by two singing moms – Gina Malone and Danielle Yilmaz – celebrating the day with us with some wonderful music and fun. Guest artists Raven Brooks, soprano, from Blackburn College and UAO principal flutist, Ann Dolan will join pianist Sandra Geary for this perfect Mother’s Day afternoon. The backdrop for our first concert is the beautiful lawn of the 1959 home of CK Siu and Shannon Hart which sits on what used to be the Krause farm in Ladue.

Sunday, May 22 at 5:00PM
Our second concert takes us to the grounds of the former Rand Mansion, now the home of University City mayor, Terry Crow. Artists Sarah Price, Mark Freiman and Nancy Mayo will lead this concert, along with guest soprano, Erica Ancell from Webster University and UAO principal horn player, Nancy Schick, who will team up with Ms. Price and Ms. Mayo for a not-to-be-missed special performance of Schubert’s Auf dem Strom D. 943.

Sunday, June 5 at 5:00PM
The 2022 Garden Concert Series concludes with a return to the beautiful flower-filled garden of the University City home of Richard and Mary Ann Shaw. Grace Yukiko Fisher, Philip Touchette and Nancy Mayo will entertain us with opera and musical theatre fun, and guest artists Madalyn Tomkins, soprano, from Webster University, and Carolina Neves, violinist will round out this beautiful afternoon.

Fundraiser tickets are $50 for individuals or $100 for Patron Seating which includes the best reserved seats and a $50 tax-deductible donation to UAO. Tickets are on sale now at www.unionavenueopera.org and must be ordered in advance (no door sales).

About Union Avenue Opera

UAO was founded in 1994 to bring affordable, professional, original-language opera t St. Louis, a mission the company continues to pursue to this day. UAO is committed to hiring the most talented artists, directors, designers and technicians both locally and from across the United States. UAO provides promising singers the first steppingstone of their professional career. The company celebrated its 25th Anniversary Season in 2019 and offers vibrant and affordable opera experiences in original languages to audiences who reflect the breadth and diversity of the St. Louis region. UAO is a publicly supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in
Missouri.

Financial assistance for the 2022 Festival Season has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, and with support from the Regional Arts Commission