Saturday, November 13, 2010
A highlight of my recent trip to see my sainted mother in St Louis was a visit to the Rep to see a new play by Matthew Lombardo, High. As rolling premieres go, this production is something of a stampede; it had runs at Hartford Theater Works and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park before moving on to St Louis Rep, and the plan all along was to wind up Nueva York — Broadway.
When my mother picked up the tickets, the box office took one look at her and decided to do some pre-emptive deprogramming. “You do realize it’s……gritty?”
This spurred me to go online and find out just how nitty this gritty could get. Apparently the fuss is about the main character — a potty-mouthed nun sans wimple (but avec rosary) who works in a Church rehab service. Enter the challenge of her life in the form of an equally battle-scarred addict, and a shady priest with a mysterious agenda, and the games begin.
How does a lurid three-hander get Broadway legs? By dint of its star, Kathleen Turner. The very idea of sexy Ms. Turner married to Christ yet speaking fluent gutter punk is too delicious to resist. The gambit worked for the Rep; we were there on closing night, and the place was packed.
We got to sit within spitting distance of Ms. Turner, whose legendary smoky voice has deepened to a near-baritone. The woman has gravity; she commands a stage presence you don’t always get from movie stars in live performances. Fortunately for the production, her costars (Evan Jonigkeit and Michael Berresse) are both excellent — as they had better be, to stand up to Ms. Turner’s incandescence. In fact all the production elements are superb; there seems to be nothing else for this show to do but open on Broadway.
It’s interesting to me that St Louis was part of this gradual slouch toward New York. Leafing through the Rep’s program, I was impressed to see ads for about a dozen more theaters than I knew existed in that town. Seth Gordon is now at the Rep, as its Associate AD, where he’ll be kick-starting a new play development wing; he was out of town while I was there, but I was privileged to have lunch with two other noted theater artists, dramaturg Megan Monaghan and director Tlaloc Rivas, both teaching now at U of Missouri. And Carter Lewis has been catalyzing Wash U’s playwriting program for several years now. Looks like I have to revise my assumptions about St Louis being a theater backwater.
Oh, about the box office’s warnings? The putative grittiness came down to occasional blue language, a brief but convincing display of violence, and a smidge of nudity. My sainted mother’s assessment? “I’ve seen worse than that on TV.”