Smile Politely

45 is a distinguished age for a company

As every generation ages, the lines of “middle-aged” are constantly redrawn. Each decade, the phrase “x is the new x-20” gets revived, and folks ironically quote commercials from the 80s about products that promise to hide aging. “Mr. Smith is my father,” they jovially quip, “call me Chaz.” Well Chaz Celebration  Company, don’t cover up those grays: you’ve earned every one of them. And we think it makes you look better, distinguished, even. 

With the announcement of the company’s 45th season, the plays in question are a good mixture of comedy, pathos, thrills and satire that offer opportunities to every type of cast- and audience-member.

Synopses are from the Station Theatre’s website, additional comments are by the editor.

October 6-22

The Night Alive, by Conor McPherson, directed by Kay Bohannon Holley

Synopsis: Tommy’s not a bad man; he’s getting by. Renting a run-down room in his Uncle Maurice’s house, just about keeping his ex-wife and kids at arm’s length, and rolling from one get-rich-quick scheme to the other with his pal Doc. Then one day he comes to the aid of Aimee, who’s not had it easy herself, struggling through life the only way she knows how. Their past won’t let go easily, but together there’s a glimmer of hope that they could make something more of their lives. Something extraordinary. Perhaps. With inimitable warmth, style and craft, Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive deftly mines the humanity to be found in the most unlikely of situations. [Winner of the 2013–2014 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.]

The season opener is fairly ambitious, as this award-winning play opened with Ciarin Hinds and Brian Gleeson as the opposing leads. I’m not sure what I am supposed to know so far, but local theatre followers will recognize the prestigious talent that is on the roster as of now. Of course, having Kay Holley involved is historically a good sign for a play, and this choice seems unlikely to ruin her run. 

November 3-29

The Birds, by Conor McPherson, directed by Thom Schnarre

Synopsis: Daphne du Maurier’s short story, also the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, is boldly adapted by Conor McPherson—a gripping, unsettling, and moving look at human relationships in the face of societal collapse. In an isolated house, strangers Nat and Diane take shelter from relentless masses of attacking birds. They find relative sanctuary but not comfort or peace; there’s no electricity, little food, and a nearby neighbor may still be alive and watching them. Another refugee, the young and attractive Julia, arrives with some news of the outside world, but her presence also brings discord. Their survival becomes even more doubtful when paranoia takes hold of the makeshift fortress—an internal threat to match that of the birds outside.

So, yup, it’s that The Birds, and the film’s star Tippi Hedren gave it an impressive endorsement, calling it “…truly frightening…a night in the theatre that should not be missed.” Although running two plays by the same author back-to-back seems unusual, Schnarre has proven he’s game for the strange, and this play promises the weird and supernatural overtones that are usually present in McPherson’s work. 

December 1-17

Every Brilliant Thing, by Duncan Macmillan & Jonny Donahoe, directed Katie Prosise

Synopsis: You’re six years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s “done something stupid.” She finds it hard to be happy. So you start to make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for. 1. Ice cream. 2. Kung Fu movies. 3. Burning things. 4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose. 5. Construction cranes. 6. Me. You leave it on her pillow. You know she’s read it because she’s corrected your spelling. Soon, the list will take on a life of its own. A play about depression and the lengths we will go to for those we love. A one-person interactive show.

There’s only one burning question in my mind, and it is the thing that the success of the show will rest upon: “Who’s the one-person?” Of course, it also depends on the audience, as it requires an entire room full of what Billy Eichner once derided as “participators” (despite the fact that much of his humor depends on the willingness of random strangers). But I would care about QuintoSpock for a dollar, and I will happily read off something to be happy about. 

January 19-Feb 1

Hand to God, by Robert Askins, directed by Mikel Matthews, Jr.

Synopsis: After the death of his father, meek Jason finds an outlet for his anxiety at the Christian Puppet Ministry, in the devoutly religious, relatively quiet small town of Cypress, Texas. Jason’s complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door, and—most especially—his mother are thrown into upheaval when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. Hand to God explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind us. [Nominated for 5 Tony Awards including Best Play.]

I was thinking this would be my first puppet play at the Station, but I sit corrected, it will be my second, and both will have been directed by Mikel Matthews, Jr. This sock-puppet will be a lot less structurally challenging than the five-headed dragon, but I get the impression its challenges will lie on the emotional and fundamental levels. 

February 16-25

Bear, directed by Deke Weaver

Synopsis: BEAR is the fourth installment in artist and University of Illinois School of Art + Design faculty member Deke Weaver’s lifelong project, The Unreliable Bestiary—a collection of performances and books for every letter of the alphabet, with each letter representing an endangered animal. Ultimately a site-and season-specific theatrical triptych, BEAR will find Weaver and his collaborators delving into the peculiar myths, rituals, and cycles of living of the stocky-legged, big-pawed omnivores. BEAR’s fall chapter will take small groups of adventurers on short hikes to bear-related outdoor installations set in local parklands and will culminate with a final tale told in a close, dark, den-like setting. Information about BEAR’s winter and spring chapters will be updated at

BEAR’s fall chapter is going to be accessed through KCPA, but regardless of the groundhog’s forecast, Spring will come mid-Februray when hibernation for this beast ends at the Station Theatre. I have only experienced The Unreliable Bestiary through anecdotes and rumor, but it remains my most-anticipated event of 2016-17. 

March 2,3,4

St. Louis Stories, directed by Tom Mitchell

UPDATED 8/15/16:

From the Station Theatre’s press release, 
St. Louis Stories is a special event for the Station Theatre: a new compilation of five previously unpublished short stories by Tennessee Williams. Written while he was still living in St. Louis, this performance presents a range of compelling characters revealed through the author’s poetic language.” 

While still not much to go one, the director has proven himself time and again to be a responsible steward of theatricality, and I’m predisposed to go based solely on his attachment to the project. 

March 23 – Apr 8

Sleep Deprivation Chamber, by Adam Kennedy & Adrienne Kennedy, directed by  Latrelle Bright

Synopsis: In this autobiographical drama, a broken taillight leads to the brutal beating of a highly educated, middle-class black man by a policeman in suburban Virginia. The Kennedys interweave the trial of the victimized son (accused of assaulting the offending officer) with the mother’s poignant letters in his defense and her remembrances of growing up in the 1940s, when her parents were striving “to make Cleveland a better place for Negroes.” They have created a gripping examination of the conflicting realities of the black experience in twentieth-century America.

To use some interwebs parlance: This. This so much. Theatre is an extraordinary tool for looking at ourselves, our society, and presenting challenging ideas through a third-person perspective so we can consider and digest them. So often we think of community theatre as a pleasant evening’s entertainment, but the fact that a play twenty years old, written about events even decades older, is still rampantly pertinent to similar events occurring today deserves our attention and our contemplation. That’s what we can give as a theatre audience, anything beyond that is up to us as humans.

Apr 27-May 13

The Christians, by Lucas Hnath, directed by Jaclyn Loewenstein

Synopsis: Twenty years ago, Pastor Paul’s church was nothing more than a modest storefront. Now he presides over a congregation of thousands, with classrooms for Sunday School, a coffee shop in the lobby, and a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool. Today should be a day of celebration. But Paul is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundations of his church’s belief. A big-little play about faith in America—and the trouble with changing your mind.

I was just talking about an old parody website, Landover Baptist Church, and my own past with religion both small and large. While the topic is an easy target for overblown exaggeration that could devolve into obvious ridicule, I have on good authority that the characters on both sides of this theatrical conflict are sympathetic and human no matter what you believe. 

So that’s the rundown, folks. Seems like no matter why you go to the theatre, or who you want to see on- and off-stage, this season offers enough variety and opportunity to appeal to a wide range of preferences. Do yourself a favor this year and go to at least one you know you’ll love, and one that will push your boundaries slightly. Don’t stay comfortable in your middle-age, this theatre company sure isn’t.  

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