Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

My Country
UMSL Theatre and Cinema Arts
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of Twelfth Period

It's only 30 minutes long, but this series of monologues has everything you want in a great play.

Nearly every speech comes from personal experience (almost in the manner of ancient Greek theater) and gives us a new way to be glad about America, each in an unexpected way. And there are songs, and added material from Red Skelton, from his famous "Pledge Of Allegiance" monologue. But it's all refreshing, at a time when you might have doubts about your own pride of place.

There is a sort of internal conflict that arises in the structure of the collection, as one story may be of physical torment and endurance, set against another of peace and brotherhood; and a shocking revelation is laid side-by-side with a graceful declaration of war against a racial oppressor. We learn of freemasons in U.S. history—a surprising roster of names, from Revere to Washington to Franklin. Elsewhere, the mystery of a peaceful basset hound is gradually cleared up, in the evening's most stunning speech, a monologue of the most personal nature, by Canadian-born River Beauchemin . All our attention is narrowed to a laser focus at a critical juncture in her story, recalling something horrible that happened in her childhood. Running away in America became the safest option.

When we first come in, Alan Ginsburg is heard reciting his famous poem "America," from 1956, the seemingly rambling, unwinding piece from the Beat Generation observing the new and the old, beautifully, or wretchedly forcing their way into the lives of the post-war U.S. Then there's more counter culture in Anthony Marr Jr.'s live speech, beautifully defiant, and another poem, complete with graceful ballet punctuations.

Nicholas Stead tells a simple story of his own experience dealing with cerebral palsy and how a free children's hospital here gradually made it possible for him to walk relatively smoothly, though he endured three sets of casts on his legs as part of the rehabilitation. He is so kind and optimistic about it, we are humbled and disarmed of the many incitements we left behind when we entered the theater.

The production oscillates between gently classical patriotism, with Michael Lato reciting "My Country Tis of Thee" and John "Jake" Singer's peaceful recapitulation of his mysterious-seeming Freemasonry, woven into the fabric of our shared history, along with the jazz-riffs of individuality expressed in the life experiences of Ms. Beauchemin and Mr. Marr.

It is a remarkable little show, a sort of Easter for Uncle Sam, based on the poem "My Country," by Samuel Beadle. That poet's great-great-grandson is scheduled to be at a performance the final weekend, April 28-30. Friday/Saturday shows are in Grand Center, at 7:30. The final Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m. For more information visit kranzbergartscenter.org

Actors: Michael Lato, River Beauchemin, Anthony Marr Jr., Nicholas Stead, John "Jake" Singer.

Crew
Director: Matthew Kerns
Scenic/Lighting Design: Glen Anderson
Technician: Rahul Mehta


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