Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

St. Louis Shakespeare
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of Sweet Revenge, Tuesdays with Morrie and A Walk in the Woods

Jason J. Little, Lexie Baker, and Cast
Photo by Ron James
Sometimes, when I'm not chatting with friends before a show, I tilt my head back and count the lights up in the grid, to get a sense of how ritzy things are going to be tonight at the theatre: 100 Fresnels may sound like an excessive number of lights for a small production, but at least you know you're going to see things very clearly, and perhaps even very atmospherically (which is more to the point in this case).

Here, though the acting quality is sometimes very good, the light plot (and music) is almost non-existent. We are kept in a general sameness of illumination (and atmosphere) throughout, which becomes quite dull. Different scenes that are played between lovers, through a wrought-iron window screen, are indistinguishable from one another in appearance—regardless of which two lovers occupy the inside or the out, and regardless of what time of day it is, and regardless of any other dramatic conditions suggested by the script, or modern flight of fancy.

Likewise, there are no spotlights, no twilights; no blue-tinged nights; no dramatic little playing areas, isolated in the dark; nor golden sunsets or pink sunrises or emerald forest glens either, as far as the filters and photons are concerned. You can say that William Shakespeare didn't have any of that either, but we know from historical accounts that (before electricity) jars of colored liquid were sometimes employed up along the sun-side of outdoor theater walls, to enhance the mood.

St. Louis Shakespeare has never been very big on lighting effects, though it certainly hasn't stopped them from putting on some fine shows: this season alone Is He Dead? and Titus Andronicus were very nicely brought off within the same constraints. And I don't mind skimping done by smaller, newer companies, who invariably have fewer lighting resources. But this group's been around over 30 years, in one form or another.

Anyway, here you get an opportunity to see Shakespeare's "lost play," in this case the Royal Shakespeare version, originally co-written by John Fletcher and "re-imagined" 400 years later by playwright Gregory Doran. It's an unhappy romance, a tale of good and evil styles of youth in love, set in Spain in the year 1610, and shows the way that one style tempers the other. And it certainly looks and sounds like Shakespeare, and may even be a little more clear and to the point, with the modern polish of Mr. Doran, and the direction of company founder Donna Northcott.

Cardenio is played by Erik Kuhn, better known as a fight director—and he's coming along nicely as an actor, too. Cardenio is pressed by the duke into service as a companion to his lusty son Fernando, played by the very enjoyable Jason J. Little. Fernando squanders the love of beautiful, gentle Dorotea, played by the excellent Lexie Baker. Larisa Alexander is highly admirable as Cardenio's worried mother, and Jeff Lovell and Colin Nichols are quite good as fathers of Fernando and Luscinda, who must also endure her own trials of romance with this splendidly awful Fernando. She's played by the very touching Shannon Lampkin.

Kevin O'Brien shows continued polish and acumen on stage, here as Fernando's noble-hearted brother; and the supporting players, as servants and townspeople—and even grazing sheep—are focused and strong. It's not a very pleasant story, nor one with any great insight or moment of good triumphing over evil, but evidently Mr. Shakespeare felt the need to crank out just one more.

It seems like, outside of Mr. Little, Ms. Baker, Ms. Alexander, and Mr. Nichols, everyone else just needs to push a little harder, in lieu of other atmospherics. Of course, it was also the first Sunday of the run, and everyone would be exhausted after a week of final dress and tech rehearsals before opening. Still, there are examples of fine work from virtually everyone on stage, including Shane Signorino, admirably sharp and clear as a gothic priest and later as a rough shepherd.

But when the basic elements of stagecraft are not at your disposal, and even the great Shakespeare himself shows signs of disinterest (in terms of plot construction and verbal acrobatics), it falls upon the actors to work even harder to evoke an atmosphere.

Cardenio, through October 15, 2017, at St. Louis Shakespeare's Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave. For more information visit

Duke Ricardo of Aguilar: Jeff Lovell
Pedro: Kevin O'Brien
Fernando: Jason J. Little
Gerardo: Karl Hawkins
Dona Camilla: Larisa Alexander
Cardenio: Erik Kuhn
Don Bernardo: Colin Nichols
Luscinda: Shannon Lampkin
Dorotea: Lexie Barker
Citizen: Britteny Henry
Duenna: Kanisha Kellum
Dorotea's Maid: Calyn Roth
Priest: Shane Signorino

Artistic and Technical Personnel:
Director: Donna Northcott
Production and Stage Manager: Samantha Yahl
Assistant Stage Manager: Genevieve Collins
Assistant Directors: Phil Gill, Kathy Doerr
Costume Designer: Michele Friedman Siler
Scenic Designer: Matthew Stuckel
Scenic Painting: Michelle Sauer
Lighting Designer/Board Operator: Madeline Schneider
Technical Director: Dustin Massie
Sound Designer: Robin Weatherall
Properties Designer: Amanda Handle
Sound Board Operator: Melanie Scranton
Fight Captain: Lexie Baker
Choreographer: S.H. Boygen