Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Life Sucks
Then again, Tesseract Theatre director Taylor Gruenloh knows he's operating in an intimate space at the .ZACK theater, just northeast of Saint Louis University. And that usually means the front row of the audience nearly has the actors in their laps. So it's understandable when Tesseract shows are performed at an elevator-chat level of theatricality.
Yet, when they put on a new play by Kevin D. Ferguson, Spinning Jenny, set in a travelling carnival, and two of the five actors on stage are so low-key as to be shockingly understated, in a carnival setting full of candy-colored booths and games and rides, the mismatch bears mention.
The show itself is a simple morality tale with some fine performances and very good stage combat, and a nice grisly death scene at the end. Two young lovers must escape the rotten world of the carnival, and Maurice Walters II is excellent in every regard as their road manager, with additional good work from Rhiannon Skye Creighton and Kevin Corpuz as the charming young lovers.
But the truly galling thing is the performance of Darrious Varner as the carnival barker. Nearly two months ago I was amazed by his dual performances in Cardboard Piano, as a tormented child soldier and later as a young gay man growing up in Uganda. That show was directed by Linda Kennedy, and his was probably the on-stage dual-performance of my life in the theater. Now, young (but wise) Mr. Gruenloh seems to be directing for film, up-close and personal. And the elevator-chat style of acting in Spinning Jenny works horribly against Mr. Varner, in the role of the barker/the devil. It's very frustrating, after seeing his brilliant theatricality (in the very best sense of the word) at the West End Players Guild, nearly eight weeks ago.
Not everyone on stage uses this exceedingly low-key style of acting all the time, in this play that seems written by a young writer without any lengthy personal narrative of his own. As the fortune teller, the matriarch of the carnival midway, Helen Pancella's style of acting (till the second act) seems dissociative, though not in a spiritual way. Later she comes alive, though the show by then is nearly dead, with only John Everett's fight choreography keeping us in our seats in act two.
Spinning Jenny, through June 3, 2018, at the .ZACK Theatre, 3224 Locust St., St. Louis MO. Good parking is available. For more information visit www.tesseracttheatre.org.