Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Tesseract Theatre 2019 Festival of New Plays
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of I Now Pronounce and A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Two meteors crash into a crummy bar in Chicago in Erin Lane's new play Hoist. One is a new, teenaged bartender (lying about her age) who inevitably provokes funny hazing from the regular lady bartender and her matronly customer. The other meteor is the bartender's ex-husband, still in the military after they met and married at the beginning of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The direction by Kevin J. Bowman is unexpectedly meticulous, and the action compelling, in this staging for the Festival of New Plays at Tesseract Theatre.

Hoist is a play about PTSD, but not just the warrior's kind. It's also about the failure to meet commitments—primarily by a husband, to a wife in great distress. So, chalk it up partially to the stress provoked by a marriage that suffered from its own improvised explosive device. He still looks and acts wonderfully heroic, up to a point. But she has become unrecognizable from her own former self, as a Marine. Rachel Bailey plays Skyler the bartender, and Erik Kuhn is Simon, the smartly uniformed ex-husband who returns unexpectedly, an Englishman who had married her and likewise joined the Corps. Director Bowman sets a surprisingly high tone for the entire production, and our eyes never wander from the invisible equations of the characters on stage.

It's Monday morning, Veterans Day 2008, and Barack Obama has just been elected president. Still, there's no sign of hope or change yet, as the characters grind through a quiet day in a temporarily forgotten bar. Skyler has the speakerphone on, and the dialog is occasionally interrupted by a loud, flat Veterans Administration "hold" announcement, that "all agents are busy taking other calls." She can no longer afford the four kinds of anti-depressants she takes, or the five kinds of painkillers, or the other ancillary prescriptions after getting shot in wartime service, and an exceptionally brutal sexual assault by her—and Simon's—commanding officer.

Dana Wachtel is Bianca the barfly, recovering from a bus crash. And her Zimmer-frame walker sounds like the wheezing of a dying soldier as she shuffles across the fine, seedy set by Katie Palazzola at the .ZACK Theatre. Mikaylin Padilla is cast as the sweet new girl who will arrive to work there, and everyone on stage is utterly immersed in the complex world of this great new play. Rounding out the cast, Sherard Curry is excellent as Governor, the bar's owner.

Skyler opens the bar, and waits existentially on her one regular customer and on a loud speakerphone for help from the V.A. Before that, she punches a hole in the wall when the jukebox refuses to play, setting the tone for her sustained anguish. When Simon arrives to get her to sign the papers to give up parental rights over her own daughter, everything about their shared history explodes on stage. But somehow, in the end, in this tiny corner of the world, on a quiet Monday holiday, it will eventually seem like "girls on top".

The undertone throughout, of tense foreboding, is reminiscent of the unspoken doom made famous by Harold Pinter. Of course, this is a mostly female cast, and the characters seem much more honest (and detailed) as a result of their discursive natures. Add in the identities behind identities, even with their seeming forthrightness, as they maneuver for survival and it is even more a la Pinter.

Hoist, through May 25, 2019, at Tesseract Theatre Festival of New Plays, .ZACK Theatre, 3224 Locust Avenue (a few blocks north of the Chaifetz Arena and St. Louis University), St. Louis MO. For festival information visit their Facebook page, or for general information,

Skyler: Rachel Bailey
Bianca: Dana Wachtel
Leslie: Mikaylin Padilla
Governor: Sherard Curry
Simon: Erik Kuhn

Director: Kevin J. Bowman
Stage Manager: Alex Bowman
Lighting Designer: Cheyenne Groom
Sound Designer: Phillip Evans
Scenic Designer: Katie Palazzola
Fight Choreographer: John Everett

Festival Staff:
Festival Production Manager: Arden Hawley
Festival Lighting Supervisor: Cheyenne Groom
Festival Sound Supervisor: Phillip Evans
Production Assistant: Robert Oberdieck
Producer: Brittanie Gunn
Producer: Taylor Gruenloh