Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Upstream Theater

Seated: Donna M. Parrone, Emily Piro. Standing: Christopher Harris, Peter Mayer, Nicholas Tamarkin
They say that video games and computers are changing the way our brains work—making them smaller, in fact. Thank goodness there's Upstream Theater to counteract those deleterious effects. Masters of ineffable atmospherics, the company effortlessly grasps the crisis of men trapped between the flesh and the spirit. And, more often than not, the results are weirdly mind-expanding.

The American premiere of Aerwacol (it means "early awakening") is their latest production, in which a band of slightly gob-smacked Canadians, broken by recent tragedies, sets out across the plain. They roll along on a railroad push-cart (a "jigger"), only to meet with unwelcomed success. Gradually, they disband until we reach an ending that still defies explanation, in my mind. Along with the other bits of newspaper that blow across the stage, I imagine one reading: "Gogo and Didi strike gold! Run away!" (though even that's not the most inexplicable part). Comparisons to Beckett aside, Aerwacol is a masterpiece of the commonplace, the desperate, and the impossible.

Just to be clear, the abandonment of a newly discovered gold mine is convincingly explained, in the context of the characters' lives. And it probably doesn't matter that I can't explain the very end of Sean Dixon's script, directed throughout with subtle charm by Philip Boehm. That final minute or two certainly adds a dramatic spire to the final stories, and another layer of mystery. And yet, it's both reasonable and astonishing.

The whole cast is remarkable, natural and polished. We are led into the wilderness without a map, just as Christopher Harris (as a pig farmer) is led through the woods and ditches in the opening minutes by his delirious wife (Donna Parrone). And in that flight, she says the absolutely unspeakable, instantly rising to mythic stature. Nicholas Tamarkin is the insightful but utterly unprepossessing young man who leaves his university after a particularly audacious approach to a philosophy exam. And Emily Piro lights up the stage as a delightful paraplegic left by the tracks in the middle of nowhere. With Peter Mayer as a guilt-stricken mine inspector, they set up housekeeping around a randomly selected hole in the ground, with a fascinating sense of desolation.

It would probably be boring to read about every little unexpected bit of naturalistic humor or stagecraft that makes Aerwacol so transcendent, but you'd be surprised at what magic can arise from small things: a fine mist from stage left catching the cool white rays of dawn; a country cottage that snaps open like the end of a long fever-dream; and an odd chicken-wire shell surrounding the top of a mine, creating echoes of mysterious depths whenever its platform is struck with a shovel or plank. Taken all together, it makes you think there may still be a couple of centuries of good theater still ahead of us.

Through March 1, 2009 at the Little Theatre on the Park, 305 So. Skinker Blvd., 63105. For information call (314) 869-4999 or e-mail

John: Christopher Harris*
Kimpy: Donna M. Parrone (EMC)
Dillard: Nicholas Tamarkin*
Harper: Peter Mayer*
Aubade: Emily Piro(EMC)

Director: Philip Boehm
Set Design: Mark Mendelson
Costume Design: Michele Siler
Lighting: Mark Mendelson
Stage Manager: Patrick Siler*
Props: Magan Wiles
Movement Consultant: Cecil Slaughter
Assistant Director: Isabel Pastrana
Master Carpenter: Brian Adams
Assistant Stage Manager: Kathy Jarowicz
Program: Erin Wiles
Graphics: Joe Iskra
Actor Portraits: Sarah Paulsen
Production Assistants: Boncho Dragiyski, Martin Tenutta

* Denotes member, Actors' Equity Association

(EMC) Denotes Equity Membership Candidate

Photography by Janelle Jones

-- Richard T. Green

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