Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Ten Commandments: Live!
Living in the land of Tennessee Williams and T.S. Eliot, we strive to maintain an aura of elegance and decorum. But now and then, we have to get our "Monkey" on. The Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre is the oldest (beloved) bad joke in local theater history. Having brought us shows like Planet Of The Apes: Live! and by-the-book parodies of Reefer Madness and Glen or Glenda?, they now go straight for the cultural jugular with a re-telling of the Old Testament. Live.
Allow me to say that I actually preferred Planet Of The Apes: Live, but "Commandments" has lots going for it, too, especially in the riotous first 30 minutes or so. Donna Northcott directs and as always, she crams these campy endeavors with excellent pacing and lots of low, low humor. In spite of all that, she is able to hold her head up in the light of day thanks to her other creation: a successful Shakespeare Company just entering its 22nd season.
A critic friend of mine gave out some excellent advice a few years ago, saying this "Monkey" business should always be taken with a few drinks first. But then you might miss half the insanity of Genesis (the prologue), the Egyptian palace, and Moses being popped-out into the world (and subsequently drawn from the bulrushes, then thrown back again, then popping out of the river once more). Dave Cooperstein is Moses, bringing all the emotional resonance of a young Charlton Heston to this 90-minute dromedary. When he isn't leading Jews to the Promised Land, he's assaulting the audience with Styrofoam stocks and locally brewed spit-bits.
Aaron Baker shines as Rameses' father and Roger Erb is very good as Rameses himself, haughty and regal. To his consternation (and our amusement), he never gets to complete the phrase, "so let it be written ... so let it be done!" Nefretiri (the talented comedienne Jill Ritter) is a contralto in heat, competing with a desperate, lovelorn Sephora (the very funny Roxane Williams) for Moses' favor. Chris Jones is boyish and grand as the narrator, and Tyson Blanquart is sneering and snarling as the Edward G. Robinson character (Dathan). Mr. Blanquart is also the best of the Staten Island "girls" in the big veiled drag number.
There's also very enjoyable work done by Patty Ulrich, Kimberly Mason and Ben Ritchie in a cast of fifteen, which collectively embodies many roles. There were some volume problems opening night, but, as always, nothing a few drinks beforehand can't cure. Look for dozens of sight gags: many clever; many groan-worthy.
Costumes (by Carla Evans) are surprisingly evocative next to the set (Amanda Handle), with its cartoonish pyramids on muslin. The endless parade of perfectly awful props is by Jim Stewart. After a dazzling first half, The Ten Commandments: Live! gets a little bogged down by plot in the final 45 minutes or so, but remains lots of fun.
Through May 27th (2006) at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd. For information, call (314) 361-5664 or visit the web-site at www.stlshakespeare.org