Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

The Color of August
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of Is He Dead?, Out on Broadway: The Third Coming and Ragtime


Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye
Photo by Joey Rumpell
A badly done absurdist play can lack a central fire—or may sound like a collection of barking dogs. But a great staging of an absurdist play has that central fire all the time; and all the crazy noise that may exist within is clearly aimed at developing a greater meaning. And that's what we have here, with The Color of August in a new translation of Paloma Pedrero's one-hour play from 1988: a ravishing, fiery clash between an artist and her muse, one ardently pursuing the other, to the heights of absurdity.

It's rude and brash, hilarious and seductive in this new translation by Will Bonfiglio. And, under the direction of Lucy Cashion, it also has the rhythm and vicious beauty of a self-assured tango. At the outset of each performance, there's a coin toss to determine which actress will play the painter, and which the model/muse. The night I attended, Rachel Tibbetts played Maria—a very successful artist, at the height of her own professional summer—and Ellie Schwetye was Laura, the muse who's down on her luck, but still proud. She may be jealous, or haughty, or just extremely disappointed in Maria's rise to fame—but gradually their reunion (after eight years apart) falls into place.

It probably should be the other way around—Laura should be chasing after Maria and her wealth and fame—but this is Madrid in the 1980s, and back then we had a little thing called "self-respect." So it's ridiculous and funny and adorable, how Maria begs and flatters and beseeches, to get Laura to stay, and perhaps even sit for a new portrait. (The lovely, naïve Picasso-esque paintings along one wall are by Maggie Genovese and Anne Genovese.) And after watching TV's "Feud" this spring, it would be easy to imagine Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in these roles.

Ms. Schwetye plays Laura with a trapped-animal snarl, someone who doesn't wish to be merely used. Both women are struggling over who will lead and who will follow. Ms. Tibbetts was beseeching and flattering this night, as Maria, a bit of a wreck in spite of all her success. And it's surprising how lowly Maria can become as she courts her muse. In this hypnotic, iconic staging, The Color of August is a tale of dueling humiliations and interlocking dependencies.

But this intense and meaningful translation is also symbolic of an artist's inner struggle: to be inspired and to hang on to the flame of inspiration, as hopeless as that may seem. In a later scene, creativity becomes an end in itself when they achieve a sort of equal footing, and begin painting one another's bodies—first with playful swatted splatters of color. Then, gradually it's balletic, as each becomes a moving work of art. Part of you may want to laugh at that conceit, but as it developed, my jaw slowly dropped at the audacity and strange optics of it. We become conscious of the characters as stick figures, elemental creations, in spite of their complex relationship.

Through August 19, 2017, Wednesday through Saturday, at the Chapel on Alexander, 6238 Alexander Drive, 63105, immediately south of Wydown along Skinker Blvd., behind the big white stone church. For more information visit www.slightlyoff.org.

Performance Ensemble
A coin-toss by an audience member before each evening's performance will determine which actor plays which role

Cast, if the coin toss is heads:
Maria: Rachel Tibbetts
Laura: Ellie Schwetye

Cast, if the coin toss is tails:
Maria: Ellie Schwetye
Laura: Rachel Tibbetts

Production Ensemble
Director: Lucy Cashion
Stage Manager: Kristen Strom
Dramaturg: Miranda Jagels Felix
Set Design: Bess Moynihan
Lighting Design: Bess Moynihan
Costume Design: Elizabeth Henning
Sound Design: Lucy Cashion
Original Paintings: Maggie Genovese, Anne Genovese
Assistant Lighting Director: Dominick Ehling
Graphic Design: Dottie Quick
Box Office Manager: Kristin Rion


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