Regional Reviews: St. Louis
But two of the performers actually rise above the challenge, seeming to exist with one foot in the ruffles and flourishes of Restoration comedy reimagined as a production of the real-life Juliusz Slowacki Players, back when they performed in St. Louis in 1933. The other foot, for John Bratkowski and Jane Paradise, seems firmly planted in some catty-corner subjectivity, as the play goes on. (He plays a hapless dogsbody; she, a merry widow with a string of dead husbands.) And we get a sort of double-vision from their distinct brands of absurdity and the subtly observational level of each of their performances.
Some clever person coined the term "presentism," to apply to a show like Hamilton for becoming a smash (in part) by placing modern black actors in Freedom Hall; or for a movie like The Help, which cleverly inserted white women into the Civil Rights movement. In this new "presentism," director, translator, and company founder Philip Boehm inserts some random black guy (the delightful Eric J. Connors who, like everyone else on stage here, happens to be an Equity actor, or an Equity candidate) into the Polish-American Slowacki cast, in the midst of curtain-up. But, gamely adopting the characters of Dyndalski and Śmigalski, he blends in perfectly.
And then (two hours later) at the very end, we're returned to the (even more) racially divided St. Louis of 1933, but with a genuinely uplifting, period-appropriate bit of verse dialog, to suggest a more enlightened sensibility. Along with Mr. Connors' presence, it helps a lot that the shiny new Kranzberg Center of Arts is located on the site of an old, abandoned Woolworth'syou can even see the name emblazoned in brass on the curving, maroon terrazzo out front.
But those are just the (literary and architectural) framing devices. Local favorite Whit Reichert adds fine physical comedy as one of the stern old men, along with the dryly melodramatic John Contini, each warring against the other till an inevitable duel over a shared wall. Benvenuto Cellini once wrote that, "after a certain age, men go mad," and that's the role both of these storied performers have here. Of course any theatergoer can instantly guess that if there are two senex irati, there must also be at least one pair of adorable young lovers, to make the senexes more irate.
And in this case, they are played by the ne plus ultra of adorable young actors, Caitlin Mickey (as Klara) and Pete Winfrey (as Waclaw). They manage the centuries-old commedia like they were born to it, with her cartoonish emergency stops, his credulity, and her incredulity, and his bold, noble looks, which erode in an instant to callow immaturity.
I won't waste your time discussing the story, which is purely an excuse to get a lot of charming silliness up there on the stage. But there are two quite good plot twists near the end (before the re-awakening to 1933) that restore your faith in the Restoration all over again.
Sweet Revenge, through October 22, 2017, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand. For more information visit www.upstreamtheatre.org.
Cast (in order of speaking in the play):
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
** Denotes candidate for membership, Actors Equity Association