Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Good Ship St. Louis
But their 175 meter-long cruise ship was denied entry to several free Western nations, and its passengers turned back to face dire consequences in the Europe of 1939. It's a remarkable new play with a bit of song and dance, written by Upstream Theater producer and director Philip Boehm, with original music by Anthony Barilla. The two-hour show uses parallel modern-day scenes to show that the path of 21st century refugees remains a rocky one as well. The failed passage to Havana was previously been made into a film, Voyage of the Damned, in 1976.
Some of the most admired actors in St. Louis work emotional warp and weft into a story composed of dreadful strands of fate. Kari Ely plays a retired nurse who discovers a suitcase in her late mother's attic, full of foreign language correspondence and odd memorabilia. Concurrently, Nancy Bell plays a German woman boarding the diesel-powered steamship with her husband, with that same suitcase, 83 years earlier.
Christopher Hickey is smooth and stylish in a variety of roles, including a Nazi spy and (marching forward through the decades) a series of dour cafe denizens, finally tut-tutting in the present day, over the "real news" of caravans of Latin American refugees hoping to enter the United States, in scenes he shares with plucky Tom Wethington. Peter Mayer is the no-nonsense ship's captain (affable, but just this side of glowering) looking for a friendly port and provoking an international incident along the way. At one point, he plots to smuggle the German Jews into England through an unguarded south coastal area near Brighton, not unlike today's illegal migration across the English Channel from the coast of France. Elsewhere, Kathleen Sitzer is excellent in two roles: as a wealthy, demanding refugee on board; and later as an elderly Syrian woman living alone in a cellar in Sidon, Lebanon, having been forced out of her home by the Assad regime.
Eric J. Conners is endearing as a steward on board, and later as one of the thousands of Bosnians who found their way to St. Louis in the 1990s, amidst "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia. Sarah Burke is emotionally arresting as a new widow on the steamship, and Jeff Cummings is relentlessly optimistic as Ms. Bell's tangoing husband.
Miranda Jagles Félix seems to pass through the show, willing herself to near invisibility, but with a different personality each time, as a waitress in cafes or country clubs–until, ultimately, she's the girl who never made it to her own new world. The lavish and on-point costumes (which fly by in a flurry of quick-changes) are by Laura Hanson.
The most interesting people I've ever known have all been refugees from some place, or from some thing, at one point or another in their lives. And each character on board here captures that same strange angst: as if they understood what it means to be locked in a chrysalis and stuck in a jar. And left to dream of a future that seems quite impossible.
The Good Ship St. Louis runs through November 20, 2022, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis MO. There's a lighted, fenced parking lot immediately across the street, four blocks east of Powell Symphony Hall, at Leonard Ave. For tickets and information, please visit www.upstreamtheater.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association
** Denotes Equity Membership Candidate
*** Denotes Member, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
**** Denotes Member of United Scenic Design Artists Local USA 829