Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Red Curtain Rivalry
The Tesseract Theatre Company

Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of LaBute New Theater Festival and Chess

(front) Chrissie Watkins and Beth Knocke;
(rear) Alora Marguerite and Nic Tayborn

Photo by Taylor Gruenloh
The New Play Festival at The Tesseract Theatre Company in St. Louis kicks off this summer with Amy Lytle's very strong world-premiere backstage comedy, Red Curtain Rivalry, under the delightful direction of Chris Kernan at the Marcelle Theatre.

A script publishing company has inadvertently licensed the same play, A Doll's House: The Musical, to two neighboring amateur theater companies. And (on top of that) both troupes have cast the same actor as Nora's husband. The guaranteed laughs will still take you by surprise in this one hour and forty-five minute comedy. Near the end you could probably chop-off five minutes of apologies among all the characters who have offended each other. Or do some kind of a structural rewrite and run them all in minuet-style unison, I suppose. They sound so similar in terms of reconciliations, as things slow down, after everyone's run the gauntlet of finally getting to opening night.

But before all those mea culpas, the climactic comedy of one actor (Luis Aguilar) switching back and forth between his two Noras in a musicalization of Ibsen's classic is pretty darned priceless. One production of the fictional musical has a curtain time of 7:00 p.m., and the other of 7:30. So, theoretically, this Torvald has a little breathing room between his scenes in each mounting. Mr. Aguilar comes equipped with an on-stage fastidiousness that falls apart nicely when things goes south.

Director Kernan makes everything fresh, including the imposing, wide-eyed diva Clarissa, played by the smashing Beth Knocke. Clarissa's low tolerance for unprofessionalism alternates with a high dudgeon in rehearsals, making for a comic performance that's the highlight of the evening. Among the many things she does not like in the world of the theatre are new-agey directors (represented here by the very believable Dorothy LaBounty, as the director of the Essence Theatre) and mouthy child actors (brash, funny Alora Marguerite, in the competing cast from the "W" Theatre).

Chrissie Watkins does very nicely as Penny, the other Nora. Ms. Watkins plays her as kind, modest and natural. Which is how you know that Penny's been absent from the theatre for ten years. And that hiatus is a source of anxiety for her, especially when the shared Torvald keeps mixing up his blocking on both stages. Kurt Knoedelseder is great As the other director, an erstwhile football coach who shouts a lot.

Two of my favorite actors play the opposing Dr. Ranks: Will Shaw (as the deaf Herbert) and Gerry Love (as Arthur, an inveterate prankster). Nic Tayborn is excellent as always, this time as Missy's off-stage dad, overwhelmed by her precociousness. Chloe Kurzym is charming as Clarissa's reluctant daughter "on-stage" and "off." And Tammy O'Donnell is very funny as the evasive publisher of the rather appalling musical in question: reluctant to either refund the license fees or block one production or the other in her intermittent scenes.

Red Curtain Rivalry runs through July 16, 2023, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Blvd. (about three blocks east of Powell Symphony Hall), St. Louis MO. A lighted, fenced parking lot is right across the street. The Compton Avenue bridge over I-44 remains closed for renovations at this writing. For tickets and information please visit

Penelope: Chrissie Watkins
Ronnie: Luis Aguilar
Clarissa: Beth Knocke
Yolanda: Dorothy LaBounty
Willow: Chloe Kurzym
Gareth: Kurt Knoedelseder
Missy: Alora Marguerite
Chester: Nic Tayborn
Arthur: Gerry Love
Herbert: Will Shaw
Judy: Tammy O'Donnell

Production Staff:
Director: Chris Kernan
Stage Manager: Leah Benyo
Lighting Designer: Erin Riley
Scenic Designer: Brittanie Gunn, Taylor Gruenloh
Scenic Charger: David Pisoni
Intimacy Coordinator: Christina Rios
Production Assistant: Tinah Edwards

* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association