One of my favorite things about the St. Louis theatre scene is how many local companies produce new, exciting, challenging work. And, as many theatre companies in the metro area are non-profits playing in small spaces, there is the opportunity to produce edgier work without the heightened pressure of filling hundreds and hundreds of seats in a huge performance space.
While I’m already psyched for the next few months of St. Louis theatre, I have been kicking around ideas of plays and musicals I would love to see locally produced in the near future. While I have seen other productions of three of these shows, I’d love to see a local take on them in St. Louis. These four shows present a challenge to artists and audiences in their unashamed takes on topics that many may not be used to seeing onstage, and that is part of what makes them so good and so worthwhile.
Gloria by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
I first saw Gloria in New York during its world-premiere production at Vineyard Theatre knowing almost nothing about what I was getting into. I liked it so much that last February I took the Amtrak up to Chicago to see the transfer of the off Broadway production at the Goodman. Frankly, I don’t want to say much about this show because, with it’s mid-show, truly shocking twist, I think the less you know going in the better (and I’m not someone who really believes in spoilers).
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins genius writes naturalistic, contemporary dialogue, millennial sarcasm and all. Without really being about any of these concepts directly, Gloria addresses anxieties about class, race, and gender, alongside its more direct commentary on the toxicity of modern office culture and questions of who really owns a story or an experience.
With its small cast and quick pacing, I could see Gloria being a perfect fit for many of St. Louis’ theatre companies. While the content is definitively for adults and the local theatre scene seems to lean much more heavily toward musicals than straight plays, I would love to see the intensity of audience engagement and discussion I witnessed during and after Gloria at the Vineyard and at the Goodman, more than I’ve seen and heard at any other play, fill up a St. Louis venue for a few nights.
Indecent by Paula Vogel
I’m the first to admit that I’m a theatre crier; give me a swelling overture and I’ll probably tear up a little bit in anticipation of what’s to come. But, Indecent, recently produced on Broadway, delivered the biggest, heaviest emotional gut punch in its last third I’ve ever felt in any theatre.
Frequently breaking the fourth wall and employing a play-within-a-play structure, Indecent follows Sholem Asch’s God of Vengence from its conception to, years later, its author’s disavowal of the material. Along the way you come to know and love the ever-changing casts of God of Vengence while they cope with life as (some of them) lesbians, Jewish people, and immigrants in early 20th century Europe and America, sometimes while doubling in character.
I have to admit, I am both curious and reluctant to see a production of Indecent not directed by Rebecca Taichman, who directed the play in its original workshop, out of town tryout, and off Broadway and Broadway productions, and who is credited as the play’s co-creator. At times the movement and staging, alongside projected text throughout the show, were as integral to the show’s structure and impact as the lines spoken onstage.
A play with music, Indecent has as much humor and heart as tragedy, with a profound impact I think St. Louis needs to experience.
Fun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori
Yes, yes. Fun Home played at the Fox last fall. I love this musical enough to have a tattoo of some of its lyrics and loved the national tour production, but I think this incredible show would be so well served by a smaller local production, and I think St. Louis would be served by seeing the show that way.
The musical, a kind of memory play based on a graphic novel style memoir by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, fundamentally addresses how adulthood insight sheds light on our family relationships, the danger and tragedy of repression and open secrets, and how, though it seems contradictory, shared identity can drive two people apart rather than bring them together.
Fun Home would be a vibrant and meaningful opportunity for several of St. Louis’ many prolific child musical theatre actors to take on more substantial material than seemingly endless productions of Annie, A Christmas Carol, and other similarly classic but not particularly meaty shows that feature kids. And, in a time of serious social division and attempts to dehumanize people who are different from those in power, I think it is more important than ever to portray stories of people with marginalized identities on stage.
Fun Home is profoundly beautiful both in content and form, and an intimate take on the musical by a local company could be a perfect match of theatre, production, and material.
Ghost Quartet by Dave Malloy
Lastly, a show I have not yet seen is more of a song cycle than a true musical. I would love to see Ghost Quartet play at one of St. Louis’ venues or theatre companies that embrace the crossover between cabaret, concert, and theatre.
While the song cycle’s plot is loose and multithreaded, the spooky and surreal environment it evokes would be perfect for a site specific production, which seems to be gaining more and more popularity in the metro area’s theatre scene. Requiring four performers who act, sing, and function as the show’s band, Ghost Quartet could show off some of St. Louis’ great musical performers.
The score, by Dave Malloy of Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, is much broader in style than most shows’ scores, though fans of Malloy’s other work will recognize the song cycle’s stylistic fluidity. The music, which makes up at least 90% of the show, is truly gorgeous and fittingly haunting.
Like the other three shows on this list, Ghost Quartet is a show that will challenge local theatre audiences, less because of its subject matter and more because of its format. I’m ready to see even more boundary blurring, weird, innovative theatre in this city.