Regional Reviews: St. Louis
As punctuation to Mr. Reed's 2006 script, the highly respected actress Michelle Hand recites handed-down tales of "the three bornings," which help explain the lineage of Christmas, down through these lean years. And thematically, each of her speeches works as a gate, or a thresholdbeckoning us into a deeper level of understanding of the last embers of human civilization, and how Christmas itself might set things right.
It's hard to review a charming, willfully naïve play like this, right after seeing several big sure-fire shows. You can't compare it to a cult comedy, of course; and you can't compare it to a Pulitzer Prize winning meditation on modern socio-economics either. But the great thing about Remnant is that everyone involved in it treats it with the respect an "important" play would demand, under the direction of Deanna Jent. The setting is elaborate and surprising, but the script and acting are modest and very innocent in tone. Remnant replaces the popular All Is Calm as Mustard Seed Theatre's Christmas offering this year, at their homebase at Fontbonne University.
Which also happens to be the setting of the science fiction story at hand, the theater now crowded with vintage junkold TVs and radios and odds and ends. Barlow Sho'r (played by dynamic, intelligent Ryan Lawson-Maeske) spends his day there guarding the building, which has a fortress-like quality, 75 years in the future, after most of humanity has died in a plague.
What remains is a hunkered-down, illiterate society, ever-watchful for dangerous "loners." And everyone seems to carry a 9mm handgun, or worse, when scouring the outside world for survival and understanding. Their spoken language is clumsy and rudimentary, and their clothing is biblical robes for the women, and Mad Max type costumes for the men. It's a shattered vision of a shattered world, only now beginning to heal.
In spite of all the fine stagecraft, though, it's hard to follow along, into the heart of the story. Kristn Taler (Ms. Hand) speaks beautifully of the intervening years, with each of her ceremonial tales; and there's a big, truly uplifting lighting change halfway into it all. But the prospect of the Christmas at the end of the world seems so chilling, that our reserve comes back again and again. At the far end of this particular apocalypse, the price of admittance to the party seems too high.
Nevertheless, it is a pretty good little morality story, with the highly accomplished Adam Flores as a ninja-like outsider, and Marissa Grice as Sho'r's wife. The always delightful Katy Keating seems under-utilized, however, as everyone adopts a monotonous, sunny kind of wonder. It's not impossible that these natures would survive after 75 years of just barely scraping by, let alone dominate the situation. I think one of the unspoken premises of the piece must be that, stripped of our modern conveniences, we'd actually be much better people.
Through December 23, 2017, at the black box theater on the south end of Fontbonne University, 6800 Wydown Blvd., St. Louis MO. Enter from Big Bend Blvd. for parking near the theater. For more information, visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com