Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Remnant
Mustard Seed Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of The Flick, Steel Magnolias and Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley


Michelle Hand, Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Marissa Grice
Photo by John Lamb
Lovingly staged, Ron Reed's Christmas-after-the-apocalypse script invites us closer and closer into a world of few comforts. There is a crazy amount of heart, though, in the beaming faces of its characters. And, in that respect, maybe Remnant is best suited to a family audience. But the subject matter and the sci-fi dialect seem pretty rough for kids to absorb. It's a strange beast, this play.

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 threshold—beckoning 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 junk—old 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

Cast:
Barlow Sho'r: Ryan Lawson-Maeske
Delmar Nu1: Marissa Grice
Annagail Booker: Katy Keating
Kristn Taler: Michelle Hand
Loner: Adam Flores

Creatives:
Director: Deanna Jent
Lighting Designer: Michael Sullivan
Sound Designer: Zoe Sullivan
Set Designer: Kristin Cassidy
Props Master: Meg Brinkley
Costume Designer: Jane Sullivan
Assistant Costume Designer: Lindzey Jent
Technical Director: Jon Hisaw
Assistant Technical Director: Tom Stevenson
Executive Director: Bess Moynihan
Production Stage Manager: Chelsea Krenning
Performing Arts Liaison: Morgan Fisher
Assistant Master Electrician: Justin Chaipet
Stage Management Assistants: Ariella Rovinsky & Merlin Bell


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