Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Dr. Ride's American Beach House
And maybe that's what existentialism is all about: badly timed platitudes. Here, four women's perfectly modulated ruminations sweep us up like a dream, having slipped the surly bonds of men. Directed by Annamaria Pileggi, the play is funny and smart and almost supernaturally natural, at the Gaslight Theatre in St. Louis.
The occasion is the night before the launch of the NASA space shuttle Challenger, which will carry physicist Sally Ride (and six male astronauts) up into orbit on June 18, 1983. The female characters on stage stop and listen to pre-launch news while gathered on a south St. Louis rooftop, as Dr. Ride is about to become the first American woman in space. But most of the story centers on Harriet (Lindsay Brill), who's just back from a visit to her dying mother in Florida, where she also had a fling involving a motorcycle ride to Cape Kennedy.
The women on stage are as compelling in coming to rest as they are taking flights of fancy. Director Pileggi creates a weightlessness, and perhaps an incorruptible sense of the "antique" style of acting through a lot of flowing, subtle movement. Perfect for a zero-gravity adventure. That said, Ms. Brill's Harriet also has a funny, newfound sense of empowerment after her own recent adventure. And in a seeming tribute to Bob Fosse, she flies her legs over a chair, back and forth, like a dancer in Cabaret.
Bridgett Bassa is Matilda, alternately credulous and incredulous in her own funny parts of the story, wearing a waitress apron and tall, 1980s blue scrunchy. RN Healey is the new book club member, a nurse with an alien frame of reference, who (narratively) sets up a dream sequence near the end that had me holding my breath in stillness. Lizi Watt, as Harriet's landlady, represents the old guard of womanhood, as a comically exasperated mom figure, popping in and out of Patrick Huber's rooftop set. The action begins on a magic summer night in a scruffy old neighborhood in the confined space between Interstate 55 and the Mississippi River.
The show blooms extravagantly near the end, after an important phone call. But it never loses its sense of ravishing realness or humanity, as Harriet tells the story of discovering a whole new side to her mother, inspiring a blast-off of her own.
Dr. Ride's American Beach House runs through October 22, 2023, at the Gaslight Theatre, 360 N. Boyle Avenue, St. Louis MO. For tickets and more information please visit www.stlas.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association