Give Me Liberty or Give Me Rest: Liberty, MO & Terrace Avenue Inn

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Terrace Avenue Inn

Give me the open roadway and a set of songs and I’m a happy man.

An author named Mick Foley said something similar in one of his memoirs and it suits my feelings when it comes to travel.  This weekend I traveled to Liberty, MO to stay at the Terrace Avenue Inn AKA Anna Marie’s Teas and Inn, owned and operated by Brenda Hedrick.  I had been invited to return to the K.C. area by the Barn Players of Mission, KS who wanted me to review their amazing production of Kiss of the Spider Woman.

To make the drive a little lighter, I spent the first night at my older brother’s house in Maryville, MO before driving the last 90 minutes to Liberty.  It was a great day for travel as I listened to the Iowa Hawkeyes battle North Dakota State on the radio before I lost the signal and moved over to my tunes.

I arrived in Liberty at nearly 1pm.  This suburb of Kansas City is actually quite a bit bigger than one would expect.  I was met by a myriad of businesses and restaurants upon my arrival.  A restaurant called the Corner Café caught my eye and I decided to pull over for a bit of lunch.

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Corner Cafe

I wish I had a bit more time to linger over lunch, but I had arranged a 2pm check-in time and was slightly pressed.  Still, if you like good, old-fashioned home cooking, then Corner Café is definitely worth a visit.  I dined on a Corner Melt (patty melt with bacon) with a side of fries while reading Ellery Queen’s The Egyptian Cross Mystery.  I will say that while the food is quite tasty, it is all a la carte, so the bill may come to a bit more than you’d expect for food of this type.

From there, I headed to the Terrace Avenue Inn located in one of Liberty’s historic districts.  I was met on the porch by Brenda’s husband, Al.  He led me to the Terrace Suite which was truly a cozy room with a soft king bed, private balcony, and a Jacuzzi.  Al left me to my own devices after a brief orientation of the inn and I brought in my gear and began exploring the house.

The Dutch colonial bungalow was built in 1923 and is remarkably well maintained.  The home boasts 3 rooms (Cottage Nook, Liberty Suite, and Terrace Suite).  The bottom floor consists of the inn’s tea shop along with a small dining room and well apportioned kitchen which guests can use for light cooking.  Being quite a small home, my explorations went quickly.

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The Tea Shop

After giving the house a onceover, I began to walk around the historic district and downtown area of Liberty.  Liberty actually boasts quite a few things to do from wineries to walking tours.  I didn’t do a very thorough exploration, but I did visit the Fairview Cemetery and meandered through the business district before I returned to the inn where I promptly dozed off on my plushy king bed (a result of a burst of insomnia at 4:30am).

I awoke at 5:30pm and had just enough time to make myself presentable for the play.  I had a wonderful shower than drove to Mission, KS to watch the Barn Players work their magic.

From there it was back to the inn to write the review while Quantum Leap played in the background and a sound night of sleep.

I felt truly well rested when I awoke on Sunday morning.  And I was ready for breakfast since I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before.  Al had a nice repast waiting for me.

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Market spice tea, Devonshire cream, fruit, scones, and a ham and egg dish.

Oh!  You want to know what it was.  Well, he had a pot of Market Spice Tea ready for me.  Now I’m not the biggest tea drinker in the world, but this was truly excellent tea.  A spoonful of granulated honey added just the needed sweetening to it.  There was also a ham and egg dish, fresh fruit, and 2 scones with chunks of chocolate.  A little Devonshire cream on top made for a tasty breakfast dessert.

And from there it was time to write the last few words of this review before returning to Omaha.  But Liberty is a nice little town and the Terrace Avenue Inn will certainly provide a comfortable room, a filling meal, and a lot of tea.

Pretty Powerful Poison

Molina and Valentin are as different as night and day.  Molina is a flamboyant homosexual imprisoned for corrupting a minor.  Valentin is a young revolutionary full of piss and vinegar.  Yet an unlikely friendship grows between them which will be tested by a cruel warden.  And over all of this looms the specter of the Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman currently playing at the Barn Players.

Turning Manuel Puig’s heavily dramatic novel into a musical is certainly a tall order.  But Terrence McNally’s script combined with the incredible score of John Kander and Fred Ebb and the amazingly talented cast of the production makes for much much more than an effective musical.  It makes for one of the best shows I’ve seen in over 20 years of being involved with theatre.

Eric Magnus doesn’t miss a trick with a masterful piece of direction.  The staging is the strongest I’ve ever seen with Magnus’ cast making full use of Doug Schroeder’s simple and beautiful set of bars and stairs.  Magnus has pulled nearly perfect performances out of his entire cast and decisively navigates the multiple twists and turns of the plot with pinpoint accuracy.

Rarely have I seen a nuanced performance the likes of the one supplied by Joell Ramsdell as Molina.  As Molina, Ramsdell is unabashedly and unashamedly gay.  But his flamboyance covers a desperate loneliness.  All he wants is a friend.  He survives the hell of this prison by escaping into fantasy.  He thinks of his mother.  He fondly recalls the numerous movies he’s seen.  He remembers lavish musical numbers with his favorite actress, Aurora.  But he fears Aurora’s character of the Spider Woman who is Death incarnate and that character he often sees in his daily life.

The depth and range of Ramsdell’s acting is truly astonishing.  Starting off as a coward, he shows small signs of strength as he helps Valentin survive his imprisonment.  A strength that grows as his friendship with Valentin blossoms.  This leads to some of the show’s best scenes as Ramsdell shows the intense agony of a man forced to choose between his friend and his mother before making a choice that shows the meaning of courage.

Ramsdell also has a fabulous tenor which he adapts easily to comedy in “Dressing Them Up” or heart-wrenching drama in “Mama, It’s Me”.

Paul Brennan III matches Ramsdell step for step with his stirring rendering of Valentin.  Valentin is an angry revolutionary who fully believes in his cause and wants nothing to do with his new cellmate at first.  As he slowly accepts Molina’s friendship, Brennan beautifully evolves his character to show him capable of love, humor, and a bit of shocking Machiavellism.  Up until the end of the show, Valentin’s cause and desires still are the most important things in his life and he manipulates Molina’s feelings for him with an act that is both tender and selfish to get him to do what he wants.  But Molina’s choice at the play’s climax finally pushes Valentin to look beyond himself.

Brennan’s tenor will make your insides turn to jelly with a velvet voice that effortlessly knocks emotional pitches out of the park with numbers such as “Marta”, “Anything for Him” and “The Day After That”.

JC Dresslaer gets the show’s most interesting character in the form of Aurora/Spider Woman.  She’s mostly a fictional character in this world whose purpose is to help Molina, later Valentin, maintain sanity in the nightmare world in which they live.  But this allows her to do some brilliant character acting as she portrays Aurora’s various characters.  Most notably a wild rumba number (“Gimme Love”) to close out Act I and a hilarious piece of melodrama complete with over the top Russian accent to open Act II.

But Ms Dresslaer’s character of the Spider Woman haunts the world of the show with a most eerie reality and finality.  Dressed in a simple black dress, the Spider Woman exudes menace and, dare I say, gentleness with every appearance.  Yes, her appearances mean death, but she also wants to show that death is not something to be feared.

Ms Dresslaer’s dancing is so silky smooth, it makes all of her musical numbers showstoppers.  She also has a pitch-perfect alto used to excellent effect in “Come” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman”.

I was extraordinarily impressed with the mileage Emerson Rapp got out of the role of the Warden.  It’s not a big role, but the evil which Rapp imbued into the character made sure the audience was spellbound each time he appeared on stage.  He clearly considers the prisoners animals suitable for torture and murder.  He will do anything and I mean ANYTHING to get what he wants.  Poisonings, beatings, emotional manipulation, bribery. . .it’s all fair game to one of the most insidious characters I’ve seen brought to life on stage.

Paul Secor Morrel and his orchestra deftly handle the varied score with an evening of precise instrumentation.  The costumes of Fran Kapono-Kuzila are well suited to the show from the tattered rags of the prisoners to Molina’s kimono and scarves to Aurora’s numerous costumes for her numbers.  The ensemble cast also stayed in every moment to add crucial life to the story as well as adding strong voices to the chorus.

Musicals often get flak for being shallow on substance, but Kiss of the Spider Woman proves that a musical can be just as challenging and deep as straight theatre if given a chance.  If you love great theatre then you need to go and see this show.  Then you need to tell others to go get a ticket so they can see this show as it deserves a sold out run.

Kiss of the Spider Woman plays at the Barn Players through October 2.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 2pm. There will be an Industry Night performance on Sept 26. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students (w/ID), and groups of 10 or more.  Industry Night tickets will be $12 at the door.  To order tickets, visit the website at www.thebarnplayers.org or call 913-432-9100.  Due to sensitive thematic material and some strong language, this show is not suitable for children.  The Barn Players is located at 6219 Martway in Mission, KS.

‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ Coming to Barn Players

Next up at Kansas City’s Barn Players is the remarkable and dazzling musical spectacular Kiss of the Spider Woman, opening Friday, September 16th, playing through Sunday, October 2nd at The Barn Players, 6219 Martway, in Mission, KS.

Kiss of the Spider Woman is the harrowing, glitzy, musical story of persecution in this tale of two cell mates in a Latin American prison that combines reality with fantasies. Molina is a homosexual serving 8 years for deviant behavior and Valentin is a tough revolutionary. To relieve the loneliness and pains of torture Molina shares his fantasies that result in a glittering, musical spectacular about an actress who plays a “Spider Woman” and whose kiss is deadly.

The musical score was written by John Kander; the play at Kansas City’s Barn Players is directed by Eric Magnus and features JC Dressler as “The Spider Woman”, Joel Ramsdell as “Molina”, Paul Brennan as “Valentin” and Paul Emerson, Corey Allen, Joy Richardson, Natasha Gibbons, DeShawn Young, Max Mammele and chorus members JP Helder, Christop Nevins, and James Reves.

Performance dates are: Friday evenings September 16, 23 & 30th at 7:30 p.m. — Saturday evenings September 17, 24 and October 1th at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday Matinees September 19, 25 and October 2nd at 2:00 p.m. The play is rated “R”.

Tickets are $18.00 and are available on the theatre website www.thebarnplayers.org or at the theatre box office the date of the performance – discounts for seniors and students – credit cards accepted.