February '04


Amid conflict and Missy's new place
By David Ollington

The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and our nation’s military operation in Iraq have made present and personal the violent and heated conflicts of the Middle East. The Unicorn Theatre has produced a piece of theatre that puts directly in front of the audience the desperate passions of two people on opposite sides of the Middle Eastern conflict. Playwright Karen Sunde set How His Bride Came to Abraham in a war-torn area of south Lebanon. The piece evocatively questions the possibility of romantic love between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian woman.

Micheal Stock and Alyssa Cartwright
in the Unicorn Theatre's production of
How His Bride Came to Abraham

Only two actors take the stage, Michael Stock in the role of Abe and Alyssa Cartwright as Sabra. After a literally explosive beginning, a mine detonation that severely injures Abe, his fellow soldiers temporarily abandon him because another Israeli, Benny, Abe’s best friend, requires more urgent attention after the blast. Sabra enters and he immediately puts her at gunpoint.

Sabra dwells in a cave beneath the hill, and with high-decibel ultimatums, Abe forces his way inside with her. Sunde set up a high-stakes situation for them both: He has the gun but also a severely hurt leg. She has shelter. Each fears and initially dislikes the other.

The ice of their mutual grudges slowly melts. She bathes his wounds and feeds him. Despite memories of violence at the hands of the enemy, Abe and Sabra develop a passionate fondness and eventually make love, the absurdity of their future together a recurring theme.

Sunde, with astute research, creatively puts two disparate characters at odds, playing a dangerous, real-life chess game. How His Bride Came to Abraham deals with a sobering, solemn topic and makes for a heavy event.

Cartwright plays Sabra truthfully and with tender imagery. Sabra recounts the horrors her family members suffered, the emotional impact visible in Cartwright’s face. Director Cynthia Levin chose the correct physical type when she cast Stock as Abe, but he fails to match the vulnerability in Cartwright’s performance. He overuses one gesture with his hands: the pinky, forefinger and thumb extended with the middle and ring fingers curled, a common gesture in the world of the American skater kid. Is it also a common Israeli hand motion?

Gary Mosby designed an appropriately chilling set with an upper level that curves like a desert snake into a cave underground. A live fire in a steel drum rises and falls with the action of the play; the flames tickle the air just a little bit higher when Abe and Sabra get intimate.

The Unicorn’s production is the professional world premiere of How His Bride Came to Abraham. It runs through Sunday, Feb. 15. Performances are Tuesday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the Unicorn Box Office or by phoning 816-531-PLAY (7529), ext. 10.

* * * *

Missy Koonce, actress, singer, comic, choreographer, director, has worked for almost all area professional theatre companies. My Way, a musical tribute to Frank Sinatra, marked Missy’s directorial debut at the American Heartland Theatre. Her work with the irreverent Late Night Theatre in particular has given her a devoted following of fans. Last season, she appeared as Lucille Ball in Loving Lucy at the Unicorn, a one-woman show. Only her confident stage presence, her naughty sense of humor and her expressive singing eclipse her impressive credits.

In 1997, while working at the Boulder Dinner Theatre, Koonce visited an upscale piano bar in Denver called “The Grand.” She thought at the time that Kansas City lacked any such establishment. A score of years later, after finding an investor and a fittingly urban locale, Koonce has opened Bar Natasha at 1911 Main.

In the Coterie’s production of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Koonce played the elevated and evil Natasha. The bar carries the name of one of Koonce’s favorite characters.

Like many performers, Koonce has often supported herself in the restaurant industry. Far from abandoning her rightful place on the stage, Koonce has given birth to a venue that meets her two professions. In the middle of Bar Natasha sits a round stage with a shiny grand piano. One night, Koonce stepped on the platform, grasped the microphone and said, “This is the great thing about this place; I can get up and sing whenever I want.”

Pianist and singer in her own right, Marilyn Wood, accompanies her with a gentle touch to the keys. Wearing a sparkling tinsel wig, Wood provides melodies in between Koonce’s sets.

In addition to cocktails, Bar Natasha offers desserts and savories. “We don’t call them tapas because we’re not Spanish,” Koonce said. Like her performing, her cabaret runs with originality, wit and integrity.

Koonce will maintain a presence in the theatre community. She will direct The Big Friendly Giant at the Coterie Theatre and continues to serve on the Advisory Board for Late Night Theatre, where she worked as a performer, director and executive producer with another local demi-celebrity, Ron Megee.

“Ron says, ‘Missy and I set out to conquer the world. Now we’ve split up so we can cover more territory,’” Koonce remarked. Her loyal audience can still catch her in action, singing, telling jokes and running the joint at Bar Natasha.

David Ollington can be contacted at or



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