Talk of the Towns

Talk of the Towns: 5.4.22

the j | We can count on New Jewish Theatre for unique, thought-provoking productions. Sometimes NJT’s plays are very heavy and deeply troubling. Other performances are hilarious, curtain up to curtain down. There’s tragedy, comedy, agony, ecstasy … kind of like life itself. Well, an upcoming production looks to be just about the sweetest thing imaginable, a long-distance romance conducted completely through the mail during World War II. Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise is inspired by his parents’ romance as pen pals during the war. Two actors chronicle the romance spanning the war years between a military doctor, stationed in Medford, Oregon, among other places, and a budding young actress whose career hopes have taken her all the way from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Given the distance between them, the only way they can maintain, let alone grow, their relationship is through letters exchanged at breakneck pace or with frustrating, worrisome sluggishness. The show opens Thursday, June 9, and wraps Sunday, June 26, at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre.


grand center
The arts just can’t be stopped! So much art is going around that we can’t possibly cover it all. We may have missed one prestigious arts event, but there’s another one coming up soon. Here’s a little about what already happened: Dianne Isbell, hat designer extraordinaire for the Kentucky Derby, and other notable area women at events in the StL, was honored as Outstanding Working Artist at St. Louis Visionary Arts Awards at Sun Theater in Grand Center. We profiled Isbell in Notable Neighbors several years ago, when she was with St. Louis Fashion Fund. The five other women also honored:

  • Hassie Davis, Outstanding Teaching Artist
  • Andrea Hughes, Community Impact Artist
  • Mee Jey, Emerging Artist
  • Emily Rauh Pulitizer, Lifetime Achievement
  • Pam Trapp, Major Contributor to the Arts

Coming up in two weeks is multi-talented performer Syrhea Conaway, who will join Chamber Project St. Louis to perform “Silver Linings” at the Contemporary Art Museum from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 18. Conaway premiered the work-in-progress virtually in early 2021, and this live performance will include new music she composed during the past two tumultuous years. Balancing the program is the Clarinet Quintet by Johannes Brahms, a work he came out of retirement to compose. The program is free but reservations are required.

creve coeur
This has nothing to do with global warming: Greenland being cast adrift, arctic ice melting or sea levels rising six feet by the time your great-grandchildren may need to consider leaving Florida for the higher ground of Sedona, Arizona. We were just kidding about Greenland, but what will be left up there once all the ice is cut loose and marauding icebergs make Atlantic Ocean traffic too hazardous for your health? But why worry about any of that when we’ll all be long dead, right? Earth Day just made it all too overwhelming to comprehend. (To which readers say, “OK, Boomer.”) So, anyway, something may melt and evaporate closer to home, after a fashion. Here’s the skinny: The aging ice arena in Creve Coeur needs approximately $2.5 million to remain in operation. It was constructed in 1970, the very year Earth Day premiered. The city has hired a consulting firm to assess the feasibility of the rink remaining in operation; consultants presently are in the discovery phase of their work. Study results will help guide the city council’s decision on whether city funds should go toward maintaining the arena’s aging infrastructure, or whether the city should consider alternative uses for the complex that may better serve the community. What are hopeful Olympic ice dancers or wannabe Blues superstars to do? Meanwhile, the city has posted a questionnaire on its website, Comments close May 15 and input will be shared with the council at its June 13 or 27 meeting, when the city decides whether to keep the arena. This should be of great interest to the metro’s burgeoning amateur hockey community. And, of course, curling aficionados.


notable neighbors
the metro
They had to leave in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs, maybe clutching a hurriedly retrieved stuffed animal, when Afghanistan had fallen to the Taliban. American forces were pulling out in August 2021 after having fought the Islamist-led insurgency for 20 years. Corruption in the U.S.-backed ‘democratic’ regime reportedly had been rampant for years. Multiple news sources alleged Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s elected president, fled with a helicopter and four cars full of cash as the Taliban approached Kabul. The shadow government evaporated like a mist and the insurgents seized the government palace. The Islamists were bloodthirsty for revenge against any and all Afghans who had aided the U.S. effort: Military personnel and translators were among those at the top of the list. They were to be executed, along with their families. Meanwhile, in a suburb of the StL, Afghanistan was the last thing Julie Wurdack had on her mind. The tireless mom was preparing to send her quadruplets away to college; three girls and a boy, each to a different school out of state. She felt as though she’d lost her footing. “With four empty bedrooms, it was quiet as a mausoleum,” says Wurdack, who had no idea that, by February, she was to take 10 Afghan young adults, teens and their mother under her wing as a host family with Welcome Neighbor STL, a nonprofit established in 2016 as a response to the Syrian refugee crisis. (We have changed the family’s names to ensure their continued security and peace of mind in America.) Jamal Siddiqi, 29—a U.S. Army veteran with 11 years as a translator in Afghanistan under his belt—is the de facto patriarch of a family that includes his mother, Ruqia, his nine siblings and their growing families. Until he lands a white-collar job commensurate with his skills and experience, he’s driving for Uber. His sister Fatima, 19, her professional sights set on neurosurgery, works at Mercy while studying nursing. Under the Taliban, however, her schooling would have ceased; the subservience of women is an integral part of how this ultraconservative sect interprets the Quran. Polygamy also is practiced in much of the Muslim world: Ruqia was one of her late husband’s three wives. Jamal, whose youngest sibling is 13, is married, with two special-needs kids of his own. The family lives in a house in South County that Jamal was able to secure with a VA loan. It needs a third bathroom. The community has responded to many immediate needs as the extended Siddiqi family gets on its feet. Seeger Toyota donated a minivan. They’ve no need for clothing at present, although bureaucratic red tape still holds up certain benefits, such as food stamps. The International Institute handles mind-numbing reams of paperwork, exacerbated by the emergency nature of the Afghan refugee crisis, while day-to-day ‘boots on the ground’ belong to Wurdack and her compatriots; after we met for coffee and conversation, she was taking the family to a food pantry. The generosity of St. Louisans is unparalleled, of course. Wurdack notes some big-dollar donations have come through Facebook, many from her grade-school classmates at Our Lady of the Pillar parish in Creve Coeur. Oh, and by the way, Wurdack is a Villa girl. Visit to find out how you can help.


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