Saturday, July 27, 2013

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL II • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Part two of the LaBute New Theater Festival started last Friday with the second set of four new plays that will run until the 28th, along with LaBute's "The Possible", written especially for the festival.

When Hank (David Wassilak) has the chance to meet his favorite actor (Paul Cooper) from his favorite tv show, he's beside himself.  In his cabin in the woods, this park ranger gets to talk to his idol, the guy who plays "Lyle" on a show called "Blood Brothers".  Never mind that the young actor is initially bound and gagged.  Hank just wants to hang out, that's all.  And talk.  Hank's intimate familiarity with every episode of every season of this series provides the humor.  Something I could never identify with.  Ha!  Kidding…  (Downton Abbey?  The Walking Dead?  Anybody?)  But there's a nice dose of tension in there too once the depths of Hank's obsessive connection with the show bubble to the surface and the young actor's aggravation with the position he's put in by the baggage of celebrity come to a head.  Directed by Wayne Solomon and written by Rachel Fenton, who is also featured in, "The Possible" and "Present Tense", "Blood Brothers" is a perfect start to the evening with fine performances from Cooper and Wassilak.

Paul Cooper (Young Man) and David Wassilak (Hank).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The second offering for the night is LaBute's "The Possible" that has run every night of the festival.  You can read about that here.  One neat thing I learned -- Neil LaBute gave Fenton's character a list of choices to pick from for the last line of the play.  Kinda cool, right?

"Cut", by Daniel Damiano and directed by Steve Woolf, opens with a conversation between Jerry (Wassilak), a prison barber, and Raymond (Tom Lehman), a young inmate.  While Jerry gives Raymond a haircut, he considers how, or if, circumstances and upbringing affect a person's fate.
David Wassilak (Jerry) and Tom Lehman (Raymond).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Having already served thirty years of a life sentence, Jerry's words of wisdom to Raymond come from a man who's had more than a couple dozen years to settle into the realities of life in prison, while Raymond's priorities are bent more on intimidation and survival.  Their exchange is simple enough, with a little revelation near the end, but it proves interesting to see how prison narrows the focus of these two, and how different priorities color their perspectives.

Francesca (Laura Sexauer) and Simon (Nathan Bush) are trying to make a little magic happen in Joshua Thomas's "Kink".  During a more and more inventive succession of role-playing schemes to satisfy each other, there are hesitant endeavors and exuberant attempts.
Nathan Bush (Simon) and Laura Sexauer (Francesca).
Photo credit: John Lamb

After a while, you wonder if after the vampire, salesmen and bunny paraphernalia is put away, these two will get what they want.  Directed by Milton Zoth, the performances from Sexauer and Bush have a clumsy but determined authenticity that sells the piece, and provide laughter of all kinds -- genuine, nervous and thoughtful.

The last piece, "Present Tense", written by Peter Grandbois and Nancy Bell, positions its sexual encounters against the backdrop of "sexting", and its consequential effects.  Walter (Aaron Orion Baker) and Debra (Rachel Fenton) met at a conference, and have been "virtually" carrying on ever since.  They now have the opportunity to meet each other in the flesh, and find themselves completely out of their depth.  When their physical connection fails, their laptops and cell phones intervene, and under Wayne Salomon's carefully paced direction, the interactions between Baker and Fenton hit the perfect note.

Aaron Orion Baker (Walter) and
Rachel Fenton (Debra).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This round of nicely crafted plays leave you with food for thought that sits just under the surface of the humor and personally, I liked some of these a little better.  And no, it's not because most of the playwrights were local talent.  For me, many of these one acts offered more of a sense of completion, while still laying out engaging interactions between the characters.  The performances have remained very strong throughout, and I'm already looking forward to next year's festival!  It's gone after tomorrow, so check it out.


LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL

"The Possible" by Neil LaBute • Directed by Milton Zoth
Cast: Rachel Fenton (One) and Wendy Greenwood (Two).

Finalists (July 5 - 14):

"Cleansing Acts" by Carlos Perez, Kansas City • Directed by Steve Woolf
Cast: Justin Ivan Brown (William), Andra Hawkins (Maxine) and Jackie Manker (Star).

"Pinky Swear" by Tyler Vickers, Los Angeles, California • Directed by Linda Kennedy
Cast: Tom Lehman (Jeremy) and Aaron Orion Baker (Dave).

"The Elephant in the Room" by Alexis Clements, Brooklyn, New York • Directed by Linda Kennedy
Cast: Wendy Greenwood (Georgi) and Suki Peters (Elephant).

"Two Irishmen Are Digging a Ditch" by GD Kimble, Bronx, New York • Directed by Steve Woolf
Cast: Nathan Bush (Haggerty), Justin Ivan Brown (Doyle) and Aaron Orion Baker (Evans).

Finalists (July 19 - 28):

"Blood Brothers" by Rachel Fenton, St. Louis • Directed by Wayne Solomon
Cast: Paul Cooper (Young Man), David Wassilak (Hank) and Aaron Orion Baker (Radio).

"The Possible" by Neil LaBute • Directed by Milton Zoth
Cast: Rachel Fenton (One) and Wendy Greenwood (Two).

"Cut" by Daniel Damiano, New York, New York • Directed by Steve Woolf
Cast: David Wassilak (Jerry) and Tom Lehman (Raymond).

"Kink" by Joshua Thomas, St. Louis • Directed by Milton Zoth
Cast: Laura Sexauer (Francesca), Nathan Bush (Simon).

"Present Tense" by Peter Grandbois, Granville, Ohio, and Nancy Bell, St. Louis • Directed by Wayne Salomon
Cast: Aaron Orion Baker (Walter) and Rachel Fenton (Debra).

High School Finalists (July 6):

"The Summit of the Gods" by Aidan Murphy, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire, Illinois
Cast: Nancy Bell* (Vishnu), Joshua Thomas (Jesus), Rusty Gunther (Flying Spaghetti Monster), Wendy Greenwood (Satan), Bobby Miller* (Jehova), Betsy Bowman (Internet) and Milton Zoth (Narrator).

"Imagination" by Laura Townsend, Clayton High School, St. Louis
Cast: Betsy Bowman (The girl), Bobby Miller* (Demon) and Nancy Bell* (Narrator).

"Stand Up to Bullying" by Annie Kopp, Ladue High School, St. Louis
Cast: Annie Kopp and Wendy Greenwood.

"Little Star in the Sky" by Laurel Button, Mary Institute–Country Day School, St. Louis
Cast: Wendy Greenwood (Sophie), Rusty Gunther (Mark), Bobby Miller* (Narrator) and Joshua Thomas (Soldier).

"Wordless" by Amanda Ehrmann, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire, Illinois
Cast: Rusty Gunther (Lane), Betsy Bowman (Delaney), Nancy Bell* (Louise) Joshua Thomas (Aaron) and Bobby Miller* (Narrator).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through July 28 | tickets: $25 - $30 ($50 for opening weekend)
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Creative:
Scenic and lighting design by Jim Burwinkel; sound design by Robin Weatherall; costume design by Carla Landis Evans; dialect coach, Sigrid Sutter, stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

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