Friday, August 1, 2014

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

Part two of the LaBute New Theater Festival, featuring the remaining three finalists, kicked off this past Friday, with Neil LaBute in town for the festivities. This week's crop of plays seemed more polished that last week's, but all of the plays lay out a variety of styles that make this festival a bracing one. You can read about the first group here.

John Doble's "Coffee House, Greenwich Village" takes the awkward first moments of a blind date towards an increasingly menacing trajectory between a couple who met through a magazine ad. Nathan Bush is convincing as a nervously compliant Jack with Ellie Schwetye's Pamela remaining clearly and effectively in charge. Paul Cereghino is deadpan funny as the obnoxious waiter who serves up plenty of snark. Director John Pierson maintains the tone of this dangerous game of "I see that, and raise you this..." perfectly.

Left to Right - Nathan Bush (Jack),
Paul Cereghino (Waiter) and Ellie Schwetye (Pamela).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"The Thing with Feathers", written by Susan Steadman and also directed by John Pierson, takes place in a hospital where a teacher and lover of poetry sits shackled and cuffed to a chair -- arrested after a scuffle he got involved in after defending a gay friend at a bar. He strikes up a conversation with a petulant teen who's roaming the halls, recuperating from a gunshot wound. A brief but responsive chord is struck between these two, and Chopper Leifheit's sensitive portrayal of Aaron was nicely matched with the aloofly veiled curiosity of Mara, well-performed by Caroline Adams.

JJ Strong's comedy "Comeback Special" was a standout for me, and features Leifheit as Elvis Presley in a meeting with Elvis fan, Bonnie (Schwetye), and her boyfriend Jesse (Cereghino). Elvis is "stuck", roaming a floor of his old digs, and meets Bonnie and Jesse after they dare to slip past the velvet ropes at Graceland. Leifheit  gives an engagingly winning performance as Elvis and Schwetye's fan-fueled zeal is well matched with Cereghino's cynical Jesse, yearning to complete their cross-country trip to New Orleans but softening in light of "The King's" predicament, and willing to lend a hand for a proper sendoff.

Left to Right - Caroline Adams (Mara), Chopper Leifeit (Aaron)
and GP Hunsaker (Police).
Photo credit: John Lamb
It's neat when you get the opportunity to see a play twice. The overall picture is the same but you catch different hues in the performances, and that was the case with LaBute's “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, that's been running every night of the festival. None of the growing intensity is lost between a meeting between Kip (Reginald Pierre) and Bill (William Roth), but there are new, subtle shades in the performances to appreciate.

Left to Right - Chopper Leifheit (Elvis)  Ellie Schwetye (Bonnie)
and Paul Cereghino (Jesse).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Any festival of new plays will differ -- and while you may like some more than others, the chance to see an offering of new works is always exciting. I'm gonna suggest that you go ahead and make a note on your calendars for next year's festival -- I'm already looking forward to it. You've got until Sunday at the Gaslight Theater to check it out.


LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL II

“Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” by Neil LaBute • Directed by Milton Zoth
Cast: Reginald Pierre (Kip) and William Roth (Bill).

Finalists (July 11 - 20):

"Rubbas" by Steve Karp, New York, NY • Directed by Milton Zoth
Cast: Reginald Pierre (Tom), B. Weller (Senator) and Emily Baker (Ms. Goldman).

"Little Moscow" by Aleks Merilo, Brooklyn, NY • Directed by Chris Limber
Cast: GP Hunsaker (Tailor).

"I Want to Show You Something" by Jan Henson Dow, Bluffton, SC • Directed by Chris Limber
Cast: Emily Baker (Mrs. Spencer) and Chopper Leifheit* (Dr. Fisher).

"Blue Lagoon" by Thomas Pierce, Seattle, WA • Directed by Milton Zoth
Cast: B. Weller (Russell) and Jenny Smith (Alice).

Left to Right - Reginald Pierre (Kip), William Roth (Bill).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Finalists (July 25 - August 3):

"Coffee House, Greenwich Village" by John Doble, New York, NY • Directed by John Pierson
Cast: Paul Cereghino (Waiter), Ellie Schwetye (Pamela) and Nathan Bush (Jack).

"The Thing with Feathers" by Susan Steadman, Wilmington, NC • Directed by John Pierson
Cast: Chopper Leifheit* (Aaron), Caroline Adams (Mara) and GP Hunsaker (Police).

"Comeback Special" by JJ Strong, Los Angeles, CA • Directed by Tom Martin
Cast: Paul Cereghino (Jesse), Ellie Schwetye (Bonnie) and Chopper Leifheit* (Elvis).

High School Finalists - Stage Readings • Directed by Aaron Orion Baker (July 26 at 11 am):

"Prosaic Beatings" by Jared Ray McSwain, Stockbridge, GA
Cast: Terry Meddows* (Hal) and Michelle Hand (Audrey).

"Pisces" by Aidan Murphy, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire, IL
Cast: Pete Winfrey (Madison) and Jennifer Theby Quinn (Waverly).

"The Hushed Machine" by Amelia Himebaugh, Lindbergh High School, St. Louis, MO
Cast: Nancy Lewis (Ethel), Terry Meddows* (David), Michelle Hand (Michelle) and Pete Winfrey (Andrew).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through August 3 | tickets$25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Creative:
Scenic design by Patrick Huber; lighting design by Bess Moynihan; sound design by Milton Zoth, Chris Limber, Tom Martin and John Pierson; costume and props design by Carla Landis Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

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