Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SEMINAR • St. Louis Actors' Studio

What happens when you put four hopeful writers, eager to be published, in a room with a once acclaimed novelist? Well, the punchline in Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 play is laced with a constant current of competition -- on a couple of different levels, and director Elizabeth Helman and her able cast smartly elevate the themes in a seemingly slight script in STLAS’s 9th season opener.

Four young writers have shelled out $5,000 for a 10 week writing seminar under the tutelage of Leonard (John Pierson), a known literary hotshot. His students include the well-to-do Kate (Taylor Pietz), who hosts the sessions in her spacious Upper West Side, rent-controlled apartment, sweater-vested Douglas (Nathan Bush), who has family connections in publishing but lacks real promise, the provocative Izzy (Alicia Smith), whose wish to be published is only seconded by her desire to appear nude on a New York Magazine cover, and Martin (Jason Contini), a fan of the Mets and Kerouac, and the last hold-out when it comes to handing over his work to be judged.

Nathan Bush (Douglas), Jason Contini (Martin),
Taylor Pietz (Kate), Alicia Smith (Izzy)
and John Pierson (Leonard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Leonard seems to take pleasure (in a mental masturbation kind of way) in skewering each manuscript he reads -- not that he reads much of them. Pierson gives Leonard an engaging vibe, despite Leonard being an insulting sexist prick, barely able to walk into a room without droning about his latest African adventure. After drawing in a long breath, he quickly scans the first page (or paragraph), tossing what he’s read on the floor, discarding the pages like trash, and then proceeds to annihilate the words and the writer with potently personal barbs. The students are in an almost hopelessly vulnerable situation, and the ambitious nature in each one is clearly demonstrated in different ways by Pietz, the first to be dismissed, Smith, using her sexual wiles, Contini, walking on the artistic high-ground and Bush, a nice guy who tries too hard. They all despair, or revel, in their individual insecurities and strengths, with director Elizabeth Helman guiding the rivalry that develops among them.

Nathan Bush (Douglas), Taylor Pietz (Kate),
Jason Contini (Martin), Alicia Smith (Izzy)
and John Pierson (Leonard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The detail in costumes by Carla Landis Evans defines each character, and the tone is set with Patrick Huber’s scenic and lighting design, along with Helman’s sound design. It’s a great show to soak in this weekend -- open to a variety of impressions, and well executed. Go see it!


Written by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Elizabeth Helman
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through October 4 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

John Pierson* (Leonard), Jason Contini* (Martin), Nathan Bush (Douglas), Taylor Pietz (Kate) and Alicia Smith (Izzy).

Scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; sound design by Elizabeth Helman; costume and props design by Carla Landis Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige; technical director, Greg Hunsaker; light board operator, Carla Landis Evans; sound board operator, Amy J. Paige; scenic paint, Cristie Johnston; mater electrician, Dalton Robinson; stage crew, Danny Mueller.

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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