Monday, July 10, 2017

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

The fifth annual LaBute New Theater Festival has chosen five finalists to debut this year, along with five high school finalists that were presented as stage readings this past Saturday. The festival’s namesake, Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute, has once again written a play specifically for the festival that will be presented every night of the run. The first of two sets of plays will run until the 16th, and they share a contemporary, political tinge.

LaBute’s Hate Crime gives us a peek into the lives of two lovers plotting a murder to collect on an insurance claim. Greg Hunsaker goes over the details of his planned method with his lover, played by Chauncy Thomas. He intends to make the deed look like a hate crime, and Thomas seems resolved with the plans, even though there's a twist involved.
Greg Hunsaker and Chauncy Thomas.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Hunsaker’s crafting of a murder with the goal of making it look like a hate crime is creepy enough, without Thomas’s hot-and-cold vibe that makes you doubt his own motives in a piece that’s unexpectedly over before you know it.

In Waiting for the Erie Lackawanna by Ron Radice, three guys toting briefcases are on a platform waiting for their train. One, played wonderfully by Ryan Lawson-Maeske, is on his way to a job interview. An insignificant elbow nudge puts him in the middle, literally and figuratively, as the two other guys (Spencer Sickmann and Reggie Pierre) take turns bad-mouthing each other and throwing suspicion on the other’s character. Small trespasses become major breaches of decency in a dual-pronged gaslighting. There’s also quite a bit of briefcase switching going on. Radice’s absurdist play gets a little meandering, but Sickmann and Pierre’s exaggerated performance plays well to the tone of it.

Spencer Sickmann, Ryan Lawson-Maeske and Reggie Pierre.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Sacred Space, by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, begins with two women, Sophia Brown and Kim Furlow, preparing for a Tahara -- a purification ritual to ready a body for Jewish burial. It’s the morning after the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, and the tragedy is troubling the minds of them both. Just as the cleansing begins, a text from one of the shooting victims appears against the wall. They think they’re hallucinating at first, but after the texts are joined by the texts from the mother of the victim, they decide that maybe just this once, they can interrupt the rules of tradition to help more than one soul receive peace. Peppered with humor and well executed by Brown and Furlow, Sacred Space offers an ode to the victims of the shooting that dominated the news just over a year ago.

Sophia Brown and Kim Furlow.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
In Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis, drilling down to find the truth in an everyday news story is equal to foreplay. After the initial clumsiness of a first date between two D.C. residents, played by Nancy Bell and Thomas, they decide to try something new and “kinky”. They spend the rest of their date analyzing a breaking headline story. Researching online, making phone calls and listening to the news, they try their best to strip away all the layers of hype to find the truth, as Kelly Schaschl delivers the flurry of newscast soundbites. The idea of truth-seeking as a turn on is an interesting idea, and well played by the cast, but it loses a little steam once the premise is set. Those political threads run most strongly through this one.

Nancy Bell and Chauncy Thomas.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
The directors do skillful work with the scripts they are given, but a couple of the plays seem incomplete, coming off more as a running commentary on the current climate, as the question of whom to believe and what sources to trust has become a slippery business. The second set of one-acts will start July 21 and run through July 30.

Incidental thoughts
• In the past couple of years, some finalists of the festival have enjoyed New York premieres at 59E59 Theaters, an off-Broadway spot in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a great opportunity for the playwrights, and great exposure for St. Louis Actors’ Studio.


LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through July 30 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Hate Crime by Neil LaBute • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Chauncy Thomas*
Greg Hunsaker

Finalists
Set One (July 7-16):

Waiting for the Erie Lackawanna by Ron Radice, Andover, MA • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Spencer Sickmann
Reggie Pierre
Ryan Lawson-Maeske

Sacred Space by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, Needham, MA  • Directed by Nancy Bell*
Cast
Sophia Brown
Kim Furlow
The Deceased: Kelly Robertson

Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis, St. Louis, MO • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Chauncy Thomas*
Nancy Bell*
Kelly Schaschl
Voice of Friend #1 Lindsey Steinkamp
Voice of Friend #2 Isabella Koster

Finalists
Set Two (July 21 – July 30):

How’s Bruno by Cary Pepper, San Francisco, CA • Directed by Nancy Bell*
Cast
Chauncy Thomas*
Ryan Lawson-Maeske
Reggie Pierre
Spencer Sickmann

Sin Titulo by Tearrance Chrisholm, St. Louis, MO • Directed by Linda Kennedy*
Cast
Patrice Foster
Reggie Pierre
Jaz Tucker

High School Finalists
Saturday Morning Stage Readings (Free admission July 8 @ 11am):
Directed by Edward Ibur

Depths of Hell by Erica O’Brien, Webster Groves High School

Five Things I Wish My Mother Never Told Me by Cicely Henderson, Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts

24th December by Ella Schmidt, John Burroughs School

10 Steps to A Good Life by Ella Genovese, Nerinx Hall

Dessert in the Desert by Danielle Goldberg, Parkway High School

Cast
Mara Sudekum
Laurel Button
Max Rodhouse
Dahlia Haddad
Peter Mayer*
Nancy Bell*
Spencer Sickmann

Creative
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige
Assistant Stage Manager: Phoebe Sklansky
Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designers: John Pierson, Nancy Bell and Linda Kennedy
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Light Board Operator: Carla Landis Evans and Sally Liz Evans
Sound/Projection Operator: Amy J. Paige
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
Stagehands: Kelly Robertson and Phoebe Sklansky
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

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

1 comment:

  1. Once again, a rewarding evening at the St. Louis Actors Studio. I saw the 4 plays last night and came away with a greater appreciation of just how much talent it takes to create a great play. From writing, to casting, directing, acting, staging. As in any evening like this, you end up with favorites. I had two: "Percentage America" and "Waiting for the Erie Lackawanna." Highly imaginative, beautifully acted. The other two (even LaBute's) were less effective for me, but still worth the time. A standing ovation for the actors. And STLAS. St. Louis is fortunate to have them.

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