Tuesday, July 10, 2018

LaBute New Theater Festival I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The LaBute New Theater Festival is back for its sixth year at St. Louis Actors' Studio. The finalists are culled from about 300 entries, and six new short plays have been chosen, along with an annual debut by the festival’s namesake, Tony-nominated playwright Neil LaBute, who made an appearance on opening night. The first set of three will run through the 15th, and the second trio will run from the 20th through the 29th, with LaBute’s premiere featured every night of the festival. There were also four high school finalists that received a free-admission stage reading this past Saturday.

LaBute’s The Fourth Reich is a sneaky little play that takes hold slowly. Eric Dean White is a friendly-faced guy sitting comfortably in an arm chair who eventually shares his views about history, and how those who come out on the losing side of it are vilified. His defense of a hard-working German who just wanted to elevate his people is eerie -- as are the ways in which a calm voice and thoughtful deductions prove that perceived moral high ground is always something else to someone else. The chilling justifications are made all the more unsettling by White’s unflinchingly civil performance. 

Eric Dean White in The Fourth Reich.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
In Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich’s Shut Up and Dance, an ex-Radio City Rockette (Erin Brewer) who refused to perform at the presidential inauguration has hit the road to escape the media backlash. After having her behind-the-wheel reveries interrupted by a couple of festively dressed daydream sprites (Colleen Backer and Carly Rosenbaum), she settles into a motel and a conversation with her mother (Margeau Steinau), who’s been worried about her. They commiserate and are snippy with each other, in the way only mothers and daughters can be, but this play feels a little incomplete at the end, despite its tenacious feminist optimism and good performances.

(L to R) Colleen Backer, Erin Brewer
and Carly Rosenbaum in Shut Up and Dance.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Advantage God by Norman Kline finds two well-heeled suburbanites with their gated community under attack from “the other people.” With helicopters overhead and explosions in the streets, the panicked husband (White) rushes to pack survival gear while his medicated wife (Backer) makes sure they’ve got plenty of booze and pharmaceuticals for the treacherous journey through the tennis courts and flower beds. White and Backer are very funny here, along with Reginald Pierre who serves as the voice of God. It's entertaining and quirky, though the story starts to drift after a considerable amount of back-and-forth with the Almighty.

In James McLindon’s Hipster Noir, we meet an old-school gumshoe (Pierre) who works as a barista in a coffeehouse. When a hipster (Joshua Parrack) comes in for his java, he’s immediately taken by the detective’s fountain pen. Apparently it’s a pretty rare pen, and this kid is consumed with the acquisition of all things artisanal. Moments later, a blonde bombshell (Rosenbaum) arrives, claiming to require his sleuthing services, laying on a thick layer of flirtation while she’s at it, blinding him to the swindle to come. The mix of styles, time periods and solid performances make this a fun piece.

Eric Dean White and
Colleen Backer in Advantage God.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
It’s always exciting to see brand new plays that are often still works-in-progress, and the first set of this year’s crop has a little something for everyone.


LaBute New Theater Festival I

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through July 29 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

The Fourth Reich by Neil LaBute • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Eric Dean White*

Set One (July 6 - 15):

Shut Up and Dance by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, Needham, MA • Directed by Wendy Greenwood 
Cast
Erin Brewer
Colleen Backer
Carly Rosenbaum
Margeau Steinau

Reginald Pierre and Carly Rosenbaum
in Hipster Noir.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Advantage God by Norman Kline, NY, NY • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Colleen Backer
Eric Dean White*

Hipster Noir by James McLindon, Springfield, MA • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Reginald Pierre
Carly Rosenbaum
Joshua Parrack

Set Two (July 20 - 29):

The Gettier Problem by Michael Long, Alexandria, VA • Directed by Wendy Greenwood
Cast
Erin Brewer
Colleen Backer
Spencer Sickmann

Unabridged by Sean Abley, Los Angeles, CA • Directed by Ryan Scott Foizey
Cast
Eric Dean White*
Zak Farmer
Spencer Sickmann

The Process by Peter McDonough, Chicago, IL • Directed by Ryan Scott Foizey
Cast
Erin Brewer
Carly Rosenbaum

High School Finalists
Saturday Morning Stage Readings (Free admission July 7 @ 11am):
Directed by Edward Ibur

In Utero by Ann Zhang, John Burroughs School, Ladue, MO

Our Last Kiss by Nick Kime, John Burroughs School, Ladue, MO

Prodigal by Sydney Cimarolli, Webster Groves High School, Webster Groves, MO

This Is Piracy by Erica O'Brien, Webster Groves High School, Webster Groves, MO

Cast
Kelly Schaschl
Veronica Silva
Hasani Skinner
Evan Williams
Lily Yanagimoto
Stage directions read by Patrice Foster

Creative
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige*
Assistant Stage Managers: Jeff Roberts and Connor Brinkley
Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Lighting Designers: Patrick Huber and Dalton Robison
Sound Designers: John Pierson*, Wendy Greenwood and Ryan Scott Foizey
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Megan Harshaw
Props Designer: Jess Stamper
Light Board Operator: Jeff Roberts
Sound/Projection Operator: Amy J. Paige*
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

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

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