Friday, July 18, 2014


The St. Louis Actors’ Studio's LaBute New Theater Festival, featuring premiere one-act plays, began its second appearance last Friday after a successful debut last year. Over 250 world-wide submissions were whittled down to seven finalists and three high school finalist that will be presented over the next month. The first set of four finalists will be presented from July 11th through the 20th and the second set of three begin on the 25th and run through August 3rd, with the high school finalists presented as free stage readings on the 26th. The festival's namesake, playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute, has also once again written a world premiere one-act for the festival, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, that will be presented nightly.

We kick off the night with Steve Karp's comedy, "Rubbas", directed by Milton Zoth. And it's rubbers -- as in prophylactics.
Reginald Pierre (Tom), B. Weller (Senator)
and Emily Baker (Ms. Goldman).
Photo credit: John Lamb
An Alabama senator (B. Weller) is going over one of his state's most lucrative companies with his aide, Tom (Reginald Pierre). Alacorp produces condoms, and though the senator doesn't want the company to draw too much attention from his conservative constituents, he's ready to fight a government push to move production to China, where higher quality rubbers can be made cheaper. The play ends feeling a little unfinished, but provides laughs with good performances by Pierre, Emily Baker, who plays Ms. Goldman, the opposing government official, and a very funny Weller who plays the senator with all the convincing polish of a seasoned politician.

GP Hunsaker (Tailor).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Aleks Merilo's understated "Little Moscow" features GP Hunsaker as a tailor who tells a customer a story from his childhood involving his intolerant father, blindly loyal to Russia, his older sister who brings a Jewish suitor to meet the family, and the fascination that inspired him to become a tailor. Chris Limber directs this one, and though the script meanders a bit, Hunsaker quietly lends a sensitively intimate performance. 

"I Want to Show You Something", written by Jan Henson Dow and also directed by Limber, begins with a very nervous Mrs. Spencer (Baker) struggling to work up the nerve to open up to psychiatrist Dr. Fisher (Chopper Leifheit) about the abuse she suffered as a child. The story becomes chilling as Dr. Fisher pulls out Mrs. Spencer's long-hidden secrets that go deeper that he expected, with a strong performance by Baker, shifting subtly in tone and demeanor on a dime in this, one of the more successful pieces.

Emily Baker (Mrs. Spencer) and Chopper Leifeit (Dr. Fisher).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Thomas Pierce's "Blue Lagoon", directed by Milton Zoth, takes place in Istanbul, where Russell (Weller), an intelligence analyst in hot water, anxiously waits to meet a contact he hopes can help him. When he's joined by Alice (Jenny Smith), an older, chatty tourist, he becomes annoyed. When Alice reveals herself as his contact, Russell is skeptical -- even after exchanging a few code phrases. But Alice is more than meets the eye in this futuristic comedy, as Russell soon finds out. Weller and Smith deliver great performances in this look at drones, and what may be in store for their future.

Neil LaBute's play, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, directed by Zoth, finds Bill (William Roth) having lunch on a park bench, when he's approached by Kip (Reginald Pierre), who strikes up a friendly conversation. Kip's tone begins to turn as he questions Bill about his acquaintance with his wife and four year-old son. Pierre is impressive, slowly and convincingly displaying the fierce protection of a father who will do whatever it takes to keep his family safe, and Roth is exceptional as Bill, a man insistent about his innocence, knowing he will be forever judged by past crimes.

Jenny Smith (Alice) and B. Weller (Russell).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The performances were solid throughout, and Patrick Huber's scenic design provided a simple set, easy to accommodate quick set changes, with a back wall used for projections. The directors handled the sound design duties for their pieces, Bess Moynihan provided the lighting design and Carla Landis Evans provided the costumes and props design.

This festival is a wonderful addition to the St. Louis theatre scene that shouldn't be missed, providing the opportunity to see world premiere works in our own backyard. LaBute, with over twenty plays and a dozen-plus film credits to his name, is slated to be in town on the 25th, and is reportedly down for continuing this festival indefinitely. YES!


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

Reginald Pierre (Kip) and William Roth (Bill).
Photo credit: John Lamb
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).

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

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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