Thursday, July 16, 2015


St. Louis Actors' Studio is back with its third annual LaBute New Theater Festival, named after Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute. Nine one-act plays were selected from 250 submissions with LaBute not only lending his name to the festival, but participating in the selection panel, providing a great opportunity for aspiring playwrights from all over the globe. The first group of finalists will be performed from July 10th through the 19th, and the second group will be performed from the 24th through August 2nd, and LaBute’s world premiere, “Kandahar”, written specifically for the event, will run every night of the festival. There are also five high school finalists whose work will be presented as a free staged reading on July 25 at 11am. You can find the details on these plays at the end of the blog.

Michael Hogan.
Photo credit: John Lamb
LaBute’s “Kandahar” features Michael Hogan as a soldier being grilled about a brutal incident at his local base after his return from Afghanistan. Under John Pierson’s direction, Hogan’s performance -- stoic and imposing, teases out the details of what landed him here in chilling detail, driving home how the numbing horrors of war are not easily left behind, with a solid solo performance.

G.P. Hunsaker (Jeweler) and Nathan Bush (Robert).
Photo credit: John Lamb

In Mark Young’s “Custom”, directed by Christopher Limber, Robert (Nathan Bush) visits a jeweler (GP Hunsaker) to get some gold appraised. During his visit, he admires the jeweler’s collection of custom pieces, and the stories that come with them. One of the jeweler’s earliest pieces, a golden cricket that “chirps”, has a special story -- one that reveals a poignant connection between Robert and the jeweler. Great performances from Hunsaker and Bush.

Kevin C. Minor (Man) and Nancy Crouse (Woman).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Less successful is Chris Holbrook’s “A Taste of Heaven”, that finds Nancy Crouse fighting a healthcare bureaucrat. Her retirement benefits are in danger of being terminated because they think she’s dead. Directed by B. Weller, there are solid performances from Crouse, Kevin Minor and Rhyan Robison, but Holbrook’s twist near the end of the play comes a little too late in the proceedings after the initial set-up has lost steam.

Steve Apostolina’s “Cold in Hand”, also directed by Limber, fares better as Luke (Rynier Gaffney), a young, white street performer with a penchant for the blues winds up on Razz’s (Don McClendon) corner.
Don McClendon (Razz) and Rynier Gaffney (Luke).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Razz is an old blues man himself, and wonders what this young white boy knows about the blues. They both learn things about each other they didn’t anticipate in this neat little chance meeting with a convincing performance by McClendon and good support by Gaffney.

Lexi Wolfe’s “Stand Up for Oneself”, directed by Pierson, is an easy-going story about Lucas (Bush), an introverted, disabled professor who has retreated to a back room at a party in London.
Nathan Bush (Lucas) and Alicia Smith (Lila).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Lila (Alicia Smith), a young teacher, discovers him alone and after he initially tries to avoid her, she eventually engages him in conversation and wears him down with her flirtatious, upbeat demeanor. It’s a sweet story with another strong performance from Bush, and a charming turn by Smith.

Jenny Smith plays Patricia, newly divorced and preparing for a business presentation the next morning in Rich Orloff’s comedy, “A Stranger Here Myself”. Alone in her hotel room she’s unable to sleep, so she turns to one surefire way to unwind. Let’s call it “freelance work.”
Don McClendon (Bruce), Jenny Smith (Patricia),
Stephanie Benware (Chelsea) and Paul Cereghino (Shane).
Photo credit: John Lamb
She’s soon joined by her fantasy hunk, a movie star named Shane (Paul Cereghino) who is bored with the routine, her ex-husband Bruce (McClendon) who knows what Patricia likes, and even her slutty and curious neighbor Chelsea (Stephanie Benware). All of the players are very funny in this perfect nightcap for the evening.

The first set of plays provides a lot of variety, played out on Patrick Huber’s minimal and incredibly versatile set, and is a promising start to this year’s festival. The first set will play until the weekend, with the second set of plays kicking off on the 24th. Grab your tickets now for an exciting event that’s made a wonderful addition to the St. Louis theatre landscape.


“Kandahar” by Neil LaBute • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Michael Hogan*.

Finalists (July 10-19):

“Custom” by Mark Young, Chicago, Il • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: Nathan Bush (Robert) and GP Hunsaker (Jeweler).

“A Taste of Heaven” by Chris Holbrook, San Francisco, CA • Directed by B. Weller
Cast: Nancy Crouse (Woman), Kevin Minor (Man) and Rhyan Robison (Functionary).

“Cold in Hand” by Steve Apostolina, Burbank, CA • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: Rynier Gaffney (Luke) and Don McClendon (Razz).

“Stand Up for Oneself” by Lexi Wolfe, London England • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Nathan Bush (Lucas) and Alicia Smith (Lila).

“A Stranger Here Myself” by Rich Orloff, New York, NY • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Jenny Smith (Patricia), Paul Cereghino (Shane), Don McClendon (Bruce) and Stephanie Benware (Chelsea).

Finalists (July 24 – August 2):

“Pitch” by Theresa Masters & Marc Pruter, St Louis, MO • Directed by B. Weller
Cast: Stephanie Benware (Trina) and Paul Cereghino (Matt).

“There You Are” by Fran Dorf, Stamford, CT • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: B. Weller (George) and Jenny Smith (Jesse).

“Homebody” by Gabe Mckinley, New York, NY • Directed by Patrick Huber
Cast: Donna Weinsting (Mother) and Michael Hogan* (Jay).

“Deirdre Dear” by Norman Yeung, Toronto, ON • Directed by Patrick Huber
Cast: Jenny Smith (Deirdre), Rhyan Robinson (Carol, Casting Assistant), Alicia Smith (Bea), Stephanie Benware (Andrea) and Maya Dickinson (Bobbi).

High School Finalists (July 25 @ 11am):

Directed by Steve Isom*

“Listen To Me” by Benjamin Killeen, Webster Groves High School, St. Louis, MO

“Zodiac” by Meghan Rivkin, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire,IL

“The Day Netflix Crashed” by Veronica Silva, Clayton High School, St. Louis, MO

“Coming In” by Hannah Ryan, Clayton High School, St. Louis, MO

“Guilt” by Sydney Cimarolli, Webster Groves High School, St. Louis, MO

Cast: Abigail Isom, Adrianna Jones, Spencer Milford*, Olivia Prosser, Pete Winfrey and William Bonfiglio.
* Member Actors' Equity Association

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through August 2 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Scenic design by Patrick Huber; lighting design by Patrick Huber and Dalton Robison; sound design by John Pierson, Christopher Limber, B. Weller and Patrick Huber; costume and props design by Carla Landis Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

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