Sunday, July 22, 2018

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

The second set of one-act plays in this year’s LaBute New Theater Festival kicked off this past Friday, and while the first half offered a mixed bag, this second half is strong. LaBute’s The Fourth Reich (that you can read about here), is followed by Michael Long’s The Gettier Problem, Peter McDonough’s The Process, and Unabridged by Sean Abley.

The Gettier Problem, directed by Wendy Greenwood, opens with Colleen Backer as Edie Gettier, a patient in a psychiatric hospital. She’s being coaxed into taking her premedication by a nurse (Erin Brewer) and a technician (Spencer Sickmann). The tech is the only one she’ll take the pill for, as she seems to have a little crush on him. Once the nurse leaves the tech to make sure the pill takes effect, Gettier’s physical tics stop, she loses her lisp, and says she’s a PhD who’s undercover doing research about the mysteries of knowledge -- something she hopes to achieve by going through the procedure without premedication.

Colleen Backer, Erin Brewer
and Spencer Sickmann in The Gettier Problem
Photo credit: Justin Foizey
The conversations between Gettier and the tech about the brain versus the soul relate to a philosopher named Edmund Gettier. In the 60’s, he published a short paper called Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? that repudiated long-held ideas about the definition of knowledge. Any problem having to do with this understanding is called a "Gettier Problem." Tightly directed by Greenwood, Long’s script includes some interesting ideas, and leaves you wondering whether Edie Gettier’s claims are all a bluff. Backer gives a great performance with sturdy support from Brewer and Sickmann.

Next up was the most potent of the bunch -- McDonough’s The Process, proficiently directed by Ryan Scott Foizey. Brewer plays a counselor speaking with Sarah Chapman, a first grade teacher played by Carly Rosenbaum.
Erin Brewer and Carly Rosenbaum in The Process
Photo credit: Justin Foizey
Sarah is preoccupied with her upcoming wedding, not sure why she’s even there, but the determined counselor repeatedly tries to steer her back to the events of a particular day. Light cues change, and a traumatized Sarah reenacts fragments of a school day that was anything but routine -- blown apart by an active shooter. McDonough’s skillfully structured playlet is grounded in reality while trafficking with the celestial, taking the audience into a gripping, all-too-familiar menace and its unexpected aftermath through the eyes of a devoted, young, terrified teacher. Rosenbaum delivers a fine performance that turns on a dime, with more sharp work from Brewer.

Zak Farmer and Spencer Sickmann in Unabridged
Photo credit: Justin Foizey
Abley's Unabridged closes out the night, also directed by Foizey. In it, Zak Farmer plays a dealer named Barker in a world where words are the new drugs. Working out of an old building with a cobweb-covered bookcase, addicts come in with money in hand to buy up precious units of language that Barker writes down from his hefty dictionary. One of Barker’s regulars, a junkie named Cesar (Sickmann), proposes a potential partnership when he reveals that a rival pusher may threaten Barker’s business with a superior quality product. Barker’s also confronted with concerns over a first-time buyer (Eric Dean White), and his sharing of contraband word stock with the family. It’s a wacky world Abley shows us, with users itching to “get their learn on.” Farmer turns in a solid performance as the no-nonsense, pistol-packing supplier trying to stay on top, and Sickmann flies high as Cesar. White also does nice work as the more low-key, newbie customer.

You’ve got until the 29th to check out this engaging lineup of premiere one-acts. The festival seems to gain steam every season, and will once again take it on the road to New York City for the fourth year.

LaBute New Theater Festival II

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*
Eric Dean White*

Set Two (July 20 - 29):

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

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

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

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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