Posts Tagged ‘liza birkenmeier’

Dr. Ride’s American Beach House
by Liza Birkenmeier
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
October 8, 2023

Lizi Watt, RN Healey, Lindsay Brill, Bridgette Bassa
Photo: STLAS

The latest production from St. Louis Actors’ studio has a few St. Louis connections. Playwright Liza Birkenmeier is from here (although she is now based in New York), and the play is set in South City in 1983. Dr. Ride’s American Beach House is an intriguing character study and exploration of various issues relating to women’s roles in society as well as relationships, ambitions, and more. It has a small, excellent cast, and impressive production values that make the show look and feel very “St. Louis”, as well.

The story takes place on the roof of a historic home in South City that’s something of a tourist attraction. Harriet (Lindsay Brill) lives there, and is hosting her regular “book club” meeting with longtime close friend Matilda (Bridgette Bossa), who has invited a recent acquaintance, Meg (RN Healey) to the gathering, to Harriet’s initial annoyance. Harriet is also preoccupied with an upcoming event–the first space flight of Dr. Sally Ride, who would become the first American woman in space the next morning. The structure of the play is more character-focused, because there isn’t really much of a plot. It’s just four women–including Harriet’s landlady Norma (Lizi Watt), who makes a few memorable appearances–hanging out on the roof, drinking beer, listening to the radio,  and expressing their thoughts on the world around them. They share their thoughts about their lives and their goals, and Harriet and Matilda are questioned about the nature and intensity of their relationship, as Harriet begins to share stories about recent experiences that make Matilda somewhat uncomfortable, and the brash Meg encourages Harriet to do what she wants and discover who she wants to be. It’s a very credible interaction and seems authentically “St. Louisy”, with additional information about Sally Ride, NASA, and the space program included for good measure, and a bit of a twist that shifts the perspective near the end, adding a degree of illumination to the established characters and relationships.

The dialogue is credible and flows in a believable way, and the characters are memorable and well-drawn. There is a fair degree of subtext here, and the performers handle it well, along with the overall “dramedy” tone of the show. All four performers are strong, working well together in a cohesive sense of ensemble chemistry. Brill and Bassa are strong in the central roles, and Healey adds much in the way of attitude and perspective. Watt is also excellent in her mostly comic turn as Norma, who strikes me as a character who can easily be overplayed, but thankfully isn’t here. The mix of characters and the well-pitched performances add much to the overall effectiveness of this story.

Technically, the show is especially impressive, as Patrick Huber’s detailed set seriously looks like he took an old brick South City home, cut the top floor off, and put it onstage at the Gaslight Theater. It’s amazingly authentic looking, with some nice period set decoration and props by Emma Glose to add to the 1983 vibe. There are also well-suited costumes by Abby Pastorello, excellent lighting by Kristi Gunther and sound by Glose. 

Dr. Ride’s American Beach House is a vividly realized “slice-of-life” look at a particular moment in history as experienced by “ordinary” St. Louisans. The language and themes are decidedly adult, so this isn’t for all ages, but it’s an intriguing story that feels like a snapshot in time. It’s a good start to the season for St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Lindsay Brill, Bridgette Bassa
Photo: STLAS

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting Dr. Ride’s American Beach House at the Gaslight Theater until October 22, 2023

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