Posts Tagged ‘susan hansell’

The LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 2
Directed by Spencer Sickmann
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
July 22, 2022

Carly Uding, Brock Russell, Bryn Mclaughlin in “St. Louis”
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is back this week with the second round of their 2022 LaBute New Theater Festival. This week’s selection features one from last week, namesake playwright LaBute’s “St. Louis”, which stood out for its sharp dialogue on this viewing, as well as its strong performances by Carly Uding, Brock Russell, and Bryn Mclaughlin. The rest of this installment’s entries represent a mix of styles and subject matter, with a bit of a focus on the unexpected, as well as a turn more toward drama. Here are some thoughts:

by Steve Apostolina

This play is the most comedic of this set, focusing on relationships between work colleagues Tucker (Drew Patterson), Nunez (Mara Bollini), and Thompson (William Humphrey), who work in the parking garage of some type of movie and/or television studio. The personality conflicts, political differences, and hidden secrets between these three characters form the story. Tucker and Nunez, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, seem to barely tolerate one another while trying to maintain a cordial working relationship, while Nunez drops hints about new co-worker Thompson and soon, a series of surprises reveal themselves as the story plays out, revealing how quickly feelings can change when key information is revealed. It’s briskly paced, and all three performers handle the timing well, even though the ending is more than a little abrupt, to the point where it almost leaves me wondering what the point of this play is. Still, it’s a timely reflection on how relationships are affected by core beliefs, with some amusing moments, along with some room for thought and reflection.

“Maizie and Willow, Brown Penny, Blue Pillow”
by John Yarbrough

This is by far the shortest of the plays in this set. In fact, it comes across more as a scene from a larger play, and as such it leaves a lot of questions. There’s a lot of detail here that doesn’t get explored because the play is so short. The story focuses on married couple Maizie (Missy Heinemann) and Willow (Jaelyn Hawkins), as they deal with a major life decision having to do with Willow’s apparent terminal illness. There are intense moments in this play, and both performers exhibit strong chemistry and intense, credible emotion while dealing with a controversial subject that is going to affect different audience members different ways. It’s an intriguing vignette, but for the most part, it  seems incomplete. 

“What Do they Want”
by Gary Pepper

This play gets my vote for “best of the festival” this year–in a near-tie with the next play of this set–with its fascinating twists and turns in the plot, as well as it’s surprisingly well-drawn characters and excellent pacing. In this story, strangers Gary (Brock Russell) and Burt (Drew Patterson) meet on the roof of a building, while Gary tries to figure out a puzzling issue and Burt is trying, again, to quit smoking. At first, it’s not entirely clear what Gary’s problem is, but when Burt tries to help, he finds himself more and more disturbed. Then, the situation turns in a striking way with a fairly simple revelation, and the power balance shifts back and forth as these two work out their issues and talk through a variety of issues in their lives. It’s a mixture of comedy of drama in terms of tone, with both performers turning in excellent performances as these two increasingly fascinating characters. 

“Who Will Witness For the Witness”
by Susan Hansell

This is another strong entry in the festival, with a focus on women from history that you may or may not have heard of, and an infamous, horrific, and tragic event

that is well known. Told in a narrative style, first presented by a photojournalist character identified in the program as “Woman 1” (Jaelyn Hawkins) and then intertwining with the stories of Woman 2 (Mara Bollini), a philosopher, mystic, and activist; Woman 3 *Bryn Mclaughlin), a resistance fighter; and Woman 4 (Missy Heinemann), a Catholic convert and nun. All are essentially contemporaries, standing up against atrocities and injustice, mostly revolving around the World War II and specifically the Holocaust. This in an intense play, with a strong sense of story and character, as these historical figures tell their tales and implore the audience never to forget. There’s a lot here, but it’s a well constructed story, making a profound, emotional impression. This is a remarkable production. 

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting Part 2 of the LaBute New Theater Festival at the Gaslight Theater until July 31, 2022

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