By Lynn Venhaus
Looking Glass Playhouse’s “Frost/Nixon,” a political drama based on a series of televised interviews between a disgraced president and a British journalist, was the big winner at the fourth annual Theatre Mask Awards.
The 43-year-old theater in Lebanon, Ill., earned four awards for Peter Morgan’s 2006 play, including outstanding drama production (tie), and for director Glenn Saltamachia, supporting actor Mike Russell (as Reston) and large ensemble.
A sold-out crowd of 265 attended the Arts For Life event on April 6, a brunch celebration in the Atrium Banquet Center at Christian Northeast Hospital. Awards were presented in 18 categories and Kevin Frakes of the Alton Little Theater received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
AFL honored plays produced by St. Louis area community theaters during the 2018 calendar year. The non-profit organization has sponsored awards for musical theater in community and youth productions for 20 years. AFL organized the TMAs in 2015 to recognize dramas and comedies.
Sharing in Outstanding Drama Production was the local premiere of “The Curious Incident with the Dog in the Night-time” by Actors’ Attic in Columbia, Ill.
The play is about a gifted math genius with Asperger’s syndrome who begins a journey of self-discovery when he starts investigating the neighbor’s dog’s death. Simon Stephen’s acclaimed 2012 adaptation of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel earned seven Olivier Awards and the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play.
Actors’ Attic’s two leading performers, Dan Haller and Emily Brutton, won outstanding actor and actress. Haller said it was a privilege to play Christopher, who is also the narrator, while Brutton played his primary school teacher Siobhan. Actors’ Attic, lead by MaryBeth Babcock, has produced plays for 10 years and joined the TMAs last year.
Haller said the awards event was inspiring and thanked everyone for working in theater because they love it.
“You do theater for the love of doing theater, and that’s the best reason to do it,” Haller said.
Brutton thanked director Babcock for “always knowing how a story needs to be told.”
“People follow their dreams because of her,” she said.
Clayton Community Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” won three awards, including outstanding comedy production and for actor Patrick Blanner as Eugene and director Sam Hack. CCT, founded in 1998, plans to produce Simon’s entire Eugene trilogy, is working on “Biloxi Blues” now and will present “Broadway Bound” next year.
Clayton’s production of William Inge’s ‘Bus Stop” won for outstanding large ensemble.
Both Outstanding Lead Actors in a Drama and a Comedy were under 20 years old — Haller is 19 and Blanner is 18.
Other multiple winners included O’Fallon TheatreWorks’ play version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which won two — supporting actress for Tori Stukins, who played Daisy’s society friend Jordan Baker, and costume design for Carole Lanham.
The drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” received awards for two different theater groups’ productions. Alton Little Theater’s show won lighting design for Lee Cox and Dennis R. Stephenson and the O’Fallon Theatre Works’ play won set design for Chris and Ellie Lanham.
Chris Lanham said working behind-the-scenes is a “labor of love,” quipping it’s really “mostly labor.”
Alton Little Theater also won outstanding actress in a comedy – Alison Beach as the frustrated daughter dealing with other people in line for her late billionaire father’s fortune in “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?”
Beach said the year before, she had auditioned for many shows and had been turned down. After one tryout at Alton, director Lee Cox took the time to explain to her why she didn’t get a part.
“I assured her it mattered. She gave me the strength to keep auditioning,” she said.
The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves was honored with three acting awards. Kaylee Ryan won outstanding juvenile performance in “The Children’s Hour” while Will Shaw won supporting actor in a comedy as bar patron Gaston in Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”” and Sarah Hirshfield won supporting actress in a comedy as Carol, the only female writer, in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”
Mike Russell, a past AFL nominee, won Outstanding Supporting Actor for his portrayal of James Reston Jr., an American author and government official who served as David Frost’s Watergate advisor for the Nixon interview. In “Frost/Nixon,” he also served as narrator. In his speech, he thanked LGP for taking a risk on the show “in today’s political climate.”
Kevin Frakes, current president of Alton Little Theater and longtime actor, director, set designer and mentor, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
He joined the group, founded in 1933, 40 years ago. With his vision and hard work, the theater has grown into a creative center for the performing arts, presenter Lee Cox said.
“(Theater) changed my life and made me face my weaknesses. It made me a stronger, better person because of it,” he said.
Frakes told how he got into theater, and one of the reasons was to be accepted, for he was from a poor and abusive family.
KLOU (103.3 FM) radio personality Vic Porcelli, who also acts in local productions, again served as the master of ceremonies, returning for the fourth time. Grace Boyer and Kailynn Stiff were the trophy presenters.
The TMAs include participation by 10 area theater companies. A judges panel scored 12 dramas and 13 comedies to determine the nominations, which are announced at the annual AFL trivia night, and the eventual winners. A large ensemble is nine or more people in the cast.
TMA Chair is Glenn Guillermo and the Steering Committee is 26 people affiliated with the participating theater companies. The Judges Panel includes 42 volunteers.
“I am proud of the dedication of the TMA Steering Committee and Director Glenn Guillermo,” said AFL President Mary McCreight. “The AFL Board of Directors congratulates all participants/nominees in last year’s shows. I am happy to see the TMAs thriving and creating a niche for yourselves in the theater community.”
The AFL’s 20th annual Best Performance Awards will take place on Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
The musical theater awards reflect the work of 25 companies who produced 48 musicals – 21 large ensemble, 7 small ensemble and 20 youth productions. Two special youth awards will be presented to Caroline Santiago Turner for “Violet” (Best Youth Musical Performance) and Sean Harvey as Bobby in “Crazy For You” (Best Youth Featured Dancer), both works by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.
The Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Joe Paule Sr. Local professional actor Ryan Cooper is the returning master of ceremonies.
Reserved tickets will be available for $20 until May 10, then tickets are $25. Formal attire is requested.
For more information, visit www.artsforlife.org
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.