By Lynn Venhaus
The laughs come in waves as wackiness ensues in “The Nerd,” a fizzy farce that showcases a nimble seven-member cast at their best.

Set in architect Willum Cubbert’s bachelor apartment in Terre Haute, Ind., in November 1981, what starts out as a typical drawing room two-act play soon turns into an outrageous comedy of manners that’s at once timeless and old-fashioned — but in a charming early ‘80s way. (Answering machine messages are a part of the humor).

Now on stage at the Strauss Black Box Theatre in the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, the Moonstone Theatre Company’s fleet production accents the laugh-out-loud circumstances and plays up the absurd character traits in playwright Larry Shue’s clever classic.

As played by Oliver Bacus, Cubbert is an anxious people-pleaser. His two best buds are a snobby theater critic named Axel and an ambitious ‘weather girl’ named Tansy (also former girlfriend), who are moving along with their careers while he’s, well, ‘stuck in second gear’ to use The Rembrandts’ lyric to “I’ll Be There for You” (aka the “Friends” theme song).

And like that ensemble that just clicked together, Bacus, Bryce Miller and Bridgette Bassa are a tight trio, effortlessly conveying a realistic friendship and establishing their distinct personalities as the unusually named Willum, Axel, and Tansy.

Oliver Bacus, Bridgette Bassa, Bryce Miller. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Miller adds the sour and Bassa brings the sweet to the mix. Miller superbly lobs sarcastic one-liners and keeps the disdain brewing as he demonstrates his adroit comedic skills.

Bassa, who has been memorable in such dramatic roles as the rebellious niece Jean in “August: Osage County” and as Billy’s girlfriend Sylvia in “Tribes,” both at St. Louis Actors’ Studio, shows her comedic chops again after appearing in “Grand Horizons” at Moonstone in March.

Noteworthy is her agility during back-and-forth trips between the kitchen and the living room while carrying food, keeping the show’s fast pace on track. And she is stylish encapsulating the typical early ‘80s chic career woman look by costume designer Michele Siler, along with the requisite big hair.

Willum’s concerned friends think he is too nice of a guy, and they encourage him to have more of a backbone because those habits have affected his decision-making. Nevertheless, he is trying to advance his career and persuade Tansy to resume their relationship and not move for a job elsewhere.

Ever loyal, Willum, a Vietnam War veteran, has talked about what he owes fellow soldier Rick Steadman for saving his life. During his ‘Nam service, he was seriously wounded, and while he never met the good Samaritan Rick, he feels indebted to him. In a letter, he wrote that as long as he was alive, Rick “will have somebody on Earth who will do anything for you.”

Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

Eager to collect the favor, Rick shows up one night, in the middle of a rather uncomfortable dinner party as Willum is trying to impress his hotel-owner client, who brought his wife, clearly ill at ease, and their rambunctious, spoiled son.

Weird timing, but Willum rolls with it, until he discovers just how peculiar Rick is and how disruptive he can be while staying as his houseguest. Pre-technology boom, the “nerd” definition was slightly different 42 years ago, and Ryan Lawson-Maeske embodies the socially inept, tone-deaf, unrefined guy in a full-throttle performance.

Accentuating the character’s oafishness, Lawson-Maeske affects a nasal, sing-song voice delivering goofy lines in a tactless way, and creating an awkward walk, so that his cadence and gait are funny no matter what he’s saying.

Bacus capably assumes the blander ‘straight’ man role because the eccentric people surrounding him need to standout. As an increasingly frustrated Willum, he feels put-upon, because this is a circus thrust upon him and people around him are demanding action in this escalating tug of war.

His exasperation and agitation grow as The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave wreaks havoc on his life. It all comes to a head when his friends concoct a ridiculous ‘foolproof’ scheme to send Rick on his merry way, and his domineering client is demanding immediate changes to his blueprints.

Kieran Thompson, Leslie Wobbe, Greg Johnston and Oliver Bacus. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

It’s a tour-de-force comedic portrayal by the versatile Lawson-Maeske, who can easily move between comedy and drama on St. Louis stages. He fully commits to the madness, finding the sweet spot so that the growing animosity towards Rick’s obnoxious behaviors isn’t perceived as cruel, being hurtful to a hopeless cause.

Presenting the ‘work’ part of the dilemma is the irritating Waldgrave family, utilizing the synergy of veterans Greg Johnston as the blustery hotel magnate and Leslie Wobbe as his fretful wife, with Kieran Thompson displaying youthful energy as their bratty kid Thor.

Shue wrote two highly regarded comedies before his untimely death at age 39 in a commuter plane crash in 1985 — “The Nerd,” produced first in 1981, and “The Foreigner,” in 1984.

At first glance, the plays seem like tailor-made laugh fests with clever turns of phrase. Shue was gifted with remarkable verbal dexterity, and adds idiosyncratic touches – not just the odd names, but Rick is a factory chalk inspector? Tansy, playing hostess, brings out heaping bowls of three-bean salad and macaroni salad — quirky choices.

But Shue also underlined the human condition in such a way that we can relate. How many times do we need a push in life, that we must get out of our way to move forward?

With this ace cast under the shrewd and sharp-witted direction of Gary Wayne Barker, you expect a madcap romp but may be surprised by the heart the players have mustered, and what it has to say about work-life balance.

The ensemble moves easily around the nondescript apartment set designed by Dunsi Dai, with recognizable retro touches. While that is static, this cast is anything but, and their proficiency in making jokes land is admirable. Their timing is so crisp it doesn’t tip off any twists, either.

 And I doubt anyone in the audience will be wanting cottage cheese any time soon.

Greg Johnston, Bridgette Bassa, Leslie Wobbe, Oliver Bacus and Bryce Miller. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

Moonstone Theatre Company presents “The Nerd” July 6 – July 23 on Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. in the Strauss Black Box Theatre at KPAC, 210 E. Monroe. General admission tickets are $40, with seniors $35 and students $15. For more information, visit or call MetroTix at 314-534-1111.

Ryan Lawson-Maeske. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

SATE presents the Seventh Annual Aphra Behn Festival, May 5-7, 2023, at Fontbonne University. Performances are at 8:00 PM on Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6. Performance on Sunday, May 7 at 4:00 PM.

When established in 2017, a goal of the Aphra Behn Festival was to give women interested in directing and writing for theatre an opportunity to get more experience, try out ideas, experiment, and hone their craft. SATE now looks to make the Festival a more inclusive space for transgender and non-binary artists, as well.

The Aphra Behn Festival is named for the fascinating poet, translator, and spy, Aphra Behn, who is widely considered to be the first English woman to make her living as a playwright. SATE produced a play about her, Or, by Liz Duffy Adams, in February 2015 and collaborated with Prison Performing Arts to adapt Behn’s play, The Rover, for the artists at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia to perform. The Rover was also the text shared by the directors in the 2020 Festival. SATE feels very much a part of Aphra’s legacy.

This year’s list of ingredients for plays to be submitted in the 2023 Festival challenged the writers to re-tell, adapt, or respond to one of the plays on Hedgepig Theatre Ensemble’s Expand the Canon list ( SATE hosted readings of all three “Re-Told” plays on February 19, March 19, and April 30.

2023 Festival Plays

Bold Stroke for a Villain by Summer Baer
Directed by Emma Glose
Inspired by Hannah Cowley’s Bold Stroke for a Husband
Performed by Gabrielle LynnJaelyn HawkinsGreta Johnson
Welcome to purgatory! Victoria, condemned to an eternity of reflection, attempts to call into the void to someone she wronged but gets Elle Woulds instead.

Lieblingstante, by Aurora Behlke
Directed by Kayla Ailee Bush
Based off The Uncle by Princess Amalie of Saxony
Performed by Maida DippelMichael Pierce, and Leslie Wobbe
Julius introduces his girlfriend to his aunt Claudia. Who knows where the conversation may go after one or two (or four) glasses of wine.

reANIMA by Aly Kantor
Directed by Britney N. Daniels
A speculative subversion of Amelia Rosselli’s Anima
Performed by Keating and Taylor Kelly
Cricket totaled her meat vessel at a party—but not to worry! Her best friend has an industry hookup and made her a brand new one with all the bells and whistles she could ever want (and a few she’s slightly reluctant about). Now everything can get back to normal…right?

Stage Manager: Spencer Lawton
Costume Design: Liz Henning
Lighting Design: Michael Sullivan
Graphic Design: Dottie Quick
Photography: Joel Rumpell
Set/Props Design: Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye
Sound Design: Emma Glose, Ellie Schwetye
Intimacy Coordinator: Rachel Tibbetts

By Lynn Venhaus

The adage, “Bloom where you are planted,” is the theme of “Bandera, Texas,” an amiable new play about marriage, motherhood, and enduring family ties by Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend that the fledgling Prism Theatre Company fell in love with last year at their reading of new works by women.

Now it has the honor of being their first produced full-length play, and it’s a good one to lead the way for this emerging company. Their goal is to focus on females, an applaud-worthy stance that I hope has a bright future ahead.

I enjoyed Feriend’s original voice on the timeless issues women face as girls, wives, mothers, and aging seniors. Those pesky aggravations like cheating husbands, making a home with wee ones underfoot in faraway places, spouses dying, workplace discrimination and overall sexism.

She speaks in a natural way that resonates. For a familiar fish-out-of-water trope, it’s a dandy script full of heart, humor, and engaging characters (including the men!).

They always say write what you know, and while I am not certain if any of it is taken from her life, the Virginia-born playwright is based in Chicago, having moved there in 2008, and is married with two children. She earned a BFA in film and TV from New York University.

The five-member cast has a command of the show’s intentions and are mostly cohesive as a group, with a few wobbly interactions. If everyone’s accent can’t be consistent, I’d just ditch them all, instead of an uneven hodge-podge.

Hopefully, this modest production is considered a workshop and will be further fine-tuned and polished, for the comedy-drama-fantasy has much potential.

Ghost grandmas and pregnant Liz (Maggie Lehman). Photo by Dan Steadman

Like the transplanted heroine in the play, this inaugural production has had a bumpy road from plans to execution, and that’s one of those pandemic-related situations that can’t be pinned on any one thing.

As we learn to navigate the ever-changing COVID-19 virus and its variants, we must adapt – and that’s something the characters, and I suppose the playwright, has had to deal with as well, with a smile and a tear.

Originally slated for a June opening, the show was pushed back because of COVID-19 complications, and therefore, some roles had to be re-cast for this current staging – and one part twice. Some actors had contracts for other gigs, which is a good thing for work, but not necessarily for continuity and chemistry. You know, kismet. But the good intentions are apparent.

So, that leads to this end-of-summer run, Aug. 26-Sept. 4, in the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, simply staged and presented with much good will and sweat equity.

At least the author, cast and audience are on the same page – life happens, and it’s all about forging ahead, no matter what obstacles are in your path. That’s why I would consider it a work-in-progress.

Last summer, I was charmed by its rudimentary reading in an elementary school at the “Spotlight On…Women Writing Festival of New Works,” and was pleased to hear of its development as an actual theatrical production. It was one of four selected for reading out of 21 submissions.

This world premiere benefits from the wit and relatable situations – at least for any woman who has been blessed with being raised by strong women, and the men who’ve been fortunate to be in their orbit.

With equal parts grit and gumption, Feriend unfolds the predicament of Liz (Maggie Lehman), a pregnant young woman who agreed to move to the Texas Hill Country because her husband Dave (Mike DePope) has landed his dream job – high school drama teacher and baseball coach. As one character says, that is quite specific, but hey, good for him.

Only she is a native New Yorker and moving into a trailer on her husband’s family’s property turns out to be a far rougher experience than she imagined. Good grief, rattlesnakes are outside! And there may be scorpions – egads!

While fretting, her dead and still gutsy grandmothers, maternal Genevieve (Jenni Ryan) and paternal Mary (Leslie Wobbe), magically appear to offer advice as good ghosts. Ryan joined the cast as a replacement to a replacement and isn’t as fluid with the dialogue as the rest, and it’s a conversational-heavy play. As a brash New Yorker who lived a hardscrabble life, she employed a thick accent that comes and goes, and gets more emphatic as she is confronted with adversity.

Ryan Burns in multiple roles, including Robert F. Kennedy. Photo by Dan Steadman.

Wobbe embodies a sweet woman who learned to stand up for herself and her family when times were tough. She projects a calm, reassuring manner to impart life lessons.

Through flashbacks, they will provide examples of crossroads and tough choices in their lives. These shared incidents help Liz adapt to her new surroundings and make her realize who she is by carrying the people she has loved in her heart. After all, home is where we start from – it’s universal.

Liz, an accountant, plays into the stereotypes we associate with New Yorkers who believe the rest of the U.S. is flyover country. She seems resistant to fitting into Bandera, current population 857, although she says she will and is trying to be a good sport. Only she whines about not being in NYC. A lot. We get it. Crossroads of the world, center of the universe, and yadda, yadda. (They do have the best water, all the better for the bagels.)

For the record, Bandera is a small town less than an hour away from San Antonio, and on its website, they call themselves the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Alrighty, then.

A lively spirit, Lehman portrays Liz confidently and sympathetically, conveying her concerns – many of them valid – and is agile on stage, mindful of her growing tummy and taking that into consideration for her movements. You feel for her – I’d be pouting and overthinking too. Baby makes three.

The men fit the Texas mold that’s used countless times – macho gun-toting, beer-swilling, loud, boastful, close-minded rednecks, and set in their ways. Dave, though, doesn’t seem to be the cookie-cutter image, more cosmopolitan and somewhat thoughtful, but after day drinking with his brother and dad, settles into those typical guy things. Mike DePope straddles the dilemma of supportive husband and male bonding with his bro.

That family lineage is kept off-stage, and it’s the New Yorkers whose lives adapting are in vignettes – off the boat, in the orphanage, living in Iowa, being widowed at a young age, entering the workforce as a mother, dealing with setbacks, patriarchy rules in the workplace, and just getting by.

Portraying different characters to flesh out key turning points in the grandmothers’ lives, the versatile Ryan Burns is remarkable – the true MVP of the show. He’s so authentic in these snapshots of husbands, sons, bosses, neighbors and even Robert F. Kennedy. It’s an interesting twist. That’s quite a load to carry, and he impressively stands out.

Liz and Dave are a couple you root for, and would like to know more about – did they name the baby Charity or did the new mom win that round?

Audiences will have the opportunity to talk to Feriend, as she will be here Saturday and Sunday. Prism’s Trish Brown, who directed the show in a straightforward, realistic way, and her longtime collaborator Joy Addler arranged this visit. They worked with Feriend to develop the play after last summer’s reading.

On Saturday, Sept. 3, the performance will be followed by a Meet the Playwright reception, included in your ticket. On Sunday, Sept. 4, the performance will be followed by an audience talk back with the playwright and the cast, which is included in the ticket.

Next up for Prism is the “Spotlight On…Emerging Artists Festival of New Works” Sept. 22 – Oct. 1 at The High Low. This year’s festival will feature staged readings of plays by six local playwrights, all of whom have never had their works published or produced.

Prism Theatre Company presents “Bandera, Texas” I Aug. 26 – Sept. 4, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, visit

For tickets, online:; Phone: (314) 534-1111 or in person at the Fabulous Fox box office.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Unexpectedly charming and heartfelt, the experimental but relatable “Well”
breaks the fourth wall just enough to easily win over the audience.

In fact, the disarming play purported to be about health
and wellness is more like a fluid, thought-provoking conversation that pulls us
in – and a running internal monologue by the lead character, playwright Lisa
Kron, about family and neighbors, and in sickness and in health.

The keen Katy Keating is endearing as the exasperated Lisa,
whose ailing mother presses all her buttons and she turns into the perpetual
angsty and whiny 13-year-old she once was and has been desperately trying to
shed that old fragile skin ever since.

Lisa tries to convince us that her latest creation –
expanded as a change of pace from her one-woman shows – is “a multi-character
theatrical exploration of issues of health and illness both in the individual
and in the community.”

But really, the complicated mother-daughter relationship is
its foundation, with a side trip into their racially integrated neighborhood in
Lansing, Mich., which was spearheaded by her compassionate, liberal mother.

Mom Ann (Lori Adams) has the usual aches and pains
associated with aging, but she suffers from some sort of undiagnosed ailment
that appears to be like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. She is
convinced allergies keep her homebound and infirmed.

She’s made her recliner the point of operations. She perks
up watching ice skating and giving her daughter pearls of wisdom.

Mom, in her current state, seems like a kind senior citizen
whose days pass without much consequence. But every so often, she has a burst
of energy.

As played by Adams, Ann would have been quite a Mom force in the neighborhood back in the day – and we would have taken an instant shine to her. Here, we wish the frail Mom would get better so she could be productive. But she’s lovable in that earth mother kind of way.

If Lisa would get out of her own way, she’d be more confident and less tied to the past. But it’s fun to see childhood memories spring from her talented castmates. And that’s a whole other tangent. She’s searching for answers that she might never be satisfied with, ever. (If she’d only listen to Mom — and herself.)

Mom tries not to intrude but does indeed pull focus in their wonderfully lived-in middle-class Midwestern-appointed living room, deftly decorated by scenic designer Bess Moynihan and props master Laura Skroska — the rabbit tchotchke! The dainty appliqued afghan!

The pair work beautifully together and convey that longstanding complex mother and daughter relationship so well.

The entire ensemble is first-rate, with Leslie Wobbe, Carl Overly Jr., Robert Thibault and Alicia Reve Like effortlessly transitioning into different characters – severely allergic patients, old neighbors, and even themselves.

But the formidable anchor is Katy, whose sincerity and natural affability carry the show. We root for her and believe in her, despite her wrestling with personal torment. Katy, who is such an intuitive performer, can go through a gamut of emotions in a nano-second.

Director Deanna Jent knows how to extract nuanced work from her players, and she has adroitly staged this show for maximum effect.

We’re engaged by the material, yes, but we’re also captivated by the production elements.

Playwright Kron is an interesting writer, allowing herself
to be transparent in her works. No wonder she won two Tony Awards for the book
and lyrics to the musical “Fun Home.” In 2004, she wrote “Well,” which was
produced off-Broadway. Two years later, it was on Broadway.

Her clever style works well in Mustard Seed Theatre’s Blackbox theater, and the production team’s attention to detail is superb, with Michael Sullivan’s lighting design and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design enhancing the setting. Costumes by Jane Sullivan are appropriate to the story.

Witty and whimsical, serious and playful, “Well” is a
multi-layered discourse that is both fresh and familiar. And it hits close to
home because of its captivating cast.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents “Well” by Lisa Kron Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. March 1 – March 17 in the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre. For more information, visit

Katy Keating, Carl Overly Jr. and Alicia Reve Like. Photo by Ann Auerbach.