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 www.prismtheatrecompany.org.

For tickets, online: https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/prism-theatre-company-bandera-texas; Phone: (314) 534-1111 or in person at the Fabulous Fox box office.

Prism Theatre Company announces the playwrights, directors, and cast of Prism’s first annual Spotlight On festival of new works, sharing the stories of women playwrights throughout the bi-state area. Each night of staged readings will be followed by a talkback with the actors, playwrights, and Prism creative team. 

ACADEME.compassion by Dr. Laura Perkins

Friday, August 13th, 2021

Directed by Wendy Greenwood

A whimsical romp inside the final test of graduate school:  an oral defense of the written exams.  The premise of this academic tradition seems simple enough. Yet, three faculty with wildly different motivations complicate what should be a pro-forma ritual.  In comps, an epic battle ensues; passions flare, emotions erupt, and manipulative moves threaten the student’s chances for success.  

Starring: 

Kelly Howe as Dr. Stepoloni

Eleanor Humphrey as Student

Phil Leveling as Dr. Trout

Kay Love as Dr. Fenmore

See the Dove by Laurie McConnell

Friday, August 13th, 2021

Directed by Rayme Cornell

When a friendless white woman encounters a homeless Black man in a city park, their contentious first meeting morphs into mutually satisfying verbal skirmishes as they battle prejudice, loneliness, Sarin, and Spanx to find friendship and love among pigeons and doves.

Starring:
Eleanor Humphrey as Ava/Pidge

Don McClendon as Jay

Kelly Schnider as Evelyn

Stay Awhile by Dana Hall

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

Directed by Wendy Greenwood

Samantha has been concerned about her mother, Janice, since her father’s passing. This play deals with complex grief and how it impacts the entire family.  It illustrates the changing landscape of mother/daughter relationships.  It’s a window into the world most families do not talk about.

Starring: 

Carmen Garcia as Janice

Kelly Howe as Samantha 

Bandera, Texas by Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

Directed by Trish Brown

A dramedy about marriage, motherhood, and the women who came before us and paved our way, “Bandera, Texas” follows Liz, a native New Yorker forced to relocate to the Texas Hill Country for her husband’s job. She is visited by her long-dead grandmothers, who help her adapt to her new life and remind her that an uprooted woman can grow wherever she is replanted when she knows who she is and carries the people and places she loves inside her. 

Starring: 

Carmen Garcia as Genevieve

Sam Hayes as Liz

Kay Love as Mary

Jeffrey David Thomas as Dave & 11 others

Tickets are $10 minimum donation and can be pre-purchased through the Prism website.  

The mission of St. Louis’ newest professional performing arts organization, Prism Theatre Company, is to promote the work of women and emerging artists, on stage and off, through the lens of theatre for the new world.  We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques.

Prism Theatre Company is the brainchild of Trish Brown and Joy Addler, St. Louis-based theatre-makers and longtime collaborators.   

Trish Brown, a professional director, actress, and theatre educator, has directed regionally, as well as in Canada.  She is a proud associate member of SDC, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.  She holds an MFA in Directing from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and worked professionally in Chicago for a number of years before returning to the St. Louis area.   A process-based, ensemble director, Trish is trained in and utilizes a number of acting methods in her work while specializing in the Michael Chekhov technique.  She is a founding member of The Moving Dock Theatre Company, a Chicago-based company dedicated to the actor’s creative process through the use of the Chekhov technique.  Theatre education is also a passion of Trish’s and she has taught in regional arts programs such as COCA in St. Louis and Hinsdale Center for the Arts in Chicago.  She is now a Professor of Theatre at Principia College.  Her educational productions have won numerous recognitions, including two Best Production for the  State of Illinois awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  Trish also loves directing film and coaching actors for stage and screen.  

Joy Addler is a St. Louis area stage manager, company manager, and nonprofit professional. A proud graduate of The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University, Joy has a BFA in Stage Management and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. She is also a member of the Actor’s Equity Association. Currently, Joy works as the Performing Arts Manager for Variety the Children’s Charity, overseeing their inclusive chorus and dance programs throughout the year, as well as serving as the Company Manager and Production Stage Manager for their annual Variety Theatre production. In addition to her work at Variety, Joy works as a freelance AEA stage manager throughout the St. Louis area.  

Addler and Brown began work on Prism Theatre Company over 18 months ago in a pre-pandemic world.  The company was a long-time dream of these partners who wanted to provide a home for artists from all walks of life to shine, especially women.  “As members of the St. Louis theatre community, and in talking to our friends in the community, we noticed a gap in the opportunities for women to really be at the forefront,” says Joy Addler, Prism’s Managing Director. “We want to provide a safe space for the voices of women to really shine and take center stage.” Though the company’s mission puts women at the forefront, men are also an important part of Prism’s work.  “We love all artists and welcome men into Prism, as actors, technicians, directors, designers, and Board members.  Nothing at Prism is exclusionary,” says Trish Brown, Prism’s Artistic Director.      

Prism is also designed as a home for new and emerging artists.  “Because I’m passionate about theatre education, fostering new and emerging artists was an important aspect of Prism,” says Brown.  “I remember graduating from college with my BA in Theatre and wondering, ‘OK, what now’?  It was difficult to break into the theatre scene in a meaningful way.  Few companies were open to mentoring young artists at that time.  We want Prism Theatre Company to be a place where emerging artists can work with kind, collaborative, seasoned professionals so they can learn, grow, build their resumes, and make connections.”    

Theatre artists who are interested in joining Prism’s Board of Directors or Company may contact Prism at prismtheatrecompany@gmail.com. Prism invites actors to like us on Facebook for access to audition details for future productions. 

ABOUT PRISM THEATRE COMPANY

Prism Theatre Company seeks to champion the voices and stories of women from all walks of life, giving emerging artists a platform to showcase their work with seasoned professionals. We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques.

Learn more about Prism on our website, Instagram, and Facebook.

Prism seeks submissions from women playwrights for “Spotlight on… Women Writing: Prism’s Festival of New Works”

The mission of St. Louis’ newest professional performing arts organization, Prism Theatre Company, is to promote the work of women and emerging artists, on stage and off, through the lens of theatre for the new world.  We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques. 

To that end, Prism is currently seeking submissions for new plays by women playwrights based in Missouri or Illinois for “Spotlight on… Women Writing: Prism’s Festival of New Works.” Prism is accepting non-musical plays of any length that feature 2 – 15 characters. All submissions must be received by 11:59 p.m. CST on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Visit prismtheatrecompany.org for full submission guidelines.

Prism’s search for the most talented playwrights in our region will culminate with the inaugural season of a series of staged readings this summer (dates TBA), featuring some of St. Louis’ favorite actors and exciting, emerging artists. COVID safety guidelines will be strictly followed for in-person readings, and a virtual option will also be offered. Details on the festival are available on Prism’s website, Instagram, and Facebook page.

Prism Theatre Company is the brainchild of Trish Brown and Joy Addler, St. Louis-based theatre-makers and longtime collaborators.   

Trish Brown, a professional director, actress, and theatre educator, has directed regionally, as well as in Canada.  She is a proud associate member of SDC, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. 

She holds an MFA in Directing from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and worked professionally in Chicago for a number of years before returning to the St. Louis area.  

A process-based, ensemble director, Trish is trained in and utilizes a number of acting methods in her work while specializing in the Michael Chekhov technique. 

She is a founding member of The Moving Dock Theatre Company, a Chicago-based company dedicated to the actor’s creative process through the use of the Chekhov technique.  Theatre education is also a passion of Trish’s and she has taught in regional arts programs such as COCA in St. Louis and Hinsdale Center for the Arts in Chicago.  She is now a Professor of Theatre at Principia College.  Her educational productions have won numerous recognitions, including two Best Production for the  State of Illinois awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  Trish also loves directing film and coaching actors for stage and screen.  

Joy Addler

Joy Addler is a St. Louis area stage manager, company manager, and nonprofit professional. A proud graduate of The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University, Joy has a BFA in Stage Management and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. She is also a member of the Actor’s Equity Association. Currently, Joy works as the Performing Arts Manager for Variety the Children’s Charity, overseeing their inclusive chorus and dance programs throughout the year, as well as serving as the Company Manager and Production Stage Manager for their annual Variety Theatre production. In addition to her work at Variety, Joy works as a freelance AEA stage manager throughout the St. Louis area.  

Addler and Brown began work on Prism Theatre Company over 18 months ago in a pre-pandemic world.  The company was a long-time dream of these partners who wanted to provide a home for artists from all walks of life to shine, especially women.  “As members of the St. Louis theatre community, and in talking to our friends in the community, we noticed a gap in the opportunities for women to really be at the forefront,” says Joy Addler, Prism’s Managing Director. “We want to provide a safe space for the voices of women to really shine and take center stage.” Though the company’s mission puts women at the forefront, men are also an important part of Prism’s work.  “We love all artists and welcome men into Prism, as actors, technicians, directors, designers, and Board members.  Nothing at Prism is exclusionary,” says Trish Brown, Prism’s Artistic Director.      

Trish Brown

Prism is also designed as a home for new and emerging artists.  “Because I’m passionate about theatre education, fostering new and emerging artists was an important aspect of Prism,” says Brown.  “I remember graduating from college with my BA in Theatre and wondering, ‘OK, what now’?  It was difficult to break into the theatre scene in a meaningful way.  Few companies were open to mentoring young artists at that time.  We want Prism Theatre Company to be a place where emerging artists can work with kind, collaborative, seasoned professionals so they can learn, grow, build their resumes, and make connections.”    

Theatre artists who are interested in joining Prism’s Board of Directors or Company may contact Prism at prismtheatrecompany@gmail.com. Prism invites actors to like us on Facebook for access to audition details for the festival and for future productions.  Women playwrights interested in submitting their unproduced scripts for consideration to “Spotlight on… Women Writing: Prism’s Festival of New Works” can find full details on Prism’s website.  

ABOUT PRISM THEATRE COMPANY

Prism Theatre Company seeks to champion the voices and stories of women from all walks of life, giving emerging artists a platform to showcase their work with seasoned professionals. We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques.
Learn more about Prism on our website, Instagram, and Facebook.

By Joe GfallerContributing WriterWho lives, who dies, who tells your story. It’s the refrain that ends Hamilton. Even though the revolution is different, the sentiment carries beautifully into Paris in 1793 in Lauren Gunderson’s sparkling tragi-comedy The Revolutionists.

The play, presented by Insight Theatre Company, is at the Marcelle Theater through July 14.

Four bold, gutsy women of the French revolution meet in an imagined sequence of events in The Revolutionists. Three are real figures: Charlotte Corday (the assassin of Jean-Paul Marat), Olympe de Gouges (a feminist playwright), and Marie Antoinette (the deposed queen of France). One, Marianne Anglle, is a constructed amalgam of several free women of color who fought to end slavery in the French Caribbean.

That all four could ever have met – let alone built the relationships of trust, sympathy, and friendship constructed in the play – is impossible. The play acknowledges this directly before it ends. However, once you willingly suspend that disbelief and accept you are watching “a revolutionary dream fugue, as the play calls itself, you are quickly in for a treat.

Lauren Gunderson’s play is filled with a modern wit that captures the spirit of these women without ever trying to recreate the language of the period. “Chutzpah,” “high five,” and “work life balance” were probably never spoken in 18th century France – let alone some of the saltier 21st century language that these characters invoke. However, by pulling these women out of stilted period turns of phrase, the play makes them feel as vital and contemporary to audiences today as they would have felt to the people of France in their own day.

Where the play is at its best, The Revolutionists threads the playful and the profound. That is no better personified than in Laurie McConnell’s portrayal of Marie Antionette, who becomes at turns endearing and loveable, batty and self-absorbed. She can bring the house down by announcing “Gasp!” and then commenting “Sometimes I say it instead of doing it.” But, despite all the caricature, in the end, she finds her nobility in her humanity – knowing that, like most of our heroines, she is to face the guillotine and her own death. Her promise to deliver a message to the husband of another woman in the afterlife becomes one of the play’s most touching moments.

As Charlotte Corday, Samantha Auch gives the most
emotionally compelling performance in the production. She first bursts into de
Gouges’ parlor in search of a writer who can help her write her inevitable last
words at the guillotine. Full of self-righteous conviction, she can both
channel the innocence to believably call her plan to murder Marat “stabby stab
stab” and the icy certainty to comment on the sexual assault she eventually
receives in prison to confirm if she “is a virgin.” The beautiful clarion voice
with which she delivers the first of a few unexpected lines of music upon her
death filled the theater with hope in the play’s first great moment of despair.

Kimmie Kidd gives a solid portrayal of Marianne Angelle as a
dignified voice of reason, attempting to motivate her friend de Gouges to
harness her talents for the cause of abolition and women’s equality. In the one
scene of substantial dramatic stakes for these two, she and de Gouges abandon
their early witty banter and intellectual arguments for a fight that is grounded
in what feels to be true betrayal. As one who has lived the fight, Angelle’s
wounds are deep. “You can’t write it if you’re not in it,” Angelle bristles at
de Gouges, ultimately leaving the playwright on the floor, clutching the very
pages she was prepared to burn in order to save her own skin.

It is Olympe de Gouges’ journey that theoretically serves as
the arc of the play. Sadly, there are times in which the construct – of her as
writer that the other three women come to – feels like the engine of a plot
that is less about her and more about the others. In the spirit of Caryl
Churchill’s Top Girls, it’s as if we find ourselves at a prolonged
dinner party full of entertaining incident and careful, thoughtful character
studies. But the host herself feels hollow. We never learn how she and Angelle
have come to be as close as we’re told they are, so when their relationship
frays, it’s not one that we have found a way to invest in deeply. Their
struggle matters to them more than it matters to us.

In Jenni Ryan’s portrayal of de Gouges, some of the character’s artifice – constantly hiding behind arguments about the aesthetic value of theater and art – seem to bury the heart of this woman, who often can come across as a less-than-capable dilletante. (The real de Gouges seems to have been anything but.) Her struggle seems to be an intellectual one for three-quarters of the play – and when it finally becomes a real one, it seems to surprise the character as much as it does the audience.

Ultimately, in de Gouges’ final moments, Ryan transforms her into someone who is deeply sympathetic. One only wishes that transformation could have happened earlier in the evening.

Staging The Revolutionists in the round, Trish Brown does an elegant job of consistently using the space well and maintaining a level of energy and momentum that can make a somewhat heady play that relies more on great dialogue than plot continue to feel fresh, fun, and visceral. The simple impact of red flower petals as blood in the moment when Corday kills Marat was one of many beautiful grace notes she successfully incorporated into the staging.

The limited set design — a few pieces of furniture — by Leah McFall was complemented quite effectively by the periodic soundscapes of sound designers Trish Brown and Bob Schmit, and the strong lighting from designer Morgan Brennan. Julian King’s costume design also gave each of the four women signature looks for the entire evening. With a larger budget, one imagines that an occasional costume change would have given us a chance to see more of variety.

I could have lived without the periodic meta-theatrical comparisons to Les Miserables that peppered the script — particularly since the student revolution in that musical was an entirely different revolution than the one playing out in Paris in the 1790s.

But, that aside, the wit and humor of the piece was frequently deeply satisfying and consistently surprising. Bringing back to life these four women in such a novel and engaging setting makes the production well worth a visit.

It’s no wonder that playwright Lauren Gunderson was recently among the most-produced playwrights in America and that her plays have so frequently graced St. Louis stages. She is a rare talent that, in this play, marries heart, humor, and history in a way that will make any audience member clamor to cry “Vive la revolution!”

Insight Theatre Company presents “The Revolutionists’ June 27 – July 14 at the Marcelle Theatre in the Grand Arts District, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, visit www.insighttheatrecompany.com or call 314-556-1293.