February 2025 will mark the beginning of St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s 17th season, themed “Something Old Something New.” The season includes productions of Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,”, to be directed by renowned theater artist Austin Pendleton and a new work by playwright Carter W. Lewis starring local legends Whit Reichert and Donna Weinsting.

“We are very excited about the offering for our 17th season, and to be working with Carter Lewis and Austin Pendleton again,” says William Roth, Founder and Artistic Director. “Carter’s plays have been featured in our LaBute Festival and Austin has come to STLAS to teach Master classes.”

Austin Pendleton

Long Day’s Journey Into Night
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Austin Pendleton
February 7-23, 2025

O’Neill’s autobiographical masterwork, winner of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of addiction in a dysfunctional Connecticut family and will be directed by STLAS friend and Broadway actor/director Austin Pendleton.

“A magnificent and shattering play.” – New York Post
“O’Neill’s masterpiece… What never ceases to astonish is the dizzying emotional contradiction of O’Neill’s characters. Within a tight classical structure, they bounce around like pinballs between reality and illusion.” – The Guardian
“A stunning theatrical experience.” – New York Herald-Tribune
“O’Neill’s most beautiful play.” – New York Daily News 

Donna Weinsting

With
By Carter W. Lewis 
Directed by Assoc Artistic Director Annamaria Pileggi
April 4-20, 2025 
Starring:
Whit Reichert* and Donna Weinsting*

Whit Reichert

Clifford and Minnie devolve into a world of humorous, but ultimately heartbreaking minutiae as they navigate a blizzard, a dead son, a rat in the kitchen and worse; in order to hold on to a bit of control over their personal end of life decisions. The couple enlists their derelict son to obtain Death With Dignity drugs from the state of Oregon, but due to an accident on the highway, the plan goes hysterically and tragically array. As a result, Minnie and Clifford cling to daily tasks as they slowly get cut off from the world by a blizzard and disconnected utilities. Their enduring love fuels them through an obstacle course of each day’s events.

11th Annual LaBute New Theater Festival
July 11-27, 2025

Tony Nominated Playwright Neil LaBute returns to host his award winning One Act Festival.

*Member Actors’ Equity Association

ABOUT ST. LOUIS ACTORS’ STUDIO

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is one of the leading professional theatres in the St. Louis. area, producing a four-show season of plays at our 97-seat Gaslight Theatre. STLAS collaborates with renown director, screenwriter and playwright Neil LaBute to produce the LaBute New Theater Festival each July in St. Louis and each January in New York City. The festival is a one-act play competition for emerging professionals and high-school writers. For more information and ticket sales, visit stlas.org.

By Lynn Venhaus

Anyone who has experienced grief knows that moving forward, life is measured by “Before” and “After.”

“The Whale” delves into the mental and physical health problems of a morbidly obese recluse, showing us the “After” and explaining the “Before” in an emotionally honest drama by Samuel D. Hunter.

In yet another well-cast, impeccably directed production, St. Louis Actors’ Studio imbues this gut-punch of a script with empathy and authenticity.

In his play, Hunter forces us to see the complexities in human nature, so impressions aren’t so easily defined, and judgment can wait. He has crafted flawed characters who have dealt with adversity and challenges in very different ways. Yet, they are stuck in time.

First presented in 2012, Hunter later wrote a bleak screenplay adaptation for the 2022 film that won two Oscars – one for Brendan Fraser’s performance and the other for makeup.

The film, while much dimmer inside the claustrophobic apartment, is very similar to the stage play, yet the characters are more severely portrayed, and redemption doesn’t seem plausible.

Set in a small town in northern Idaho, over the course of a week, four people interact with a nearly immobile Charlie (William Roth) in his dingy living room – nurse and friend Liz (Colleen Backer), estranged daughter Ellie (Nadja Kapetanovich), ex-wife Mary (Lizi Watt), and Mormon missionary Elder Thomas (Thomas Patrick Riley).

All affected by loss and loneliness, they are each wrapped in their own cocoons, and grace has eluded them. Director Annamaria Pileggi has drawn out nuances among this exemplary cast as they reveal truths about themselves. You feel their misery, but you also see signs of hope.

In a brave, towering performance, William Roth has never been better as Charlie, a sensitive soul whose heartache and regrets have led to self-destructive behavior. A writing instructor who now conducts classes online, he has ballooned to 600 lbs., suffers from congestive heart failure and is on a trajectory to imminent death.

Roth has delivered virtuoso performances before, notably as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and as Charlie Aikin in “August: Osage County,” both at St. Louis Actors’ Studio, which he founded and is the artistic director.

William Roth as Charlie. Photo by Patrick Huber

But this realization is both heartfelt and haunting. Hunter enlists many ways to display Charlie’s self-loathing, visually masking his pain with an eating disorder, and describing memories from what had been an ordinary life. Roth disappears into the role, wistfully recounting happier times at the seashore with his wife and child, and then later being with his lover and former student Alan. Will he ever forgive himself for what he perceives are his failings?

Using a colloquial term, Charlie has “let himself go.” Eating his feelings since Alan’s death eight years ago, he has guilt in his psyche – but passion in his heart for literature. You feel his remorse – and his enormous capacity for love.

Through grading papers, talking to his class via computer, and reading aloud their essays, Charlie displays a fine mind, a keen grasp of literature, what authors meant, and encourages self-expression.

Conveying that love for the written word that once gave him great joy makes it much sadder that, sidelined by grief, he’s not the teacher he once was, and not entirely comfortable connecting with his students (yet, astute in his comments). The isolation, as reflected in that tiny room, is crushing.

He also has vast unconditional love for his daughter Ellie, a sullen teenager who feels abandoned and lashes out cruelly. After years of no contact, he has attempted to reconnect with her, and she is seemingly unreachable – tough, rebellious, impulsive.

Her mother, angry and filled with rage too, has kept her from establishing a relationship with her father. At 17, she hates everything and everybody, and is flunking out of school. She is repulsed by his appearance, but visits anyway — after all, he is writing her English papers, and there is a pledge of money.

Displaying hostility, confusion, forlornness, and defiance, Nadja Kapetanovich is a knockout in a finely textured performance as Ellie. It’s a sensational breakthrough performance in regional theatre.

Kapetanovich, Riley, Watt, Backer, Roth. Photo by Patrick Huber.

Thomas Patrick Riley also has a breakout opportunity as Elder Thomas, and he’s splendid. He has the most complicated backstory of them all, and represents the evangelical religion that Hunter focuses on as a root to issues expressed here, particularly religious homophobia, and pointedly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

More dots in the plot are connected through Liz, the tough-love nurse played with heartbreaking compassion by Colleen Backer, whose ability to shift moods between comic and dramatic is one of her finest features.

Liz is Alan’s sister, so there is that. And she’s trying to keep Charlie healthy and alive, but also enabling him with high-fat, high-sodium foods (fried chicken, sub sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts and soda). She offers comfort while admonishing him with lectures. It’s an endearing performance by the always entertaining Backer.

In a brief but pivotal role, Lizi Watt blows in as the blustery ex-wife Mary, whose resentment is at a full rolling boil. She’s full of outrage, and vents to Charlie on how exasperated she is about their daughter. While she’s snarling, she’s also drinking copious amounts of vodka. It’s apparent that Ellie is a mirror image of her mother.

What is interesting about these hardened characters is you see them mentally and physically soften when confronted with Charlie’s predicament – if only fleeting. There is also more humor in the play than I recall from the film, which are moments of relief from the grim subject matter and the blame game volleys.

Wearing an impressively designed body suit by Angela B. Calin and engineered and constructed by Laurie Donati of the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, Calif., Roth’s physicality is key to the character, portraying the very real struggles of someone so overweight as to be in pain from the slightest exertion.

Costume Designer Teresa Doggett also worked skillfully on Roth’s prosthetics to ready him for this appearance on stage, and her casual outfit choices for the five actors were on point.

Patrick Huber’s scenic and lighting design reflects the slovenly quarters but also Charlie’s thirst for knowledge, with crammed bookshelves and papers everywhere. Props designer Emma Glose did a fine job littering the apartment with discarded food boxes, beverage containers and academia.

Caleb D. Long supervised the crafts parts as technical director. Another standout is the sound design by Kristi Gunther, also production manager, which incorporated hearing seaside noises like seagulls and the waves on the beach to evoke pleasant memories.

Others responsible for shaping this tight production: Bryn McLaughlin was the assistant director, and stage manager Amy J. Paige, with Glose her assistant.

This show’s cast was able to let us into their world, tinged with melancholy, and indicate the possibility of mercy, which is a final grace note.

And we can debate the ending for a long time, but I choose triumph, even if it is just in the teeniest glimmers of change that may be ahead for all.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “The Whale” Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. April 5 through April 21 at The Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle. For more information: stlas.org.

By Lynn Venhaus
Embarking on his most challenging role to date in an acting career spanning 35 years, William Roth has transformed himself into Charlie, the 600-lb. writing instructor recluse that is the center of Samuel D. Hunter’s play “The Whale.”

St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “The Whale” April 5 – 21, with performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle. For more information: stlas.org.

Wearing a body suit by Angela B. Calin, and engineered and constructed by Laurie Donati of the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, Calif., with prosthetics by costume designer Teresa Doggett, Roth must physically move like someone so morbidly obese as to have issues with the slightest exertion.

Director Annamaria Pileggi made sure his physical gestures matched, and he had watched some episodes of TLC’s “My 600-lb. Life” and other documentaries for research as well.

The play is part of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s 16th season, “A Way Forward,” and has provided a strong ensemble environment for its 5-person cast, including Colleen Backer, Nadja Kapetanovich, Thomas Patrick Riley and Lizi Watt. Backer is a regular on The Gaslight Theatre stage, while this is Watt’s third show in two years, and Kapetanovich and Riley are making their debut.

The Whale. Photo by Patrick Huber.

When founded by Roth in 2006, the mission was that “through the use of ensemble work, to explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre.”

Roth, who grew up in the Central West End, purchased and helped rehab The Gaslight Theater, which had been a key fixture in the iconic Gaslight Square heyday, into a 99-seat black box, That continues to be the home for STLAS shows, and also programs concerts and other entertainment acts.

An adjacent restaurant, West End Grill and Pub, opened in 2009, and Roth was one of four owners. It closed and reopened in 2019 with two of the original owners, and that version of WEGAP closed in 2022. It is now operated as Black Mountain Wine House, at 354 N. Boyle.

He continues to be the theater’s artistic director and is a member of SAG/AFTRA and Actors’ Equity. He has produced more than 75 shows at STLAS, including New York premiere productions of “Day of the Dog” and four seasons of the LaBute New Theater Festival at the 59E59 street theaters and The Davenport in Midtown Manhattan.

The festival will celebrate its 10th year this July, and a special edition of all the world-premiere plays LaBute has written for the annual event will be published collectively this year, Roth said. LaBute has contributed a one-act play per year, and has often attended the annual event.

In the July 2013 issue of the publication American Theatre, Roth explained how LaBute agreed to put his name on the festival. When STLAS was staging “The Shape of Things,” he began corresponding with the playwright, and after they produced an anthology of his short plays titled “Just Desserts,” Roth asked.

“He came to me with this idea of a short play festival named after myself. It makes you feel both proud and silly, but if it helps draw in writers and/or audience, I’m willing to do it. I’m a crusader for theatre, wherever it might be,” LaBute told the magazine.

Associate Director John Pierson, playwright Neil LaBute, William Roth in New York.

Every year, they receive about 250 submissions from around the globe, and a jury selects which ones should be produced, mostly relationship studies – with an edge. There is also a high school playwrighting contest component, too.

Since 2013, when the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards began, STLAS has won 18 awards and received about triple that in nominations, with 18 nominations garnered in 2014 the most in one year.

Two Best New Play Awards have been for one-acts at the LaBute New Theater Festival — ‘Percentage America” by Carter Lewis and “One Night in the Many Deaths of Sonny Liston” by J.B. Heaps.

Roth has been nominated for his work as George in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and Mervyn in Martin McDonagh’s “A Behanding in Spokane.”

At STLAS, his roles have included Horace in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” Teach in David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” Charlie Aikin in Tracy Lett’s “August Osage County,” Saul in Sam Shepard’s “True West,” Robert in David Mamet’s “A Life in the Theatre,” Ben in Harold Pinter’s “The Dumbwaiter” and Peter in Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” Ben in Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys,” Michael Waterman in Steven Dietz’s “Fiction” and Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons.”

During his acting career, he has performed with The Classic Theater Company, American Ballet Theater, River City Players, Magic Smoking Monkey, The Goldenrod Showboat, The International Hemingway Festival, HotHouse Theatre and Muddy Waters.

“August: Osage County.”

He spent six years with the Orthwein Theatre Company, appearing in several shows, including “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Our Town,” “Hamlet,” “ER,” and “Harvey.” His Shakespeare productions include “King Lear,” “Richard III,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “A Winter’s Tale,” “As You Like It,” “Macbeth,” “Othello,” and “Antony and Cleopatra.”

In recent years, he has been cast in a couple films, including LaBute’s “Fear the Night” in 2023 and locally shot “Hungry Dog Blues,” which was written and directed by Jason Abrams and won several awards at the 2022 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase.

He will be seen in the upcoming “On Fire,” which stars William H. Macy and John Corbett. Roth plays a construction guy in the film adaptation of St. Louis native John O’Leary’s book about his experience surviving a horrific housefire when he was nine years old and burned on 100% of his body. It was shot in St. Louis last fall, directed by Sean McNamara.

Another side gig is his band, Holy Friars, which plays songs by George Harrison, among other artists.

Coming soon is also the announcement of STLAS’s 17th season. For more information about St. Louis Actors’ Studio, visit www.stlas.org

William Humphrey and William Roth in “True West” in 2019. Photo by Patrick Huber.

Here is the Take Ten Q&A with William Roth:


1. What is special about your latest project?

Telling Charlie’s story. Trying to figure out what is going on inside this 600lb man

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
Seeing Plays, Opera, Symphony. Wanting to participate

3. How would your friends describe you?
Idiotic Introvert

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?
Playing hockey

Joel Moses and William Roth in “The Zoo Story.” Photo by Patrick Huber.

5. What is your current obsession?
My Band “The Holy Friars”

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
Enlisted in the Marine Corps on my 17th Birthday

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
London Trip 1976 — I saw Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Robert Morley and Antony Hopkins all in different plays over a 10 day period.

8. Who do you admire most?
Most of the people I meet

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?
I don’t have one, just try to achieve something each day..

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?-
Shut down our season and theater, patrons learned to stay home and watch TV –trying to get them back to the theater one at a time is not easy, the couch is nice place to sit.

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Forest Park, Zoo, Art Museum, my neighborhood street.

12. What’s next?
Hockey Sunday and Tuesday evenings

William Roth in “American Buffalo.” Photo by Patrick Huber.

More about William Roth:

Age: 60
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio
Current location: St. Louis
Family: Wife Elisa, daughter Josephine, son Jack
Education: BS, ASM Aeronautics (yea I know)
Day job: Running STLAS, Roth Investments LLC and The Eleven Inc
First job: US Marine
First play or movie you were involved in or made: The Black Stallion film (1979), South Pacific at Webster Groves Theater Guild-1970ish
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? George (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), Earl Moss (The Late Henry Moss), Thomas Moore (A Man For All Seasons) Bill( Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush – LaBute world premiere), 
Dream job/opportunity: I have it
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Honored that folks still come to see our plays
Favorite quote/words to live by: “All Things Must Pass, None of Life’s Strings Can Last. So I Must Be On My Way, Face another Day”
A song that makes you happy: Any song by George Harrison, or The Grateful Dead

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 2014, with Kari Ely, Betsy Bowman, Michael Amaroso and William Roth. Photo by John Lamb.
The Gaslight Theatre is home to STLAS and other events. To find out what’s playing, visit www.gaslighttheater.net

By Lynn Venhaus

After a brief hiatus, we’re back with our round-up of people, places, and events in the St. Louis region, a tad behind in posting our September/summer swan song.

IN COMES COMPANY: Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical “Company” – the female-led revival that won the Tony in 2022, kicks off its 25-city national tour on Oct. 8 in Schenectady, N.Y., with the St. Louis stop Feb. 27-March 10 at the Fox Theatre.

Belleville native Ann Beyersdorfer, associate set designer for the Broadway revival, worked with production designer Bunny Christie, who won her fourth Olivier Award for the London production design. And she’s on the team that has been preparing the hilarious and sophisticated show for the road.

(Three-time Tony Award winner Jack Lane, co-founder and executive producer emeritus of Stages St. Louis, was one of the Broadway show’s co-producers.)

Ann was back in town this summer, as scenic designer for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” and “West Side Story” at The Muny, and I was fortunate to interview her then for the Belleville News-Democrat.

https://news.yahoo.com/belleville-native-designs-sets-broadway-120000176.html

For a deeper dive into the mechanics of getting a Broadway show transferred to the road, read about her journey here on PopLifeSTL.com:

A winner of best set design of a play for “Afterglow” at the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, she’ll be part of the team taking the production to London Oct. 17–Nov. 24, with an official opening Oct. 22.

And as an art director on the visual shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” hopefully you will be able to see more of her work when the show resumes on Oct. 14. You may have seen the elaborate “HBO Mario Kart Trailer” she worked on when Emmy-nominated Pedro Pascal hosted.

Cheers to Ann and the tour launch! (We’ll drink to that!). For more information, visit: https://companymusical.com/

Nichelle Lewis, Wayne Brady

BRAND NEW DAY: “The Wiz,” the 1974 super-soul musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s novel “The Wizard of Oz,” which was given a reworking for The Muny’s 2018 season, is Broadway-bound in 2024, with St. Louis-connected producers, but this new revival is touring first. Opening night was Sept. 23 at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, and the reviews were raves.

“The audience and the whole evening was full of joy and energy, extended applause, and standing ovations,” stated the Maryland Theatre Guide on Sept. 29. “Powerhouse performances and stunning choreography,” enthused the Baltimore Sun.

The first-ever revival will be easing down the road to 12 other cities, including Chicago (Nov. 28 – Dec. 10). For more information, visit: https://wizmusical.com/

The producing team of Kristin Caskey and Mike Isaacson (Muny artistic director and executive producer) and a long list of others, including Terry Schnuck, is behind this show. Caskey, now of the Ambassador Theatre Group, spent 20 years with Fox Theatricals. She and Isaacson produced the Tony-winning “Fun Home” in 2015 and this year’s Best Revival winner “Parade.”

Isaacson said they have been working on a revival for eight years, and plans are to mount another national tour after the Broadway limited engagement. In preparation for The Muny, he received permission from the original creators to make some changes. Amber Ruffin, recent Tony nominee for “Some Like It Hot,” wrote additional material – and had worked on the Muny script – from William F. Brown’s original book. You may know her as a writer on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” as she frequently appears.

Isaacson revealed that in a terrific Broadway World interview with James Lindhorst, who also talked with producers Jack Lane, Mike Bosner and Terry Schnuck – heavy-hitters at this year’s Tonys (“& Juliet,” “Shucked” and “Parade”).

https://www.broadwayworld.com/st-louis/article/Interview-St-Louis-Area-Producers-Mike-Bosner-Mike-Isaacson-Jack-Lane-and-Terry-Schnuck-Nominated-for-Tony-Awards-20230512

Schele Williams is helming this show, with Wayne Brady as The Wiz from Jan. 16 to Broadway engagement, and Alan Mingo Jr. in the title role Sept. 23 – Jan. 14, 2024, and newcomer Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy.

The original 1974 production, directed by Geoffrey Holder and choreographed by George Faison, won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, and was adapted into a movie in 1978 starring Diana Ross, Richard Pryor, and Michael Jackson. NBC broadcast a live version in 2015, but a planned revival then did not materialize.

Colin, Jeanine

BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: Speaking of the musical “Fun Home,” composer Jeanine Tesori — the most honored and most prolific female theatrical composer in history, was in St. Louis this summer, and stopped in to visit with the local cast rehearing “Caroline, or Change,” produced by Fly North Theatricals.

To get the opportunity to talk with Tesori, who has written five Broadway musicals and received six Tony Award nominations, winning for “Fun Home” and the recent “Kimberly Akimbo,” was one of the best moments ever, according to music director Colin Healy.

Healy summed it up this way on Facebook: “She and Mike Isaacson (producer) offered such wonderful insight into the process of writing, building, and producing ‘Caroline, Or Change,’ validating what is already apparent when hearing the score: how much a labor of love and Herculean creative endeavor ‘Caroline’ was and continues to be… She spoke to us for over an hour and took questions from everyone.”

(Photo: Colin Healy and Jeanine Tesori)

NEW HORIZONS: All good wishes for theater and media folks moving on, changing directions and making the most of opportunities.

Bravo to Taylor Gruenloh, whose new musical “Cascade’s Fire,” a modern Antigone story co-written by Kyle Wernkel, will premiere Oct. 12 and run 13-15 and 19-21 in the Black Box Theatre at Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, where he is on the Arts, Languages and Philosophy faculty. Taylor wrote the book and lyrics while Wernkel wrote the music.

Taylor recently stepped down as Creative Director at The Tesseract Theatre Company at the end of August, after their successful run of “Kinky Boots.” One of the most prolific and creative folks in town, I can’t wait to see what else he will accomplish.

Congratulations to Joe Gfaller, who has been managing director of Metro Theater Company since 2019, on becoming managing director of Clear Space Theatre Company, a 20-year-old regional theater in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He’ll be leaving in mid-October. Jessie Youngblood, the current development director, will serve as interim managing director beginning Oct. 9. Always enjoyed working with Joe, starting with the Opera Theater of St. Louis in 2014. Joe has served Metro, St. Louis’s premiere professional theater for youth and families, well.

Best wishes to Julia Flood, Metro artistic director for the past 10 years, who has announced her retirement after the 51st season. Of Joe’s departure, she said: “Joe has had boundless energy and enthusiasm for the mission and work of Metro Theater Company. I feel lucky to have had the benefit of his partnership through the complexities of the pandemic times and wish him much success and happiness in his new venture.”  (They both can be very proud of their endeavors).
 A free Fall Family Festival to celebrate MTC’s 50 years of service to the community will be held on Oct. 21 and 22. A toast in Gfaller’s honor will be held at that event on Sunday, Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. 

Carol Daniel

Carol Daniel may have retired from one prominent longtime gig, but she is embarking on a fantastic journey. The award-winning St. Louis journalist, reporter, host, columnist, and author has joined Nine PBS as a Senior Producer and Host. 

Daniel said she looks forward to telling the stories of her community in a new way — with a podcast about people making an impact here, and also produce interviews and stories that celebrate and showcase underrepresented voices for Nine PBS’s content flagship, Living St. Louis. Yes to this! I look forward to seeing her next chapter.

Daniel has more than 40 years of experience as a host on KMOX Radio, as well as work on Great Day St. Louis on KMOV/Channel 4, and a columnist for the St. Louis American. She’s been honored as a Living Legend by the National Association of Black Journalists–St. Louis, was recently inducted into the Lincoln University Alumni Hall of Fame, and was a 2022 inductee into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame.  

Longtime public relations and marketing maestros Eric Pugh and Dylan Stanley have departed our fair river city for beachier pastures. Last at the Muny, Eric is now promoting The Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla., the largest Equity theatre in Florida, and the largest Repertory theatre in Southeastern U.S. Just wonderful to work with both, and I’m glad we had time together.

Dylan, who has moved to Los Angeles with his fiancé, Nicolas Valdez, who is embarking on a fellowship at USC, will keep us posted on his next challenge after giving us his all at Stifel Theatre and Enterprise Center (and performing in Tesseract Theatre Company’s triumphant “Kinky Boots.”

Best wishes to Lee Anne Mathews in her new role as Education and Artistic Director for the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation!  Before May, she was making things happen at Westport Playhouse.

Congratulations to Brian McKinley on his new role as Director of Education and Community Program at the Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

HOMETOWNERS: Comedian-actor Cedric the Entertainer’s new book, crime caper “Flipping Boxcars,” fictionalizes his grandfather, Floyd “Babe” Boyce.

Jon Hamm is in two, not one, television series this fall. He joined the cast of “The Morning Show” for season 3, now streaming on Apple TV+, and will be in “Fargo,” season 5, which starts Nov. 21 on FX and Hulu.

Nicholas “Sifu” Alsup.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS

Best wishes to Nicholas “Sifu” Alsup of O’Fallon, Ill., who was chosen as one of 18 contestants on the 45th season of CBS’ “Survivor” that started Sept. 27.He is a larger-than-life personality, and I was able to interview him through permission with CBS. https://news.yahoo.com/o-fallon-gym-owner-one-120000863.html

CHEERS: Congratulations to New Jewish Theatre on their 25th anniversary as a regional professional theatre in St. Louis; and Gateway Center for Performing Arts school, and youth theater company, on their 10th anniversary in Webster Groves. A feature article by me will be in the Webster-Kirkwood Times soon.

OUT AND ABOUT: Two Colins in the ‘Lou news!
Co-owners Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf of Fly North Theatricals, have opened their new home and social hangout, The Greenfinch Theater and Dive, at 2525 South Jefferson Avenue (the old Way Out Club).. The bar is open every night from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. You won’t want to miss Stool Pigeon Open Mic Comedy Night on Mondays and Drunk Voice Lessons karaoke with live piano accompaniment (and critiques) by Colin Healy on Wednesdays, plus Burlesque Bingo’s in the rotation too. They are also accepting reservations for their black box theater.

Colin Jost

SNL Head Writer Colin Jost was the Celebrity Guest Host at the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s Illumination Gala on June 3 at The Ritz-Carlton, a major fundraising event for the Siteman Cancer Center. Not sure what he said about “The Square Beyond Compare” but Imo’s posted his photo.
Since 2007, the event has raised more than $42 million to support research funds

MEMORY LANE: Last month in pop culture history.

Sept. 26, 1975: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” opened in Westwood, Calif., and tanked at the box office, but later would become the definition of a cult classic, inspiring interactive screenings with toast, toilet paper and more.

If you attended midnight screenings in the late ‘70s at the Varsity Theatre in St. Louis (where Vintage Vinyl is now), you might have run in to a teenage Michael Stipe, future alt-rock band REM frontman, who is dressed as Frank-n-Furter here in this vintage newsclip on KSDK’s “Newsbeat.” He told the reporter: “We’re all normal, really.”

Why on earth was Stipe, now 63, in St. Louis then? His dad was in the Army, and they moved to several states during his childhood. In the late ‘70s, he lived in Collinsville, Ill., and attended high school there and went on to Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.. Later, he would move to Athens, Ga., for college, and met record store clerk Peter Buck, which led to forming a band with Mike Mills and Bill Berry…and the rest is history..

Rocky Horror played midnights at the Varsity Theatre from April 1976 until Jan. 3, 1988 when it closed for good. It was one of the first 30 theatres in the U.S. to do so.

I was fortunate to interview Barry Bostwick (Brad in the movie) when he had been scheduled to appear at Wizard World in St. Louis, but had to cancel, and he graciously talked about making the movie by phone. True delight to talk with and write about — here’s my BND feature from 2017.

https://www.bnd.com/entertainment/article142667129.html

Anne Meara, Alan Arkin

IN MEMORIAM: Frequent visitor to Gaslight Square with the infamous Compass players, RIP Alan Arkin (March 26, 1934 – June 29, 2023). Archival photo is at Crystal Palace with Anne Meara.

From William Roth, the founder and artistic director of St. Louis Actors’ Studio, who renovated The Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End, on Arkin:

“He made his off-Broadway debut in the late 1950s and joined the St Louis improvisational group the Compass Players in 1959. This led to a stint with the Chicago improv troupe Second City and his Broadway debut, in 1961, in the company’s show ‘From the Second City, which he co-wrote.’

Tony-winning actor Michael McGrath, whose last show was at the Muny this summer – he did a fine job as Mr. Mushnik in “Little Shop of Horrors,” passed away in his sleep Sept. 14 at his home in Bloomfield, N.J. He was 65. That wasn’t his first show in St. Louis – in 1990, he played John Adams in Theater Factory’s “1776.” He was first nominated for a Tony in “Spamalot,” and won for “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” playing a bootlegger, in 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/15/theater/michael-mcgrath-dead.html

Maggie Ryan, founder of Insight Theatre and inspiration to many, who spent 36 years as an English teacher and director of theater at Nerinx Hall, died Sept. 10, at age 80, after a short battle with leukemia. She was a lovely woman to interact with and cared passionately about theater. Insight operated for 12 years, won several St. Louis Theater Circle Awards including a legendary “Death of a Salesman” directed by Wayne Loui and starring father-son duo John and Jason Contini. Unfortunately, Insight closed in 2020.
https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/stltoday/name/margaret-ryan-obituary?id=53065958

Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch movie and theater critic, died Aug. 29, from an undisclosed illness. He was 70. I worked with Calvin, both in the St. Louis Film Critics Association, and with the St. Louis Theater Circle, and much admired his writing skill. His insight and passion for the arts will be missed.

https://www.stltoday.com/life-entertainment/local/art-theater/post-dispatch-writer-calvin-wilson-a-passionate-advocate-for-the-arts-dies-at-70/article_8fc9b7bc-46b5-11ee-a3a5-0bdd24dc5828.html

CALENDAR NOTES: John Cusack’s screening of “Say Anything,” originally scheduled for October 28 at Stifel Theatre, has been rescheduled for Saturday, March 30. All tickets for the Oct. 28 performance will be honored at the rescheduled date. The popular actor will follow the screening with a conversation regarding his career and the making of the film. Fans will get the opportunity to experience a moderated discussion, with John answering audience questions as well.

Me and Greta, Oct 1, 2022

SHAMELESS NAME-DROPPING: Before she had the biggest movie of the summer (“Barbie”!) and her second son in February, Greta Gerwig was pleasantly accommodating us press troops at the New York Film Festival 2022 (for “White Noise”). The accomplished actress-writer-director is exactly as she seems, a lovely person in person. I had to compliment her on the 2019 “Little Women,” and she said she had a great time working with the cast of that movie. Hopefully, we will be seeing her during the upcoming awards season. On Aug. 6, the film crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide, making her the first woman with sole director credit to have a movie make more than $1 billion.

(My film review: https://poplifestl.com/unexpected-unpredictable-barbie-is-an-irresistible-pop-o-culture/)

Our coda has been added for this issue:

RANDOM THOUGHTS: As you can probably tell, I enjoy waltzing down memory lane, and yes, I was one of the early attendees of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” midnight showings at the Varsity Theatre in 1977, which was so much fun. If you are a lover of cosplay, I have spied folks in Barbie and Ken outfits at “Barbie” — my prediction for hottest Halloween costumes — and I hear from Abe Goldfarb, hilarious as Otho in the touring company of “Beetlejuice,” who was on the weekly PopLifeSTL.com podcast co-hosted by Carl “The Intern” Middleman and myself on Oct. 4, that there’s many folks dressing up at the shows. He’s excited that they’re here Oct. 13.

The St. Louis Blues open at home Oct. 12. Just once I’d like to buy a team T-shirt where the player I selected isn’t traded. (I bought an Alexander Pietrangelo one — with a C — before the playoffs in ’19 and a Ryan O’Reilly in 2022.)

Are we having the Daylight Savings Time ‘fall back’ happen this year or is it over? Anyone? I’m so confused.

Where in the world is Lynn this weekend? Judging the costume contest at the sensational annual Witches and Wizards Festival in O’Fallon, Ill., a really fun event

St. Louis Actors’ Studio (STLAS) is pleased to present its ninth annual LaBute New Theater Festival celebrating new works by emerging professional and high school playwrights July 7-23 at The Gaslight Theater. STLAS received hundreds of submissions worldwide and selected four to be produced on the stage at The Gaslight Theater, along with a brand new piece by esteemed film director, screenwriter and playwright Neil LaBute, for whom the festival and is named and who serves on its creative team. This year’s productions include the following works/playwrights:

§  The Mockingbird’s Nest by Craig Bailey of Vermont

§  One Night in the Many Deaths of Sonny Liston by JB Heaps of New York

§  Da Vinci’s Cockroach by Amy Tofte of California

§  The Blind Hem by Bryn McLaughlin of Oregon

§  Safe Space by Neil LaBute

“We are pleased to once again share the works of some of the country’s best emerging playwrights, as well as Neil LaBute,“ said William Roth, founder and artistic director of St. Louis Actors Studio. 

Shows will be performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. General admission tickets are $30 each plus fees, $25 each plus fees for students with valid ID and seniors 65+, available via Ticketmaster or at the theater box office one hour before show time. For more information, visit stlas.org or email help@stlas.org.

John Pierson, Neil LaBute, William Roth. Photo by Russ Rowland.

About St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio was founded to bring a fresh vision to theatre in St. Louis. Housed in The Gaslight Theater in historic Gaslight Square, STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio, through the use of ensemble work, will explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre. For more information, visit stlas.org.

Nancy Bell and Chauncy Thomas in Carter Lewis’ “Percentage America,” which won Best New Play from the St Louis Theater Circle in 2018. Photo by Patrick Huber.

COVER PHOTO of Jane Paradise and Reginald Pierre in Neil LaBute’s “Safe Space” by Patrick Huber

St. Louis Actors’ Studio (STLAS) is pleased to announce its thrilling16th Season at The Gaslight Theater – ‘A Way Forward,’ including the following productions:

Liza Birkenmeier

Dr Ride’s American Beach House by Liza Birkenmeier, October 6-22, 2023: Directed by Associate Artistic Director Annamaria Pileggi, STLAS is proud to present this play by friend and Actor/Playwright Liza Birkenmeier. Birkenmeier last performed on the STLAS stage as Una in BLACKBIRD and has gone on to become a successful playwright in New York. 

Dr Ride’s American Beach House is an intimate snapshot of queer anti-heroines. On the eve of Dr. Sally Ride’s historic space flight, four women with passionate opinions and no opportunities sit on a sweltering St. Louis rooftop, watching life pass them by.

Barrymore, By William Luce, December 1-10, 2023:

A two-week limited engagement directed by Erin Kelley, Barrymore featuresstalwart St. Louis actor John Contini’s return to the STLAS stage to reprise the role in which Christopher Plummer won a Tony for his portrayal of John Barrymore. Each act begins with a stunning entrance onto a stage that the legendary actor has rented to prepare for a comeback performance of Richard III. Barrymore jokes with the audience, spars with an offstage prompter, reminisces about better times, and does delicious imitations of his siblings Lionel and Ethel.

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, February 9-25, 2024:

This winner of three Tony® Awards is directed by Wayne Salomon. In 1941, German physicist Werner Heisenberg went to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr. Together they had revolutionized atomic science in the 1920s, but now they were on opposite sides of a world war.

Brendan Fraser, Oscar winner for “The Whale”

The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter, April 5-21, 2024:

Now an Academy Award® Winning Film, The Whale, directed by Associate Artistic Director Annamaria Pileggi, stars Artistic Director William Roth as an obese recluse, hiding away from the world and slowly eating himself to death as he is given one last chance at redemption.

LaBute New Theater Festival, July 2024:

In the return of STLAS’ month-long festival, renowned playwright Neil LaBute will delight audiences with his own new story along with the winning submissions from emerging high school and professional playwrights.

“This is a very exciting and diverse season,” says Artistic Director WIlliam Roth. “Producing a fantastic play by St. Louis’ own Liza Birkenmeier, the return of John Contini, who has been with us from day one, and welcoming Erin Kelley to our directing ranks. Each of the plays this season examines human failings, hopes and dreams as we all look for ‘A Way Forward’.”

STLAS appreciates the support of its diverse corporate sponsors including McCormack Baron Salazar, Missouri Arts Council, Regional Arts Commission, The Clifford Willard Gaylord Foundation and the Rex Foundation. 

For subscriptions and individual ticket info, visit stlas.org.

About St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio was founded to bring a fresh vision to theatre in St. Louis.

Housed in The Gaslight Theater in historic Gaslight Square, STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio, through the use of ensemble work, will explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre. For more information, visit stlas.org

By Lynn Venhaus

Sympathies shift as does time in the twisty relationship drama “Fiction,” presented by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio as a study in the stories we tell ourselves.

Playwright Steven Dietz explores “What would you do if you had to live with a secret that you thought you would die with?”

That complicates life for sophisticates Linda and Michael Waterman, who are both writers, thus the verbal jousting throughout the two acts.

Their literate lives will be turned upside-down with the diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor (hers) and the revelation of an affair (his).

After Linda’s devastating news, she asks her husband to share his diaries with her. Who can refuse a dying person’s wish, right? He agrees – tearing out a page – and his entries disclose what happened at a writer’s retreat with a young Abby, an administrator at The Drake Colony. Rut-ro.

With his customary witty dialogue, Dietz examines the blurred lines between fact and fiction, truth and lies, reality and imagination. Does discretion spare pain or make betrayal worse? Can couples overcome deceit? Is “memory the better writer” as Michael states?

And what kind of mind game are we exactly in for here?

As cagily played by Lizi Watt as Linda and William Roth as Michael, their carefully constructed worlds come to a head when they are forced into edgy territory – and are backed into a corner.

The very opinionated and glib Waterman defends his journaling by describing it as fiction. A rather stressed Linda conjures up scenarios in her head, as she thinks she knows him well enough to figure out what happened. He described Abby as a lethal combination of beauty, danger, youth and wit.

As they revise facts, trust breaks down. Then Michael reads Linda’s diaries. Well, who is keeping secrets now? And what isn’t disclosed on the hand-written pages?

What a tangled web Dietz has weaved into two hours, adding plot twists – and a few contrivances to make this more confounding rather than easily filling in the blanks.

William Roth, Bryn McLaughlin, Lizi Watt. Photo by Patrick Huber.

What the Watermans have been telling themselves for 20 years is that their longtime relationship is built on honesty and candor. After all, they are writers. But the irony is that sometimes, those adept at the written word aren’t always the best communicators when it comes to expressing feelings and deep thoughts one-on-one.

Confrontations will expose vulnerabilities and appear to be ripping scabs off old wounds. And what’s with this mysterious Abby, and how long was she in contact with Michael? How does she know Linda?

Agile at rapid-fire banter, Watts and Roth are convincing, if not enitrely relatable, as the pair – his character tends to pontificate, and her healthy self can get snippy, but you do feel for her current predicament. His novels are so popular they’re made into movies while her one acclaimed book, “At the Cape,” a fictionalized account of her sexual assault in South Africa, is long in the rearview mirror, and she now teaches creative writing. Linda is tough and confident, not a pushover.

As Abby, Bryn McLaughlin plays her close to the vest when she appears before and present, shading her ambiguously. She holds her own in scenes with the older established characters.

This three-hander, deftly staged by Wayne Salomon, digs deeper into the gray areas of relationships that aren’t so black-and-white. Salomon’s a master at dissecting ordinary people and their motivations, as he has shown in an illustrious career spanning 50 years.

In recent years at STLAS, he’s done sharply defined work with “August: Osage County,” “Three Tall Women,” and “Farragut North.” This one, with its enigmatic premise, is indeed a challenge.

While the actors are smooth and obviously well-rehearsed, given the dexterity on display and their earnest analysis to make the material understandable, the stumbling block is the play’s structure.

The time shifts are not always clear, which is intentional. There are minor changes in costumes to reflect the year depicted, a smart move by costume designer Carla Landis Evans.

When we first meet the couple at a café in Paris (really?), they seem to have a comfy rapport. Dietz’s idea to start with a high-spirited argument on best rock vocal performance is clever, for we immediately ascertain they’re Boomers, with each taking a side – he’s adamant it’s John Lennon in “Twist and Shout,” and she’s making a case for Janis Joplin for “Piece of My Heart.”

Music, being the universal language, helps us size up the characters. But turns out, this is their first meeting, and they eventually marry. It sets up their rhythms, for couples tend to have their own shorthand..

This shift in time will keep us off-guard, particularly with the back-and-forth on the Abby sequences, and perhaps more at a distance that we should be as we’re trying to keep straight what’s accurate.

Then, there is the matter of mortality. The reason she’s reading his diaries is that she’s going to die soon (three weeks, or as she puts it, “twenty meals.”) Spoiler alert: But then, lo and behold, doctors say ‘oops!’ and never mind — due to an “oncological misapprehension,” she’s given a reprieve, so that makes things stickier for what’s out in the open. But then… (won’t spoil the rest). And if she has a malignancy tumor, undergoing treatment, wouldn’t that affect her behavior?

These choices are debatable, and the off-kilter nature can be frustrating, if that’s how you sense it. I can see where deciphering the relationships can become chore-like.

In all narratives, talking about writing can get in the weeds with theatergoers, while showing the writing process is even trickier. I can see responses vary about the two.

Should our lives be an open book in our intimate relationships? Dietz brings up questions, but are his points persuasive?

Are the characters unreliable narrators? Things are open to interpretation, depending on your viewpoint. And given human nature, perspectives will vary.

The setting, designed by Patrick Huber and carried out by Andy Cross and Sarah Frost, is minimally staged to focus on the verbal fireworks. No bookshelves, such as those artfully staged for Zoom, for the backdrop.

St. Louis Actors’ Studio, now in its 15th season, is looking through the lens of life’s fundamentals in several productions this year.

Their selections always bring up provocative issues that make a viewer consider how they think and feel, which results in an interesting experience worthy of discussion.

“Fiction” was produced in a workshop setting through ACT Theatre in Seattle in 2002, then presented at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., and later, off-Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre in 2004.

Active for 30 years, the prolific Dietz is one of the most widely produced playwrights in the U.S. Locally, his works “Bloomsday” and “This Random World” have been performed by the West End Players Guild. “God’s Country,” “The Nina Variations,” “Lonely Planet,” “Shooting Star” and “Private Eye” are among his many plays, often staged in regional theaters. Always witty and frequently insightful, Dietz’ comedy-dramas intrigue.

This much I know is true – the truth is uncomfortable but lies are worse. Although this brings up thought-provoking topics, whatever Dietz was going for in “Fiction” doesn’t land wholly satisfactorily, although the performances are genuine and the production work sincere.

William Roth, Lizi Watt. Photo by Patrick Huber

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “Fiction” by Steven Dietz from Oct. 7 to Oct. 23, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 p.m. at The Gaslight Theater at 358 N. Boyle in the Central West End.

For tickets, visit https://www.ticketmaster.com/the-gaslight-theater-tickets-st-louis/venue/50324 or purchase at the box office prior to showtime. For more information: www.stlas.org

By Lynn Venhaus
By the numbers: 2 one-act plays, 2 renowned 20th century playwrights, 2 professional actors, a 97-seat black box — with COVID-19 protocols in place — and one professional theater company restarting its 14th season.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. One thing is for certain – the awards magnet St. Louis Actors’ Studio has re-opened with the edgy, gritty dramadies that it specializes in, re-emerging with an acting showcase on stage at The Gaslight Theatre.

After being dark during the public health crisis of 2020 and 2021, pre-vaccine, these early 1959 works by two iconic individual voices, “The Zoo Story” by Edward Albee and “The Dumb Waiter” by Harold Pinter, are vivid and evocative some 60 years later

It’s all the ingredients necessary to create a mesmerizing live theatrical experience.

Newcomer Joel Moses announces his arrival in St. Louis with two masterful portraits, holding his own with veteran William Roth, who is also the company’s artistic director. The original 14th season was called “Two to Tango,” and their pas de deux is a master class in duet acting.

William Roth as Peter and Joel Moses as Jerry in “The Zoo Story.” Photo by Patrick Huber

Starting with Edward Albee’s first play, “The Zoo Story,” it’s immediately apparent that we are in for something special. The one-act, written in 1958, is where Albee, a rebellious youth with wealthy adoptive parents, crafted a work by using themes we’d become more familiar with as he explored dark societal issues.

He won three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, and his 1962 masterpiece “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” won the Tony Award. “The Zoo Story” is where it all began, thus creating a sea change in American postwar theater, and won the 1960 Obie Award.

As powerful today as when it first appeared in regional theater (rejected by New York status quo), “The Zoo Story” is about isolation, loneliness, class and economic disparities, dehumanization of marginalized people, and the pitfalls of living in a material world.

All of that is brought to life in finely tuned performances by Roth and Moses as Peter and Jerry. They meet on a park bench in Central Park one sunny Sunday afternoon.

Peter, as is his custom, is reading a book in solitude. A married publisher of some means has two daughters, two cats and two parakeets.

He intrigues Jerry, who engages Peter in conversation. As is immediately obvious, Jerry has issues – lonely, disconnected, desperate, he craves companionship. He has no filter and no boundaries, a lost soul.

It’s apparent who is the have-not in this twosome. Jerry’s façade cracks early, and his behavior becomes increasingly alarming. As unsettled as Peter is, his manners allow him a sense of decorum, until the situation escalates.

What was disturbing back in 1960, when the play was first produced off-Broadway with William Daniels and George Maharis as Peter and Jerry, remains distressing today – but for different reasons. Back then, such unstable behavior hadn’t been normalized by society – it was shocking. Sadly, we can see what’s coming by looking through the rear-view mirror of 2021. This is what happens, Albee says, when people are discarded as worthless by society.

Albee’s trademark biting dialogue is handled with seamless agility by Roth and Moses, under the thoughtful direction of Wayne Salomon.

A legendary local theater artist, Salomon’s skill is expected – and the finesse attended to this production is admirable. He has polished both plays until they gleam, like the genuine gems they are.

The setting benefits from Patrick Huber’s panoramic view of Central Park as a serene oasis in the bustling city – and further illustrates the differences between the two characters.

This sharp, savvy production is , hard-hitting and though-provoking theater as it was intended. It’s exhilarating to experience.

Joel Moses as Gus and William Roth as Ben in “The Dumb Waiter.” Photo by Patrick Huber

After a welcome intermission, as we’re processing the brilliance of the first act, we’re treated to one of Huber’s stunning set changes. How did he do that between shows? It’s a grimy, dingy basement somewhere in England, where two hitmen are awaiting their orders.

This is a fun change-of-pace. Just as absurd as “The Zoo Story,” and also a comedy with dramatic overtones, the British playwright and Nobel Prize-winning Harold Pinter’s early work from 1957 is indicative of his later much-heralded plays, like the menacing “The Birthday Party” and “The Homecoming.”

Moses, in another tour-de-force, is the impatient and somewhat dim-witted Gus, who seems to have grown weary of his routine, monoytonous life waiting for “the call” and killing time on assignment. Without so much as a needed cup of refreshing tea, he’s antsy, bored and hungry.

His companion, Ben, a man resigned to his lot in life, is keenly played by Roth, who becomes aggravated by Gus’ incessant chatter. He’s the teacher to the pupil.

Both actors adopt working-class English accents, and they give out a little information here and there, shaping their characters and how they operate.

They are taken aback when a dumb waiter opens with a slip of paper indicating a food order. The small kitchen’s stove is inoperable, so they can’t even light the kettle for tea. And here orders are coming in with a variety of restaurant dishes listed, expecting to be prepared. A few biscuits, a warm bottle of milk, a stale tea cake and some crisps are all that Gus has brought. They send that up, not knowing what to expect.

The exchange is comical – and involves a whistle and some sort of horn in which to communicate.

Ah, Pinter. A stuffy, claustrophobic setting? Check. Mundane but witty dialogue? Check. Hidden meanings? Check.

The actors get into an appealing rhythm that sadly must end, because well, the play ends. “The Dumb Waiter” leaves you wanting more – dialogue, funny bits, threatening in a mysterious way, and actors having fun — but that is a good thing, not a drawback.

Both plays are humorous, ironic, and suspenseful in their own ways, and it’s interesting to watch the accomplished actors switch gears. Roth and Moses make a dynamic duo – and best of all, this won’t be the end of them working together, at least I hope not.

The two one-acts continue its final weekend, Oct. 1-3, with Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at The Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End, 358 N. Boyle Ave. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or you can arrive at the box office within an hour of the show. For more information, visit stlas.org or call 314-458-2978.                                                                                                          ,                                                                                                                                                         

:September 2021 will mark the restart of St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s Fourteenth season themed “The Lost Episodes”.The world is finally returning to normalcy and with that, STLAS is excited to get back at it. Producing word-class, thought-provoking entertainment at our intimate Gaslight Theater. We cannot wait to see you in the fall! Season subscriptions are the best way to experience St. Louis Actors’ Studio–you get a discount and no-hassle ticket exchanges and reserved seat signage. Let’s come back strong – get a group together this season and make a year of it!Our 2021-22 season, “The Lost Episodes.”

“The Zoo Story/The Dumb Waiter”
by Edward Albee/Harold Pinter
Directed by Wayne Salomon, Starring William Roth*
September 17 – October 3, 2021

Classic early one act plays by two giants of the theatre.  Edward Albee and Harold Pinter.
THE ZOO STORY – A man sits peacefully reading in the sunlight in Central Park. There enters a second man. He is a young, unkempt and undisciplined vagrant where the first is neat, ordered, well-to-do and conventional. The vagrant is a soul in torture and rebellion. He longs to communicate so fiercely that he frightens and repels his listener. He is a man drained of all hope who, in his passion for company, seeks to drain his companion. With provocative humor and unrelenting suspense, the young savage slowly, but relentlessly, brings his victim down to his own atavistic level as he relates a story about his visit to the zoo.

“Edward Albee is a voice unparalleled in American theater.” —NY Times.
“The dialogue crackles and the tension runs high.” —Associated Press.
“Darkly comic and thrilling.” —Time Out NY

THE DUMB WAITER: As the New York World-Telegram & Sun describes: “In the basement of a long-abandoned restaurant, two hired killers nervously await their next assignment. Barred from daylight and living public contact by the nature of their work, they expend their waiting time in bickering. So eerie is the situation that everything becomes comic, or grotesque, or both. Ben re-reading a newspaper and exclaiming in disbelief over the news items, Gus fussing with an offstage stove and offstage plumbing. Ben bludgeoning Gus into silence if he as much as mentions their work. Gus worrying that someone had slept in his bed. So then the ancient dumbwaiter comes to life, the suspense becomes almost unbearable—that expertly has Pinter put the nerves of his characters and audience on edge.

“A distinguished gift for sheer, old-fashioned theatrical effectiveness, including the use of melodramatic suspense and the hint of sinister forces lying in ambush.” —NY Post Statesman

“Comfort”
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Associate Artistic Director, Annamaria Pileggi,

Starring Kari Ely* and Spencer Sickmann*
December 3 – December 19, 2021

A new play by STLAS friend and associate Neil LaBute in which a successful author and her son meet after some time apart and revisit their troubled relationship. What’s at stake? Whether or not the instinctive bond between mother and child can survive not just the past, but also two new book deals.

“Mr. LaBute is writing some of the freshest and most illuminating American dialogue to be heard anywhere these days.” —NY Times.

“No contemporary writer has more astutely captured the brutality in everyday conversation and behavior: That kind of insight requires sensitivity and soul-searching.” —USA Today
.
“It is tight, tense and emotionally true, and it portrays characters who actually seem part of the world that the rest of us live in.” —Time.

“Hand To God” by Robert Askins
Directed by Associate Artistic Director, John Pierson

Starring Eric Dean White* and Colleen Backer
February 18- March 6, 2022

After the death of his father, meek Jason finds an outlet for his anxiety at the Christian Puppet Ministry, in the devoutly religious, relatively quiet small town of Cypress, Texas. Jason’s complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door, and—most especially—his mother are thrown into upheaval when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. HAND TO GOD explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind us.

“The fearsome critter [Tyrone], who takes possession of a troubled teenager’s left arm in Robert Askins’ darkly delightful play really inspires goose bumps as he unleashes a reign of terror…But he’s also flat-out hilarious, spewing forth acid comedy that will turn those goose bumps into guffaws.” —The New York Times.

“Furiously funny…Askins’ most impressive talent is his ability to make us laugh while juggling those big themes that make life so terrifying: death, depression, alcoholism, sexual guilt, emotional repression, religious hypocrisy and the eternal battle between your good puppet and your bad puppet.” —Variety.

“A scabrously funny scenario that steadily darkens into suspense and Grand Guignol horror, this fiery clash of the id, ego and superego is also an audacious commentary on the uses of faith, both to comfort and control us.” —The Hollywood Reporter.

“I don’t know which I want to do more: Sing Hallelujah—or wash its dirty little mouth out with soap. …Clearly a singular vision is at work here, with playwright Robert Askins venturing successfully into territory—satire—rich with potholes.” —Deadline.

“HAND TO GOD is so ridiculously raunchy, irreverent and funny it’s bound to leave you sore from laughing. Ah, hurts so good.” —New York Daily News.

9th Annual LaBute New Theater Festival
July 8-31, 2022
A Celebrated month-long festival of world premiere one-act plays.

*Member Actors’ Equity Association


Click Here to download the order form! 

The Gaslight Theater is still closed due to the pandemic, but St. Louis Actors’ Studio will be presenting a free Zoom play by Hanna Kime, She is a John Burroughs graduate and currently resides in Chicago as a playwright. The play is called “Now More Than Ever” and will be screened for three nights only March 18-20 at 8 pm.

It is free to watch the live stream event, but you must register here: What’s On Stage | St. Louis Actors Studio (stlas.org). Donations are encouraged.

It is roughly a 45-60 minute one act directed by Annamaria Pileggi and starring: Colleen Backer, Jens Tulio, William Humphrey, Phil Leveling and Ebby Offord. Stage manager is Amy Paige.

Premise of the play: After the coronavirus crisis forces a major regional theatre to go remote and lay off half their staff, their remaining box office associates must attend an emergency Zoom training session from marketing on how to cold call patrons to solicit donations while promoting the theatre’s thrilling new slate of online content.

Her recent works include THE TARGETED (2020 O’Neill Finalist, 2021 BAPF Semifinalist, Selected for Broken Nose’s “Off/Nights” Development Series), THE BEST DAMN THING (2021 O’Neill Semifinalist, Selected for the Up: Renewal Reading Series), and DROP (Produced through Side Street Studio Art’s Going Dutch Festival).


She has been fortunate enough to develop her full-length works with Jackalope Theatre Company, Sideshow Theatre Company, The New Colony, Broken Nose Theatre, and First Floor Theater, where she currently serves as Literary Manager. She is a member of the Wampus Cat Collective. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2018 with degrees in English and Gender and Sexuality Studies.