By Lynn Venhaus

Throughout a long and illustrious career as a professional actor and director, Alan Knoll has been a steady and appreciated presence in St. Louis regional productions. This year, he’s as busy as ever, appearing as flawed dads in two plays — “We All Fall Down” and “August: Osage County,” and directing an acclaimed drama — “Red” — later this summer.

Knoll estimates he has been in more than 150 productions, with his current turn as Saul Stein, a retired history professor, in “We All Fall Down,” now playing at New Jewish Theatre through June 16.

“It appears to be around my 153rd show since I started acting ‘professionally’ right after college. That doesn’t include the many shows I did at St. Mary’s High School, St. Louis University, and all those little gigs I took right out of school that didn’t pay a little something,” he said.

The parts of Saul Stein and Charlie Aiken Sr. this year have been enriching, he said. He has moved easily between comedic and dramatic parts, with occasional forays into musicals.

“This is the year of the family dramedy for me, for sure. Playing Saul Stein in ‘We All Fall Down’ at the New Jewish Theatre took me down an unexpected road of reflecting on my own dad and what he went through at the end of his life. Playing Charlie Aiken in ;August: Osage County” gave me the opportunity to reflect on my successes and failures in raising my wonderful son,” he said.

Alan plays retired history professor Saul Stein in “We All Fall Down,” with Jenni Ryan (back) and Bridgette Bassa (right). Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

The New Jewish Theatre’s production will be its first in St. Louis, after it made its debut in 2020 at Boston’s Huntington Theatre. It illustrates the joys and heartaches of growing older, growing up, and growing to understand the value of tradition.

Mindy Shaw plays Saul’s wife Linda, a brilliant but dramatic matriarch, who wanted to bring her secular family together for their first-ever Passover seder. But as the night continues, the occasion goes from funny to poignant. The play reminds us how culture, personal identity, and family are intricately woven.

“Even with my next project, directing “Red” for the New Jewish Theatre, the play has that father-son dynamic. It brings up strong memories of me as both the son and the father,” he said.

A bonus of being in family-centered plays is the connections you make, he noted.

“The secret no one tells you about acting is every time you do a show you gain a family.  And when that show is about a family, those gained relationships can be even more intense,” he said.

As God.

He last appeared on the Wool Studio Theatre in 2018, playing the Almighty in “An Act of God.”

Knoll has worked with multiple companies in St. Louis, including The Black Rep, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Muny, St. Louis Actors’ Studio, Upstream Theater and Imaginary Theatre Company, and the defunct Insight Theater Company, Dramatic License Productions, HotCity Theatre, Muddy Waters Theatre Company and Theater Factory..

He has also worked extensively over the years at Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, which is one of Missouri’s oldest professional regional theatres, and about 160 miles from St. Louis. His wife of 26 years, Laurie McConnell, became the marketing director there in 2023, and they moved from their Dogtown neighborhood to the quaint village of Arrow Rock.

He received Kevin Kline Award acting nominations for “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Conversations with My Father.” Besides acting, he has been nominated for directing Neil Simon’s autobiographical comedies “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Broadway Bound” at New Jewish Theatre by the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards.

He has also appeared in several films, including as a prison warden in 2023’s “Penitentia,” and in the 1998 mini-series “A Will of Their Own” as a reporter, which was shot in St. Louis.

Despite his busy schedule, he graciously gave us his time to answer our Take Ten questionnaire.

With Steve Isom in “Wittenberg” at Upstream Theater.

Take Ten Q&A

1. What is special about your latest project?

“Lila Rose Kaplan’s family comedy/drama is just great. I didn’t realize it would be so special to me, but in rehearsing it, it has become a role that is very close to my heart. It has made me reflect on my own dad and what he was going through toward the end of his life.”

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?  

“It was the only thing I felt comfortable doing! As a kid, I was pretty lonely and isolated, not very happy at all. At St. Mary’s High School, I met Rich Contini, the drama teacher, which changed the trajectory of my life. That continued at SLU under the guidance of Alan Hanson, Robert Butler and Wayne Loui.”

3. How would your friends describe you?  

“What friends?
I guess as an easy-going nice guy. I hope so anyway. I have a sense of fairness and I make them laugh. Also, if you need to know who won Best Supporting Actor in 1942, I’m faster than Google.”

Alan Knoll as the U.S. president in “November” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

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

“What is this spare time you speak of? Reading, watching old movies, finding a streaming show for us to become obsessed with, walking our rescue pooch, Truman.”

5. What is your current obsession?

“Abbott Elementary and running from cicadas.” 

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

“I’m very shy.”

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life? 

“Marrying the best girl in the world, Laurie McConnell.”

8. Who do you admire most? 

“I would have to say my wife, Laurie McConnell. She’s amazingly talented and so sweet to everyone. She always becomes a rockstar at whatever she does, whether it’s in her radio career, her acting career or her marketing career. I don’t know how she does it.”

9. What is at the top of your bucket list? 

“Travel, because I have done very little of it. Touring the UK (or whatever it’s called since Brexit) is a dream of mine.”

Alan and wife Laurie McConnell. Provided photo.

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?

“2020 was scheduled to be one of my best years.   I had acting and directing gigs lined up all over the place.  None of that happened.  Of course, this nothing compared to the millions who lost their lives.

Laurie and I got through it by teaching ourselves to cook and visiting with our neighbors over the fence in the back yard.  6 feet apart of course.  It reminded us of our inter-connectedness and how we’re not in this alone.

The St Louis arts scene was terribly affected.  All the theatres shut down and some never came back. Patrons got out of the habit ongoing to the the theatre and we’re still trying to fix that.”

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

This is my hometown, but now that I don’t live here, it’s fun to see the city and all it has to offer with fresh eyes.  Forest Park, Ted Drewes, hanging out with my son in the Bevo neighborhood, Imo’s pizza, smelling the hops emanating from the brewery where my Dad worked for forty years.  I love my hometown and the Cardinals…….even this year!

12. What’s next?

“Directing “Red” for the New Jewish Theatre, then performing in “Noises Off” at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, then a long nap.”

Playing a priest in “Flanagan’s Wake” at the Playhouse at Westport. The run was cut short by the pandemic shutdown in March 2020.

More About Alan Knoll

Name: Alan Vincent Stephen Knoll
Age: My wife Laurie says I act like I’m 12
Birthplace: St Louis
Current location: Home base, Arrow Rock, Mo.  Currently working in St Louis.
Family: Laurie McConnell & Ben Knoll
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Saint Louis University
Day job: Dog walker (just mine….unpaid)
First job:  Dishwasher at Al Smith’s restaurant on Grand, 7 Meramec in South St Louis
First play or movie you were involved in or made: My first play was the Caine Mutiny Court Martial.  I was a sophomore in high school.
Dream job/opportunity: I really want to play Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”
Awards/Honors/Achievements: The late, great Riverfront Times named me Best Actor as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
A Woody award as a best supporting actor for the Black Rep’s “Intimate Apparel.” A Piglet Award for directing “Putnam County Spelling Bee” for St. Louis University.
Being enough of a working actor to earn a pension from Actor’s Equity.
Favorite quote/words to live by: Dying is easy, Comedy is hard — Edmund Gwenn
A song that makes you happy: “Gimme Shelter” – The Rolling Stones

The ensemble cast of The Rep’s “August: Osage County.” Alan is in the foreground, center.
Facebook Comments
Facebook Comment