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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
So, how does one find inspiration to play Mother Teresa? Rachel Tibbetts thought of a popular TV sitcom.
In “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Mustard Seed Theatre, she plays Mother Teresa and two other characters – St. Thomas and Loretta.
“Mother Teresa is such a blast. I am approaching her as Mother Teresa meets ‘The Golden Girls,’” she said.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing three characters. I love the challenge of playing with physicality and voice to move from character to the next.”
The irreverent dark comedy explores the afterlife of former apostle Judas, wanting to know if sin or grief or grace will prevail, and runs from Oct. 1 to Oct. 28, Wednesday through Sunday, with no Friday performance. It is recommended for mature audiences.

The Last Days of Judas IscariotTibbetts is not the only cast member with multiple roles or who switches genders — 27 diverse characters are woven into a courtroom in downtown Purgatory, part of a jury trial to determine if Judas should remain in Hell. After all, who’s to blame/at fault for his notorious place in history, damned for all-time, his lawyer argues.
The historical and Biblical characters are sinners and saints. The play by Stephen Adly Guirgis was originally staged off-Broadway at The Public Theatre in 2005, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Guirgis went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2015, for “Between Riverside and Crazy.”
Her longtime friend and colleague Carl Overly Jr. portrays attorney El-Fayoumy.
“Carl and I get to have so much fun on stage together. It’s also very exciting to be included in an ensemble that beautifully reflects our community,” she said.
Adam Flores, resident artist at Fontbonne University, directed the production. Locally, it is the second time a regional company is tackling the show — HotCity Theatre staged it in 2006.
Besides Tibbetts and Overly, the ensemble includes: Courtney Bailey Parker, Rae Davis, Graham Emmons, FeliceSkye, Carmen Garcia, Chelsea Krenning, Jesse Munoz, Ariella Rovinsky, Chandler Spradling, Chris Ware and Eric Dean White.
Active in regional theater for more than 10 years, Tibbetts has become one of St. Louis’ most versatile artists working today.
Little Thing Big Thing with Joe HanrahanIn the past three years alone, Tibbetts has played a nun on the run, a faux vampire, a German matron trying to make sense of the World War II fallout, Athena goddess of war, a spoiled social climber in hell, Lady Macbeth, an exotic secret agent in a Hitchcock movie parody, a Spanish painter and Harvard star-mapper.
She is a founding member of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, and has been in productions at The Midnight Company, ERA (Equally Represented Arts) Theatre, R-S Theatrics, Tennessee Williams Festival, Young Liars and West End Players Guild.
While she has been able to portray many memorable roles, one of her all-time favorite experiences was this past winter, when she played trailblazing ‘astronomer’ (data entry clerk) Henrietta Swan Leavitt in Laurwn Gunderson’s play “Silent Sky” in the West End Players Guild production.
Silent Sky, with Michelle Hand, Jamie Pitt and Rachel Tibbetts. Photo by John Lamb“I don’t know if a day has gone by since we closed where I haven’t thought about this particular line: ‘Because wonder will always get us there.’ Every aspect of working on ‘Silent Sky’ was truly an experience of wonder – the script, the director, the cast, the production ensemble,” she said.
“My grandmother passed away while working on the show. She was always supportive of me as an artist. My heart hurt, and still does, from her death, but working on the show gifted me healing,” she said.
No Exit. Photo by Joey RumpellShe has dedicated her work this year to “Grams.” And she has kept busy.
Tibbetts doesn’t only act — she directed “Run-On Sentence” for SATE this spring. With Lucy Cashion, she co-directed a new adaptation of “Antigone” at the women’s prison in Vandalia, which was a collaboration between Saint Louis University and Prison Performing Arts.
As a co-producer, she is working on a new translation of “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus” for SATE, which opens Oct. 31. She co-produced the second annual Aphra Behn Emerging Artists’ Festival with SATE this spring.
She also filmed a movie based on Anton Chekhov’s “Platonov” with ERA Theatre and Sleepy Kitty.
Theater takes up most of her waking life.
After earning a B.A. in theatre from Oklahoma State University, she found an internship opportunity with the Delaware Theatre Company’s education department.
“I had an interest in education as well,” she said, noting that she has worked with Young Audiences of St. Louis and is a graduate of the Community Arts Training Institute at the Regional Arts Commission in 2006-2007.
This year, she marked 13 years with Prison Performing Arts and is currently their Director of Youth Programs.
“It’s very much an honor to create and collaborate with the adult and youth artists in all of our facilities,” she said.
“I have been lucky enough to have always had a job in the arts since college, and I’m very grateful to make my living doing what I love to do,” she said.
Maggie Conroy and Rachel in ERA’s “Trash Macbeth” 2016She moved to St. Louis in 2003. After getting a divorce in 2006, she discovered SATE through her friend Kim. She accompanied her to a training session and met founder Margeau Baue Steinau, and two years later, she met another kindred spirit, founder Ellie Schwetye.
“I am the artist who I am and have had the opportunities I’ve had because of them,” she said.
She considers working with her SATE family “fun, exhilarating and challenging.”
“Ellie and I focus on creating an environment where people can experiment and have fun. It’s also extremely important to us to create a community where everyone – on stage and off – feel like both themselves and their work matter,” she said.
“And I’m really proud of the magic our coven creates – our coven being Ellie, myself, Bess Moynihan and Liz Henning (resident designers),” she said.
Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts accepting award for Best Ensemble – Comedy for “First Impressions” at 2018 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards. Photo by Gerry LoveShe and Ellie are the yin and yang.
“Ellie and I work well because we complement each other. We definitely are two different individuals in many ways, and I love that about us. It creates a relationship, both personal and professional, where we can continually grow from working with — and just knowing –each other,” she said.
Because wonder will always get us there.
Here are Rachel’s answers to our Take Ten Questions:
Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I was obsessed with the movie “Annie” as a little girl. I had the red dress. We owned the record. I would wander around the house singing, “Amaya, Amaya, I love ya Amaya,” because I couldn’t pronounce the word tomorrow. My mom tells me that there are moments where she wanted to get rid of the record because I just wouldn’t stop, but she didn’t, and I am thankful.
My parents always encouraged me to pursue the arts.
They were always taking me to see plays and musicals, but beyond the doors of our homes (my dad was in the Air Force and we moved a lot), I was pretty shy. I finally started taking theatre classes in middle school. It really helped me find my voice and a community. I was lucky to have an incredible drama teacher in high school and she also encouraged me.
2, How would your friends describe you?
Recently, a very dear friend, described me as a love-magnet. I love this. I think they would also describe me as loopy and they know what they mean.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
“Watching the ‘Real Housewives’ and then gossiping about the Real Housewives with my friends Andrew and Carl, hanging at the Crow’s Nest with Bess.”
What is your current obsession?
“Stranger Things.” I can’t leave Target without purchasing a new t-shirt. I now have a one tee limit anytime I leave there. I love everything about that show because it reminds me of everything I loved about my childhood – “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” “Ghostbusters.”
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
“I’m not afraid of spiders. And maybe that I’m 40.”
St. Louis Theater Circle Awards 2018, SATE winners of Best Ensemble – Comedy and Best New Play for “First Impressions”Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
“In 2006, I got divorced and I was really searching for something, so a good friend of mine, Kim, invited me to join her for a Monday night training with Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Then, I met Margeau. And two years later, I met Ellie. I am the artist who I am and have had the opportunities I’ve had because of them.”
Who do you admire most?
“My mom and dad, Paul and Judy. They are the kindest people I know. And they make me laugh so much.”
What is at the top of on your bucket list?
“To see Kendrick Lamar in concert.”
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
“Eat cheese and drink margaritas at Mi Ranchito.”
What’s next?
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” with Mustard Seed Theatre – actor; “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus” – co-producer; and “First Impressions” – directing a remount performance at the women’s prison in Vandalia, Mo.
Her parents are moving here in December, so she has that to look forward to, too.
The Cherry Sisters Revisited. Rachel is bottom row, middle.MORE ON RACHEL TIBBETTS
Name: Rachel TibbettsAge: 40Birthplace: Rapid City, South DakotaCurrent location: Where St. Louis City and Maplewood meetFamily: Paul and Jude, my parents, and my fur kids: Lyric, Monroe, and RubyEducation: B.A. in Theatre from Oklahoma State UniversityDay job: Director of Youth Programs for Prison Performing ArtsFirst job: Server at Simple Simon’s Pizza in Enid, Okla.First role: Cobweb in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”Favorite roles/plays: Effie/”The Cherry Sisters,” Every role in “R+J: A Telephone Play,” Horatio in “Remember Me,” Henrietta in “Silent Sky”Dream role/play: I don’t have one.Awards/Honors/Achievements: Best Ensemble in a Comedy for “The 39 Steps” (St. Louis Theater Circle) and SATE won “Best Production of a Comedy for “As You Like It” and Best Ensemble in a Comedy/Best New Play for “First Impressions.”
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Because wonder will always get us there…” –  from Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky”
A song that makes you happy: “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and with modern technology we can listen to it whenever we want.
“Judgment at Nuremburg” with Joe Hanrahan. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

Local actor-singer lands national tour, Tony-nominated local playwright ready for another Broadway go-round, managing editor Lynn Venhaus back on Broadway (the street) and reflects on Neil Simon, local fest in lieu of Lou Fest and more!
SOMETHING WONDERFUL: St. Louis’s own Mark Saunders has landed a plum role in a national tour of the Tony-nominated musical “Something Rotten!” He is playing Brother Jeremiah, the father of Portia, a Puritan girl who falls in love with the single Bottom brother, Nigel.
The new Work Light Productions’ non-Equity tour will launch Sept. 19 at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Georgia, and he’ll be on the road until next June. The tour includes a one-day stop in March at the Stifel Theatre (formerly the Peabody).
This hilarious musical comedy tells the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, two playwrights stuck in the shadow of that Renaissance rock-star William Shakespeare. When a soothsayer foretells the next big thing in theatre involves singing, dancing, and acting at the same time, the Bottom brothers set out to write the world’s very first musical.
“Something Rotten!” premiered on Broadway in 2015 and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, with Christian Borle winning for Best Featured Actor as Shakespeare.
So, how did this exciting opportunity happen? Mark, a St. Louis native and graduate of Bishop DuBourg High School, said he responded to an audition notice and asked for advice from a friend who had worked on the producing side of the original Broadway production.

“After chatting with him, and a lot of amazing people helping me out, I was able to get my materials (headshot, resume, website, etc.) to the casting agency and they called me in for an audition,” he said.
It was on his birthday, a Monday. He was called back that Thursday and found out the next day he was cast.
“It was even crazier because the day that I found out and flew home, I had to perform a piece by Rachmaninov in Russian with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. So, I landed around 3-ish and had to get my life together and be at Powell Hall for a concert at 7 p.m. It was a crazy nine days from the day that I got the initial email to the day that I found out that I booked the show,” he said.
Currently, he is rehearsing in NYC. During the past few weeks, he has been getting fittings done, and taking care of other logistics.
When he had a shoe fitting for a custom pair of boots at LaDuca, he described it as “an insanely happy moment.”
“You hear about all these kinds of moments, but when it’s actually you, it’s crazy!” he said. “I’m super excited that we’re going to play the Stifel Theatre in St. Louis on March 13, 2019! I can’t wait to share this amazing cast and show with my family and friends.”
Born and raised in Dogtown, Mark has worked different day jobs while pursuing performing opportunities. Recently, he was in Union Avenue Opera’s “Lost in the Stars” and can be seen in a Missouri Lottery commercial for The Voice VIP Promotion. He has been a paid singer with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus for the past five years.
In addition to Mark, the cast features Matthew Baker as Shakespeare, Matthew Janisse as Nick Bottom, Greg Kalafatas as Nostradamus, Emily Kristen Morris as Bea, Jennifer Elizabeth Smith as Portia, and Richard Spitaletta as Nigel Bottom.
For more info or tickets, visit www.rottenbroadway.com
Bravo and Break a Leg!
***IN LIEU FESTIVAL: Sunday will still be a Fun Day, thanks to the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, who has come to the rescue of local bands without a venue now that the Lou Fest has been cancelled.
“The Sound of St. Louis Showcase,” a free musical festival will take place on two stages — at The Grandel Theatre and the Dark Room (in the Grandel) — from 2 to 10 p.m. Sept. 9 in the Grand Center Arts District.
In addition to the Kranzbergs, other sponsors include Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, Gaslight, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, Express Scripts, and Red Bull are presenting this showcase of “some of the best talent in our vibrant music scene. Help us uplift and celebrate ‘The Sound of St. Louis.’ More local vendors may become involved.
The local line-up includes Ben Reece’s Unity Quartet, Bob DeBoo, The Burney Sisters, Dracla, Grace Basement, Jesse Gannon, Kasimu-tet, Kevin Bowers, Nova, The Knuckles, Mo Egeston, Owen Ragland, Ptah Williams Trio, The River Kittens, Scrub & Ace Ha and Tonina.
***
GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Oh, what a beautiful day! You can win two free tickets to “Oklahoma!” at Stages St. Louis for either this Friday or Saturday.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration will open at Stages St. Louis Sept. 7 and will run through Oct. 7. When it debuted on Broadway 75 years ago, it changed the face of the American musical, and ran for more than five years.
Were you in a school production, in community theater or professional regional theater? It seems many people were. Who is your favorite among the iconic characters?
Such history! Those unforgettable classic songs “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “I Cain’t Say No” and “Kansas City,” not to mention the title number, always stay with you.
You can see Stages’ fresh take on this historic musical by entering our Go See a Play Poll. Respond to our poll question on who your favorite iconic character is, along with your name and phone number, and send to: [email protected] by noon Friday, Sept. 7. We will draw a name, and you can choose either Friday or Saturday, Sept. 7 or 8, at 8 p.m. performance – two tickets. We’ll let you know and help arrange your selected evening with the fine folks at Stages St. Louis.
Who is your favorite character from “Oklahoma!”?
Ado Annie Carnes
Aunt Eller
Gertie Cummings
Jud Fry
Ali Hakim
Curly McClain
Will Parker
Laurey Williams
Peter Wochniak photo
***THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Every year, new theater troupes pop up in the metropolitan St. Louis area, but perhaps the biggest growth is with youth groups. The Debut Theatre started this year and all proceeds benefit Pedal the Cause, which funds cancer research. The youth-founded group will present its third Acting Against Cancer event with a performance of “Into the Woods” on Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Chesterfield YMCA.
Debut Theatre Company was founded by youth to promote life-long learning and appreciation of the arts toward a more conscious and compassionate community. Its goal is to engage, inspire and entertain.
The mission statement includes: “We hope to make a difference for our artists, our audiences and those who benefit through our charitable cause. This youth centered company celebrates the essential power of the theatre to illuminate our common humanity.”
In the metro-east, St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church music director Stephen Eros and his wife, Jamie Marble Eros, music director at St. Clare School, organized a community theatre troupe to present “Godspell,” with 13 adults and teens in the cast, last month. A 25-member children’s chorus, which rehearsed through a week-long music camp at the church, joined the cast for two public performances.
***SIDE BY SIDE: Tony nominee Chad Beguelin of Centralia, Ill., is gearing up for another Broadway opening. He co-wrote the book with Bob Martin and lyrics for the musical “The Prom,” which begins previews Oct. 23, along with writing partner Matthew Sklar, who composed the music.
Chad Beguelin of Centralia, Ill. on 42nd Street near graphics of shows he’s both a part of on Broadway. Photo provided.He posted this recent picture in front of the Longacre Theatre at 220 W. 42nd Street, the new home of “The Prom,” while “Aladdin” is currently running next door, at the New Amsterdam Theatre. He wrote the book and new lyrics to the 2011 musical “Aladdin,” invited by Alan Menken to do so, and landed his third and fourth Tony nominations in the process. Fun to have two of your shows collide (his other major works include “The Wedding Singer” – Tony nominations for book and lyrics — and “Elf”). The duo’s website is: www.sklarandbeguelin.com
“The Prom” is about a canceled high school dance and four fading Broadway stars who seize the opportunity to fight for justice — and a piece of the spotlight
Beth Leavel and Adam HellerBest wishes to Muny favorite Beth Leavel and her leading man, Adam Heller, on their recent engagement. They played Rose and Herbie in The Muny production of “Gypsy” this summer, and she is preparing to star in The Prom.” They are shown here attending the 2015 premiere of “It Shoulda Been You.”
Those aren’t the only local connections. “The Prom” producers include Jack Lane, Terry Schnuck and Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, all of St. Louis.
Talk about timing! New Line Theatre will produce “Be More Chill” in May, and the musical sensation is moving to Broadway in March.
Attagirls to the MVPs of SATE, who dealt with an audience medical emergency during the final performance of “No Exit” at The Chapel Sept. 1. Kudos to Kristen Strom, stage manager; Bess Moynihan, director; and Ellie Schwetye, producer for the cool and calm efforts.
(And another round of applause for the cast – Rachel Tibbetts, Shane Signorino, Sarah Morris and Katy Keating — for their professionalism).
***,
WORD: “I can’t take his genius anymore.” – Rita Hayworth, on divorcing Orson Welles.
On Sept. 7, 1943, Welles whisked Hayworth away from the set of “Cover Girl” and they were married at the Santa Monica City Hall. She was 25, he was 28. Their marriage would last less than four years; they had one daughter, Rebecca.
***
BROADWAY BOUND:  During a recent trip to NYC to visit my youngest son, I was fortunate to see “Straight White Men” starring Armie Hammer, Josh Charles, Paul Schneider and Stephen Payne, with introduction and some supporting work from Kate Bournstein and Ty Dafoe, at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre. It is a 10-week limited run ending Sept. 9.
Charlie and Lynn Venhaus at Helen Hayes Theatre, Aug. 26.Written by Young Jean Lee, she is the first Asian-American female playwright to be produced on Broadway. She provided laughter and poignancy, striking a chord about family interactions when you are grown-ups.
The Helen Hayes Theatre is the smallest on Broadway, at 597 seats, and recently renovated to become Second Stage’s new home.
It starts out on Christmas Eve with a widowed dad and his three grown sons — two who live out of town. With its Christmas setting, the play about family dynamics and the responsibilities that come with education and privilege lends itself to the intimate atmosphere. It’s 90 minutes, no intermission.
All the actors were good – convincing as a real family – but Paul Schneider is the one I’d for sure single out for awards. I hope it’s considered for multiple Tony Award nominations.
So many people connected with this show were Steppenwolf Theatre veterans and involved in the “This Is Our Youth” revival that both sons and I saw at the Cort Theatre in November 2014, notably director Anna D. Shapiro and scenic designer Todd Rosenthal. They also launched Tracey Letts’ “August: Osage County.”
No wonder this was so tip-top. I can see local theater groups wanting to produce it, and there is plenty of local talent to fill those roles. I suspect I will see it again. This play will likely have a good run with groups across the country.
***
Barbra Streisand sings “Don’t Rain on My Parade”TRIVIA TIME-OUT:  Fifty years ago, the movie adaptation of “Funny Girl” premiered on Sept. 8, 1968, earning Barbra Streisand her first Oscar for her first movie role. However, she had originated the role of Fanny Brice on Broadway.
The Academy Award was the first and only tie for Best Actress. Who did she share the award with?
What was Streisand’s second Oscar for?
In 1964, Streisand lost the Tony Award for her performance in “Funny Girl” to what actress?
Answers:
Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter”
Best Song: “Evergreen” from “A Star is Born”
Carol Channing for “Hello, Dolly!”
TRIBUTE: He was one of my first theater idols and continued to be a favorite, decades later. I discovered Neil Simon in high school, used “The Star-Spangled Girl” for speech competition (comedy interp) senior year, was in his plays “Fools” (Lenya) and “Plaza Suite” (Karen) in community theatre, and made it a point to see pretty much all his shows.
He influenced me in the way he wrote such distinct characters with specific snippets of dialogue to give you hilarious insights into their personalities. He had such an impact on modern comedy!
On Aug. 26, the day Neil Simon died, at age 91, I happened to be in New York City and was planning a Broadway afternoon. So I went by the Neil Simon Theatre to pay my respects and see any tributes.
The playwright had written over 30 plays and movie scripts, mostly adaptations of his own works, but a few originals (“The Out-of-Towners” and “The Goodbye Girl.”)
We headed to the Neil Simon Theatre on W. 52nd in the twilight — as all the marquees began to light up the night, I knew the sign would be dark as a tribute to the legendary funny man. A small memorial had started.
His influence on comedy writers was significant. I read “The Odd Couple” when I was 15 and had never laughed so hard. That was around the time I saw the 1967 movie “Barefoot in the Park” with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, who had played Paul on Broadway. Then I saw “Promises, Promises” with Jerry Orbach at the Muny in 1970, and I marveled at genius. That man was a quip machine!
I realized that reading/seeing Simon’s plays had given me a yearning to see NYC (along with early Woody Allen movies). It was his town, his people. He taught us Midwesterners all about the Big Apple.
Now it was back to my son Charlie’s apartment in Brooklyn, where once upon a time I envisioned Eugene being scolded by his Mom Blanche as he envisioned himself pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is one of the few Simon works that makes me cry).
Thank you, Mr. Simon, for making us laugh and recognize ourselves along the way.
Lynn Venhaus as Lenya in Monroe Actors Stage Company’s “Fools” in November 2009.What are your favorites? Please add your comments.
“Fools” was the funniest play I ever was in, and it was my final performance in community theater.