By Lynn Venhaus

Clayton Community Theatre was the big winner at this year’s Arts For Life’s fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, taking the top prizes for both Outstanding Production of a Comedy  – “Biloxi Blues” – and Outstanding Production of a Drama – “A Soldier’s Play.” Combined, the two plays won eight awards.

The 2020 Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions of dramas and comedies during 2019, included winners in 18 non-musical play categories. Nine community theater companies throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan region, including three counties in the metro-east, participate in the TMAs.

This year’s event was a pre-recorded virtual presentation online on Saturday, July 18, instead of the usual brunch because of the coronavirus pandemic. Originally scheduled for April 4, the TMAs were moved to mid-July, then ultimately cancelled because of the public health emergency and the gathering restrictions in St. Louis County.

Melissa Boyer and Tim Naegelin, members of the TMA Steering Committee and the Arts For Life board of directors, were the co-hosts. Brant McCance was the tech and video coordinator.

“We were able to still provide an opportunity for our local arts community to come together online and celebrate the many outstanding achievements of the previous year,” said AFL President Mary McCreight.

Clayton Community Theatre, formed in 1998, also was honored for Outstanding Large Ensemble for “Biloxi Blues,” and Director Sam Hack. It was back-to-back wins for their Eugene Trilogy by Neil Simon. In 2018, they won comedy production and direction for “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” The second play in Simon’s semi-autobiographical series won five awards overall.

Two “Biloxi Blues” actors were recognized – Michael Bouchard for Lead Actor and Sam Guillemette for Supporting Actor in a Comedy.

“A Soldier’s Play” won three, including Nada Vaughn for Director of a Drama and Nathan Schroeder for Lighting Design of a Play. Schroeder was a previous winner for “Macbeth” in 2015.

Clayton Community Theatre had notched 24 nominations — “Biloxi Blues” (13), “A Soldier’s Play” (10) and “Eurydice” (1). CCT also broke a record for having the most acting nominations from a single show – 8 for “Biloxi Blues.”

Other multiple award winners included Act Two Theatre, two for “Plaza Suite” – Amanda McMichael for Lead Actress in a Comedy and Jean Heckmann for Costume Design of a Play; Monroe Actors Stage Company for “It’s a Wonderful Life” – Sarah Polizzi for Supporting Actress and Randy Manning for Supporting Actor in a Drama; and Theatre Guild of Webster Groves won two – Matthew Linhardt for Lead Actor in Drama as McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Anna Drake as Outstanding Juvenile Performer for ‘The Bad Seed.”

O’Fallon TheatreWorks won two for “The Miracle Worker” – Kaylee Ryan for Lead Actress in a Drama as Helen Keller and Chris and Ellie Lanham for Outstanding Set Design of a Play, which they have won two previous times – in 2016 for “The Diary of Anne Frank” and in 2018 for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Awards went to Alton Little Theater for Outstanding Small Ensemble in a Play – “A Twisted Christmas Carol” and Looking Glass Playhouse for Supporting Actress in a Comedy – Pam Boker in “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves had led all area community theaters with 27 nominations.

Special Achievement Awards went to Alton Little Theater for “Vintage Voices” and Hawthorne Players for “Voices of Valhalla: Hayrides through History,” both unique applications of theater that take place in the fall around Halloween. Each theater troupe presents stories of the people buried in local cemeteries.

The 40-minute awards video is available on the AFL You Tube channel: https://youtu.be/5Peni8T5UA8

AFL had previously announced the switch to virtual for the Best Performance Awards, which honors musical theater and youth productions. That ceremony was streamed Sunday, June 14, at 2 p.m. on the AFL YouTube channel.

TMA winners have an opportunity to send an acceptance speech to AFL, and it will be posted on social media.

For the groups who have not picked up their trophies, please contact Mary McCreight at [email protected]

To see a complete list of the nominees and winners for both TMAs and BPAs, visit the website: www.artsforlife.org

“As our world, our nation and our region face a major health threat, it falls upon us as a community to adopt measures that will both foster the protection of those who work and ‘play’ in Metro St. Louis community theatre and ultimately allow AFL to continue our charitable mission of service and recognition once the threat passes,” McCreight added.

McCreight said AFL appreciates the support shown during these difficult times.

“I am incredibly grateful to all of our constituencies – the board, judges, participating groups, audience members and donors – for their commitment to AFL and their engagement and unwavering support of our local theatre community during these uncertain times,” McCreight said.

AFL was founded in 1994 by Lucinda Gyurci as a local non-profit organization dedicated to the healing power of the arts through its work with youth, the under-served and the community. The BPAs have honored musical theater since 1999 and the TMAs have honored plays since 2015.

“We hope that you and your loved ones stay safe during this difficult time,” McCreight said. “Because of your commitment to our community and belief in our mission, my optimism is not diminished about AFL being able to move forward once this unprecedented time passes.” 

For more information, contact AFL TRG Secretary Kim Klick at [email protected]

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By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Treat Mom to a play or musical this weekend? Or next weekend! Any time is the
right time to Go See a Play! Here’s what is happening now.  And make time for the Tennessee Williams
Festival! Only once a year, and the time is now!

“Biloxi Blues” Clayton Community Theatre May 2-12 Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. but no performance May 10 Washington University South Campus Theatre 314-721-9228www.placeseveryone.org

What It’s About: The second in “The Eugene Trilogy,” Neil
Simon’s semi-autobiographical comedy centers on the contest of wills between a
drill sergeant and an intellectual recruit at an Army base in Biloxi, Miss., in
1943. Along the way, he loses his innocence in many ways.

“Death Tax” Mustard Seed Theatre May 9 – 19 Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre What It’s About:  by Lucas Hnath “As Maxine nears the end of her life she is certain of three things: Death, Taxes and the Greed of her daughter who wants her to die quickly. A desperate nurse vows to keep her alive, but at what cost? Darkly comic, the play explores morality and forgiveness.” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

“Dear Mr. Williams” The Tennessee Williams Festival Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 3:30 and 8:30 p.m., May 10 and 11 Curtain Call Lounge www.twstl.org What It’s About: The blue devils of sex, alcohol, and mendacity take center stage in this tender and funny coming-of-age story of a young gay artist. With the great American playwright as his compass, writer and performer Batt takes us on a thrilling and very personal journey out of the shadows into a bright light of self-discovery. The tumultuous-and sometimes treacherous-journey from adolescence to adulthood is one we all must take, but Batt’s one-man tour de force proves that it’s oh so much more fascinating and fun with Tennessee Williams as your guide. “Freaky Friday” Curtain’s Up Theater Company May 10-12 Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Dunham Theatre, SIUEwww.curtainsuptheater.com

What It’s About: Based on the Disney movie, “Freaky Friday” is a musical about a mother and daughter changing places to comical effect.  

“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” The Tennessee Williams Festival May 11- 19 Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m.  www.twfstl.org

What It’s About: Four eccentric and unforgettable women fry
chicken, plan a picnic to Creve Coeur Lake, and cope with loneliness and lost
dreams in an efficiency apartment on Enright Avenue in the Central West End
circa the mid-1930s. Williams gives us more laughs than usual, but no less
poetry or poignancy. Williams believed that growing up in St. Louis was
essential to the shape of his work. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one of
his few plays set here, and was the inspiration behind TV’s “The Golden
Girls.

Director: Kari Ely
Starring: Kelly Weber, Ellie Schwetye,  

Madea’s Farewell Play Tour May 10 – 12 Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 and 7:30 p.m. The Fabulous Fox Theatre www.fabulousfox.com What It’s About: Tyler Perry’s 21st stage play Starring: Tyler Perry, Tamela Mann, David Mann and Cassi Davis Patton

“Mamma Mia!” Alton Little Theater May 10-19 Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. 2450 N. Henry in Alton 6180462-6562www.altonlittletheater.org What It’s About: Love, mishaps, and music by ABBA will have audiences dancing in the aisles again as they feel transported to the Greek Island of Kalokairi on the eve of a wedding.

“Mamma Mia!” Looking Glass Playhouse May 2 – 12 Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. 301 W. St. Louis St., Lebanon, Ill.www.lookingglassplayhouse.com 618-537-4962

What It’s About: Through ABBA’s hits, a romantic comedy
tell the hilarious story of a young woman’s search for her birth father. This
sunny and funny tale unfolds on a Greek island paradise. On the eve of her
wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three
men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago. A
mother. A daughter. Three possible dads.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” Kirkwood Theatre Guild May 3-5, 9-12 Evenings at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Robert G. Reim Theatre Website: https://www.ktg-onstage.org/ 314-821-9956

What It’s About: A screwball comedy set in the Prohibition
era with songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Elegant socialists and boorish
bootleggers clash, when playboy Jimmy Winter meets a female bootlegger, Billie
Bendix, on the weekend of his third or fourth wedding.

“The Night of the Iguana” Tennessee Williams Festival May 9 – 19 The Grandel Theatre What It’s About: based on Williams’ 1948 short story, which was then developed into three acts for Broadway production in 1961. A Tony nominee for Best Play, it was adapted into a 1964 movie, directed by John Huston, that starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The play focuses on a former minister, barred from his church for defaming God, who works as a tour guide. He is accused of statutory rape of a 16-year-old girl in his tour group. Director: Tim Ocel Starring: James Andrew Butz, Lavonne Byers, Hannah Sturgis, Harry Weber, Spencer Sickmann, Greg Johnson, Victor Mendes, Luis Aguilar.“Over the Tavern” The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves May 3 – 11 Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.www.theatreguildwg.org 314-962-0876 What It’s About: In that most idealized period of 20th-century America, the Eisenhower years of the 1950s, the Pazinski family has a lot going on in their cramped Buffalo apartment. The youngest of the bunch, 12-year-old Rudy, is a smart, wise-cracking kid who’s starting to question family values and the Roman Catholic Church. When Rudy goes up against the ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa and announces that instead of being confirmed he’d rather shop around for a more “fun” religion, all hell breaks loose.” Parental discretion is advised.

Director: Warren Frank Starring: Henry Alverson, Jimmy Hall, Andrea Jacobson, Tracy Murphy, Pepi Parshall, Declan Ryan, Patrick Ryan “Salt, Root and Roe” Upstream Theatre April 26 – May 12 Shows at 8 p.m. except Sundays at 7 p.m. but May 12 at 2 p.m. Kranzberg Arts Centerwww.upstreamtheater.org What It’s About: Tim Price’s play is about the nature of change, the comfort of home and the eternal bond of love, set against the mythical backdrop of the Pembrokeshire coast in western Wales. Identical twins Iola and Anest, who are devoted to age other and aging fast. Anest’s daughter, Menna, rushes to her long-abandoned childhood home where her own ideas of love and compromise are tested to the limit. Director: Kenn McLaughlin Cast: Donna Weinsting, Sally Edmundson, Eric Dean White, Amy Loui

Of Note: A U.S. premiere in co-production with Stages
Repertory Theatre of Houston.