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! 

September 2020 will mark the beginning of St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s fourteenth season theme “Dramedy.”

As we continue our exploration of  human relationships, we present an offering of plays this season that tell stories of expectant families, existing relations and belief systems that we use to blame our choices and actions. Season 14 will make you think and laugh until you cry.

Our 2020-21 season:
And Baby Makes Seven by Paula Vogel
Directed by Associate Artistic Director, Annamaria Pileggi
September 18 – October 4, 2020 

Anna, Ruth and Peter await the arrival of their newborn child, but first they must rid the crowded apartment of their three imaginary children. 

“AND BABY MAKES SEVEN is a profound and clever comedy.” —Drama-Logue.

“What’s remarkable about BABY—a really lovely play—is the sense of innocence and optimism that rises from potentially dark subject matter.” —Philadelphia City Paper.

“AND BABY MAKES SEVEN is a hilariously inventive play. Playwright Vogel’s writing is witty and precise.” —Daily Californian.

“Filled with outrageous touches, AND BABY MAKES SEVEN offers one of those rare theatergoing opportunities where everything comes together in a string of magical moments. Be prepared to be enchanted seven times over.” —Austin American Statesman.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN
By Young Jean Lee
Directed by Joanna Battles
December 4 – December 20, 2020 

When Ed and his three adult sons come together to celebrate Christmas, they enjoy cheerful trash-talking, pranks, and takeout Chinese. Then they confront a problem that even being a happy family can’t solve: When identity matters, and privilege is problematic, what is the value of being a straight white man?

“The signal surprise of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN, written by the ever-audacious Young Jean Lee, is that the play is not a full-frontal assault on the beings of the title…Ms. Lee’s fascinating play goes far beyond cheap satire, ultimately becoming a compassionate and stimulating exploration of one man’s existential crisis. Believe it or not, Ms. Lee wants us to sympathize with the inexpressible anguish of her protagonist, a middle-aged, upper-middle-class straight white man…[A] mournful and inquisitive play…” —The New York Times.

 “A prime example of dramaturgical normcore—that is, experimental plays dressing up like fourth-wall family dramas—[STRAIGHT WHITE MEN] tickles your soft aesthetic underbelly, before easing in the knife of reality…If Lee wants to dissect the conscience of our society’s most visible and powerful population, what better mode than living-room realism, sadly, our default theatrical setting? …However, if you expect deconstruction-prone Lee to break down this form through surreal flourishes or screwing with the frame, you may be surprised. Most shocking is the absence of shock. She’s too good a writer for the drama not to work on its own terms, and as such, the result is both emotionally satisfying…and unflinching in its critique of white-driven social justice.” —Time Out NY.

 “To cut to the obvious, STRAIGHT WHITE MEN is a loaded title…But the play turns out to have a disarming gentleness to it. Lee has more sympathy for her subject than scorn…STRAIGHT WHITE MEN is a family drama that on the surface looks fairly standard, but the play transcends psychological realism. Lee is wrestling with the meaning of straight white male privilege through characters who are self-conscious beneficiaries of an identity increasingly out of favor in 21st century America yet still, like it or not, in control.” —Los Angeles Times.

Hand To God by Robert Askins
Directed by Associate Artistic Director, John Pierson
February 19- March 7, 2021

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.

The Zoo Story/The Dumb Waiter
by Edward Albee/Harold Pinter 
Directed by Associate Artistic Director, Wayne Salomon
April 16 – May 2, 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

9th Annual LaBute New Theater Festival
July 9 – August 1, 2021
A Celebrated month-long festival of world premiere one-act plays.

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.

Edward Albee, Kenneth Lonergan, Disney Princesses and the musicals “Annie” and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ among the 17th Season slate.Stray Dog Theatre is excited to announce its 2019-2020 season. All subscriptions and individual tickets will go on sale Aug, 1, 2019. For more information please visit our website at www.straydogtheatre.org. THE WHO’S TOMMY Book by Des McAnuff and Pete Townshend / Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend / Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon Back by popular demand!

Based on the iconic 1969 rock concept album, The Who’s TOMMY is an exhilarating tale of hope, healing, and the human spirit. The story of the pinball-playing, deaf, dumb, and blind boy who triumphs over his adversities has inspired and amazed audiences for 50 years. Intended for mature audiences.

Performances: October 10-26, 2019 | 8PM Thursday-Saturday, Additional Performances 10/20 at 2PM and 10/23 at 8PM

DISENCHANTED! Book, Music, Lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino Snow White and her posse of disgruntled princesses take the stage in the hilarious hit musical that’s anything but Grimm.

Forget the princesses you think you know – the original storybook heroines have come to life to set the record straight and give fairytales the bird. Intended for mature audiences. Performances: December 5-21, 2019 | 8PM Thursday-Saturday, Additional Performances 12/15 at 2PM and 12/18 at 8PM THREE TALL WOMEN By Edward Albee A young lawyer has been sent to sort-out the finances of an elderly client, although more than money is at issue.

With a nurse companion steadily alongside, the old woman’s conflicted life is laid bare in all of its charming, vicious, and wretched glory. Winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize, Three Tall Women, a semi-autobiographical view of the playwright’s mother, is often seen as Albee’s most personal and compelling play.

Performances: February 6-22, 2020 | 8PM Thursday-Saturday, Additional Performance 2/16 at 2PM

ANNIE Book by Thomas Meehan / Music by Charles Strouse / Lyrics by Martin Charnin

America’s most beloved orphan brings her special brand of moxie and determination to the musical stage! Based on the popular 1920s Harold Gray comic strip, this multiple Tony Award-winning favorite features unforgettable hits like “Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” and the iconic Broadway standard “Tomorrow.”

Performances: April 9-25, 2020 | 8PM Thursday-Saturday, Additional Performances 4/19 at 2PM and 4/22 at 8PM

Artwork by Justin Been

LOBBY HERO By Kenneth Lonergan Loyalties are strained to the breaking point when a hapless security guard is drawn into a local murder investigation; a conscience-stricken supervisor is called to bear witness against his troubled brother; and a naive rookie cop must stand up to her formidable male partner. Truth becomes elusive and justice proves costly. Performances: June 4-20, 2020 | 8PM Thursday-Saturday, Additional Performance 6/14 at 2PM THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME Music by Alan Menken / Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz / Book by Peter Parnell

Set in 15th-century Paris, Victor Hugo’s epic story of love, acceptance, and what it means to be a hero comes to life with an emotionally rich score. Including unforgettable music from the Disney film and new songs by Menken and Schwartz, this powerful production asks the question, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?”

Performances: August 6-22, 2020 | 8PM Thursday-Saturday, Additional Performances 8/16 at 2PM and 4/19 at 8PM

Artwork by Justin Been

SDT is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3), professional theatre company and is funded, in part, by Ameren Missouri; Area Resources for Community and Human
Services; Arts and Education Council; City of Saint Louis Recreation Division; City of Saint Louis Youth and Family Division; First Bank; Flooring
Systems, Inc.; Garden View Care Centers; Hesse Martone, P.C.; Lawrence Group; Missouri Arts Council; MOHELA; Regional Arts Commission; Saint
Louis Public Schools; Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated; Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association; United 4 Children; and Volunteer
Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts.