: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
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“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! 

Love at the River’s Edge , the latest new work from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ internationally recognized Shakespeare in the Streets initiative, will open on Friday, September 13, 2019. The world premiere play is based on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and is the culmination of a year’s work in Calhoun County, Illinois and north St. Louis County, Missouri. It is part of Shakespeare Festival’s ongoing work to bridge the urban-rural divide and elevate the voices of Midwest artists and residents. Love at the River’s Edge opens with one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” The players are Midwestern families and their journey of love, community and reconciliation will take audience members from Pagedale, Mo. to Calhoun County, Ill., with the mighty Mississippi in a starring role. The performances will begin at 7 p.m. outside the 24:1 Coffee House/Cafe at the intersection of Page and Ferguson.

After Act 1, the cast and audience will journey together by bus and on the Golden Eagle Ferry from north St. Louis County, across the river to Calhoun County. The second act of the production will take place on the riverbank with the Mississippi River as the backdrop. The entire experience including travel will take approximately three hours and 30 minutes. Tickets will be free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended and will open on Aug.15.

“Love at the River’s Edge” is written by acclaimed St. Louis playwright Mariah Richardson , directed by Kathryn Bentley , and shares stories from Normandy, Mo. and Brussels, Ill. The two partner communities and their surrounding counties are the Festival’s first-ever urban/rural Shakespeare in the Streets collaboration. Bentley and Richardson will be joined on the creative team by musicians Syrhea Conaway and Colin McLaughlin who will be composing original music for the production and Kendrick Lawson-Knight (Set Designer), Felia Davenport (Costumes) and Jayson M. Lawshee (Lighting Designer).

The ensemble cast is comprised of professional actors and community members and is led by local students. Included in the cast are Brussels High School graduate Lindsey Watters (Rosalind), Normandy High School student Margaret Mischeaux (Cee Cee), Brussels High School student Ellie Nolte (Phoebe), and Shakespeare Squadron alumnus Daniel Clear (Oliver). Other notable cast: Normandy High School teacher Lisa “Mama Lisa” Gage (Duchess), acclaimed St. Louis jazz singer and actress Anita Jackson (Adam), Shakespeare Festival favorite Eric Dean White (Wittmond), Shakespeare in the Streets veteran Chris Ware (Jackson) and other natives of the St. Louis, Brussels and Normandy community.

Students from Brussels High School and Normandy Schools Brussels High School student and cast member Ellie Nolte has been working on the project for the last year, “What I think is so great about this project is how we’ve been given the chance to work with people from Normandy and bridge the gap between our school and theirs. I personally really enjoy having the opportunity to work with kids my age who come from such a different background and connect with them because of our differences rather than in spite of them. It’s truly amazing how quickly I became close to these people I had never met, never even imagined meeting, and now I’m very glad I did.” “Social division and fragmentation are the most serious challenges facing our generation,” said Executive Producer Tom Ridgely in a statement. “And nowhere is the divide as wide as it often feels between our urban and our rural communities. It’s a rift Shakespeare knew intimately – he spent his entire adult life moving between the country and the city. Shakespeare in the Streets has always been about breaking down the barriers that separate us in St. Louis, and I can’t think of a more powerful way to do that than by breaking bread and sharing the stories of our good neighbors in Normandy and Brussels.” Richardson, Bentley and the SITS creative team have been working in Calhoun County and north St. Louis County since early 2018: building relationships, leading conversations and collaborating with residents to create the new play. Organizational partners include Beyond Housing, Brussels High School and the Normandy Schools Collaborative. “We are simply thrilled to be a part of this innovative, one of a kind event that brings Shakespeare in the Streets to the 24:1 footprint,” said Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO of Beyond Housing. “Linking our community with the folks from Brussels, Ill., is a great representation of how our region can come together.” 24:1 is a nationally-recognized community development effort created by Beyond Housing toaddress the fundamental challenges within the 24 municipalities in the Normandy school district in North St. Louis County.

Page and Ferguson intersection, where the play will be performed. Shakespeare in the Streets is underwritten by PNC Arts Alive with generous support from the Whitaker Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts: Creativity Connects, the Strive Fund, and Moneta Group. Leadership support for all of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ new work initiatives comes from Karen and Mont Levy. It is in partnership with Beyond Housing, the Normandy Schools Collaborative and Brussels High School. Shakespeare in the Streets ( www.sfstl.com/streets ) is an internationally-recognized program that celebrates local stories and takes high-quality professional arts directly to those who may not otherwise experience it. A Festival playwright, designer, and director spend a year conducting conversations and research in a community. The playwright draws directly from the stories shared to write an original play, inspired by the neighborhood, and based on the work of Shakespeare. With Festival resources, the community then comes together to perform the new play in a weekend-long outdoor celebration. About Shakespeare Festival St. Louis Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Shakespeare and works inspired by his legacy of storytelling. Since 2001, the festival has grown from producing a single production of Shakespeare in the Park to a year-round season of impactful theater in exciting and accessible venues throughout the St. Louis community. The festival’s artistic and education programs reached over 50,000 patrons and students during the 2018 season and have reached over one million since 2001. In 2019, the Festival received a “What’s Right with the Region” award from Focus St. Louis. Leadership support for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ 2019 season is provided by the Whitaker Foundation. The festival is also funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis. For more information, please visit www.sfstl.com, or call 314-531- 9800. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shakesfestSTL Twitter: @shakesfestSTL Instagram: ShakesfestSTL

The Golden Eagle Ferry and the Brussels, Ill. river banks.Artistic Team Bios Mariah L. Richardson (Playwright) A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Richardson received her BA in Communications from the University of New Mexico and an MFA from Smith College in Playwriting. Recipient of the Regional Arts commission $20,000 Artist Fellowship 2016, Richardson was named to the Confluence Regional Writers Project with Shakespeare Festival St. Louis for 2019. In 2018 she was their playwright fellow and helped rewrite Shakespeare in the Streets’ performance of Blow Winds . Mariah is the author of the plays: all that… , Sistahs Indeed!, Delilah’s Wish , ¡Soy Yo! , Idris Elba is James Bond, and Chasing the White Rabbit . Her last play, in partnership with Jazz St. Louis and commissioned by A Call to Conscience Theatre for Social Change, Next to Normal: The Thelonius Monk Story , premiered to sold-out crowds.Kathryn Bentley (Director) is an Associate Professor of Theater Performance at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she is the Artistic Director of SIUE’s Black Theatre Workshop as well as the Director of the Black Studies Program. Some of her directing credits include Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Colored Museum , Since Africa , Venus, Only Just a Minute , and Intimate Apparel . Kathryn is the Artistic Director of Bread and Roses Missouri. She commits herself to community-engaged arts collaborations, striving to create compassionate artistic experiences, using theater to lift social consciousness.

Mariah RichardsonKathryn Bentley

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Plays with substantial women roles were spotlighted at the seventh annual St.
Louis Theater Circle Awards March 25, with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’
musical production of “Evita” and a homegrown “A Streetcar Named Desire” from
the third annual Tennessee Williams Festival each receiving seven awards.

Both iconic female-lead shows had received the most
nominations, 11 apiece, when the Circle announced them in January. The awards
recognized outstanding work locally produced by regional professional companies
during the calendar year 2018.

Nominees Kari Ely and Michelle Hand in “Into the Breeches!”The comedy “Into the Breeches!”, the first play in Shakespeare
Festival St. Louis’ new program, “In the Works,” won four awards. The world
premiere was in January 2018, with its first St. Louis performances in
September. The comedy from Chicago playwright George Brant is about a
fictitious theater group in 1942, and with the men away at war, the director’s
wife sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V.” It had roles for
six women and two men. In addition to awards for ensemble, director Nancy Bell
and best production, Michelle Hand won best actress.

The Circle, which includes veteran area theater critics, annually recognizes outstanding work in comedies, dramas and musicals, and with two opera categories.

Each of the 33 categories featured five nominees, with 23 local companies cited for 54 shows, and 120 artists receiving nods, including 10 with two apiece.

This year, there were three ties: sound design in a play, costume design in a musical and musical ensemble.

Evita won seven awards from the Circle“Evita,” the vibrant Tony Award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, earned awards for musical direction (Charlie Alterman), choreography (Gustavo Zajac and Mariana Parma), set design (Luke Canterella), lighting (John Lasiter), director (Rob Ruggiero, his third), ensemble and production of a musical.

The landmark “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written in 1947 by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams, who spent his formative years in St. Louis, earned honors for Sophia Brown as Outstanding Actress – for her heart-wrenching portrayal of the emotionally needy and mental fragile faded beauty Blanche Dubois, sound design (original music by Henry Palkes and sound by Amanda Werre), lighting design (Sean M. Savoie), set design (James Wolk), direction (Tim Ocel), ensemble and production of a drama.

The 18 other awards went to separate shows, with both The
Black Rep and The Muny winning three apiece, and The Rep adding two more for earning
the most, nine.

Jeff Cummings and Katy Keating in “Life Sucks.” Photo by ProPhotoSTLIn comedy, Katy Keating won for Supporting Actress as feisty but unrequited lovesick Sonia in New Jewish Theatre’s “Life Sucks,” a ‘sort of’ adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Aaron Posner. She was also part of the award-winning ensemble of “Into the Breeches!”.

Isaiah Di Lorenzo in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo by Ron James.Isaiah Di Lorenzo won Supporting Actor as The Player, the leader of the Tragedians, in St. Louis Shakespeare’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” He also was in the award-winning ensemble of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Will Bonfiglio as Mary Dale in “Red Scare on Sunset.” Photo by Justin Been. Will Bonfiglio won his second Outstanding Actor Award, as film star Mary Dale in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Red Scare on Sunset.” He was honored in 2017 for the one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar,” also at Stray Dog.

For costume designs, Lou Bird won for The Rep’s “Born Yesterday” vintage wardrobe in the play category and there was a tie in the musical category between Leon Dobkowski, who won for The Muny’s colorful “The Wiz,” and Darryl Harris for the elegant “Crowns: A Gospel Musical” at The Black Rep.

There was another tie in sound design in a play – besides “Streetcar,” Rusty Wandall won for Lucas Hnath’s contemporary “The Humans” at The Rep.

Laurie McConnell, left, as Birdie Hubbard in “The Little Foxes.” Photo by Patrick HuberIn drama, Laurie McConnell won Supporting Actress as forlorn
Birdie Hubbard in St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The
Little Foxes.” She won in 2017 for Supporting Actress in a Musical, for her portrayal
of Joanne in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company.

Eric Dean White as Satan and Chris Ware as Judas. Photo by Ann AuerbachEric Dean White, a previous nominee, won Supporting Actor for playing the slick, smooth, haughty and conniving Satan in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Ron Himes in “Fences”

Another previous nominee and winner, Ron Himes won Outstanding Actor as bitter garbage collector Troy in August Wilson’s “Fences at The Black Rep last winter. In 2014, The Black Rep won best ensemble and production for “The Whipping Man.”

The Black Rep’s “Torn Asunder” best new playThe Black Rep also won Best New Play for Nikkole Salter’s “Torn
Asunder,” which dramatized true stories of newly emancipated African Americans
trying to overcome the vestiges of slavery so they could reconnect with their
families.

Joy Boland won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the imposing villainess sea witch in Variety Theater’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”

Beth Leavel as Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” Photo by Philip Hamer.For their powerhouse musical performances, Corbin Bleu won Outstanding Actor as the fleet-footed matinee idol Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain” and Beth Leavel was honored as the controlling stage parent Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” both at The Muny.

Corbin Bleu in “Singin’ in the Rain” at The Muny. Photo by Phil Hamer.Leavel had been nominated three times before (“Hello Dolly!” “Oklahoma!” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” all at the Muny. She is currently performing on Broadway in a St. Louis-produced original musical, “The Prom.”

Stephanie Merritt and Kent Coffel in “The Light in the Piazza” Kent Coffel won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as well-meaning haberdasher Signor Naccarelli, Fabrizio’s father, in “The Light in the Piazza,” presented by R-S Theatrics in its St. Louis regional premiere.

Anything Goes at New Line Theatre. Photo by Jill Ritter LindbergTying with “Evita” for musical ensemble was New Line Theatre’s vivacious “Anything Goes.”

It was a three-peat for Ruggiero, who won for directing “Evita,” and had previously been honored for The Rep’s productions of “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

“Regina” at OTSL was Outstanding Opera ProductionIn the opera categories, Opera Theatre of St. Louis was honored
for both Outstanding Achievement in Opera, which was given to director Patricia
Racette for “La Traviata,” and the Mark Blitzstein adaptation of “The Little Foxes”
— “Regina,” as Outstanding Production of an Opera.
Three special awards were bestowed:  To the
Muny for a century of performances celebrated during its centennial season of
2018; to Kathleen Sitzer, founder and long-time artistic director of the New
Jewish Theatre, for lifetime achievement; and to Steven Woolf, Augustin
artistic director of The Rep for more than 30 years, also for lifetime
achievement.

Sitzer retired after New Jewish Theatre’s 2017-18 season, while Woolf will retire after The Rep’s 2018-19 season this spring. Organized in 2012, the St. Louis Theater Circle includes founding members Steve Allen of stagedoorstl.com, Mark Bretz of the Ladue News, Robert A. Cohn of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Chris Gibson of Broadway World, Gerry Kowarsky of HEC-TV’s “Two on the Aisle,” Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX, Judith Newmark, now of judyacttwo.com, Ann Pollack of stlouiseats.typepad.com, Lynn Venhaus, now of St. Louis Limelight magazine, Bob Wilcox of HEC-TV’s Two on the Aisle, and Calvin Wilson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tina Farmer of KDHX and Michelle Kenyon of snoopstheatrethoughts.com. Eleanor Mullin is the administrator.

Those who helped produce the show at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University included Andrea Torrence and Peggy Holly, who put together the slide show; awards assistance Hannah Daines, stage manager Alycia Martin and assistant stage manager Delaney Dunster, voice-over announcer Colin Nichols and box office assistants Kimberly Sansone and Harry Ginsburg.

Renowned local musician Joe Dreyer was the accompanist and Deborah Sharn performed an opening number.

Special thanks to Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, Price Waterhouse Cooper LLC, who tabulate the Circle ballots, and to the awards certificate calligrapher Susan Zenner.

Contact the Circle by email: [email protected] and like us on Facebook.

Evita at The RepInto the Breeches! at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

“La Traviata” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Ah, Purgatory. It’s complicated. If our fate hung in the balance between a celestial playground and a worst-case scenario, how would we feel about sin and redemption?
Using Biblical passages, historical characters, street vernacular, imagined flashbacks and behavioral psychology, prodigious playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis tests our definitions of sin and grace in a bold and epic conundrum, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”
Unusual, intense and penetrating — this ambitious Mustard Seed Theatre production is an extraordinary achievement for all involved. It’s tough, tender, edgy and above all, heartfelt.
In this sprawling and fiery opus, Guirgis explores a complex dynamic between Jesus and Judas that has confounded believers for centuries. We don’t know for certain, but Guirgis’ imagination is as limitless as it is meandering. He is a man bursting with ideas, concepts, philosophical musings and diatribes.
(And cursing. Lots o’ that among his nimble wordplay. Don’t bring the kids. Definitely for mature audiences).
Intimate in setting but big-picture brilliant in scope, the play is quite a winding – and witty — journey through time and space. So buckle up, the character clashes are riveting.
Guirgis, a 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winner for drama, for “Between Riverside and Crazy,” has given us so much to mull over that I felt as if I was cramming for a theology exam. Afterwards, I was exhilarated and emotionally spent. No test. (Or is it? Hmmm…).
But I also pondered how I would answer for my actions, decisions and interactions. I want to be more mindful, such is the effect of this play – it resonates spiritually and is rooted in reality. (Or maybe it’s the Catholic guilt rearing its ugly head. Never get away from it, no matter what age).
Assessing our lives is a natural by-product of this profound play. Oh, it’s alternately subtle, harsh, dark and funny — and more, throughout its nearly 3-hour runtime.
Because the drama’s heft is so daunting, director Adam Flores tackled the demands by shrewdly assembling a fearless cast, all up for the challenge.
His assistant director is Jacob Schmidt and Stage Manager Alycia Martin must have been a drill sergeant calling the show, for 27 characters come and go in a Purgatory courtroom.
Flores firmly moves the 13 actors as if he’s masterminding a chess tournament. It’s obviously a passion project, sparked by responding to the play in 2006, and arranging this leap of faith in the Fontbonne black box.
Previously, only Hot City Theatre staged it locally, and that was 12 years ago. The off-Broadway premiere at The Public in 2005 was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and starred Sam Rockwell as Judas, Eric Bogosian as Satan and John Ortiz as Jesus of Nazareth.
The enormous level of difficulty cannot be understated. Dramaturg Elisabeth Wurm had to make sense out of a rebel yell, full of faith and doubt, in a traditional court trial frame work. It’s thoughtful and has real depth.
Scenic designer Dunsi Dai has created a minimal set of angles and platforms, and a few symbolic nods, allowing us to visualize images suggested during the testimonies. Michael Sullivan’s lighting design enhances the post-modern atmosphere.
A defense attorney for Judas, indignant Cunningham (Courtney Bailey-Parker), argues that the disgraced disciple should not be damned for all time, that others are culpable in the greater scheme of things, while overzealous prosecutor El-Fayoumy (a dandy Carl Overly Jr.) thinks a special place in hell is just fine.
A jury will decide Judas’ fate, but not before a parade of high-profile witnesses take the stand while a cranky Judge (Chandler Spradling) presides, with a nervous bailiff (Chelsea Krenning) at his beck and bark.
Some folks are impatient, surly and obstinate about being called to testify. Just because they crossed over, doesn’t mean they shed their less appealing characteristics. Saints appear at random, offering afterlife tidbits and spouting humorous anecdotes.
Parker has a considerable amount of heavy lifting, and does not miss a beat in fervent commitment to her client. Overly is slick, cajoling and conniving.
At center is Judas, near catatonic and inconsolable. As Judas, Chris Ware projects both an innocence and a howling despair. Confused, hurt and angry, he is misinterpreted by others at every turn. He barely speaks, but when provoked, he lashes out defiantly. A sadness swells.
The leads are fierce, not intimidated by the show’s weight. While portraying multiple characters or different genders, supporting actors are integral to making it flow seamlessly. Everyone has a purpose, no matter how random it appears.
The smooth ebb and flow of the cast’s intersection is noteworthy, as each character builds upon the others — the cement between the bricks.
Performers must deliver dense dialogue, with passionate monologues tumbling out of them, emphasizing ranges of emotions coursing through their character.
The sorrow of Judas’ mother Henrietta (Carmen Garcia) opens the show. She’s in period garb. But the costumes from designer Andrea Robb bends periods, ranging from traditional to reimagined.
Later switching gears to become an angry Pontius Pilate, Garcia commands the stage with haughtiness and power, bristling at the suggestion he was to blame for Christ’s crucifixion.
The oh-so-smooth Eric Dean White brings the heat as Satan, aka Lu, oozing unctuousness and evil in his first scene. The next time, he’s a ranting megalomaniac, hurling insults, contemptuous of the process.
Those are blustery roles, meant to push buttons. Other performers shine in adrenalized vignettes, particularly the saints. Rae Davis is a delight as both Saint Monica and Simon, while FeliceSkye is laugh-out-loud funny as Saint Peter, and a character Gloria – and a hoot as Sigmund Freud.
Ariella Rovinsky presents a fresh take on Caiaphas and Mary Magdalene, while Rachel Tibbetts is a touch of Rose and a dash of Sophia in a “Golden Girls”-inspired depiction of Mother Teresa. She is also a relatable St. Thomas, stunned by his quick 180 at not being a stand-up guy when Jesus needed him.
Characters recount their beliefs and experiences, and the play becomes a multi-course meal of textures, temperatures and shared plates.
Guirgis, also an actor, appeared in Charlie Kaufman’s unwieldy film about how life works, “Synecdoche, New York,” and this piece is reminiscent in that it has much to digest, and at times, seems overwhelming. It is a long haul.
Stick with it, and you will be rewarded by two of the best moments near the end — intimate reflective exchanges that mimic a therapy session. Jesse Munoz, with a calm yet authoritative demeanor, conveys a compassionate, loving and forgiving Jesus. Graham Emmons is heartbreaking as Butch Honeywell, the jury foreman who breaks the news to a forlorn Judas. He’s compelled to pour out his remorse over self-destructive choices that haunt him forever, and Emmons – new to St. Louis stages this year – is mesmerizing.
Did we experience glimpses of heaven and hell through this erudite discourse? I think we did. Notions of what afterlife awaits us change during our lifetimes, but will forever remain an enigma, no matter how many years we’re here on earth. Simmering inferno or eternal serenity?
No questions are answered here, but plenty are raised — and that’s the point. But you’ll be thinking about the divine order of things for days. Theology students take entire semesters to explore the ideas that the playwright brings up. We had one evening.
But what a tapestry we are confronted with – through a lens of sinners and saints, friendship, free will, grief and destiny.
The New Testament version of Jesus’ final days has been interpreted different ways in popular entertainment, with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 47-year-old rock opera musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar” now a blank canvas and Martin Scorsese’s controversial film “The Last Temptation of Christ,” just to name a few. This one’s more under the radar, but a wild ride nonetheless, and worthy of attention.
MST’s earnest, fiery effort will remain one of the year’s most impressive presentations – in its execution, creative dedication and the breadth of its sheer humanity. Your reaction might not be immediate, but this one lingers.
Mustard Seed Theatre presents “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” from Oct. 10 – 28, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., but no Friday, at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, visit: www.mustardseedtheatre.com
Ann K Photography
Eric Dean White as Satan and Chris Ware as Judas.