By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
One of the most versatile and lauded actors in St. Louis, John Flack is
spending his summer working at what he loves, adding another comedy, drama and
musical to his extensive repertoire.

He has been a member of Actors’ Equity, for 30 years,
“right here in St. Louis,” and is grateful to be working in the profession.

“My real dream is to continue to be cast in any professional theatre production that will have me so I can have a job doing what I love while working with people I adore.”

Currently appearing in the critically acclaimed “Indecent,”
presented by Max and Louie Productions, he will be in a satirical romp through
American history, “The Almost True and Truly Remarkable Adventures of Israel
Potter,” July 18 – 27 at Bluff City Theater in Hannibal, Mo. Rehearsals start
July 2.

Then, he’ll play the Captain of the Inquisition in “Man of
La Mancha” in September, his only musical with Stages St. Louis this summer.

“Man of La Mancha” runs Sept. 6 to Oct. 6 and concludes
Stages’ 33rd season, its final one before they move into a new
Performing Arts Center in Kirkwood.

Flack has been working with Stages since 1990, when he
played the title role in “Snoopy!”
Ever since, he’s demonstrated his musical versatility in both comedy and drama,
playing such roles as the Underling, the butler in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and
440-year-old Merlin in “Camelot.”

“I’ve been in about 65 (Stages musicals),” he said.

“I’m so grateful to Michael Hamilton and Jack Lane, and the
team at Stages, how they value the artists. Stages gives us Equity performers more
work weeks than any company in St. Louis in the summer. They make it possible
for us to get health insurance, and live and work here,” he said.

“Oklahoma” at Stages St. Louis 2018. Photo by Peter WochniakAnother benefit of being part of a company is the
friendships forged. For “Indecent,” he was fortunate to work with his longtime
friend, Ellen Isom, who choreographed the show. They’ve been friends since
1991.

“She is not only one of the absolute treasures of St. Louis
theater, but she’s first a terrific human being,” he said.

John has been active in several regional professional theaters, including The New Jewish Theatre, Upstream Theater, The Black Rep, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and the former HotCity.

As Saul Mortera in “New Jerusalem” at New Jewish Theatre, with Rob Riordan.He appeared in three shows at The Muny — “My One and Only” (2008) and “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Camelot” in 2009.

In 2015, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Go! Magazine List named him Best St. Louis Stage Actor.

“Indecent” is one of his biggest challenges – and one of
the finest productions he’s been part of to date, he said.

John plays The Elder: Otto, and then as part of the
ensemble, he performs various characters Yekel, Peretz, Schildkraut, Immigrant,
Bartender, Judge McIntyre and older Asch.

“What a role!” he said about Otto.

But he has seven others too. “I am on stage the entire
time,” he said.

Making each character different as part of the ensemble is
the daunting task.

“That’s the biggest challenge. They are from different times,
and to make sure they have different dialects. The play spans 50 years,” he said.
“They are all old guys like me. That’s the one thing they have in common.”

When the characters speak their native language, they speak
perfect English, but when they speak a second or third language, they speak
English with an accent.

A fierce indictment of censorship as well as a celebration
of art and love, “Indecent” combines theater, music, dance and poetry to make
an impact in an era of chaos. Flack is among the seven actors and three
musicians who play roles that span continents and decades.

By Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel,
“Indecent” is the true story of a groundbreaking scandalous play and the
courageous artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it. During its
2017 run on Broadway, it won

Sholem Asch’s drama, “God of Vengeance” debuted
on Broadway in 1923 at a time when waves of immigrants were changing the face
of America. A love story that celebrated Yiddish language and unconventional
passion, it was forced from the stage by a reactionary, fearful public.  Its fate, and that of the actors who
cherished it even as they confronted the horrors of the Nazi onslaught, are the
subject of “Indecent.”

“It’s a lovely script, beautifully written and poetic, and it’s very prescient for our time,” he said.

“Indecent” by Max and Louie ProductionsProducing Artistic Director Stellie Siteman issued a
statement: “As a proud member of St. Louis’ vibrant LGBTQ, Jewish, and Theatre
communities, I can think of no better play at this moment in time that
dramatizes a message of inclusion, tolerance and love. The belief in the power
of art is a clarion call to action.”

Joanne Gordon directed. Ron McGowan is the musical
director. Ellen Isom choreographed. Besides Flack, “Indecent” stars Alyssa
Avery, Zoe Farmingdale, Katie Karel, TJ Lancaster, Judi Mann, Kris Pineda and
Tim Schall.

“It’s a wonderful cast, really a delightful group. I love
working with these people,” John said. “And the music is tremendous.”

He is also a fan of the renovated Grandel, where the show
has been staged.

“It’s a great space, and we have a lot of positive energy
here,” he said.

John Flack won a St. Louis Circle Award as Don.

He has worked with Max and Louie Productions before, in Ken
Page’s original play, “Sublime Intimacy.” Page not only wrote it but directed
the show in 2015.

“Sublime Intimacy” was the tale of five friends who were elevated,
touched and changed by their love of a dancer and his dance overlaps,
intertwines and informs each other.

John won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for playing Don,
an ex-Hollywood actor – Outstanding Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama.

As Dan in “Next to Normal” He has been nominated
four times for St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, for two HotCity productions –
as Ned in “The Normal Heart” in 2014 (which also tied for Outstanding
Production of a Drama) and Charles Busch’s “The Divine Sister” in 2012, and as the
husband Dan in Insight Theatre Company’s “Next to Normal” musical in 2017.

With Eric Dean White in “The Normal Heart
 “Max and Louie
Productions like to present an eclectic mix,” he said. “Stellie and De love to
bring plays that they are passionate about to a St. Louis audience.”

 A mere few days
after “Indecent” closes June 30, he starts rehearsals on Tuesday, July 2 for “The
Almost True and Truly Remarkable Adventures of Israel Potter,” directed by
Herbie Barnes, at the Bluff City Theater in Hannibal, Mo.

He joins an ensemble cast featuring Donna Weinsting,
Jennelle Gilreath-Owens, Brian Kim and Eric Geller, all playing multiple
characters, while Erick Lindsey is Israel Potter.

Based on a novel by Herman Melville, who supposedly rescued
a tattered journal from the trash in 19th century London. Potter, a
simple farmer, is drafted into the fledgling Continental Army of the United
States of America on the eve of his wedding. He’s captured by the British,
imprisoned in England and then escapes, wanting only to return to his waiting
bride and a peaceful life in America. What ensues instead is a madcap series of
improbable events that thrusts him into one grand adventure after another,
preventing his return home.

The order this summer is drama, comedy then musical – more
memorable additions to the resume.

What’s best about building an acting career in St. Louis is
the variety of work.

As Clarence Darrow in “Never the Sinner” at New Jewish TheatreJohn said St. Louis is great for not pigeonholing an actor.
If you want to do comedy but have been mainly cast in dramas, you can. Unlike
other cities where you get typecast and they think you can only do one thing.

Lavonne Byers and John Flack in “The Divine Sister”

“We feel very lucky in St. Louis to work on different stages,” he said.

Here is our “Take Ten” Questionnaire with John Flack

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

“Wait a minute… I had a choice? I don’t remember it that
way. In an early attempt at adulting, I tried three different career paths
outside of the arts. Each one ended in failure, disappointment, and heartache.
Then I needed a job, so I auditioned for a singing waiter gig on the old
Admiral riverboat. When that job ended, I auditioned for the next (Imaginary
Theatre Company at The Rep); and so-on and so-on. I’ve just been putting one
foot in front of the other, following my heart’s desire and staying a step
ahead of creditors ever since.”

2. How would your friends describe you?

“I don’t have financial wealth, but I am blessed with an
incredible wealth of dear friends and family. I don’t mean this to be glib or
cute; but I think one of the reasons I’ve been so fortunate in this regard is
because I was taught by my parents that what others think of me (or anything
else, really) is none of my business.”

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

“I have a love/hate relationship with spare time. As a
free-lancer, empty space on my calendar is frightening to me, so I try to keep
as little open space as possible. When I do have spare time, I like to do
nothing. Take a break. Sit. Breath. Go on a hike with the dog. And, of course,
nap.”

4. What is your current obsession?

“Dachshunds. And napping.”

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

“Considering my obsession, people might be very surprised
to learn that I like all dogs, not just Dachshunds. But I really, really like
wiener dogs.

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

“Oh, no! Why are all of my “defining moments” so
embarrassing? I’m going through them in my mind, and I think they ought stay
there. I really don’t think any of them are appropriate for print. Let’s go out
for cocktails, and I’ll tell you one or two choice ‘moments’ off the record.”

7. Who do you admire most?

“Those who remain calm, kind, and dignified under difficult
circumstances large and small.” 

8. What is at the top of on your bucket list?

“Travel, travel, and more travel. Next up: The Eastern
Pacific rim next Spring. I can’t wait!”

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

“Eat. The restaurant scene in St. Louis is on fire. In
fact, it reminds me a lot of the theatre scene here in that there are so many
creative, energetic people doing what they love with a strong commitment to the
art and passion for excellence. Plus, I love food.”

10. What’s next? “The Almost True and Truly Remarkable
Adventures of Israel Potter” at Bluff City Theatre in Hannibal, Mo., then
“Man of La Mancha” at Stages St. Louis. I ask you, am I a lucky guy?

As Col. Pickering in Stages St. Louis’ “My Fair Lady” along with good friend Zoe Vonder Haar.MORE ABOUT JOHN FLACK:

Name: John Flack
Age: 56
Birthplace: St. Louis
Current location: St. Louis
Family: Married to Michael Marvaso
Education: Parkway West High School (for you curious STL locals), attended The
Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University
Day job: Equity Actor — which means I also have a list of side hustles the
length of my left arm
First job: Busboy at Le Soupcon, Famous-Barr
First role: Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” Parkway West
Jr High. Did you happen to catch it?
Favorite roles/plays:  Snoopy in
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” Parkway West Jr High and Scarecrow
in “The Wizard of Oz” Variety Club Theatre.

Dream role/play: Oh! So many! But my real dream is to continue to be cast in
any professional theatre productions that will have me so I can have a job
doing what I love while working with people I adore.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Four Theatre Circle Award nominations, one award;
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama: Ken Page’s “Sublime
Intimacy”, Max & Louie. Judy Award 2018 – Best Actor in a Drama: Rabbi
Mortera, “New Jerusalem”, New Jewish Theatre. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
– Go! Magazine List 2015 – Best St. Louis Stage Actor. Riverfront Times 2007 –
Best Actor in a Play; Quentin, “After the Fall”, Muddy Waters
Theatre.

Favorite quote/words to live by: “Row, row, row your
boat, gently down the stream; Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a
Dream.”

A song that makes you happy: “Linus and Lucy” –
Vince Guaraldi Trio

John Flack in “Sublime Intimacy”Max and Louie Productions presents “Indecent” June
20-30 at The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, Missouri 63101.
Reserved seating is on sale at Metrotix.com or by phone, 314-534-1111, or at
the box office an hour before showtime. Visit www.maxandlouie.com for
more information.

By Andrea BraunContributing WriterIndecent (2017) by Paula Vogel tells the story of a play written by the young Sholem Asch entitled God of Vengeance, first performed in 1907. It is presented as his first play, but it is actually his second; however, this and other departures from fact are described by Vogel as “emotional truth,” rather than absolute historical accuracy.

“Vengeance” ran in Germany in the original Yiddish and
was translated and traveled to several other countries, but then came America. At
first, Asch’s play ran off Broadway and stayed more or less under the radar.
But when it moved uptown to the Apollo and the general public was going to be
courted to buy tickets, as Vogel tells it, the script was changed without
Asch’s knowledge or permission because it contained “unacceptable” material.

Photo by Dan DonovanFor example, a Jewish man makes his living owning a
house of prostitution while he and his wife and “virginal” daughter occupy an
apartment upstairs. This was considered by American Jews to be anti-Semitic,
since the Jewish procurer was a stereotype and would be reinforced in the
general public’s mind. So would the focus on making money any way possible. At
one point, he becomes so furious he destroys a holy Torah, a great sin in
Judaism. But most controversial of all was what became known as “the rain
scene,” in which the daughter kisses one of the prostitutes and they proclaim
their love. To middle-class Americans, this is pornographic filth.

Photo by Dan DonovanAsch is so depressed he can’t leave his house.
Finally, his loving and patient wife talks him into attending a rehearsal, but
to him, the play is dead. The longtime stage manager, Lemml (Lou) also
considers this is a disaster, and it’s something they just cannot understand.
Even stranger, the play is closed down by the police and the actors are
arrested and tried, but the playwright and Lemml are not. Lemml tells Asch that
he is going to take the play back to Poland and translate it back into Yiddish.
He tells Asch, “I am tired of being in a country that laughs at the way I
speak. They say America is free? What [sic] do you know here is free?”

And so he does and his troupe performs the play in
cafes, attics, basements—anywhere that will have them until the Holocaust
decimated the European Jewish community of artists and patrons.  Asch himself returns after he’s received an
“invitation” from the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s to
live in London and write prolifically until he literally dies in the saddle, at
his desk, writing. Before he leaves, he meets a young scholar from Yale whom he
tells that he, Asch, “lost six million [who] have left the theater.”

Photo by Dan DonovanThat’s the plot, but now comes the hard part: telling you about the production, which is indescribably beautiful (but I’ll try to describe it anyway). I haven’t listed the names of actors who play the characters because they are all played by seven extraordinary performers who not only tell the story through words but also through song and dance.

They are accompanied on stage by a group of three Klezmer musicians, who play a violin, bass clarinet, and accordion to help express both the sadness and joy the audience and characters are experiencing. I’ve only seen four of the actors listed below (Judi Mann, Tim Schall, John Flack, and Paul Cereghino) but I’ve never witnessed any of them stronger or more sure of the material which makes them turn into other people on a dime.

Photo by Dan Donovan

The evocative music is directed by Ron McGowan, Ellen
Isom choregraphs, Phillip Evans gets credit for sound, and Menachem Szus is the
Yiddish dialect coach.It is a clever conceit to have titles on the rear wall to
help us know where we are, and to have the actors use perfect English to speak
their native languages and accented English when they are speaking a second or
third language. The action spans Warsaw from 1906 to Bridgeport, Connecticut in
the 1950s, and as the program notes, “everywhere in between.”

It’s difficult to write about Indecent without gushing, and I don’t think I managed it. But you
know what? It’s brilliant in every way, so a little gushing is justified. It is
both timely and timeless, and I hope you’ll go see for yourself.

Max and Louie Productions presents “Indecent” at the Grandel Theatre through June 30. Tickets are available through Metrotix and more information is available at www.maxandlouie.com

Photo by Patrick HuberThe
Troupe

TJ
Lancaster:  Lemml, The
Stage Manager; Paul Cereghino: The
Ingenue: Avram/Ensemble; Zoe Farmingdale:
The Ingenue: Chana/ Ensemble; John Flack:
The Elder: Otto/Ensemble;  Katie Karel: The Middle:
Halina/Ensemble; Judi Mann: The
Elder: Vera/Ensemble; Tim Schall: The
Middle: Mendel/Ensemble

The
Musicians

Alyssa Avery: Nelly Friedman/Violin/Ensemble; Kris Pineda: Moritz Godowsky/Accordion/Ensemble; Jack Theiling: Mayer Balsam/ Clarinet & Mandolin/Ensemble

Photo by Patrick Huber