By CB Adams
Before the lights dimmed and the 8th annual LaBute New Theater Festival began, this reviewer felt pity instead of anticipation – pity for the nine playwrights who had to endure a two-year, pandemic-induced delay for their works to be fretted and strutted upon the intimate performance space at the Gaslight Theater.

During the festival’s four-week run, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents two sets of five one-act plays selected in 2020 – a Whitman’s Sampler (something for everyone!) of short dramas. Each slate includes “St. Louis,” written by the festival’s founder and namesake, the Tony-nominated, acclaimed writer and director Neil LaBute.

Two years may have felt like an eternity to playwrights and public alike, but the first set of one acts, running from July 8–17, delivers a collectively gratifying experience resonating with relevance to the current zeitgeist.

The first set includes Aren Haun’s “What Else is New,” John Doble’s “Twilight Time,” Willie Johnson’s “Funny Thing,” and Fran Dorf’s
“Time Warp,” as well as LaBute’s “St. Louis.”

Experiencing this evening of one acts is like reading a short-story collection. You might not enjoy every play (not all in the first set are one-hit wonders), but taken together, they are engaging, thought-provoking and satisfying. When soliciting for one acts, the LaBute
Festival seeks plays that feature no more than four characters. They should be crafted specifically to exploit the Gaslight’s intimate, 18-foot square performance space with quick changes in scenery, setting and set moves.

For theater-goers who love plays that focus on the fundamentals of dramaturgy – plot, character and theme – the LaBute Festival is a must-see, based on this first slate.

The plays presented this year are diverse, yet share a common thread, if not a common theme, of human connectedness:

“What Else is New,” set in a diner, involves Bruno (and his suitcase), an unhoused loner (replete with an annoying need for conversation and more tics and twitches than Brad Pitt in the film “12 Monkeys”) and Mark, a disinterested college art student who works the counter. t’s a marvel to watch the two characters circuitously connect.

“Twilight Time,” concerns a chance encounter between Benjamin and Geraldine, two disaffected youths who discover they are both planning their suicides. Though not as humorously death-drenched as “Harold and Maude,” they connect over common political and other opinions and soon make plans to live, perhaps happily ever after.

“Funny Thing” is anything but funny as the four-month relationship between Older Man and Younger Man is stuffed into a blender and set to frappe. The resulting, non-chronological plot makes frequent pivots that are easy to follow, thanks to fine acting and effective lighting changes.

No one dances in “Time Warp,” but, as the song goes, “…With a bit of a mind flip / You’re into the time slip / And nothing can ever be the same…” For those of us who like stories that explore the possibilities presented by punctures in the time- space continuum, “Time Warp” delivers a mind-bending – and ultimately harrowing – tale involving Brian, a Vietnam War army psychiatrist, his wife, Beth, a curiosity shopkeeper, CG Young, and a specter-like painter and fellow soldier, Joey Passarelli. The warping of time and circumstance ensues, though not in a science fiction sort of way.

LaBute’s “St. Louis” (presented in both sets of the festival) could have been titled Stand and Deliver because that’s what this play’s three characters do: they stand and deliver (as does the entire play itself). St. Louis does not concern itself with Ted Drewes, the Arch or any other tourist destinations. There are a few compass- point references to St. Louis, such as the Central West End, but the true location
of this one act is the triangulated world and relationships of the three monologists, She, Her and Him. The climax of the relationship – the connection – among these characters is too good to spoil.

But, climax aside, the most noteworthy achievement is how the story is unfolded by the three characters, each in a pool of
light and each speaking as if to their own offstage interlocutor. Separately, and yet collectively, they stand and deliver their part of a shared, very personal history. Under the deft direction of Spencer Sickmann (himself a seasoned actor), the actors collectively embrace their characters and deliver these short plays with confidence, believability and chemistry.

And, in the case of “Twilight Time,” they surpass the play itself. Mitch Henry Eagles plays triple duty in “What Else is New,” “Funny Thing” and “Time Warp.” All are fine performances, but the standout is as the Younger Man in “Funny Thing.” His character is whiplashed by the on-again/off-again relationship he shares with Older Man and Eagles easily flips between “should I stay” or “should I go?”

Bryn McLaughlin does double duty as Geraldine in “Twilight Time” and She in “St. Louis.” Her performance in the former is the strongest in that play, and in the latter, she’s even better as she projects a strong, confident counterpoint to the bro-ish Him. As Him, Brock
Russell plays a character one loves to hate, or vice versa, and that dichotomy is testament to his ability to fully reveal the complexities of Him.

Eric Dean White demonstrates tremendous range playing the twitchy chatterbox Bruno in “What Else is New” and, a couple of one acts later, as the sensitive psychiatrist and husband in “Time Warp.” The nervous energy he pours into his Bruno is as exhausting as it is exhilarating.

In the case of these one acts, to call the sets, lighting and costumes bare bones is a compliment. As in most literary short stories, there’s nothing extraneous and everything must serve a purpose in black-box one acts. In this first slate of plays, that’s exactly what Patrick Huber achieves with the flexible sets and lighting, as does Carla Landis Evans with the costume designs.

Set One of the LaBute New Theater Festival runs July 8-17 at at the Gaslight Theater, 358 N Boyle Ave. Set Two runs from July 22–31. Times are 3 p.m. on Sundays and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, www.stlas.org
All photos by Patrick Huber

By Lynn Venhaus

Two words: Demented puppets. In this “Avenue Q” meets “Book of Mormon” pitch-black comedy, “Hand to God” builds audacity and unease in equal measure as the audience’s raucous laughter grows.

As edgy as St. Louis Actors’ Studio can get, this brazen work is unlike anything you have previously seen in the intimate Gaslight Theatre black box. The laugh-out-loud guffaws are as frequent as the jaw-dropping gasps.

How this crackerjack ensemble of three men and two women maintains straight faces throughout interactions over two acts is indeed admirable. Director Andrea Urice takes a bold approach with the characters and keeps a brisk pace as actions become darker and more disturbing.

Playwright Robert Askins bluntly presents an outrageous premise that involves Christian faith, sin, righteousness, demonic possession and dealing with teenage angst in a modest small-town church setting.

Those easily offended should be warned – not only is the language obscene, but so are the puppets Tyrone and Joleen, who engage in explicit sex acts in one scene.

During Christian Puppet Ministry rehearsals in a church basement, one mild-mannered but conflicted teen, Jason, has lost control of his puppet Tyrone, who seems to have taken on an alarming identity, hell-bent to harm others, including his puppeteer.

Jason, as played by Mitch Henry-Eagles, is a meek young man whose complicated relationships with his widowed mother Margery (Colleen Backer), the vulgar school bully Timmy (Josh Rotker), the assertive girl-next-door Jessica (Phoebe Richards), and the town pastor (Eric Dean White), fuel the dual personalities.

Normally, puppets are used in church programs to teach young children Bible lessons, but this scenario is an upside-down bizarro world. Jason’s mom takes charge of the puppet club that has only three teenagers in it.

As Jason’s behavior turns more unsettling as his homemade bad-boy Tyrone takes over, so does the exasperation and shock of the people around him, who have their own complex issues, which also leads to wildly inappropriate behavior in the polite Christian circle.

Tyrone, at first, acts like a philosopher who has little tolerance for fools and piety. Is it Jason expressing his true self? His profanity-laced tirades take aim at hypocrisy in complacent society. He acts like he’s telling tales around the campfire – but pours gasoline on with uncomfortable truths.

Much of what Tyrone says is funny, even when it is offensive. Conveying intensity and impertinence, Henry-Eagles handles the long-winded puppet rants skillfully – it doesn’t matter that there is little pretense as to which character is talking.

He affects an interesting vocal cadence as his alter-ego, part-infuriated and part-world-weary. With crisp comic-timing, he makes this dialogue crackle – and nimbly says the most outrageous things matter-of-factly, not unlike how the iconoclastic “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone present their young cartoon characters.

But these ingrained church-going characters in Cypress, Texas (the playwright’s hometown), are flesh and blood, with the operative word “blood” here – Tyrone has now developed razor-sharp teeth and blood-red devil eyes. Could he be Satan?

The demonic tone and chaos indicates the Prince of Darkness has taken hold of Tyrone, using hapless Jason as his evil conduit, and although plans to conduct an exorcism aren’t followed through, things take a sharp turn to the dark side. Sinful behavior is acted out, destruction of property takes place, and Tyrone expresses painful secrets that the horrified characters wanted to keep to themselves.

Henry-Eagles has excelled in challenging roles before – particularly in “Trash Macbeth,” “Oedipus Apparatus” and “Titus Androgynous,” but none as demanding as the anxious boy-rascal puppet combo.

Askins used the phrase, “hand to God,” which conjures up truth-telling, as the title to his no-holds-barred portrait of Fundamentalist Christian characters and his views on faith, morality and our community and family ties.

The irreverent play ran off-Broadway in 2011 and 2014, earned an Obie Award, then transferred to Broadway in 2015 – later featuring Bob Saget as Pastor Greg. Nominated for Best Play and four other Tony Awards, the satire capitalizes on embracing the full-throttle naughtiness while trashing society’s niceties.

The play’s construction is rather choppy, meant to shock and be subversive. While it is thought-provoking, especially on the concepts of saviors and demons, it is inconclusive on purpose, preferring to leave things open to interpretation. The stitched-together feeling – and what appears to be a rushed ending — is a minus while the performances are laudatory.

As the characters become sexually attracted to each other, upheaval ensues – and this cast demonstrates their fearlessness.

Colleen Backer, one of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s best regulars, is a gifted comedienne whose strength is appearing to be a normal woman with a sweet demeanor, but her characters are often down-and-dirty deviants – criminally or sexually. Here, she’s a repressed widow whose libido is unleashed by a much younger not-of-age kid. Her actions are as startling as what she blurts out unfiltered.

As the troublemaker Timmy, Josh Rotker is crass in an impish way, and Phoebe Richards’ Jessica is a typical bland teenage girl – until she’s not, using her risqué puppet to act out her urges.

As the well-meaning Pastor Greg, Eric Dean White smoothly handles the thankless role with aplomb. He’s trying to make sense of a spooky Christian Hell dream and is flummoxed on how to lead his congregation into the light without any collateral damage.

The cast moves well on stage, with both a fight choreographer – Cameron Ullrich, and an intimacy choreographer – Dominique “Nikki” Green enlisted to aid the cast.

Scenic Designer Patrick Huber again astounds – not because it’s an elaborate, intricate set like “The Little Foxes” or “August, Osage County,” but because he makes three different set pieces work in an imaginative way, moving a wall to facilitate. The church may be a drab place for spiritual activities, but Huber’s functional movement is impressive.

At the start of the second act, we see a distressing site in the worship space – crucified dolls, mutilated stuffed animals and graffiti. Jenny Smith’s efforts in props and puppet design are terrific – and eye-catching.

Lighting designers Patrick Huber and Steven J. Miller modulate the eeriness, the normal set demands, and a pesky overhead lightbulb that may have a mind of its own for noteworthy illumination.

Robin Weatherall’s sound design adds to the overall creepy vibe and Teresa Doggett’s costume design depicts small-town Texans (of course Pastor Greg is in a polo shirt and khakis).

The characters’ naivete takes a dive into the deep end of the pool, baptized by hellfire. They are changed forever, and it would have been interesting to see what happened next. The mischief was fun, and the cast good sports, but…nagging questions remain.

Still, the knives are sharp, the barbs are pointy and the humor acerbic. Whether you have fun or not will depend on how comfortable you are with boundary-pushing situations on stage.

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “Hand to God” April 8-24, with Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Gaslight Theatre, N. Boyle Ave., in the Central West End. The play contains adult themes and language – discretion is advised. For more information: www.stlas.org or call box office at 314-458-2978. Seating is limited.

Eric Dean White and Colleen Backer

Patrons must wear masks inside the building. The Gaslight is a fully vaccinated theater – please provide proof of vaccination in advance and it will be kept on file at the box office or bring it on the day of the show. There will be hand sanitizer and disposable masks available as well.

By Lynn Venhaus

Jacqueline Kennedy once famously said: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”

The cold-hearted Iris Banks (Kari Ely) apparently did not agree. She made a choice, to pursue a literary career first, leaving her husband and child. Now grown, her bitter and resentful son Cal (Spencer Sickmann) unexpectedly returns home, but he is not exactly welcomed like the Prodigal Son. And she is closer to “Mommy Dearest” than Mother Earth.

In an intense psychologically complex drama, “Comfort,” a fierce new work by renowned playwright Neil LaBute that is premiering at St. Louis Actors’ Studio (Dec. 3-19), two of our finest stage artists fearlessly tango.

There is much baggage to unpack as mother, now a literary titan – three Pulitzers! — and child, who is still finding his way, reveal their past and present relationship.

These fully dimensional roles are demanding and exhaustive, but brave Ely and Sickmann exhibit their stamina and superior skills at delivering such emotionally layered performances.

Awkward exchanges and pleasantries give way to an uneasy détente (short-lived), stunning disclosures (the hits just keep on coming) and blistering confrontations. They are two people on opposite sides of a great divide, a rift that has grown over time and still an open wound, for no healing was attempted.

At times, the icy Mom, who admitted she had no maternal instinct but attempted the wife-and-motherhood roles set forth in society, seems to thaw.  And son appears to soften his hostility, but those are brief respites from some harsh exchanges as Iris declares she is all about the “truth,” but son reveals he has evidence to the contrary.

The two performers wear their characters’ bravado like a badge of honor – until they don’t. Mom is unapologetic about her distain for literary rivals or for ‘normal’ trappings of family life – but occasionally, her steely demeanor will crack, showing us an inkling of regret.

It’s such a masterful portrayal by Ely, who has tackled her share of uncommon, tough females – including Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, Violet in “August Osage County” and Regina in “The Little Foxes,” all on the Gaslight stage.

And a never-better Sickmann plays Cal like a wounded animal, cornered but ready to pounce. Since bursting on the local theater scene about five years ago, he has capably delved into guys with an edge but also showing vulnerability – Mitch in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Hal in “Picnic,” press secretary Stephen in “Farragut North” and artist Matt in “The Feast,” among them.

LaBute’s rhythmic dialogue has bite, and the pair show their verbal dexterity in meaty exchanges. Do not underestimate their ruthlessness.

LaBute, a prolific playwright and screenwriter who has made waves since the early 1990s, often writes characters that are schemers or callous, calculating ones who use people for their own advantage. They may not be likable, but they are survivors – and they are fascinating

One of LaBute’s hallmarks is that he will divulge character flaws in such a chilling way as to take a jarring and dramatic turn that changes the temperature in the room. He’s all about the gray area, never specifically black-and-white – and that’s what makes his plays so compelling.

Director Annamaria Pileggi keeps the unsettling narrative moving at a brisk clip, and Patrick Huber’s impressive set design efficiently uses the space to move the action forward. Fine work by Huber as lighting designer, sound designer Robin Weatherall, costume designer Teresa Doggett and fight choreographer Shaun Sheley.

Even with a lengthy run time, you still want to hear what Iris and Cal have to say to each other – and you’ll still be caught off-guard.

STLAS has collaborated with LaBute since 2012, mainly as part of the LaBute New Theater Festival, in which international one-act entries are selected to be part of two line-ups. He is a co-producer and often an active participant.

The previously unproduced plays must be 45 minutes or less, and not have more than four characters. They must be able to be presented in The Gaslight Theatre’s intimate space.The selected works are usually marked by sharp writing and smart acting.

And LaBute writes an original work to premiere every summer, which is included in both slates. A few of them have been dark and disturbing or acerbic, or both.

One of the festival’s components that LaBute is most proud of is the High School Play Competition, encouraging teenage writers to pursue playwrighting. The winning plays are presented as readings.

But this is the first time that LaBute is premiering a new two-act play separate from the annual summer fest.

The fest will return the summer of 2022. In the meantime, theatergoers can marvel at the riveting work by Ely and Sickmann, who bob and weave like pro athletes.

The ironically titled play, “Comfort,” may still be a work in progress, but it provides a bracing vehicle in which to show a delicate balance in a mother-son dynamic.

Spencer Sickmann and Kari Ely

“Comfort” is presented by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio at The Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle Avenue, St. Louis, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Dec. 3-19. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit www.stlas.org.

Proof of Vaccination Must Be Presented and a Mask Must Be Worn While in the Theater.

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.                                                                                                          ,                                                                                                                                                         

By Lynn Venhaus

After not being on a stage since November 2019, Chauncy Thomas has made quite a comeback this summer – starring in two productions at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington, Ill., and as the Gentleman Caller Jim in “The Glass Menagerie” and the one-act “You Lied to Me About Centralia,” which was part of this year’s Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, all outdoors.

As he leaves to return to home in New York City, he will have left St. Louis better than when he arrived, to paraphrase his favorite quote.

Chauncy, a native of Peoria, Ill., landed in St. Louis when he attended Washington University in St. Louis, earning B.A. degrees in both drama and psychology.

He built a versatile and respected career in regional professional theatre before taking off for New York City nearly eight years ago, earning two St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominations for “Intimate Apparel” at New Jewish Theatre in 2017 and “Topdog/Underdog” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio in 2013.

Chauncy Thomas as Lymon and Carli Officer as Maretha in “The Piano Lesson” at The Black Rep in 2013

His resume includes “Clybourne Park” at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre, “The Piano Lesson” at the Black Repertory Theatre, the La Bute New Play Festival at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio and multiple productions at the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival.

Since 2014, he has returned here for productions, including “Dot” at the Black Rep and “The Winter’s Tale” at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival.

“St. Louis is still a place I call home. I still feel incredibly connected to the people there, and especially the theatre community,” he said.

During the pandemic in 2020, he decided to leave New York City for Iowa to stay with his brother and his family in mid-March.

“My twelve-year-old nephew let me use his bedroom, so it was two months of sleeping under Spider-man sheets. In mid-May I trekked to Peoria to stay with my mother. My silver lining of the pandemic is getting to spend so much time with her,” he said.

“I lost all but one of my side jobs, so math tutoring was paying the bills. I got little theatre gigs here and there: zoom readings, workshops, etc. But I truly missed being on stage,” he said. “Most of my actor friends in New York either had to move or were significantly concerned with their finances, so I was still counting my blessings.”

He has worked on many Shakespeare productions and enjoys the challenge.

“I’ve been doing a decent amount of Shakespeare for a decade but last year, I think I figured out how I should approach the work. For the first eight years, I was trying to meet some standard of what I thought Shakespeare was. I’ve since learned I need to bring as much of myself and my racial identity to the work as I can. It’s what makes me unique. I love performing Shakespeare because it’s brilliant, but it also presents the challenge of making a 400-year-old stories relevant to a modern audience,” he said.

With Jacqueline Thompson in “Intimate Apparel” at New Jewish Theatre in 2017.

He has traveled to other theaters in the county, including the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater in Massachusetts.

From his base in New York City, his credits include “Romeo and Juliet” at Lincoln Center Education, “Hamlet” at RIPT Theater Company, “A Raisin in the Sun” at Bay Street Theater, “Our Town” and the television show “Madam Secretary,” in which he played a secret service agent.  

Last year, he wrote a one-act for the theatre season for the Performing Arts Department at Washington University, which was part of the live events cancelled due to the pandemic, but was performed as part of “Homecoming Voices,” four plays by alumni, in March.

His play “The Nicest White People that America Has Ever Produced,” featured a Black writer and a white director discussing race, power and artistic integrity in the film industry — a theoretical discourse that prompted real questions about friendship and ethics.

Doing Shakespeare and Williams in the same summer “has been a challenge,” but he is grateful to be working.

“It’s been crazy, but before that, it was nothing, a famine, so I’m trying to enjoy this feast,” he said. “I thought how in the world am I going to get all of this done, but after I had my mornings free, I worked on the line memorization and text analysis,” he said.

As for playing Jim in two different productions, he described it as “fascinating.”

Williams’ memory play of his family and their life in St. Louis features Jim as Tom’s friend from work who is invited to dinner at the Wingfield home to meet Tom’s sister Laura.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, “The Moon and Beyond,” ran from Aug. 19 to 29, with its signature play, the one-act and multiple presentations by scholars and a tribute with the cast.

Playwright John Guare wrote a one-act, “You Lied to Me About Centralia,” which imagined what happened after dinner when Jim rushes off to pick up his fiancé at the Wabash train station. The 20-minute play premiered off-Broadway in 2015, and is based on Williams’ short story, “Portrait of a Girl in Glass.”

For the St. Louis Theater Crawl in 2017, the Tennessee Williams Festival performed the one-act with Julia Crump, who returns this year as Jim’s shallow and judgmental girlfriend Betty, and Pete Winfrey, who now lives in New York City, as Jim.

For the radio play version last November, when the TWF pivoted with “Something Spoken,” a series of Williams’ one-acts on radio, Thomas worked opposite Crump for the first time. They were directed by Rayme Cornell, who also directed this year’s live production, presented as a matinee on Aug. 21 and 22.

Thomas described the play as “sweet” and his character thusly.

“I felt there were several directions it could have gone, and I love where Rayme guided us. I know this isn’t technically Tennessee Williams, but it’s certainly Williams adjacent. Many of my favorite plays are American classics, and I’m rarely able to get cast in those kinds of shows, so this was a real treat. Jim is a man with big dreams, and I love to play characters with strong wants and needs; they make the most compelling characters,” he said.

With Elizabeth Teeter in “The Glass Menagerie” this summer. Photo by ProPhotoSTL.

Crump said acting with Thomas is “a master class,” because he makes “bold choices, good choices.” She described him as a “generous and talented actor.”

Elizabeth Teeter. who played Laura in “The Glass Menagerie,” said she agreed with Crump completely. She participated in an interview along with Thomas, Crump and director Brian Hohlfeld regarding TWF St. Louis on the PopLifeSTL.com Presents…podcast on Aug. 14.

“I do look at these as two separate characters,” Thomas said. “Obviously, John Guare took some liberties, and so many things are open to interpretation.”

Chauncy said the perspective of the one-act was fascinating. “I’m either bending the truth, or avoiding the truth,” he said.

As for being part of this ensemble, he described the cast as “absolutely amazing.”

“The other three actors started rehearsal on August 2, while I started on August 9, and we were in tech on the 12th, so I had to figure out what was going on at a faster rate than ever before. On my first day of rehearsal, we didn’t even do a reading of the whole play. We started with Act 2, and after listening to the other actors for the six pages before my entrance, I immediately understood what story we were telling, the tone, the pace, and where I fit into the narrative. These three actors are so vibrant, in-the-moment, and honest, that they do much of the work for me. I don’t have to ‘act’ with them; I can simply exist,” he said.

Besides Teeter as Laura, Brenda Currin plays Amanda and Bradley James Tejeda plays Tom.

Working where Tennessee Williams lived as a boy has been a special experience as well.

“In terms of performing, rehearsing, and living — not the same unit, but the same building — in the apartment where Williams lived, it’s incredibly surreal,” he said.

“To quote Jim, ‘I’m usually pretty good at expressing things, but–this is something I don’t know how to say!’ When Carrie Houk (TWF Artistic Director) called me to offer me the role and explain the production, I was in such disbelief that I didn’t tell anyone about the production for weeks. It seemed unfathomable,” he said.

“All I can say is this production feels magical. I took my first acting class as a sophomore at Washington University, and, that year, Henry Schvey, chair of the theatre department, was directing ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ I was a member of the backstage crew, which was my first experience with a mainstage production, and in many ways my introduction to theatre. And now, 17 years later, I’m performing in the play, at Williams’ home, and the opening night gift my director Brian Hohlfeld gave me is Henry Schvey’s new book about Tennessee Williams. How is this my life?” he said.

Chauncy Thomas, right, in ISF’s “The Winter’s Tale” this summer. Photo by Pete Guither.

For his second year at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, he played Camillo and four small roles in “The Winter’s Tale” and Angelo in “Measure for Measure.”

Afterwards, the festival inducted him into the 2021 Actor Honor Roll.

“Chauncy Thomas is a wonderful addition to our Illinois Shakespeare Festival Actor Honor Roll, He creates rich, nuanced characters that are accessible yet complex. Chauncy is a skilled professional who also is the consummate company member: supportive, positive, and kind. It is a pleasure to welcome him to the honor roll,” said ISF Artistic Director John C. Stark.

In 2017, to celebrate the ISF 40th anniversary, they unveiled “40 Years/40 Actors,” a media display, to recognize “the passion, skill, and talent of select festival performers from the past four decades,” and continues with the annual Actor Honor Roll.

“I’m truly touched and honored by this recognition. This theatre means so much to me! I’ve met some of the loveliest people I could ever hope to meet, it’s the closest professional theatre to my childhood home (it’s an amazing blessing to have my mother in the audience five times in one season,” Thomas said.

“It’s been instrumental in my development as a classical actor, and it’s also been the setting or overlapped with some of the biggest emotional highs and lows of my life. When at its best, a theatre is a family, and I’m thrilled to be the newest member,” he said.

‘Take Ten’ Questions and Answers:

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

“Originally, I was so fascinated about how theatre was an exploration of myself. I’m now intrigued by the power of storytelling, the interpersonal connections I make with other artists, and the exploration of the human spirit.”

Chauncy and Reginald Pierre in “Topdog/Underdog” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio in 2013. Photo by Patrick Huber

2. How would your friends describe you?

“I took some direct quotes: ‘Funny, witty, smart, creative, thoughtful, organized and an amazing friend.’

“Weird.”

“They wouldn’t.”

“Strangely intellectual and precious for a man with this many muscles.”

“Very very very intentional.”

“A chill control freak with unlikely interests.”

“Loyal, brilliant, hilarious, thoughtful, deeply introspective, principled, all around awesome.”

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

“I spend as much time with my friends as I possibly can.”

4.What is your current obsession?

“I’m so late, but the ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’”

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

“I’m ludicrously goofy.”

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

“In my early teenage years, I was very depressed and often had suicidal thoughts. No one could tell, because from the outside I seemed as if I was thriving. I was gay, in the closet and had plenty of friends, but no close ones. I was in a particularly bad place one day when I was 14 and called one of my acquaintances to ask if we could hang out. Twenty years later, I was best man at his wedding. I’m a person who struggles with feeling I may be a burden to someone, so the act of reaching out to the person who is now my oldest childhood friend was the first time I realized I was allowed to ask for emotional help when I needed it.”

7. Who do you admire most?

“My mom. She’s elegant, hilarious, benevolent, poised, and tough as nails.”

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

“Acting in a play I’ve written.”

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

“City Museum.”

10. What’s next?

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about that, yet. But the next play on my schedule is in St. Louis in 2022.”

Chauncy Thomas

More Information on Chauncy Thomas:

Age: 36

Birthplace: Peoria, Illinois

Current location: New York City

Family: 2 full brothers, 2 half-brothers, and 2 step-siblings

Education: BAs in Psychology and Drama from Washington University

Day job: Currently a math tutor. In a non-Covid-19 world add catering waiter, chess tutor, and I occasionally portrayed historical leaders for executive leadership trainings for Fortune 500 companies.

First job: House painter

First role: A guard in my high school’s production of “Cinderella.” First professional role was Father Ant in “The Ant and the Grasshopper” for Imaginary Theatre Company.

Favorite roles/plays: Booth in “Topdog/Underdog,” Walter Lee Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun”

Dream role/play: Belize in “Angels in America”.

Awards/Honors/Achievements: One Kevin Kline Award nomination and two St Louis Theater Circle Award nominations

Favorite quote/words to live by: “Leave everyone better than you find them.”

Chauncy Thomas in “Alabama Story”

A song that makes you happy: “Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite

To listen to the PopLifeSTL.com Presents…Podcast about the Tennessee Williams Festival, visit: https://soundcloud.com/lynn-zipfel-venhaus/poplifestlcom-presents-august-14th-2021?fbclid=IwAR3lA4F4DCuAk67je9tNrFsb36G1fhaS6RFcZmOkWI0Lx6zQnvPyrCUg0jk

For more information on the Tennessee Williams Festival, visit https://www.twstl.org/

As a secret service agent in “Madam Secretary”. Photo provided.
In “Percentage America” by Carter Lewis at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo by Patrick Huber.
“Clybourne Park” at St. Louis Repertory Theatre. Jerry Naunheim Photo.

By Lynn Venhaus
As an ever-busy presence in the St. Louis theater community, Ellie Schwetye has created a diverse body of work — acting, directing, producing and sound design for a myriad of companies. While she has been recognized for her individual achievements with multiple St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, she thrives on collaboration.

But her name associated with a project means that there will be a high bar for quality and a sharp attention to detail, from selecting a soundtrack to a Jane Austen homage, “First Impressions,” for SATE; to guiding Will Bonfiglio to a third Circle Award for Best Actor in a Comedy in “Fully Committed” at the New Jewish Theatre; to bringing haughty Mrs. White to life in SATE’s “Classic Mystery Game” play; and portraying Emily Post, one of the hostesses in ERA’s “Trash MacBeth.”

She is the co-producer of SATE and has directed and/or worked with Equally Represented Arts (ERA), YoungLiars, West End Players Guild, New Jewish Theatre, Prison Performing Arts, The Tennesee Williams Festival St. Louis, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, The Black Rep, R-S Theatrics, St. Louis Actors’ Studio, The Midnight Company, Stray Dog Theatre, Mustard Seed Theatre and others.

Joe Hanrahan in “Here Lies Henry”

Like many other artists, Ellie was eager to return to live theater when it was safe to do so — either on stage or behind the scenes. And now, it’s happening — she’s directing the one-man show “Here Lies Henry” starring frequent collaborator Joe Hanrahan, whose Midnight Company is producing.

It runs Thursday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. June 10 – 27, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. June 27, at the Kranzberg Arts Center’s black box theatre.

Most COVID restrictions have now lifted, so with larger capacity audiences allowed, tickets are now available at the door. Midnight was deemed MissouriArtSafe by the Missouri Arts Council, received permission from the City of St. Louis for the production, and followed strict safety protocols. 

Written by Daniel MacIvor, Henry is a man on a mission to tell you something you don’t already know. It is an idyllic — sort of — miserable — sort of — storybook — sort of — nightmarish — sort of — remarkable — sort of — regular show.

Ellie said she was immediately drawn to the material.

“Initially, what I liked about “Here Lies Henry” was the opportunity to collaborate with Joe Hanrahan again. I’ve joked that Joe could hand me the phone book and I’d direct it, if it meant working with him,” she said.. 

“But, of course, the material of the play itself is a draw. The character of Henry is so quirky, he’s such an innocent — but trying desperately not to appear so. It’s a lovely, weird, off-beat meditation on love, life, and death. There’s a Virginia Woolf-like stream-of-consciousness quality to the text, as well as moments that have me thinking about David Lynch and Andrew Wyeth,” she said.

Ellie and Joe have collaborated multiple times.

Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye in “Cuddles,” directed by Joe Hanrahan

“Working with Joe is always a treat. ‘Henry’ is, I think, the sixth project on which we have worked together. Joe finds and writes amazing scripts – all of which are real studies in personality,” she said.

” As both an actor-producer and a director Joe is very laid back. He comes into every project with really clear ideas, and a great sense of play and collaboration. We experiment and laugh a lot during rehearsals. Joe has a great affinity for incorporating rock and pop music into his shows, as I do. I appreciate that he lets me sound design the shows I direct, which he knows I love doing.”

Since the pandemic forced live theater to shut down in March 2020, she said she kept her theater itch scratched with some outdoor theater, video projects and “a few, now ubiquitous, Zoom plays.”

How does it feel to be ‘back in the saddle’ again?

“It’s fantastic! This is my first in-person indoor production since March 2020. It’s pretty cool to be doing this play. Directing a one-man show was the best choice to ease back into the process. The first rehearsal was both terrifying and exhilarating,” she said.

Now she is returning to produce and sound design the play “Top Girls” with SATE — Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble,

“It’s a play we had programmed and cast since before the pandemic. Both my producing partner, Rachel Tibbetts, who is directing the play, and I really love the story, the script, and non-linear storytelling of Caryl Churchill’s text and are thrilled we finally get to bring it back to St. Louis,” she said.

And while filling up her plate after such an absence is tempting, she has reflected upon the next steps after the quarantine break.

“As for easing back into commitments, I think the pandemic taught me that being busy isn’t a virtue. I love the many facets of my work in the theatre, but I don’t need to do eleven projects a year anymore. Having said that, I am quite excited for some projects this fall including “Top Girls” with SATE, directing “The Miracle Worker” at Clayton High School, and another project with Midnight later in December,” she said.

Ellie as Emily Post in ERA’s “Trash MacBeth” with Rachel Tibbetts

Schwetye, 39, was born and raised in St. Louis.

During the down time, she explored activities that she had an interest in, but hadn’t given herself the time to dive in — and the opportunity was much appreciated.

“Unsurprisingly, much of it has been outdoors, since that’s been the safest way to socialize. I’ve been gardening a bit. The brilliant Nicole Angeli has been my hiking guru, and it’s been lovely to explore gorgeous conservation areas in eastern Missouri and central Illinois. Last summer, I supported my sister as her ground crew while she paddled the Missouri river — 340 miles! — from Kansas City to St. Charles. Now that was the ultimate stage management gig. Being on the river for four days and the fact that our team was representing the Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper organization opened my eyes to how precious and critical the Missouri river system is to our region,” she said. 

“I’ve also gotten to spend a lot of time at my family’s property in Labadie, Mo., which we affectionately and unoriginally call the Farm. We completed building a house that was inspired by a one-room schoolhouse that once sat on the property. I’ve been working with my dad for the past year on much of the finish carpentry in the house, including framing and hanging doors and cutting and installing window trim and baseboards from hemlock,” she said.

“The Comeback Special” as part of the LaBute New Play Festival at St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Q &A WITH ELLIE SCHWETYE

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

“I’ve always been drawn to storytelling. Theatrical storytelling is a kind of magic. I’m also a bit of a show-off, so performing was a great outlet for that energy. As I developed though, I learned that I love directing and producing so much more. I find the process of bringing artists together in collaboration so much more rewarding than a curtain call.”

2. How would your friends describe you?

“Classic Aries: attention-seeking, passionate, optimistic, ambitious, independent, competitive, a bit selfish, impatient and impulsive.”

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

“Recently. it’s been out at the Farm with my nieces and nephews, hiking with buddies, and reading my dad’s first edition “Foxfire” books.”

4. What is your current obsession?

“My meadow is my current obsession. It’s one little corner of the Farm. I’m keeping a path cleared through it to better observe the variety of grasses and native plants growing there. I have been trying to learn a lot more about our native species. Since I’m out at the Farm almost every week, it’s been amazing watching the changes from season to season.”

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

“I used to be a pretty fast runner. I won a state track meet in the 800m event.”

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

“My college theatre experience was a defining time. I went to a women’s college, which is certainly where my feminist theatre aesthetic was solidified. Knowing that my mentors were a fashion designer who got her start on London’s Carnaby Street in the 60s, a former Breck girl-turned radical feminist bass player, and an East German dramaturg with the Berliner Ensemble probably makes a lot of sense for the theatre I like to make and watch now.”

“A Lovely Sunday in Creve Coeur” as part of an ensemble at The Tennessee Williams Festival in 2019

7. Who do you admire most?

“This is the hardest question of the ten! So many people. My parents, certainly – especially my mom; my sisters. I’ve been learning more about my grandparents and ancestors, and there are a lot of hard-working, gritty folks in my family tree to admire.”

“Artistically, I admire the folks I have the privilege of collaborating with – and there are so many amazing and inspiring artists in this group! I admire my teachers, like Kelley Weber, who encouraged me to be a theatre artist. And I admire the producers who took a chance on me, like Edie Avioli and Scott Sears, and Ron Himes and Linda Kennedy.”

“And I always admire the real women from history whose stories I often get to tell – like Henriatta Leavit, Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming, Rosalind Franklin, Sr. Jacque-Marie, or Helen Keller. Theatricalized stories of real women will always be the most fascinating to me.”

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

I keep a Google doc of plays I’d love to direct or scripts I’d love to develop. Rachel Hanks and I started musing a while back about a play based on the Stevens Sisters (Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell). Writing something original is certainly on the bucket-list. And as a some-time performer, I’m ready for the challenge of a one-woman show.

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

“Discovering and exploring unexpected nature and conservation areas in the region.”

10. What’s next?

“I’m looking forward to the YoungLiars Summer Training Festival in July, then “Top Girls” with SATE in September. I’ll be directing “The Miracle Worker” at Clayton High School in the fall, then in December I’ll be performing opposite Joe Hanrahan in his new trio of short plays “Tinsel Town” about artists in LA, directed by Rachel Tibbetts. It completes a trifecta of work the three of us have collaborated on, which has included “Cuddles” and “Little Thing, Big Thing.”

Ellie with John Wolbers in “First Impressions”

More on Ellie:

Family: my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, 5 nieces and nephews, and cousins (who are like sisters).
Education: The St. Louis answer: Clayton High School; the real answer: Mount Holyoke College.
Day job: Production Manager with my family’s business serving the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry.
First job: My first post-college job was as a professional Intern at the Black Rep. 
First role: Abigail Adams in the 5th grade musical “Dear Abby” (I still remember my big number!)
Favorite roles/plays: My Ozark adaptation of “As You Like It”, Rachel’s and my adaptation, “First Impressions” based on “Pride and Prejudice” (and getting to play Elizabeth Bennet in it!), ERA’s “The Residents of Craigslist”. I’m also really proud of co-founding and producing SATE’s Aphra Behn Festival, celebrating women writers and directors.
Dream role/play: There are two weirdo comedies I’d love to produce, direct, or perform in: “All Our Happy Days are Stupid” by Shiela Heti and “Freshwater” by Virginia Woolf, which she wrote for her sister Vanessa’s birthday party.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: St. Louis Theater Circle Awards for Production, Sound Design, Directing, Script Adaptation, and Performance in an Ensemble; PopLifeSTL’s 2019 Artist of the Year 🙂
Favorite quote/words to live by: “have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves”
A song that makes you happy: “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn

“Silent Sky,” which Ellie directed, at West End Players Guild in 2018
“Oedipus Apparatus” at West End Players Guild in 2017

: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! 

The Gaslight Theater is still closed due to the pandemic, but St. Louis Actors’ Studio will be presenting a free Zoom play by Hanna Kime, She is a John Burroughs graduate and currently resides in Chicago as a playwright. The play is called “Now More Than Ever” and will be screened for three nights only March 18-20 at 8 pm.

It is free to watch the live stream event, but you must register here: What’s On Stage | St. Louis Actors Studio (stlas.org). Donations are encouraged.

It is roughly a 45-60 minute one act directed by Annamaria Pileggi and starring: Colleen Backer, Jens Tulio, William Humphrey, Phil Leveling and Ebby Offord. Stage manager is Amy Paige.

Premise of the play: After the coronavirus crisis forces a major regional theatre to go remote and lay off half their staff, their remaining box office associates must attend an emergency Zoom training session from marketing on how to cold call patrons to solicit donations while promoting the theatre’s thrilling new slate of online content.

Her recent works include THE TARGETED (2020 O’Neill Finalist, 2021 BAPF Semifinalist, Selected for Broken Nose’s “Off/Nights” Development Series), THE BEST DAMN THING (2021 O’Neill Semifinalist, Selected for the Up: Renewal Reading Series), and DROP (Produced through Side Street Studio Art’s Going Dutch Festival).


She has been fortunate enough to develop her full-length works with Jackalope Theatre Company, Sideshow Theatre Company, The New Colony, Broken Nose Theatre, and First Floor Theater, where she currently serves as Literary Manager. She is a member of the Wampus Cat Collective. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2018 with degrees in English and Gender and Sexuality Studies.