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

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.

The First Annual Haunted Garage Horror Festival will take place Friday, Oct. 22, and Saturday, Oct. 23 at The Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End, 358 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis

For tickets: Visit: https://filmfreeway.com/HauntedGarageHorrorFest/tickets

On Friday night, two experts on horror films will present “Dead Talk” at 7 p.m. Coltan Schrivner, an expert on morbid curiosity and horror, will talk about “The Psychological Benefits of Horror.” Antonio Pantoja will speak on directing horror and the horrors of life after post production.

It will be followed by “One Must Fall,” a 2018 horror-comedy slasher set in the 80s about a woman wrongfully fired from her office job and forced to take on a temporary job on a crime scene cleanup crew.

The film festival program will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, and conclude with awards presentation at 8:45 p.m. A short horror film, “Face Mask,” which is not in competition, will be shown at 7:22 p.m. Saturday.

Face Mask will be shown Saturday night

Micro Shorts Under !0 Minutes Selected:
Video Man by Peter Lundholm .
SMASHING by Kent Flaagan
Spin to Win Samantha Steinle
Intruder by Adam Mick Laughlin
Elegy for Unfinished Lives by Adam E. Stone
The Stop by Tom and Scott Hipp
One Nice Thing by Cory Byers
Chimera by Christian Wood

Short Films Under 59 Minutes

Safe Ride by Randy Rambeau
And The Darkness by Andrew Huggins
You Made Me by Ruben A. Sanchez
Cook with the Heart by Mike Hayhurst

Feature Films
Valentine Crush by Jamie Michael Wede
Mary by Khiray Richards
FRESH HELL by Ryan Imhoff and Matt Neal
A Savannah Haunting by William Mark McCullough
Massacre Academy by Mark Cantu

Student Film Selections

Last Bite by Ashley Seering
Abducted by Vincent Augusto
Packed Lunch by John W. Iwanonkiw

“The Last Bite”

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
The 100 mile stretch to the west of the Mississippi has been a place of interest in horror film history. Unforgettable films such as Escape from NY, White Palace, and Up in the Air all have been filmed in this great midwestern state – Missouri. To honor a burning ember tradition of horror film’s place in our community, the guys from the Haunted Garage Podcast will be hosting Saint Louis’s first Haunted Garage Horror Film Festival this October!

The goal of this first year of our fest is to create a place where filmmakers of all levels can merge in a mutual love of the art of horror. Whether you are a film student or a seasoned industry professional, this festival is for you. In addition to screening student films and high budget, feature films, we have also recruited various film and horror experts to share their knowledge and stories of the trade. Among those in attendance will be Antonio Pantoja, the director of “One Must Fall,” who will share his experience on directing horror films, how to distribute your film, and post production costs. We will also be welcoming researcher and writer Coltan Scrivner, the leading expert in the science of Morbid Curiosity, to speak about the psychological benefits of horror and scary play.

Lastly, we are devoted to promoting diversity in filmmaking. We have selected trained judges from various parts of the country to provide a selection process that is fair and consistent for all film submissions. It will be our pleasure to welcome filmmakers of all races and genders so that we may all gain insight into horror filmmaking from all perspectives of human life.

We desire to turn Saint Louis and its surrounding counties into a safe, scary space where a diverse pool of horror content creators can meet, network, and learn – together.

May the best horror story win!

Awards & Prizes

Best of Horror “The Vincent Price”
$500.00 & Trophy *
(Only Feature Films are eligible )

Best Horror of Missouri/Illinois
$250 & Trophy *
(Illinois / Missouri Residents Only)
All categories are eligible for this Award

$250 & Trophy *
Best Student Film

Best Horror Short *
$100 & Trophy

Individual Awards:
Best Director
Best Actor (Male & Female Role)
Best Editing
Best Sound Design
Best Practical Effects
Best Special Effects
Best Original Music
Best Cinematography
Best Writer/Screenplay (Jason C. Klefisch Award)

*Must be in attendance to accept cash prizes. Trophy’s will be sent at shipping cost to winners if not in attendance.Rules & Terms

• Short Films must be shorter than 50 minutes and longer than 10 minutes. Feature films
must be 50 minutes or longer
• We accept all foreign films as long as english subtitles are present, so long as they were created in the United States of America.
• Selected films will be screened in front of a Live audience
• We are not responsible for copyright infringement on your materials
• All submitters agree to the terms and conditions and to receiving marketing emails and

For more information, visit: https://shiftfilms.net

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.                                                                                                          ,                                                                                                                                                         

Writer-Director Helping Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund

By Lynn Venhaus
Cory Finley first came on my radar with “The Feast,” his original play that was produced by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio in fall 2017. Since then, he has received national acclaim for two films, “Thoroughbreds” and “Bad Education.” He is definitely one to watch.

Now he is giving back to the small theater company that gave him a shot by being one of the artists trying to help STLAS and others in St. Louis through the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund. This was started to help these struggling companies pay their bills until they can safely re-open.

The coronavirus pandemic has threatened extinction for millions of small businesses all over the world, including theater companies, who will continue to be hit hard as they might not receive any funding in 2021, and if they do, it would be a small amount.

“The federal government has offered some help, but small professional theaters are not in line for major funding and the existing funding that relies on tax dollars is vanishing,” said William Roth, STLAS Founder and Artistic Director. “We decided to take matters into our own hands with the creation of the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund and enlisted the help of well-known St. Louisans with careers in the arts.” 

By donating to the Fund, participants are automatically entered into a drawing to win a virtual hangout with Finley or other famous St. Louis artists Sterling K. Brown, Jon Hamm, Sam McMurray, Beau Willimon, or Neil LaBute (longtime friend of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio).

For every $75 donated to www.stlas.org/sustain, the participant’s name is placed into a drawing for 50 chances to win. The more a person donates, the better their chances are for winning. Contest ends Sept. 17 and the winner will be drawn on September 18.  

During the virtual meet-up, the winner will be able to discuss anything of interest with the artist—from acting tips and insights, to fans just wanting to spend a little quality time. Names will be drawn until all artists are spoken for. For official rules and regulations, please visit the FAQ page. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Finley wanted to get involved because he believes in their work and the mission they’re starting.

“I was lucky enough to have STLAS put on a production of my play ‘The Feast.’ I’m a huge fan of the work they’re doing and I’m very concerned about the health of theater in America generally in pandemic conditions. I think it’s a great initiative to help keep vital institutions alive,” Finley said. 

In a short-take review, I described the play this way: “One act, three actors, five genres, so says director John Pierson, who shrewdly realizes an eerie “Twilight Zone”-type mind game by Cory Finley of Clayton, Mo. The twisty-turny original play, only 65 minutes’ long, benefits from an accomplished trio of actors and Patrick Huber’s customary meticulous set and artful lighting design. Pierson’s crisp direction and keen sound design enhance the mysterious off-kilter quality.”

Pierson, a St. Louis actor, director and teacher, has been at John Burroughs School since 1993 and is chairman of the Theatre, Speech and Dance Department.

Finley, 31, a Burroughs graduate, is based in New York City, where he is a member of the Obie-winning Youngblood playwrights group at Ensemble Studio Theater. He received a commission from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for playwrighting, and was the inaugural recipient of the Gurney Playwrights Fund for “The Feast,” which was presented first at The Flea Theater.

Three years ago this month, Finley’s play “The Feast” fit into the vision at The Gaslight Theatre, STLAS’ black-box home.

“STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression. Through the use of ensemble work, STLAS explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre,” Roth said.

Finley received high praise for the film “Thoroughbreds,” which he adapted from his play and also directed. It was accepted for the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017, and nominated for the Audience Award in the Best of Next! competition. It played at the St. Louis International Film Festival that November. Sold to Focus Features for $5 million, the film opened in theaters in March 2018.

Finley wrote the crime-drama-dark comedy about two upper-class teenage girls in suburban Connecticut, who rekindled their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. Then they hatch a plan to solve both of their problems — no matter what the cost. The cast included Anna Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke, and was the last film of Anton Yelchin, who died in a tragic accident at his home in June 2016. The film is dedicated to him.

Anton Yelchin, Cory Finley, Anya Taylor-Joy. Photo by

Indie Wire described the film as “Heathers meets American Psycho.” Rotten Tomatoes had a score of 86% and the critic consensus was: ” Thoroughbreds juggles genres with panache, delivering a well-written and refreshingly unpredictable entry in the teen thriller genre.”

In 2019, Finley scored a Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay for “Thoroughbreds.” The annual awards, held since 1984, honor independent filmmakers working with small budgets. For more information on the film, visit www.thoroughbredsmovie.com

Last year, Finley directed “Bad Education,” which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and sold to HBO for $20 million. HBO aired it April 25 this year (Currently available in HBOMax catalog) and as of Sept. 8, it is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. It is also available for rental or purchase on streaming platforms.

“Bad Education” is nominated for two Emmy Awards — Best Television Movie and Hugh Jackman for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. The Emmy Awards are Sunday, Sept. 20.

The film, based on a true story, focuses on the popular superintendent of New York’s Roslyn school district as well as his staff, friends and relatives who become the prime suspects as the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history unfolds. Former Roslyn student Mike Makowsky wrote the screenplay based on the New York Magazine article “The Bad Superintendent” by Robert Kolker.

Finley said he was drawn to the script for several reasons.

“I thought the script had a really unique tone, a complex character at its center, and themes about greed, institutional failure and systemic corruption that spoke to me,” he said.

And working with the cast was a positive experience.

Jackman played Frank Tassone, who was sentenced to 4 to 12 years for the $11.2 million embezzling scheme, and Alison Janney played Pam Gluckin, an assistant superintendent who took part in the scheme.

“I was enormously lucky that my A-list cast all had the work ethic and humility of actors just starting off: particularly Hugh and Alison made my job incredibly easy and were intensely collaborative and open, as well as super-prepared,” Finley said.

He said he is not at liberty to divulge his next project just yet..

How has he been coping with the pandemic in New York?

“My partner is a medical resident who got pulled into the COVID ward right at the height of the pandemic, so I had a very intense view of the worst of it through her. But she’s now back home doing tele-health and things are much more normal,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a job that I can do from home — the writing and prep parts of my job at least — and so I’m far less affected than many New Yorkers have been.”

What has he learned during this time of quarantine?

“It’s a total cliche, but I’ve learned how important a sense of social community is, and how badly we all need it back,” he said.

Cory FInley at Film Independent Spirit Awards. Photo by Kevin Mazur.

Q&A QUESTIONS FOR “TAKE TEN”
1. Why did you choose your profession? 
I always loved creating and managing made-up worlds: first pretend games, then Dungeons and Dragons, then school plays, then  directing film. 

2. How would your friends describe you?
Tall, polite, bad at remembering things, dad jokes, no sense of direction. 

3. How do you like to spend your spare time?
Playing basketball with great enthusiasm and minimal ability. 

4. What is your current obsession? 
Youtube chiropractic adjustment videos. Also, archived Firing Line videos of William F. Buckley debating prominent leftists of the 60s — Noam Chomsky, James Baldwin, Huey Newton. They show at once how far our politics have come and how little our discourse has changed. 

5. Who do you admire most?
In no particular order: Caryl Churchill, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lebron James. 

6. What is your favorite thing to do in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area?
Ted Drewes and the Tivoli Theatre.  

More to Know:
Name: Cory Finley
Age: 31
Birthplace: St. Louis, MO (Clayton, specifically)
Current location: Manhattan
Day job: Many years SAT/ACT tutoring
Favorite movies: Brief EncounterThere Will Be Blood

Will Help Struggling Arts Community in Wake of Global Pandemic

Donate for Chances to Win Virtual Hangouts with Sterling K. Brown, Jon Hamm, Beau Willimon, Sam McMurray, Cory Finley and Neil LaBute

The Coronavirus pandemic has threatened extinction for millions of small businesses all over the world, including many beloved St. Louis theater companies. In fact, local and regional arts commissions announced recently that many struggling organizations will not receive any funding in 2021, and those that do are expected to receive only a small percentage of what they have been granted in the past.

In an effort to help small professional theater companies in St. Louis as well as those across the nation to pay their bills until they can safely reopen, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio announced today the creation of the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund.
“The federal government has offered some help, but small professional theaters are not in line for major funding and the existing funding that relies on tax dollars is vanishing,” said William Roth, Founder and Artistic Director of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio. “We decided to take matters into our own hands with the creation of the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund and enlisted the help of well-known St. Louisans with careers in the arts.” 

By simply donating to the Fund, participants are automatically entered into a drawing to win a virtual hangout with such famous St. Louis artists as Sterling K. Brown, Jon Hamm, Sam McMurray, Beau Willimon, Cory Finley or Neil LaBute (longtime friend of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio).

For every $75 donated to www.stlas.org/sustain, the participant’s name is placed into a drawing for 50 chances to win. The more a person donates, the better their chances are for winning. The winner will be drawn on September 17.  

During the virtual meet-up, the winner will be able to discuss anything of interest with the artist—from acting tips and insights, to fans just wanting to spend a little quality time. Names will be drawn until all artists are spoken for. For official rules and regulations, please visit the FAQ page. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

About the Participating Artists
Actor Jon Hamm is a John Burroughs grad best known for his Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning role on “Mad Men.” He will star in the upcoming film “Top Gun: Maverick” in theaters this winter.See Jon Hamm’s video message here:https://vimeo.com/427780482

Sterling K. Brown is a graduate of MICDS and recent Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner for his work on NBC’s smash hit “This is Us.”See Sterling K. Brown’s video message here:
https://vimeo.com/429676164

A graduate of Washington University, character actor Sam McMurray has appeared in “Freaks & Geeks,” “Friends” and “Raising Arizona.”

Director and screenwriter Cory Finley is another John Burroughs alum. STLAS produced his play “The Feast” and he recently directed the film “Bad Education” for HBO.

Playwright, screenwriter and activist Beau Willimon is yet another John Burroughs alum, STLAS produced his play “Farragut North” (of which the movies “Ides of Mach” starring and directed by George Clooney is adapted.) He developed “House of Cards” for American television and was its showrunner. He most recently wrote the screenplay for “Mary Queen of Scots.”

STLAS Associate and Tony Award-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute whose films include “In the Company of Men,” “Your Friends & Neighbors,” “Nurse Betty” and “The Shape of Things.” Neil hosts his “LaBute New Theater Festival” at STLAS’ Gaslight Theater in St. Louis each fall in in NYC periodically.

About the St. Louis Actor’s Studio

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that was founded by William Roth in 2006 to bring a fresh vision to theatre in St. Louis. Housed in The Gaslight Theater in historic Gaslight Square, STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression. Through the use of ensemble work, STLAS will explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre. To learn more or to make a donation, visit www.stlas.org/sustain. This program would not be possible without the generous support of Mr. & Mrs. Charles L. Barnes and John Russell. 

St. Louis Actors’ Studio will produce the 7th LaBute New Theater Festival. The Theater Festival will run at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle, home to St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Professional and high school submissions were accepted October through December 2018. To be considered entries had to have no more than four characters, and be crafted specifically to exploit our intimate performance space (18′ x 18′ stage). Changes in scenery or setting should be achievable in a few seconds and with few major set moves. Our focus is on fundamental dramaturgy: plot, character, theme.

Professional, new, previously unproduced one act play submissions (45 minutes or less) included a letter of inquiry, a synopsis and a 10-page sample from the script.

Four winning plays by high school students will be presented in readings at 11 a.m. on July 20 at the Gaslight Theater. Admission to the reading free.

Six plays were chosen: One group to be performed in the first two weeks of July, the final group in the second two weeks. “Great Negro Works of Art,” a Midwest premiere from Mr. LaBute, will be performed every night for the run of the festival.

“We are thrilled that Neil will be working with us again. Lending his name and talents to foster new works in the theater is just another example of his generosity and commitment to the arts and we could not be more proud to host this ongoing event,” says William Roth, Founder and Producing Director of St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Festival Creative Team

Neil LaBute – Film Director, Screenwriter and PlaywrightWilliam Roth – Actor, Founder, Artistic Director St. Louis Actors’ StudioJohn Pierson – STLAS Assoc. Artistic Director, Actor, Teacher English and Theatre Departments John Burroughs SchoolNathan Bush – Actor, Professor of Theatre Arts -Oregon State UniversityMichael Hogan – Actor, DirectorWendy Greenwood, Theater Instructor Parkway SchoolsFranki Cambeletta, Founder, Shift FilmsRyan Foizey, Actor, Founder, Theatre LabEdward Scott Ibur –Novelist, Director, St. Louis Literary Award, Associate Director of Dual Enrollment at St. Louis University, Director, Gifted Arts(Writers & Artist Project for Middle School & High School)Julie B. Schoettley – Documentary Film Editor, Script Development EditorElizabeth Helman – Actor, Writer, Director, Professor of Theatre Arts -Oregon State UniversityMaggie Doyle Ervin – English Department, John Burroughs SchoolPatrick Huber – Associate Director, St. Louis Actors’ Studio-Set Design and Lighting, Teacher Theater, Design and Architecture Mary Institute, Country Day Prep SchoolThe following is a list of finalists for the Festival:

July 5-14, Set One:

“Great Negro Works of Art” by Neil LaBute, Directed by John Pierson“Color Timer” by Michael Long (Alexandria, VA), Directed by Jenny Smith“Privilege” – by Joe Sutton (West Orange, NJ), Directed by Jenny Smitn“Kim Jong Rosemary” by Carter W. Lewis (Stl, MO) Directed by John PiersonJuly 20-29, Set Two:

“Predilections” by Richard Curtis (NY,NY) Directed by Wendy Greenwood  “Henrietta” by Joseph Krawczyk (NY,NY) Directed by Wendy Greenwood“Sisyphus and Icarus a Love Story” by William Ivor Fowkes (NY,NY) Directed by Wendy Greenwood“Great Negro Works of Art” by Neil LaBute, Directed by John PiersonHigh School Finalists:

Readings Saturday July 20, 2019 11 am FREE ADMISSION

“Razor Burn” by Theodore James Sanders (Houston, TX)“P.B and Gay” by Dylan Hasted (Glendale, CA)“Stressful Snacks” by Posey Bischoff (St. Louis, MO)“We’ll Go Down(In History)” by Ann Zhang (St. Louis, Mo)St. Louis Actors’ Studio (STLAS) strives to bring a fresh vision to theatre in St. Louis. Housed in The Gaslight Theater, a historic Gaslight Square, STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression.

WHEN:              July 5 – 28, 2019

Evening Performances – Thursday – Saturday at 8pm

Sundays at 3pm

WHERE:            The Gaslight Theater

358 N Boyle

St. Louis, MO 63108

TICKETS:           $30-Student Seniors, $35 Adult

Individual tickets are available for purchase through Ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers or Charge by Phone at 1-800-982-2787. Tickets will also be available at the theater box office one hour prior to performances.

For More Information call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

By Lynn Venhaus Managing Editor Menace is in the air as a tempestuous sibling rivalry escalates in the late great Sam Shepard’s muscular masculine opus, “True West.”

Clearly, their mother did not heed music outlaws Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s warning: “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” The two grown-up brothers can’t be fenced in, especially gonzo Lee, and now it appears unlikely that Austin will ride off into the sunset, despite once playing by the rules.

In the intimate space of the Gaslight Theatre, we’re in for
a splendid guns a-blazing exploration of the after-effects of growing up with a
raging alcoholic dad, with dutiful sons sparing over birthrights, and a splash
of the showbiz industry dreams machinery in California.
The impressive St. Louis Actors’ Studio production allows Shepard’s unconventional
genius to shine and vividly brings out the dark absurdist humor. The
centerpiece is Isaiah Di Lorenzo’s brilliant, blistering performance as Lee, a
swaggering beer-swilling slob.

In keeping with STLAS’ season theme, “Blood is Thicker Than
Water,” director William Whitaker heightens the bravado and tightens the
tension, all the better for the outrageous, twisty surprises.

As the black-sheep oddball Lee, Di Lorenzo sets the tone when he shows up at his mother’s neat suburban home where his writer brother is housesitting.  William Humphrey establishes their differences quickly as the tall and tidy Austin. In body language and inflection, both men tell you all you need to know about who they are and their adversarial relationship. One can surmise this isn’t their first rodeo — the brothers have agitated and needled each other their entire lives. Lee circles, like an animal, trying to mark his territory for dominance. Those animal characteristics will become more prominent in the brothers’ face-off.

In the suburban silence of their mother’s kitchen, 40 miles outside Los Angeles, Ivy League graduate Austin attempts to work on his screenplay because he has a development deal with a hot-shot Hollywood producer. His wife and child did not accompany him. Disheveled Lee hasn’t seen him in five years because he’s been living in the desert. Does he want to stir up trouble? After all, he is a cunning thief and loves drama.

William Humphrey, William Roth in “True West.” Photo by Patrick Huber. Producer Saul Kimmel arrives for a meeting, and William Roth embodies those smarmy back-slapping, old-school wheeler-dealers. In an improbable move, he likes Lee’s pitch for a modern western better than Austin’s period-piece love story, and switches allegiance midstream. Whoa! The news turns their worlds upside down. Austin is angry that his ne’er-do-well brother has co-opted his dream. Tables are turned and the gauntlet is thrown. Soon, the brothers are making a pigsty of their mother’s home, destroying any decorum or convention. When Austin steals toasters, toast will be made and offered, a meaningful gesture. Real working toasters are plugged in on the set. Bravo.

As the brothers’ resort to their animal instincts, it’s
certainly not pretty when Mom arrives home from her Alaska trip. She can’t deal
with her trashed house and soon flees. Hmmm…

The unrepentant alcoholic dad lives in the desert. The kids have issues because of the family alcoholism and dysfunction, of course. But mom (Susan Kopp) is ineffectual and somewhat ditzy. Because Shepard’s career was shaped by his alcoholic upbringing, it also frames this work, for there are no happy trails.

Di Lorenzo and Humphrey display all the resentment,
jealousy and one-upmanship that the play calls for, carefully crafting their
individual behaviors. They’re well-rehearsed at getting under the skin of the
other one. 

Shepard wrote “True West” in 1980, when he was a resident
playwright in San Francisco. It was the third in a troubled family tragedy
trilogy, preceded by “Curse of the Starving Class” and “Buried Child.”

While he would go on to a lengthy acclaimed career as both a playwright and an Oscar-nominated actor, Shepard obviously had experience with the whims and phoniness of the screen trade, which he also skewers with glee.

This bold and brisk story has been malleable enough to be
relevant in multiple decades, maintaining its bite nearly 40 years later.

The play gained notoriety in 1982 when then-unknown actors
John Malkovich and Gary Sinise moved their Steppenwolf Theatre Company
production to off-Broadway and it was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
for Drama in 1983. An acclaimed revival on Broadway in 2000 starred John C.
Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and recently, a limited engagement starred
Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano.

The savagery is real and intense, and scenic designer Patrick
Huber’s well-appointed set is a marvelous playground for the family sparring.

Whitaker has secured a safe space for DiLorenzo to create a
rhythm for the off-the-wall loose cannon, and he is mesmerizing. Humphrey is
steady, on guard for Lee’s ability to suck all the air out of the room. You
feel his frustration.

The unpredictability of Lee is what keeps the audience
engaged. But nobody is safe. Could they be parts of the same person?

Lighting design by Steve Miller accentuates the sunny days
while the outstanding sound design by Whitaker and Jeff Roberts provides the
cacophony of crickets and howls of coyotes.

One of the show’s aural treats is the use of old-timey
country-and-western music to lead in and out of scenes.
This dynamic, rugged production has true grit and an affection for the dueling
brothers, but never gives in to predictability, excelling in its edginess.

St.
Louis Actors’ Studio presents Sam Shepard’s “True West” April 12 to 28 at The
Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End, 358 N. Boyle Ave. Performances are
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets or more
information, visit www.stlas.org. Phone is 314-458.2978. The West End
Grill and Pub is now open for dinner, snacks and drinks.

With the sort of clarity and theatrical density that only the two-hander can achieve, the season of exclusively two-character plays will journey through our most closely complex relationships: Mentor and Apprentice; Husband and wife; Mothers and Child.

Our 2019-20 season:

“Fifty Words” by Michael Weller

Directed by Associate Artistic Director John Pierson

September 20 – October 6, 2019 

While their nine-year-old son is away for the night on his first sleepover, Adam and Jan have an evening alone together, their first in years. Adam’s attempt to seduce his wife before he leaves on business the next day begins a suspenseful nightlong roller-coaster ride of revelation, rancor, passion and humor that explores a modern-day marriage on the verge of either a breakup or deepening love and understanding.

“Mr. Weller is a bold and productive dramatist.” —NY Times. 

“The best thing about Weller’s play is that it offers no easy answers for making a relationship work. Its shades of gray are less than comforting but realistic as husband and wife struggle to describe and resolve their complex feelings for each other.” —International Herald Tribune.

 

“A Life in the Theatre” by David Mamet 

Directed by John Contini

December 6 – December 22, 2019 

 Starring Founder/Artistic Director William Roth and Spencer Sickmann (Farragut North, The Feast, LaBute Festival)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Speed-The-Plow” takes us into the lives of two actors: John, young and rising into the first flush of his success; and Robert, older, anxious, and beginning to wane. Their short, spare, and increasingly raw exchanges reveal the estrangement of youth from age and the wider, inevitable and endless cycle of life, in and out of the theatre.

“A comedy about the artifice of acting… It is also about the artifice of living… An evening of pure theatre.” – The New York Times

“A comic masterpiece.” – New York Daily News

“The warmest and often the funniest play in town.” – New York Post

“[Mamet has] the most acute ear for dialogue of any American writer since J.D. Salinger.” – Village Voiceb

“Annapurna” by Sharr White

Directed by Associate Artistic Director Annamaria Pileggi

February 14- March 1, 2020

After twenty years apart, Emma tracks Ulysses to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere for a final reckoning. What unfolds is a visceral and profound meditation on love and loss with the simplest of theatrical elements: two people in one room. A breathtaking story about the longevity of love.

“Sharr White’s ANNAPURNA is a comic and gripping duet…The closer [the characters] get to understanding what drove them apart, the more engrossed we become in watching them draw together.” —San Francisco Chronicle. 

“What if you had experienced the defining moment of your life—but couldn’t remember it? Sharr White’s remarkable two-person play ANNAPURNA…deals with just that dilemma, as well as other imponderables such as the vagaries of love and the philosophical clarity of impending death.” —LA Times.

 “…at the heart of each character is a lyricism that simply can’t be suffocated. Sharr White has created two fine and ferociously damaged people caught in the emotional whirlpool of not being able to live with or without each other.” —Huffington Post. 

“White’s poetry is endearing and quite lovely, and his dialogue is sharp, funny and consistently very honest…”—BroadwayWorld.com.

“Comfort” by Neil LaBute

Directed by Associate Artistic Director Annamaria Pileggi

April 17-May 3, 2020

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. 

ABOUT ST. LOUIS ACTORS’ STUDIO St. Louis Actors’ Studio is one of the leading professional theatres in the St. Louis. area, producing a four-show season of plays at our 97-seat Gaslight Theatre. STLAS collaborates with renown director, screenwriter and playwright Neil LaBute to produce the LaBute New Theater Festival each July in St. Louis and each January in New York City. The festival is a one-act play competition for emerging professionals and high-school writers.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
What price glory? St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s savvy state-of-play production of “Farragut
North” sketches a fascinating world that we have only glimpsed as it escalates
to a fever pitch every four years.

Beau Willimon’s insider look at cutthroat politics on the
presidential primary election campaign trail premiered in 2008, and is named
for a metro stop in D.C. He wrote it as a Juilliard Playwriting Fellow, loosely
based on his experiences working for Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a one-time
frontrunner in the 2004 presidential race.

The playwright, a 1995 John Burroughs School graduate, first
had experiences on Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns. So,
this territory is obviously in his wheelhouse.

Willimon’s sharp commentary on backroom politics, 21st
Century-style, remains topical even though it came out over a decade ago. As sharks
circle, anticipating the Iowa Caucus kickoff to the 2008 U.S. presidential
primary elections, this whip-smart drama pulsates with passion and purpose.

Director Wayne Salomon shrewdly exposes the underbelly of
political operators like he’s playing in a championship chess tournament. As he
tautly maneuvers the manipulators, we see the designs, desires and dreams of
every character through what is being said and not said, while others lie in
wait, like a cobra. Who will survive, thrive or take a dive?

A crackerjack cast smoothly delivers Willimon’s clever
wordplay and penetrating dialogue, nimbly rattling off statistics, polls and
facts with confidence. Don’t worry – it’s not just a numbers game, for there is
enough human drama to keep us riveted.

Salomon achieves an immediate lived-in authenticity. Staged
under the harsh glare of artificial lighting, in drab hotel rooms on the Iowa campaign
trail, this nondescript set by Patrick Huber fittingly captures the dullness.

Despite the banality, you can feel the drive of the participants
during this dreary January period because it is the first major contest of a
very long season. Those who don’t do well tend to drop out in the coming days
and weeks after Iowa.

Peter Mayer and Spencer Sickman in “Farragut North” at St. Louis Actors Studio. Photo by Patrick HuberEnter the political operatives on the same side, Spencer
Sickmann (Stephen Bellamy) and David Wassilak (Paul Zara) in the throes of
battle, with the opposition represented by Tom Duffy (Peter Mayer). These top-tier,
highly intelligent actors bounce off each other with a tight rhythm, unleashing
diatribes with remarkable force and skill.

The modern political landscape may indeed be a circus, but
the people who play in that minefield are as fascinating as any Shakespeare
concocted.

We meet our polished practitioners of spin in a ubiquitous
hotel bar, trash-talking and regaling each other with stories of glory days,
fueled by alcohol and lust for power.

A few characters are more transparent than others, but Willimon
is quite cunning in his introductions of hotshot press secretary Bellamy, his
boss/mentor Zara and the bright-eyed new kid Ben, played with eager-beaver wide-eyed
enthusiasm by Joshua Parrack.

Bellamy is a likable smarty-pants whose cockiness just may
be his downfall, but how he’s usually one step ahead is impressive. Sickmann is
stunning in this labor-intensive endeavor, for he is on stage in every scene,
and as the smartest guy in the room, the passages he must convey are long. But
he does so with great zeal.

Wassilak’s character is the wild card here, and as he
reveals his clever string-pulls, it’s quite a feat, a new facet of the actor’s
work.

Mayer’s character is the necessary instigator, and he
quickly nails this slick master whose scenes are few but his influence looms
large.

Into this mix comes a major media outlet. Shannon Nara is Ida,
a New York Times reporter who assimilates herself as “one of the guys.” She
does what journalists are paid to do – network and observe. Nara projects a
smart, seasoned professional who knows how to meet the demands of her work –
and not show her cards.

The other female role, Molly, is a young, very ambitious,
starry-eyed campaign worker who is committed to getting what she wants. This character
feels the most cliched, forced. But Hollyn Gayle does what she can by showing
her sly determination.

Photo of Spencer Sickmann and Hollyn Gayle by Patrick HuberAs the layers are peeled back on some truly fascinating
characters – ones who are far more motivated than we initially think — get
ready for sneaky turns in this soul-sucking journey.
Nevertheless, one character represents the ideology of successful political
candidates, and that is a Latino restaurant server working at his family’s
place. Luis Aguilar earnestly professes hope that his chosen candidate can do
the things he says, that can fulfill the hopes and dreams of Americans who want
opportunities.

We are reminded of the democratic process, putting the ‘why’
into perspective, while the rest of the play is about the who, what and how.
After all, a candidate who gets people fired up is always the goal.

It doesn’t matter that this play occurs before widespread
use of smart phones and social media, for Willimon’s sobering account of modern
election campaigns still has the same core that marks all cautionary tales: the
games ambitious people play when stakes are high.

Therefore, this timely staging has as much in common with “Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington” idealism as it does with “The Sweet Smell of Success”
cynicism and the real-world optics created by Nixon’s dirty tricksters,
perfected by political consultant/absolute power master planner Karl Rove and the
media cross-over — evil divide-and-conquer architect Roger Ailes.
 
Even though Americans tend to not like watching the sausage being made, this
riveting piece gives us precise characters worth getting to know.

Willimon went on to develop an American version of the
British inside-politics series “House of Cards” for Netflix and served as showrunner
for four seasons. And he received an Oscar nomination for adapting “Farragut
North” into the George Clooney-Grant Heslov film “The Ides of March” in 2011.

Therefore, it’s interesting to see where it all began. This is far from the last word in politics, but if Willimon is keeping tabs, I want to see that outtake. And Salomon, also responsible for sound design, has well-chosen his opening and closing songs as apt punctuation.

“Farragut North” is presented by St. Louis Actors’ Studio Feb. 8 – 24 at The Gaslight Theatre, 360 N. Boyle Ave, St. Louis. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are available through Metrotix.com For more information, visit www.stlas.org.