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.

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.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing EditorA STAR WAS BORN: It was as if scripted in a movie. You’ve heard of that classic moment in the 1933 movie “42nd Street” when an understudy takes over for an injured diva. Well, it really happened right here in St. Louis one summer 46 years ago at The Muny.
On Aug. 14, 1972, MGM musical star Ann Miller was playing Reno Sweeney to Michael Callan’s Billy Crockett in “Anything Goes.” The classic Cole Porter romantic romp was underway when right after the song “Friendship” during a scenery change, Miller was conked on the head by a steel boom. Callan had followed her off-stage, then found her on the floor, dazed and bruised.

“Is there a doctor in the house?” A call went out from the stage and 15 doctors responded. The show was cancelled and Miller taken to Deaconess Hospital with a mild brain concussion and loss of equilibrium. She spent 23 days there.With Miller out but not wanting to cancel the week, Muny brass sought a replacement. They plucked Pat St. James, a senior at Webster University, from the ensemble. She rose to the occasion.
St. James, whose parents were local broadcast celebrities Clif and Nance St. James, was praised for her soaring performance. She later thrived in a musical theater career.
But in 1999, she switched gears, earning a degree in theology and ordained an Episcopal priest. She was married to David Roberts, and they lived in Atlanta with their two children, Oliver and Julia. At age 61, after a four-year battle with cancer, she died on Dec. 5, 2010.
Her moment in the sun became a Muny legend.
“Anything Goes” may have been Miller’s first appearance at The Muny but it wouldn’t be her last. She would be persuaded to return in the next decade, for ‘Sugar Babies” with Mickey Rooney in 1984.
Miller starred in “Kiss Me Kate,” “Easter Parade,” “On the Town,” “Stage Door,” “Room Service” and “Mulholland Drive” (?!?).Side Note: I actually saw Pat St. James as Reno Sweeney that week at The Muny. Everyone was abuzz.
(“Anything Goes” photo from Muny archives, from left, Pat Paulsen, Pat St. James, Michael Callan.)
***HELLO, USA!: Congratulations to Madison Johnson of St. Louis, who has been cast in the national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” that begins in late September. She is part of the ensemble and understudy for Minnie Fay.This tour of the Broadway revival, which won four Tony Awards in 2017, will feature Betty Buckley as Dolly Levi and Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder. Stadlen, a three-time Tony nominee, has been in several Muny shows, including “The Producers,” “Damn Yankees,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Madison has been part of the Muny ensemble the past six years, recently playing Lucille Ballard in “Meet Me in St. Louis.” She was Kristine in “A Chorus Line” last summer and Frenchie in 2014’s “Grease.” She started at age 7 as a Muny Kid. A graduate of Whitfield School and Elon College, she moved to New York City in 2016.
***
SIX DEGREES OF ST. LOUIS: John David Washington is starring in “BlackkKlansman” as undercover cop Ron Stallworth, who wrote the book that Spike Lee has adapted into this acclaimed film.

He was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 2007 after he was not drafted in the NFL Draft. Later cut from the Rams, he was a running back for the Hamburg Sea Devils, a German team playing in the NFL Europe League. Fun fact: Eldest son of two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington.
Photo: Adam Driver and John David Washington
***GO SEE A PLAY! POLL: The St. Louis Fringe Festival’s local headlining act is an original musical written and composed by Colin Healy called “The Gringo.” The world premiere will be performed four times from Thursday, Aug. 16 through Sunday, Aug. 19, at the .Zack, 3224 Locust.
It’s about how art can bring a community together. Set in Miami, a local street artist is wrongfully gunned down by police. As told through the lens of a successful painter, this community faces injustice and rapid gentrification. They learn what it means to fight for your home.
The cast includes Gheremi Clay, Kevin Corpuz, Robert Crenshaw, Evann De-Bose, Riley Dunn, William Humphrey, Omega Jones, Tim Kaniecki, Alicia Revé Like, Brittany Losh, Samantha Madison, Gabby McNabb, Carly Niehaus, Janine Norman and David Zimmerman.
Healy directs, with Bradley Rohlf assistant director; Christopher Page-Sanders choreographer and Carly Uding costume design.Tieliere Cheatem contributed the artwork. On opening night, they will give this portrait away that has been signed by the cast and the crew. Tickets available at Metrotix.com

For a chance to win two tickets to one performance, enter our poll drawing!Poll Question: What Is Your Favorite Show About Art? “Art”
“Is He Dead?”“Red”“Sunday in the Park with George”“Sight Unseen”
Submit your selection to [email protected] by noon on Wednesday, Aug. 15. Please include your phone number. You will be notified that afternoon if you won, and you can select what performance so that tickets can be arranged. The show is at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday at 2 p.m. Thanks for participating.
Winner of our two tickets to “Meet Me in St. Louis” was Chuck Brinkley. Thank you, Muny!
“Meet Me in St. Louis” received the most votes as the favorite local movie shot in or made about St. Louis.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: Oscar winner Shelley Winters, whose career spanned five decades, was born Shirley Schrift on Aug. 18, 1920, in St. Louis to Jewish immigrant parents. Her father, a tailor, moved the family to Brooklyn when she was a child. She died at age 86 in 2006.
Once nicknamed “The Blonde Bombshell,” she later became known for forceful dramatic roles.For what movie performances did she win her two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress?Answer: “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1959, as a shrill Mrs. Van Daan, and “A Patch of Blue” in 1965, in which she played a slatternly mother cruel to her blind daughter.
Her breakthrough role on stage was as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” five years into the run, and she was noticed in “A Double Life” starring Oscar winner Ronald Coleman in 1947.But after a dissatisfying number of movie roles, she finally got the role of her lifetime in “A Place in the Sun” with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.
Some of her other big movies were “A Night of the Hunter” in 1955 and “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972. Earlier, she had returned to studying at the Actors Studio and became a big advocate of the Lee Strasberg method.
A lifelong progressive Democrat and outspoken on feminist issues, she became quite a raconteur on talk shows during the 1970s and ‘80s. Her two tell-all autobiographies created quite a stir, as she had some high-profile leading-men dalliances.
Fun fact: She roomed with Marilyn Monroe when they were just starting out in Hollywood.
Happy Birthday, Shelley! (She would have been 98 Monday).Photo at right: Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.
***ICYMI: A movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning “In the Heights” is planned for summer release 2020. Jon M. Chu, who helmed the new romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” will direct.Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” will be made into a movie, and production is to start in November. Stars signed so far are Tony winners James Corden and Ian McKellen, along with Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and Grammy winner Taylor Swift.
***WORD/DOWN MEMORY LANE: “Would you shut your phones off for Christ sakes?” – Stanley Tucci, during the Aug. 14, 2002, performance of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway. An audience member’s cell phone kept ringing. Calls for a ban on cell phones at NYC’s theatres grew louder, and a law was put into effect in 2003.
***Have any tidbits for this people column? Contact Managing Editor Lynn Venhaus – [email protected]
.All photos from archives or submitted. Featured image is of St. Louis native Shelley Winters.