BWW Review: LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL Serves Up Much to Ponder With New, Fresh Work
St. Louis Actors' Studio's 7th LaBute New Theater Festival pulls together two sets of one-acts and a staged reading of high school finalists this month in order "to bring a fresh vision of theatre to St. Louis." Blind, open submissions were taken from playwrights near and far, with six new, previously-unproduced professional plays and four plays by high school students making the cut. Accompanying the professional play sets is Great Negro Works of Art, a Midwestern premier by playwright, filmmaker, screenwriter, author, and director Neil LaBute, directed by John Pierson, performed each night of the festival. It allows its audience to peer in on a legitimate-from-all-sides Culture Clash between a white woman and black man as they navigate the small (and not-so-small) talk of a first date. Carly Rosenbaum as Jerri and Jaz Tucker as Tom start the show off with a boom, inhabiting their roles with great authority and authenticity. When the lights go down on this one, you'll wish you had a few more minutes to think about the questions that are subtly posed within.
Set 1 continues swiftly onward however, and Color Timer by Michael E. Long, directed by Jenny Smith, is next. This play also eavesdrops on a first date. Darkly funny, it examines whether or not people are at full capacity during moments of true crisis. This one holds a few shocks and startles, and Colleen Backer as Stacy, Rachel Bailey as Waitress, and Shane Signorino as Aaron work effectively together to keep us on the edge of our seats as we are dying to know what will happen next. The twist in the end is perhaps a bit expected, but there is a second twist that is earned and wraps up an almost-perfect story arc, which is difficult to achieve in so few minutes.
Privilege by Joe Sutton, also directed by Smith, follows, and is admirable in its complexity and scope. After Peter (Spencer Sickmann) passes the Bar, he is called into a character committee before being granted his license to practice law. Tough questions are asked, and sinister family secrets come to light, as Peter figures out how to (if he ever even can) make right the offenses of many other attorneys in his family's past. Chuck Brinkley plays Mark, Carly Rosenbaum plays Amy, and Shane Signorino plays Warren, and they are all effective in their roles to bring this story to its uncertain, difficult end.
Kim Jong Rosemary by Carter W. Lewis, directed by John Pierson, rounds out Set 1, as a mother named Rhonda (Jenny Smith) and her teenager Beth (Eli Hurwitz)-with a little humorous help from the playwright (Colleen Backer as Carter W. Lewis)-discuss everything from how terrible a sandwich is Jimmy John's to gender disparity to Plato's Cave, as an enormous white sack of female anger sits in full view at stage left. There are mammograms inside the sack, and you can be sure there's lots of body stuff in there, an ex-husband, the refrigerator at work, and "all the sticky minutiae that drags a woman down." This play, while a tad bit meta, is smart and funny, and is a provocative ending to a night full of shorts that commendably challenge their audience. Set 1 will be performed through July 14.
Set 2 will be performed July 19-28 and along with Great Negro Works of Art, includes Predilections by Richard Curtis, Henrietta by Joseph Krawczyk, and Sisyphus and Icarus: A Love Story by William Ivan Fowkes, all directed by Wendy Renee Greenwood.
On Saturday, July 20, there will be a staged reading of the high school finalists: Razor Burn by Theodore James Sanders of Houston, TX; P.B. and Gay by Dylan Hasted of Glendale, CA; Stressful Snacks by Posey Bischoff of St. Louis, MO; and We'll Go Down (In History) by Ann Zhang of St. Louis, MO, all under the direction of Spencer Sickmann.
It's not a bad thing to have one's finger on the pulse of fresh, original theatre, and this is as good an opportunity as any to see new work. And as with any short-play festival, if you don't like one play, just hold tight, because you very well might like the next. The festival continues through July 28 at The Gaslight Theater.
For more information and a link to tickets, http://stlas.org/services-view/labute/.