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BWW Reviews: The St. Louis Actors' Studio Hilarious and Moving Production of TALKING HEADS

Talking Heads started life as a series of BBC television monologues before it became a play (actually a couple of them), and if you're expecting a rather static work you'll be pleasantly surprised by these compelling, poignant, and sometimes hilarious vignettes. Author Alan Bennett (as both writer and performer he was a member of the famous Beyond the Fringe revue, which included the late Peter Cook and his partner in crime, Dudley Moore) has put together a fascinating career that includes stage plays, screenplays, novels and radio plays, and this particular collection showcases his ability to craft intriguing and engaging situations and characters. The St. Louis Actors' Studio's current production is distinguished by a wonderful cast and fine direction, making it a must-see presentation.

Three different short works are covered in this show, with the opener, "Nights in the Gardens of Spain", following a lonely housewife named Rosemary and her unexpected and unlikely friendship with a murderess. The second, "A Chip in the Sugar", centers around Graham Whittaker, a gay man with mental issues who lives at home with his mother. Graham's world is turned upside down when an old flame of his mum's shows up and begins courting her, much to Graham's dismay. The closer, "Bed Among the Lentils", concerns itself with a vicar's wife, Susan, who drinks to cope with her unhappiness. Her life takes an interesting turn when she becomes the lover of a shop owner named Ramesh. Like the proverbial onion, each of these studies becomes more and more engrossing as the layers are peeled back and details are revealed.

Elizabeth Ann Townsend is very good as Rosemary, busying herself in her garden to keep her mind off her sadly loveless marriage. When her neighbor murders her husband she forms an unusual bond with this abused woman that lifts her spirits and gives her something in her life that she can actually look forward to. Alan Knoll does stellar work as Graham, mining his character's travails for maximum comic effect, and managing to touch the heart with his story's moving conclusion. Glynis Bell is also strong as Susan, the vicar's wife, who escapes from her unpleasant reality by retreating into a bottle. Her dry sense of wit serves this tale particularly well.

Director Lana Pepper does a nice job of giving her actors the space they need to make each of these character driven studies unique, and all the British accents are convincing and well done (Pepper also handles the costumes, which are good character fits). Cristie Johnston's simple scenic design effectively transforms to reflect each individual story, and it's all dramatically lit by Jonathon Zelezniak.

The St. Louis Actors' Studio has put together another winning production with their presentation of Talking Heads, and it continues through May 26, 2013 at the Gaslight Theater.

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From This Author Chris Gibson