Review: BARRYMORE at St. Louis Actors' Studio

John Contini Reprises His Kevin Kline Award Winning Role

By: Dec. 06, 2023
Review: BARRYMORE at St. Louis Actors' Studio
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John Barrymore was one of the most prolific actors of his generation. He gained notoriety for his handsome looks, his legendary performances on stage and screen, and unfortunately his tragic decline from alcoholism. BARRYMORE, the current production at St. Louis Actor’s Studio, is William Luce’s fictional account of John Barrymore rehearsing for a revival of Richard III about a month prior to his death from liver failure and cirrhosis.  

Luce’s script is a written as a two person play. One actor plays John Barrymore, and an unseen actor plays a stage manager who engages with Barrymore from offstage. The play, written mostly as a monologue, allows the actor to recount the life of Barrymore, his familial relationships, his career, his four failed marriages, and his dependence on the bottle. Luce’s script is filled with wit and sarcasm but is ultimately a portrait of a helpless man whose demons are destroying him.  

John Contini reprises the role that won him a Kevin Kline Award. From his initial entrance stumbling onto the stage, Contini captivates the audience. His performance as Barrymore is both magnificent and sad. He plays Barrymore a caustic man with acerbic wit who wants desperately to have one more grand stage performance, but alcoholism has robbed the once proud egocentric man of his cognitive function and ability to maintain focus. Contini superbly conveys Barrymore’s frustration and anger as he cannot concentrate and remember his lines. He physically embodies the character, expressing Barrymore’s pathetic decline with crumbling posture and overwrought facial expression. 

Alexander Huber delivers an impressive vocal acting performance as the never seen Frank, the stage manager engaging with Barrymore from the wings. Frank’s role is to move the action forward and refocus Barrymore when he gets lost in tangential stories. Frank also functions as Barrymore’s alter ego, both supporting and chastising Barrymore for his acting success and his self-indulgent behavior. It is Frank’s verbal sparring that sheds light on the pitiful man Barrymore has become. Contini’s has the showy, scene-chewing role, but Huber equally matches Contini line-for-line, with a layered reading to express the exasperation of a professional whose time is being is wasted. 

BARRYMORE is an exquisitely written script that is exceptionally acted in this first-rate production at St. Louis Actor’s Studio. This fantastic production can be seen through December 10th at The Gaslight Theatre. Click the link below to purchase tickets.