Review: The LaBute Theater Festival Offers an Intriguing Evening of One-Acts

 In Culture

The second annual LaBute Theater Festival kicked off last weekend with five original one-act plays, one of which is a contribution of the playwright who lent his name to the festival, Neil LaBute. The festival at St. Louis Actors Studio takes place in the Gaslight Theater over four weeks, with the first five entries running through Jan. 20, and the next set of one-acts running July 25-Aug. 3.

The first set of new plays features drama, humor, and even some surrealism that makes for an entertaining and disparate evening of theater exploration and originality.

" Rubbas" by Steve Karp- Reginald Pierre, B. Weller, Emily Baker Photo by John Lamb

” Rubbas” by Steve Karp- Reginald Pierre, B. Weller, Emily Baker
Photo by John Lamb

“Rubbas,” the first offering by Steve Karp and directed by Milton Zoth, features the always reliable B. Weller playing a U.S. senator who—along with his aide played by Reginald Pierre—attempts to do damage control when another government official (played by Emily Baker) switches a government contract for condom manufacturing (for distribution to other countries as a form of aid and disease control) to a Chinese company, away from the American company in the senator’s Alabama district. The switch will mean the loss of jobs, not to mention public awareness that the company is making condoms, not rubber gloves, a fact that won’t sit well with the senator’s constituents. Never mind that the Chinese company makes them cheaper and better which will allow the program to be more effective and save more lives; the senator is playing hard ball, so to speak, and the play offers a look into the inner workings of how politics dictates one view, and common sense another.

"Little Moscow" by Aleks Merilo-with GP Hunsaker Photo by John Lamb

“Little Moscow” by Aleks Merilo-with GP Hunsaker
Photo by John Lamb

“Little Moscow,” by Aleks Merilo and directed by Chris Limber, is a one-man monologue where a Jewish tailor—played by JP Hunsaker—tells the tale of his sister’s relationship with a teacher, a union which is foiled by the harsh and judgmental father. It’s an interesting story, and Hunsaker creates a solid character, but it feels more like a short story meant to be read and not performed. The material might not lend itself to playing at different levels, and trying to create levels when they aren’t supported by the script is a tricky business. Conversely, perhaps the levels could be divined from the script and simply weren’t. Still, it’s an interesting monologue, but static.

 "I Want to Show You Something" by Jan Henson Dow  Emily Baker, Chopper Leifeit Photo by John Lamb

“I Want to Show You Something” by Jan Henson Dow
Emily Baker, Chopper Leifeit
Photo by John Lamb

In Jan Henson Dow’s “I Want to Show You Something,” directed by Chris Limber, Emily Baker portrays a reserved, diffident woman who struggles to confess some horrible secret to her psychiatrist, Dr. Fisher, played by Chopper Leifheit. Baker’s character can switch on a dime, in a good way, exhibiting the tenuous state of her mind, and Leifheit plays sympathy with just a hint of alarm buried deep within his professional demeanor.

"Blue Lagoon" by Thomas Pierce  B. Weller, Jenny Smith Photo by John Lamb

“Blue Lagoon” by Thomas Pierce
Jenny Smith, B. Weller,
Photo by John Lamb

“Blue Lagoon,” by Thomas Pierce and directed by Milton Zoth, features B. Weller as an unwilling spy/informer and an intriguing Jenny Smith as his U.S. contact. It’s a thoughtful work that looks at the future with both alarm and a tempting, irresistible desire. Smith, while appearing as a grandmotherly type, turns out to have a very big secret. Not wishing to give anything away, let’s just say the performances are excellent and there’s plenty of food for thought offered.

"Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" by Neil LaBute Reginald Pierre, William Roth Photo by John Lamb

“Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” by Neil LaBute
Reginald Pierre, William Roth
Photo by John Lamb

Finally, Neil LaBute’s own contribution, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,” directed by Milton Zoth, features William Roth, a mild-mannered and kindly seeming man sitting on a park bench. But then he is confronted by Reginald Pierre, who confronts him with his deeply hidden, horrible secret. Roth plays a man in personal agony over his past and what we begin to perceive as uncontrollable desires. The audience actually feels sympathy for this man whom we would just as soon stone to death, and that is no small achievement.

The Neil LaBute Festival, Part 1 continues through Sunday, July 20, with part 2 running from July 25-August 3. For tickets and information, visit the St. Louis Actors Studio website.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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