Loneliness And Disillusionment Provide Unexpected Comedic Fodder For STLAS’ “Talking Heads”

Elizabeth Ann Townsend as Rosemary, treats her plants as well as the local gossip with equal care. Photo: John Lamb

Elizabeth Ann Townsend as Rosemary, treats her plants as well as the local gossip with equal care. Photo: John Lamb

Alan Bennett wrote a series of monologues for British TV in the late ’70’s which he collectively called “Talking Heads.” Their success led to stage adaptations and now St. Louis Actors’ Studio, under the superb guidance of director Lana Pepper, have brought three of those pieces to the Gaslight Theatre stage. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she put three of St. Louis’ leading actors on stage as well.

For those not familiar with Alan Bennett, he along with Jonathan Miller and the more familiar Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, created a sensation with the still fabulous and funny comic revue, “Beyond The Fringe.” Outrageous and inventive, it took Britain and then the U.S. by storm in the early ’60’s. The four wrote and performed memorable skits including one of my all time favorites, “The Frog and Peach.” Alan Bennett displays the same with but with a touch of irony in these three stories as performed at STLAS.

Alan Knoll as Graham struggles with changes in his well-ordered life. Photo: John Lamb

Alan Knoll as Graham struggles with changes in his well-ordered life. Photo: John Lamb

The opening monologue (all three comprise several scenes but total about 30-40 minutes each), features Elizabeth Ann Townsend as a devoted gardner in Leeds who starts to relate the story of a local “murder in the suburbs” story with a twist that includes her eventual friendship with the neighbor accused of doing in her husband. With quite a few other twists along the way, her storytelling simply mesmerizes us as the layers slowly unfold- even as she travels to Spain with her husband who, although not appearing, has a prominent place in her tale. Her friendship with the convicted neighbor fills a need that the husband- even before a certain secret is revealed- has not been providing.

Next we have another great performance by Alan Knoll as a slightly off-center middle-aged man who has stayed with his mother all of these years to take care of her (apparently needlessly) but it provides his raison d’etre. When an old flame steps in and tries to sweep the mother away, it brings confusion and a sense of finality to his life.

Glynis Bell tells "tales out of church" in the final offering of "Talking Heads" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Glynis Bell tells “tales out of church” in the final offering of “Talking Heads” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Finally, we meet Susan, played with a flair for the comic and dramatic by the wonderful Glynis Bell. As her vicar husband, Jeffrey, makes his ascension further up the religious ladder, she becomes a forgotten piece in his life. Through the help of alcohol and a tryst with the local Indian grocer, she justifies her existence while continuing to ignore the things most important to Jeffrey and the vicarage.

Even with the rather sombre premises, Mr. Bennett has filled the monologues with crisp, British wit and an undercurrent of three people rising like a phoenix from what appears to be hopeless situations. These three stories make us long for the rest of the dozen or so monologues he has written in the series.

The effective and versatile Cristie Johnston set design slips easily into each story while the Jonathan Zelezniak lights and costumes of director Lana Pepper all add to the trio of tempting tales. Milt Zoth’s sound design also brings the proper mix of melancholy and mischief to the proceedings.

This is a short run- a quickly added piece to the season- at St. Louis Actors’ Studio as it runs only through this week-end, May 26th. So give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

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