LaBute New Theater Festival- Part II- At STLAS Becomes “LaBute Lite”

Paul Cooper cowers before park ranger David Wassilak in "Blood Brothers." Photo: John Lamb

Paul Cooper cowers before park ranger David Wassilak in “Blood Brothers” at the LaBute Theater Festival Photo: John Lamb

After suicides, revenge killings and Irishmen digging their own graves in the first set of one-acts in the LaBute New Theater Festival, the second go round offers a lighter fare but with some of the same cutting edge perception by the playwrights. There’s even a bit of the naughty with some kinky moves, some over the top technology while even the more serious plays feature much more humor than we had in Part I.

Local talent, Rachel Fenton, has been quite busy in this whole series. In Part II, she is in two of the plays and has written the opener. “Blood Brothers” is the name of the play and a fictional TV series at the crux of the show. Park ranger Hank, played by David Wassilak, has, on an impulse, kidnapped and bound and gagged his favorite star from the series who he spots jogging in the park. Taking him back to his rustic cabin (one of the perks of the job), he pours out his heart to the star, played by Paul Cooper. It all comes around to heroes- real and imagined- and their value and worth in today’s society. Wayne Salomon has directed with the proper mix of tension and obvious humor laced through the script. A really nice job by the young Rachel Fenton.

David Wassilak gives advice to Tom Lehmann in "Cut" at the LaBute Theater Festival. Photo: John Lamb

David Wassilak gives advice to Tom Lehmann in “Cut” at the LaBute Theater Festival. Photo: John Lamb

The second play is a repeat of the Neil LaBute contribution to the festival, “The Possible.” Again, Ms. Fenton and the marvelous Wendy Greenwood spar over a stolen boyfriend, suppressed feeling and urges and how love can come in unexpected packages. Milt Zoth directs with a real feel for LaBute’s mastery of plot and dialogue.

To end the first series of plays, we’re presented with “Cut” by Daniel Damiano who had his world premiere full length play, “Day Of The Dog” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio earlier this year. This is a fascinating character study of Jerry, a prisoner of thirty years who has become the prison barber and his current client, prisoner Raymond. As Jerry, David Wassilak is also the prison philosopher offering advice to Ray, played by Tom Lehmann. He says we’re all driven by three things- greed, desperation and rage- and tries to convince Ray what path he should take to get out of the penitentiary as soon as possible. We get an insight into both men’s lives and are left with the idea that Jerry’s philosophy hasn’t gone over well with his fellow prisoners. Rep Artistic Director, Steve Woolf, reveals this little slice-of-life story well to the audience and gives us just a glimpse- a fascinating one- into these two lives.

Nathan Bush and Laura Sexauer discuss their next move in "Kink" at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

Nathan Bush and Laura Sexauer discuss their next move in “Kink” at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

After the intermission, it’s time for “late night LaBute” as the plays get a little racier and a great deal funnier. “Kink,” by Joshua Thomas, brings Laura Sexauer as Francesca and Nathan Bush as Simon into a hotel room obviously trying to outdo each other in the sexual role-playing game. Everything from Mexican pool boy to bunny and fox (and a lot more) are brought up or acted out to the seeming displeasure of one or the other of the participants. Francesca finally convinces Simon that she will really get turned on by his reading of “The Shipping News.” I may have to re-read that one, because I don’t remember it bringing on any “50 Shades of Grey” moments. Frustration and very little satisfaction seems to be the result of the evening’s games, however and director Milt Zoth has played it mostly for laughs. There’s not a lot to it, but it’s a fun little play and one that really seemed to hit home with the audience.

Aaron Orion Baker and Rachel Fenton practice "safe cyber sex" in "Present Tense" at the LaBute Theater Festival at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

Aaron Orion Baker and Rachel Fenton practice “safe cyber sex” in “Present Tense” at the LaBute Theater Festival at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

Closing out the evening is “Present Tense” by Peter Grandbois and Nancy Bell. Technology reaches into the world of sexual misconduct as two cheating marrieds try to communicate and get pleasured through texts, tweets and other means through I-pads and laptops. Are they actually together since they never actually touch but just talk about the ways they are pleasuring each other even when they’re standing or laying in bed two inches apart from each other? The “climax” appears to come with the somewhat surprise ending. Rachel Fenton returns as Debra and Aaron Orion Baker is Walter. Wayne Salomon returns to direct this little commentary on how technology has entered every aspect of our lives including our sexual peccadillos. Does infidelity include texts and tweets? You bet it does and “Present Tense” brings it all to the forefront.

This has really been fun- watching the excitement of new plays and- in some cases- new playwrights parade before our eyes and the audiences have been appreciative. One constant throughout the festival has been tremendous work by all the actors and the amazing versatility of set designer Jim Burwinkel’s rotating walls. And kudos to all the playwrights for being chosen to be a part of this festival which will be back next summer as well. Be sure to call St. Louis Actors’ Studio at 314-458-2978 or contact them at http://www.stlas.org for tickets or more information on the LaBute New Theater Festival- Part II. It runs through July 28th at the Gaslight Theatre.

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