Three One-Act World Premieres by Neil LaBute
The Fourth Reich Directed by John Pierson
Featuring Eric Dean White
Eric Dean White
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn…” John Wesley
Karl is a clean cut, preppy-looking man with genial demeanor. He addresses us directly. “Hitler lost. That’s fair. He lost the war and, because of that, he became one of the most maligned people in the history of the world…seriously… can you think of too many other people who have suffered more bad shit written about them than this guy?…” Are you bristling?
Despite being of French heritage, our speaker disparages his countrymen for being passive – the Resistance sounds like lip service, admires Russians for hand to hand combat, dismisses the British for “all that BE CALM AND CARRY ON bullshit…” You get the drift. Hitler, he says, had some really good ideas. We’re advised to read “the book” (Mein Kampf).
“He lost… his whole country kinda…you know…let him down there, at the last moment.…” Karl speaks matter-of-factly. There’s no stress in his voice, no fearful fire in his belly. Other genocides are weighed in as if talking about football games.
“A man is never just one thing…” The treasured painting he holds is by Adolph Hitler. A human. An artist. “What about me? Should I be tossed in the garbage for one bad thing I did?” That we never learn what this was is a red herring and my single issue with the otherwise skillfully written, thoroughly disturbing play. We’re encouraged to look for hopes and dreams in the small, proffered frame… encouraged to look at things differently.
Eric Dean White is pitch perfect. He projects a lulling, articulate presence while representing insidious Neo-Nazism. Currently very apt.
Director John Pierson’s sense of timing and choice of even tone add chill to this effective piece. Alas, the actor looks in the direction of the audience rather than in our eyes, a missed opportunity.
Great Negro Works of Art Directed by John Pierson
Featuring KeiLyn Durrel Jones and Brenda Meaney
Brenda Meany and KeiLyn Durrel Jones
Having connected online, Tom and Jerri are meeting for the first time at an exhibit called Great Negro Works of Art. It was her choice. She’s white, he’s light-skinned black. Late, he arrives with ameliorating flowers. They’re both understandably awkward. “You look a lot like your profile picture…”
Jerri thinks a display of lawn jockeys is “cute.” Tom points out – without rancor – they were hitching posts for slaves. What, in fact, if anything, does she know about back culture, he asks. Beyonce, a few films with Oprah. Unless she judges someone currently “famous,” the girl feels no need to be aware. When her date asks whether she can name a black artist, she accuses him of being uppity.
The play is a push-pull between attraction, embarrassment, pride, and clueless bigotry. Tom is more willing to make allowances. Still, things build until Tom and Jerri reveal truer versions of themselves. Writing is accomplished, its arc thoroughly realistic and relatable.
Both KeiLyn Durrel Jones and Brenda Meaney are very fine. Jones makes us believe his character has had experience with this kind of ignorance yet hopes the two can skirt it on the way, perhaps, to bed. Eruption of frustration is beautifully unexpected. Meaney’s Jerri is palpably defensive, unaccustomed to being challenged. The actors play off one another well.
John Pierson sees to it that each actor embodies his own kind of stop/start nervousness managing to imbue his players with unspoken signs of dissimilar history and agenda.
Unlikely Japan Directed by Neil LaBute
Featuring Gia Crovatin
A few months ago (why is she upset and telling us now?), Kate caught the end of a television news report on the Las Vegas sniper massacre. Among victims listed, she heard the name of old boyfriend, Tim Friedman. Naturally shallow and somewhat sketchy about the event, Kate nonetheless determined this was her ex.
Ten years ago, he “ticked a bunch of boxes” in her life. They loved each other “in a certain way.” Kate was also, she admits, sleeping with someone quite a bit flashier. At a pivotal moment she left Tim waiting at an airport in favor of what the other man offered. Now she’s wondering if they’re being together could’ve have saved him.
I don’t believe it. She’s too superficial to be upset. It’s been too long. Had the playwright given us a couple with a deeply wrenching past, distress and self examination might be viable. Under these circumstances they’re not.
Gia Crovatin is handicapped by the script and tends to depend on technique to indicate feelings where few are written. I don’t envy her the task.
As Director, Neil LaBute gives us a truly flighty character, but speech is too fast to allow for thought.
Photos by Russ Rowland
Opening left to right: Eric Dean White, Brenda Meany and KeiLyn Durrel Jones, Gia Crovatin
St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents
LaBute New Theater Festival
Three Premiere One-Act Plays by Neil La Bute
Directed by John Pierson; Neil LaBute
354 West 445th Street
Through January 27, 2019