Hate Crime by Neil La Bute featuring Chauncy Thomas and Spencer Sickman
We hear jungle sounds, “…this alpha male seems to have it made…” An unseen nature documentary is on television. Man A (Chauncy Thomas) clearly representative of the described species, appears in a generic hotel room wearing a terrycloth robe (much too fancy for his surroundings.) After repeated banging on the door, he lets in Man B (Spencer Slickman), by all appearances a fresh-faced innocent, who has forgotten his key.
Man A is, in fact, angry/aggressive/violent. Intermittent tenderness is reptilian. Man B seems blindly attracted to his lover’s self assurance. And their sex. They’re having an affair. The two are plotting to murder Man B’s current partner, a rich older man, on the wedding day of B & absent C. (Annoying pretense eschews names.) Man A, who practically salivates describing his brutal, back alley plan, will make the murder appear to be a hate crime.
The only reason for this modest exercise in, perhaps, social presumptions, is to watch Spencer Sickman inhabit his character. Facial expressions are priceless. Timing is impeccable. Even the way the actor holds himself is entirely, specifically credible…in context.
Kelly Schaschl and Autumn Dornfeld
Winter Break by James Haigney featuring Autumn Dornfeld, Spencer Sickmann, Kelly Schaschl
Joanna (Kelly Schaschl) is packing. Her mom, Kitty (Autumn Dornfeld), is upset; her brother Bailey (Spencer Sickmann) apoplectic. It’s winter break from college and the young woman is going to Turkey to study with Sufis for two weeks. Or so she says. Kitty does everything she can to reasonably talk her daughter out of the trip because of implicit danger. When Bailey confronts Joanna, convinced she’s gone over to the dark side of her nascent Muslim faith (and will become a jihadist), Kitty protests she knows her girl.
Scenes like this are likely happening all over America, though Kitty’s obtuse take on her daughter’s spouting Koran gospel confutes her economic and cultural background, it’s possible. The situation is plausible, well written, and unnerving. Once again Spncer Sickmann is the best thing on stage lending nuanced shades to Bailey’s frustration and fear.
Autumn Dornfeld and Chauncy Thomas
Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis featuring Autumn Dornfeld, Chauncy Thomas, Kelly Schaschl
The most interesting (and rife with potential) of this year’s three plays, Percentage America wryly examines the elusive search for truth in what’s become a barrage of conflicting fake and real news coverage. Ariel (Autumn Dornfeld) and Andrew (Chauncy Thomas) met online. This is apparently their first date (in her apartment?!) Recognizing neither had been honest in her/his posting, complaining of lengthy experience with others who did exactly this, they begin to admit increasingly revealing facts about themselves. Both find confession sympathetic, exhilarating. They do have something in common.
Ariel suggests a kind of game wherein the pair choose a trending event and, eschewing the internet, track it to reality. Though the event is farfetched, exhilarating research is both believable and sharply satirical. (The venture would make a marvelous assignment for a journalism class.) It also finds the two actors displaying anxiety and expectation far better than anything else the play requires before or after.
Unfortunately, neither thespian depicts ironic growing lust referred to in dialogue. One parenthetic banter in particular should by all rights resemble the messy, sensual, eye-locked dining scene in Tom Jones- after which the two characters tear at each other with equal appetite. Libidinous innuendo –here minimized- would vastly enhance the production. Remember the way Network’s Diana Christensen gets her rocks off by spewing media statistics while having relations?
Stage right, Kelly Schaschl plays a wide roster of commentators as a spotlight hits and blacks out. The playwright tries to fit too much in here and loses specificity. Still, it might’ve worked had the actress not been dressed in the white lace teenage dress of the character central to the event. Really, you couldn’t give her a jacket and clip her hair back before she morphed into the young girl in question?! (Costume Design Carla Landis Evans) We feel like the news is broadcast from a high school.
This play deserves further exposure.
Director John Pierson is better with blocking than emotional shades. Three of his cast are allowed to overact.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Chauncy Thomas and Spencer Sickmann
St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents
LaBute New Theater Festival of One Act Plays
Hate Crime by Neil LaBute
Winter Break by James Haigney
Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis
Directed by Associate Artistic Director John Pierson
Through February 4, 2018