Theatre Reviews

First Run Theatre, a company dedicated to the development and production of original work by St. Louis artists and playwrights, presents six short plays in Spectrum 2017: A Festival of One Acts. An eight-actor ensemble and two directors help to streamline production details and, though the short plays often feel more like scenes from a longer play or sketches rather than complete stories, the resulting production is an entertaining mix of topics and situations. 

The six selected pieces in this year's festival include four debut scripts and two shows originally produced for the Spectrum 2016 festival. As far as I recall from last year's production, the scripts for the two repeated shows do not appear to have significantly changed and there are no program notes to explain their inclusion, leading me to question why they were remounted. While the plays, Pride of Dummies, by Joe Wegescheide, directed by Patrice Foster, and Placebo Effect, by David Hawley, directed by Nikki Lott, are generally entertaining and well constructed, I found my second viewing decidedly less satisfactory than the first. 

The four new plays include Cooter Holland Rides a Tractor, by Tim Naegelin, directed by Lott; Storage, by Tom Moore, directed by Foster; Raisinets by Samantha L. Shanker, directed by Foster; and Wake-Up Call by Zachary Michael Jack, directed by Lott. Michelle Dillard serves as assistant director for all six plays. Set designer Lew Blink, light designer/artist Ann Johnson, sound designer/composer Brad Slavik, and costume/props designer Madelyn Boyne also contribute to the effort. While the production values have a decidedly homemade look and feel, they suit the festival's mission and capably serve the plays.

Both Storage and Raisinets feel like scenes from longer scripts, and they generate enough intrigue that I'm curious about the rest of each story. Storage combines a flea market with a storage unit auction and offers an interesting plot that hints at redemption. Three regular attendees, including a woman trying to make a go with her baby's father because she never knew her own dad and a man who regrets becoming estranged from his little girl after divorcing her mom, chat just before the auction begins. Though there are no surprises here, the plot twist develops nicely and naturally, and actors Gwynneth Rausch, Tinah Twardowski, and Aaron Mermelstein are genuinely sympathetic. 

Raisinets presents two very different mothers of young children trying to find compromise after one child has struck the other in a way that causes genuine concern. Rausch is an older mom who tried for many years before finally having a daughter; Lexie Baker is a teen mom determined to complete her education and create a good life for her son. Though their backgrounds are quite different, the two both need and resent each other. Each has secret fears they don't want to admit and their defensive retorts are as telling as their confessions, with portrayals that are grounded and genuine.

The remaining two one-acts feel much more like sketches, not short plays. Though I find that each has strong points, the story arcs, though enjoyable, feel somewhat unfinished or incomplete. Cooter Holland Rides a Tractor has compelling, likable characters and lively dialogue, but lacks a plot. Rather than story twists, we simply listen in on an important conversation between a young couple. Karen Pierce is particularly effective as Lisa, and as she questions Luke Steffen's Gary we clearly see the conundrum build, but there's no action or unfolding of their story. The resolution is a genuinely lovely moment, I wish it didn't feel tacked on to create a happy ending. 

Wake-Up Call, by Zachary Michael Jack, feels incomplete and a bit confused. The short piece has a lot of comic potential that seems left by the wayside and, unfortunately, I am left with more questions than plot. Luke Steffen and Andrea Standby are convincing best friends, while Lexie Baker is a seriously quirky waitress. I don't know if the issue is direction or source material, but Baker and Standby's interactions don't align with Steffen and Standby's, creating the sense that we're seeing two different ideas mashed together in an attempt to create a single piece. The script offers an interesting but terribly thin premise; perhaps stage directions or the author's notes are the source of the oddly disjointed production.

First Run Theatre is to be congratulated on their ability to recruit, workshop, and produce the work of local St. Louis playwrights. While the six shows in this year's Spectrum 2017: A Festival of One Acts are a mixed bag, the festival presents the opportunity to see productions whose very existence is a testament to our city's thriving art scene.  

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