Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Evening of One Acts
West End Players Guild
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of Copenhagen

Mike DePope, Kurt Knoedelseder, Michael Monsey,
Shawntay "Tay" Vaughn, Jane Abling, and John Reidy

Photo by John Lamb
Less than a year ago it looked (to me, anyway) as if the venerable West End Players Guild of St. Louis had just ceased to exist, after 111 years. They suddenly didn't have enough people, one board member explained, to churn out another season. And it seemed obvious that audiences were still somewhat reluctant to come due to COVID-19. As an added, random catastrophe, one of their leading ladies walked out earlier that season, forcing the cancellation of a show in the final nights of rehearsal, a former board member told me.

But they had a miraculous rebirth this past fall, and ever since, I've been "clapping for Tinker Bell" whenever the West End Players Guild puts on a new show in this, their 112th season. Because the group's sensibility, in choosing fresh, offbeat plays with a down-to-Earth style is almost always delightful. And because (to me) theatre will always be the magic fairy that saves you, in a world full of Captain Hooks.

And so it is now, with An Evening of One Acts, directed by Carrie Phinney and Renee Sevier-Monsey, in the familiar basement of the Union Avenue Christian Church, the group's longtime home. But I have to clap a little harder for about half of these seven short plays, to keep the magic alive. The whole production runs about 105 minutes, including a fifteen minute intermission. The other half of the bill is great, with actors who are anywhere from fine to fabulous. So let's get started, in no particular order:

Surprise, by Mark Harvey Levine, features Mike DePope as a psychic who can only see two minutes into the future. It's a genuine comedy, because of course two minutes isn't far enough ahead to do anyone any good. He meets his girlfriend (Amie Bossi) at a diner, where she feels increasingly trapped by the grueling determinism that comes along with his gift. Shawntay "Tay" Vaughn is the bemused waitress, completing a perfect comic equation.

A Sunny Morning, by the 19th century Andalusian playwrighting brothers Serafin and Joaquin Alvarez Quintero, features Jane Abling and John Reidy as Spanish senior citizens who take an immediate dislike to one another on a park bench. But fate twists and turns, and a grand legend arises from their chatter, embellished by asides to the audience. Both performers hold their characters up to the light, where a romantic story gleams.

Mr. DePope and Ms. Bossi return as a couple in Post-Its, a Nichols and May-type sketch about a date that turns into a lifetime together, played out through those little pastel-colored sticky notes. It has some nice laughs and a fine emotional structure, as written by the actor Paul Dooley and his wife Winnie Holzman.

One of the evening's comic highlights, Controlling Interest, is written by Wayne Rawley. And it reminds me of TV's "South Park," with a gaggle of eight-year-old boys played by grown men, who carry on with their eight-year-old lives as if they were running a major corporation (see photo). The group includes the always-enjoyable Michael Monsey, and it's headed by a very "take-charge" Mr. Reidy. The boys' great upheaval comes when they begin to start thinking about girls.

Ms. Abling whips out a pair of binoculars in There Goes The Neighborhood, by local playwright Marjorie Williamson, to imagine an epic, sordid life for the woman moving in next door. Kurt Knoedelseder plays Ms. Abling's husband, who turns everything around in the final moments.

The Spot was written by Steven Dietz, who has been listed as one of the twenty most produced playwrights in the United States. His forthcoming new book is entitled: "Doom Eager: Notes on Making Plays." The spotlight here is on political focus groups and campaign polling, with a blood and guts performance by Mr. Reidy as a campaign manager overseeing production of a new video advertisement for his candidate. It features six members of the evening's ensemble, including Lesa Bush as a campaign assistant who suddenly becomes the center of attention.

The one-act with the most interesting structure is Left to Right is also by Steven Dietz. Mr. Reidy, Mr. Knoedelseder, Ms. Bush and Ms. Bossi play married couples whose romantic lives intertwine like a Christmas wreath, with each private conversation making things more and more complicated. I like it just because it gets so confusing, and the actors wrestle through the story with such tenacity.

It sounds very pat to say these are all "relationship plays," whose performance dates lovingly bookend the Valentine's Day rituals of 2024. Because, of course, every play seems like a relationship play. But, taken together, most of the works in this collection of blackouts shake the dust off our intimacies, though in different ways. The larger meaning? If you don't keep up the relationship, lovers just gradually go away.

And the same is also true for theatre companies.

An Evening of One Acts runs through February 18, 2024, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd., St. Louis MO. For tickets and more information, please call 314-667-5686 or visit

Jane Abling, Amie Bossi, Lesa Bush, Mike DePope, Kurt Knoedelseder, Michael Monsey, John Reidy, Shawntay "Tay" Vaughn

Production Staff:
Directors: Carrie Phinney and Renee Sevier-Monsey
Lighting Design: Renee Sevier-Monsey
Sound Design: Mary Beth Winslow
Props: Anna Blair
Master Carpenter: Jacob Winslow
Light Board Operator: Renee Sevier-Monsey
Sound Board Operator: Mary Beth Winslow
Box Office Manager: Sara Howard
Program Cover Design: Marjorie Williamson
Program Design: Nathan Schroeder