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St. Louis Actors' Studio focuses on power and politics

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 17, 2008 - St. Louis Actors' Studio's mission is to address a particular aspect of the human condition and adhere to it when selecting our season. This approach enables us to focus on what drives us in our day-to-day adventure of life -- what makes us tick. Last season, our first season, we explored the Family Dynamic -- its triumph and its dysfunction. Actors, directors and writers who participated in a workshop created an original production on the same theme.

This year we are exploring the theme of Power and Politics from a national or world perspective and by looking at how these two concepts affect us in our everyday lives. After reading many plays that address Power and Politics, we found seven that we feel touch the heart and trouble the mind.

Our first production will be a classic, wrought from the Greeks and translated to the language we know and understand. We have learned few lessons. That is why Greek tragedy lives through the ages and holds up a mirror we are afraid to face. Antigone, written by Sophocles and adapted by Jean Anouilh, pits a young woman determined to bury her brother against a tyrant, Creon, who is determined to live by the letter of the law -- his law -- rather than listen to the voices of reason and justice.

Our next production, A Fire As Bright As Heaven, written and performed by Tim Collins, is a multi-character, one-man show that pits the individual against the alienation and anxieties of national and global realities of the 21st century. It is funny, it is acerbic and it makes you think.

In November, we travel to Iraq and back to the U.S. in our production of 9 Parts of Desire, by Heather Raffo. This is a unique play that follows eight Iraqi women and one American woman in monologues that depict the experiences women faced during the reign of Saddam Hussein and face currently in wartime. It is "an unusually timely meditation on the ancient, the modern and the feminine in a country overshadowed by war."

From all wars, the warrior returns home and must adjust to a normal life from having lived hand to hand, man to man. Throughout history, from as long ago as Odysseus' return from the Trojan War, to today's men and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, veterans come home changed, shaken, lost -- all stunned by their experiences. Medal of Honor Rag, written in 1975 by Tom Cole, examines the cost and the anguish of those troops -- apparently the lucky ones -- who come home from war.

War and terrorism come home in the form of fear and suspicion and make us question who is American, who is patriotic. Since Sept. 11, 2001, many Middle Eastern Americans find themselves under the scrutiny of Homeland Security. Yussef El Guindi's play, Back of the Throat, about an Arab-American writer, brings to light America's fears and prejudices, and exemplifies how this collective paranoia allows us to infringe upon our own citizens' rights -- demonstrating that history has a talent for repeating itself.

Taken from Chinese folklore, The Good Person of Setzuan, by Bertolt Brecht, asks how a good person can live in a system based on corruption and dishonesty. This is a morality tale of a young woman -- a good woman, whose journey examines the idea of altruism and its direct conflict with capitalism. Can there be a balance between the two?

Our next production focuses on the Watergate scandal and its participants from a wife's point of view. Martha Mitchell Calling is about a woman no one takes seriously. Martha Mitchell, the wife of John Mitchell, attorney general in the Nixon administration, became famous for her phone calls to the press regarding the administration's connection to Watergate. Jodi Rothe's play fleshes out the woman behind the headlines

And to conclude our season, keeping with our mission of creating and producing a play based on the season's theme, we'll present an original production that explores Power and Politics. It will be a collaborative production based on our weekly workshops.

It is my wish that St. Louis Actors' Studio's second season will unite audiences, in spite of the power and politics that tears us apart, for we're all in this together.

Actors' Studio schedule

Antigone: Sept. 19-Oct. 5

A Fire As Bright As Heaven: Oct. 10-19

9 Parts of Desire: Nov. 7-23

Medal of Honor Rag: Jan. 30-Feb. 15, 2009

Back of the Throat: March 27-April 12

The Good Person of Setzuan: April 24-May 10*

Martha Mitchell Calling: May 15-24

STLAS Original Production: June 5-21

*performed at Xavier Hall Theatre at St. Louis University

Where: Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle, except as noted

For tickets: go to Ticketmaster or call 314-458-2978.

Milton Zoth is artistic director of St. Louis Actors' Studio. 

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