Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Good Theater Is Where You Find It- in Rolla

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Good Theater Is Where You Find It- in Rolla

Article excerpt

IF you're looking for some of your favorite St. Louis performers this summer, try Rolla.

St. Louis is a good talent resource for the Ozark Actors' Theatre, a place that owner-artistic director F. Reed Brown cheerfully describes as "the only Equity theater for 200 square miles."

Now in its eighth season, OAT performs in a renovated Baptist church. Gov. Mel Carnahan, and many of his relatives, were baptized and married there.

Rolla and a former church are far from New York, where Brown, a performe r himself, used to live and work. But he always had an eye out for a community with no Equity theater in it, a place where he could get something going on his own.

That turned out to be Rolla.

"It's a small community, but we draw from as far west as Fort Leonard Wood and as far east as Cuba," said Brown. "And since the theater has only 188 seats, it's very intimate." Each summer season, Brown goes for a mix of styles: a musical, a comedy and a drama.

This year is no exception. Marlon Hoffman, well-known on stages around town, will direct the first show, "Cotton Patch Gospel." A musical by the late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, it's a show about the life of Jesus; in this version, though, the Bethlehem stable turns out to be a trailer park in Georgia. "It's a different approach," said Hoffman. It opens Thursday.

Next comes the drama: the St. Louis Black Repertory Company's production of "In White America," staged here last fall. Ron Himes will direct in Rolla, as he did in St. Louis. Brown expects the entire St. Louis cast to appear in the Rolla production - himself included. It opens July 11.

The season will wind up with a production of a comedy, "The Nerd," that Brown is directing. It opens July 25.

Plays at the Ozark Actors' Theater run Thursdays through Sundays, for at least two weeks. For more information about tickets or schedules, call the theater at (573) 364-9523.

Outside of St. Louis and Kansas City, Brown knows of only one other Equity house in Missouri.

That, of course, is the historic Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock, near Boonville.

Under artistic director Michael Bollinger, the Lyceum has already begun its 36th summer season with the sequel to "Annie," "Annie Warbucks," which closes this Sunday. It will continue to present shows until Labor Day.

Who goes to see professional theater in mid-Missouri? Lots of people - last year, for example, there were 27,000 of them.

"That's sort of astonishing for a town that has a population of 70," said the Lyceum's associate artistic director, Phillip M. Coffield. "But the support we get from mid-Missouri is amazing. We are a regular part of a lot of people's summers."

In fact, he added, the support from St. Louis and Kansas City isn't bad, either. Lots of visitors come because it's a nice day trip from both cities.

Besides the theater - definitely the main draw - the area also offers a state park, picnicking, a historical center on the Santa Fe Trail and the Lewis and Clark expedition, good antiquing, and, according to Coffield, two good restaurants, the Evergreen and the Old Tavern.

Three years ago, the Lyceum was expanded dramatically. The original theater - another historic church, which seated 200 - was converted into the lobby of the new theater, a modern building that seats 408. "I am happy to say, we are filling it," Coffield said.

The shows are staged with a core cast of 10 performers, plus more brought in for specific shows. The next show, "Evita," opens Wednesday and runs until July 3.

After that, the Lyceum will go into a rolling rep, alternating productions of "Always . …

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