Photo: Lifetime Achievement Award winner Sam Hack, right, with Archie Coleman and wife Marilyn Albert-Hack
By Lynn Venhaus
Act Two Theatre Company in St. Peters won top honors at the third annual Arts for Life Theatre Mask Awards, taking home both Best Drama for “The Boys Next Door” and Best Comedy for “Drop Dead!”
Monroe Actors Stage Company in Waterloo won the most awards, with five. The theater company had received the most nominations, with 25 for three shows (15 for “Alice in Wonderland,” nine for “Silent Sky” and one for ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”).
MASC won three for “Silent Sky,” a play by Laura Gunderson about the pioneer astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt, including Liz LeSaulnier for Leading Actress in a Drama, and John Campbell for best set and lighting designs. The company won two for the Lewis Carroll’s fantasy classic “Alice in Wonderland” – Sally Durrer for costume design and Anna Bulman for Best Juvenile Performance as the Dormouse.
The awards, which recognize excellence in plays produced by metropolitan St. Louis community theaters during 2017, took place on April 7 during a sold-out brunch event at The Atrium Banquet Center on the Christian Northeast Hospital campus. Radio personality Vic Porcelli was the emcee.
“Our theatrical community is strong and thriving in Illinois and St. Louis,” said Mary McCreight, president of AFL’s board of directors.
Act Two won three overall, including Best Large Ensemble for “The Boys Next Door.” The drama, by Tom Griffin, is about four men with various mental disabilities who live in a group home in the Boston area. It had received six nominations.
Their comedy winner “Drop Dead!” is a farce by Billy Van Zandt about a cast of has-been actors who plan to revive their career with a potboiler murder mystery, but on dress rehearsal the set falls, props break, and the producer and an actor are murdered. It received eight nominations.
Clayton Community Theatre, which received 17 nominations, won three overall. Its production of Arthur Miller’s 1955 “A View from the Bridge” was honored with two — Joe Hanrahan won Best Director of a Drama and Isaiah Di Lorenzo was named Leading Actor in a Drama as Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone.
Clayton also received one for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama – Jeremy Thomas as Hambone in August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running.”
O’Fallon Theatre Works and Curtain’s Up Theater in Edwardsville both received two, for the comical back story about the Peter Pan characters in 2004’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” and Neil Simon’s classic “The Odd Couple” respectively.
Of the 24 shows considered for nominations, 420 performers were scored by a team of 26 judges. Nominations in 18 categories were announced Feb. 17 at AFL’s annual Trivia Night.
Distinguished educator and well-known theater mover-and-shaker Sam Hack received a special Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his dedication and extraordinary contributions to the St. Louis theatre community. Archie Coleman, a longtime friend and fellow thespian, made the presentation.
Clayton Community Theatre has been Hack’s home for 17 years, and he currently serves as artistic director. But during his 26-year career as a drama teacher at Hancock High School (1978 – 2004), he was also involved in Act Two Theatre.
He has acted and directed for more than 40 years, working with such companies as Hawthorne Players, Acme Theatre Company, City Players, JCCA, S&P Productions, Aliayah Theatre in St. Charles.
Hack was bitten by the bug early – at age 9, when his cash-strapped family scraped enough money together for season tickets to The Muny. But he didn’t perform on stage until college at University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he was instrumental in founding The University Players. He has been behind the scenes or on stage ever since.
“What we do, we do for love,” he told the audience.
For the past 19 years, AFL has honored musical theater with the Best Performance Awards. This year’s event will take place on Sunday, June 10 at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts at Chaminade Preparatory High School.
AFL introduced the TMAs to honor comedy and drama productions in 2015, and a Steering Committee oversees the organization. Glenn Guillermo is the chairman.
The 10 participating groups include Act Two Theatre in St. Peters, Alfresco Productions in Granite City, Alton Little Theater, Clayton Community Theatre, Curtain’s Up Theater in Edwardsville, Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon, Monroe Actors Stage Company in Waterloo, O’Fallon Theater Works in St. Peters, Over Due Theatre in Olivette and the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves.
For more information, visit www.artsforlife.org
Here is a complete list of winners:
Outstanding Comedy: “Drop Dead,” Act Two Theatre.
Outstanding Drama: “The Boys Next Door,” Act Two Theatre.
Outstanding Large Ensemble: “The Boys Next Door,” Act Two Theatre.
Outstanding Small Ensemble, “Driving Miss Daisy,” Alton Little Theater.
Outstanding Direction of a Comedy: Melissa Boyer, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” O’Fallon Theatre Works.
Outstanding Direction of a Drama: Joe Hanrahan, “A View from the Bridge,” Clayton Community Theatre.
Outstanding Leading Actor in a Comedy: Dan Stockton as Felix Unger, “The Odd Couple,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company.
Outstanding Leading Actor in a Drama: Isaiah Di Lorenzo as Eddie in “A View from the Bridge,” Clayton Community Theatre.
Outstanding Leading Actress in a Comedy: Chrissie Watkins as the dog Sylvia in “Sylvia,” Theatre Guild of Webster Groves.
Outstanding Leading Actress in a Drama: Liz LeSaulnier, “Silent Sky,” Monroe Actors Stage Company.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama: Jeremy Thomas, as Hambone, in August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running,” Clayton Community Theatre.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama: Brittani O’Connell, as Annelle, in “Steel Magnolias,” Alfresco Productions.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Greg Stiff as Mrs. Bumbrake in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” O’Fallon Theatre Works.
Karen Lee as Gwendolyn Pigeon in Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company.
Outstanding Costume Design: Sally Durrer, “Alice in Wonderland,” Monroe Actors Stage Company.
Outstanding Lighting Design: John Campbell, “Silent Sky,” Monroe Actors Stage Company.
Outstanding Set Design: John Campbell, “Silent Sky,” Monroe Actors Stage Company.
Outstanding Juvenile Performance: Anna Bulman as The Dormouse, “Alice in Wonderland,” Monroe Actors Stage Company.