By Lynn Venhaus
One of the most versatile and lauded actors in St. Louis, John Flack is spending his summer working at what he loves, adding another comedy, drama and musical to his extensive repertoire.
He has been a member of Actors’ Equity, for 30 years, “right here in St. Louis,” and is grateful to be working in the profession.
“My real dream is to continue to be cast in any professional theatre production that will have me so I can have a job doing what I love while working with people I adore.”
Currently appearing in the critically acclaimed “Indecent,” presented by Max and Louie Productions, he will be in a satirical romp through American history, “The Almost True and Truly Remarkable Adventures of Israel Potter,” July 18 – 27 at Bluff City Theater in Hannibal, Mo. Rehearsals start July 2.
Then, he’ll play the Captain of the Inquisition in “Man of La Mancha” in September, his only musical with Stages St. Louis this summer.
“Man of La Mancha” runs Sept. 6 to Oct. 6 and concludes Stages’ 33rd season, its final one before they move into a new Performing Arts Center in Kirkwood.
Flack has been working with Stages since 1990, when he
played the title role in “Snoopy!”
Ever since, he’s demonstrated his musical versatility in both comedy and drama, playing such roles as the Underling, the butler in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and 440-year-old Merlin in “Camelot.”
“I’ve been in about 65 (Stages musicals),” he said.
“I’m so grateful to Michael Hamilton and Jack Lane, and the team at Stages, how they value the artists. Stages gives us Equity performers more work weeks than any company in St. Louis in the summer. They make it possible for us to get health insurance, and live and work here,” he said.
Another benefit of being part of a company is the friendships forged. For “Indecent,” he was fortunate to work with his longtime friend, Ellen Isom, who choreographed the show. They’ve been friends since 1991.
“She is not only one of the absolute treasures of St. Louis theater, but she’s first a terrific human being,” he said.
John has been active in several regional professional theaters, including The New Jewish Theatre, Upstream Theater, The Black Rep, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and the former HotCity.
He appeared in three shows at The Muny — “My One and Only” (2008) and “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Camelot” in 2009.
In 2015, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Go! Magazine List named him Best St. Louis Stage Actor.
“Indecent” is one of his biggest challenges – and one of the finest productions he’s been part of to date, he said.
John plays The Elder: Otto, and then as part of the ensemble, he performs various characters Yekel, Peretz, Schildkraut, Immigrant, Bartender, Judge McIntyre and older Asch.
“What a role!” he said about Otto.
But he has seven others too. “I am on stage the entire time,” he said.
Making each character different as part of the ensemble is the daunting task.
“That’s the biggest challenge. They are from different times, and to make sure they have different dialects. The play spans 50 years,” he said. “They are all old guys like me. That’s the one thing they have in common.”
When the characters speak their native language, they speak perfect English, but when they speak a second or third language, they speak English with an accent.
A fierce indictment of censorship as well as a celebration of art and love, “Indecent” combines theater, music, dance and poetry to make an impact in an era of chaos. Flack is among the seven actors and three musicians who play roles that span continents and decades.
By Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, “Indecent” is the true story of a groundbreaking scandalous play and the courageous artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it. During its 2017 run on Broadway, it won
Sholem Asch’s drama, “God of Vengeance” debuted on Broadway in 1923 at a time when waves of immigrants were changing the face of America. A love story that celebrated Yiddish language and unconventional passion, it was forced from the stage by a reactionary, fearful public. Its fate, and that of the actors who cherished it even as they confronted the horrors of the Nazi onslaught, are the subject of “Indecent.”
“It’s a lovely script, beautifully written and poetic, and it’s very prescient for our time,” he said.
Producing Artistic Director Stellie Siteman issued a statement: “As a proud member of St. Louis’ vibrant LGBTQ, Jewish, and Theatre communities, I can think of no better play at this moment in time that dramatizes a message of inclusion, tolerance and love. The belief in the power of art is a clarion call to action.”
Joanne Gordon directed. Ron McGowan is the musical director. Ellen Isom choreographed. Besides Flack, “Indecent” stars Alyssa Avery, Zoe Farmingdale, Katie Karel, TJ Lancaster, Judi Mann, Kris Pineda and Tim Schall.
“It’s a wonderful cast, really a delightful group. I love working with these people,” John said. “And the music is tremendous.”
He is also a fan of the renovated Grandel, where the show has been staged.
“It’s a great space, and we have a lot of positive energy here,” he said.
He has worked with Max and Louie Productions before, in Ken Page’s original play, “Sublime Intimacy.” Page not only wrote it but directed the show in 2015.
“Sublime Intimacy” was the tale of five friends who were elevated, touched and changed by their love of a dancer and his dance overlaps, intertwines and informs each other.
John won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for playing Don, an ex-Hollywood actor – Outstanding Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama.
He has been nominated four times for St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, for two HotCity productions – as Ned in “The Normal Heart” in 2014 (which also tied for Outstanding Production of a Drama) and Charles Busch’s “The Divine Sister” in 2012, and as the husband Dan in Insight Theatre Company’s “Next to Normal” musical in 2017.
“Max and Louie Productions like to present an eclectic mix,” he said. “Stellie and De love to bring plays that they are passionate about to a St. Louis audience.”
A mere few days after “Indecent” closes June 30, he starts rehearsals on Tuesday, July 2 for “The Almost True and Truly Remarkable Adventures of Israel Potter,” directed by Herbie Barnes, at the Bluff City Theater in Hannibal, Mo.
He joins an ensemble cast featuring Donna Weinsting, Jennelle Gilreath-Owens, Brian Kim and Eric Geller, all playing multiple characters, while Erick Lindsey is Israel Potter.
Based on a novel by Herman Melville, who supposedly rescued a tattered journal from the trash in 19th century London. Potter, a simple farmer, is drafted into the fledgling Continental Army of the United States of America on the eve of his wedding. He’s captured by the British, imprisoned in England and then escapes, wanting only to return to his waiting bride and a peaceful life in America. What ensues instead is a madcap series of improbable events that thrusts him into one grand adventure after another, preventing his return home.
The order this summer is drama, comedy then musical – more memorable additions to the resume.
What’s best about building an acting career in St. Louis is the variety of work.
John said St. Louis is great for not pigeonholing an actor. If you want to do comedy but have been mainly cast in dramas, you can. Unlike other cities where you get typecast and they think you can only do one thing.
“We feel very lucky in St. Louis to work on different stages,” he said.
Here is our “Take Ten” Questionnaire with John Flack
1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
“Wait a minute… I had a choice? I don’t remember it that way. In an early attempt at adulting, I tried three different career paths outside of the arts. Each one ended in failure, disappointment, and heartache. Then I needed a job, so I auditioned for a singing waiter gig on the old Admiral riverboat. When that job ended, I auditioned for the next (Imaginary Theatre Company at The Rep); and so-on and so-on. I’ve just been putting one foot in front of the other, following my heart’s desire and staying a step ahead of creditors ever since.”
2. How would your friends describe you?
“I don’t have financial wealth, but I am blessed with an incredible wealth of dear friends and family. I don’t mean this to be glib or cute; but I think one of the reasons I’ve been so fortunate in this regard is because I was taught by my parents that what others think of me (or anything else, really) is none of my business.”
3. How do you like to spend your spare time?
“I have a love/hate relationship with spare time. As a free-lancer, empty space on my calendar is frightening to me, so I try to keep as little open space as possible. When I do have spare time, I like to do nothing. Take a break. Sit. Breath. Go on a hike with the dog. And, of course, nap.”
4. What is your current obsession?
“Dachshunds. And napping.”
5. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
“Considering my obsession, people might be very surprised to learn that I like all dogs, not just Dachshunds. But I really, really like wiener dogs.
6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
“Oh, no! Why are all of my “defining moments” so embarrassing? I’m going through them in my mind, and I think they ought stay there. I really don’t think any of them are appropriate for print. Let’s go out for cocktails, and I’ll tell you one or two choice ‘moments’ off the record.”
7. Who do you admire most?
“Those who remain calm, kind, and dignified under difficult circumstances large and small.”
8. What is at the top of on your bucket list?
“Travel, travel, and more travel. Next up: The Eastern Pacific rim next Spring. I can’t wait!”
9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
“Eat. The restaurant scene in St. Louis is on fire. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the theatre scene here in that there are so many creative, energetic people doing what they love with a strong commitment to the art and passion for excellence. Plus, I love food.”
10. What’s next? “The Almost True and Truly Remarkable Adventures of Israel Potter” at Bluff City Theatre in Hannibal, Mo., then “Man of La Mancha” at Stages St. Louis. I ask you, am I a lucky guy?
MORE ABOUT JOHN FLACK:
Name: John Flack
Birthplace: St. Louis
Current location: St. Louis
Family: Married to Michael Marvaso
Education: Parkway West High School (for you curious STL locals), attended The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University
Day job: Equity Actor — which means I also have a list of side hustles the length of my left arm
First job: Busboy at Le Soupcon, Famous-Barr
First role: Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” Parkway West Jr High. Did you happen to catch it?
Favorite roles/plays: Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” Parkway West Jr High and Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” Variety Club Theatre.
Dream role/play: Oh! So many! But my real dream is to continue to be cast in any professional theatre productions that will have me so I can have a job doing what I love while working with people I adore.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Four Theatre Circle Award nominations, one award; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama: Ken Page’s “Sublime Intimacy”, Max & Louie. Judy Award 2018 – Best Actor in a Drama: Rabbi Mortera, “New Jerusalem”, New Jewish Theatre. St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Go! Magazine List 2015 – Best St. Louis Stage Actor. Riverfront Times 2007 – Best Actor in a Play; Quentin, “After the Fall”, Muddy Waters Theatre.
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream; Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a Dream.”
A song that makes you happy: “Linus and Lucy” – Vince Guaraldi Trio
Max and Louie Productions presents “Indecent” June 20-30 at The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, Missouri 63101. Reserved seating is on sale at Metrotix.com or by phone, 314-534-1111, or at the box office an hour before showtime. Visit www.maxandlouie.com for more information.