The Feast Plunges Into Toilet Trouble and Madness at St. Louis Actors' Studio

Matt (Spencer Sickmann) waits to hear Anna's (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) opinion of his latest painting.
Matt (Spencer Sickmann) waits to hear Anna's (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) opinion of his latest painting.

Everything is going exceptionally well in his life, Matt assures his analyst. He's saved enough money from his last gallery show to be able to paint for himself for a while, he feels good and even his relationship with his girlfriend is proceeding apace. The analyst disagrees about that last fact — and then further informs Matt that what he should really be doing is climbing into his toilet to investigate where the groans and screams are coming from.

The Feast is a strange and unsettling play by native St. Louisan Cory Finley. Now working in New York, Finley returned to town for the St. Louis premiere of the show, which is currently being presented by St. Louis Actors' Studio. Director John Pierson and his cast of three romp through this production with a verve that slowly gives way to menace. What begins as a straightforward domestic sitcom set-up — cranky plumbing — becomes an excursion into the dark realms of madness, horror and murder.

click to enlarge Matt (Spencer Sickmann) meets Connor (Ryan Scott Foizey) at a party. - PATRICK HUBER
Matt (Spencer Sickmann) meets Connor (Ryan Scott Foizey) at a party.

To his great credit, Finley doesn't pin Matt's mental instability on "being an artist." There are signs along the way that Matt (Spencer Sickmann) isn't doing as well as he boasts to his analyst. These include the frequency with which he tops off his coffee cup of bourbon throughout the day and the fact that he lies to his girlfriend Anna (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) about small things, like whether a plumber showed up or not. And then there are the sounds he hears coming from the toilet when his Brooklyn apartment is quiet. “Like a man screaming of his own demise," is how he described it to Anna.

That toilet, always visible in the split-level apartment cunningly designed by Patrick Huber, glows green when it emits the guttural eructations that disturb Matt's painting and his peace of mind. As the show progresses, the color and sounds coming from the toilet are a barometer for Matt's mental state. When the light goes from green to red, watch out.

The actors are all excellent. Spencer Sickmann delivers an outstanding performance as Matt, a sensitive, placid man who is almost unrecognizable inside the jangled and obsessive bundle he becomes. Sickmann manages this subtly developing transformation seamlessly.

As his “brusque” (according to her latest work evaluation) girlfriend, Jennifer Theby-Quinn captures Anna's shifting moods. Sometimes loving, sometimes flinty and uncaring, she's hard to pin down — or is that just how Matt perceives her?

Ryan Scott Foizey serves as the show's able utility man, as capable of playing a bridge-and-tunnel plumber chewing a cud of gum as he is the rational and erudite analyst who recognizes Matt's growing discomfort, even if he can't help him. Every one of Foizey's characters are distinct, until the moment they urge Matt to go ahead and explore the secret world beckoning him from inside his toilet.

Ultimately, Matt takes the plunge one night and reemerges driven to paint what he saw deep down in his toilet. Doing so ruins him.

To say more would ruin the final twenty minutes of the play, which are unpredictable and gripping. Just know you'll probably keep a wary eye on your toilet while brushing your teeth for the next few nights.