First show in new “Steve Woolf Studio Theatre Series” debuting Friday


JUDITH NEWMARK, Special to the Jewish Light

Becks Redman wishes she had had a chance to get to know Stephen Woolf.

“We only met once or twice,” explained Redman, co-associate artistic director of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and its director of new play development. She joined the Rep around the time that Woolf — who retired in 2019 and died just two years later — was wrapping up his 33-year-long career as the theater’s artistic director.

Since then, she’s learned more about him. She’s learned that he founded the Rep’s Studio Series, filling the Loretto-Hilton’s downstairs theater with small-scale, sometimes offbeat, consistently intriguing plays. Those included two of the finest productions that Woolf directed himself, “Betrayal” by Harold Pinter and “Humble Boy” by Charlotte Jones.

That’s why Redman considers it “such a gift to be able to direct the first show in a series that has been named for him,” the Steve Woolf Studio Theatre Series. 

Better still, she thinks its premiere post-pandemic production, Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” offers exactly the kind of theater Woolf relished: intimate, provocative and fresh. 

Suiting the Studio’s non-traditional traditions, “Gruesome” won’t play at the Loretto-Hilton, nor at COCA (where the Rep has mounted several recent shows). Instead, it runs April 14-May 13 in the Strauss Black Box Theatre at the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

“I love this play,” said Redman, noting that playwright Joseph set his director a challenge. It traces a relationship that begins in elementary school through scenes spaced over 30 years — but not in chronological order.  “That’s tricky,” she acknowledged. 

“But the through line — which involves love and friendship and trauma  — is really poignant.”

Becks Redman

The title is not a metaphor. The play opens in a school nurse’s office, where young Kayleen (Jessika Williams) and Doug (Brian Slaten) wait for help. She has a tummy ache, and he has just attempted to ride his bike off the school roof. (Not a success.) Over time, their relationship deepens and their medical issues get worse.

Redman knows that this play, which Soundstage Productions Theatre mounted here in 2011, may not be everybody’s cup of chicken soup. But she also points out that “as dark as it can be, ‘Gruesome’ is also about love and hope — and it’s suprisingly funny!”

This is Redman’s second outing as a St. Louis director. (The first she terms “a very different show,” “Puss in Boots” for the Rep’s Imaginary Theatre Company.)  At 30, she counts herself lucky to have had all kinds of opportunities come her way, starting when she was growing up in Los Angeles, the daughter of people involved in the performing arts.

Her late father, Nicholas Redman, was a film historian and documentarian; one of his docs, about director Sam Peckinpaugh and the “The Wild Bunch,” was up for an Academy Award. The nomination certificate he received now hangs in the Central West End apartment she shares with her partner, composer and musician David Gomez. He wrote the music for “Gruesome.”

Her mother, Nectar Goldman Redman, was “an actor in her younger days”; her parents came to LA from Tel Aviv. 

“I grew up in a very Jewish community, very connected to grandparents and to my Jewish heritage,” said Redman, a petite woman with long brown hair. Her nickname is short for Rebecca. “Culturally, I feel Israeli — I’ve spent so much time there.”

Her family “never told me not to pursue a career in theater, never said that wasn’t viable — how could they!” With their encouragement, she went off to study acting at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In time, however, she changed her focus to directing because “I realized that, to put it kindly, actors don’t have as much access to information as I want to have. I always want to know everything, and I want to be challenged.”

She finds those challenges in all kinds of plays, from the classics she studied in London to the small productions she worked on in New York and at the famed Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Ky. She likes highly physical shows and immersive theater; she has, she says, “really enjoyed plays that made me uncomfortable.” Her taste is broad and eclectic, and she declines to play favorites.

Besides, she has one standard that covers just about everything, regardless of style or subject. “I like plays,” Redman says, “that make me talk about them on the ride home.”