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Kevin Kline Awards founder takes a new 'Temporary' step

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 10, 2010 - Temporary Theatre is probably not the first name that comes to mind for a company hoping to make a go of it in the sometimes precarious world of St. Louis theater. But founder Steve Isom, who also created the Kevin Kline Awards, was looking for some flexibility.

"If I called it the 'Permanent Theatre,' that would be so limiting, wouldn't it?" Isom said. "With 'Temporary' I have many more options. I could end it after one show or I could end it after 20 years."

On March 11, Temporary debuts its first stage show, "Gutenberg! The Musical!" The play consists of two men, Doug and Bud, a pair of playwrights played by Isom and fellow St. Louisan Ben Nordstrom, a Kevin Kline Award winner. In their play-within-a-play, set in a German town called Schlimmer, they literally don different hats to portray a wine maker named Gutenberg, a love-struck grape-stomping peasant, a monk, a Southern redneck and assorted other characters.

How do we know who're they're playing at any given moment? That's easy. Each character's name is clearly printed on the ubiquitous baseball caps.

"Gutenberg!" is a story of progress versus tradition, good versus evil. After witnessing the trials of the illiterate townspeople, Gutenberg converts his wine press to a printing press, in a nod to actual printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg, to help them learn to read.

Presto, change-o, problem solved? Not so fast. A sinister monk doesn't want anyone learning to read because they might wise up to his custom of interpreting the Bible any way he wants.

If Nordstrom's voice has a nagging familiarity, chances are you've heard him hawking McDonald's hamburgers or Hewlett-Packard products, or perhaps another voice-over client that's also associated with baseball caps: The St. Louis Cardinals.

Isom isn't sure about what his next production will be -- or even if there will be one. It's a prospect he describes as "a little scary and a little thrilling."

"If 'Gutenberg!' goes well, and people come down and see it, there will most likely be a second Temporary Theatre production," Isom said. "I'm not promising 20 years, though."

Lancy Fowler Larson is a freelance writer who regularly reports on the St. Louis area theater scene.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.