Barry Weller ’88
From the cynical Jaques in “As You Like It” to the romantic Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice,” from a flamboyant drag queen in “Dirty Blonde” to a sober British scholar in “Shadowlands,” from a genial child molester in “Lonesome Hollow” to a suave drama critic in “The Nerd” — was there any role beyond B. Weller’s range?
Not as far as St. Louis theater was concerned. In the last 15 years or so, Mr. Weller made his mark with one company after another: the St. Louis Actors’ Studio, Mustard Seed, Stray Dog, R-S Theatrics, St. Louis Shakespeare, New Jewish, West End, Dramatic License, HotCity, the NonProphets, (Mostly) Harmless.
But his performances displayed such variety in style and mood, and such an absence of “look-at-me” egotism, that it’s possible some theatergoers saw and enjoyed him time after time without realizing it was the same actor in each role.
Mr. Weller died of a heart attack on Saturday (May 28, 2016). He was 50.
Mr. Weller, whose first name was Barry, seemed to be in good health, said his friend Donna Weinsting, another actor. Last month, he played the devoted if baffled friend of the title character in Chekhov’s “Ivanov” at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio; earlier this month, he played the part of Dakin Williams in a reading from the Williams’ family letters at the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.
As an actor and occasional director, Mr. Weller was never less than polished — and often much more. He gave particularly memorable performances in R-S’ production of “Bobby Gould in Hell” as an Interrogator who may or may not be the devil, and in “Dirty Blonde” at Dramatic License, playing that drag queen and a host of other roles. (He got one of my 2011 Judy Awards for that performance.)
Best of all, perhaps, was his 2012 performance in the leading role in “Good” at the Actors’ Studio. Mr. Weller played a Frankfurt, Germany, professor in the 1930s, a man whose writing appeals to a rising political power — the Nazi party. Subtle and quiet, he let the audience see for itself how the professor gradually allows himself to be seduced by pure evil. The professor, of course, never sees it that way. He remains convinced that he is “good.”
Lately, Mr. Weller was getting ready for the studio’s LaBute New Theatre Festival, coming in July. In the past, he worked at the festival in many capacities, and was to have been involved again this year.
But first, “He was supposed to be on vacation this week,” Weinsting said. She explained that he was cleaning out the basement of the Webster Groves house where he lived alone when he felt chest pains. Mr. Weller was able to call 911 himself, but efforts to save him failed, she said.
Weller and his sisters, Sarah and Holly, were close, Weinsting said. All of them worked for the Washington University Libraries, where he was a library technical assistant. “He was the head of the family,” she said.
He was also part of another “family,” the St. Louis theater community. Actor Michelle Hand, who played Mr. Weller’s sister in “The Baltimore Waltz” at Stray Dog, said that other performers loved to work with him.
“He was always generous, funny, willing to play with whatever you brought to the table,” Hand said. “His depth always came through.”
A few years ago, the artistic director of R-S, Christina Rios, began organizing a Memorial Day picnic for the theater community. From the start, Mr. Weller was a big part of it, organizing whiffle ball games and bringing toys for the kids. This year the first impulse was to cancel the picnic, Hand said, but then they reconsidered: That was the last thing Mr. Weller would have wanted.
“We’ll hug and cry and laugh about how B. would have been so uncomfortable with that!” she said. “I think life amused him, and also made him sad, and he brought all that forth in whatever he did.
“But he was so loved — I hope he knew that. I just wish I had one more chance to tell him.”