Juergen Tossmann, Marci Miller, & Matt Orme in Helper. Photo: Bunbury Theatre


By Patrick Tovatt
Directed by Steve Woodring

A review by Regina Harris

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Regina Harris. All rights reserved.

We all know him. He’s the old coot relative who lost his industrial job years ago and is forever ranting about the “other” taking over America. We love him for our personal history with him, but damn he’s a lot. We might have tried to alter his political near-sightedness with logic and well-thought-out arguments but became exhausted in the attempt. We feel helpless trying to bridge the chasm between his deeply held beliefs and ours. Playwright Patrick Tovatt’s play, Helper, which premiered last week at the Theatre at Henry Clay, explores the schism that divides American culture between rugged individualism and living in civil society.

Produced in conjunction with Bunbury Theatre Company, the members of ONE-OFF Productions are a who’s who of Louisville theatre professionals, most of whom are officially “retired” from the business, but whose hearts are never far from the stage. 

Former Bunbury Theatre Artistic Associate, Matt Orme portrays Emmett, a man marginalized by progress. Powerless and poor with no prospects in the virtually abandoned mining and railroad town, he carries a side-arm on his hip, a vestige of the Old West of which he is ludicrously proud and a display of the only power he has left. 

Retired Bunbury Repertory Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Juergen K. Tossmann, likewise portrays a spry retiree. A thoughtful man, he is reveling in his second career as a landscape artist. Descended from immigrants, he is an intellectual who was college-educated during the Vietnam War in which Emmett fought. 

Attempting to bridge the gap between these two social and political opposites is Emmy-nominated television and movie actor Marci Miller as Clarice, a thoughtful and diplomatic young woman with one foot in the traditional society in which she lives and the other in the future. She is very pregnant with her second child, making ends meet by working as a barista to support her young daughter and new baby. She sees the changes in town as mostly positive – the newcomers bring in jobs and money.

Light conversation between the three quickly devolves into an argument based on racism, bigotry, and a certain amount of bravado leading to a shocking event that irrevocably changes the three characters’ lives. In a relatively short run time of less than two hours including intermission, this economically written but stirring play morphs from an escalating political debate to a reflection on the rippling fallout that occurs when one of those debates culminates with an act of violence in a vehemently pro-gun culture. 

The individual credits of the talented and seasoned production staff are too numerous to mention, but with decades of production direction and stage management between them, director Steve Woodring and assistant director Kathy Preher Reynolds elicit a profound poignancy from each actor. Exceptionally so is Miller, whose connection to her character, coupled with her personal passion for curbing societal violence, is palpable.

The rustic modern coffee shop set is perfection as designed by Emmy Award-winning ATL alum David Weller, contributing to a sense of comfort that belies the underlying tension; while Keith Kimmel’s lighting design expertly evokes both the serenity and intensity of a clear blue western sky.

Hannah Greene’s costume design; Patrick Jump’s technical direction; Joe Mathistad’s stage management; and Bunbury Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director John Campbell Finnegan’s sound design round out the elite production team’s astute vision for Helper.

Every aspect of this gut-wrenching play is top-notch. Anyone interested in quality theatre with an urgent and relevant message will not want to miss this deeply affecting production.

Featuring Marci Miller, Matt Orme, and Juergen K. Tossmann.


June  30, July 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, & 15 @ 7:30 pm
July 2, 9, & 16 @ 2:00 pm

Bunbury Theatre
The Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. 3rd Street,
Louisville, KY 40202

Regina Harris has lived in Louisville for nearly three decades and has, at various times, worked for many of its premier theatre companies and venues. She earned a late-life degree in Humanities from University of Louisville and works in Youth Development during the school year at United Crescent Hill Ministries. To express her love of great food as well as Louisville history, she is also a tour guide with Louisville Food Tours.