We saw a lot of Justin Ivan Brown on St. Louis stages this year and with good reason. Brown has established himself as an actor whose name you look for in the playbill, because he consistently delivers cerebral, affecting performances. Back in January he dazzled as the self-centered and sex-hungry Young Soldier in Café Chanson with Upstream Theater. In July, Brown was the bitterly lonely virgin on the verge of suicide in "Cleansing Acts" at the LaBute New Theater Festival at St. Louis Actors' Studio. In between those antipodean characterizations he played Caleb, a Jewish slave owner in the Black Rep's blistering production of The Whipping Man. It was Brown's finest sustained performance: Caleb's arrogance and his anger could have been off-putting in lesser hands, but Brown hinted at something broken in Caleb's center. There was resentment in his rage and a weary, slowly growing acceptance of his own flawed humanity peeking through his hostility. It was a marvelous demonstration of Brown's technique for thinking his way into a character's guts and then showing us what he has found.
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