1998: The Year in Theater

In the professional non-Equity category (whatever that may mean), HotHouse Theatre Company surmounted its initial tribulations with its polished The Baby Dance. The St. Louis Shakespeare Company mixed fine individual performances of the Bard with actors uncomfortable with the language. Its Magic Smoking Monkey alter ego continues to be a huge popular favorite, but for me its sophomoric antics are wearing thin. Actors Renaissance Theatre gave us an unsparing Saved, then decided, I am told, to follow in the footsteps of the late, lamented ShatterMask and perform its next season in the summer at Washington University's Studio Theatre. The Orthwein company gave us Lavonne Byers' brilliant performance in Sweet Bird of Youth and three jewels in Three Viewings but has taken this season off in what I hope is only a rest and not the end of this fine company.

The West End Players Guild's revelatory A Doll's House, the Kirkwood Theatre Guild's hilarious A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and ACT Inc.'s smart All in the Timing demonstrated the heights that community theaters can achieve. Ditto the campus work of Wash. U.'s stylistically rigorous Machinal and the ensemble playing of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville's Blue Window. The St. Louis College of Pharmacy's Harvey and Belleville Area College's Whose Life Is It, Anyway? proved that even schools lacking four-year theater programs can present carefully rehearsed, absorbing work.

The world outside showed up at the usual venues. COCA brought back the magical Cashore Marionettes, and the Edison's Ovations! Series presented quite different puppets in Hystopolis' Ubu Roi. The Fox brought in top-drawer productions of two hot Broadway tickets, Rent and Chicago, then disappointed with a low-drawer, non-Equity, sketchily staged West Side Story and a King and I that, despite some fine voices, wasn't quite the Broadway replica it implied it was. If the Fox keeps up the quality of its offerings, it won't need to fight so hard against the threat of competition from a reopened Kiel Opera House.

The worst news of the year was the demise of the Muny 1st Stage, the latest in a growing list of midsized performance groups that have disappeared from the St. Louis scene. I hope the Goldenrod isn't about to sink too.

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