Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

 Camelot Stages St. Louis closes its season with a triumphant Camelot, featuring stunning visual elements, topnotch acting and a well-sung, witty score. Christopher Guilmet is an energetic Arthur whose love for Guinevere and Lancelot is heart-wrenching. Eileen Ward creates a Guinevere believably torn between her love for both men, and Edward Watts is Ken-doll perfect as Lancelot. The sexual tension between Ward and Watts sizzles as the evil Mordred (Jeffrey C. Wolf) plots Arthur's downfall. The male supporting cast shows off their pecs as the knights of the leather-fetish table in "Fie on Goodness," while the women get their chance to flutter prettily in pastels for "The Lusty Month of May." Through October 3 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 S. Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.com. (Deanna Jent)

The Crucible Americans have always loved a good witch hunt. Arthur Miller's howl about the chilling excesses of the 1950s McCarthy era, which here the playwright not-so-subtly removes to the 1692 Salem witch trials, makes for epic and involving theater. The Rep has done an effective job of pretending that Miller's tragedy is not a 50-year-old classic -- at its best this production rings so immediate and true, the play might have been written last month. Among the actors, special kudos to Dane Knell as wizened old Giles Corey; Knell, whose very features seem to have been eroded by too much ocean air, evokes the play's salty spirit. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through October 8 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-968-4925. (Dennis Brown)

Diana of Dobson's First produced in England in 1908, five years ahead of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, this charming feminist tract by Cicely Hamilton touches on many of the same themes with half the gab. As Diana, a Cinderella-like working girl who decides to squander an unexpected inheritance on "a month of everything that money can buy me," Lilith Baker is persuasive and plucky. But then the entire evening, which has been deftly directed by Steve Callahan, emits a cocky assurance. There's almost a sense that the audience is merely on hand to confirm what the cast already discovered in rehearsal -- namely, that this romantic comedy is a rediscovered gem. Performed by ACT Inc. through October 3 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, 6600 Wydown Boulevard (at Big Bend), Clayton. Call 314-725-9108. (DB)

The Diviners For those who like a little allegory with their theater, this fable about an autistic wild child in rural Indiana during the Great Depression might be just the ticket. Others might find this ramble of a play about Buddy, who constantly talks in the third person and scratches a lot, more than a little pretentious. Maybe the script by Jim Leonard Jr. would play better if every line weren't repeated twice. As Buddy's sister, Katie Puglisi delivers a simple, direct performance that might skirt the center of the play's truth -- if there were any truth here to find. For twenty years now, this meandering drama has been traveling the college- and community-theater circuit. The very thought of its continued life is cause for more wonder than any of the so-called miracles that occur onstage. Performed by West End Players Guild through October 3 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Call 314-367-0025. (DB)

Fair Visage: 1904 World's Fair It's hard to bring dry historical material to life, but Historyonics Theatre Company always does its best. Writer Joe Dreyer has wisely focused on controversial issues that led up to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition: the volatile combo of Public Good and Private Enterprise, and the Race Question (while "the world" was welcome at the fair, nonwhites weren't allowed to eat in the restaurants). The subject matter, like the fairgrounds, is so vast that it's hard to stay engaged, and the lack of compelling characters or plot, combined with bland staging, slows things down. You might find yourself pleasantly sated with the abundant historical detail -- or you might just feel stuffed. Either way, it's food for thought. Performed by Historyonics Theatre Company through October 3 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue. Call 314-361-5858. (DJ)

Kiss of the Spider Woman Set in a Latin-American prison, Kiss of the Spider Woman offers an unexpected mix of topics: love, torture, sequins, diarrhea, the tango. Think of it as Odd Couple meets Oz. The script focuses on the friction between prissy inmate Molina (Dennis Shelton) and macho revolutionary Valentin (Richard Enriquez). Their interplay is intriguing, especially as Valentin comes to embrace Molina's movie-star fantasies of Aurora/Spider Woman, played with verve by Kay Love. Curtain Call Repertory Theatre's current production features superb vocal work, especially from Enriquez, whose voice is powerfully passionate and hauntingly beautiful. Fault the writers for creating a stage play that requires movie magic for its quick-cut location changes and for cheating live audiences out of a climax by showing Molina's ultimate encounter with the Spider Woman on film. Through October 3 at Faust Park's Carousel House, 15185 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield. Call 636-346-7707. (DJ)

Late Night Catechism Gum lovers beware: Sister will tolerate no chewing in her class. Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan's long-running play is back at the Grandel, this time starring veteran Chicago improv performer Mary Beth Burns. A combination of religious instruction, audience interaction and game-show antics, Catechism is a wildly witty and slightly scary encounter with the myths and realities of Catholicism. The delight of the show is Burns' constant interplay with the audience. Whisperers are called to order. Latecomers are fined. Everyone must address Sister in full sentences and prizes are awarded for correct answers. With so much of each performance depending on audience responses for fuel, Catechism is clearly a different show each night, and Burns seems to revel in that. Her twinkling eyes search the audience for new material even as she works details from earlier stories into running gags. Class is in session for an open-ended run upstairs at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-1111. (DJ)

Marat/Sade This Vietnam-era play-within-a-play is a provocative blend of theatricality and discourse, melody and mayhem. As inmates in an asylum strive to re-enact the murder of French Revolution martyr Jean-Paul Marat, the Marquis de Sade rages against the "moral guardians" who try to control society. A who's who of local actors -- eager to participate in ECHO Theater's rare production of this landmark piece of political theater -- includes Anna Blair, Lavonne Byers, Chopper Leifheit, Sara Renchen, Kelly Schnider and Doug Shelton as Sade. The most seditious performance of all is delivered by Terry Meddows, whose portrayal of an inmate begins as a comic illustration come to life and by evening's end becomes pitiful and terrifying. Through September 26 at the Soulard Theater, 1921 South Ninth Street. Call 314-995-2123. (DB)

Tell Me Somethin' Good The Black Rep offers an affectionate musical revue that begins in the 1950s, back when guys in white tuxedos with pink cummerbunds swayed to the music as Jackie Wilson cried "Lonely Teardrops" and the Flamingos insisted "I Only Have Eyes for You." As the evening (conceived and directed by Ron Himes) unspools, the music fast-forwards through the decades and girls who begin the night in pleated skirts end up looking like drill sergeants. Not that this notion of a musical is interested in making a statement -- the priority is sound. A spirited cast (seven women, four men) steamrolls its way from Frankie Lymon to Barry White to Isaac Hayes, propelled by a five-man band that would be the envy of any prom-dance steering committee. Performed by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company September 24-26 at the Orthwein Theater on the campus of Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School, 101 North Warson Road, Ladue. Call 314-995-7367. (DB)

Triple Espresso Move over, Nunsense and Forever Plaid. Here comes another crowd-pleasing phenom that's shamelessly determined to make you laugh. As this reunion of a 1970s musical trio plays out at the Triple Espresso nightclub, the evening is not so much a play as a series of set pieces. Some are more amusing than others, but if you ever wondered how the Three Stooges would attack Chariots of Fire, this is the show for you. In their determination to amuse, the three performers (Patrick Albanese, John Bush and J.C. Cutler) effect a take-no-prisoners approach to the material. A viewer's best response is simply to surrender early and laugh along with the crowd. Through December 28 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-1111. (DB)

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