Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

 Defending the Caveman A sitcom-mentality stage play "experience" without the pesky problems of character relationships or plot. Creator and original performer Rob Becker romanticizes cave people as a model society: They respected and honored gender differences. Nobody called the cave woman a bitch; nobody called the cave man an asshole (perhaps because language hadn't yet been invented?). Current Caveman Kevin Burke is an adept comedian; it's not his fault the material doesn't really build. Burke is essentially playing Burke -- a guy like lots of guys, talking directly to the audience and pointing out our humorous human failings. If that sounds like your cup of tequila, you'll find an ample serving in this production, as well as ample servings of other alcoholic beverages in the theater bar. Open-ended run at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza, 635 West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Call 314-469-7529. (Deanna Jent)

Eagle and Child: J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis In this compelling Historyonics production, Jason Cannon chronicles the friendship between two prolific writers. Instead of proceeding chronologically, Cannon's script moves back and forth in time, allowing the audience to see connections between Tolkien's and Lewis' work and their life experiences. The acting -- by author Cannon, Christopher Hickey, Terry Meddows, Meghan Maguire and Larry Roberson -- is topnotch, as are the choice of music and the scenic design and lighting. Some may find the philosophical discussions of myth, faith and forgiveness a trifle erudite; perhaps we're not accustomed to being intellectually challenged and dramatically fulfilled at the same time. Through November 21 in the Des Lee Auditorium of the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue. Call 314-361-5858. (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)

The Odd Couple Reviewed in this issue.

A Picasso The good news is that here's an opportunity to see a new play by a talented writer (Jeffrey Hatcher) six months before it opens in New York. The not-so-good news is that even by the standard of most new plays, this is thin stuff. The conceit here is that in occupied Paris at the outset of World War II, Pablo Picasso (Matt Landers) is confronted by a Nazi agent (Felicity La Fortune) who labels his artwork "degenerate." Picasso is then forced to make like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and choose which of his artworks is to be destroyed and which saved. Come on, the play has to be about more than that. And maybe it is -- it's just that Hatcher hasn't yet decided what. Produced by the Studio Theatre of St. Louis through November 14 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-968-4925. (Dennis Brown)

Romance in D Reviewed in this issue.

Schoolhouse Rock Live! What were you doing on Saturday mornings between 1973 and 1985? If you were home watching Schoolhouse Rock on TV, this musical is for you. Or if not you, how about your kids? The premise here, as it was on television, is very simple: Learning should be fun. Fun is very much in abundance as this children's show works through a 45-minute set of the show's greatest hits. English, math, science and social studies are explained with delightful clarity. Even if you think you already know your nouns, adjectives and conjunctions, you're sure to be charmed by such infectious harmony, especially if you experience it through the eyes of a child. Performed by the DramaRama Theatre Company as follows: November 13 at the Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth Street; November 20 and 21 at the West County YMCA, 16464 Burkhardt Place, Chesterfield. Call 314-605-7788 for info on all venues. (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 November 21 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-1111. (DB)

Twelfth Night Think "Shakespeare meets Springsteen" and you'll understand director Edward Stern's concept, which plays out marvelously on Joseph P. Tilford's watery scenic design. The singing fool Feste (a blue-jeaned Kevin Orton) functions as emcee and stage manager for this comedy of mistaken identities and mismatched lovers. Stern's attention to character detail, beautiful stage pictures and true appreciation for Shakespeare's humor make this production a treat. Served up by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 12 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-968-4925. (DJ)

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