Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

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)

Proof Reviewed in this issue.

Romance in D Charlotte Dougherty and Tim Schall play quirky neighbors who develop a romance in this shake-and-bake script by James Sherman. Their respective portrayals bring out unexpected moments of humor: Dougherty squirting Hershey's chocolate syrup directly into her mouth, Schall's loving creation of the perfect lox-and-bagel combination. Great design elements help buoy the story, which takes a long time revving up and then seems to end too early. A parallel romance between the neighbors' parents, played by Sally Eaton and Bill Bannister, is a fun idea but poorly written. There's a lot of potential here, but it doesn't bear consistent fruit. A little fine-tuning may resolve the dissonant chords and create a more consistent harmony among the elements. Presented by Spotlight Theatre through November 21 at the Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth Street. Call 314-918-8424. (DJ)

Rumors Neil Simon's only full-length farce starts frantic. Then about halfway through Act One -- after most of the delightfully idiosyncratic characters have been introduced -- it turns funny. And it gets funnier and funnier as the evening proceeds. The plot (four ditzy upscale couples strive to assist an unseen friend who appears to have attempted suicide) is essentially an empty vessel that allows the script to become a veritable compendium of comedy. Directed with flair and respect by Gary Wayne Barker, the student cast has a pretty good time of it. Sometimes they carry the script; sometimes the script carries them. But by the final curtain, cast and play have arrived at the same place at the same time, a draw that allows the audience to leave the theater sporting broad smiles. Performed by Saint Louis University Theatre through November 20 in Xavier Hall, 3733 West Pine Mall (on the SLU campus). Call 314-977-3327. (DB)

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 November 20 and 21 at the West County YMCA, 16464 Burkhardt Place, Chesterfield. Call 314-605-7788 for info. (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)

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