Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Caroline, or Change Anita Jackson delivers a volcanic performance as an embittered household maid in this tale of temptation in southern Louisiana at the time of President Kennedy's assassination. Through much of the evening, Jackson simply smolders. But when she erupts, run for cover. Tony Kushner (Angels in America) brings a vivid imagination to his memory musical about growing up at a time when the entire nation was enduring traumatic change. In Kushner's world, the washing machine, dryer and radio all come to life and sing. Even so, it's the humans (especially P.J. Palmer as Kushner's alter ego and Bethany Barr as his estranged stepmother) that you're likely to remember longest. Original and provocative, Caroline, or Change begs to be seen by anyone who's not afraid of a little substance in their musical theater. Jointly produced by the Black Rep and HotCity Theatre through January 29 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17-$40. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.stlouisblackrep.com. (Dennis Brown)

Deathtrap It's no surprise that Deathtrap is the longest-running thriller in Broadway history. As familiar as the show is, the real surprises are still onstage, and they continue to elicit gleeful shrieks from the audience. A moment later that same audience is laughing, not only at Ira Levin's savvy script, but also at itself for having been so easily duped. Here clean staging by director B. Weller neatly balances the humor and the suspense. As Sidney Bruhl, the playwright-in-decline who would kill for another Broadway hit (or something equally rewarding), the ideally cast Anthony M. Mullin instills the role with weary urbanity and sly humor. Janet Robey-Schwartz adds energetic comic relief as the psychic who nearly spoils his script. This enjoyably mindless escapism will be performed by the Kirkwood Theatre Guild through January 28 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $15. Call 314-821-9956, extension 1, or visit www.ktg-onstage.org. (DB)

I Am My Own Wife Wearing a black dress, pearls and orthopedic shoes, Arnie Burton portrays every character in this award-winning play about the intriguing life of German transvestite Charlotta von Mahlsdorf. As Charlotta survives both the Nazi and Stasi regimes, we meet members of her family, her colleagues, soldiers of all nationalities, American playwright Doug Wright and a host of international reporters. Each transition, physical posture and vocal inflection is sharply choreographed, and the ease with which Burton moves from one character to the next is stunning. His work coalesces with the outstanding design work of set and costume designer Marie Anne Chiment, lighting designer F. Mitchell Dana and sound designer Joe Payne. Director John Going crafts each moment of the play with exquisite detail, yielding a production that celebrates the power of theater and the mystery of each individual's unique perspective. Through February 3 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $13-$61 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (Deanna Jent)

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse Reviewed in this issue.

Proof David Auburn's Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning family drama and whodunit about Catherine, the moody, mercurial daughter of a brilliant mathematician, has gone from Broadway to the regional theater circuit to movie screens and now to community theaters, and it still tells an intriguing story that succeeds in involving viewers in a rarefied world about which most people know next to nothing. This version, directed by Barry Thornell, is effectively low-key. Happily missing are the shrill hysterics that can transform Catherine into an audience turnoff. Shannon McFarlane does a lovely job of capturing the daughter's fragility. The production doesn't ask McFarlane to convey Catherine's profound fear of madness, as it should, but if called upon she probably could. Performed by the Alton Little Theater through January 29 at the Alton Little Theater, 2450 North Henry Street, Alton. Tickets are $12 ($6 for students). Call 618-462-6562 or visit www.altonlittletheater.org. (DB)

Under Milk WoodAt the end of his tongue-twirling, liquor-licking life, even as he raged against the dying of the light, lusty Welsh poet Dylan Thomas summoned the strength to write this gentle benediction, a paean to the gift of existence, a microcosm of life as it unfolds during a spring day in a quiet seaside town in Wales. Directed by Steve Callahan and anchored by Teresa Doggett at the head of a cast of ten actors who enact scores of characters, living and dead, this collage of voices evokes the irony of Spoon River Anthology, the affirmation of Our Townand the ribaldry of Peyton Place, all in 100 intermissionless minutes of Thomas' fulsome cadences. Best to not try to keep pace with every single line and incident; better to let these verses roll over you like the ocean waves that ceaselessly caress the shore of this sweet, gossipy village. Performed by the West End Players Guild through January 29 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $10. Call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. (DB)

Yellowman Reviewed in this issue.

 
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