Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown, Deanna Jent and Lew Prince suss out local theater

Daddy's Dyin' (Who's Got the Will?)The title pretty much says it all, even as it sets the tone for all these crazy family deathbed high jinks in rural Texas. You say you don't like your characters complicated? This, bud's, for you: a whole evenin' of yellin' and cursin' and whorin' and tanglin' and singin'. There's plenty a lovin' and hatin' and beer drinkin', not to mention all them good jokes about body odors and busted bladders and that pesky missin' toilet paper. Of course, the caliber o' the writin' puts Steel Magnolias on a par with Tennessee Williams, and Crimes of the Heart seems downright Shakespearean. But you don't get to see sentimentality as phony as this any ol' week. In case, by the time the plot finally drags to a resolution, you've begun to wonder how this dinner-theater entry found itself on the HotCity sked, here's an explanation from the press release: "HotCity Theatre produces contemporary, issue-oriented works of theatre that challenge and inspire St. Louis area audiences." Oh, so that's what it's doin'. Well, hot dang. Performed by HotCity Theatre Company through July 29 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-289-4060 or visit www.hotcitytheatre.org.
Dennis Brown

Drama at InishWhen a visiting troupe performs highbrow works by the likes of Chekhov and Ibsen in a sleepy seaside Irish village, a "queer madness" takes hold: The same kinds of scandals that permeate the onstage dramas begin to occur in the town. Without ever taking itself too seriously, this obscure 1933 Lennox Robinson play makes gentle observations about the suggestive, sometimes subversive, power of art. Under the assured direction of Rob Grumich, a terrific group of performers — including the charming likes of Anthony Mullin, Liz Hopefl, Charlie Barron and Sarah Cannon — brings the evening to life. Anyone who enjoys plays about plays is sure to unearth something of interest in this comedy that is so rarely staged, this Act Inc. production might be your only opportunity to see it. Through July 30 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-725-9108 or visit www.actinc.biz.
(DB)

Gypsy If you need a reason to justify sitting outside in 100-degree heat at yet another production of Gypsy, look no further than Meredith Patterson. In the title role as the guileless, gangly little girl who morphs into celebrated striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, Patterson is a beguiling delight. Not only is she a captivating performer, but she's a terrific listener. When others are center stage singing or dancing, she sits to one side and watches with rapt intensity. When Mama Rose (the forceful Karen Mason) sings the eerie Act One closer, "Everything's Coming Up Roses," Patterson physically shrivels. At the curtain call, as the cast waved goodbye to the audience, she was the last to leave the stage. Clearly, she is savoring every minute of this production — and her enthusiasm is contagious. Through July 23 at the Muny in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets are $8 to $60. Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org.
(DB)

HarveyTheater purists will never forgive Mary Chase's fantasy about a six-foot-tall pooka for swiping the 1945 Pulitzer Prize from Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie. And of course they're right. Time has established the haunting Menagerie as a masterwork; Harvey is merely one of the funniest plays ever written. It's currently receiving a crackerjack production at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock, directed with a deft touch by Peter Reynolds and festooned with loving performances in all the key roles. As Elwood P. Dowd, the American theater's most affable drunk, Alan Knoll paints with a feather, rendering a portrayal rooted in both hilarity and heartache. Whit Reichert is commandingly comic as Dr. Chumley, head of the local loony bin. As Elwood's long-suffering sister, Nancy Boykin brings an intriguing sanity to a role that is usually played for farce. The broadness is left to Christopher J. Schmidt, who wisely knows just how far he can go as the gruff asylum attendant. This affectionate production is one of the delights of the year. Through August 2 at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, on Main Street in Arrow Rock. Tickets are $30 ($28 for students and seniors; $14 for children). Call 660-837-3311 or visit www.lyceumtheatre.org.
(DB)

The House of Blue Leaves John Guare's dark comedy chronicles the bizarre events of the day the Pope visited New York City in October 1965, running the stylistic gamut from gut-wrenching to Three Stooges slapstick. Great performances by Will Ledbetter and Kim Furlow as neighbors "with privileges" provide this Stray Dog Theatre production's solid humor, while Margeau Baue Steinau's portrayal of the mentally ill Bananas captures the heart and style of the show. Great production elements support the actors' work, from Jeff David's angular set to the details of Cathy Altholz's decoration. Tyler Duenow's lighting design is especially effective in the final moments of the play, when a surprising turn of events turns the farcical action inside-out. Director Gary Bell takes a while getting the action rolling, but once he does, it moves at appropriately breakneck speed. At its best, Guare's emotional roller-coaster ride leaves you breathless; at its worst, it leaves you bewildered. Through July 30 at Clayton High School's Little Theatre, 1 Mark Twain Circle, Clayton. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-531-5923 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org.
Deanna Jent

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