Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater.

The Birthday Party Black Cat Theatre celebrates its grand opening with Harold Pinter.The action of the play is fairly simple: Two outsiders, McCann and Goldberg, terrorize Stanley, the lone tenant of a rundown boarding house. There are hints of mob connections, secrets and false identities, all covered with surreal wrapping and tied with an absurdist bow. Unfortunately the play rarely moves beyond a superficial level under Wayne Salomon's direction. Goldberg (James Anthony) and McCann (Jason Cannon) provide the only menacing moments; their scenes are the best in the production. Many new theater companies would choose a safer, better-known play for their inaugural production. The Birthday Partyis a bold choice, signaling that Black Cat plans to challenge audiences — a mission that speaks to future productions that may well be worth celebrating. Through November 4 at the Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 314-963-8800 or visit www.blackcattheatre.org.
Deanna Jent

Marija's PicturesReviewed in this issue.

Menopause The Musical This sassy musical revue parodies songs of the '60s and '70s focusing on issues of aging and hormone imbalance (to give you an idea: A disco medley includes "Night Sweating" and "Stayin' Awake"). Sandra Benton is a powerhouse singer whose Tina Turner brings down the house. Brooke Davis scores with "Puff the Magic Dragon" and Lee Anne Mathews delivers a sultry "Tropical Hot Flash," while Rosemary Watts has fun with the raciest number, a tribute to self-love. The only problem with music director Joe Dreyer's slick 90 minutes is that it's too loud. Open-ended run at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza, 635 West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $44.50. Call 314-469-7529 or visit www.playhouseatwestport.com.
(DJ)

Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck's stage version of his novel about two California drifters with small prospects and big dreams is a potentially shattering piece of theater. But a viewer has the right to wonder if Lennie and George aren't somehow dwarfed in this production, which strives to transform a wrenching human drama into a towering classic tragedy. Brendan Averett movingly captures the panic and terror of the simple-minded Lennie. But aside from Kenneth Albers in a small role as the ranch boss, Averett is the only actor who doesn't seem to be simply playing the lines. The result is, while not without interest, curiously uninvolving. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 5 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $14 to $63 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.
(DB)

Ordinary Nation Reviewed in this issue.

Shakespeare's R&J Four students in an all-boys school meet secretly in an attic to act out Romeo and Juliet (why they must do this on the sly is one of the unexplained affectations in Joe Calarco's adaptation). Director Paul Mason Barnes, a wizard at making something of nothing, infuses an essentially bare stage with energy and passion. But ultimately the monochromatic approach wears down even Barnes' seemingly endless resources. We're left with an evening of advocacy theater suggesting that when male students are stuck in an attic enacting a hot-blooded romance, boys will be boys. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 5 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $15 to $45 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstlorg.
(DB)

Steve Ross at the Cabaret at Savor Although the intimate, gem-like Flim Flam Room at Savor restaurant isn't large enough to contain a stage, Steve Ross is presenting theater in its purest sense. The theme here is travel, and his selection of material is impeccable: Noel Coward, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter. Because Ross is a servant to the lyric, songs from lesser-known shows like Sail Away and Carnival receive a new lease on life, while already popular tunes from musicals like Can-Can sound so fresh, it's as if you've never heard them before. For New Yorker Ross, this return to St. Louis is probably just another out-of-town gig. But for the viewer, to see a one-man show of this caliber is to witness the essence of simplicity raised to an artful level not soon to be forgotten. Performed through November 4 at Savor, 4356 Lindell Boulevard. Tickets are $75, which includes a three-course dinner. A late show on Saturday night is $35 (plus a $12 minimum). Call 314-531-0220 or visit www.licketytix.com.
(DB)

 
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