St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene.

Greetings! Reviewed in this issue.

Kindertransport In 1939 a nine-year-old Jewish child (Meg Rodd) is shipped from Germany to England for safekeeping. Although the move is temporary, she will never return. She will change her name, her religion, her language, yet she will forever exist in a netherworld of confusion. Three veteran actresses — Kari Ely, Kat Singleton and Margeau Beau Steinau — deliver beautifully wrought performances in a play by Diane Samuels that meditates on unanswerable questions about dislocation, exile and the guilt of survival. Then ten minutes before it's over, the author suddenly introduces a Sophie's Choice-style conundrum that seems totally out of whack with all that has gone before. And what had been a tightly woven evening of theater begins to unravel. Produced by New Jewish Theatre through December 16 at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $22 to $28 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. — Dennis Brown

Kiss Me, Kate This farcical account of flaring egos during an out-of-town tryout of The Taming of the Shrew, with songs by Cole Porter, is being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the Rep. The show has been splendidly choreographed, costumed, designed, lit and orchestrated to within an inch of its 59-year-old life. Act One is great fun, and Act Two opens with sizzling ensemble work in the Porter standard "Too Darn Hot" — which might perversely be too darn good, because the story never regains its footing after that. Instead the remainder of Act Two comes off as an antiquated oleo show. But the know-how that has gone into this production is dazzling. Through December 28 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $16 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)

A Length of Rope The dingy office set suggests we're entering the seedy world of The Maltese Falcon. Sure enough, there are references to that John Huston film early on. But Robert Strasser's mystery that's not a mystery about what happened to a missing painting (it got tossed into the Mississippi River, maybe) is more Mickey Spillane than Dashiell Hammett — with a liberal dose of David Mamet for spice. Some of the smutty dialogue reflects the wide-eyed wonder of a little boy talking about taboo topics for the first time. While there doesn't seem to be any real reason for this riff on sexual intrigue other than titillation and diversion, the five-person cast, directed by Andrew Byrd and smoothly led by Irene Allen, is in sync with the play's breezy manner. Performed by Tin Ceiling through December 16 at the Tin Ceiling, 3159 Cherokee Street. Tickets are $8. Call 314-374-1511 or visit www.tinceiling.org. (DB)

The Santaland Diaries A man, a costume and a wretched tale of woe and shame — that's the basic plot of Joe Mantello's one-man show The Santaland Diaries, adapted from David Sedaris' essay of the same name. As Crumpet the Elf, Will Ledbetter is our window into the backstage world of Macy's famed Santaland; he regales us with nightmarish visions of horrible parents, repugnant children and the single-minded consumerism of an American Christmas. But he's also the audience's hired gun for the evening: The "grinding enthusiasm" of the holiday is his primary target, and Ledbetter attacks with the vitriol unique to the liveried wage slave. His viciously funny observations are delivered in a dishy Southern accent, but it's Ledbetter's physical acting that sells the performance. He channels a sublime Billie Holiday and silences the crowd with a withering screw-you glare when we laugh at the first sight of his hideous elf uniform. An all-around great performance, directed by Edward Coffield. Through December 22 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org. — Paul Friswold

second Reviewed in this issue.

Sister's Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold Let us be merry: The prodigal nun has returned. Sister, that sweet authoritarian with whom St. Louis fell in love in Late Nite Catechism, is back with a holiday party. In the title role, Nonie Newton-Breen is a wonderfully effective comedienne who treads the delicate balance between affection and insult so deftly that she succeeds in making religion seem inclusive rather than exclusive. If the sheer act of indulging in happiness is enough to satisfy, then let the word go out that happy days are here again. Through December 30 at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue at I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $41. Call 314-469-7529 or visit www.theplayhouseatwestport.com. (DB)

 
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