St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold encapsulate the St. Louis theater scene.

Othello The Black Rep stages Shakespeare's most passionate tragedy in voodoo New Orleans and Cuba at the time of the Spanish-American War. But establishing a locale needs to be more than playing Scott Joplin rags as pre-show music. As always happens when producers and directors do a half-baked job of conceptualizing, the actors are hung out to dry. This cast has to go to Olympian lengths to salvage the evening. In Act One Andre Sills' title character is constrained by a production that has little interest in Othello. But in Act Two Sills puts all the conceptual nonsense behind him and simply plays the text. Finally the words take hold and the agony of a man who loved not wisely, but too well, becomes absorbing theater. Through February 3 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43 ($5 discount for students and seniors; $10 rush seats available for students 30 minutes before showtime). Visit www.theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810. — Dennis Brown

Room at the Inn The Christmas season has not yet run its course. This new play by Steve Pokin occurs at a crowded homeless shelter on a snowy Christmas Eve in a Chicago suburb. A rogue's gallery of "guests," who range from curmudgeonly to eccentric, comes together to wait out the blizzard. Act One takes more time than it should to establish the setup. But Act Two compensates with humor and involvement. Among the large cast, Archie Coleman emanates a flawed goodness as the beleaguered site manager, and Adam Thenhaus delivers some solid laughs as a Method actor pretending to be homeless. The play is admirable, both in its intent and in the way it skirts polemics. Already it exudes something that many more-polished scripts lack: a pulse. Produced by First Run Theatre through January 20 at DeSmet Jesuit High School, 233 North New Ballas Road, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $10 ($8 for students and seniors). Call 314-352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com. (DB)

Tuesdays with Morrie Bernie Passeltiner, a member of the acting ensemble that christened the Loretto-Hilton stage 41 years ago, returns four decades later to portray Morrie Schwartz, a sociology professor doomed to die from the ravages of Lou Gehrig's Disease. The persuasive simplicity of Passeltiner's deft work is a stirring testimony to a life in the theater lived well. But the play itself, which promises lessons in living, is about as insightful as a Hallmark card. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through January 27 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)

Veronica's Room Susan (Heather Schmidt) is on a second date with Larry (Cody Proctor) when an older couple (Suzanne Greenwald and David Gibbs) convinces the pair to accompany them to their home, where a deluded old woman is dying of cancer. Susan bears a remarkable resemblance to the dying woman's sister, and a plan is hatched to have a disguised Susan "visit" with the soon-to-be-deceased as a final kindness. Schmidt gives what appears to be the best performance as a flirty coed having a lark; Proctor, by comparison, is stiffly creepy. His face is so placid as to be waxen, and he speaks with grave reluctance. Greenwald and Gibbs are similarly distracted, at times play-acting in obvious fashion. Do not be suckered. Director Larry Schmidt has hidden a fine cast in the apparently wobbly first act of Ira Levin's Veronica's Room. The second act is a horrifying rush toward darkness that redeems all that came before. "Redeems" may be too strong a word, considering the vile ending — but every false start and awkward glance shared between Greenwald and Gibbs is fully justified in the cataclysmic finale. High marks to Gibbs and especially Proctor for two of the most terrifying reveals you'll ever enjoy. Again, "enjoy" may be too strong a word — but you won't soon forget them. Presented by West End Players Guild through January 20 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. — Paul Friswold

 
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