St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

Antigone The first act of Jean Anouilh's Antigone (adapted by Lewis Galantiere) is all set-up, with much exposition about who's here (ancient Greeks in a film-noir world, right down to the 1940s-era costumes) and what their motivations are. Antigone (Emily Baker) wants to bury her brother to ensure a happy afterlife for his spirit, but her uncle and king, Creon (John Contini), won't allow it for political reasons. It's a lumpy and awkward beginning, but it passes quickly. The second act throws Antigone and Creon into the meat grinder, as the two tear savagely at each other's ideology. Baker plays Antigone with an idealism that's moving and luminous; Contini balances her headstrong individuality with his dark-edged belief in the sublimation of the individual to the needs of the state. Contini's king speaks reverently of blood and sacrifice while wearing a spotless military uniform; her arms smeared with her brothers blood, her face bruised and split by Creon's men, Antigone stands before him defiant, refusing to acquiesce. Director Milton Zoth gives us many such contradictory tableaux in this fine production. Presented by St. Louis Actors' Studio through October 5 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $25 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2978 or visit www.stlas.org. — Paul Friswold

Copenhagen Michael Frayn's Copenhagen imagines — many times over — the reason behind Werner Heisenberg's (Matt Hanify) visit to his mentor Niels Bohr (Chuck Lavazzi)'s home in occupied Copenhagen during World War II. There's much talk of physics, at times a tedious amount of physics and yet — and yet Lavazzi's mannered and careful Niels is always ready to explain it in plain language so that you get the gist of it. Hanify provides the sparks, his Heisenberg agitated by too slow a pace and yet always yearning to be in control of the situation. Set in the round, with a large circular rug representing the atom both men sought to understand, the two orbit each other for most of the show, prodding and feinting and trying to grasp what each of them wanted from this mysterious visit. It is Liz Hopefl's sweet Margrethe, Niels' wife, upon which this drama literally and figuratively turns; gracious to her unwanted guest, lovingly chiding her husband, quietly mourning her lost children, she is both heart and soul. Then, with devastating bluntness, she provides the answers and the emotions neither man can see from his own fixed orbit, as wise in the ways of the human heart as these two geniuses are in the mechanics of the atom. A strange and enchanting show that gets stronger as it goes on, and continues to do so even after the lights come up. Presented by West End Players Guild through September 28 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. (PF)

Hair Hair is not so much a musical as it is an invocation, a sort of vision quest designed to shake you out of your torpor and make you think. Let's describe it as "a group of people with strange clothes and a shared faith in nebulous concepts who make strange proclamations about society's ills" — are we describing hippies, the religious right, the secular left or the military's press conferences on the war in Iraq? Regardless of what you think you are, Hair challenges your perceptions. A kaleidoscopic, mandala-esque painting on the stage provides a locus for the characters to dance and sing and poke fun at the world outside the theater. And there is a lot of fun: Zachary Allen Farmer delivers a side-splitting rendition of "My Conviction" as the tourist lady, and "Walking in Space" comes with a dazzling burst of Christmas lights that causes the audience to gaze skyward and smile — more shows should entice us into looking for the stars. But there are painful moments as well. People singing "We're crazy for the red, white and blue" has an almost repugnant feel in the Patriot Act era, and the reluctant rebel/soldier Claude's (Todd Schaefer) invisibility once he dons his uniform recalls the disgraceful treatment of soldiers after Vietnam. The show's at its best when the entire tribe sings, the New Line Band is rocking and the audience forgets this is a play and not a concert — and that happens several times. Presented by New Line Theatre through October 18 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, Clayton. Tickets are $15 to $20 ($10 to $15 for students and seniors). Call 314-773-6526 or visit www.newlinetheatre.com. (PF)

Killing Women Here we go again with yet another wail about women in the workplace. It seems that it's a man's world out there, and female hit men (even the term is chauvinistic) just can't crash that glass ceiling. If your heart bleeds at the plight of a working mother who has to miss her daughter's grade-school Career Day because she had to kill someone instead, this is the black comedy for you. Marisa Wegrzyn's Killing Women makes many mistakes — but none so severe as to have opened the same weekend as The Lieutenant of Inishmore. In terms of manner and character, there are many parallels between the two scripts. None favor this one, which by contrast comes off as lethargic. Performed by HotCity Theatre through October 4 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students, $20 for seniors). Call 314-289-4063 or visit www.hotcitytheatre.org. — Dennis Brown

The Lieutenant of Inishmore Set on one of the remote Aran Islands off of Ireland's west coast, Martin McDonagh's macabre comedy concerns Padraic (David Whalen, in an impressively calibrated performance), a psychopathic terrorist so uncontrollable that he must be eliminated. The best way to get to Padraic is by killing his cat. If these doings sound like grim stuff, you'd be way wrong. True, in this allegory about the violence that has consumed Ireland, we are pummeled by the unexpected. But in an evening of giddy theatricality, ultimately we are not so much shocked by the excessive goings-on as we are startled by the realization of how hilarious it all is. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more exhilarating romp than this dazzlingly executed exercise in mayhem. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Off-Ramp through October 12 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $16 to $50. Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (DB)

Regrets Only Here are two plays for the price of one, or at least two styles. Act One is a conventional comedy of manners set among the rich and famous on Manhattan. But Act Two ventures into the realm of the surreal as playwright Paul Rudnick tries to imagine a world without gay people. There are laughs aplenty, and if the overall effect is not so polemical as Rudnick might have hoped for, at least the zestful evening gives Lavonne Byers the opportunity to add yet another notch to her gun belt of precise performances. Performed by Stray Dog Theatre through September 27 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org. (DB)

Scorched Harrowing and beautiful, exhausting and uplifting, Wadji Mouawad's Scorched is transcendent theater. Nawal (played by Magan Wiles, Michelle Hand and Nancy Lewis) asks her twin children Simon (Joel Lewis) and Janine (Brooke Edwards) to return to the war-ravaged country of her birth and deliver a letter each to their unknown father and their unknown older brother. This begins a frightening descent into the darkest corners of their mother's life, and an unflinching picture of what happens to women when men go to war. Thoroughly excellent performances from every cast member raise this intelligent and rewarding play to great heights, and the view from the final peak is bleak — yet beautiful all the same. Presented by the Orange Girls through September 28 at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-520-9557 or visit www.orangegirls.org. (PF)

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