St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the St. Louis theater scene

Black Comedy/White Liars There are laughs aplenty in Peter Shaffer's one-joke farce set in an apartment that's plunged into darkness when a fuse blows. The conceit here is that the audience can see what the characters cannot. The script is intermittently clever, and this community-theater staging is very amusing indeed. The problem is that Shaffer apparently insists that Black Comedy be preceded by an arid one-act about a phony fortuneteller, originally called White Lies but recently rewritten under the title White Liars. By any name it makes for dreary trudging. How sad that a viewer has to endure an hour of bad writing before he can be entertained. Performed by the Clayton Community Theatre through November 23 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. Tickets are $15 ($12 for seniors and students). Call 314-721-9228 or visit www.placeseveryone.org. — Dennis Brown

Ladies at the Alamo Paul Zindel's theater-of-revenge comedy features a community-theater doyenne (Dede, played by Betsy Gasoske) about to be ousted by her board president Joanne (Theresa Masters) on opening night of the worst-ever production of The Seagull. Director David Houghton has expanded Soundstage Productions' stripped-down "Reader's Theatre" aesthetic with a few costumes, a narrator (Deborah Dennert) to help describe the action and the use of the tech crew as the in-play tech crew. But the static format impedes the timing: Comic entrances and exits are absent, and characters joking about "bull's goobers" when none are present isn't quite as funny as actually seeing it. The lack of visual and kinetic comedy clues leaves only the revenge of the ladies, who are homophobic, petty and relentlessly cruel to each other — which isn't so funny after all. Presented by Soundstage through November 15 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are $12. Call 314-968-8070 or visit www.soundstageproductions.net. — Paul Friswold

The Little Dog Laughed Reviewed in this issue.

Mass Appeal The ornate sanctuary of Christ Church Cathedral downtown provides a resplendent environment for Bill C. Davis' amiable tale about the uneasy bonding between an impassioned young seminarian and the sedentary parish priest who has been assigned to teach him discipline. The intensive sincerity of Travis Hanrahan's firebrand is well matched by the comfortable-slipper ease of Steve Springmeyer's tradition-bound priest. Although the Catholic Church has been rocked by controversy in the 28 years since this play was first staged, the text retains a simple freshness that doesn't feel at all dated. To see it staged in such a magnificent locale elevates an entertaining evening into something unique. Performed by Midnight Company through November 15 at Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust Street. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors). Call 314-487-5305 or visit www.midnightcompany.com. (DB)

Nine Parts of Desire Reviewed in this issue.

Oleanna David Mamet's harrowing parable about the perils of power-playing in academia receives a breathless staging from Vanity Theatre that has been stunningly directed and choreographed by Jennifer Marissa Bock and David A. Lane. Under their watchful eyes, this cautionary tale about the changing dynamics between a university professor and one of his students is acted to near perfection by Andrew Michael Neiman and Michele Dumoulin. Neiman proves himself the ideal Mamet actor, for he is able to breathe life into often self-consciously contrived prose. As a confused coed, Dumoulin is as irresistible to watch as a locomotive careening off the tracks. The collaboration between directors and actors results in a supercharged evening that is terse, provocative and electrifying. Through November 16 at the Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 618-920-6377 or visit www.blackcattheatre.org. (DB)

She Loves You! It's hard to explain why Elvis impersonators usually seem so tacky, yet Beatles re-creations — even when the re-enactors are a little long in the tooth — are full of joy. Perhaps it's because with the Beatles, music trumps personality. There's lots of music here, live and loud, to remind us of those vital years in the turbulent 1960s when every few months brought an astonishing new gift from John and Paul, even occasionally George. This revue attempts to take us into the studio for that celebrated first broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show, then it wants to re-create the excitement of a performance in Shea Stadium. But considering the confines of the West Port playing space, it works best if you think of it as a Las Vegas lounge act. She Loves You! is an orgy of ongoing melody, and on its own terms, is very satisfying indeed. Through January 4, 2009, at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue at I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $44 to $48. Visit www.theplayhouseatwestport.com or call 314-469-7529. (DB)

Smoke on the Mountain Try not to think of Connie Ray and Alan Bailey's Smoke on the Mountain as a bluegrass musical rife with testimonials to the saving grace of the Lord. Instead consider it a humanistic rallying cry. In these songs, delivered beautifully by a very talented ensemble (although Tim Schall's performance as Uncle Stanley must really be singled out for its quality), director Deanna Jent expands the concept of a family pulling together for support and love so that all of us are part of that family. The result is heartwarming, and sidesplitting — Colleen Backer's turn as sister June, the family's eager but inexperienced sign-language broadcast system, is riotous. Presented by Mustard Seed Theatre through November 23 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-719-8060 or visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com. (PF)

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