St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

Blackbird Reviewed this issue.

Legally Blonde Reviewed this issue.

Also Reviewed
Almost, Maine Playwright John Cariani, a native of Maine, would have us believe that his home state is a daffy, loopy yet literal place where people who fall in love actually hit the ground and when hearts get broken you really have to pick up the pieces and put them in a bag. Cariani, who is also an actor, knows how to write for actors; the quirky dialogue in his collection of playlets about life on a Friday night in a fictional town rolls off the tongues of this extremely appealing eight-person cast, which has been directed with tenderness by Renee Sevier-Monse. Every so often, and far too infrequently, some little play comes along about which we know nothing; hence, low expectations. Then it proves to be completely captivating. Almost, Maine is such a show. The New York critics dismissed it when it opened off-Broadway three years ago, a reminder of how parochial they can be. But its eccentric charms are ideal for the rest of America, where Almost, Maine is sure to find a long and profitable life in modest yet engaging productions like this one. Performed by West End Players Guild through February 1 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. — Dennis Brown

Café Appassionato They juggle, they soar through the air, they clamber over one another's bodies until you can't tell where one torso ends and the next begins. And (with one exception) they're all young, ranging in age between seven and nineteen. Circus Harmony teaches youngsters how to stand on each other's shoulders, both figuratively and literally. This is the students' annual opportunity to strut their stuff before the public. They go at it with the exuberance and concentration of kids opening birthday presents. As if the show itself weren't enough, the fact that it transpires on the third floor of the City Museum is icing on the proverbial cake. This is one theater you won't want to leave after the show is over. Better yet: Be sure to arrive early. Through February 1 at the City Museum, 701 North 15th Street. Tickets are $15 to $20 and include admission to the City Museum proper. (DB)

Dog Sees God Playwright Bert V. Royal's Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead takes a Saturday Night Live approach to Charles Schulz's Peanuts gang, projecting the kids to high school age and modernizing their speech and behavior. It's a funny idea, maybe, but tired also; it's been done before by underground comics artists such as Evan Dorkin and Ivan Brunetti, and done better; this is a more Mad TV-level concept than SNL, perhaps. Royal's script translates Schulz's melancholia into bitterness and his empathy into ironic detachment, and his characters are simplistic — and obvious — inversions of their original sources. Tomboy Peppermint Patty (here called Tricia) is now a slutty vixen, filthy Pigpen is now Matt, a germaphobe and homophobe, etc. Despite the one-note characterizations, director Robert A. Mitchell coaxes some very fine performances from his cast. Paris McCarthy and Bess Moynihan do bang-up work together as Tricia and Marcy, respectively, and Meg Rod's turn as "CB's Sister" (Sally) is fearlessly funny. Speaking of good ol' CB, Charlie Barron strikes the right balance of hopeless and hopeful as the titular blockhead, at least when the script allows. Barron's scenes with Beethoven (Adam Qualls) are so hesitantly sweet as to be incongruous amid the dick-sucking and senseless violence. Presented by the NonProphet Theater Company through February 1 at the Tin Ceiling, 3159 Cherokee Street. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 636-236-4831 or visit www.nptco.org. — Paul Friswold

Prelude to a Kiss The moment Peter and Rita (Stephen Peirick, Kristen Robins) meet, the spell between them is cast. But this deft fantasy by Craig Lucas is full of spells, not all of their making. After Rita is kissed by an Old Man (Tom Yager) at her wedding, the sweet play journeys through a dreamlike terrain unknown to most romantic comedies. As directed by Judy Yordon, the staging is as spare as the text, thus leaving ample room for the viewer's imagination. Performed by the Clayton Community Theatre through February 1 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, Clayton. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 314-721-9228 or visit www.placeseveryone.org. (DB)

Saint Joan Four years ago Paul Mason Barnes directed a near-perfect production of the Irish play Stones in His Pockets on the Rep mainstage. Two months later Tarah Flanagan delivered a memorably complex portrayal of a rookie cop in the Rep Studio's Lobby Hero. Now the Rep has sent these two supreme artists on a journey to scale the summit that is Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw's meshing of biography and legend about Joan of Arc, the teen miracle worker who drove the English invaders from France, only to be burned at the stake on a trumped-up charge of heresy. The measure of Flanagan's guileless performance is that it doesn't feel like a performance. Joan is by turns ordinary, remarkable, fearless, bewildered, shrewd, dispirited. All these traits pass through Flanagan's eyes and essence, but as if instinctively. Barnes has surrounded her with a polished and (perhaps too) sumptuous production. In a large cast, Bobby Steggert's craven Dauphin is a fun spoof of early Peter Ustinov. Although there's no escaping the evening's cerebral verbosity, whenever Flanagan is holding court Saint Joan emanates a degree of humanity that is rare in Shaw. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through February 1 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $14.50 to $65 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $10 and $15, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (DB)

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