Also Reviewed A Chorus Line Reviewed in this issue.
Martha Mitchell Calling Martha Mitchell was the gin-swilling, gossipy, good-time Southern girl who used her beloved pink Princess phone to notify the press — primarily Helen Thomas — about the backstage doings of the Nixon White House during the Watergate era. Most of her info came from eavesdropping on her hubby John's (he was U.S. Attorney General) phone calls to his boss. In Jodi Rothe's Martha Mitchell Calling, Glynis Bell creates a vivacious and funny Martha, a staunch Republican who converts her husband (a very good James Anthony) from Democrat to loyal Nixon flunky for the glamour of political life. This decision destroys John, their marriage and especially Martha, a fact that doesn't escape her. Bell is fantastic, regaling us with devastating monologues that reveal the earthy dame behind the glitzy image, but also shading Martha with a hard-edged sadness as she realizes her true worth is not in her party-girl status or her party affiliation, but as someone willing to defend the sanctity of the law — no matter what the personal cost. Presented by St. Louis Actors' Studio under the direction of Lana Pepper through May 31 at the Gaslight Theatre, 356 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $25 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2987 or visit www.stlas.org. — Paul Friswold
Return to the Forbidden Planet Bob Carlton's whimsical take on The Tempest as refracted through a 1950s sci-fi prism features a galaxy's worth of fantastic rock & roll songs, punning wordplays on snippets of Shakespearian monologues and intentionally "Pigs in Space" costuming (courtesy of Betsy Krausnick). But this is no parlor trick of a musical; there's a rich vein of Shakespeare's favorite ingredient — the wondrous depths of the human heart — that elevates the show from cunning stunt to artful meditation on the destructive nature of power and the redemptive power of love. Zachary Allen Farmer is magnificently cast as the nefarious Dr. Prospero, a scientist who's invented "telegenesis," a technological miracle that costs him his wife and child. Farmer's carefully modulated speaking voice hints at a shaky self-control, and his bubbling anger flares into rage with little warning. As the Science Officer, Nikki Glenn reignites his nascent soul during their towering duet of "Go Now." It's touching and wrenching, a threnodic love song that leaves an aching silence in its wake. But director Scott Miller cannily sprinkles humor throughout the show: Watch the background characters during the songs, and you'll see giggling, eye-rolls and bemused head shakes, even as they sing harmony. Presented by New Line Theatre through May 23 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)
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball Dana, a frustrated artist, is on her fifth analyst. Although her boyfriend wants her to paint, he also wants her to be happy. Those two ambitions are not jelling. It's not until she winds up in an asylum that Dana is able to put her imagination to its most creative use. Despite its appealing title, Rebecca Gilman's play has little to do with the national pastime. But it tells an involving story that riffs on the need for a little fantasy in your reality. Director Robert A. Mitchell has assembled a topnotch cast, with Michelle Hand batting cleanup — and she delivers big-time. Her Dana is a bravura creation. Sarah Cannon is also fun as a haughty art dealer. The only thing wrong with this show was the wee size of its audience. Theater this engaging deserves to be seen. Through May 24 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 314-752-5075 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com. — Dennis Brown