St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

 Black Nativity Langston Hughes deemed Black Nativity his "gospel song play." Act One is all of those things, a soaring and gorgeous retelling of the birth of Christ that emphasizes the humanity of the people who witnessed the event. Director Ron Himes and musical director Diane White-Clayton mix American and African folk songs with traditional religious music (and one well-placed rap song) to fulfill Hughes' vision of a new, fully integrated black art form. Brilliant costuming by Reggie Ray and clockwork choreography by Keith Tyrone add visual punch to fantastic performances from Herman Gordon as the singing Joseph and the ethereal Heather Beal as the dancing Mary. Act Two has a modern gospel church setting, and while the performances are powerful and moving, the sense of story is minimal. While brimming with reverence and passionate singing, it lacks the narrative and inventiveness of the first half. That magnificent first act is more than worth the price of admission, however. Presented through December 27 (no performances on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day) by the Black Rep at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $30.50 to $43 ($5 discount for students and seniors; $10 rush seats available for students 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-534-3810 or visit
— Paul Friswold

Brooklyn Boy Often the most gratifying theater sneaks up and stuns us. So it is with Donald Margulies' account of a traumatic week in the life of a novelist who sees his personal life unraveling even as he is finally receiving professional recognition and celebrity. Margulies has long been a writer of astute sensitivity; director Bobby Miller is in perfect harmony with the playwright's rhythms. This seamless production — pitch-perfect scenic design, costume design, you name it — is gorgeous to behold. Miller has allowed his actors the freedom to find their own characters, but they have found exactly what Miller wanted, thus delivering an evening of rare cohesion. They are all fine, and some more than that. Jason Cannon's dominant portrayal of the author is eloquently understated. R. Travis Estes is wrenching as a childhood friend whose ambitions have never extended beyond Brooklyn, and Paris McCarthy delivers a dazzling turn as a young groupie the novelist picks up after a book signing. Brooklyn Boy is one of the theater highlights of 2009. Produced by New Jewish Theatre through December 19 at Clayton High School, 2 Mark Twain Circle, Clayton. Tickets are $32 to $34 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit
— Dennis Brown

A Christmas Story Taken from the endearing 1983 holiday movie about Ralphie's pursuit of a Red Ryder BB gun, A Christmas Story has been mugged by a pedestrian adaptation. The incessant voice-over that works so well onscreen becomes tedious onstage. Any similarity between the joyously anarchic spirit of the original motion picture and this stolid stage version is strictly coincidental. Not that it matters to theatergoers; the Rep can't sell the tickets fast enough. An extra performance has been added for Sunday evening, December 20. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through December 27 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $18 to $68 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $10 and $15, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit (DB)

Leah Berry and Stephen Rich in Avalon's production of An O. Henry Christmas.
Steve Krieckhaus
Leah Berry and Stephen Rich in Avalon's production of An O. Henry Christmas.

A Man for All Seasons Here is one of the great theater mysteries: Why is Robert Bolt's luminous 1960s account of the conflict between Sir Thomas More and King Henry VIII over matters of faith and conscience so infrequently staged? Set in sixteenth-century England, when the king seeks to divorce his queen in order to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn, Bolt's script is a triumph of intelligent storytelling. It introduces us to someone we meet all too rarely in the theater nowadays: a man of rare courage and quiet conviction. But there's far too much posing in this current staging (directed by Milt Zoth), as if the actors have been told they're in an Important Play. In the title role, William Roth's heart is in the right place, but he lacks gravitas and authority. Only Kevin Beyer as the villainous Thomas Cromwell is in total command. Produced by St. Louis Actors' Studio through December 20 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue (in Forest Park). Tickets are $25 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2978 or visit (DB)

An O. Henry Christmas This modest evening comprises two one-act vest-pocket musicals, both based on short stories penned a century ago by the admired storyteller William Sidney Porter, alias O. Henry. The first, "The Gift of the Magi," is an adaptation of perhaps O. Henry's most famous tale about how a young married couple living in poverty manage to exchange Christmas gifts. The second, "The Last Leaf," a drama of life, death and sacrifice, is darker and more nuanced. Although Christmas as such does not factor into its telling, this might be the story that most merits seeing during the holidays, for its humbling message reminds us to keep the holiday season in healthy perspective. Performed by Avalon Theatre Company through December 20 at the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza), Watson and Sappington roads, Crestwood. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors, $18 for military veterans). Call 314-351-6482 or visit (DB)

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