Yesterdays: An Evening with Billie Holiday The Grandel Theatre stage is wide open and empty, leaving all the more room for Billie Holiday to stagger and slur through what we're told is Lady Day's final nightclub performance in 1959. Vanessa Rubin delivers a searing portrayal of the drug- and booze-dependent Holiday at the end of her tether, two months prior to the singer's death at age 44. Rubin is deftly backed by a jazz trio (Levi Barcourt on piano, David Jackson on bass, Bernard Davis on drums), and when the four collaborate on Holiday standards such as "Good Morning Heartache" and "God Bless the Child," the result is often exquisite and poignant. But not only is the script by Reenie Upchurch way too long, it is aggravated by far too many false endings. What might have played out in a tight ninety minutes instead extends for more than two hours. The simplicity that defines Holiday's most haunting songs is sadly missing here, so that the show's form is not simpatico with its content. When, late in Act Two, Holiday says, "I'm never getting off this stage," we almost believe her. Performed by the Black Rep through March 14 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org.
— Dennis Brown
Ongoing The Diary of Anne Frank This account of the twenty-five months in which eight Jews hid from the Nazis in a cramped Amsterdam attic during World War II is sadly uninvolving. Much of the problem can be attributed to Wendy Kesselman's 1997 rewrite of the original 1955 play; her revised script feels patched together. But equal blame must be shared by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis staging, which is far too comfortable. Through her diary, which was published posthumously after her death at age fifteen, Anne Frank gave a face to the horrors of the Holocaust. But in this production the sense of risk and pressure is at best intermittent. What should be tragic plays out here as petty. Through March 7 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 www.repstl.org. (DB)
The Shape of Things When we meet Adam (Billy Kelly), he's a schlubby security guard at an art gallery. Evelyn (Shanara Gabrielle) captures his fancy from the get-go, as she's about to deface a sculpture on his watch. Something about his straightforward nature appeals to the strident art student, and they begin a whirlwind relationship. Evelyn suggests a better diet and a new hairstyle for Adam — and this being a Neil LaBute play, there's much talk about the meaning and nature of art and a menacing subtext to the whole affair. Other than her attractiveness and sexual availability, it's difficult to see what draws Adam to Evelyn. She's combative on every front, demanding wholesale changes in his lifestyle, and she offers little warmth or even a likable personality. Adam is eager to please — perhaps too eager, as his friends Phillip (Christian Vieira) and Jenny (Ann Ashby) often point out. Kelly and Vieira have the best scene in the play, a confrontation initiated by Phillip that shows why the two are friends — they can forgive each other for almost anything. The final fifteen minutes are a harrowing experience in typical LaBute fashion, memorable if not satisfying. Presented by St. Louis Actors' Studio through March 7 at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $25 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2978 or visit www.stlas.org.
— Paul Friswold