Ongoing The People's Violin Independent filmmaker Solomon Shankman (Richard Strelinger) is commissioned to make a film about his father Sidney (Richard Lewis), a famous Jewish psychoanalyst and religious thinker. The first interview goes poorly, ending abruptly with Dad calling Son a thoughtless narcissist. Dad then dies and Solomon discovers some shaky facts that lead him to believe his father was neither Jewish nor named Sidney Shankman. Solomon's pursuit of this reality leads to his estrangement from his wife and children and a more thorough examination of his own life. Strelinger makes for a genuinely likable narcissist, one who ends up as piteous as he is pitiless, and Lewis does a bang-up job playing several roles. Charlie Varon's script races breathlessly toward an unexpected conclusion, one that satisfies and unsettles. It really is dreadfully easy to remake yourself in America — a power that can be used for good as easily as it can be used selfishly. Presented by the New Jewish Theatre under the able direction of Deanna Jent through March 14 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 www.newjewishtheatre.org.
— Paul Friswold
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