Now I Ask You In 1916, four years before Eugene O'Neill found fame as a serious American dramatist, back when he was still trying to write what everyone else wrote, he collaborated with his wife Agnes Boulton O'Neill on a very conventional comedy about a free-spirited young bride who was not so radical as she thought she was. Now I Ask You teaches us little about O'Neill, because he had not yet found his voice, but it might tell us a lot about Neil Simon, who as a novice playwright apparently was an O'Neill scholar. It's hard to imagine that young Simon did not read this O'Neill spin on the "Mother knows best" motif before he wrote Barefoot in the Park. As cleanly and simply directed by Jerry McAdams, this Muddy Waters production may not be the funniest comedy you've ever seen (hey, it's O'Neill), but it's never less than intriguing. The entire cast is appealing. Andra Harkins and Katie McGee should be out looking for a production of Barefoot so that they can repeat their knowing mother/adorable daughter combo. Through June 27 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard (in the Big Brothers Big Sisters building). Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors and active-duty military personnel). Call 314-799-8399 or visit www.muddywaterstheatre.com. (DB)
Our TownThornton Wilder's masterpiece is given a magnificent burnish by Gary F. Bell and a murderers' row of a cast. As Wilder intended, the smallest scenes — Dr. Gibbs (Mark Abels) shaming his son George (Kevin Boehm) for shirking his woodcutting duties, Emily Webb (Colleen M. Backer) and George sharing a strawberry ice cream soda — reveal the everyday wonders and kindness we take for granted. David K. Gibbs inhabits the Stage Manager with a homespun majesty, leading us beat by beat through a primer on humanity, simplicity and empathy. Very rarely do you see a play that ends with a large portion of the audience audibly sobbing, undone not by grand tragedy but by the common mistake of not appreciating every dull and glorious moment that was granted you. Bring a friend and a hanky. Presented by Stray Dog Theatre through June 26 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org.
— Paul Friswold