St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

The Sunshine Boys Neil Simon's comedy about two vaudevillians who reluctantly reunite for a TV special after not speaking to each other for more than a decade is a showcase for Joneal Joplin (who plays Willie Clark) and Whit Reichert (Al Lewis). Joplin is the demanding comique artiste who nurses a massive grudge against his former partner for reasons real (Al retired, effectively retiring Willie as well) and manufactured (Al spits when he talks, he pokes too hard). Reichert plays Al with a guileless charm, an affable old man who is a crashing bore in conversation and who doesn't understand how much Willie needs the stage. The first act is fitfully funny, and mostly setup — although there is something magical about two senior citizens dueling with kitchen knife and tray table. The second act is a blur of laughs, as the two re-create their legendary "doctor sketch" and the years melt off both men; Reichert tumbles and cavorts, Joplin goes for a bizarre accent and zany persona at odds with the "real" Willie. Presented by St. Louis Actors' Studio through December 19 at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2978 or visit www.stlas.org. (PF)

This Wonderful Life "I love It's a Wonderful Life." So begins our genial narrator-storyteller-host in this solo paean to Frank Capra's 1946 movie about poor ol' put-upon George Bailey and the richness of life in everybody's favorite small town, Bedford Falls. Two Decembers ago the Rep staged a fun holiday production of this same specialized material. So why see it again? For starters, the playing space. The Rep production had to fill the capacious Loretto-Hilton stage, to the point where at times the actor seemed dwarfed. This more modest playing space makes Alan Knoll the evening's focus. Knoll tells the story of Capra's film with such heartfelt persuasion, you might think he wrote the piece himself. (Steve Murray did.) It makes no difference whether Knoll is impersonating Lionel Barrymore's irascible Mr. Potter or H.B. Warner's sorrowful druggist or Jimmy Stewart's frustrated, despairing George — every line Knoll utters, every move he makes, is pitch-perfect and bathed in affection. You leave the theater not only loving the movie all over again, but also astonished at the ability of live theater to instill an aging film with freshness and vigor. Performed by Dramatic License Productions through December 19 at Chesterfield Mall (space 291, next to Sears and Houlihan's), Clarkson Road and Chesterfield Parkway, Chesterfield. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 636-220-7012 or visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.com. (DB)

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