St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown, Paul Friswold and Lew Prince suss out the local theater scene

Newly Reviewed
The Immigrant Reviewed in this issue.

Just Desserts Reviewed in this issue.

Kind Sir Jane Kimball (Kirsten Wylder) is a successful and in-demand Broadway actress, but she's in a deep funk because there's no man in her life. Immediately, Norman Krasna's Kind Sir shows its age, but stick with it; the almost superfluous first act gives way to a more comic Act Two, as perfect gentleman — in '50s values, this means "wealthy and charming" — Phillip Clair (Jim Fuchs) arrives to sweep Jane off her feet. His unfortunate marriage, which cannot be dissolved, keeps him from fulfilling Jane completely, but it does offer the requisite dramatic tension. (If the plot sounds familiar, that might be due to the fact that Krasna turned the script into a screenplay for Indiscreet, which starred Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant.) Fuchs is a little wooden in the early going, but he warms up to give Phillip a dashing presence. Wylder is quite the glamourpuss, swanning across the stage with impeccable grace; she makes Jane the most multidimensional character in the play, and she's got deliciously arch comic timing. The third act, when the lovers must overcome the twin obstacles of jealousy (Phillip) and betrayal (Jane), delivers the most consistent laughs. Presented by Act Inc. through June 19 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $20. Call 314-725-9108 or visit www.actinc.biz. — Paul Friswold

Pelléas and Mélisande Reviewed in this issue.

Ongoing
Circus Flora An acrobat on the back of a moving horse juggles fire. A young contortionist twists her body into surreal poses worthy of Picasso. Up at the top of the tent, trapeze artists somersault through the air. Down on the ground, children wear red clown noses (just three dollars at the gift shop) and pretend they're part of the circus, too. Circus Flora is back, making its 25th annual appearance in St. Louis. This year's edition, titled Vagabond Adventures, tries to spin a tale about a travelling Mississippi River steamboat in pre-Civil War days. But as usual the story is negligible. What works best here, as always, are the visuals that incite laughter, applause and even the occasional drama. All the performers, young and old, are a pleasure to behold. But best of all is the magnificent Giovanni Zoppe. Better known (and loved) as Nino the Clown, this unassuming star is a joyous performer. When he sprays the audience with crocodile tears, his timing is impeccable. When he free-falls from the top of the tent down to the center of the ring, his audacity is breathtaking. But because Nino almost never leaves the circus ring, also be sure to observe him when he's not the center of attention. Then, as he intently watches the other acts, his vigilant face gives us a clue into the high-stakes risks that are in play here. Nino personifies why, once again, the big red-and-white tent on the Powell Hall parking lot is the happiest place in town. Through June 26 at North Grand Boulevard and Samuel Shepard Drive (east of Powell Hall). Tickets are $8 to $44. Call 314-289-4040 or visit www.circusflora.org. — Dennis Brown

The Daughter of the Regiment Opera Theatre of St. Louis' new production of composer Gaetano Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment is beautifully sung, artfully staged, frothy and entertaining — the opera equivalent of what Hollywood likes to call a "date movie." This bel canto classic, which features a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard, provides an ideal vehicle for soprano Ashley Emerson and a talented cast. Director Seán Curran's deft choreography, Kirkwood High grad John McDaniel's sure hand with the baton and a delightfully goofy cameo by Sylvia McNair make the evening complete.Through June 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $120 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (LP)

Don Giovanni May was a tough month for sexual miscreants. The world's most feared terrorist was reduced to Osama bin Wankin', the former governor of California was exposed as the Sperminator, and the head of the International Monetary Fund turned political metaphor on its head: Rather than figuratively rape the African continent, as the Fund has been accused of doing for decades, he went and got himself indicted for physically raping an African. Appropriate, then, that Opera Theatre of St. Louis opened its 2011 season with Mozart's study of Don Giovanni's descent into Hell. Perfectly executed by conductor and Mozart expert Jane Glover, the Saint Louis Symphony and a superbly talented cast, the gorgeous score alone is worth the price of admission. Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto juxtaposes Giovanni's ruthless manipulation of those around him against wildly comic interludes, and the injection of modern elements (Giovanni kills the Commendatore with a pistol) adds a jagged edge to OTSL's production. Through June 25 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $120 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (LP)

Mass Appeal First staged in 1980, Bill C. Davis' two-character drama about a complacent older priest and a firebrand of a seminarian has been undercut by current events. The conflict surrounding the young aspirant, Mark Dolson (played with edgy spark by Dylan Duke), is his polyamorous past, and how it may keep the monsignor from denying him the collar. In light of revelations about how the Church handled its actual sex scandals, this sticking point now seems false, and so the play's impact is lessened. Still, as a story of two men finding in each other something they both lack, Mass Appeal continues to succeed. The genial, emotionally disconnected Father Farley (Alan Knoll) remains familiar and suitably weak, unable to resist another drink, another sidestep, another concession. Knoll and Duke spar well, but it's in the quieter moments that they both shine. While attempting to impart the finer points of sermon writing, Fr. Farley drops his joking pretense and challenges Dolson to consider the congregation not as sinners who need to be goaded to a more heavenly state, but "as they are"; Duke's face crumples in quiet pain at his own arrogance, Knoll smiles warmly and the two men reveal something secret about themselves. Presented by Dramatic License Productions through June 12 at Dramatic License Theatre, 291 Chesterfield Mall, Chesterfield. Tickets are $22 to $25. Call 636-220-7012 or visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.org. (PF)

The Montford Point Marine The spirit of Memorial Day continues through June in the world premiere of Samm-Art Williams' emotional story about Robert Charles Wilson, who in July of 1943 was among the first African Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marines. The still-segregated Marines trained their black enlistees in Montford Point, North Carolina. The action, an amalgam of drama and comedy, plays out in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of Robert's enlistment, as well as in flashbacks to the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. In a Capra-esque account of dreams deferred, we see Robert's pride in breaking barriers as well as the toll that accompanied that pride. The cast includes Linda Kennedy as Robert's wife, Chauncy Thomas as his son and Whit Reichert in three supporting roles. The script makes enormous demands on the actor who plays Robert, and J. Samuel Davis rises to the challenge with a portrayal of range, depth and variety. Performed by the Black Rep through June 26 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $47. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org. (DB)

The Taming of the Shrew One of Shakespeare's most foolproof comedies is put to the test in the current annual production from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. The unorthodox wooing of the tempestuous Katherina by skylarking soldier of fortune Petruchio has been moved to a vague, imprecise world that, according to director Sean Graney, sometimes might be America in the 1950s. But then again sometimes it might not. There's not much for the actors to cling to here. Or for viewers either. But for those diehard Bard-ophiles who don't care how half-baked their Shakespeare is, this two-hour assemblage of shtick might provide some intermittent laughs. Performed at 8 p.m. nightly (except Tuesdays) through June 19 on Art Hill in Forest Park. Admission is free. Call 314-531-9800 or visit www.sfstl.com. (DB)

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