The Exonerated The premiere offering from HotCity Theatre (the product of the merging of HotHouse and City Theatre) provides a dynamite evening of polemic theater, as ten talented actors sit on stools and share the compelling horror stories of six people caught in the cogs of America's criminal-justice system. While those represented here eventually were exonerated, the play aims to get you wondering about how many have not been so fortunate. Direction by Ted Gregory is seamless, and the actors personify the deep end of the local acting pool. HotCity could not have hoped for a more auspicious debut. Performed through December 4 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1527 Washington Avenue. Call 314-482-9125. (Dennis Brown)
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change These twenty sketches about dating (I love you), wedding rituals (you're perfect) and the challenges of marriage (now change) vary from hilarious to forgettable. But the production is so full of insouciant good cheer, it's difficult to imagine anyone not finding something to like. So what if by the end of Act Two you've forgotten much of what you saw in Act One? In times like these, a little forgetting can be a good thing, and escapism even better. Performed by HotCity Theatre through December 12 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1527 Washington Avenue. Call 314-241-1517. (DB)
It's a Wonderful Life -- Live! Chopper Leifheit's dead-on impression of Jimmy Stewart is the best reason to see this tribute to/spoof of the classic Christmas film. Julie Layton is delightful as Mary Bailey, and an energetic ensemble keeps this 70-minute production running at top speed. Donna Northcott's adaptation is funniest when it's truest to the movie; the action and humor both lag when exaggerated character bits are repeated. Even if you don't love the movie, you'll find joy in the manic stage solutions to movie magic: Ian Carlson provides some of the funniest moments as a picket fence and a snowflake thrower. Presented by Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre through November 27 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard. Call 314-534-1111. (DJ)
Late Night Catechism Gum lovers beware: Sister will tolerate no chewing in her class. Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan's long-running play is back at the Grandel, this time starring veteran Chicago improv performer Mary Beth Burns. A combination of religious instruction, audience interaction and game-show antics, Catechism is a wildly witty and slightly scary encounter with the myths and realities of Catholicism. The delight of the show is Burns' constant interplay with the audience. Whisperers are called to order. Latecomers are fined. Everyone must address Sister in full sentences and prizes are awarded for correct answers. With so much of each performance depending on audience responses for fuel, Catechism is clearly a different show each night, and Burns seems to revel in that. Her twinkling eyes search the audience for new material even as she works details from earlier stories into running gags. Class is in session for an open-ended run upstairs at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-1111. (DJ)
Proof Math quiz: What's the trick to writing a stunning mathematical proof? Answer: making clear and compelling connections between seemingly disparate elements. Theater quiz: What makes a drama intriguing? Answer: depicting relationships between compelling characters. In other words, it's pretty much the same formula. Stray Dog Theatre's production of David Auburn's Pulitzer and Tony-winning Proof manages to solve for part of the equation, with intriguing central characters: Catherine (Kelly Ryan), the daughter of a math genius; and Hal (Andrew Zaruba), one of his protégés. But somehow, despite director Gary Bell's beautifully detailed set and costume designs, the relationship between the characters doesn't develop believably. Jennifer Zoole plays Catherine's sister Claire with energy, and Sam Hack works hard in the difficult role of their mentally failing father. Presented through November 27 by Stray Dog Theatre at the Little Theatre, 1 Mark Twain Circle, Clayton. Call 314-531-5923. (DJ)
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