The One-Hour Lord of the Rings Trilogy! Easily the funniest thing going right now. John Wolbers and Liz Henning have pared ten-something hours of film down to an insane sixty-odd minutes, focusing only on the silliest bits of Peter Jackson's magnum opus. Wolbers also stars — and begs openly for Kevin Kline Konsideration — as Frodo, playing the heroic hobbit with a wide-eyed stare and the stiff-legged strut of a borderline moron. Aaron Orion Baker is a pitch-perfect Gandalf, pompous and self-impressed — and no one is better at delivering single lines with gut-busting hilarity. OK, maybe Chris Jones, who steals the show several times with his turn as Gimli the Dwarf — simply amazing from his carbuncle nose to his little fake feet. And let us not forget Roger Erb's Gollum, half-naked and half-Fat Albert. From the brilliant use of action figures in place of forced perspective special effects to Amy Kelly's massively demented Arwen to Tyson Blanquart's bizarrely effective Shelob, this thing is straight-up ridiculous — and smart. You have to be dead intelligent to be this funny, and director Donna Northcott and the Magic Smoking Monkey ensemble are smart enough to know when to play it stupid. Twice nightly through May 9 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students). Call 314-361-5664 or visit www.stlshakespeare.org. — Paul Friswold
Return to the Forbidden Planet Bob Carlton's whimsical take on The Tempest as refracted through a 1950s sci-fi prism features a galaxy's worth of fantastic rock & roll songs, punning wordplays on snippets of Shakespearian monologues and intentionally "Pigs in Space" costuming (courtesy of Betsy Krausnick). But this is no parlor trick of a musical; there's a rich vein of Shakespeare's favorite ingredient — the wondrous depths of the human heart — that elevates the show from cunning stunt to artful meditation on the destructive nature of power and the redemptive power of love. Zachary Allen Farmer is magnificently cast as the nefarious Dr. Prospero, a scientist who's invented "telegenesis," a technological miracle that costs him his wife and child. Farmer's carefully modulated speaking voice hints at a shaky self-control, and his bubbling anger flares into rage with little warning. As the Science Officer, Nikki Glenn reignites his nascent soul during their towering duet of "Go Now." It's touching and wrenching, a threnodic love song that leaves an aching silence in its wake. But director Scott Miller cannily sprinkles humor throughout the show: Watch the background characters during the songs, and you'll see giggling, eye-rolls and bemused head shakes, even as they sing harmony. Presented by New Line Theatre through May 23 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, Clayton. Tickets are $15 to $20 ($10 to $15 for students and seniors). Call 314-773-6526 or visit www.newlinetheatre.com. (PF)
The Trial During the current national debate over the excesses of government interrogation, a stage adaptation of Franz Kafka's 1925 unfinished novel about the fatal attempt by Joseph K to obtain justice from an oblique bureaucracy might seem well timed. But despite its eerie scenic and sound design, this current production feels overwritten and moves at a snail's pace. What begins crystal clear ("You are under arrest," a government interrogator announces; "I'm not guilty of anything," Joseph K replies) soon succumbs to murkiness. When Joseph says, "I'm confused," at least he's admitting to something with which we can all agree. Performed by Stray Dog Theatre through May 9 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. — Dennis Brown
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.