By the Boards: Dennis Brown on St. Louis Theater January 14-18

It may be that the best theater deal in town this weekend is also the least expensive. On Sunday afternoon, January 17, Upstream Theater is sponsoring a staged reading of the new David Hare piece Berlin/Wall, two monologues Hare performed last year at New York's Public Theatre. Here Hare muses on walls past and future. The past wall was in Berlin, symbol of the Cold War; the future wall is in Israel, and it's a budget-busting leviathan. Hare is picking up on political and ethical themes that he probed in Via Dolarosa, which received a memorable production three years ago at New Jewish Theatre when Jerry Vogel portrayed Hare. On Sunday the monologues will be split between two readers: Christopher Limber will read "Berlin" and Joan Lipkin will read "Wall." The readings will be accompanied by live music. The reading takes place at 2 p.m. at the Rialto Ballroom in the Centene Center for Arts & Education, 3547 Olive Street (one-half block east of Grand). And did I mention the price? It's free.

If you feel strongly about paying for your play, Mustard Seed Theatre will be happy to take your donation on Monday evening. In commemoration of Martin Luther King Day, Lori Adams will portray Fanny Kemble, the nineteenth-century British actress who married the owner of a Southern plantation. But living with slavery in the American South proved too great a shock, and Kemble eventually divorced her husband and returned to the stage. Thanks to her journals, Fanny Kemble: Shame the Devil offers an up-close and personal view of a scandalous era in American history.

Quality plays are being offered at two community theaters. Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular closes its run at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, while Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie begins a two-week engagement at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild. The three-act Ayckbourn comedy, which plays out over three successive Christmas Eves, is a British gem that has never been fully appreciated in this country. The Williams drama, which is set in St. Louis in the 1930s, is one of the most sensitive dramas in the American theater.

And if none of this appeals to you, you're a candidate for Grease at the Fox. Once upon a time back in the 1970s, Grease was a musical of modest charms. Now it's a cash cow, and both you and your wallet are welcome.

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