Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Bingo Extravaganza!

Bingo Extravaganza! Apparently $90 million is spent on bingo every week, but (until now) no one has ever confused it for theater. This world-premiere offering about a Catholic charity bingo evening, co-authored by Maripat Donovan (of Late Nite Catechism fame), is an interactive ménage of karaoke, sheet cake and one-liners -- all seemingly contrived to delay having to play bingo. The evening is akin to writing a cookbook without any recipes. The three cast members (Barbara Hunt as Sister Rita Mary, Page Hearn and Joe Taylor as two priests) will surely settle into their shtick as they continue to work with audiences. But despite humor that seems cloned from Late Nite Catechism, the show lacks the gentle soul that made Catechism must-see theater. Performed through November 6 at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza, 635 West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $32.50 to $35. Call 314-469-7529. (Dennis Brown)

Bug Arthropods run amok in a blowsy motel room on the outskirts of Oklahoma City -- it's just that nobody really sees them. Tracy Letts' bizarre play about a possibly paranoid veteran of Iraq I shares the dark dreamscape of Eraserhead. Jay Stratton is convincingly eerie as the shy son of a preacher who is maybe being devoured, not by aphids, but by his own delusions. One senses that this edgy script warrants a funnier, spookier production than the conventional character-driven staging we're getting here. Yet there's no denying that the action, even in this muted form, remains compelling. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 11 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $20 to $45 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit (DB)

Completely Hollywood (abridged) Reviewed in this issue.

The Elephant Man Anchored by Andy Neiman's outstanding performance as John Merrick, this Stray Dog production is most compelling when it explores Merrick's relationships, first with his "manager" Ross (William Ledbetter), then with Dr. Treves (Bill Finkbiner) and finally with actress Mrs. Kendal (Suki Peters). Bernard Pomerance's script is sometimes heavy-handed, bogged down by obscure scene titles and philosophical diversions -- it's almost as if Pomerance didn't trust that the characters would be interesting enough on their own. But in its finest moments, the play creates a strong audience/actor alliance, engaging the audience's imagination as co-creators of the world in which Merrick finds himself. Director Gary Bell uses costume and furniture pieces to suggest the time period, which adds to the feeling that this is a timeless story. Through November 6 at Clayton High School's Little Theatre, 1 Mark Twain Circle, Clayton. Tickets are $15 to $18. Call 314-531-5923 or visit (Deanna Jent)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum The Rep has thoroughly pummeled a light, charming musical farce into insensibility. Even Stephen Sondheim's breezy songs get played too fast and lose their effect. This hilarious account of a wily Roman slave's efforts to win his freedom has been staged in the "we can write it funnier than the professionals" mode, so expect incessant ad libbing. Only Nat Chandler's vain centurion survives the wreckage. Everyone else may be striving mightily to please the gods of comedy, but the result is godawful. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 11 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $13 to $61 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925. (DB)

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