Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Alice Sit-by-the-Fire Back in 1904, James Barrie wrote a play called Peter Pan. When he couldn't get it staged, he penned this trifle as a lure: Anyone willing to produce his offbeat, noncommercial tale about the boy who wouldn't grow up would be rewarded by getting to present this sure-fire moneymaker. Time has told its own tale, and now it's left to estimable groups like ACT Inc. to keep Alice alive. This story of a family reunion -- and especially of a young daughter whose imagination has been warped by too many theater matinees -- provides some neatly contrived confusions and resolutions. It's hardly memorable fare, but for those with a penchant for stiff-upper-lip British comedies, Alice provides a pleasant diversion for a hot summer night. Performed by ACT Inc. July 22 through 24 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $12 to $15. Call 314-725-9108. (Dennis Brown)

Filumena Despite some droll supporting work by Peter Mayer and Dorothy Davis -- not to mention a pile-driver of a performance by the uproarious Ted Gregory -- Eduardo de Filippo's Italian comedy-drama about the efforts of a Neapolitan ex-prostitute to secure the love of her long-time lover never delivers the theatrical eruption the play demands. The material is all over the place -- romantic comedy, melodrama, farce, mystery -- but the production is only really comfortable playing for laughs, with the result that a story that should take us on a journey instead is merely entertaining. Nor does it help that Filumena, who should be a fiery, tempestuous heroine, is instead the most elusive character onstage. Performed by HotCity Theatre through July 30 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $18 to $23. Call 314-482-9125. (DB)

The Madwoman of Chaillot Reviewed in this issue.

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad A darkly comic nod to absurd theatre and existential philosophy, Arthur Kopit's play riffs on the theme of females devouring their young or their lovers. As Madame Rosepettle, the "Mommy Dearest" par excellence, Juli Duncan is convincingly evil. Sadly, she and her stuttering, stunted son Jonathan (Sam Bakken) are both saddled with excessively long speeches that stop the action. When plot-driven, the play serves up some nice surprises, particularly the unexpected entrance of the father noted in the title. While the absurdity of the characters evokes laughter, the production was best summed up by the audience member who remarked, "I think this is more sad than funny." Kopit would agree -- as Rosepettle says, "Life is never funny -- it's grim." Presented by Clayton Community Theatre through July 31 at Clayton High School's Little Theatre, 1 Mark Twain Circle, Clayton. Tickets are $12 and $15. Call 314-854-6646. (Deanna Jent)

Oklahoma If written today, the scowling Jud would be the central character, a "Phantom of the Farm House" obsessed with the sweet-singing Laurie. But this 1940s musical isn't interested in psychology -- it's an old-fashioned love story that's full of dancing and one-dimensional characters, easy to swallow if you don't think too hard. The clogging cowboys are "purdy" in their tight jeans and chaps, contrasted by the sweat-stained Jud (convincingly portrayed by J.R. Strzelec). As the lovers, Kelly Maier and Scott Koonce harmonize well and have nice chemistry. The direction and choreography by J. Calvin Jarrell is hit-or-miss; some excellent humorous touches during the dream ballet are countered by awkward movements during many scenes. Through July 24 at Dunham Hall Theatre on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, I-270 and Route 157, Edwardsville, Illinois. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students, seniors and SIUE staff; free for SIUE students). Call 618-650-2774. (DJ)

Orphans Reviewed in this issue.

Singin' in the Rain Usually when this stage version of the classic 1952 movie musical is produced, actors in the lead role do their best to ape Gene Kelly's aggressive, toothy, "love me" style. But in his Muny debut, Jeffry Denman does something almost seditious: He channels the athletic Kelly through the prism of the debonair Fred Astaire. Watch how Denman glides across the stage crooning "You Stepped Out of a Dream." He even phrases Kelly's songs as Astaire would sing them. This original performance gives us the best of both MGM musical stars. Michael Arnold is a delight in the Donald O'Connor role, Stephanie Youell gets her laughs as the vain movie star, and Frank Vlastnik is a hoot as the film director. But the evening belongs to Denman. When, during the title song, which faithfully adheres to the movie choreography, he suddenly leaps out of the rain set onto the dry forestage, it is a breathtaking merger of theater and film, a stunning moment not to be forgotten. Performed through July 24 at the Muny in Forest Park. Tickets are $8 to $58 (free seating also available). Call 314-534-1111. (DB)

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