Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Dec 8, 2004 at 4:00 am
Bat Boy! The Musical This goofy, off-the-wall yet sadly sweet morality tale concerns a West Virginia town that's turned on its ear after the discovery of a bat-child in a local cave. The 2001 off-Broadway hit is already a cult favorite, and it may prove to be more than that: Judging from the enthusiastic audience response, it might be a harbinger of where the American musical is headed. The tuneful music and irreverent lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe provide, as the Act Two opener proclaims, a "joyful noise." Although the five-piece band often drowns out the mostly student performers in this ebullient Fontbonne University production, the show is so refreshingly original that interest never wanes. Daniel Lanier is a riveting presence in the title role; he is well matched by delightful Gina Venegoni as an innocent teenager who finds herself unaccountably attracted to the nocturnal Bat Boy. Performed by Fontbonne University through December 12 at the Fine Arts Center Theater, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Call 314-889-1425. (Dennis Brown)

Defending the Caveman A sitcom-mentality stage play "experience" without the pesky problems of character relationships or plot. Creator and original performer Rob Becker romanticizes cave people as a model society: They respected and honored gender differences. Nobody called the cave woman a bitch; nobody called the cave man an asshole (perhaps because language hadn't yet been invented?). Current Caveman Kevin Burke is an adept comedian; it's not his fault the material doesn't really build. Burke is essentially playing Burke -- a guy like lots of guys, talking directly to the audience and pointing out our humorous human failings. If that sounds like your cup of tequila, you'll find an ample serving in this production, as well as ample servings of other alcoholic beverages in the theater bar. Open-ended run at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza, 635 West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Call 314-469-7529. (Deanna Jent)

Earth Songs Look up "charisma" in any dictionary and you'll surely see the name of fifth-grader Sydney Stallings Brown, who is easily the most beguiling element in Metro Theater Company's premiere of Earth Songs, by José Cruz González. An ambitious theatrical collaboration featuring more than 40 St. Louis community members in addition to Metro's core cast of actors, Earth Songs is a series of vaguely related vignettes that suffers from slow pacing and bland humor. The 70-minute piece contains many intriguing moments -- bursts of percussive sound from the Nuclear Percussion ensemble and local jazz artist Michelle Isam; energetic dancers choreographed by Beckah Voigt; a cherubic chorus; some literal rock music -- but the scenes never coalesce into a meaningful experience. "All things are connected," Brown assures us midway through the show, but the promise never comes true. Through December 12 at the Des Lee Auditorium in the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue. Call 997-6777. (DJ)

Hearts Reviewed in this issue.

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)

Late Night Catechism Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan's 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 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 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)

The Mystery of Edwin Drood Reviewed in this issue.

Private Eyes Steven Dietz's breezy conundrum about neurotic actors and power-hungry directors is fresh, funny and surprising. Most of the action takes place during rehearsals for a new play. That one doesn't sound so terrific, but this one is a blast: One part Pinter, one part Pirandello, mostly it's a rondel about the elusiveness of truth and love, spiced with lots of sexual intrigue. Doug Shelton, Anthony Mullin and Amy Leone are all terrific as the director and actors whose lives intersect with their careers. Jamie McKittrick portrays two supporting roles, and David Hunny Bear is along for the ride as a psychiatrist. This community theater production is one of the unexpected delights of the season. Performed by West End Players Guild through December 12 at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Call 314-367-0025. (DB)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Tom Stoppard leapfrogged to the forefront of international celebrity with this verbose comedy about chance, fate and destiny. Shakespeare's two most hapless victims, the ever-interchangeable R and G (Robert Strasser and Derek Simmons -- or is it Derek Simmons and Robert Strasser?) take center stage in an evening of word games and verbal jousting. Some of the patter is only a step removed from routines like Abbott and Costello's "Who's on first?" Other lines ("Eternity is a terrible thought; where's it all going to end?") are original and snappy. But even brilliance can be overdone. Stoppard's two leading men go on and on and on and.... Performed by The Tin Ceiling Theatre Company through December 13 at The Space at Cherokee and Compton, 3159 Cherokee Street. Call 314-210-7764. (DB)

Ruthless! The Musical To what extremes would you have gone to play the title role in a grade-school production of Pippi Longstocking? This shameless spoof of old movies (The Bad Seed, All About Eve) is best summed up in one of its early lines: "Life is a bitch and it starts in third grade." The songs are hardly memorable. But if you're into behind-the-scenes homages (Gypsy is the musical of choice), the show provides lots of smiles. As nine-year-old Tina, Chelsea Jo Pattison is great fun; as her mother with a hidden past, Mallory Hawks is a marvel of manner and timing. But why do spoofs always seem to run too long? Too bad the show's authors weren't a little more ruthless about trimming their material. Performed by the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts through December 12 at Stage III, Webster Hall, 470 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves. Call 314-968-7128. (DB)

Tell Me Somethin' Good The Black Rep gets a jump on its 2005 season with yet another revival of this affectionate musical revue that begins in the 1950s and fast-forwards through the decades. By evening's end, girls who begin the evening in pleated skirts (remember the ones with French poodles?) end up looking like drill sergeants. Not that this notion of a musical is interested in making a statement -- the priority here is sound, from Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops" to Barry White to Isaac Hayes, all propelled by a spirited cast of eleven and a five-man band that would be the envy of any prom-dance steering committee. Performed by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company through December 19 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-3810. (DB)