Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

The Crucible Americans have always loved a good witch hunt. Arthur Miller's howl about the chilling excesses of the 1950s McCarthy era, which here the playwright not-so-subtly removes to the 1692 Salem witch trials, makes for epic and involving theater. The Rep has done an effective job of pretending that Miller's tragedy is not a 50-year-old classic -- at its best this production rings so immediate and true, the play might have been written last month. Among the actors, special kudos to Dane Knell as wizened old Giles Corey; Knell, whose very features seem to have been eroded by too much ocean air, evokes the play's salty spirit. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through October 8 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-968-4925. (Dennis Brown)

Far Away Reviewed in this issue.

Late Night Catechism Gum lovers beware: Sister will tolerate no chewing in her class. Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan's long-running 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 the myths and realities of 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 of each performance 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. (Deanna Jent)

Man of La Mancha Reviewed in this issue.

The Philadelphia Story Philip Barry's 1939 romantic comedy about the foolish foibles of the rich is one of the few hardy survivors from a decade in which there wasn't a lot to laugh about. The over-plotted script is more than a little confusing, but it still elicits laughs. In Tracy Lord, a role that was tailor-made and written-to-order for Katharine Hepburn, an actress is allowed to display an uncommonly wide swath of emotions. Meghan Maguire strides through the part with confidence and poise. Although she receives solid assistance from Anthony M. Mullin as ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven, among others, it's Maguire's robust backstroke that eases an at-times-brittle play smoothly into port. Performed by Off Center Theatre Company through October 17 at St. John's United Methodist Church, 5000 Washington Place (at Kingshighway). Call 314-995-2679. (DB)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Reviewed in this issue.

The Real Thing Witty words and some nostalgic rock & roll are the best elements of this Tom Stoppard script. Joe Hanrahan plays Henry the playwright with energy and conviction -- he's a very interesting character stuck in a mediocre play. The bright wordplay of the first act fizzles in the second, as Henry tries to unravel the complexities of life and love. Henry's House of Cards is criticized for hinging on a silly secret; The Real Thing also hinges on a secret, about how Henry's wife Annie and political prisoner Brody became acquainted. But by the time it's revealed, the secret doesn't really seem important, and while the scene is very well played (Troy Schnider gives Brody a convincing air of superiority), it's an unsatisfactory ending. Nice supporting work by Bill Stine enlivens the first act, and the configuration of the Little Theatre allows the audience to see the stage crew peering over the top of the set -- an interesting Brechtian effect. Produced by Clayton Community Theatre at Clayton High School, 1 Mark Twain Circle, through October 17. Call 314-854-6646. (DJ)

Triple Espresso Move over, Nunsense and Forever Plaid. Here comes another crowd-pleasing phenom that's shamelessly determined to make you laugh. As this reunion of a 1970s musical trio plays out at the Triple Espresso nightclub, the evening is not so much a play as a series of set pieces. Some are more amusing than others, but if you ever wondered how the Three Stooges would attack Chariots of Fire, this is the show for you. In their determination to amuse, the three performers (Patrick Albanese, John Bush and J.C. Cutler) effect a take-no-prisoners approach to the material. A viewer's best response is simply to surrender early and laugh along with the crowd. Through December 28 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-1111. (DB)

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