Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

St. Louis Stage Capsules

Assassins Reviewed in this issue.

Bye Bye Birdie If anything, this 1960 musical spoof inspired by Elvis Presley's entry into the army is growing even more charming as the contrasts to the world of Webber become ever more pronounced. Michael Stewart's book is still funny, and the songs by Lee Adams and (a pre-Annie) Charles Strouse practically hum themselves. This student production entertains in fits and starts, but the primarily young audience loved it, which speaks of them. In addition to lots of kids playing kids, Mike Dowdy is amusing as the overwhelmed father whose home becomes the eye of a hurricane when Conrad Birdie arrives in town to kiss his daughter. The set design by Michael Kantz provides an original way for director Janet Strzelec to stage the classic "Telephone Hour." Performed by Lindenwood University's theater department through March 15 at the Jelkyl Theatre, Roemer Hall, 209 South Kingshighway, St. Charles. Tickets are $12 ($10 for seniors, $8 for children). Call 636-949-4878 or visit — Dennis Brown

The Comedy of Errors Reviewed in this issue.

Measure for Measure Director Sam Hack sets the action visually in the American '60s, with modern dress, a soundtrack by the Doors and a minimal Manichean set (a demonic martini sign hanging over one side and a stained-glass panel over the other) to further underline the good vs. righteous message. As the iron-fisted and rotten-hearted Angelo, Joe Wegescheide delivers an overtly creepy performance. Amy Schwarz's Isabella emanates purity and strength, and her clear voice and impassioned defense of mercy in the face of Angelo's perversion makes for a powerful, satisfying scene. Andy Akester brings a rumpled party-boy air to Lucio, providing many of the evening's biggest laughs. Colin Nichols' turn as Duke Vincentio is also solid, and he has a marvelous voice for Shakespeare. Presented by Clayton Community Theatre through March 16 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, Clayton. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 314-721-9228 or visit — Paul Friswold

'night, Mother A powerhouse play that uses suicide to argue that life — dull, repetitious and full of disappointment — is fantastic. Not for Jessie (Kim Furlow), an epileptic middle-aged woman trapped in her mother Thelma (Donna Weinsting)'s home, but certainly for the audience, which leaves the theater grateful for every feeling and sensation. Jessie's stifled emotional state is mirrored by Thelma's careful distancing techniques; the women live in the same house, but they're not living together. Jessie's decision to kill herself at the end of the night is argued by both sides. The ending is never in doubt, no matter how much you wish for the contrary. Brilliant, subtle performances by both women drive the show. It's relentless, it's affecting, it's alive — in other words, it's art. Presented by Stray Dog Theatre through March 15 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit (PF)

Parenting 101: A Musical Guide to Raising Parents This extended revue about the trials and tribulations of having children is yet another entry in the “you too can write a musical” sweepstakes. The sketches, whose subjects range from childbirth to the loss of a pet to shopping in toy stores, strive for jokes; the songs are full of puns. Some people enjoy this kind of in-your-face entertainment. But by the end of Act One, the only reason I could think of to return for Act Two was to see if the four energetic actors — who played the first act at the top of their lungs — would have any voices left by evening’s end. It wasn’t reason enough. Through March 16 at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue at I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $42.50. Call 314-469-7529 or visit (DB)

Recent Tragic Events Early in the evening, Waverly (Brieanna Brewer) tells her blind date, Andrew (Joey Walsh), "I used to wake up and think, 'What am I gonna do?'" Now I wake up and think, 'What's going to happen to me today?'" It's September 12, 2001, and even in Minneapolis the confusion and fear is overwhelming. Craig Wright's play summons those dark days and also allows for a discussion that maybe wasn't possible 24 hours after the day America changed. Both leads are good, as is Framooze Akhi as the cosmic nugget-dispensing neighbor, Ron. Throw in a Lauren Mergenthaler's understated dual performances as a sock-puppet version of Joyce Carol Oates and the silent Nancy and you have a strange, comic and touching play. The denouement, a clever bit of scenic design that allows the celestial voice to flood the stage, provides an unexpected optimism that doesn't dispel the sorrow. Presented by the University of Missouri-St. Louis theater department through March 15 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road), Normandy. Tickets are $8 ($5 for students and staff). Call 314-516-4949 or visit (PF)

Red Herring A broad spoof of espionage thrillers requires a commitment to tone; barring a few fumbles, the cast of Michael Hollinger's Red Herring deliver their lines in the necessary key. Matt Urban and Janet Robey-Schwartz play off each other well as Frank, the tough-talking G-man with a broken heart, and Maggie, a hard-boiled lady cop who's job first, romance second. Kent Coffel plays the reluctant Russian spy, Andrei, for maximum laughs; as his paramour, Mrs. Kravitz, Melissa Lockhart is a delicious blend of brass, sass and laughs. Stephanie Merritt's turn as Lynn McCarthy (daughter of Joe) is ditzy and frothy, much like the show as a whole — and that's intended in the nicest possible way. Presented by the Kirkwood Theatre Guild through March 15 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $16. Call 314-821-9956 ext. 1 or visit (PF)

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