By Marc Camoletti, adapted by Robin Hawdon
Theatre Guild of Webster Groves

Don't Dress for Dinner is terminally silly. In a farce, that's not necessarily a bad thing, if the play can convince you to enter its warped world and have some fun in it. If it can't, you're in for a tedious evening of painfully obvious contrivances. I got my fill of this Dinner long before the last course appeared.

Lightweight farce needs heavyweight performers. In the recent Theatre Guild of Webster Groves production of Don't Dress for Dinner, director Bob Lauman had his actors up to farce speed and laid out clearly the tangled geometry of extramarital affairs. And one of the actors, Stephanie Shaw, who played a cook mistaken for a mistress, managed to inject some credibility into the proceedings. Shaw gave her character flashes of real feeling, real confusion, real mischievous delight, even real pain, all of which go a long way toward making a character somebody you care enough about to want to stick around and find out what happens. Marian L. Holtz, playing her patented dumb-blonde role, had less of a character to work with, but Holtz has honed her timing so sharply on this kind of heavy breathing that she grabs all the laughs at hand. Mary Gleckler, as a wife who both cheats and is cheated on, also gave us a one-dimensional character but did so with some flair. Matt Holtmann, a big bundle of raw talent who needs some refining to handle the technical demands of farce, played the husband's best friend, who, in time-honored farcical fashion, is cheating with the wife. As the husband trapped in his own deceptive plans for a quiet weekend with his mistress, David Lane needed to shed his mannered stiffness and generate a little sympathy for this central character.

Textured woodwork, ceiling beams and big iron hinges gave Russ Kohn's set a solid, finished look. Hank Crider lit things brightly, and Kristy Jones did some nifty things with the costumes.

Some in the audience found lots to laugh at. For me, Don't Dress for Dinner was mostly a dumb farce about dumb people doing dumb things.

-- Bob Wilcox

Mid America Dance Company

Mid America Dance Company's last concert of this season, which was presented last Friday and Saturday at the St. Louis University High Performing Arts Center, opened with a substantial piece of choreography, company member Todd Weeks' 1997 "Celtic Fantasy." Its closing piece, Rob Scoggins' brand-new "Origins," also had meat to it. Three of the other four pieces were by former company dancers: two by Paul Mosley and another by Scoggins. The remaining dance, "Yesterday Toward Tomorrow," was choreographed by Alcine Wiltz, Mid America Dance Company's co-founder, in 1993. In short, it was a typical Mid America Dance Company concert. Besides new work, it gave a glimpse of the company's extensive and varied repertoire. It was atypical, however, in not presenting a piece by the company's co-founder, Ross Winter. I also noticed that nowhere in the program was thecontinued on next pagecontinued from previous pagecompany's well-known nickname, Madco, used. What these two items signify remains to be revealed, but they must indicate that Mid America Dance Company is moving toward new goals and perhaps a new image.

"Celtic Fantasy" is exactly that: five interrelated pieces, several of which seem to allow one company member to shine, danced to five modernized Irish tunes (accordion, fiddle, pipes, penny whistles and electric bass) and bouncing off Irish step and toe dancing in a charming, often impertinent homage. The first section, danced to a Bill Whelan accordion tune, focused on Katie Rutterer, a lively, muscular redhead who zipped in and out of the wings like a mildly hyperactive leprechaun. Kate Benkert Meacham, whose dancing becomes more and more interesting at each company concert, was by turns comic and sylphlike. When Weeks himself appeared, he had a manic look in his eye, and toward the end of the piece, Stacy West did a long circle all by herself that was absolutely entrancing.

The piece is remarkable in many ways. Weeks has a lot of stuff going on all the time, with dancers entering and exiting. The dance itself is never homogenized. The movements, short or extended, are clear and separate but come together seamlessly. It gives the audience a satisfaction both of excellent dance and handsome conception. It also had the hallmark of West's leadership of the company: It is well rehearsed. Scoggins' "Origins" also used the whole company, augmented by two interns plus students and faculty from Lindenwood University, a young dancer from Washington University's dance program, and the choreographer's 9-year-old daughter, Ariel, who seemed to know what she was up to. It began with a mother and child, both in long white dresses, moving in stately fashion to a painful John Cage fingernail-on-blackboard sound collage. Now what did that mean? I wondered. But Scoggins' choreography always puzzles me, either wholly or in part, so I let it go.

Things really picked up when the music switched to Ira Stein and the ensemble, in shiny white bodysuits, entered, bringing with them four sturdy poles about 6 feet long, with which one dancer might vault or two others, poles on shoulders, might carry a third suspended between them. The movement, like that of "Celtic Fantasy," was crisp and distinct -- a salad, not a stew. Toward the end, however, a voice started chanting, "Hat, coat, shirt, tie, shoes, socks off!" over and over again. But the dancers weren't wearing any of those clothes. Then hats, coats, shirts, ties, shoes and socks were thrown onstage from the wings, and the dance ended in a laundry basket. Should the white costumes suggest Mr. Clean? Scoggins' mysteriousness has struck again. But "Origins" is the first extended Scoggins dance piece I've seen, and he really can make dance, not just performance pieces, when he sets his mind to it.

The pieces in between "Celtic Fantasy" and "Origins" were all nicely danced and varied, from the dark of Mosley's "Private Storms" and Wiltz's "Yesterday Toward Tomorrow" to the lighthearted silliness of Scoggins' "In My Life." Really, the only thing I have against Mid America Dance Company is that they don't perform enough, and we'll have to wait till November or so to see them again.

-- Harry Weber

By Beth Henley
Spotlight Productions

With its quirky Southern-gothic humor, warm family feelings and good roles for four women, Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart has deserved its popularity in community theaters over the past two decades. The latest staging comes from a relatively new group, Spotlight Productions, performing at Crestview Middle School in the Rockwood School District in far West County.

Director Brad Schwartz has cast with a keen eye for the essential qualities of each character. Susan Fay continues to grow as an actor with her portrayal of the oldest Magrath sister, sad spinster Lenny. Merryl Crivelli nails the confident strut of free-spirited middle sister Meg, and Susan Currie is sweetly spacy as Babe, the youngest sister, who has just shot her abusive husband. Judith Casey properly grates as their bossy, superior cousin Chick. Charles Lehman projects a masculine Southern charm as the boyfriend Meg abandoned, and Mike Heeter quietly makes the point that the young lawyer he plays takes more than a professional interest in Babe's case. But if the basics are sound, the actors don't always keep their energy well focused and clear as the characters and the scenes develop.

Kim Doyle and Chris Peters have created a warmly cluttered kitchen for the Magraths, lit well by Chris Anich. Whoever provided the amusingly right costumes deserves credit, too. Despite occasional sags in the production, I enjoyed visiting the Magraths again.

-- Bob Wilcox

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