Theater, that liveliest of the living arts, should ideally provoke a lively discussion after the performance. The New Jewish Theatre's planned production of The Merchant of Venice promises to do just that. Hitler's favorite Shakespearean play has become too touchy for some companies and crowds, owing to its perceived anti-Semitism. But rather than back away from the questions of Shylock's role as victim or villain, the NJT faces them head-on, with performances of the play at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday (November 30 through December 18). Many of the performances are followed by panel discussions led by rabbis, literary and historic experts, and cast and director, where the audience can seek a better understanding of this oft-maligned play. Hitler would hate the very idea of this much open-minded discussion and understanding, so make your reservations now. Performances are at the Jewish Community Center (2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur). Tickets are $20 to $24; call 314-442-3283 for tickets and more information.
Thursday, December 1
Writers love the concept of memory, because memory is such a subjective element of the human psyche. Two witnesses to an event can remember very different things about what occurred, drawing into question the nature of truth. This idea provides the narrative punch in Shelagh Stevenson's play The Memory of Water. Three sisters mourn the death of their mother on the night before the funeral; before you know it, they are comparing childhood memories and quickly discover that although they lived those years together, each of them remembers (or has forgotten) different things. The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents The Memory of Water at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday (November 30 through December 11) at Webster Hall (470 East Lockwood Avenue; 314-968-7128). Tickets are $5 to $10.
Friday, December 2
We've often felt that the William Shearburn Gallery (4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 or www.shearburngallery.com) is like our cool older sister (in gallery form, of course), and the John Baldessari exhibit opening there today just proves that we're right. This artist whose listed awards on his Web site begin with the Guggenheim Fellowship shows all over Europe and America, and we're fortunate enough to check out some of his new construction prints right here at home. As in his Person with Guitar (Yellow) shown above, Baldessari takes musician publicity photos and makes them even more generic by cropping them in such a way that the subjects are mostly unrecognizable, and he replaces the actual guitar, another defining characteristic, with a solid, bright-colored guitar shape that pops from the artwork (literally). Our rock-&-roll older sis will totally love this show (and us for taking her to it), and she may even recognize some of the disguised images. The exhibit remains on view through Saturday, December 24.
Saturday, December 3
Take it from Mr. Night: Holiday shopping causes cancer. No, that's hyperbole; shopping only causes a splitting headache that feels suspiciously like cancer. Unless you shop smart say, for example, at the Loop Holiday Walk in the Delmar Loop (between 6100 and 6600 Delmar Boulevard, straddling both University City and St. Louis; 314-727-8000 or www.visittheloop.com). Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. today, Loop shops offer special treatment and genuine holiday cheer in the form of open houses, giveaways and live music. Frosty the Snowman appears in Blueberry Hill's window, Santa drops in on the Market Holiday Bazaar, and if you bring a non-perishable food item to the Tivoli Theatre, you can see the new film The Night Before Christmas (narrated by Kevin Kline and based on Mary Engelbreit's adaptation of Clement C. Moore's poem of the same name) for free. Singing along is encouraged at the screening, and cheerful whistling and friendliness is accepted in all businesses.
Sunday, December 4
After catching depressing eyefuls of indiscreet make-out sessions at various bars around town, you may be ready to go back to a time when PDA wasn't acceptable, and things were far more chaste. So head to historic Maeystown, Illinois, for the seventeenth annual Old-Fashioned German Christmas, held today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. In this tiny town 35 miles south of St. Louis (call 618-458-6660 or visit www.maeystown.com for directions), you can fold a German paper star, learn how to wrap a sassafras tree (and, hopefully, find out why you would want to do such a thing), listen to all kinds of Christmas music (including German carols at 3 p.m.) and sample some sweets but not until you've finished your chicken and dumplings. The town is serving chicken and dumplings, for crying out loud! How much more wholesome can you get?
Monday, December 5
Every year around this time, Ms. Day ponders the weirdness of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." She assumes this song is supposed to be cheerful, what with the "tidings of comfort and joy" part, but the somewhat ominous tune always leaves her with an unsettled feeling, as does the mention of men alone what about the ladies? Anyway, Ms. Day will be contemplating/enjoying this strange song along with other holiday favorites (like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside") when the Webster University Jazz Singers perform the "Home for the Holidays" concert tonight at 7 p.m. The show is held at Webster University's Moore Auditorium (470 East Lockwood Avenue), and tickets cost $3; call 314-968-7128 for more information (about the concert, not the weird song or its comma).
Tuesday, December 6
Riverdance is a bona fide cultural phenomenon. The exhilarating combination of Irish, Spanish, American and Russian dance forms has generated its fair share of jokes and punch lines, but when you hear that music, you can't help but throw yourself into an impromptu jig or is it a reel? Brian Hart explained it to us once, but we can never keep the two dances straight. Sounds like we need us a refresher course in Riverdance! Fortunately, the tenth-anniversary edition of Riverdance storms into the Fox Theatre (527 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-6622 or www.riverdance.com) at 8 p.m. tonight and continues through Sunday, December 11 (see www.fabulousfox.com for more times). Tickets are $28 to $70, and you have Dance St. Louis to thank for this early holiday gift. Paul Friswold