— Dennis Brown
The Cassilis Engagement Written in 1907 by the little-remembered St. John Hankin (who, before he drowned himself, sought to emulate the pithy style of Oscar Wilde), this British comedy of manners is likely receiving its St. Louis premiere, simply because so few of Hankin's plays were ever staged, at home or abroad. In this one, the betrothal of a wealthy young ne'er-do-well to a social-climbing girl whose family lacks pedigree triggers a campaign by the prospective groom's mother to disrupt her son's plans. In a cast of twelve, Hankin sees to it that there's not a single admirable character in the entire tea-sipping crowd. Performed by Act, Inc. through June 27 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $18. Call 314-725-9108 or visit www.actinc.biz. (DB)
Circus Flora Circus Flora is back for its 24th annual visit. Those who've seen it before don't need to hear more; those who've never visited this little big top should ask themselves why not. Some elements never change: the intimacy, for instance, and the foolish plot that after the first few minutes becomes unnecessary. This year's edition, titled Ingenioso, is set on the plains of La Mancha in the fantastical world of Don Quixote. The circus itself is fantastical too. The wonderful Nino the Clown helms the two-hour extravaganza, which flies by with grace and ease. Prepare to be dazzled; prepare to crane your neck; prepare to discover magic in the ordinary. Through June 27 at North Grand Boulevard and Samuel Shepard Drive (east of Powell Hall). Tickets are $8 to $39. Call 314-289-4040 or visit www.circusflora.org. (DB)
Eugene Onegin It's an uncomplicated story: young country girl teaches the meaning of love to selfish urban sophisticate; tragically, he understands too late. Tchaikovsky's score is equally unadorned, featuring achingly beautiful melodies woven together in a sinewy tapestry. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis director Kevin Newbury, conductor David Agler and a spectacularly talented cast all bring their A game. The singing of the text is conversational. There isn't a forced or unnatural syllable. The acting, too, is spot on; Newbury's singers give performances that reflect the intimate scale of the staging. No one goes over the top, and even the most dramatic moments have the feel of everyday life. All in all, a straightforward and intimate piece of musical theater that creates a uniquely satisfying evening of art as entertainment. Through June 27 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org.
— Lew Prince
The Marriage of Figaro The natural and open voices of baritone Christopher Feigum as Figaro and soprano Maria Kanyova as Susanna set the tone in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' new production of Mozart's brilliant comic opera. Despite a last-minute replacement of the orchestra's conductor, the entire cast of fine young singers provides a spirit and passion that breathes life into Mozart's luscious melodies. The traditional high points of the opera — Amanda Majeski's emotional aria as Rosina, mourning her failing marriage, and the famed duet featuring Susanna and Rosina that was featured in the film The Shawshank Redemption, do not disappoint. Performed in English through June 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (LP)
The Me Nobody Knows Fourteen talented teenagers compose the cast of this 1970 musical based on the writings of underprivileged children in New York City. As directed by Ron Himes and choreographed by Heather Beal Himes, there's a lot of playful vitality here, juxtaposed against raw tenacity. Some of these monologues date the show to the Vietnam-era 1960s. But the themes addressed — loneliness, poverty, loss of innocence — are all too universal. The show deals with a wide swath of teen problems, but the production itself is easy to take. Performed by the Black Rep through June 27 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org. (DB)
Now I Ask You In 1916, four years before Eugene O'Neill found fame as a serious American dramatist, back when he was still trying to write what everyone else wrote, he collaborated with his wife Agnes Boulton O'Neill on a very conventional comedy about a free-spirited young bride who was not so radical as she thought she was. Now I Ask You teaches us little about O'Neill, because he had not yet found his voice, but it might tell us a lot about Neil Simon, who as a novice playwright apparently was an O'Neill scholar. It's hard to imagine that young Simon did not read this O'Neill spin on the "Mother knows best" motif before he wrote Barefoot in the Park. As cleanly and simply directed by Jerry McAdams, this Muddy Waters production may not be the funniest comedy you've ever seen (hey, it's O'Neill), but it's never less than intriguing. The entire cast is appealing. Andra Harkins and Katie McGee should be out looking for a production of Barefoot so that they can repeat their knowing mother/adorable daughter combo. Through June 27 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard (in the Big Brothers Big Sisters building). Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors and active-duty military personnel). Call 314-799-8399 or visit www.muddywaterstheatre.com. (DB)
Our Town Thornton Wilder's masterpiece is given a magnificent burnish by Gary F. Bell and a murderers' row of a cast. As Wilder intended, the smallest scenes — Dr. Gibbs (Mark Abels) shaming his son George (Kevin Boehm) for shirking his woodcutting duties, Emily Webb (Colleen M. Backer) and George sharing a strawberry ice cream soda — reveal the everyday wonders and kindness we take for granted. David K. Gibbs inhabits the Stage Manager with a homespun majesty, leading us beat by beat through a primer on humanity, simplicity and empathy. Very rarely do you see a play that ends with a large portion of the audience audibly sobbing, undone not by grand tragedy but by the common mistake of not appreciating every dull and glorious moment that was granted you. Bring a friend and a hanky. Presented by Stray Dog Theatre through June 26 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org.
— Paul Friswold