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Capsule Reviews 

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Bug Arthropods run amok in a blowsy motel room on the outskirts of Oklahoma City — it's just that nobody really sees them. Tracy Letts' bizarre play about a possibly paranoid veteran of Iraq I shares the dark dreamscape of Eraserhead. Jay Stratton is convincingly eerie as the shy son of a preacher who is maybe being devoured, not by aphids, but by his own delusions. One senses that this edgy script warrants a funnier, spookier production than the conventional character-driven staging we're getting here. Yet there's no denying that the action, even in this muted form, remains compelling. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 11 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $20 to $45 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit (DB)

Completely Hollywood (abridged) The Reduced Shakespeare Company, which in the past has taken on the Bard and the Bible (among others), comes a cropper in this attempted spoof of the movies we hold dear. The show is still a work in progress, which might account for the fact that it hasn't yet found a point of view. Instead it careens from sketch to sketch without any sense of build or purpose. True to RSC form, there are puns aplenty, scenes that play out in slow motion and any excuse to dress a man in drag. It's dispiriting to see the three-man cast work so hard to so little effect — but hey, that's what tryouts are for. Performed at the Studio Theatre of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 13 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $31 to $48 (rush tickets available for students and seniors, $8 and $10 respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit (DB)

Dearly Departed There's nothing original about the plot — Daddy died, so let's get him buried — and the script by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones is little more than a series of extended comedy sketches that reek of "dumb and dumber." So here's a kick in the head: Dearly Departed is a hoot and a half. Under the direction of John Austermann, the large cast does a terrific job of serving up one belly laugh after another. As Raynelle, the long-suffering widow who is free at last, Gloria Bender is better than terrific; her performance is so real, she sets the tone for a show that is both affectionate and sassy. Performed by the Kirkwood Theatre Guild through November 12 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 S. Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $15. Call 314-821-9956, ext. 1 or visit (DB)

The Front Page Set in a press room in the 1920s, The Front Page is a send-up of political power and the so-called power of the press. This rambling comedy spends too much time establishing the setup: bored newsmen awaiting a hanging and wondering if the rumors that reporter Hildy Johnson (Tom Kopp) has quit his job are true. The core group of reporters (Gerry Love, Paul James, Vic Porcelli, John Higgins, Jim Stegemoeller, Todd Micalai and Tom Bell) create interesting characters, but the pacing of their scenes often drags. Kopp's energetic performance is the highlight of the three-act Hawthorne Players production, which runs through November 13 at the James J. Eagan Center, 1 James J. Eagan Drive (Parker Road at Waterford Drive), Florissant. Tickets are $14 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 314-524-5201 or visit (Deanna Jent)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum The Rep has thoroughly pummeled a light, charming musical farce into insensibility. Even Stephen Sondheim's breezy songs get played too fast and lose their effect. This hilarious account of a wily Roman slave's efforts to win his freedom has been staged in the "we can write it funnier than the professionals" mode, so expect incessant ad libbing. Only Nat Chandler's vain centurion survives the wreckage. Everyone else may be striving mightily to please the gods of comedy, but the result is godawful. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 11 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $13 to $61 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit (DB)

Inspecting Carol In this madcap spin on Gogol's classic comedy The Inspector General, a regional theater company is mounting its annual production of A Christmas Carol when a mediocre actor is confused for a visiting agent from the National Endowment for the Arts. Anything can happen when a $30,000 grant is at stake. Because the show was written by former Seattle Rep artistic director Daniel Sullivan (with the input of his acting company), more often than not the situations and lines ring true. Kimberly D. Sansone brings a charmingly calm sense of frenzy to the harried artistic director, but just about everyone in the cast has a moment to shine. The Act Two staging of the Dickens classic is so hapless, even the Scroogiest theatergoer should find something to laugh at. Performed through November 13 by the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, 517 Theatre Lane, Webster Groves. Tickets are $12 ($10 for students and seniors). Call 314-962-0876 or visit (DB)

Shakespeare: The Remix What do hip-hop and iambic pentameter have in common? The rhythmic answer is provided by the energetic Richon May and Kelvin Roston Jr. in this Black Rep Touring Company production. Usually performed at middle and high schools, the production is briefly available to the public. The story of troubled teen Shayla (May) who meets the ghost of Shakespeare (Roston) is consistently entertaining, slyly slipping in lessons about life and art while engaging the audience in the story. Authors Gilieh Lee and Aaron Jefferies cover a surprising amount of Shakespearean material in this 55-minute production, weaving contemporary references and music with "classic" characters and text. Sharply directed by John Contini, this theatrically educational experience is clearly targeted at tweens and teens but enjoyable for all. It plays at 10 a.m. November 9 and 10 and 11 a.m. November 12 at the Mildred Bastian Theater, Forest Park Community College, 5600 Oakland Avenue. Tickets are $7. Call 314-534-3807. (DJ)

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