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Godspell at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, closes December 11 

Godspell Dunsi Dai has outdone himself, constructing an entire St. Louis street as the set for Mustard Seed Theatre's production of Godspell, complete with dilapidated storefronts and litter. Here the rag man Jesus (J. Samuel Davis) gathers his disciples and attempts a Paul McKee-scale renovation (though this savior chooses to build his kingdom on the souls of willing participants rather than leveling the block and erecting new construction). Director Deanna Jent illustrates this rebirth through the simple and evocative act of personal exchange: Place a possession in Jesus' shopping cart; help yourself to a garment from his stash. The first act has a relaxed, almost improvised vibe, as the cast performs the musical parables with sharp comic timing and real fervor. Davis presides over all with a huge-hearted benevolence; the only mote in his eye is the zealous Judas (Charlie Barron), whose hard-line methods are countered with gentle reproval. The inevitable betrayal reveals the power of both actors: As his followers surround him singing "By My Side," Jesus sees Judas approach from his right and cross the stage with a menacing glower. Davis unwaveringly returns the glare, but the sorrow that floods his face as Barron completes his passage from dexter to sinister is unmistakable. No words are spoken, but the tragedy is there in Davis' eyes, along with forgiveness. Through December 11 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 314-719-8060 or visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com. — Paul Friswold

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