King Hedley II August Wilson's epic drama about dreams deferred in the underbelly of 1980s Pittsburgh receives a vigorous, sinewy production from the Black Rep. King Hedley is not royalty; that's simply his name. He's actually an ex-con trying to reboot his life by opening a video store. But there are bills to be paid, and his family needs food. There are echoes here of classic tragedies like Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, plus more than a few parallels to A Raisin in the Sun. But it's the balance between the domestic and the classic the makes the evening so absorbing. The entire cast is solid, with special kudos to A.C. Smith, who gives a towering performance as a menacing friend of the family, and to Ron Himes in the title role. His blistering portrayal is acting at its most uncompromising. Performed through May 14 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $40 ($10 rush seats available for students, 10 minutes before showtime). Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org.
Polish Joke This sprightly show is rampant with ethnic and "politically incorrect" humor that seems to appeal to audiences of all ages, yet at the same time it's hard to know what to make of David Ives' first full-length play. A master of the witty one-act, Ives has strung together a series of skits and sketches that carry our Polish protagonist (likeably enacted by Christopher Hickey) on a lifelong journey through the landscape of prejudice and paranoia. But every time the play is on the verge of saying something about the challenges of assimilation or the perils of discrimination, Ives pummels his theme with punch lines. Anyone looking for a good laugh is likely to find it here; just don't be surprised if all that laughter is an end in itself. Performed by HotCity Theatre Company through May 6 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Tickets are Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-289-4060 or visit www .hotcitytheatre.org.