Before It Hits Home Wendal, who has been living "on the down-low," returns to his family with the news that he is dying of AIDS. Cheryl West's play is seventeen years old, but this Black Rep production feels only slightly dated: Prejudice remains a divisive force. A.C. Smith delivers an achingly honest performance as Wendal's father, an ordinary man with a fierce love for his family and big dreams for their future. Smith is actively involved in each moment onstage, whether anxiously awaiting a gift, sparring with his sister-in-law or confronting his son. As Wendal, Eugene H. Russell IV moves convincingly from initial denial of his disease to a brutal confession of the loneliness and pain of his experience. Directed by Linda Kennedy, this production continues the necessary task of reminding us that facing our fears of that which is different or unknown is crucial for our families, our communities and our world. Through April 9 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.stlouisblackrep.com.
Visit to a Small Planet In his playbill biography, director Wayne Mackenberg tells us he's glad to be involved with a play that hasn't been "done to death." Amen to that. Gore Vidal's rarely staged debut comedy, written long before he became a national wag, recalls a time when the American theater was a venue for commenting on issues of the day. Written at the height of the Cold War, the plot concerns Kretan (portrayed with mischievous charm by J. Peter O'Conner), an alien who arrives in Virginia on a UFO expecting to aid Robert E. Lee in the Civil War and instead finds himself "wallowing in the twentieth century." This inaugural community-theater production is a little on the rough side, but it's fun to hear Vidal's early stabs at satire. Performed by Over Due Theatre Company through April 2 at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, Olivette. Tickets are $10 ($8 for students and seniors). Call 314-210-2959.
A Walk in the Woods When it comes to nuclear proliferation and arms treaties, can the hopes of two individuals make any difference? Lee Blessing's drama probes that question through a series of intriguing conversations between two diplomats. John Contini plays the Russian Andrey, a weary but wise veteran of numerous treaties, while Gary Wayne Barker plays John, the idealistic American freshly assigned to Switzerland. Their compelling interactions touch on many political issues but always maintain a personal connection to the material in a play that could easily stray into the land of propaganda, Barker and Contini keep firm hold on realistic, character-driven action. Directed by Heidi Winters Vogel, this smart Avalon Theatre production plays through April 2 at Union United Methodist Church, 3543 Watson Road. Tickets are $28 ($23 for students and seniors). Call 314-351-6482 or visit www .avalontheatre.org.
Witness for the Prosecution Isn't it ironic that Agatha Christie's most famous title owes its celebrity not to the play itself (which is almost never staged) but rather to the droll 1957 film version directed by Billy Wilder, who knew how to make mystery fun? As in any Christie whodunit, there are surprises in this account of the murder trial of a young man accused of bludgeoning his patroness. But it's a long wait and a lot of talk before the payoff arrives. Most of the evening is dull stuff, executed by a playwright who knew a lot less about stage structure than she thought she did. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through April 14 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 www.repstl.org.