Caroline, or Change Anita Jackson delivers a volcanic performance as an embittered household maid in this tale of temptation in southern Louisiana at the time of President Kennedy's assassination. Through much of the evening, Jackson simply smolders. But when she erupts, run for cover. Tony Kushner (Angels in America) brings a vivid imagination to his memory musical about growing up at a time when the entire nation was enduring traumatic change. In Kushner's world, the washing machine, dryer and radio all come to life and sing. Even so, it's the humans (especially P.J. Palmer as Kushner's alter ego and Bethany Barr as his estranged stepmother) that you're likely to remember longest. Original and provocative, Caroline, or Change begs to be seen by anyone who's not afraid of a little substance in their musical theater. Jointly produced by the Black Rep and HotCity Theatre through February 5 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17-$40. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www .stlouisblackrep.com. Dennis Brown
I Am My Own Wife Wearing a black dress, pearls and orthopedic shoes, Arnie Burton portrays every character in this award-winning play about the intriguing life of German transvestite Charlotta von Mahlsdorf. As Charlotta survives both the Nazi and Stasi regimes, we meet members of her family, her colleagues, soldiers of all nationalities, American playwright Doug Wright and a host of international reporters. Each transition, physical posture and vocal inflection is sharply choreographed, and the ease with which Burton moves from one character to the next is stunning. His work coalesces with the outstanding design work of set and costume designer Marie Anne Chiment, lighting designer F. Mitchell Dana and sound designer Joe Payne. Director John Going crafts each moment of the play with exquisite detail, yielding a production that celebrates the power of theater and the mystery of each individual's unique perspective. Through February 3 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $13-$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.
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse Upbeat music and energetic performances make this Metro Theatre Company production a treat for the child in us all. Adapted by Kevin Kling from Kevin Henkes' books about anthropomorphic mice encountering typical childhood dilemmas, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse features a strong cast, including Chrissy Brooks as Lilly, the self-proclaimed Queen of Everything. Great physical comedy from Christopher Manelli and Robert Thibaut add to the fun, nearly overcoming the occasionally clunky dialogue and numerous scene changes that distract from the engaging performances. While appropriate for ages four and up, this sometimes silly/sometimes serious production can certainly be appreciated by those no longer in throes of grade-school emotions. Performances February 4-5 at the West County Family YMCA, 16464 Burkhardt Place, Chesterfield. Tickets are $12 to $14. Call 314-997-6777 or visit www .metrotheatercompany.org. (DJ)
Yellowman How black is black? This incendiary chronicle about internal racism, which pits dark-skinned African Americans against others of lighter skin, receives a blistering production in the Rep Studio. The story of Alma and Eugene (she has dark skin, his is light) plays out in the present tense, which means that the actors are required to tell us more than they show us. At times Dael Orlandersmith's Pulitzer Prize-nominated script sounds more like prose than drama. But the evening, which has been directed with passionate ferocity by Susan Gregg, is unsparingly provocative. As Alma and Eugene (and all the other unseen characters), Julia Pace Mitchell and Carsey Walker Jr. are in such harmony that ultimately the fusion of their work is more moving than either individual performance. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through February 5 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $31-$48 (rush tickets available for students and seniors, $8 and $10 respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (DB)