All in the Timing It has been more than a decade since these six one-act comedies by David Ives were gathered into a long-running off-Broadway show, yet their forays into a world of wild improbability remain fresh, nimble and often unpredictably hilarious. Under Tom Martin's simple staging, an appealing student cast leads the audience through an 80-minute mine field of satire and surrealism. In Ives' skewered world, regardless of whether he's reinventing dating rituals or lampooning modern opera, word games are the order of the evening. The author's focus on the limitations of language is best crystallized in Words, Words, Words, which is set in a lab where three monkeys are trying to write Hamlet. Although their efforts are mixed at best, much of this evening's merriment is a palpable hit. Performed by Saint Louis University Theatre through October 8 in Xavier Hall, 3733 West Pine Mall (on the SLU campus). Tickets are $9 ($8 for seniors). Call 314-977-3327. (Dennis Brown)
Hello Dolly If the play were titled Hello Cornelius, all would be well in this Stages St. Louis production. David Schmittou is delightful as Cornelius Hackl, the bumbling but sweet clerk out for an adventure in New York. He connects musically and romantically with Kate Dawson as Irene Molloy, whose beautiful voice soars on "Ribbons Down My Back." Their sidekicks, played by Patrick Garrigan and Melissa Bohon, are energetic and engaging. The dancing waiters are dazzling, Lou Bird's costumes are gorgeous (if overdone), and Zoe Vonder Haar delivers a likable, if not spectacular, Dolly. Director Michael Hamilton makes some careless staging and accent choices that mar an otherwise pleasant production. Through October 9 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $20 to $42 ($10 rush seats for students and seniors). Call 314-821-2407. (Deanna Jent)
Our Country's Good Ever since this showy drama about British convicts in Australia debuted in the late 1980s, it has enjoyed global acclaim. Viewers seem to be taken by the novelty of watching wretched outcasts in 1789 mount an amateur production of Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer. But the plodding, patently predictable trek of Timberlake Wertenbaker's script is not nearly so original as it pretends to be. Between floggings we get high wigs and thick accents (Irish, Scottish, Cockney) talking about "big" themes like free will and sin. A few actors in the overwrought student production (notably Benjamin L. Mason as the soldier-director and Alisha C. Soper as the leading lady) cut past the pretense to find some semblance of believability. Performed by the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts through October 9 at the Emerson Studio Theatre in the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $8 ($3.50 for students and seniors). Call 314-968-7128. (DB)
Table Manners Back in the 1970s Alan Ayckbourn was hailed as the British Neil Simon. His comedies enjoyed a brief window of popularity here in the Colonies until American audiences realized that Ayckbourn's plays demand more attention from a viewer than do Simon's. Table Manners is the first in a trilogy of comedies under the umbrella title "The Norman Conquests" that concern Norman, an amiable cad out for "a nice dirty weekend" of seduction. Happily, Table Manners can stand alone. Though this community-theater production fails to tap into the resonances that make his plays unique, it's worth taking advantage of an infrequent opportunity to see and hear Ayckbourn. Performed by West End Players Guild through October 9 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $10. Call 314-367-0025. (DB)
Take Me Out Reviewed in this issue.