Art What would you do if your buddy spent a bundle on a painting you hated? The three "friends" in Yasmina Reza's play answer this question by turning a disagreement over the value of art into a humorously violent power struggle. The witty dialogue pits modernist Serge (Ben Ritchie) against traditionalist Marc (Scott Iverson). Iverson and Ritchie are perfect sparring partners; their argument proceeds believably from casual to intense as they slyly manipulate their mutual friend Yvan (Joel Snider) in their ongoing squabble about art and the meaning of friendship. Stylistically, it's Pinter on speed, with words used as weapons. Though director B. Weller's production is smartly paced, Reza's 80-minute play should be shorter; in addition to some repetitious dialogue, there's an unnecessary final scene that undercuts the play's impact. Presented by the West End Players Guild through April 17 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Boulevard. Tickets are $10. Call 314-367-0025. (Deanna Jent)
Crowns Take a bunch of stories about "black women in church hats," add music and dance, and you've got the recipe for a visually sumptuous but dramatically thin production. Like many of the larger, overly feathered hats, the play is in dire need of trimming. It devolves into a kind of Chicken Soup for the Hat-Lover's Soul, one story following another with no clear end in sight. The musical numbers are the strongest element; the fine choreography by Mercedes Ellington ranges from tribal dances to hip-hop and is performed with verve by the talented cast. But with a few exceptions, most of the stories seem rushed, almost as if director Pamela Hunt told the actors, "This show runs an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission -- go faster!" Only Denise M. Thimes and Chaundra Cameron manage to find the core of their characters and connect with the audience. Presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through April 15 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets $12-$58 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10 respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925. (DJ)
Defending the Caveman A sitcom-mentality stage play "experience" without the pesky problems of character relationships or plot. As a play, it's pretty good stand-up comedy -- especially for married couples who embody stereotypic gender roles. The solo character is a married guy trying to defend men from disdain. "It's not that guys are assholes," he explains. "They just come from a different culture." Creator Rob Becker romanticizes cavefolk as a model society: They respected and honored gender differences. Nobody called the cavewoman a bitch, nobody called the caveman an asshole (perhaps because language hadn't yet been invented?). Unfortunately the material doesn't really build. Cody Lyman (from Chicago's Second City) plays the Caveman. Open-ended run at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza, 635 West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $35-$39.50. Call 314-469-7529. (DJ)
The Rose Tattoo Reviewed in this issue.