civil disobedience For much of its cross-country journey, this world-premiere drama about the reluctant road trip of a conservative judge (James Anthony) and his radical activist daughter (Lauren Dusek), both recently retired from their vocations, substitutes a despairing anger for character. Although Carter W. Lewis' play is rooted in today's headlines, it's really a reverie for two lost times the volatile Vietnam protest era and the 1850s of Henry David Thoreau. There's a sense that the play is covertly trying to be a Thoreau-like essay onstage, an intriguing (if verbose) notion. Then, midway through Act One, the judge has a spiritual encounter with his deceased wife in the completely original form of Ruthie (Noga Landau), a failed actress turned World Trade Center grief counselor turned faith healer. Viewers sit up; the theater goes dead still; electricity charges the air. We've never seen this scene before for one suspended moment, something unique and surprising is happening onstage. The rant has been suspended; this is theater. Performed by the Washington University Performing Arts Department through March 4 at the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center at Washington University, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard. Tickets are $15 ($9 for students and seniors). Call 314-935-6543 or visit www.artsci.wustl.edu.
Crossin' Over Staged to great acclaim last season at the Edison Theatre, this faith-based musical revue has been born again at the Grandel. The fervor is real, the passion persuasive. As conceived and directed by Ron Himes, five musical suites chronicle the history of Africans in America. The cast of seven singers and one nonstop dancing dynamo work their way through 60-plus songs that evolve from sacred to secular. But don't bother trying to release your emotions through applause; the piece is too busy forging ahead to acknowledge it. Performed by the Black Rep through March 11 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $27.50 to $40. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org.
Cul-de-sac Reviewed in this issue.
Demons...(and Other Blunt Objects) Reviewed in this issue.
The Heidi Chronicles In the title role of Heidi Holland, a budding art historian who witnesses the idealism of the Eugene McCarthy 1960s, the fresh start of the post-Nixon 1970s and the materialism of the Ronald Reagan 1980s, Effie Johnson delivers a persuasive, even endearing, performance. But in this very shallow rendering of Wendy Wasserstein's very shallow play, Johnson is the only honest female on the stage. Everyone else is portrayed as a cartoon-like doofus. The production is so overloaded in Heidi's favor, it's easy to grow impatient with her constant moping. By the time she complains about envying women she doesn't even know, you just want to rap her in the mouth and force her to listen to an endless loop of Steve Lawrence signing "I've Gotta Be Me." Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 4 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $14 to $63 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.
Menopause The Musical Who knew hormone shifts could be so much fun? An energetic cast of four women "of a certain age" sing and dance their way through parodies of popular '60s and '70s songs whose rewritten lyrics tackle night sweats, memory loss and mood swings. Laura Ackerman has great comic timing in her rendition of "Puff the Magic Dragon," while Rosemary Watts has almost too much fun with her ode to sex toys ("You Are My Destiny"). Rochelle Walker does a great Tina Turner impersonation, and Lee Anne Mathews sings a sultry "Tropical Hot Flash." Designed to amuse and empower women who have "gone through the passage," the show ends with the audience joining the cast for a raucous kick-line celebration. 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 $44.50. Call 314-469-7529 or visit www.playhouseatwestport .com.
A Month in the Country There's good and bad news regarding this rueful 1850 comedy about doomed love on a rural estate outside Moscow. The bad news is that the play plods on for nearly three hours; the good news is that the original Moscow Art Theatre production was nearly four hours, so this Brian Friel translation is actually the jackrabbit version. "All love is a catastrophe," we're told, and the loved and the loveless alike are put to the test. Exquisitely designed by Alex M. Gaines and richly costumed by Heather Bohrer, this student production is something of an event, if for no other reason than that Turgenev's celebrated play is so seldom staged. Under the direction of Dale Moffitt, the dozen-actor ensemble delivers an intelligent reading. But viewers will decide for themselves how much self-absorption and misery they can take before an event becomes an endurance contest. Performed by the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts through March 4 at the Emerson Studio Theatre, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $10 ($5 for students and seniors). Call 314-968-7128 or visit www.webster.edu.
Romeo and Juliet Clayton Community Theatre sets itself an admirable challenge with a blended cast teenagers and adults taking on Shakespeare's great tragic romance, Romeo and Juliet. For the most part, they meet the challenge well. "Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast," Friar Laurence (Mark Abels) warns his young charge, Romeo, in matters of romance; it's also true for the delivery of Shakespearean dialogue. At times Romeo (Jacob Blumenfeld) and Juliet (Hannah Kiem) deliver their lines at a rapid clip and with little inflection, muting the language into a featureless blur. But this superabundance of energy serves the story well in other places; the fight scenes are exuberant and bracing, rumbling across the stage with much noise and flashing blades, and in his death duel with Tybalt (Andrew Gude), Blumenfeld has the language at his service. Gude's Tybalt bristles with surly menace, as befits a hotheaded teen; Jonathan Huelman's Mercutio is a lovable rogue, equal parts smart-ass and shortsighted youth. Through March 4 at the Concordia Seminary Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, Clayton. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 314-721-9228 or visit www.placeseveryone.org.
Some Americans Abroad Richard Nelson's acid account of ugly American intellectuals on a university-sponsored theater gorge through England is an intriguing if nasty piece. Not that Nelson is too hard on the academic phonies he's harpooning; he's just so relentless. Jim Sala's direction only scratches the surface of this satire, which makes a play that needs to live in its nuances merely one-note. Joe Wegescheide conveys the insufferable department head's cowardice without letting us see how he got this job to begin with. But the set design by Ryan Tiffany is ingenious: Photos convey the locales, while books hang from the ceiling throughout the auditorium like fish hooks, suggesting perhaps that learning is everywhere to those who are willing to bite. Produced by St. Louis Community College-Forest Park through March 4 at the Mildred E. Bastian Center for the Performing Arts, 5600 Oakland Avenue. Tickets are $4 ($2 for students and seniors). Call 314-644-9388.
Standing on My Knees Catherine (Meghan Maguire) is a poet hoping to rid herself of schizophrenia, but not at the cost of her creativity. Interesting premise, but what begins as an absorbing character study soon becomes a conventional romance between the free-spirited Catherine and a straitlaced investment counselor (Nicolas Pavros). Anyone remember Two for the Seesaw? It might help if you don't. Audiences seem to like John Olive's well-intentioned play, but don't peer too closely. Produced by Orange Girls through March 4 at the COCA Black Box, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-520-9557 or visit www.orangegirls.org.