The Birthday Party Black Cat Theatre celebrates its grand opening with Harold Pinter. The action of the play is fairly simple: Two outsiders, McCann and Goldberg, terrorize Stanley, the lone tenant of a rundown boarding house. There are hints of mob connections, secrets and false identities, all covered with surreal wrapping and tied with an absurdist bow. Unfortunately the play rarely moves beyond a superficial level under Wayne Salomon's direction. Goldberg (James Anthony) and McCann (Jason Cannon) provide the only menacing moments; their scenes are the best in the production. Many new theater companies would choose a safer, better-known play for their inaugural production. The Birthday Party is a bold choice, signaling that Black Cat plans to challenge audiences a mission that speaks to future productions that may well be worth celebrating. Through November 4 at the Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 314-963-8800 or visit www.blackcattheatre.org.
Dracula On the plus side, an October drive into central Missouri offers lots of vibrant fall foliage, and this moody venture into the vagaries of vampires features some of St. Louis' more appealing actors (Jim Butz, John Contini, Alan Knoll). On the debit side, Steven Dietz's stage adaptation of Bram Stoker's tale of the undead takes itself way too seriously. Lacking in sensuality or even tongue-in-cheek terror, this script is more complicated than a melodrama needs to be. Perhaps Dietz is trying to convey the confusion of the characters who are unaccustomed to confronting these foul creatures of the night, but the playwright only succeeds in confusing the viewer. Through October 29 at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, on Main Street in Arrow Rock. Tickets are $30 ($28 for students and seniors; $14 for children). Call 660-837-3311 or visit www .lyceumtheatre.org.
Girl Gone Reviewed in this issue.
Menopause The Musical This sassy musical revue parodies songs of the '60s and '70s focusing on issues of aging and hormone imbalance (to give you an idea: A disco medley includes "Night Sweating" and "Stayin' Awake"). Sandra Benton is a powerhouse singer whose Tina Turner brings down the house. Brooke Davis scores with "Puff the Magic Dragon" and Lee Anne Mathews delivers a sultry "Tropical Hot Flash," while Rosemary Watts has fun with the raciest number, a tribute to self-love. The only problem with music director Joe Dreyer's slick 90 minutes is that it's too loud. 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.
Noises Off Michael Frayn's behind-the-scenes comedy follows the deconstruction of an ill-fated sex farce through its rehearsals and ensuing tour. As the proceedings careen out of control and the cast dismantles the production with a wrecking ball, we find ourselves willing witnesses at the performance from hell. How good can bad actors be? Very good indeed, when they're acting as an ensemble dedicated to evening of sheer nonsense. There's not a weak link in this ensemble, which explains why it is an ensemble. This is a rare example of mass confusion under total control, all in the hilarious cause of what is quite possibly the funniest play of our generation. Produced by ACT Inc. through October 29 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-725-9108 or visit www.actinc.biz.
Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck's stage version of his novel about two California drifters with small prospects and big dreams is a potentially shattering piece of theater. But a viewer has the right to wonder if Lennie and George aren't somehow dwarfed in this production, which strives to transform a wrenching human drama into a towering classic tragedy. Brendan Averett movingly captures the panic and terror of the simple-minded Lennie. But aside from Kenneth Albers in a small role as the ranch boss, Averett is the only actor who doesn't seem to be simply playing the lines. The result is, while not without interest, curiously uninvolving. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 5 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.
Shakespeare's R&J Reviewed in this issue.