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By John Patrick Shanley
SIU-Edwardsville University Theater

Before writing his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley visited New York's Little Italy in his play Italian American Reconciliation. Actors in this play need to be credible ethnic types. They also have to deal with the long speeches Shanley throws at them. Student actors are still developing the skills needed to meet the demands of ethnic types and long speeches. With their recent production of Shanley's play, students at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville showed they're already mastering these skills.

Chris Adrienne never faltered in his command of distinctive Italian-American vocal and physical patterns. He also delighted with his comic playing, vocal and physical. Playing Aldo Scalicki, Adrienne established a silk-smooth rapport with the audience as he led us into the world of the play. Aldo ostensibly wants to tell us about his friend Huey Maximilian Bonfigliano and the friend's desire to get back together with the wife he divorced three years earlier. But the play tells us just as much about the loneliness and the need that drive Aldo's gregarious effervescence as it does about Huey's dilemma.

Playing Aldo's ex-wife, Janice, Caroline Renner matched Adrienne's skilled inflections of voice and body in a long scene in which Aldo tries to soften Janice up for Huey -- or maybe for himself. Nathan L. Ruyle made Huey's suffering very funny and sometimes poignant, but he could fall into a sameness in his playing. Monica M. Samii, as Huey's current girlfriend, gave better than she got in her big fight with him, and Evangeline M. Zeller, though she might allow herself a little more breathing room, made Aunt May a warm adviser to Aldo.

James R. Dorethy's set, Valerie Goldston's lights, Y. Michelle Collyar's costumes and Tracy N. Utz's sound design all evoked the wryly, resignedly romantic atmosphere of the play. William Grivna directed, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why the students performed so well.

By James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach, with additional music by Ed Linderman

St. Louis University Theatre

The musical Something's Afoot aspires to parody Agatha Christie-type murder mysteries set among a group of weekenders on an isolated English country estate. Such a parody faces the difficulty that these whodunits, with their rigid conventions and tenuous connection to reality, already border on parody themselves, at least as we look at them today. And a successful parody needs more cleverness than James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach bring to Something's Afoot. Their inventions tend toward the obvious -- they name their Miss Marple equivalent "Miss Tweed." Their songs catch the lilt of 1930's froufrou but come off more as period pastiche than parody.

The students at St. Louis University strove mightily to wrest some amusement from this attempted send-up, and the audience rewarded them with appreciative laughter. Their director and choreographer, Cristina Markham, made clever use of conventional dance routines of the period, giving the young lovers some easy Fred-and-Ginger moves. She had the cast playing in a broad, cartoonish style, which emphasized both the script's strengths and weaknesses. Some performers who made only a slight impression when acting tore the house down with a musical number. Others did better when they didn't have to sing. All relaxed and got funnier as the play progressed. Though the performers were miked and music director Scott Schoonover reined in his accompaniment, I had trouble hearing some of the voices. That puzzles me.

By Tom Stoppard
Lindenwood University

Seeing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead again after many years, I realized how much more complex and satisfying Tom Stoppard's later plays are. I remembered R&G as very clever, which it is. It can also be precious and pretentious, and it rambles on too long. It's like the work of an exceptionally bright undergraduate.

So seeing the play done by undergraduates at Lindenwood University, directed by graduate student Jason Stahr, highlighted the best and the worst in the script. The youthful energy was right, as were some of the director's inventions. But the sheer mass of the piece and its self-conscious cleverness sometimes overwhelmed the resources that these artists-in-training could bring to it.

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