Aerwacol During a sort of apocalyptic fury, a Canadian pig farmer and his wife (Christopher Harris, Donna M. Parrone) take to the railroad tracks in a vain attempt to escape the wrath of God. As they ride the rails to infinity, the couple encounters an aimless youth (Nicholas Tamarkin), a crippled girl (Emily Piro) and a guilt-ridden coal miner (Peter Mayer, whose scrappy performance effectively serves as the evening's cattle prod). The play, directed by Philip Boehm, offers many challenges, not the least of which is to design a cave for a story whose principal motif concerns light and dark. Set designer Mark Mendelson's cavern evokes the gentle imagination inherent in Sean Dixon's quirky script. During intermission a charmed audience member was heard asking, "Do you really think the play needs to be about anything in order to enjoy it?" — which might be as serious and probing a question as anything that gets asked onstage. Performed by Upstream Theater through March 1 at 305 South Skinker Boulevard (at Fauquier Drive). Tickets are $25 ($15 for students, $20 for seniors). Call 314-863-4999 or visit www.upstreamtheater.org. — Dennis Brown
A Song for Coretta Reviewed in this issue.
The Miracle Worker To people who attended mainstream schools with deaf, blind and developmentally disabled children, William Gibson's beloved dramatization of Helen Keller's childhood feels a bit creaky. Captain Keller (played with appropriate bluster by John Rensenhouse) persistently remarks that his daughter is a savage and an animal and doubts her ability to learn anything or become much of a person. The story takes place in a different time, but as much of the drama hinges upon the revelation that there is a functional brain in Helen's head, the play often feels as if the audience is waiting for the cast to catch up with us. As Helen, Hannah Ryan — who'll alternate performances with Olivia Jane Prosser throughout the run — deftly handles the requirements of being blind, deaf and mute, especially in her epic struggle over dinner etiquette with her teacher, Annie, played by Amy Landon. Landon counteracts much of the play's draggy timing by infusing Annie with a dry wit and almost grim sense of humor. John Ezell's set is remarkable: A jumble of kitchen, bedroom and porch pinched together without hallways or logic, it's a clever manifestation of what the house feels like to Helen. Presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis under the direction of Susan Gregg through March 8 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $14.50 to $65 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $10 and $15 respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. — Paul Friswold
Private Lives A time capsule about the moneyed set and their ability to bravely face social awkwardness (of their own devising) with cocktail glass in hand and a bon mot at the ready, Noel Coward's Private Lives is a frothy comedy with a tissue-paper plot and the bare minimum of characterization. And that's perfectly fine — a good caricature can be highly entertaining in skilled hands. Black Cat Theatre director Edie Avioli has an excellent Amanda (Aarya Sara Locker), a newlywed who bumps into her ex-husband Elyot (James Anthony) on her honeymoon — and him on his, as well. Glamorous, acerbic and bitingly witty, Locker's Amanda gets her way with coquettish eyes and cunning smirks. Anthony holds his own as her sparring partner (no easy task), zinging and pinking at Amanda's vanity and his own; he's a dissolute rogue and smugly pleased with his caddish behavior. It's all rather silly and glib, as Coward intended, and no one gets hurt despite all the slapping that occurs in the third act. Through February 28 at the Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students). Call 314-781-8300 or visit www.blackcattheatre.org. (PF)
Songs for a New World Imagine a street scene. A young musician (Justin Smolik) tinkers at a piano in the front window of a first-floor apartment. On the front stoop, four singers harmonize. "It's about one moment," they tell us, "a moment before it all becomes clear." They proceed to transport us via song into worlds literal and metaphysical far beyond (and even above) this one street. In the melodic "Stars and the Moon," Deborah Sharn laments choices made and missed. Leslie Sikes' lovely rendition of "Christmas Lullaby" ("I will sing the name of the Lord, and He will make me shine") is made lustrous by the stained-glass windows in the Tower Grove Abbey that turn Jesus into another member of the audience. Sikes joins Joel Snider for the driving "I'd Give It All for You," a country-style duet about the pain of separation. JT Ricroft adds gravitas throughout the evening. Director Laura Robbins has found intriguing and original ways to visualize these sixteen songs by the gifted Jason Robert Brown. For those of us who crave a regular dose of Brown's musical voice, the show is a welcome gift to tide us over until May, when New Jewish Theatre stages his ambitious musical The Last Five Years. Performed by Stray Dog Theatre through February 28 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org. (DB)
Three Tall Women Act One centers on a dowager (Nancy Crouse) whose health and memory are failing. A young attorney (Laura Sexauer, innocently pristine) is trying to tidy up the financial affairs of the old girl, who'd rather ramble and reminisce with her caregiver (Kate Frisina, a wonderfully effective foil). In Act Two the evening's cool realism gives way to a dreamlike meditation on femininity, in which all three women morph into the same person at different stages of life: 92, 52 and 26. The impeccably cast production of Edward Albee's play is anchored by a luminous performance from Crouse. Her calibrated portrayal of this brittle patrician is nothing less than stunning. With this memorable venture, Muddy Waters Theatre has made a quantum leap into the world of professional theater. Every component — the simple yet savvy set design by Kerith Parashak, Jerry McAdams' spare yet keen staging, even the slick playbill — is on par with the best theater you will see anywhere in St. Louis. Performed through March 1 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard (in the Big Brothers Big Sisters building). Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-540-7831 or visit www.muddywaterstheatre.com. (DB)