Die! Mommie! Die! Reviewed in this issue.
The Last Seder Richard Lewis delivers a bravely unsentimental performance as the patriarch of a suburban New York family who is slipping into the obscure reaches of Alzheimer's disease. His four daughters (Nicole Angeli, Carla Barresi, Michelle Hand, Ruth Heyman) arrive home for what they hope will be one last Passover Seder with Mom (Nancy Lewis) and Dad before his memory is completely lost. Alas, each daughter carries with her the baggage of unresolved crises. By evening's end there's enough turmoil frothing onstage for five bad plays rather than a single really good one. Author Jennifer Maisel has written a drama that is by turns both harrowing and shallow, and she apparently doesn't know which is which. Director Doug Finlayson does a herculean job of bringing a sense of life to so much contrived melodrama. At times he even succeeds. Produced by the New Jewish Theatre through December 28 at Clayton High School's Little Theatre, 2 Mark Twain Circle, Clayton. Tickets are $28 to $30 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. — Dennis Brown
Little Women, the Musical As difficult as it is to portray a beloved literary character, it may be even harder to imagine a more perfect Jo March than Casey Erin Clark. Bold, funny and possessing a luminous smile that brightens even the cheap seats, Clark is excellent as the young woman who dreams of making it as a writer, not just as a wife. The costumes, by Lou Bird, are beautiful, James Wolk's sets are clever and effectively evoke place and time and the cast as a whole is pretty terrific. The music and lyrics (by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein respectively) are mostly forgettable, except for the bouncy "Off to Massachusetts." The real beauty is in Allan Knee's book, in which the dreams of the four March sisters are treated with respect and love; Meg (Christy Morton)'s budding relationship with Mr. Brooke (Sean Hayden) is treated as sweetly as young Amy (Cary Michele Miller)'s transformation from tag-along sister to a lady of society. High marks also to the ever-enjoyable Ben Nordstrom as Laurie; he's always a delight to watch, and hear. Presented by Stages St. Louis through December 20 at the Roberts Orpheum Theater, 416 North Ninth Street. Tickets are $46 ($24 for children, $43 for seniors; rush seats for students and seniors $15 at the door). Call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org. — Paul Friswold
The Lower Depths Maxim Gorky's "scenes from Russian life" receive an up-close and personal environmental staging that brings this underworld of thieves, actors and dying consumptives right into the audience's collective lap. The debate here, written long before Eugene O'Neill continued the dialogue in The Iceman Cometh, is between those who would live life without illusions and those who believe that "lies must be better than truths." Among the mostly student cast directed by Emma Peterson, the most persuasive performance is delivered by English teacher Jeff Skoblow as the wandering old Luka. Skoblow is not only a fine actor, he's also a terrific storyteller. Produced by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville's Department of Theater and Dance through December 14 at the Metcalf Student Theater on the SIUE campus, I-270 & Rte. 157, Edwardsville, Illinois. Tickets are $10, ($8 seniors, $6 students, faculty and staff; free for SIUE students). Call 618-650-2774 or visit www.siue.edu/theater. (DB)
She Loves You! It's hard to explain why Elvis impersonators usually seem so tacky, yet Beatles re-creations — even when the re-enactors are a little long in the tooth — are full of joy. Perhaps it's because with the Beatles, music trumps personality. There's lots of music here, live and loud, to remind us of those vital years in the turbulent 1960s when every few months brought an astonishing new gift from John and Paul, even occasionally George. This revue attempts to take us into the studio for that celebrated first broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show, then it wants to re-create the excitement of a performance in Shea Stadium. But considering the confines of the West Port playing space, it works best if you think of it as a Las Vegas lounge act. She Loves You! is an orgy of ongoing melody, and on its own terms, is very satisfying indeed. Through January 4, 2009, at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue at I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $44 to $48. Visit www.theplayhouseatwestport.com or call 314-469-7529. (DB)
Stepping Out Reviewed in this issue.
This Wonderful Life Mark Setlock takes to the Rep stage to deliver a 75-minute review of his favorite movie, Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life. Essentially this one-man reinvention allows us relive the film in our minds without having to watch it on television. How rare to attend an evening of theater in which the audience is so constantly ahead of the action. Setlock's gently irreverent approach is imaginative, disciplined and — if you're in the mood for nostalgia — very easy to take. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 2 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $16 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. (DB)
Titus Andronicus Shakespeare's bloody and awkward Titus Andronicus receives a compelling staging from director Robert Strasser and editor Damien Samways, who navigate the plot holes with a clear emphasis on story over logic. As Titus, the old soldier who loves Rome and is repeatedly wronged by the Emperor Saturninus (an excellent Doug Hettich), Robert Mitchell is wild, angry, mad, cunning, cruel, loving and murderous — just as the play demands, and always with the proper measure of intelligence. His late declaration, "I...am the sea," is marrow chilling; Mitchell's confrontation with the abusers of his daughter is presaged by a baleful glance and a slow inhalation that rimes the theater with frost. Alan David's turn as the black-hearted Moor Aaron is similarly bleak; he's vile and malevolent, as twisted by hatred and his lusts as Mitchell's Titus is wracked by grief and rage. The Tin Ceiling's low-budget aesthetic means the many deaths (fourteen, by Strasser's count) are bloodless, but no less grisly for all that. It's the performances that provide the horror here; your imagination takes care of the little details. Through December 21 at the Tin Ceiling Theater, 3159 Cherokee Street. Tickets are $10. Call 314-374-1511 or visit www.tinceiling.org. (PF)