Arts & Culture » Theater

St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene.

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Avenue Q Reviewed in this issue.

Barefoot in the Park Much of the humor in Neil Simon's work is derived from the snappy yet exasperated delivery of his characters, who are usually hapless souls being gently abused by the world, and this farcical look at newlyweds trying to adjust to married life is no exception. There's a noticeable delay in that delivery at times in this Daniel Betzler-directed Florissant Valley Theatre of the Deaf production — but only for those who don't comprehend American Sign Language. The effect of an actor signing dialogue while another offstage (yet visible) actor provides the voice is not unlike watching a dubbed movie. As harried husband Paul Bratter, Irvine Stewart delivers an expressive and terribly funny performance through body language that even the ASL-ignorant will find eloquent. Lisa Gale-Betzler brings a similar universal grace to the role of Paul's patient mother-in-law, but it is the joint performance of Eric Driskill (sign) and Scott McMaster (voice) as the eccentric neighbor Victor Velasco that steals the show. Through February 23 at the Terry M. Fischer Theatre, 3400 Pershall Road (on the campus of St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley), Ferguson. Admission is free. Visit or call 314-513-4488. — Paul Friswold

Parenting 101: A Musical Guide to Raising Parents This extended revue about the trials and tribulations of having children is yet another entry in the "you too can write a musical" sweepstakes. The sketches, whose subjects range from childbirth to the loss of a pet to shopping in toy stores, strive for jokes; the songs are full of puns. Some people enjoy this kind of in-your-face entertainment. But by the end of Act One, the only reason I could think of to return for Act Two was to see if the four energetic actors — who played the first act at the top of their lungs — would have any voices left by evening's end. It wasn't reason enough. Performed through March 16 at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue at I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $42.50. Call 314-469-7529 or visit — Dennis Brown

Radio Golf The capstone to August Wilson's decade-by-decade cycle about the 20th-century African-American experience is a towering achievement not for what came before it, but for what it is in the hands of the Black Rep: a great and moving drama. Andre Sills brings a bombastic élan to Harmond Wilks, a real estate developer with designs on a mayorship. He and his mercenary partner Roosevelt Hicks (Darryl Alan Reed) will save the historically black Hill District by destroying it in the name of progress. Standing in their way is Sterling Johnson (A.C. Smith), a street-smart handyman who believes that a black mayor should be the mayor of black people — starting right here with the Hill District. Director Lorna Littleway marshals this battle for the soul of black America with grace and cunning, pitting each of the men against one another but allowing them to lean on each other for strength as well. The result is an argument that acknowledges the past, but places more faith in the future, whatever it may be. Inspirational, hopeful and essential. Through March 9 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43 ($5 discount for students and seniors; $10 rush seats available for students 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-534-3810 or visit (PF)

The Road to Mecca Athol Fugard's meditation on artistic freedom and the toll taken on those who choose to live their lives free of compromise receives a simple yet resplendent production. Set in the South African outback, the story concerns Miss Helen, an eccentric and reclusive sculptor who, as she nears 70, is beginning to slow down. As the miraculous Helen, Nancy Lewis delivers a coruscating performance that both embodies and reveals the mystery of art. But can Helen continue to live alone, or should she surrender her independence and move to a nursing home? As the local pastor (Richard Lewis) and a concerned friend (Brooke Edwards) debate Helen's future, it's as if the viewer is outside the house, listening to these conversations through a window. Sarah Whitney has directed the production with an almost courageous eye to stillness. Produced by Orange Girls through February 24 at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA), 524 Trinity Avenue, University City. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-520-9557 or visit (DB)

Twelve Angry Men How much you enjoy this stage adaptation of the 1957 movie about contentious jury deliberations over the fate of a minority youth charged with his father's murder might depend on how wedded you are to the perennially popular film that starred Henry Fonda and a definitive cast. Time and again the stage version has trouble compensating for the close-ups and reaction shots that are so integral to telling the story on screen. But those who have never seen the film might become engaged by the melodrama of the compelling story. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 2 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $16 to $63 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit (DB)

Two-Headed Julie Jensen's drama about two Mormon women on the Utah frontier in 1857 spans 40 years in a hit-and-miss series of vignettes. Hettie (Edie Avioli) is stolid and accepting, blessed with common sense and the ability to toe the Mormon line. Her friend Lavinia (Amy Loui) is proud and obstreperous, forced to live by society's rules yet unwilling to accept them. The differences between the women drive the play's finest moments. Hettie's willingness to overlook the mercy killing of mutual friend Jane for the good of the community is played with matter-of-fact aplomb by Avioli, even as Loui imbues Lavinia with a righteous indignation that slowly reveals itself to be a monomaniacal commitment to her belief in herself as the final arbiter of all that is moral and just. All the good work is undone when the two spin in slow motion under a wash of red lights while a jarring keyboard riff plays. (Director Kimberley Hughes maintains this habit throughout the production.) Dunsi Dai's set is enhanced by Rusty Conklin's haunting redesign of the lobby. Through February 24 at the Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students, $20 for seniors). Call 314-963-8800 or visit (PF)

Vieux Carre Reviewed in this issue.

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