Collected Stories The onstage action is almost as still as words on a page in this literate story about the ethics of borrowing the facts of someone else's life to spin new fiction. Donald Margulies' intricately plotted two-character study presents two nuanced characters, two defensible points of view. In this Orange Girls production, impeccably directed by Edward Coffield, Nancy Lewis is a respected writer whose life is invaded by adoring student Meghan Maguire. Both portrayals are in true harmony with the story they're telling. This is stage acting of the highest order; it is a joy to behold. Through August 2 at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-520-9557 or visit www.orangegirls.org.
— Dennis Brown
The Drowsy Chaperone The Drowsy Chaperone, the musical within the musical of the same name, is rife with scenery-chewing actors, terrible puns and ancient vaudeville gags. The musical we're watching, The Drowsy Chaperone, is similarly packed with deft performances, clever wordplay and an infectious sense of fun. Tari Kelly's Jazz Age showgirl, Janet Van De Graaff, is a coquettish beauty who does everything but set fire to the stage in her big number, "Show Off." The Chaperone, played with bibulous verve by Christianne Tisdale, is glib and cutting, a perfect foil to her charge's enthusiasm. And then there's Aldolpho, the caricatured lothario performed as series of thrusting comedic explosions by Edward Juvier — he's not for the faint or the prim. All of these exuberantly broad characters are balanced by the melancholy Man in Chair (David Schmittou), our narrator and point of entry to the musical. Schmittou is wryly funny and engagingly gossipy, filling us on the back-stories of the actors and pointing out the flaws in the show, while unabashedly loving every clunky moment. In the interest of criticism, one shortcoming of this delightful musical will now be entered into the record: It ended and the lights came back up. Presented by Stages St. Louis through August 16 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $48 ($28 for children, $45 for seniors; rush seats for students and seniors $15 at the door). Call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org.
— Paul Friswold
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee America loves a winner — unless said winner is intelligent. If you're too smart, you're a dweeb. The seven children competing in the titular spelling bee are very intelligent winners, and very much social losers. But gathered together to compete against one another, each child discovers something about his or her individual weirdness that's worth treasuring. Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn celebrate the pariah in devastatingly funny songs. Scott Miller's production is exceptionally fine, exploiting the large laughs of the precociously confident William Barfeé (Nicholas Kelly), a mucously enhanced young man who lauds his magic spelling foot in a Busby Berkeley-esque fantasia (courtesy of choreographer Robin Michelle Berger). Miller just as deftly develops the quieter moments, such as parolee-cum-rules enforcer Mitch Mahoney (John Rhine), who sings of wanting to beat the children to teach them real pain, but instead hugs and comforts them. Because that's all anyone can do: Say "good job," and hope the vulnerable are resilient enough to take the punches when they come. Presented by New Line Theatre through August 8 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, Clayton. Tickets are $15 to $20 ($10 to $15 for students and seniors). Call 314-773-6526 or visit www.newlinetheatre.com. (PF)