Into the Woods Four years ago James Lapine, who wrote this perennially popular deconstruction of fairy tales with Stephen Sondheim, told Riverfront Times he had never seen a production of the musical that he didn't like. Since then there probably have been more local stagings of this tale about fearsome giants who wreak havoc throughout a far-off kingdom (whose inhabitants do not live happily ever after) than any other play, including A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now it's Stray Dog Theatre's turn to take on Sondheim and Lapine's skewed yet sprightly adaptation of Grimm's fairy tales. It's a version that will be enjoyed most by those viewers who are seeing the musical for the first time. Through October 10 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.— Dennis Brown
Macbeth Director Donna Northcott stages the Scottish play as an eerie psychological thriller in which the bloody-handed Macbeth (Andrew Keller) slowly becomes graphically unhinged by his ambition. Keller plays the usurper with quiet calm — sometimes a little too quiet. His explosions of rage and violence and especially terror are quite effective, though, and are aided greatly by an excellent use of atonal sounds (courtesy of sound designer Jeff Roberts) and chilly, atmospheric lighting (Sean M. Savoie). Nicole Angeli is solid as Lady Macbeth, but she also seems too restrained at times; neither hard enough nor cruel enough to spur her husband into red menace. Northcott provides plenty of action and gorgeous visuals, and the slaughter of Macduff's family is horrifying, thanks to marvelous performances from a vicious Shane Signorino and Emily Jackoway as his young, shrieking victim. Good, scary stuff. Presented by St. Louis Shakespeare through October 11 at the Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $25 (students $15, seniors $20). Call 314-361-5664 or visit www.stlshakespeare.org.
— Paul Friswold
The Secretaries Several secretaries at an Oregon lumber mill are members of a secret cult. Once a month they engage in a purging of their inhibitions (and enhancing of their wardrobes) by killing a lumberjack. As written (and originally performed) by an all-female New York performance group called the Five Lesbian Brothers, The Secretaries is a playful, brazenly tasteless spin on Arsenic and Old Lace with a large dose of Grand Guignol. As directed by Eric Little (lucky guy), the sometimes goofy, sometimes irritating piece careens through 95 intermissionless minutes (including the fastest curtain call in memory) and sports an extremely appealing cast (Colleen Backer, Lavonne Byers, Julie Layton, Sara Renschen and Amanda Williford), who slice and dice their way through this buzz saw of an evening in various states of scanty apparel. Performed by Echo Theatre Company through October 11 in Theatre 134 at the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza), Watson and Sappington roads, Crestwood. Tickets are $15 (students two for $20). Call 314-225-4329 or visit www.echotheatrecompany.org. (DB)