Based on a Totally True Story Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's play, whose title would suggest that this story is somewhat autobiographical, describes protagonist Ethan Keene (John Wolbers) as cute, funny and smart. Others might find him to be immature, deceptive and egoistic. This story of Ethan's travails after one of his plays is optioned for the movies, offset by his rocky courtship with his new boyfriend (Michael Perkins), is not so much a play as it is a duologue for cell phones. Incapable of reading a line naturally, Wolbers is about as unsympathetic a character as you are ever likely to meet. Early on, Ethan asks, "I mean, can you bear it?" That's one question you'll have to answer for yourself. Performed by West End Players Guild through February 21 at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $18. Call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. — Dennis Brown
The Diary of Anne Frank Reviewed in this issue.
Speech & Debate Stephen Karam's charming play about navigating the murky shoals separating adolescence from adulthood is performed with excellent comic timing and without sentimentality. Solomon (Matt Redmond) is a high school journalist trying to break a story about a teacher's sexual impropriety; he's priggish and unlikeable, but he has a flicker of loneliness that makes him something more than a cardboard character. His top source for the story is Howie (Drew Pannebecker), the out-and-proud new kid who's as comfortable with his sexuality as his classmates aren't. And then there's Diwata (Alex Miller), the frustrated actress who realizes all three of them will get what they want from high school if they create a speech and debate team to showcase their individual talents (trust her, she's very persuasive on this point). This is no afterschool special; these kids deal with adult problems in a way that is childishly clumsy and youthfully optimistic, and disappointment is ever-present. Director Chris Owens and a young cast have crafted an entertaining, honest look at the end of childhood and the beginnings of maturity. Presented by [Insert Name Here] Theatre Project and Stray Dog Theatre through February 20 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $15. Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org. — Paul Friswold
Steel Magnolias Comedy and tragedy are dispensed in equal measure at Truvy's Beauty Shop in rural Louisiana, where an excess of shampoo encourages several women to let down their hair and their guard. After far too many slick and glitzy productions through the years, this modest staging of Robert Harling's heartfelt script restores the show to a small playing space — which is where it works best. By evening's end the viewer is swept along on a surge of raw emotion. Bring Kleenex. Performed by Dramatic License Productions through February 20 at Chesterfield Mall (space 291, next to Sears and Houlihan's). Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). For information call 636-220-7012 or visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.com. (DB)