Shakespeare provided us with tales of tragedy, comedy, and history. The Prenzie Players, meanwhile, have been performing Shakespeare’s plays for many years and still exhibit a deep passion for his words and stories, as evidenced by their new production of Coriolanus. I attended the March 23 preview in which the cast and crew delivered an exciting performance, especially in light of one of the actors losing his voice. (More on that later.) Jeremy Mahr directed a talented troupe of performers while his design crew set the tone, with Matt Elliott creating a sparse set suggesting white marble, designer Tyson Danner supplying simple yet stark white lighting, and sound designer Bret Churchill providing ambiance that thrums with tension. It all added up to something cool and edgy.

Southern Gothic is a genre dear to my heart, having been introduced years ago to the stories of Eudora Welty. In that vein, playwright Beth Henley blended dark humor and quirky characters in 1981's Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart, the current Augustana College production. I attended the January 28 performance, and director Jennifer Popple and her crew provided a fearless rendition with some creative twists. In her program notes, Popple shares childhood memories of family reunions with almost 500 attendees in Greenwood, Mississippi, and her deep connection with this Mississippi-based play is evident in the nuances that helped me better understand the production's characters, their motivations, and the many themes presented.

I sometimes joke that “God gave us friends to make up for family.” But then another adage also comes to mind: “It could always be worse!” So if you think you have characters in your family, you may want to see the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre comedy In-Laws, Outlaws & Other People (That Should be Shot).

The awe and mystery behind the technical workings of the brain are topics that have been explored for ages, and in 1966, author Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon was published, his brain-y themes diving deep into our fundamental humanity and the costs of scientific ventures versus their rewards. Having read and enjoyed the novel in high school, I re-read it before seeing the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's and playwright David Rogers' stage adaptation, and am happy to say that director Dana Moss-Peterson and his cast provided an evening of thought-provoking theatre with relatable characters – one that was true to the book and, for me, just as moving.

As the saying goes: A picture is worth a thousand words. But could a creative team spin a tale based on that picture and create a nostalgic narrative worth more than words? In the case of Million Dollar Quartet: You betcha!

Whenever I see a box marked with an arrow and the phrase “This Side Up,” the words strike me as almost poetic in their simple and straightforward instruction. If only life came with such clear signage! It would sure make living easy. But if that box was heavy and turned topsy-turvy with seemingly no way to right it … . What then?

This is the allegory pursued in New Ground Theatre’s latest production aptly titled This Side Up, whose world premiere I attended on August 26. University of Iowa graduate Kit Grassi, who wrote the work, told our opening-night audience that he drew inspiration from his own experiences and those of some friends but then “blew them up 200 percent,” and that having previously written short stories, this is was first produced play.

Dining alone in a restaurant before attending the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's opening-night production, I couldn’t help but hear a mother-and-daughter conversation – or rather, confrontation – at the next table. The mother was insisting that her child (who I'm guessing was about eight) put her long, loose hair into a ponytail so it wouldn’t fall into her face while eating. The strong-willed girl refused. The mother kept insisting, and eventually tried pulling the girl's hair back with a hair tie, with her daughter squirming and shaking it loose. This battle of wills went on for five excruciating minutes, but I had to smile as I thought, “This little drama is a microcosm of the play I'm about to see.”

In 1971, Jim Jacobs took his experiences attending Chicago's Taft High School and, together with Warren Casey, wrote the book, music, and lyrics for a musical titled Grease. You may have heard of it.

An island can conjure different images – a great vacation get-away, a place of isolation, a place with a different culture and different rules – and on July 8, the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre opened South Pacific, Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical about love, World War II, and overcoming fears on two South Seas islands. One is teeming with military personal and native islanders. The other, Bali Ha’i, is mysterious, inhabited by only islanders, and out of reach by all but a few. Humans are thrown together by war in this paradise of danger, beauty and difference, and the Showboat cast gave this classic a fresh feeling, with iconic songs such as “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair,” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame” still holding up.

You know those earworms you get when you can’t get a song out of your head no matter how you try? That happened to me several weeks ago after listening to the soundtrack from the Broadway hit Hamilton. My earworms were so intense that I had difficulty falling asleep, and I would elicit strange looks from people in the grocery aisles as I was unknowingly singing “My Shot” out loud. But the cure was found by my attending Quad City Music Guild’s Into the Woods on July 7, and this brilliant send-up, with its quirky, witty songs, wiped out my old earworms without creating new ones.

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