If you were at the Black Box Theatre’s opening-night presentation of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the question of precisely who stole the show shouldn’t be arguable. Terrific though they were, it wasn’t the riotously strident Becca Johnson, or Sara Tubbs and her wicked Kristin Chenoweth impersonation, or third-grader Makenna Miller in costumer Kris Castel’s Big-Bird-meets-Carol-Channing feathers – or any other members of directors David Miller’s and Gary Clark’s appealing cast. It was the grade-school attendees whose infectious laughs frequently punctuated images and gags, and made the show even more of a charmer than it already was.

I went to church on Friday night, March 10, and the “house” was packed. We were at Davenport's Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to participate in a ceremony – the ceremony of theatre as constructed in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, presented by the Genesius Guild under the direction of Don Wooten. The play enacts the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, a man who had been installed as archbishop by former friend King Henry II in order to consolidate the power of the crown, but who now, after becoming head of the church, is a man of conscience who refuses to bow to kingly power.

Imagine that it’s Christmas Eve and you are Terrence, a delivery-truck driver who, en route to the airport, loses his cargo – the dead body of an elderly Israeli tourist – and you can’t communicate with the woman’s granddaughter, who doesn’t speak English. What do you do? Well, you call your friend Josh who learned to “speak Jewish at his Hare Krishna” and ask him to inform the young Israeli that her grandmother’s body is lost, of course.

Murderers is author Jeffrey Hatcher’s blanket title for his trio of monologues suggesting Twilight Zone episodes written by O. Henry, and in its current presentation at Moline’s new Black Box Theatre, our first sight is of monologuists Brent Tubbs, Nancy Teerlinck, and Lora Adams standing in a row, each in turn stating, “I am a murderer.” So give director Adams’ production honesty points right off the bat, because for 100 minutes on January 28, these three actors positively killed.

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.

Cindy Ramos, Ana Ziegler Loes, Jordan Smith, Beau Gusaas, Kermit Thomas, Eric Reyes, and Kathryn Reyes in Water by the Spoonful

 

 

Quiara Alegria Hudes was awarded a 2012 Pulitzer for her play Water by the Spoonful, and it’s easy to understand some of the reason the work was recognized, considering that Hudes gives us so many different plays for the price of one. Part family drama, part wisecracking comedy, part PTSD exploration, and part cyberspace warning/celebration, Hudes’ tale is alternately tragic, funny, insightful, and even, at times, magical, and I’d love to see all those styles and qualities blended into a cohesive, thrilling production. In the meantime, we have New Ground Theatre’s Water by the Spoonful. We’re treated to a few sincere and effective portrayals, but unfortunately January 20’s premiere merely suggested the truly satisfying achievement the show could and should have been.

Leslie Munson, Susan Perrin-Sallak, Jaclyn Marta, Chris Sanders-Ring, and Patti Flaherty in Steel Magnolias

Leslie Munson, Susan Perrin-Sallak, Jaclyn Marta, Chris Sanders-Ring, and Patti Flaherty in Steel Magnolias

 

What really goes on in a beauty salon? As someone follicly challenged, I have wondered what happens behind all the glamour posters, hair products, and Hollywood-scandal magazines: Certainly there's more than stereotypical gossip between the customers and their stylists – right? Well, the truth is out. The Playcrafters Barn Theatre production of Steel Magnolias lifts the veil and exposes the beauty-shop mystique, and at least in this particular shop, Southern ladies come to share their fears, secrets, joys, and love with their very best friends – all while getting the perfect shampoos, colorings, and styles.

Before the lights went down on January 13's opening night of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Ghost: The Musical, producer Denny Hitchcock informed the audience of the show's background, telling us that although it was originally produced on Broadway with a cast of 22, this version was scaled down to a cast of 10. But even though this minimized presentation is the story of a ghost, director Jerry Jay Cranford's show is anything but transparent and weightless.


Heidi Hamer, Tom Vaccaro, Victor Angelo, and Jackie Skiles in Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike @ Richmond Hill Barn Theatre

Once again, it was an incredibly busy, incredibly diverse year for theatre in the Quad Cities region, with 65 productions reviewed by the Reader team of Jeff Ashcraft, Dee Canfield, Victoria Navarro, Brent Tubbs, and yours truly. Clearly, there would be plenty to talk about in a year-end recap. But how, exactly, to do it?

Reader Tonys!

The Prenzie Players' As You Like It starts out in true Prenzie form, with short vignettes taking place before the show actually begins. The first person we see is Denise Yoder as Touchstone, the fool of William Shakespeare's comedy, and as she performs some funny bits involving origami and audience interaction, Yoder's opening scenes seem mostly improvised. I will say, though, that during the December 8 preview, there was a lot more going on during this prelude, with a guitarist playing off to the side, and different music playing in the background over the dialogue – it was almost too much, and hard to hear what was being said. But once we actually got to the script, director Kitty Israel's production was off and running.

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