'Tis the season to be … silly?

That certainly seems the case for the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's production of Stocking Stuffers. Chock full of funny characters and Christmas spirit, this show by author Geff Moyers offers everything from hip reindeer to talking stockings – a collection of sketches, with no real storyline, designed to get you in the holiday mood.

As an Augustana alum of so many years, I was excited to see the opening of the new Brunner Theatre Center on the Augie campus, and especially excited to see its current Othello under the direction of Jeff Coussens. The new theatre facility did not disappoint, and scenic and lighting designers Andy Gutshall and Adam Pfluger, respectively, created a memorable space for the production – minimally designed, yet replete with authentic Arabic graffiti and evocatively low, blue lighting.

One thing I love about QC Theatre Workshop productions is that from the moment you walk into the building, you’re not walking into a converted gymnasium – you're walking into a specific space in which the story you're about to see takes place. I've previously participated in a couple of QCTW shows, one of them a Sam Shepard play, and can say that the company did a fantastic job of re-creating its space for the October 14 performance of Shepard's Buried Child. Scenic designer Matt Elliott and painter Emma Brutman have created a set that creeps you out from the moment you step foot into the playing area. The moldy walls appear to be crying, bleeding, or both, and the mold ends in jagged, sharp edges that look like bite marks, giving the whole set a sense of decomposition that fits this play perfectly.

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.

In an October filled with local theatre that includes the likes of Shakespeare, Sam Shepard, and Flowers for Algernon, I was shivering with anticipation: What show would I be assigned this month? Could I handle the depth and power of a classic? Finally, the e-mail came, and I was given the sweetly daunting task of examining one of the most astounding, bucket-list theatrical works I could ever review. Yes! Yes!! YES!!! Thank the theatre gods! I could finally revisit my late teens to dissect the '70s cult classic The Rocky Horror Show!

When I attended Augustana College’s second-to-last performance of the musical Sweeney Todd in May, I found the evening a bittersweet affair – and not just because of the meat pies.

Without question, Augie’s rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s demon-barber musical was terrifically performed and produced. Hence, the sweet. But the bitter came in knowing that the show would be the final one staged in the Bergendoff Hall of Fine Arts’ Potter Hall – the utterly charming, 144-seat venue that I, as an Augustana theatre major, had so energetically toiled and played in from 1986 to 1990, as had any number of students active there between the building’s 1955 opening and this past spring.

Yet there was a silver lining, and you could find it right across the street at the former Augustana College Center. This was the venue that was to be newly named the Kim & Donna Brunner Theatre Center – a $4.2-million facility that would be the home to Augie’s theatre department, with its approximate 7,500 square feet boasting a 263-seat mainstage area, individual light and sound booths, an 80-seat studio theatre, a scenic-construction shop, a costume shop, a theatre library and conference room, faculty and administrative offices, spacious dressing rooms, and even showers. (Full tours of the center, which officially opened at the end of August, will be available during the theatre’s celebration gala on October 13.)

Spoiler alert: Deathtrap, now running at the the Playcrafters Barn Theatre, is awesome. In fact, since I started reviewing a little less than a year ago, this was certainly the most enjoyable night of theatre I've yet had.

As I watched the opening-night production of the Timber Lake Playhouse’s Always … Patsy Cline, I kept thinking of the word “harmony.” Thinking about musical harmony certainly was appropriate, as this was, after all, a stage musical. Then I reflected on how harmonies can be calming and tranquil or dissonant and disparate. Yet I still hadn’t been able to place why “harmony” kept going through my mind until it hit me that what I was seeing, hearing, and experiencing was true balance – an interweaving of two very different stories that were connected in the nearly perfect parallel of two actresses' performances. “Yes!”, I thought. “Harmony!”

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.

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