Stage Capsule Reviews
The Boys Next Door It’s quite rare that mentally retarded adults are portrayed onstage, much less with a dignity that doesn’t come off like artificial sweetener. Set in a group home for developmentally disabled men, Tom Griffin’s drama-with-comedy was a hit Off Broadway and turned into a 1996 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie (with Nathan Lane) that never felt cloying. Griffin’s script works as well as it does because he doesn’t flinch from making his characters both amusing and annoying — in short, human. Through May 14 at the Bell Road Barn Players, 8700 River Park Drive in Parkville, 816-587-0218.
The Exonerated Director Cynthia Levin and a strong cast and design team vividly animate and humanize a show that, in past productions, has been staged readers-theater-style with actors sitting on stools. The latter approach has value, certainly, because these stories of six former death-row inmates are inherently rich and heart-wrenching. What Levin does, though, is emphasize the theater over the reading, trusting that a Unicorn audience has already done its homework. In the graceful way it brings real tragedy into dramatic focus, the show recalls the brilliant docudrama The Laramie Project. Through May 22 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529.
A Gathering of Gangsters Seventy years before Kansas City had its first gangsta, it was teeming with gangsters — the kind whose bling consisted of white spats and a fedora. Union Station is the hub for the kickoff show from a new theater troupe whose interactive mysteries (with dinner) befit the historic setting. The first one’s set in 1933, the year of the infamous massacre, and concerns a gang of ne’er-do-wells whose train is nearing the station. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through July 9 at Union Station, 30 W. Pershing, 816-813-9654.
Go, Dog, Go! Theatre for Young America’s new show is based on a vintage children’s book by P.D. Eastman, whose credits include Mr. Magoo scripts and a collaboration with the genre’s godfather, Dr. Seuss, on The Cat in the Hat Dictionary. Director Valerie Mackey takes advantage of the book’s eye-popping illustrations and repetitious prose to create a physical romp that embraces all mixes of canine diversity. Assisting a show geared to the youngest of audiences are such TYA veterans as Parry Luellen and Chris Clegg. Through May 20 at Theatre for Young America, 5909 Johnson Dr. in Mission, 913-831-2131.
The Great God Brown When producers and theater companies consider revivals from the Eugene O’Neill canon, they usually go for the gusto of such angsty epics as Long Day’s Journey Into Night or The Iceman Cometh. The up-and-coming Cinnamon Eye company stages instead this offering that premiered on Broadway in 1926 and, though relatively obscure, remained one of the author’s pet projects. This rather experimental play explores themes of creative and romantic jealousy filtered through the idea that we all wear masks to hide the fear and pain bubbling beneath our surfaces. Said the author, “I shall always regard this as the one miracle that ever happened in the New York theater.” May 12-14 at Westport Coffee House, 4010 Pennsylvania, 816-756-3222.
Murder at the Alcott A sock hop circa 1955 is the setting for yet another interactive murder mystery, a thriving genre lately that Kansas Citians are seemingly taking to like forensic detectives to carpet fibers. There are, though, a couple of things that make this one oddly intriguing. For starters, it bears the stamp of Minds Eye Theatre, a company whose track record includes the ultraviolent A Clockwork Orange. Curioser still is the peculiar venue: an old high school on the block of South 18th Street in Kansas City, Kansas, that also houses an abandoned truck-stop diner and a seedy hotel. And among the characters is a type that’s historically ignored yet ripe with theatrical potential: a school nurse. May 13 and 14 at the Alcott Arts Center Theatre, 180 S. 18th Street in Kansas City, Kansas, 913-233-2787.
Perfect Wedding If this comedy by Robin Hawdon has any deep message, it’s probably that weddings should not occur in the same hotel where there was a bachelor party the night before. Using such elements of classic farce as mistaken identity and slamming doors, the play sabotages its title event with a series of mishaps, not least of which involves a member of the wedding party who is erroneously thought to be a call girl. Glenn Pierce directs the six actors who play the betrothed, various friends and relatives, and the ever-ripe-for-ridicule mother of the bride. Through May 21 at the Olathe Community Theater, 500 E. Loula, 913-782-2990.
Rockula! Late Night Theatre’s new show, subtitled The Hair Band Vampire Musical, is just as cheesy as the name implies. But who farms cheese better than Late Night? Ron Megee’s script about, well, a vampire hair band from the 1980s, is at once a witty homage to the banality of VH1’s Behind the Music series and an artful celebration of how metal and goth drink from the same trough. And there are elements of classic Greek theater in the way the company spills blood. It’s an ambitious piece of work yet doesn’t take itself too seriously — after all, there’s a production number staged to Ram Jam’s “Black Betty.” Through May 21 at Late Night Theatre, 1531 Grand, 816-235-6222.
The Stinky Cheese Man Any show featuring both local diva Cathy Barnett and the theater scene’s reigning teen idol, Sam Cordes, elicits buzz. Such is the case with John Glore’s adaptation of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s tweaking and blurring of such familiar characters from children’s literature as Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella, blended here into Cinderumpelstiltskin. Director Missy Koonce has the wit to pull off such tales within tales as “The Boy Who Cried Cow Patty,” and William Hill’s costumes are rumored to be mind-blowing. Through May 15 at the Coterie, 2450 Grand, 816-474-6552.
Trains Across America Of all the suggestions thrown on the table the past couple of years to boost attendance at Union Station, who would have thought the answer would be found with Kansas City’s theater community? The past month alone, audiences could take in the U.S. premiere of the Kansas City Rep’s Young Lady from Rwanda or an interactive murder mystery from the new Mystery Train company. The latest entry, from Theatre for Young America, promises adventure, drama and humor in a show that salutes — not surprisingly, given the venue — the importance of trains in American history. It is written and performed by Danny Cox, who is simultaneously moonlighting in the Unicorn’s drama The Exonerated. Through May 21 at Union Station’s H&R Block City Stage Theater, 30 W. Pershing, 816-460-2020.
Tuesdays With Morrie Mitch Albom, recently on the best-seller list with The Five People You Meet in Heaven, first gained national attention with the book that Oprah Winfrey turned into an Emmy-winning TV movie. Craig Benton plays the character based on Albom, a sports writer who makes weekly pilgrimages to the bedside of his dying mentor, played by Richard Alan Nichols. If it ends up being something more than the equivalent of a Lifetime movie on testosterone, the thanks can go to director Donna Thomason, whose last project was the unexpectedly fabulous Affluenza. Through June 26 at the American Heartland Theatre, 2420 Grand, 816-842-9999.