Stage Capsule Reviews
Black Snow Director Barry Kyle, UMKC’s big get from the Royal Shakespeare Company, follows up last winter’s thrillingly inventive Maid’s Tragedy with an adaptation of the Soviet satirist Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Black Snow. It’s a snug thematic fit with the school’s recent adaptation of The Trial. Steeped in Eastern-bloc absurdism, the play — based on a novel about adapting a novel into a play — spins a tale of artistic frustration that, for all its laughs, is no less dark than Kafka’s. UMKC’s graduate theater department is thick with inspired techies and daring performers; given such material and a vision as alive as Kyle’s, this should be an event. Through Saturday, April 15, at UMKC’s Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-6222.
Give ’em Hell, Harry They keep bringing it back, so we’ll keep wishing the script warranted it. Writer Samuel Gallu flatters Missourians for being — like his Harry Truman — straight-talking truth tellers, so it’s my duty to report that this show is a heap of hagiographic piffle, giving us a gabby Truman who jaws at us from the Oval Office like we’re squatting ’round the cracker barrel. The KC Rep’s production is impeccably staged, and Gary Neal Johnson is a marvel as Truman, but the script is rotten through and through, spending more time on lawn mowing than on atomic-bomb dropping and selling us a president who never made a mistake or had a regret. By nodding along, we buy into the same idiotic conviction that lets George W. Bush feel confident that a president — any president — might be infallible. Through April 23 at Union Station’s City Stage, 30 West Pershing Rd., 816-235-2700. (Reviewed in our Oct. 27 issue.)
Jesus Christ Superstar Nothing we can say could stop the gospel according to Lloyd Webber from coming back so damn often, so we’ll just remark upon the show’s epic garishness and move on … except to point out that, though we get this show four times a year, its supposedly true-life inspiration hasn’t come back once. Maybe he’d hurry if he had better musicals to catch. That said, likable names stud the cast list, and the Barn Players (one of our oldest and best-regarded community theaters) earned raves recently for Stalag 17. Through April 30 at the Barn Players, 6219 Martway in Mission, 913-432-9100.
The Last Five Years Following one couple through the ups and downs of courtship, marriage and separation, The Last Five Years treats its material with thematic and narrative complexity. Each lover tells his or her story simultaneously: Trick is, he starts with the hookup, and she works back from the breakup. Director Steven Eubank is still young enough to be called a phenom, but lately he’s teaming up with established pros instead of going it alone — in this case, with TBA Players’ Ellen Miles. Through April 30 at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central, 816-784-5020.
Married Alive! Following the travails of two married couples, one just hitched and one just bitching, this world-premiere sketch-comedy musical digs into what folks do after “I do.” A couple of grand comic songs, excellent performances from all four leads (especially Kansas City mainstay James Wright, a dead ringer here for a boss from a 1950s sitcom, as the curmudgeonly older husband), and an inventive set lightly inspired by game shows convince us to hold our peace. Married Alive! isn’t perfect, but committing to it doesn’t mean that you’re settling. Through April 23 at the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999. (Reviewed in our March 23 issue.)
The Miracle Worker Here, again, the feel-good half of the Helen Keller story: how Annie Sullivan, inspired at a water pump, helped the deaf and blind girl connect with language. A human triumph, to be sure, but just for once could we have Keller’s later-in-life humane triumphs, such as anti-war activism or her fiery books and speeches attacking the exploitation of the working class? We thrill at the miracle that is Keller learning to speak but do our damnedest never to hear what she has to say. The play’s as good as you remember from high school, though. Through April 23 at Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 New Hampshire, 785-843-7469.
Vote (Twice) for Murder More murder-as-an-appetizer interactive theater from the Mystery Train, the inventive local company that spices its comic mysteries with Kansas City history. In this case, it’s election time in the Prohibition era, with diners taking the part of passengers on a KC-bound train. As always, a corpse turns up, and everyone (including you, your date and your grandmother) is a suspect. The homegrown scripts tend to twist wittily, and audience contributions are often hilarious. And we’ve never guessed the killer. Thursdays through Saturdays through June 10 at the Hereford House Restaurant, 2 E. 20th St., 816-813-9654.