By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Fa la la la la! Local stages are the gift that keeps on giving this holiday season. We have merry, bright and thoughtful holiday productions opening and continuing, so pick from the pile of presents under the tree – “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” “A Christmas Story,” “All is Calm.” “Away in a Basement: Church Basement Ladies Christmas” and a “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” parody.
Comedies and dramas are presented by college theater departments: “The Crucible” at Saint Louis University, “Beyond Therapy” at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and “The Three Sisters” at Webster University.
For adult comedies pondering life, “Every Brilliant Thing” wraps up its run, “An Act of God” starts.
You are certain to find something that suits your tastes. Go see a play!
Alan Knoll in “An Act of God.” Photo by Eric Woolsey“An Act of God”
New Jewish Theater
Nov. 29 – Dec. 16
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Wool Studio Theatre
Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus, Creve Coeurwww.newjewishtheatre.org
314-442-3283.
What It’s About: Delivering a new and improved set of Commandments, God’s introduction of the revised laws is positive, insisting on separation of church and state, and encouraging us to believe in ourselves, not some elderly white guy in the sky. He sets the record straight, and he’s not holding back.
Director: Edward Coffield
Starring: Alan Knoll
 
“All Is Calm”Ann K Photography“All Is Calm”
Mustard Seed Theatre
Nov. 15 – Dec. 16
Thursdays through Sundays
Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre
6800 Wydown Blvd.www.mustardseedtheatre.com
314-719-8060
What It’s About:  Celebrate the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets.
Director: Deanna Jent
 “Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas”The Playhouse @ Westport
Nov. 8 – Jan. 6
635 Westport Plaza in Maryland Heightswww.playhouseatwestport.com
MetroTix: www.metrotix.com or 314-534-1111
What It’s About: An all-new holiday show is set in 1959, on the day of the Sunday School Christmas Program. During holiday preparations, the down-to-earth ladies are creating their own memories from Christmases past and present. Content to do things the way they have always been done, yet pondering new ideas, the reality of everyday life hits home as they plan the Sunday School Christmas Program.
As the children rehearse in the sanctuary, several of the ladies are in the kitchen finishing up the treat bags filled with apples, peanuts and ribbon candy while the others put the final touches on the nativity pieces. As they mend old bathrobe costumes, discuss the politics of who’s going to play the various roles, little do the ladies know what surprises are in store for them.
Known for their hilarious antics and subtle charm, they are once again called upon to step in and save the day!
Directors: Lee Anne Mathews and Emily Clinger, with music direction by Joseph Dreyer
Cast: Rosemary Watts, Lee Anne Mathews,
Of Note: Performances are Sundays and Tuesdays at 2 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 2 p.m., Saturdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Additionally, tickets will be available at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza box office one hour prior to show time. Groups of 10 or more can call 314-616-4455 for special rates.
All five installments of the musical comedy “Church Basement Ladies” are inspired by the books of author/humorists Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson, including the bestseller “Growing Up Lutheran.”
“Beyond Therapy”
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Nov. 28 – Dec. 2
Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Dunham Hall Theater
618-650-2774
www.siue.edu
“A Christmas Carol”
Nov. 29 – Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Lindenwood University
Schediegger Center for the Arts, St. Charleswww.lindenwood.edu
What It’s About: An annual tradition, presenting Charles Dickens” “A Christmas Carol,” timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey through time and space, forced to confront his past, present and future through the aid of his spiritual guides.
“A Christmas Story”
Curtain’s Up Theater
Nov. 29 – Dec. 2
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City
www.curtainsuptheater.com

 
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Nov. 28 – Dec. 23
Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Centerwww.repstl.org
314-968-4925
What It’s About: “You’ll shoot your eye out”! An adaptation of the classic holiday film, “A Christmas Story” is about Ralphie Parker’s quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Filled with small-town family vignettes and colorful characters,
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Charlie Matthis, as nine-year-old Ralphie, and Ted Deasy, as the grown-up Ralph who narrates the play.
Brad Fraizer is The Old Man, Laurel Casillo is Mother, Spencer Slavik is younger brother Randy, Jo Twiss is Miss Shields. Tanner Gilbertson, Gigi Koster, Ana McAlister, Rhadi Smith and Dan J. Wolfe are featured child performers.
Of Note: The show had an acclaimed run at The Rep in 2009. “A Christmas Story”
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
“The Crucible”
St. Louis University Theatre
Nov. 29 – Dec. 2
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall
314-977-3327www.slu.edu/utheatre
Tickets through Metrotix.com or 314.534-1111 or at the door
What It’s About:  The 1953 Tony Award winner for Best Play is a powerful drama about the Salem witch trials. The story of one Puritan community reveals the destruction caused by mass hysteria and socially sanctioned violence.
Director: Lucy Cashion
“Every Brilliant Thing”R-S Theatrics
Nov. 16 – Dec. 2
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.
Kranzberg Arts Center black box theatre
www.r-stheatrics.com
What It’s About: When a six-year-old starts a list of every brilliant thing in life to encourage her despondent mother, little does she know that the list will take on a life of its own and thread its way throughout the girl’s life. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this one-woman show reminds us to celebrate the beauty in our lives and in those we love.
Starring: Nancy Nigh
Ron james photo“The Holiday Stop-Motion Extravaganza Parody”
Nov. 30 – Dec. 8
St. Louis Shakespeare’s Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
Regional Arts Commission,  in University City
Friday and Saturday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 – 8 p.m. show; Dec. 2 – 2 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 5 and 6, 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7 and 8, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3739606
What It’s About: Join Rudolph, Santa, Hermey, Bumble, the Miser Bros and other wonderful misfits as they parody your favorite 1970s childhood holiday shows by Rankin/Bass. If you’ve ever had aspirations of becoming a dentist, this parody is for you! This parody includes: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “The Year Without Santa Claus.”
Director: Suki Peters
Of Note: Magic Smoking Monkey is partnering with Shriner’s Hospital to help make the holidays merry and bright for children in the St. Louis area.  Bring a new, unwrapped toy to the box office with you on any night of the performance to be entered in a special drawing to win 4 tickets to a future Magic Smoking Monkey production.
 “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Wentzville Christian Church Theatre Group
Nov. 29 – Dec. 1
Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at noon and 6 p.m.
Wentzville Christian Church, 1507 Highway Zwww.wentzvillecc.org
What It’s About: In our American culture It’s a Wonderful Life has become almost as familiar as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story is a natural for a stage adaptation: the saga of George Bailey, the Everyman from the small town of Bedford Falls, whose dreams of escape and adventure have been quashed by family obligation and civic duty, whose guardian angel has to descent on Christmas Eve to save him from despair and to remind him-by showing him what the world would have been like had he never been born-that his has been, after all, a wonderful life.
“It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Play”
Nov. 29 – Dec. 1
The Bankside Repertory Theatre Company                                                                                          The Jacoby Arts Center
627 E. Broadway in Alton
www.banksiderep.com
What It’s about: This beloved American holiday classic comes to captivating life as a live 1940s radio broadcast. With the help of an ensemble that brings a few dozen characters to the stage, the story of idealistic George Bailey unfolds as he considers ending his life one fateful Christmas Eve.
Starring: Spencer Sickman, Caitlin Mickey, Mindy Steinman Shaw, Scott Grady, Jack Dearborn, Steve Potter, Lorian Warford, Lorian Warford, Olivia Steele, and Nick Trapp.
“The Three Sisters”
Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts
Nov. 28 – Dec. 9
Wednesday through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Emerson Studio Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center
Webster University campus.www.webster.edu
314-968-7128
What It’s About: Adapted by Sarah Ruhl, the Chekhov play is about three sisters trapped in a provincial Russian town after the death of their father, and lament the passing of better times and long for the excitement of Moscow. One of them has married a local teacher; another has become a teacher herself; the third has settled for a dull job in the local telegraph office. Their principal interest is focused on the officers of the local regiment, of which their father had been commandant, men who bring a sense of sophistication and the world outside to their suppressed existence. In the end the fateful pattern of their lives is made clear –their dreams will be denied but, despite all, there must always be hope, however futile, and the ways of the world are to be accepted, if not understood
Actor Miles Barbee, provided photo“Tribes”
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Nov. 30 – Dec. 16
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle.
314-458-2978www.stlas.org
What It’s About: Billy was born deaf into a hearing family. He was raised inside its fiercely idiosyncratic and politically incorrect cocoon. He has adapted brilliantly to his family’s unconventional ways, but they’ve never bothered to return the favor. It’s not until he meets Sylvia, a young woman on the brink of deafness, that he finally understands what it means to be understood.
Director: Annamaria Pileggi
Starring: Miles Barbee, who is deaf; Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Bridget Bassa, Elizabeth Townsend, Greg Johnston and Hailey Medrano.
Of Note: This comedy-drama by Nina Raine was staged in London in 2010 and off-Broadway in 2012, winning the Drama Desk Award for Best New Play.
William Roth, founder and artistic director of St. Louis Actors’ Studio, has announced that they will donate $2 of each ticket price to Deaf Inc, St. Louis. Deaf Inc is dedicated to providing effective communication access to the deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals in the St. Louis area. For more on this organization, visit www.deafinc.org.
Opening Night and all Sunday and Thursday performances will be sign-interpreted for our deaf patrons. Email [email protected] for details.
For more on Miles Barbee, visit www.milesbarbee.com.
Shannon Cothran and Alicia Reve Like“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock n Roll Adventure”
Metro Theatre Company
Dec. 2 – Dec. 30
The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center
www.metroplays.org
What It’s About: Part rock concert, part theater, all of your favorite characters as Metro Theater Company presents this new, wild and wondrous take on Lewis Carroll’s beloved, poetic tale of self-actualization. A cast of actors/musicians plays an eclectic mix of everything from soul and rock to punk to ska as Alice chases through Wonderland in search of her own inner musical voice. A fun, hip, and refreshing fusion of music, theatre and poetry, it is the search for one’s authentic self, asking how can you march to the beat of your own drummer when you’re still writing the song? It places Alice in a strange, new world, where she conquers her fears and uses her musical skills to defeat the Jabberwock.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Something so simple yet so profound, “Every Brilliant Thing” harnesses the euphoria of a fresh outlook, the childlike wonder of a new discovery and the bittersweet touchstones of love, loss and laughter.
This bracing 65-minute monologue mixes comedy and tragedy into a potent aperitif, for this timeless message is especially poignant this holiday season.
The narrator is the adult daughter of a mother whose chronic depression altered her emotional development and life perspective. She was 7 when her mother first attempted suicide.
In the intimate setting of the Kranzberg Arts Center black box theater, Nancy Nigh takes us on the narrator’s heart-wrenching and humorous personal journey through the lens of her own creative balm.

It started as a child’s sunny list of life’s very best offerings to cheer up her despondent mom — 1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV, 4. The color yellow, and so on. Then turned into a lifeline, a burden and a security blanket during adolescence, college, marriage, bumpy roads and eventually, peace and acceptance.
The list is as broad as 11. Bed and 1006. Surprises – who can argue, right? – and as specific as 2390. People who can’t sing but either don’t know or don’t care and 1654. Christopher Walken’s voice.
The list eventually grew to a million, with entries as clever as 123321. Palindromes, as funny as 7. People falling over, as adorable as 575. Piglets, as pleasurable as 9997. Being cooked for, and as nostalgic as 315. The smell of an old book.
It’s quite a feat. And compulsive list-makers can identify, as well as people who feel helpless when they can’t protect, control or prevent family members from harm.
Alone surrounded by the audience, Nigh is crucial to the mood. To make us comfortable, she must be both vulnerable and strong, relaxed yet firm.
After all, the rollercoaster ride of emotions will affect us in a deeply personal way – and she must be a safety net. And vice versa — we’re hers.
Audience interaction and participation are essential elements that keep the one-woman show unpredictable and improvisational.
The one-act play was first produced in England, at the 2013 Ludlum Fringe Festival, and started out as a short story called “Sleevenotes” by Duncan McMillan. For the stage, he involved comedian Jonny Donahue, who was filmed for the 2016 HBO presentation.
The play’s specialness is its authentic lived-in quality, mixing the merry and the morose in such a way to connect us all.
Free of any artifice, Nigh guides us without missing a beat. The narrator is not merely reciting a litany of her favorite things, therefore we tag along through key turning points in her life.
The narrator becomes the director, telling a few people what to say and where to move. Some are just called on to read list entries. Nigh does so effortlessly, with an easy charm.
She also conveys the narrator’s bravery, for the hardest things to talk about are things we should talk about – and this play allows us to, for catharsis can come out of crushing sadness. She has earned this accomplishment.
Director Tom Kopp keeps Nigh on the move, so she’s not for long in any one corner. The staging is in the storytelling. Taking part is very natural – not awkward or embarrassing, or cringe-inducing.
A nice touch is how important music is to the people in the story, from her father’s influential record collection to the sublime sounds of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.”
McMillan’s descriptive writing has woven in research about clinical depression, and the shadow of suicide lingers. As heart-wrenching as it is humorous, the play has an ebb and flow, not unlike the song ‘Sunrise, Sunset.”
Yet it never feels less than real, and there is no sugar-coating. If it triggers anything, an usher lets you know beforehand that it’s OK to leave for a bit.
In an uplifting and inspiring way, the play urges us to celebrate the small pleasures of life. Now. Don’t wait for moments – let them in, be open to them.
How can you not smile at 521. The word plinth, or 536. Winning something?
“Every Brilliant Thing” is a comforting and joyous reminder of the random moments that make a life.
Above all, this R-S Theatrics’ presentation stresses kindness. Above all, kindness. We know that this play hits too close to home for so many. We all want to say things may not always be brilliant, but they do get better – before it’s too late. The program includes information on CHADS Coalition for Mental Health, resources, crisis hotline numbers and tips.
R-S Theatrics presents “Every Brilliant Thing” Nov. 16 – Dec. 2, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Kranzberg Black Box, 501 N. Grand Blvd. For tickets, visit. www.r-stheatrics.com or call 314-252-8812.
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