At Tuesday's preview performance of the Mississippi Bend Players' The Santaland Diaries at Augustana College, I had everything I needed for a respite from the relentless, forced holiday cheer outside. I had my seat in a cozy venue among a small passel of students revved up for their imminent academic break. I had a play by David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers. I had another lovely (and festively sparkly) Augustana set to gaze at, this one by technical director and scenic/lighting designer Mark Lohman. I had Keenan Odenkirk, one of my favorite actors. I had my cynical holiday exasperation dialed up to eight. It was the perfect storm.

Entering any theatre venue usually puts me in a good mood. A few places resonate especially deeply inside me. For instance, I love walking into Allaert Auditorium in the Galvin Fine Arts Center on the St. Ambrose University campus. It was my home-away-from home before, during, and after my four years of theatre study there.

I was fortunate to attend Tuesday's rehearsal of Augustana College's current offering She Kills Monsters by playwright Qui Nguyen. Director Jeff Coussens and assistant director James Wheeler did stunning work in creating this ambitious production. When we enter the theatre, the stark stone ledges and pre-show music tell us that the show takes place (mostly) in a magical fantasy world, and the set comes to vigorous life after video screens light up, employing film, photos, computer animation, and amusing eight-bit color graphics to establish and enhance settings. I've rarely seen, in local presentations, stagecraft this sophisticated.

Prescription: Murder is the final show in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's 90th season, which consisted of 11 productions in as many months. (After this, Barn members are taking a well-deserved rest of a month or so before staging their next presentation in February.) I saw Friday's opening-night performance, and if any of the cast, crew, and staff are exhausted from their busy year, it certainly wasn't apparent. Everything flowed.

I attended the Wednesday preview performance of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Elf: The Musical, and director Jeremy Littlejohn and musical director Travis Smith have clearly concocted a sweet, fluffy treat. The songs may be standard fare, but they're given freshness by the performers, as well as the beautiful costuming by Greg Hiatt.

From the moment I entered the QC Theatre Workshop for Friday's opening-night performance of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, my head was in a different place than ever before – literally, as the stage and the seating had swapped places since my last visit. From the moment the final spotlight died, my head has been in a different place figuratively. Edward Albee's show, which debuted on Broadway in 2002 and won that year's Tony for Best Play, stirred thoughts and ideas that I'm still pondering.

I attended Tuesday's rehearsal of playwright Michael Frayn's Noises Off at Augustana College's Brunner Theatre, and I have a question: Is it possible for Augustana's students to present a lackluster production? Director Jennifer Popple, her cast, and her crew brought a very challenging script to life.

As an offering in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Barn Owl Series comprised of newer shows with lower ticket prices, 4000 Miles runs for only three days, so you can't put off seeing it this weekend. You also can't put off seeing it because … . Well, you just can't. With its compelling script by Amy Herzog and the talents of director Jennifer Kingry and her crew and cast, this particular production has the pedigree to be a must-see show, and it proves its lineage.

The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Singin' in the Rain will have you laughin' at clouds, no matter how dark the weather. The 1983 musical is based on the beloved 1952 film, with its screenplay (and the musical's book) by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed writing music and lyrics for most of its tunes, many of which are borrowed from 1920s and 1930s films (by MGM, natch, which concocted this film). Thus, the show is in many ways a jukebox musical, and Circa '21's production uses the 2012 revival's script, which is a pared-down and shuffled version of the original.

The roots of the play The 39 Steps were in a 1915 magazine serial by Scottish novelist John Buchan, which became a popular novel, which spawned four more books about its protagonist. It was adapted for film three times, notably (and to great acclaim) by Alfred Hitchcock, and once for television. The first version of the play, written by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and billed as a "parody," toured in 1995. Patrick Barlow consequently rewrote their script, premiering his adaptation in London in 2005. His version hopped the pond to become a long-running Broadway smash, nominated for six Tonys in 2008 (including Best Play) and winning two. This month, more than 100 years later, a form of Buchan's story is playing live at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre. And I highly recommend you see this ingeniously staged, well-performed lark of a show.

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