In The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]director Brent Tubbs has taken the dreary health precautions we've become inured to and turned them into comedic assets.

Family. Love. Money. Major occupiers of our time; continual goals and sources of both stress and joy. We want them and work for them, or in spite of them. They facilitate our dreams, or get in their way. We race toward our desires until Death, who always wins, tells us we're done.

English people have a deserved reputation for rigid politeness, avoiding embarrassment, and keeping improprieties secret. These personality traits help drive much of the comedy of English farces. They drive this English story in an entirely different direction. Inside the proper tea kettle of this crowd, there's a bubbling mass of depravity and perversion threatening to boil, shriek, and spew forth secrets. Here, the unspeakable is spoken – for the most part … eventually … – with plenty of mystery yet to wonder over.

The Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Their Town is this season's first production in the venue's Barn Owl series of newer (or debuting) plays, and this year, all four “Barn Owls” are by local authors. Playwright Alexander Richardson has not only kicked off the 2020 series with a strong script, but has also, along with his and director Elizabeth Melville's cast and crew, given the upcoming presentations much to live up to.

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.

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