Brody-Tucker Ford, Sam Jones, and Brooke Schelly in The PillowmanDuring Friday's performance, the QC Theatre Workshop's The Pillowman had me in stitches. While I didn't laugh loudly often, I did chuckle repeatedly throughout the performance, only subduing my laughs out of concern that the subject of my delight was too dark to be funny. But playwright Martin McDonagh's dark comedy is both unquestionably dark and outrageously funny. I mean, it has a young girl (Laila Haley) who considers herself Christ-like proclaiming, "I don't think I'm Jesus. I [effing] am Jesus!" That is some dark comedy.

Sara Laufer, Stacy Herrick, Archie Williams, and Elizabeth Buzard in Murder on the RerunThere's an early point in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Murder on the Run in which Sara Laufer's angel-to-be Kitty follows her explanation of the "rules" behind playwright Fred Carmichael's universe by saying to the audience, "I bet you're really confused, right?" Um, no. You just explained the story's rules very clearly and in great detail. And this exposes one of the flaws of Carmichael's writing: He makes sure absolutely nothing is left to the imagination. But at least the setup to this comedic murder mystery, though a bit convoluted, is kind of fascinating.

Paul G. Nelson, Erin Churchill, and Kenton Fridley in Route 66The plot twists and turns, or lack thereof, are visible from a mile away in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's production of Route 66. This boy-meets-girl musical has few surprises, and the outcome is abundantly clear from the moment Erin Churchill's aspiring writer Liz meets Kenton Fridley's freewheeling photographer Drew; they're like oil and water, but you know they're going to blend in the end. Even so, Circa '21's romantic comedy is a delight, boasting endearing charm in spades and one catchy tune after another.

Matt Moody in Timon of AthensI came across a quote this past week that read: "A true friend talks trash to your face and is fiercely loyal behind your back." While the sentiment came to my attention at a particularly poignant time for me personally, it also fits almost perfectly with the core theme in William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, currently being presented by the Prenzie Players.

Harvey and Mike Kelly in HarveyI've not seen the Jimmy Stewart take on playwright Mary Chase's Harvey, so I cannot attest whether the movie's fans will appreciate the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's production. However, in the absence of any comparison, I can say that I liked this presentation and now want to see the film - though it'll have to successfully stand up against director James Fairchild's version, rather than the other way around.

Grant Alexander Brown and Charles Benson in Big RiverIt struck me, during Saturday's matinée performance of Big River at the Timber Lake Playhouse, that theatre is my church, considering I repeatedly wanted to raise my hands in praise and shout "Amen!" at various points, and in ways I used to while attending Sunday services in my younger years. Theatre, for me, is a spiritual experience, and this Big River served as a big-tent revival that reminded me of that truth.

Anthony Natarelli, Liv Lyman, Erin Platt, Sara Wegener, Nancy Teerlinck, Jason Platt, Jennifer Sondgeroth, David Miller, and Christopher Tracy in The Addams FamilyTaking The Addams Family as a sign, I'm excited about the District Theatre's future in downtown Rock Island's former Argus building, and while there are still a few growing pains to overcome, the company is clearly off to a good start.

Josh Wielenga, A.J. Evans, and Greg Bouljon in Down to EarthA poorly written script isn't enough to derail the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Down to Earth. While I've never before thought "Too much exposition!" as much as I did during Thursday's performance, I still enjoyed director Joe DePauw's presentation of playwright Bettye Knapp's weak "comedy fantasy" about angels coming to Earth.

John Whitson, Heather Herkelman, Brennan Hampton, and Ted Brown in Mary PoppinsWhile I expected to enjoy Quad City Music Guild's Mary Poppins on Friday, I didn't anticipate being as mesmerized as I was by this stage adaptation of the Disney film. The movie's songs by Robert and Richard Sherman are there, with additional tunes by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and a book by Julian Fellowes that adds elements from P.L. Travers' children's-lit classic. And the result, while three hours long, is an improvement on its cinematic inspiration, with the additional material even more interesting than the familiar story elements.

Kriss Doss, Aaron Brakefield, Christian Chambers, Daniella Dalli, Livvy Marcus, and Jonathan Young in Next to NormalThursday's performance of Next to Normal didn't appear as well-attended as the rest of the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's opening nights this summer. Yet while this musical trip through a family's struggle with the mother's mental issues may not be as familiar as a Cats or Steel Magnolias, this isn't a piece to miss. The songs by Tom Kitt and book by Brian Yorkey are powerful testimonies to the reality of mental illness for those who suffer from it, and those who suffer through it alongside a loved one.

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