Kevin Brake, Don Hazen, Mike Kelly, Paul Workman, and Vicki Deusinger in See How They RunSee How They Run, currently being staged at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre, is described on the venue's Web site as "a classic farce of mistaken identity and slamming doors." But in actuality, only two parts of that three-part statement turn out to be accurate.

Alysha McElroy-Hodges, Shellie Moore Guy, Curtis Lewis, Paul-Richard Pierre, and Shanna Nicole Cramer in A Raisin in the SunArea performer and radio-show host Shellie Moore Guy is slender in frame, and not particularly tall. Yet in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's presentation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, the actress -- in her role as matriarch Lena Younger -- projects such expansive love, pride, and strength of character that she appears larger than life. Lena's adult children, Walter Lee (Curtis Lewis) and Beneatha (Alysha McElroy-Hodges), may tower over her, but there's never any doubt that Guy's selfless, resolutely devout mother is the one in charge; she guides both her family and Hansberry's drama with an impassioned righteousness that would be mythic if it weren't so complexly structured, and so wonderfully human.

Xavier Marshall and Curtis Lewis in A Raisin in the Sun"Literally thousands of people have come through this building to perform on our stage," says Craig Michaels, past president of the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's board of directors. "But without demeaning or belittling any of the work that's been done here over the years, I was finding that I didn't feel the entire community was properly represented within our building, both on our stage and behind the scenes."

Anna Tunnicliff, Jamie Em Johnson, and Andrea Braddy in The Children's HourOriginally produced in 1934, Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour - the current presentation at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre - concerns a monstrous little boarding-school brat who falsely accuses her headmistresses of engaging in a lesbian affair, a charge that leads to parental panic, financial ruin, and the destruction of several lives. In an era that finds the Iowa Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, Hellman's melodrama now seems more like a museum piece than it would have even two months ago, and so it was wise of director Patti Flaherty to set her production firmly in the past - even though that past feels less like the 20th Century than 400 BC.

Monta Ponsetto, Gary Koos, and Jeff Adamson in Murder at the Howard Johnson'sFew things are tougher, or more pointless, to explain than the reasoning behind why a joke is funny. I think I've got a topper, though: The reasoning for why a joke isn't funny - at least to you - even though a hundred-plus people are roaring at it.

Chris Walljasper and Jaci Entwisle in Promises Promises Chris Walljasper isn't exactly a new face in area theatre, as the actor (and recent co-founder of Davenport's Harrison Hilltop Theatre) appeared in Genesius Guild's and Opera @ Augustana's Patience last year summer, the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story this past winter, and, most memorably, Carousel and A Year with Frog & Toad for Rock Island's The Green Room.

Yet it's entirely conceivable that audiences for the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Promises, Promises will watch his performance and, on the drive home, ask one another, "Who was that guy?", because Walljasper is delivering the sort of terrifically engaging and endearing musical-comedy turn that makes you wonder why you haven't seen even more of him.

Christopher Tracy, Jean Lupoli, and Pamela Crouch

In the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's current production of Anybody for Murder?, Christopher Tracy plays Max Harrington, a seemingly mild-mannered gentleman who, through the course of the play, will attempt to murder his wife, convince his girlfriend to assume her identity, attempt to murder his girlfriend, drug potential witnesses, and lie to everyone he comes in contact with. Yet while Max may be a monster, it's pretty apparent that Tracy himself is just about the best friend a moderately funny comedic thriller could ask for.

the Uh-Oh, Here Comes Christmas ensemble At last Monday's well-attended preview performance of the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Uh-Oh, Here Comes Christmas, most of the mostly senior audience seemed delighted by the show.

"Aida"There seems to be a pretty safe rule of thumb regarding the productions at Quad City Music Guild and the Richmond Hill and Playcrafters Barn theatres: When the actors appear to believe in their material (whether that material is strong or weak), the shows are terrific, and when they don't, they're not.

About four months ago, my schedule forced me to catch the first dress rehearsal of Playcrafters' Over the River & through the Woods as opposed to a paid performance, and so I took some personal responsibility for my dissatisfaction with the show; a lot of what seemed to be lacking, I thought, could easily have improved by opening night. It seemed a little unfair to be critiquing a rehearsal. (What better place to err than rehearsal?)

Well, circumstances dictated that I again catch a Playcrafters production before its official opening - I saw the Barn Theatre's Sweet & Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen at a preview on Monday, May 8 - for which I apologize. But I don't apologize much, because this revue already has the right spirit and a host of good feelings (and good performances) exuding from it. This didn't feel like a rehearsal; it felt like a performance, and a delightful one.

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