Kevin Pieper and Tom Naab in A Christmas Carol

I love the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol. You know: The one about Ebenezer Scrooge – that cantankerous old skinflint who defined the term “hostile workplace” by treating his lone employee (and everyone else, for that matter) like the dirt beneath his well-worn shoe? To save his soul, the spirit world sends three ghosts on Christmas Eve who unveil aspects of Scrooge’s life, and the lives of those around him, that facilitate a much-needed change in his withered, cold heart. Because of this experience, he transforms into a man of enlightenment and generosity, helping his community and those closest to him.

Lindsay Achenbach, Jonathan Grafft, and Vicki Deusinger in Flowers for Algernon

The awe and mystery behind the technical workings of the brain are topics that have been explored for ages, and in 1966, author Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon was published, his brain-y themes diving deep into our fundamental humanity and the costs of scientific ventures versus their rewards. Having read and enjoyed the novel in high school, I re-read it before seeing the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's and playwright David Rogers' stage adaptation, and am happy to say that director Dana Moss-Peterson and his cast provided an evening of thought-provoking theatre with relatable characters – one that was true to the book and, for me, just as moving.

Bryan Woods, Stacy McKean Herrick, Angela Rathman, Rebecca McCorkle, and Martha O'Connell in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare AbridgedThe Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a loosely staged, sloppy mess of the comedy by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. In presenting (almost) every single one of Shakespeare's plays in about an hour and a half plus intermission, director Tom Morrow didn't seem to give his five actors much in the way of blocking, leaving them to frequently mill about or form awkward clumps. Yet it's this unrefined quality that turns out to be the production's chief strength; it's all the more delightful for feeling less like a scripted piece than an improv show.

Jason Platt and Ed Villarreal in The 39 StepsJudging by Friday's performance of The 39 Steps at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre, it's apparent that director Tom Morrow likes sight gags and British humor. He handles playwright Patrick Barlow's comically melodramatic take on the 1915 spy thriller - and Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film - with care, avoiding over-the-top staging but highlighting the humor in ways that elicit a lot of laughs. (Whereas overselling the gags would likely elicit groans.)

Tom Morrow, Sandy Glass, Hannah McNaught, and Dana Moss-Peterson in Leaving IowaIt doesn't happen often, especially if you attend a lot of local theatre - where the on-stage faces tend to become familiar ones. But every once in a while, you'll be at a production that you're really enjoying, and gradually realize that you're routinely focusing on one performer above the others - and asking yourself, with a grin, "Who is that?"

Pam Kobre, Hannah  McNaught, Don Faust, Dana Moss-Peterson, and Taylor Apple in Leaving IowaDescribed by the Chicago Sun-Times as "simultaneously hilarious and touching," the road-trip comedy Leaving Iowa is the final presentation in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's 2011 season. Leaving Iowa is also the first presentation in Black Hawk College's 2011-12 theatre season, but don't chalk that up to either coincidence or some sort of Moline-based rivalry; the productions are actually one and the same.

Wendy Czekalski and Paul Workman in Hard to BelieveI have little doubt that many patrons of the Playcrafters Barn Theatre will enjoy its current production of Hard to Believe, as there's consistently an audience appetite for shows on themes of faith and God. The opening-night premiere of this locally written musical, however, reminded me too much of church performances of which I've seen or been a part. I'm not sure Hard to Believe will find a place in community theatres alongside other musicals, but it could very well find its place within many a church's walls.

Laila Haley, Andrew Hall, Sydney Crumbleholme, John Weigandt, Alyssa Castro, and Katie Moore in Papa's AngelsThe Playcrafters Barn Theatre's current, holiday-themed family presentation Papa's Angels begins on a note - or rather, a bunch of notes - of incredible sweetness.

Alex Klimkewicz, David Rash, and Bill Hudson in Laughing StockAs with a person, sometimes you can fall immediately, madly, irrationally in love with a play. And I think I fell in love with author Charles Morey's Laughing Stock within its first two minutes, when artistic director Gordon Page (Don Hazen) introduced visiting actor Jack Morris (Alex Klimkewicz) to his venerated theatre in New Hampshire, and the young man took a moment to assess his surroundings before saying, incredulously, "It's a barn."

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.