Andy Curtiss in Second SamuelThere are few things in today's desensitized society that I think will shock audiences. But the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Second Samuel, by author Pamela Parker, manages to shock in its secret that's almost carried to the grave by Miss Gertrude, a deceased woman who is never seen on stage. That secret creates the play's tension, and ultimately leading to a lesson in tolerance that avoids being too preachy, and that applies to the acceptance of anyone's differences.

Ed Villarreal, Tristan Tapscott, and Bryan Tank in The TempestDirector Chris Causer plays up the baser parts of William Shakespeare's The Tempest in the District Theatre's latest production, taking the debauchery of Bryan Tank's Trinculo, a coxcomb of a servant, and Ed Villarreal's Stephano, a drunken butler, to their limits. (And sometimes mine.) The scenes involving the two men bickering, and their leading around of Todd Schwartz's crazy-ish castaway Caliban - a native to the island that serves as the play's setting - drew large laughs from Friday's audience, and broke up the serious tone of the rest of the tale.

Andy Koski and Aisha Ragheb in Romeo and Juliet I didn't think there was much wrong with Sunday night's presentation of Genesius Guild's Romeo & Juliet, aside from the fact that I didn't feel much of anything at it. But in terms of this particular Shakespeare play, isn't that a pretty sizable issue?

Neil Friberg, Jonathan Gregoire, and Molly McLaughlinA preface for those at Sunday's Genesius Guild presentation of The Comedy of Errors: You know that horribly rude woman who talked, and talked loudly, on her cell phone through the first two minutes of the play, even after repeated shushings and one verbal request to shut the hell up? I sat three rows behind her.

Peter Soderberg and David Wooten in The Frogs Amidst the laughter that accompanied Saturday night's Lincoln Park presentation of The Frogs, I was especially aware of one particular audience member's vocal enjoyment. He was seated quite a bit away from me, but judging by the timbre, I'd say he was about five or six, and he'd routinely giggle with an involuntary, infectious happiness that made it sound as though he was being tickled. A bunch of us were, actually.

As You Like It Rating its Degree of Difficulty on a scale of one through ten, I'd give Genesius Guild's opening-night performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It... hmm... about a 27.

James J. Loula and Candice GreggA leading actor tortured by the inability to play a role he can't feel. A narcissistic starlet unashamedly flaunting her sexuality. A group of second bananas complaining about the sizes of their roles. A sweet-faced ingénue enduring the advances of an older sponsor. A clueless playwright convinced that his pedestrian dialogue is marvelous.

No, Genesius Guild isn't tackling Terrence McNally or Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway, but rather Henri Gheon, whose play The Comedian opened at Lincoln Park this past Saturday.

As the adage goes, "Dying is easy; comedy is hard." Noises Off sure is. Saying that Michael Frayn's farce requires precision is like saying a fish requires water or Jennifer Lopez requires publicity; the show's very survival rests on the hairbreadth timing of its repartee and comic business. Frayn's work is so tightly structured and its momentum so dizzying that the slightest inappropriate pause can completely knock you out of the show's rhythm, and so I applaud Ghostlight Theatre for not only for tackling the script but often triumphing with it. Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and Noises Off is freakin' hard.

Melissa McBain's drama Altar Call, currently playing at Playcrafters' Barn Theatre, is beautifully unresolved. There are many fine elements in this production - along with some not-so-fine ones - yet I was impressed by McBain's willingness to let the drama linger after its close. She introduces potentially volatile subject matter such as adultery, homosexuality, and the dogmatic elements of scripture, yet doesn't attempt to provide easy answers to the play's complexities.

In episode 72 of Gilligan's Island, Hollywood director Harold Hecuba pays a visit and the castaways stage a musical version of Hamlet to try to impress him. For Michael King, who has watched all 98 episodes of the show multiple times, that plotline is a metaphor.

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