Certainly, there was cause for concern.

Reader issue #604 When the Prenzie Players made their 2003 debut with Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, they did so at Rock Island's Peanut Gallery, which didn't have a proper stage and could only seat, at maximum, 40 people. The show had an inadequate budget (between $200 and $300), a run of only two performances, and no word-of-mouth; Prenzie's founders - Cait Bodenbender, John "J.C." Luxton, Aaron Sullivan, and Denise Yoder - had every reason to expect Measure for Measure to fail.

Yet Friday night's show played to a full house. And on Saturday ... .

Adam Michael Lewis and Tristan TapscottDegree of difficulty counts for a lot, so director Sean Leary and his estimable cast would earn points merely for the area existence of Martin McDonagh's horrific fairy tale The Pillowman, the latest - and certainly riskiest - endeavor from My Verona Productions.

How wonderful and humbling the last eight months have been.

Adapted from David Sedaris' famed audio presentation and subsequent short story, The Santaland Diaries - the latest endeavor from My Verona Productions, currently playing at Rock Island's ComedySportz venue - is an acting triumph for its star, Adam Lewis. Playing an unmotivated 33-year-old who finds himself - to his abject shame - employed at Macy's as one of Santa's elves, Lewis is spectacular; as he enacts his character's grueling ordeals in a one-man show that's part monologue, part stand-up routine, and part performance-art piece, the actor is thrilling to watch, so brilliantly focused and ceaselessly inventive that he leaves you a bit in awe.

For many stage actors, the chance to perform a one-person show would be a dream come true. For Adam Michael Lewis, this dream has come true, but not, it turns out, for the first time. Or the second. Or even the third.

To understand the nature of My Verona Productions' new stage comedy Dingo Boogaloo 2: Taco's Revenge - indeed, to gain insight into My Verona's co-founders, Sean Leary and Tristan Layne Tapscott - one may as well begin with Chickenzilla.

Few stage sights are as thrilling as a cast of genuinely hungry actors, especially when they have genuinely meaty material to tear into. My Verona Productions' Closer is a biting, at times painful, piece, yet it's suffused with joy; the actors seem to be relishing the opportunity to verbally claw, scrape, and expose (often self-inflicted) wounds.

The Prenzie Players are so serious about presenting innovative interpretations of Shakespeare's scripts, they promise audience members "won't forget our shows, ever." Pretty lofty standards for a small group of Quad Cities actors who hold performances in rented found spaces (currently the Rock Island Housing Authority building) and use minimal props, costumes, staging, and production.

Sean Leary is sticking to basics. The author and producer of the innovative Your Favorite Band believes - despite the unique combinations of film, theatre, and music media used during the performances - that "a good story will always be the key to a successful show. " We'll see whether he followed this maxim and how local audiences respond to his part-live-theatre, part-film show when Your Favorite Band starts a two-week run August 5 at ComedySportz.

I don't like to start reviews with questions, but New Ground Theatre's current production of Lobby Hero raises some interesting ones. (1) Is a hero someone who, when faced with a moral dilemma, reveals deep dark secrets that will get a friend in big trouble? 2) Does sliding indifferently through life without ever changing viewpoints, challenging ideas, or standing up for personal rights gain someone hero status? The answer to both, obviously, is no. A hero is defined by my dictionary as "a man of great courage, nobility, etc. or one admired for his exploits." So what was playwright Kenneth Lonergan thinking when he used a lazy, noncommittal lobby security guard as a protagonist of his play Lobby Hero?

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