I went to church on Friday night, March 10, and the “house” was packed. We were at Davenport's Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to participate in a ceremony – the ceremony of theatre as constructed in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, presented by the Genesius Guild under the direction of Don Wooten. The play enacts the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, a man who had been installed as archbishop by former friend King Henry II in order to consolidate the power of the crown, but who now, after becoming head of the church, is a man of conscience who refuses to bow to kingly power.

Imagine that it’s Christmas Eve and you are Terrence, a delivery-truck driver who, en route to the airport, loses his cargo – the dead body of an elderly Israeli tourist – and you can’t communicate with the woman’s granddaughter, who doesn’t speak English. What do you do? Well, you call your friend Josh who learned to “speak Jewish at his Hare Krishna” and ask him to inform the young Israeli that her grandmother’s body is lost, of course.

Sarah Baker, Lauren Clapp, and Elise Campbell in Crimes of the Heart

Southern Gothic is a genre dear to my heart, having been introduced years ago to the stories of Eudora Welty. In that vein, playwright Beth Henley blended dark humor and quirky characters in 1981's Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart, the current Augustana College production. I attended the January 28 performance, and director Jennifer Popple and her crew provided a fearless rendition with some creative twists. In her program notes, Popple shares childhood memories of family reunions with almost 500 attendees in Greenwood, Mississippi, and her deep connection with this Mississippi-based play is evident in the nuances that helped me better understand the production's characters, their motivations, and the many themes presented.

Murderers is author Jeffrey Hatcher’s blanket title for his trio of monologues suggesting Twilight Zone episodes written by O. Henry, and in its current presentation at Moline’s new Black Box Theatre, our first sight is of monologuists Brent Tubbs, Nancy Teerlinck, and Lora Adams standing in a row, each in turn stating, “I am a murderer.” So give director Adams’ production honesty points right off the bat, because for 100 minutes on January 28, these three actors positively killed.

Cindy Ramos, Ana Ziegler Loes, Jordan Smith, Beau Gusaas, Kermit Thomas, Eric Reyes, and Kathryn Reyes in Water by the Spoonful

Quiara Alegria Hudes was awarded a 2012 Pulitzer for her play Water by the Spoonful, and it’s easy to understand some of the reason the work was recognized, considering that Hudes gives us so many different plays for the price of one. Part family drama, part wisecracking comedy, part PTSD exploration, and part cyberspace warning/celebration, Hudes’ tale is alternately tragic, funny, insightful, and even, at times, magical, and I’d love to see all those styles and qualities blended into a cohesive, thrilling production. In the meantime, we have New Ground Theatre’s Water by the Spoonful. We’re treated to a few sincere and effective portrayals, but unfortunately January 20’s premiere merely suggested the truly satisfying achievement the show could and should have been.

Before the lights went down on January 13's opening night of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Ghost: The Musical, producer Denny Hitchcock informed the audience of the show's background, telling us that although it was originally produced on Broadway with a cast of 22, this version was scaled down to a cast of 10. But even though this minimized presentation is the story of a ghost, director Jerry Jay Cranford's show is anything but transparent and weightless.

Leslie Munson, Susan Perrin-Sallak, Jaclyn Marta, Chris Sanders-Ring, and Patti Flaherty in Steel Magnolias

What really goes on in a beauty salon? As someone follicly challenged, I have wondered what happens behind all the glamour posters, hair products, and Hollywood-scandal magazines: Certainly there's more than stereotypical gossip between the customers and their stylists – right? Well, the truth is out. The Playcrafters Barn Theatre production of Steel Magnolias lifts the veil and exposes the beauty-shop mystique, and at least in this particular shop, Southern ladies come to share their fears, secrets, joys, and love with their very best friends – all while getting the perfect shampoos, colorings, and styles.

Denise Yoder in As You Like It

The Prenzie Players' As You Like It starts out in true Prenzie form, with short vignettes taking place before the show actually begins. The first person we see is Denise Yoder as Touchstone, the fool of William Shakespeare's comedy, and as she performs some funny bits involving origami and audience interaction, Yoder's opening scenes seem mostly improvised. I will say, though, that during the December 8 preview, there was a lot more going on during this prelude, with a guitarist playing off to the side, and different music playing in the background over the dialogue – it was almost too much, and hard to hear what was being said. But once we actually got to the script, director Kitty Israel's production was off and running.

James Amble, Hanna Hogue, Diane Greenwood, John VanDeWoestyne, Ann Keeney-Grafft, Don Faust, and Faith Douglas in In-Laws, Outlaws & Other People That Should Be Shot

I sometimes joke that “God gave us friends to make up for family.” But then another adage also comes to mind: “It could always be worse!” So if you think you have characters in your family, you may want to see the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre comedy In-Laws, Outlaws & Other People (That Should be Shot).

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.

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