Jeremy Mahr and Mackenzie Kerr Jeremy Mahr may be our area's most effortlessly relaxed performer. There isn't even a trace of actor's phoniness in his line readings or physicality; there's so little artifice in Mahr's portrayals that he can easily fool you into thinking he's not acting at all. Mahr has a beautiful hangdog expression - he looks as if he's endured continual disappointment, and is prepared to endure more - and his focus is concentrated and imploring. Yet when he smiles, the warmth that exudes from him is a little overpowering; he acts like a man embarrassed to be receiving the happiness he deserves. Mahr is a supremely empathetic performer - I've now seen him in three productions since August, and for the life of me, I can't figure out how he manages to do so much while appearing to do so little.

 

Erin Childs and Seth LieberFrom the Quad Cities, a trip to the Timber Lake Playhouse will take roughly 80 minutes. But I was so happy to be returning to Mt. Carroll, Illinois, for its 2006 season opener, Thoroughly Modern Millie, that I don't think I stopped smiling once during the entire trek. The theatre's 2005 presentations of The Full Monty and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were, for me, two of last summer's absolute high points - both shows beautifully staged and refreshingly risky - and the venue itself, nestled in the woods, is large and inviting, with its productions boasting terrific design and costumes and a game, go-for-broke ensemble. It was a thrill to be returning after 10 months.

 

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.

According to the elusive Theory of Everything, espoused in Jacquelyn Reingold's String Fever, life is composed of a series of hidden dimensions that fold up within one another and overlap, creating unseen, generally unacknowledged connections, and giving meaning to even our most random encounters.

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.

Aesop's Dynamic Duo - the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's new family musical - focuses on several of the renowned storyteller's famous characters, and one of its first songs is entitled "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Bret Churchill plays The Boy, and the actor, with his usual exuberance and vigor, begins the number with: "I'm the Boy Who Cried Wolf / I'm the one who frightened the town / I told them the story / And, boy, it was gory / I told them the wolf ate / the Smith's Bassett hound."

Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound concerns theatre critics who wind up personally involved in the thriller they're reviewing, which puts me in the position of being a theatre critic critiquing a play about theatre critics critiquing a play. Stoppard must love this.

The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest production is, nearly element for element, an awesome technical achievement. The set, conceived by Dawn Robyn Petrlik, is a glorious mess of artful decay, Ron Breedlove's lighting effects are mostly extraordinary, and the sound quality is superb. (Dave Vanderkamp's continually outstanding sound design is overdue for mention.)

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Rock Island Masonic Temple

Theatre audiences are often witness to romance and, with the right director and performers, occasionally even to true love on stage. Yet it's rare to find passion and even rarer to witness carnality, two qualities that the Prenzie Players present in abundance in their juicy new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Rock Island Masonic Temple.

J. Adam Lounsberry and Nathan Bates in You're a Good Man, Charlie BrownAnyone who has spent a significant amount of time in theatre knows that if your first dress rehearsal goes even the least bit well, there's cause for celebration. Having seen the first dress of the Quad City Music Guild's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown this past Sunday, I can assure the production's participants: There's cause for celebration, because things appeared to go considerably better than "the least bit well."

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