If there's a show that will make people question their thoughts and ideas about racism, it's Spinning Into Butter, continuing this weekend at Augustana College in a production by New Ground Theatre.

After seeing the Friday night performance of Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's latest murder mystery, Fatal Attraction, one line stood out: "The American public will accept anything except being bored." Audiences don't have to worry, because there's no room for boredom during Bernard Slade's two-and-a-half-hour thriller. The action is almost non-stop, the characters are engaging, and the technical elements give the show a nice finishing touch.

In this weather, I pity the actors in Genesius Guild's production of Macbeth. In addition to the fact they're on stage wearing three layers of clothing and toting swords, shows are performed at Rock Island's Lincoln Park outdoor theatre, which draws little breeze, lots of bugs, and, of course, heat. Though these aren't ideal conditions for actors, or for audience members, people willing to brave the heat for three hours and put on the bug spray will be more than pleased to see an incredibly well-done yet traditional version of one of Shakespeare's great tragedies.

When three suitors try to woo a single, fifty-something mother, there isn't exactly love in the air. It's more like disaster and comedy. Circa 21's latest show, Getting Momma Married, is a humorous, behind-the-scenes look at one woman's attempts to find love again.

Ninja-style nuns, two sets of twins separated at birth, woeful lovers, men vaguely resembling Elvis, and a society divided by religious differences. These and more are part of the annual Shakespeare festival at Riverside outdoor theatre in Iowa City, with The Comedy of Errors and Romeo & Juliet on stage in repertory through July 7.

Richmond Hill Barn Theatre in Geneseo is like something from an actor's dream. With "theatre-in-the-round" seating, high ceilings for easy lighting capability, entryways from four sides, and an intimate acting space, one would think any play could succeed with these standards. Even a weak performance can be positively impacted by quality set pieces and a connection with audience members.

Compared to Chicago or even to Iowa City, the Quad Cities' contemporary-theatre base is practically nonexistent. But that could change with the help of one of the area's newest drama groups. With only two staged plays under its belt, the New Ground Theatre Company is already living up to its name.

It's not often that a main character dies more than five times during the course of a story. Or that a young man proposes to an 80-year-old woman. But Harold & Maude at Playcrafters Barn Theatre combines this unusual story with exceptional acting and achieves two hours of genuine laughter, and an appreciation for life and art. Colin Higgins' play is a lighthearted piece in which the lead characters come to terms with death and love.

The three sisters who are the central characters of Shelaugh Stephenson's The Memory of Water at first appear to having nothing in common except their family ties. The caustic dialogue reveals unresolved conflicts that go back to childhood and the different roles each woman has pursued in life and love. But the dialogue also contains much humor and insight that finally leads to acceptance.

Spinning into Butter, Riverside Theatre's third production in its 21st season, is a sometimes-humorous look at very serious subjects: political correctness and racial politics in the new millennium. The work and the production have local roots. The play was written by Rebecca Gilman, who has an MFA from the University of Iowa and is an acquaintance of Ron Clark and Jody Hovland, co-artistic directors at Riverside. (Time magazine hailed Gilman as "an important new theatrical voice.") And director Bruce Levitt is a former University of Iowa faculty member and was director of the MFA. actor-training program at the school from 1977 to 1980.

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