When you take in a Genesius Guild production at Rock Island's Lincoln Park - when you take in any theatrical performance outdoors - you're at the mercy of the weather, and every once in a while the elements and the production itself will align in a way that feels like perfection.

If you've seen Some Like It Hot, nothing that happens in the Quad City Music Guild's Sugar will come as a surprise; this 1973 musical-comedy is almost slavishly faithful to the 1959 Billy Wilder film that inspired it. But it does feature a curlicue that makes me giggle: the tap-dancing gangsters.

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.

I hate The Sound of Music, but on some level, doesn't everyone? The sugar-coated sensibility, the repetitive songs we know far too well, the Julie Andrews wannabes trilling with relentless cheeriness, the use of Nazis as a pesky, simplistic plot device ... . I know that the show is an assured cash cow for producers, but many of us would be happy for the book and score to disappear until the show's hundredth anniversary in 2059. (I'll be dead by then, right?)

I've watched numerous comedies at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse over the past decade, and I've never seen one that I thought would be offensive to most 80-year-olds. But until Oh Mama! No Papa!, I'd never seen a comedy that would be offensive to everyone but 80-year-olds.

Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman's 1938 comedy You Can't Take It with You is so sturdy and reliably entertaining that it doesn't take much more than a mediocre version of it to make audiences happy. The current production at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre is significantly better than mediocre - vibrantly played and almost consistently pleasurable - but what's completely surprising is the cleverness and skill behind Vicki Deusinger's staging of it.

From first scene to last, New Ground Theatre's production of Boston Marriage is an almost total misreading of David Mamet's 1999 work. As usual, New Ground's decision to tackle offbeat and challenging material is commendable, but its latest offering is so wrong-headed in execution that it makes you understand why audiences often shy away from the offbeat and challenging.

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.

Since 1990, I've attended more than 25 plays at Augustana College, yet I've never seen one that made better use of the Potter Hall stage than The Laramie Project.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which recently closed St. Ambrose University's 2004-5 theatre season, is a tough play to produce effectively at the collegiate level: How do you present Tom Stoppard's mordantly funny rumination on mortality and the meaninglessness of existence with performers this young?

Pages