So far as I know, there are no steadfast rules regarding children's theatre, but two certain "don't"s would have to be: (1) Don't bore the kids, and (2) Don't confuse the kids.

Chief among many surprises in Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's current production of The King & I is the re-discovery of just how funny the show is. For many, myself included, the news of another Rodgers & Hammerstein revival is enough to fill you with trepidation; must we sit through one of their timeless extravaganzas yet again? But it's easy to forget that this theatrical duo is legendary for good reason. Beyond their undeniable musical talents, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote strong, well-constructed shows and empathetic characters, and their productions always feature an intriguing, nearly treacherous dark side; Rodgers & Hammerstein felt no compunction about casually killing off major characters. (Every time I see The Sound of Music I have to remind myself: Oh, right. There are Nazis in this.) And although I'd be content to never see South Pacific again, a recent, invigorating production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's State Fair at Assumption High School was a welcome reminder of the duo's gifts, and Circa '21's The King & I is fantastically fine, engaging and memorable and, to a quite unexpected degree, hilarious.

The Drawer Boy, opening this weekend at New Ground Theatre, is not only an emotional journey through the suppressed memories of two old farmers and a unique observation of the art of storytelling; it also plays an important role in contemporary Canadian theatre history.

When I was in seventh grade, my chorus class took a charter bus up to Chicago to see Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. From a row near the back of the theatre, I watched the vibrant speck that was Donnie Osmond belt out the tunes "Close Every Door" and "Joseph's Coat." On the return trip home, while the chaperone mothers murmured in fascination over the dark-haired leading man, we chorus students amused ourselves with a Joseph sing-along. The music was just that unforgettable and appealing, even to our usually unimpressionable teenage minds.

Just when I was convinced that Picasso at the Lapin Agile would endure as Steve Martin's wittiest, funniest theatre script, the multi-talented writer/actor/comedian has outdone himself, with the adapted comedy The Underpants.

New Ground is one of my favorite local theatre groups because it doesn't settle for slapstick comedies, cliché-filled scripts, or sappy dramas. Instead, the not-for-profit organization with the mission to "bring the best in contemporary and original theatre to the Quad Cities" does superb work living up to that goal. New Ground's upcoming show, Talley's Folly, the recipient of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for drama, is certainly no exception to the "best theatre" rule and is perhaps one of the most unconventional, intriguing love stories I've ever seen on stage. The production opens August 26 and runs through September 5 at Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf.

Richmond Hill Players Theatre has done a very good thing. Instead of usual attempts to "wow" audiences with edgy (and, in my opinion, too brilliantly written for community theatre) scripts such as Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile or efforts to appeal to the older generation with shows such as On Golden Pond and Driving Miss Daisy, the organization's current production of Desk Set settles contentedly into a much-needed middle ground.

Kindertransport is a script full of potential. Unfortunately, on the Playcrafters stage on May 8, the meaning of the play got lost somewhere in the muddle of forgotten lines and lifeless delivery. Directed by Charles Rubovits, Kindertransport (continuing through May 23) is definitely a change for Playcrafters Barn Theatre, which usually sticks to scripts in the adult comedy or mystery genres. I'm glad to see the group stepping out of its usual lighthearted mode into drama, but a lot of elements need improvement before plays such as Kindertransport will be taken seriously.

I always love seeing the plays at Augustana College for the acting skill, detailed and appropriate set designs, and beautifully constructed costumes and props. The musical Quilters - which finishes a two-week run this weekend - is no exception, with an ensemble of seven vocally talented women, live keyboard and fiddle players, and an elaborate display of at least 30 quilts hand-made by Augustana students and faculty.

New Ground Theatre's current show, David Schulner's An Infinite Ache, appears to be a conventional love and marriage story. A man and woman meet, fall in love, and get hitched - nothing unusual. But the script is so intricately crafted that we see snapshots of the couple as they progress through a partnership of more than five decades and take on sex, marriage, children, and death - in a mere hour and fifteen minutes. The fast-paced, natural dialogue travels seamlessly through the years, with no specific scene divisions. Time simply progresses.

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