As the clock approached 7:30 p.m. on a refreshingly cool and clear mid-April Saturday, the old barn beckoned like a silent sentinel as my wife and I wove our way up the meandering hill. While approaching the main entrance, the imposing presence at the ticket window asked quietly, eerily, if we had reservations. We said we did, and he motioned for us to climb the stairs leading us to the loft. I swallowed hard and took my time, stretching out each step knowing that I was ascending ever closer into the darkness, the unknown, and into a night of murder. Bwa-a-a-a-h Ha-a-a-a-ha-a-a-a-ha-a-a-a-a-a!!!

Checklist for Tuesday night's dress rehearsal of Quad City Music Guild’s springtime production:

Topnotch vocals by an energetic cast. Check!

Snappy doo-wop moves exquisitely choreographed and performed. Check!!

Powerful and tight 10-piece pit ensemble. Check!!!

Foul mouthed, R&B-singing, seven-foot-tall, man-eating houseplant. Check!!!!

Wait … . What?!?

Shakespeare provided us with tales of tragedy, comedy, and history. The Prenzie Players, meanwhile, have been performing Shakespeare’s plays for many years and still exhibit a deep passion for his words and stories, as evidenced by their new production of Coriolanus. I attended the March 23 preview in which the cast and crew delivered an exciting performance, especially in light of one of the actors losing his voice. (More on that later.) Jeremy Mahr directed a talented troupe of performers while his design crew set the tone, with Matt Elliott creating a sparse set suggesting white marble, designer Tyson Danner supplying simple yet stark white lighting, and sound designer Bret Churchill providing ambiance that thrums with tension. It all added up to something cool and edgy.

In the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse’s current, topnotch production of The Music Man, the signature image is actually an image in motion: actor Don Denton, in his role as Harold Hill, strolling – or more accurately gliding – across the stage.

What do you get when you mix Molière and Agatha Christie with a healthy dose of Garry Marshall? A wacky mystery farce written by perhaps the most prolific playwright of the 20th Century: Neil Simon. The Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Rumors is Simon’s outlandish play that combines absurd comedy with a whodunit – though it's more of a whathappened – featuring some very sitcom-like characters.

If you were at the Black Box Theatre’s opening-night presentation of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the question of precisely who stole the show shouldn’t be arguable. Terrific though they were, it wasn’t the riotously strident Becca Johnson, or Sara Tubbs and her wicked Kristin Chenoweth impersonation, or third-grader Makenna Miller in costumer Kris Castel’s Big-Bird-meets-Carol-Channing feathers – or any other members of directors David Miller’s and Gary Clark’s appealing cast. It was the grade-school attendees whose infectious laughs frequently punctuated images and gags, and made the show even more of a charmer than it already was.

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.

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