Adapted from David Sedaris' famed audio presentation and subsequent short story, The Santaland Diaries - the latest endeavor from My Verona Productions, currently playing at Rock Island's ComedySportz venue - is an acting triumph for its star, Adam Lewis. Playing an unmotivated 33-year-old who finds himself - to his abject shame - employed at Macy's as one of Santa's elves, Lewis is spectacular; as he enacts his character's grueling ordeals in a one-man show that's part monologue, part stand-up routine, and part performance-art piece, the actor is thrilling to watch, so brilliantly focused and ceaselessly inventive that he leaves you a bit in awe.

For many stage actors, the chance to perform a one-person show would be a dream come true. For Adam Michael Lewis, this dream has come true, but not, it turns out, for the first time. Or the second. Or even the third.

Christmas from the Heart, which opens the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's 29th season, is a holiday-themed musical revue, and as such, it has a built-in advantage that many stage works don't: Audiences don't make many demands of it. When presented with a piece of this sort - in which the production is essentially an excuse for linking together a diverse group of carols and holiday hits - no one really cares what the story is about or whether the characters have any depth; all we ask is that the numbers are well-sung and that the show maintains a lively pace, and if it's funny or touching or particularly well-designed, those are just added bonuses.

I love attending local college and university stage productions, partly because it's such a wonderful reminder of my days as a theatre major - ah, the reassuring familiarity of Augustana College's Potter Hall! - but also because the shows' participants are generally involved with theatre because they truly want to be; with the possible exception of staff members, no one's doing it just for the paycheck. (No one should ever be doing theatre for the paycheck, but that's another issue entirely.)

It's no newsflash that playwrights often find inspiration in their personal pasts, and use young leading characters as theatrical alter egos; if you want to better understand Tennessee Williams, listen to Tom's monologues in The Glass Menagerie, or watch Edmund's scenes in Long Day's Journey into Night for greater insight into Eugene O'Neill.

Your enjoyment of the stage version of It's a Wonderful Life - at least the James W. Rogers adaptation currently playing at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre - will likely depend on your familiarity with the classic film. I'm guessing that those who don't already know the story will get more out of the experience than those who do, but how many of us, exactly, does that leave?

What makes the blood of most stage performers run cold? Seeing the first audience on opening night? Hearing silence after delivering supposedly hilarious dialogue? Knowing there's a critic in the house? Well, yes, yes, and yes.

Augustana College's production of Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners The Importance of Being Earnest is perfectly acceptable entertainment, rarely inspired but always watchable. Yet it has the enormous good fortune to feature one performance that shoots way past the acceptable and enters the realm of the extraordinary - David Cocks' portrayal of the delectably devious John Worthing is the sort of riotously funny and brilliantly executed stunt that makes you more than eager for his next appearance; he's so elemental to the show's success that it's nearly distracting when he's not on stage. And here's the kicker: This is freshman Cocks' first appearance on the Potter Hall stage. The mind boggles at what may be in store for audiences over the next four years.

In the Prenzie Players' hugely entertaining production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will, there's an encounter so heart-stoppingly strong that it might be the single most effective stage moment I've witnessed all year.

Since St. Ambrose University's production of Urinetown at the Galvin Fine Arts Center has already closed, there's probably not much point in a review. So consider this a thank-you note instead. I had more fun at the school's production of this 2001 musical comedy than I have at nearly any other entertainment I've been to over the past few months. The show was terrifically staged and, almost across the board, vibrantly performed, but most inspiring of all, the audience was truly alive to it; Urinetown smashes the understood conventions of musical theatre to smithereens, and the Friday night crowd appeared positively delighted that it did. The show was a risk, and one that paid off big time.

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