The SIU-Edwardsville Department of Theatre and Dance begin their 2007-2008 season with an adaptation of Ernest Gaines's novel, A Lesson Before Dying. It's a powerful story of a young man named Jefferson who is wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. But a lagging pace, and a few unsure performances, work against this production being a complete success.
First Run Theatre is presenting a series of fifteen short plays over the course of two nights. The plays are all works by local playwrights and cover a wide range of topics. Writers such as Mario Farwell, Ruth Marner, Thelma Urich, Valery Lenaye and Diane Auth get a chance to see some of their shorter pieces, which might go unperformed otherwise, receive a staging for a live audience. Unfortunately the evening is a mixed bag with little to recommend.
Jim Leonard Jr.'s work, The Diviners, is a depression era tale set in Zion, Indiana. It focuses on two distinct characters, a mentally challenged boy and a back-sliding preacher who wanders into town, and finds heart and humor in a story with a tragic destiny. The Lindenwood University Department of Theatre and Dance is presenting a compelling and engaging production of this play in the spacious confines of the Emerson Black Box Theatre.
Not exactly a revue or a cabaret, Songs for a New World collects the music and lyrics of Jason Robert Brown to create a sort of "concept" musical. Brown himself says that the common thread among this group of intriguing melodies is that they all find their protagonists at a particular moment in their lives where they have to take a stand or make a choice. Stray Dog Theatre's production is engaging and generally well performed, but I'm not sure the show really works, although it's an enjoyable time, nonetheless.
Theatreworks USA is touring with a 75 minute, one act reduction of Seussical the Musical, that might more aptly be called "Horton the Musical", since it's stories focus mainly on the lovable pachyderm's whimsical adventures. While I'm certainly a fan of the tales spun by that master of wordplay, Dr. Seuss, this version, which is aimed at very young children falls well short of expectations. Judging it according to the wave of restlessness that began to filter through the crowd about an hour into the performance, I think it may just be bit too bland to fully engage either the young ones or their parents for its entire length.