Follow the Drinking Gourd The way the show is described -- a "charming story set in the era of slavery" -- sounds uncomfortably akin to Condoleezza Rice's recent testimony that the tsunami in Southeast Asia was "a wonderful opportunity" to ameliorate America's reputation as a bully. Whoops. Nevertheless, it's Paul Mesner Puppets' good intention to honor Black History Month with a character named Peg Leg Joe who travels to many plantations, ostensibly to teach slaves to sing. The title song, though, is a coded message revealing an escape route out of Alabama and Mississippi to the more benign North. Feb. 2-6 and Feb. 9-13 at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St., 816-235-6222.
Frederick Douglass: Deliverance From Chains Gene Mackey's memory play is about the title character's journey from slave to statesman. The drama is set in a re-creation of Douglass' final home in Washington, D.C., where the civil rights pioneer (Danny Cox) reminisces with Helen Pitts (Sheryl Bryant), his second wife, and a group of young history buffs. Among the themes he addresses are abolition, black employment obstacles and the controversy surrounding his marriage to Pitts, who happened to be white. Through Feb. 20 at Theatre for Young America, 5909 Johnson Drive in Mission, 913-831-2131.
Holes Spanning 1875 Latvia, the outlaw Texas of the 1890s, and a present-day camp for delinquent teenage boys, Louis Sachar's adaptation of his novel plays like a DJ's mash-up that alternately nails and loses its beat. The last setting works best; it has the energy of hip-hop and some fine acting, especially by Vanessa Severo, who seems to channel Cruella De Vil by way of Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman." The three time periods don't mesh well, though, giving the scenes in old Texas the faux finish of a Branson saloon show. Good comic bits litter the show, however, just like the sunflower seeds that build up all over the stage because of serial spitter Charles Fugate. Stacie Beth Green's brief turn as a crazed pioneer moll suggests Amy Sedaris appearing on Gunsmoke. Through Feb. 20 at the Coterie, 2450 Grand, 816-474-6552.
The Molire One Acts Sganarelle is the hottest name on the street -- well, at least the streets around the University of Missouri-Kansas City Theater Department and Union Station, where the latter's City Stage Theatre hosts the former's celebration of Moliere's most lovable rogues. In "The School for Husbands," Sganarelle is a 17th-century bourgeois prig and misogynist whose interest in a young lady isn't returned. The same name is given to a loutish and paranoid married man of the provinces in "The Imaginary Cuckold." Though both were written between 1660 and 1662, the pieces confirm why Moliere's romantic entanglements could be outtakes from Jen Chen's Night Ranger column. Through Feb. 12 at the UMKC Theater Department at Union Station's H&R Block City Stage Theatre, 816-460-2020 or 816-235-6222.
Permanent Collection If a white man finds the art made by old, dead, white Europeans more important than that produced by Africans, does that make him a racist? The argument's outcome isn't so obvious as Thomas Gibbons proposes it in his intriguing new play. Though there's much to chew on in its debates about social change and racial inclusiveness, the play periodically flirts with melodrama, and some of the cast play types rather than living, breathing humans. Dean Vivian, though, is excellent as a nebbishy white guy whose loyalty to tradition gets him branded a racist. Through Feb. 13 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529.
Two Trains Running The fourth of August Wilson's nine plays documenting the black experience in 20th-century America lands on the Kansas City Rep's stage with a great deal of grace -- despite its preposterous length. Very few plays merit a 195-minute running time, and this isn't one of them; Wilson's writing is often elegant, but he needs an editor. Still, this comedic drama (set in Pittsburgh in 1969) about a restaurant doomed to ill-advised urban renewal features unanimously compelling actors, crisp directing and a funky, faithful set design by Vicki M. Smith. Through Feb. 13 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry. Also Feb. 17-20 at the Gem Theatre, 1601 E. 18th St., 816-235-2700.
York Add to the list of artistic productions prompted by the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition this one-man show about the largely forgotten black man who became one of the team's most important assets. York was both slave and protector to Clark, especially in the explorers' dicey interactions with the Native American tribes they encountered. Written by local theater veteran Brad Shaw and starring Lorenzo Hughes in the title role, the show traces York's life from boyhood on the Clark plantation to his eventually successful quest for freedom. Feb. 15-16 at the Gem Theater, 1615 E. 18th St., 816-474-0888.