Killer Joe Playwright Tracy Letts gave us Bug!, the grandly distressing epic of itchiness and paranoia that closed the Unicorn's 2004 season. (The interim, one imagines, has been spent fumigating the place.) Now, here's Killer Joe, Letts' should-we-be-laughing-at-this trailer-park tragedy, brought to the Just Off Broadway stage by a one-off assortment of KC theater pros. We get Scott Cordes directing, Rusty Sneary and Late Night superstar Corrie Van Ausdal acting, and Gorilla Theatre guide Tyler Miller producing and performing (meaning he trods the boards and ponies up so said boards can hold him). Expect a dark play with real violence as well as a human center. Through Sept. 24 at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central. Call 816-235-6222.
Man and Superman For the past few years, the KC Rep has been working slowly through Shaw, and for that we give thanks. The gruff old Commie's star hasn't been snuffed out, but it certainly dimmed as the last century died, and his sparkling, scrupulously intelligent plays which once all seemed like staples have been languishing. (Perhaps theaters no longer trust that the middlebrow can keep up.) This show takes its title from Nietzsche and explores Shaw's concept of our essential "life essence." It's highlighted by the famous "Don Juan in Hell" dream sequence and insights such as "All the wickedness on earth is done [in the name of] honor, duty, justice and the rest of the seven deadly virtues." The Rep, however, bills it as a "romantic comedy." With Shaw's prickly brilliance vying against the Rep's zeal for crowd pleasing, this should be interesting. Through Oct. 16 at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-2700.
Moon Over Buffalo Perhaps unintentionally, there are layers to unpeel here. We have Ken Ludwig's satiric farce about struggling, over-the-hill actors hoping to ascend from their Buffalo Rep to the heights of Broadway and Hollywood. When Frank Capra swings through, casting a film version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, they might get their chance. What I've always wondered is how the real actors in a community-theater production of this show feel about it all. If some L.A. shmoe offers one of them a ticket out, are the ticket buyers screwed? Assuming everyone's staying here, expect all the rapid-fire mix-ups and door slams that farce generally promises. Also be ready for a patina of backstage sentimentality, nostalgia for the showbiz of yesteryear, to sweeten it up. Through Sept. 25 at Blue Springs Civic Center, 2000 Northwest Ashton Dr., 816-228-0137.
New York State of Mind I once got a little turned around in Manhattan the one where you feel like you need to wash your face every three blocks, not Kansas' threadbare college town but righted myself after recalling Sinatra in his sailor suit: The Bronx is up, and the Battery's down. So Quality Hill's latest cabaret revue might be educational, offering valuable lessons about the city that never shuts up. Lesson one: Manhattan babies don't sleep tight until the dawn. Lesson two: No Billy Joel song warrants placement alongside "Lullaby of Broadway." Lesson three: Quality Hill's torch songs and show tunes are usually strong enough to take KC or Manhattan, that dirty old town. Through Oct. 9 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th Street, 816-421-1700.
The Odd Couple A friend once got freaked out when, stoned as hell, he tried to count how many McDonald's restaurants he knew. Something similar is going down here: How many Neil Simon plays can one town host in a month? Why do his sitcommy pleasantries command three theaters at once while the best Shakespeare the scene can muster is the jokey Complete Works (Abridged) at the Leawood Stage Company? Still, there are laughs here, and director Shelly Stewart is both screamingly funny and responsible for the excellent Proof awhile back. Maybe it's asking too much to expect something more daring in Olathe, the town that gave the world What Would Jesus Do? Through Oct. 2 at Chestnut Arts Center, 234 N. Chesnut in Olathe. Call 913-764-2121.
Rose's Dilemma Neil Simon's latest, first produced in 2003 and enjoying its Kansas City premiere, concerns a successful author who, to preserve a swank Hamptons lifestyle, must pump out a masterpiece. Don't mistake it for autobiography, though the Rose of the title was reputedly inspired by playwright Lillian Hellman. (Hellman's real-life husband, Dashiell Hammett, perhaps the greatest of all crime writers, is here as Walsh McLaren. That he's a ghost, however, is cause for concern.) Here's hoping that Mary Tyler Moore bailed out of the Broadway premiere during previews because of a facelift scheduling conflict, not because of the quality of the material. Through Oct. 23 at the American Heartland Theatre, 2450 Grand, Crown Center, 816-842-9999.
Story Theatre Here's that hippy-era rarity: an experimental play invested in ancestral memory, Jungian archetypes and what the stories a culture tells itself tell us about that culture. It's also perfectly lucid, even familiar, and with its song, dance and pantomime has often been mistaken for a kids' show. But when it premiered more than 30 years ago, Paul Sills' retelling of the fairy tales that gird most Western narrative seemed political, dealing as it does with deluded despots and abuses of fairy-land power. If the Barn Players are updating, let's wish them luck in finding that Grimm obscurity about the king who napped and cleared brush while Titan dragged cities into the brine. Through Sept. 25 at the Barn Players, 6219 Martway in Mission, 913-432-9100.
Who's in First? This third production from the Mystery Train finds its audience once again caught up in an interactive dinnertime murder mystery set in the dining car of a KC train. This time, it's 1914, and our town is on the upswing. Union Station has just opened with brass bands and mayoral proclamations, and the word boondoggle hasn't even been coined yet. A train departs, a murder is committed, and you, who ponied up for this, are called upon to solve the crime, discuss matters with performers between acts, and maybe even grab a script and join in. The last show was great fun both as a mystery and a history lesson; the food wasn't bad, either. Reservations are required. At Union Station Café, 2200 Main. 816-813-9654.