I Am My Own Wife German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf not only survived the Nazis while decked out in dresses but also ran a gay cabaret in her basement. Robert Gibby Brand stars as Mahlsdorf and others in this one-man show, and his performance is one of grace and complexity. It's a subtle triumph. Doug Wright's Pulitzer-winning script is based on interviews and correspondence with Mahlsdorf, but it sometimes falters, spending fruitless time on the playwright himself instead of on Mashlsdorf, and in the second act, he leaves Brand acting out interviews with Mahlsdorf from German TV. This Unicorn production is worth seeing for Mahlsdorf 's story and Brand's performance as well as for its general felicities. When Wright shuts up and Brand closes his eyes and dances to Mahlsdorf 's gramophone, we brush the sublime. Through Oct. 2 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main. 816-531-7529. (Reviewed in our Sept. 15 issue.)
The Importance of Being Earnest Gertrude Stein might hold that remarks aren't literature, but in saying so she took such clear delight in letting fly with a perfectly phrased and barbed remark that her point was lost. Remarks aren't literature the way sex ain't love, but they go together, and nothing's wrong with settling for either in a pinch. So the fact that Oscar Wilde's lone great play is more a candy box of remarks than a story anyone could invest in is nothing to complain about. What it offers is nothing less than the greatest comic dialogue in all of English. Sure, it's staged too often, but you don't have to go every time. Do it every two years, like a checkup. Promising signs: Director Joe Price gave us this summer's wonderfully stinging Cripple of Inishmaan, and UMKC's theater department is the strongest in town. Through Oct. 2 at UMKC's Studio 16 Theatre, 4949 Cherry. 816-235-6222.
The Laramie Project In the seven years since college student Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die outside Laramie, Wyoming, this culture's bipolar treatment of gays has become even more confused: Huge chunks of the population watch gay TV, agree that homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, and loathe the homophobe shitheels who tied Shepard to that fence. Meanwhile, these same good people encourage their government to deny gay citizens basic rights. Always worth revisiting, The Laramie Project tells us, through a collage of testimonials and interviews with Laramie residents, not just Shepard's story but the story of the country that bred the hatred that killed him. What this time capsule leaves out, however, is an examination of why today's homophobic voters believe themselves tolerant: Lord, it's awful they killed that boy, folks in Missouri and Kansas think, but it's nothing personal that we wouldn't have wanted him to marry a man. Through Oct. 8 at Park University's Jenkin and Barbara David Theater, 8700 N.W. River Park Dr. in Parkville, 816-584-6450.
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, 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.
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 is more sweet than it is funny, but it's often funny enough the jokes went over with one night's crowd of sweet old ladies like bread in front of pigeons. A Lillian Hellman-ish playwright (the commanding Donna Thomason) hires a disreputable young crime writer to ghostwrite the end of her dead husband's unfinished novel; the fact that the dead husband (Jim Korinke, all elegant twinkle) still pads around the house talking to Rose is just the first of the complications. The sentimental stuff is more interesting than the comedy, and the climax, with its redressing of grievances and interest in dying, generates real warmth, a contemplative feeling muscled along by extraordinary lighting and director Sidonie Garrett's subtle blocking. Through Oct. 23 at the American Heartland Theatre, 2450 Grand, Crown Center, 816-842-9999. (Reviewed in our Sept. 21 issue.)
Who's in First? This third production from the Mystery Train finds its audience once again caught up in an interactive dinner-time murder mystery set in the dining car of a KC train. This time, it's 1914, our town's 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.