The Retreat From Moscow Yet another promising Unicorn production. Director Sidonie Garrett who seems capable of anything after sharpening Rose's Dilemma into near-moving watchability brings us material more worthy of her talent: William Nicholson's examination of a marriage unraveling. Be warned, History Channel guys: The title is metaphorical. How exactly the secrets between Alice (Merle Moores, the heart of last spring's Exonerated) and Edward (Mark Robbins, who was stellar in the Kansas City Rep's Voysey Inheritance) resemble Napoleon's 1812 withdrawal from Moscow, we'll have to wait and see. Also a mystery: whether their courtship entailed conquering half of Europe. Through Nov. 13 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529.
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.)
The Watsons Go to Brimingham 1963 A winner for the Coterie, demonstrating again that all-ages theater doesn't mean "just for kids." Local auteur Kevin Willmott adapted and directed this charming, moving take on Christopher Paul Curtis' popular young-adult novel, and he demonstrates again that he's this area's gold standard: Anything with his name on it is worth your time. Fearing that their son Byron (a brooding Nicholas Alexander) is falling into what passes for thug life in early-'60s Flint, Michigan, Mom and Dad Watson load up the '48 Plymouth with squabbling kids and great soul records and haul south to Birmingham, Alabama, where a set-him-straight grandma awaits and where history is gathering. The cast includes talented kids, familiar pros and jazz goddess Queen Bey as the Watson kids' stern but loving grandmother. Young Donnelle Saunders shines as narrator Kenny Watson, his face knuckling up with infectious feeling. Through Oct. 23 at the Coterie Theatre, Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-474-6552. (Reviewed in our Oct. 13 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. Through Nov. 19 at Union Station Café, 2200 Main. 816-813-9654.