Reviews and previews of upcoming shows.

Stage Capsule Reviews 

Reviews and previews of upcoming shows.

Assassins Bringing hell to the chiefs in this challenging Stephen Sondheim show is a who's who of the American damned, among them Booth, Oswald, Hinckley and Leon Czolgosz, the Republican-turned-anarchist whose last words, uttered just before his execution for gunning down William McKinley, still chill: "I killed the president because he was the enemy of ... the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime." What Sondheim is after here is what fuels this violence; that he explores his subjects' lives and beliefs makes Assassins a work of true artistic courage. Through Nov. 19 at the Olathe Community Theatre, 500 East Loula in Olathe, 913-782-2990.

Charlotte's Web Here's hoping that, once we're done bawling, we get some kind of Q&A after Theatre for Young America's production of E.B. White's barnyard classic, because we've been puzzling about one aspect of this story for years. Dear Charlotte's writing "Some Pig" in her web is a feat of astounding spinneret calligraphy, so it's never made any sense that the farmers and townsfolk are more impressed with the pig than with the literate freaking spider. Confusing matters even more with this particular version is Charlotte's delightful costume: black and spindly but a touch huggable, both arachnid and maternal. Through Nov. 5 at Union Station's City Stage, 30 W. Pershing Rd., 816-460-2020.

Give 'em Hell, Harry Writer Samuel Gallu flatters Missourians for being — like his Harry Truman — straight-talking truth-tellers, so it's my duty to report that this show is a heap of hagiographic piffle, giving us a gabby Truman who jaws at us from the Oval Office like we're squatting 'round the cracker barrel. The KC Rep's production is impeccably staged and acted, but the script is rotten through and through, spending more time on lawn mowing than on atomic-bomb dropping and selling us a president who never made a mistake or had a regret. By nodding along, we buy into the same idiotic conviction that lets George W. Bush feel confident that a president — any president — might be infallible. Through Nov. 6 at Union Station's City Stage, 30 West Pershing, 816-235-2700. (Reviewed in our Oct. 27 issue.)

The Glass House and Phone Friends As if to make up for all the Neil Simon plays lately clogging this city's stages, William Jewell College presents the U.S. premiere of two works by Icelandic playwright Jónas Jónasson. One-act Phone Friends explores modern loneliness, centering on a friendship (and hesitant courtship) that results from dialing a wrong number. The autobiographical The Glass House details the dregs of an alcoholic's life and the hope he finds in dreaming of friends and family. Through Nov. 6 at Brown Hall on the William Jewell campus in Liberty, 816-415-7590.

The Retreat From Moscow Author William Nicholson, director Sidonie Garrett and a superb cast offer minor devastation with this drama about the divorce of a pair of British academics. It's expertly staged, cutting in its truths and sparing with its sympathies, capturing what a marital crack-up actually feels like. The title comes from one of Nicholson's many metaphorical conceits. The husband is fascinated with the brutality and death that followed Napoleon's 1812 Russian defeat and justifies his own actions by explaining, "When it's a matter of survival, people will do anything." Watching, thinking about this, we know it's true and wish that it weren't. Through Nov. 13 at The Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529. (Reviewed in our Oct. 27 issue.)

Ruthless Part All About Eve, part Gypsy and part Bad Seed, Ruthless is a relatively early example of the fizzy, sarcastic pop collage to which we're becoming numb. Joel Paley's book and lyrics are wittier than later imitations, and Aaron Tracy — so good as Dr. Frank N. Furter in a Rocky Horror revival awhile back — is an encouraging sight all decked out as agent and manager Sylvia St. Croix. Through Nov. 13 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 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.

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