King Lear The tragedy of an old man forced to spend a night in the rain, this Lear is three hours of beard-plucking, eye-gouging, heavens-beseeching madness that peaks full acts before it ends. That's mostly Shakespeare's fault, though, rather than the Rep's. Denis Arndt is excellent as Lear; his speeches can shake the sky. Both Arndt and local stalwarts Gary Holcombe (as Kent) and Gary Neal Johnson (as Gloucester) jangle the audience. Still, it's a slog by the end, and the Rep's not entirely off the hook. The set is sometimes Celtic kitsch, the violence is sometimes a muddle, and the false beards are risible more plucking, please. Through Feb. 11 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-2700. Reviewed in our Feb. 1 issue.
Leaving Iowa The Heartland is marketing this sweet and funny meditation on family and loss as a rambunctious, Vacation-style road-trip comedy. But Leaving Iowa is original and engaging, avoiding every feel-good cliché while still making us feel good. It's evocative of stars over the boondocks, of corn in endless rows, of family road trips that you probably endured as a kid, and of grown-up drives that return us to places that may not be as we remember. Playing a young girl, Jessalyn Kincaid is wildly funny; Jim Korinke does his trademark twinkling as the dad; and Craig Benton's everyman likability holds the show together. Too bad Ken Remmert, playing a succession of broad, bowlegged idjits, shows up every 15 minutes to wreck things. Through Feb. 25 at the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999. (Reviewed in our January 18 issue.)
Love, Janis So much about this seems cool that it hardly matters that Love, Janis is the first show ever on the Kansas City Rep's new Copaken Stage, smack in the middle of the unfinished Power and Light District. First, the cool: The Janis Joplin story, directed by the man who conceived and adapted the show, features a real rock band with real Supernauts, all funded by the Rep's deep pockets. That's enough to get us out to the Copaken's christening, even though arts patrons at events like this remind us of Batman villains showing up to dispense with innocent bystanders. Through March 18 at the Copaken Theatre, 13th St. and Walnut, 816-235-2700. Music of the 1940s We're not expecting much different from Quality Hill Playhouse's first cabaret revue of 2007, which is part of why the show sounds so appealing: the big hits of the '40s, performed by pianist and master of ceremonies J. Kent Barnhart and his rotating coterie of gifted singers. This time, they revel in the American songbook's most rewarding decade, promising "It Had to Be You" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." Through Feb. 19 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 West 10th Street, 816-421-1700.
Sax, Violence, and All That Jazz Another interactive dinner-time murder farce from the Mystery Train which, by our count, has staged far more plays by Kansas City authors than any other theater in town the past few years. (That those plays all involve local history is a bonus.) The killing takes place on the dining car of a Union Station-bound train, as always, with the audience playing detective between courses. This time, the year is 1944, and the milieu is the waning days of Kansas City's jazz age. Fridays and Saturdays through April 7 at the Hereford House, 2 E. 20th St., 816-813-9654. The WTF Show Having little-to-no idea what to expect from Comedy City's raucous new sketch and stand-up show, we asked local biker and badass comic big Dale Hilton. His response? "The WTF Comedy Show is your one-stop comedy shop. It's a modern-day vaudeville experience, with songs, puppets and bananas, that soothes the tired-of-the-same-old-thing comedy beast that resides here in Kansas City!" For months, Hilton and his co-conspirators have talked big about tearing KC comedy a new asshole; now, they have it bent over a barrel one Saturday a month. Dale says we've been warned. 10 p.m., Sat., Feb. 10, at Comedy City, 816-842-2744.