Sex, Drugs, Rock n' Roll 

On stage: The Other Place, American Idiot, Lion in Winter.

The Lion in Winter at Theatre Memphis

The Lion in Winter at Theatre Memphis

Go to The Other Place. It's not an uplifting play, this story of Dr. Juliana Smithton, a biophysicist developing drugs to treat dementia while losing her grip on reality. She has brain cancer. Or maybe she doesn't. Her husband is screwing around. Or not. Her daughter's dead in a ditch, or maybe she's dropping by the family's second home and bringing the twins. No, it's not uplifting. But for fans of good acting and unconventional mysteries, its arrival at Circuit Playhouse is fantastic news.

Go to The Other Place. You'll see Kim Sanders play a woman who's come home to drown her sorrows in wine and Chinese takeout only to find a stranger in the kitchen who wants to hug it out. This scene between Sanders and Kim Justis is funny, tense, hard to watch, impossible not to watch, and as fine a thing as anyone is likely to perform on a stage probably ever.

Go to The Other Place, where Michael Gravois vividly falls apart and pulls himself together after taking more than anybody could ever be expected to bear. Go to The Other Place, where Kinon Keplinger shows, once again, that he's among the most versatile character actors in town.

Go to The Other Place. Director Dave Landis and his first-rate cast and crew have served up 90 minutes of bracing uncertainty. Good stuff, not to be missed.

At Circuit Playhouse through February 21st

People who are bored are also boring, and the junkie life is a study in redundancy. These are just a few of the hurdles any production of American Idiot has to overcome. Playhouse on the Square's production of the Green Day musical fails to clear any of them, though it might get some extra lift if somebody would just TURN UP THE BAND!

Director Gary John La Rosa felt like much of American Idiot's story had been lost in Broadway's noisy assault. To correct for this, he placed the band behind the scenery and pushed it to the back of the theater. It's a good theory, and an enormous miscalculation.

American Idiot isn't a traditional musical. It's a sonic screed responding to 20th-century excess and 21st-century wars — a collage of sights and sounds that remind us of just how fractured and confusing life could be at the turn of the most-recent century. The story — if you can call it that — revolves around three young bros from the burbs striking out on their own and making life choices that turn out badly. Plot points related to addiction, a failing marriage, and combat are prosaically grafted to a heap of mostly catchy songs.

It ain't rock-and-roll unless it upsets the parents, and, to the show's credit, people got up and left when Alexis Grace (Whatsername) and Nathan McHenry (Johnny) stripped down for the big sex scene. It's an easy way to shock, but I knew how the fleeing couples felt. I was embarrassed and wanted to leave every time an actor with no business playing guitar plunked his way through music he never should have been asked to play in the first place.

The banter that makes The Lion in Winter such a joy when it clicks can also be the filigreed anchor that drowns the old show in its own stilted cleverness.

James Goldman's play appears to revolve around a power struggle between King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor, and three sons who want to replace daddy on the throne. But the play's central conflict is raw barbarism in all out war with civilization.

Director Irene Crist's production of Lion gets a lot right. Jack Yates' unit set projects an air of impregnability, but his compact castle is a subtle shape shifter and as pliable as it needs to be. Andre Bruce Ward's costumes are the perfect mix of thick fur pelts, rough textile, metal, and fine fabric. Jeremy Allen Fisher's lighting lacks texture, but that's a small complaint. It's also one of the very best examples I've seen locally of using lighting to edit out all the stuff we don't need to see. The problem is, there's just not a lot action to frame.

There are key aspects of Henry Charles K. Hodges simply fails to communicate. The king's not some sage older gentleman reflecting on youthful indiscretions. He's still able to behead rivals while bedding contessas, milkmaids, courtesans, novices, whores, gypsies, jades, and little boys. Hodges' Henry is too much the victim of his family tragedy and not enough the swinging dick whose preoccupations set all the bloody nonsense in motion.

Eleanor is a plum role, and Christina Wellford Scott's head fits the crown.

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