Capsule Reviews

To Kill a Mockingbird Dallas Children's Theater opens its 21st season with Christopher Sergel's adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer-winning 1960 novel. "Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it," begins the narrator. "Somehow, it was hotter then. Men's stiff collars wilted by 9 in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon and after their 3 o'clock naps and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum." Ah, such writing. That's the beauty of this perennial best-selling novel. Unfortunately, the stage version condenses the plot and truncates some characters. And unlike the novel and the 1962 movie, the narrator is no longer the grown-up tomboy Scout, but a neighbor lady named Maudie (Elly Lindsay) who talks to the audience like the stage manager does in Our Town. Still, the story of racial prejudice in 1930s Alabama packs a big punch, and DCT's cast is full of top-notch professional actors who know how to treat a classic with respect. The leading character, defense lawyer Atticus Finch (played here by the fine Bill Jenkins), is one of the great heroes of American literature. Robyn Flatt directed this production, which co-stars Guinea Bennett-Price as housekeeper Calpurnia and Julius Washington as the wrongly accused Tom Robinson. Young Pam Covington and Evelyn Roberts alternate in the role of Scout. Recommended for older children and adults. Continues through October 17 in the Baker Theater at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts, 5938 Skillman St., 214-740-0051. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

Anna in the Tropics In a cigar factory in Ybor City, Florida, workers sit at a long table, quietly rolling tobacco leaves while listening to their hired "lector" read aloud from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Soon they're taking on the roles of Anna, her husband and the count in their real lives. Affairs spring up, intrigues are plotted, duels are threatened. In Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, the mood is steamy even as the Cuban-American characters of 1929 dream of Russian winters. The play casts a spell of magical realism as haunting as Like Water for Chocolate. The actors at Dallas Theater Center throw themselves into it body and soul, particularly Al Espinosa as the Cuban lector. When he finally seduces the factory owner's daughter at the end of the first act...well, you might just need a good smoke. Continuing through October 3 at Dallas Theater Center, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-522-8499. Reviewed September 16. (E.L.)

The Drawer Boy Those Canadians can get themselves in some big messes, eh? In Michael Healey's play, a couple of old bachelor farmers have their lives upset by the arrival of a young actor researching a theater role for a "collective" about farm life. Miles (Will Harper) wants to know how to act like a farmer. Morgan (John S. Davies) sends him out on fool's errands to wash gravel and study how cows decide which of the next in the herd will be slaughtered. "This beef tastes like ham," Miles says, chomping a sandwich he's been told is "beef spleen." "That's because we feed the pigs to the cows," Morgan lies. The title character in this three-hander is Angus (the remarkable Bradley Campbell), a WWII vet with no short-term memory. "Who are you?" he asks Miles every time he steps through the doorway. Family secrets provide the plot turns in this somewhat predictable but surprisingly affecting drama. Elegant direction by the always reliable Rene Moreno keeps the actors from making sausage out of their meaty roles. Through October 3 at the Courtyard Theater, 1509 H. Ave., Plano, 972-422-7460. Reviewed September 23. (E.L.)

Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know Pack up your troubles and your high expectations for this 90-minute musical revue based on the travel columns of Fodor's writer Wendy Perrin. It's a light romp through tales of lost luggage and resort romance in this community theater production. Morgan Spollin, Meredith Morton and Doug Fowler lead a cast of nine through their paces. Lyrics aren't exactly Sondheim-esque. "Eating pork in Tel Aviv is not considered groovy/In Rwanda Tutsi's not a Dustin Hoffman movie." This is non-pro theater, so the production qualities are kind of La Quinta. Still, there are lots of laughs. Continues through October 2 at Richardson Theatre Centre, 718 Canyon Creek Square (near Custer and Renner roads), Richardson, 972-699-1130. Reviewed September 9. (E.L.)