The Sounds of Simon cast light on master songsmith Paul Simon's poignant words. Five players on a darkened stage make Simon's music come alive through a mix of defiance and stillness. Songs like "I Am a Rock," "Hazy Shade of Winter," and "American Tune" show frustration at the world's condition. "You Can Call Me Al," "Loves Me Like a Rock," and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" are lighthearted; the cast joins in loosely structured choreography with do-si-dos and Latino grooves. But the silent moments are brilliant. Pieces of "The Sound of Silence" are appropriately sung throughout, begging the audience to ponder. Eeriness encompasses the set; gentle fog rolls over sloped hills on an Astroturfed stage. A few benches sit solemnly like gravestones, and a chainlink fence serves as a barrier to a painted sky. This is holy ground, and the performers sing like angels. Abby Lynn Pantalone's operatic melodies and fearful eyes show torment as she portrays a drugged-out hippie in a sunflower dress withdrawing drug paraphernalia from a small, clasped purse -- a mixture of optimism and hopelessness. Don Febbraio, a soldier in camouflage, holds each note tenderly while reflecting fear, regret, and loss of innocence. He lovingly croons "Still Crazy After All These Years" and gives new meaning to "Scarborough Faire" as a wounded Vietnam veteran. Gary Waldman's suit and tie would be powerful, but his lost, unblinking eyes show despair. His best moment is during "The Boxer," when anguish overcomes him. But Kenney Green conquers the show. Obviously a trained dancer, Green's passionate performance escalates into the spine-tingling final number, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." (Through February 20 at Atlantis Playhouse, 5893 S. Congress Ave., Atlantis, 561-304-3212.)
Enchanted April lives up to its name, with enticing characters and an engaging plot. Lotty Wilton (Cary Anne Spear) finds herself dissatisfied with her tyrannical husband and her humdrum existence. She finds escape through an ad in the paper -- a rentable castle in Italy. Her heart aflame with possibility, she ropes a reluctant fellow churchgoer, Rose (Laura Turnbull), into the vacation scheme. Needing two others to help pay the bills, Lotty and Rose entice the lonely and beautiful modern girl, Lady Caroline (Annie Reilly), and a rigid, gray-haired drill sergeant of a woman named Mrs. Graves (Pat Nesbit). The unfolding of the relationship among these strangers is poignant and moving. Spear is priceless, turning from a flighty victim to a natural and exuberant group leader. Turnbull evolves from a repressed wife into a blooming young woman ready to accept love. Reilly and Nesbit play character roles, but both show growth, especially Nesbit, who skillfully employs body language, speech, and a tight-lipped smile to unveil Mrs. Graves' more vulnerable side. (Through February 13 at Caldwell Theater, 7873 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton, 561-241-7380.)
The Boys Next Door is a heartwarming look at the lives of four mentally challenged men who live together. The actors brilliantly depict four unique, charming, and quirky personalities. Arnold (Michael Collins), in a colorful mismatched wardrobe and large black glasses, constantly spells out the injustices of life, threatening to move to Russia. A chubby and lovable Norman (Jason Scott Quinn) always has a donut hiding somewhere; he learns about love and dancing with an equally plump and challenged Sheila (Kelly Legratta), who toddles about shyly with a big bow on her head. Barry (Jeffrey Bower) seems the best-adjusted but is schizophrenic; he thinks he's a golf pro, but he shuts down when his father (Gordon McConnell), a harsh, abusive man, pays a surprise visit. Author Tom Griffin has crafted the play skillfully, allowing the audience the liberty to laugh while gaining respect for a diverse and often misunderstood group. (Through February 6 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach, 561-625-6010.)
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