'The Little Pilot'

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes in "The Little Prince: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." Given that sentiment, it's a touch ironic that Sandbox Theatre's "The Little Pilot," an exploration of the French aviator and author's life, is such a stunning visual feast.

Using little more than lights, three long pieces of silk and the bodies of its six actors, this production offers up image after image of unearthly beauty. Evelyn Digirolamo's exquisitely choreographed aerials allow the ensemble to literally take flight, while projections of Kristina Fjellman's colorful abstract paintings transform the Southern Theater stage into a variety of fantastical landscapes. In the hands of the actors, the trailing silks become wings, mountains, airplane propellers and more.

Director Theo Langason and the ensemble combine text taken from Saint-Exupéry's writings with movement and take on the roles of his mother, fellow fliers and wife, Consuelo, to explore his life and work. They deliver not so much a linear biography of their subject as a dynamic portrait of his artistic imagination. Some scenes are bafflingly obscure, and occasionally the actors' text readings come across as heavily portentous, but these flaws scarcely matter in the face of such beautiful and articulate visual vocabulary.

(Created by the ensemble. Directed by Theo Langason, with co-project leads Evelyn Digirolamo and Kristina Fjellman. Produced by Sandbox. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23-25, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3-4. $24. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S., Mpls. southern.ticketworks.com.)

Lisa Brock

'A Lie of the Mind'

The toxic power of possessive love and the pitfalls of modern manhood go to extremes in Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind." Theatre Pro Rata has staged a compelling production of the 1985 dark comedy.

Jealous husband Jake (Nate Cheeseman) flees to his mother's California home after having severely injured his wife, Beth (Amy Pirkl). His compassionate brother Frankie (Gabriel Murphy) seeks Beth out to verify whether she is dead. When he discovers her convalescing at her family's isolated Montana home, Frankie is threatened by her controlling brother, Mike (Bear Brummel).

Pro Rata's actors capture vividly Shepard's view of the psychic gulf between unflinchingly domestic women and men who crave no strings. Jake's smothering mother, Lorraine (a dynamic Kit Bix), long abandoned by her husband, is so domineering she wants him never to leave her. Joy Dolo shines as Sally, Jake's truth-seeking sister.

Beth's father, Baylor (Don Maloney), continually goes out hunting to evade family intimacy. Maloney's overbearingly brusque Baylor uproariously yet poignantly contrasts Delta Rae Giordano's gentle rendering of wife Meg. The parents' patterns illuminate the roots of their offsprings' behaviors.

(Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Carin Bratlie Wethern for Theatre Pro Rata. 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun., except 3 p.m. Sept. 27. $14-$41. Ends Sept. 27. Nimbus Theatre, 1517 Central Av. NE., Mpls. 612-234-7135, theatreprorata.org.)

John Townsend

'Why We Laugh'

Can a Nazi prison camp be a fitting venue for song, dance and jokes? The cast of "Why We Laugh: A Terezín Cabaret" convincingly shows us that "laughter makes you feel a little better" no matter what hellhole of doom you dwell in.

The play's back story alone is a riveting tale. Based on an actual cabaret performed by Jewish prisoners held at Terezín in the Czech Republic, it premiered there four years ago before Holocaust survivors including original composer Pavel Stránský.

The show's emotional pull is carried largely by sweet, hilarious lovebirds Elise Langer and Skyler Nowinski, who effortlessly play to the back of the room. It begins with a present-day scholar (Julie Kurtz) researching the history of recently discovered theater scripts. She gets swept up in time-traveling exchanges with the early cabaret actors.

Banter alternates with sobering suspense; the scholar knows if and how the players die. "Why We Laugh" is a poignant reminder of real-life heroes who defiantly used humor against horror.

(Written by Kira Obolensky, with music by Craig Harris. Directed by Hayley Finn for Fortune's Fool Theatre. 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. $15-$20. Ends Sept. 27. Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Mpls. fortunesfooltheatre. org.)

Kristin Tillotson