The Will Rogers Follies, with lavish production numbers and down-home wit, is at Miller Outdoor Theatre, a huge public venue; The Balcony, with graphic reenactments and incendiary thematics, is at the Artery, a small performance space. Four years ago, Rogers won numerous Tonys; four decades ago, Balcony garnered theatrical renown. Rogers has become a crowd favorite; Balcony has remained a difficult experience. Will Rogers was so famous he inspired a nation; Balcony author Jean Genet was so infamous he inspired Jean Paul Sartre.
Rogers has a pleasant score; Balcony has a score to settle. In Rogers we listen to amusing monologues; in Balcony we listen in on delirious monologues. Rogers has showgirls; Balcony, call girls. Rogers is all show biz; Balcony is all illusion.
Miller Outdoor Theatre seats thousands; the Artery, dozens. Rogers director Ken Leigh Rogers parades eye-dazzling costumes across a grand staircase; Balcony director Vicki Weathersby leads the audience around an overgrown cobblestoned garden, eavesdropping on publicly private affairs. John Schneider, turning the Oklahoma philosopher into a Texas good old boy, is the star of Rogers, though Cynthia Marty, as his cheerily wholesome wife, is also appealing; director Weathersby stands out in Balcony, along with three inspired cast members: Alexander Marchand as a flamboyant madam, Amy Bruce as a knowing whore and Jim Parsons as an impassioned rabble-rouser. The seasoned Rogers cast gets paid; the young Balcony actors are in it for the experience. Rogers is a simple concept, complexly executed; Balcony has a complex concept, simply executed. Located at sites within a stone's throw of each other, Rogers is as slick as Balcony is experimental.
The Will Rogers Follies plays through July 22 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Hermann Park, 520-3290; The Balcony plays July 22 and 23 at The Artery, 5401 Jackson, 522-0908.