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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Cat's Meow Even if the cinematic names Marion Davies, Elinor Glyn, Thomas Ince and Louella Parsons are unrecognized by contemporary movie audiences, the uninformed will still be fascinated by the Jazz Age sex and Hollywood scandal in Country Playhouse's production of Steven Peros's The Cat's Meow. In 1924, pioneering Hollywood producer Thomas Ince was invited to a weekend party aboard the yacht of the richest, most powerful man in the world: media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Others on board were Hearst's most public mistress, screen star Marion Davies; her rumored lover on the side, Charlie Chaplin; Ince's mistress, ingenue Margaret Livingstone; toadying Hearst columnist Louella Parsons; and racy novelist Elinor Glyn. A week after the party, Ince would be dead; ever since, tongues have been wagging over how, when and why he died. Playwright Peros has taken the case's basic facts and given them a most plausible and delicious spin. As overbearing Hearst, Carl Masterson delivers a fully rounded powerhouse performance with equal amounts bluster, pride and feet of clay. And although vivacious Marion Davies is treated more like a ditsy gold digger than the superior comedienne she was, Carli Mosier gives her a finely shaded heart of goodness. Houston Hayes's egotistical Chaplin and John Mitsakis's everyman Ince offer remarkably lifelike portrayals; Barbara Lasater, dismissive and needy as Glyn, demonstrates the imperious contempt that the outsider always holds for Hollywood's glamour and prestige; and Johanna Bonno's rotund "Lolly" Parsons is a steamroller of guile and guts. Any Hollywood cat will lap up this sweet bowl of cream. Through October 2 at Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

FootlooseIt's been 20 years since Kevin Bacon got the girls all gaga in Footloose. But there's good news for anyone with a hankering to get back to the big-haired '80s: The stage version of Footloose is alive and kicking up its shiny high heels at the Great Caruso Dinner Theater, where everything feels like a throwback to an easier time. Footloose is the sweetest sort of '80s confection. In it, Ren, a wild boy from Chicago, meets badass preacher's daughter Ariel, and together they make some trouble before they set a whole town dancing. Woven around this teen-angst fluff are some unforgettable '80s tunes, including "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and "Almost Paradise." If you enjoyed this sort of music two decades ago, the versions coming from director Michael Tapley's young and bouncy cast will get your feet tapping. Among the strongest members is Deanna Julian, who plays Rusty, Ariel's ditsy blond best friend. Julian knows how to squeeze laughs from the lamest jokes, and she makes a terrific partner for Kyle Green, who steals the show every time he ambles out as Willard, Rusty's thick-headed, skinny boyfriend who can't dance. Brooke Wilson is also terrific as Ariel. Though she's not nearly so self-destructive as Lori Singer's Ariel from the film, Wilson is a convincing actress whose beautiful, full-bodied voice turns silly songs like "Almost Paradise" into surprisingly moving pop schmaltz. Taken all together -- the dinner, the wine, the young and happy cast singing unforgettable pop tunes -- Footloose makes for a fun little night, even if Bacon and his tight-fitting jeans are nowhere to be found. Through November 21. 10001 Westheimer, 713-780-4900.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!If only love trouble were as simple as Joe DePietro and Jimmy Roberts imagine it to be in their hugely popular musical revue I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!The amusing bauble of a production now running at Stages Repertory Theatre gives us a sitcom-style world where men think Caddy Shack is the best film ever and women can't seem to find a decent guy to date. The fluffy show is certainly energetic enough to account for its likability; the music breezes happily along for two hours without ever getting bogged down by, say, depth of thought or original ideas -- which is perfectly fine, given the temperature outside. Structured around the rituals of courtship, the revue features four performers who play multiple roles as they march through the inevitable stages of love. Broadly speaking, Act I deals with the journey from dating to wedding, while Act II takes on the challenges presented by marriage. The play is a narrative in only the loosest sense of the word. There are no real characters, just songs. Despite a few potholes, the show is, most of all, easy and fun. And while the play says nothing new (or even all that true) about marriage or love, it certainly makes for a pleasant diversion. Through September 12. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

Last Night at Orabella's The wizards responsible for the nonstop hilarity at Radio Music Theatre are Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills, abetted behind the curtain by Mark Cain on lights and Pat Southard on sound effects and keyboard. Last Night at Orabella'sis the first in a 14-play series about Houston's most beloved dysfunctional family, the fictional Fertles of Dumpster, Texas. The lunacy begins -- as any fine comedy should -- right smack in the middle of things. We're at Orabella's, Dumpster's only bar/dance hall, and, as the title says, tonight's the last night. Proprietor Uncle Al Peeler (Rich Mills, with great gray eyebrows glued on the rims of his glasses, munching a stogie) is selling the place. Since he's 22 months behind on his rent on a 24-month lease, it's time to give it up. So the town's loony inhabitants converge there for its last night. Dumpster is the kind of place where something ominous is swimming in Luminetta's gravy; where Dolly keeps talking about getting breast implants; and where the town's doctor -- squint-eyed, porkpie-wearing Doc Moore (in a brilliant turn by Steve Farrell) -- talks gibberish. Only in Dumpster would the local Chinese take-out joint serve fortune cookies that read, "You will be decapitated in a boating accident." Steve and Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills nail their characterizations using nothing more than a change of a hat or a ratty wig. You won't find any better performing on a Houston stage than what these three ultra-talented actors accomplish through body language and voice. It's a primer on acting. And it's prime. Through November 20. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

Women@Art Houston Ballet's Women@Art turns ballet's good-ol'-boy network upside down by featuring three women who excel in the traditionally male-dominated field of choreography. In Natalie Weir's The Host, nine men knock one another over like power brokers in an Enron boardroom, though they get temporarily distracted from their predatory behavior by a beautiful seductress. A lot of the dance consists of men taking turns jumping atop a table, and the ballet's repetitive arm thrusts and exaltations never really get off the ground. Julia Adam's masterfully crafted The Accidental, the most captivating on the program, suggests that if women ruled the world, things might be more peaceful. Sara Webb elegantly interpreted her role as a bird separated from its flock, turning into a beautiful but broken bird after confronting the only male in the dance. And Lila York's Celts, created in 1995, mixes gods, goddesses and pagans through Irish-inspired steps. Despite its near-mathematic precision and impressive reverence to Irish roots, the dance has no real conflict. Unlike the other two ballets, it doesn't explore how we all might get along. Thankfully, taken as a whole, the program intelligently raises questions on why, sometimes, we don't. Brown Theater at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-ARTS.

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