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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

 The Calling of Jericho Jones Some questions for playwright C. Jean Montgomery and her "Texas tragic-comedy": Why does it take seven years for this Irish family living in Clute to hold a séance (a "calling") that will bring back wastrel eldest son Jericho (Jay Menchaca) to explain his mysterious disappearance? Why hasn't Mother Mac (Rebecca Pipas Seabrook) passed down her thick brogue to the rest of the family? Why did the charming, black-sheep Jericho, who was hardly evil or mean, rape sister-in-law Leslie (Karen Heimbaugh)? Why has it taken neighbor Mattie (Jeanette Sebesta) almost a decade to declare that she "has the power" to summon spirits? Why has Jericho been reincarnated as a rooster, except to make a lame joke about being "cock of the walk"? When murder is revealed, why does the motive make no sense? And why are the play's dramatic monologues intercut with scenes that have no relation to one another? If you can make it past these nagging questions, there are some pleasures to be found in Jericho Jones. Seabrook, Sebesta and Menchaca give their characters abundant life and spontaneity, and Montgomery has inserted some nifty little script reversals along the way to surprise us. And Jericho's monologues, if stitched back together, are powerfully evocative, though ultimately superfluous to the drama at hand. Through October 10. Theatre Suburbia, 1410 West 43rd, 713-682-3525.

Little Fascist Panties No, this world premiere is not an exposé of Eva Braun's kinky sex life, although playwright Bob Morgan might have been on firmer ground had he taken on the Third Reich. Instead, this grubby little shocker from dos chicas theater commune is a primer on their grunge, existential aesthetic. It starts out as an S&M Pygmalion, with serial killer and utter whack-job Mia (Anne Zimmerman) and her terribly gender-confused roommate, Lisle (played by Morgan), adopting young but accomplished streetwalker Jenna (Tanya Fazal). Oozing parental concern, they bring her into their low-rent family, but we know their smarmy attention is only pretext and that something really bad is going to happen. Perhaps that's because Mia is constantly shooting men dead on the street and stealing their money to pay bills. Maybe it's because Lisle, a rent boy for old married men from the suburbs, equally loves wearing women's lingerie and being whipped and humiliated by Mia. This happy little perverted home spins out of control -- and out of the playwright's hands -- when Mia's psychotic urgings go into overdrive after Lisle is beaten into a coma by one of his johns. Down one breadwinner, Mia knows just what to do: have Jenna hustle back onto the streets. The kid's transformed her life by now, so naturally she balks, and then all hell breaks loose -- labial rings, dark closets and a policeman's billy club called Tim take the stage. Morgan makes a splendidly conflicted Lisle -- naughty and childlike, and later, utterly fragile and heartbreaking. Anne Zimmerman, with her Susan Hayward features and whiskey contralto, relishes playing sadistic Mia. And as her torments increase, Tanya Fazal comes into her own as hapless Jenna, victim of these vipers from hell. As playwright, Morgan rushes full steam into the hopelessness of street life, using deeply scarred characters who can't escape their past to illuminate his thesis that "choices have consequences," but the X-rated melodramatic situations he concocts are more fraught with peril than a dozen installments by Charles Dickens, via Hustler. Moral: Don't make the choices these characters have. Through October 30 at Helios, 411 Westheimer, 832-283-0858.

The Rice Lureen Boudreaux (Sara Gaston) eagerly awaits her married lover in room 1760 of the Rice Hotel the week before Christmas, 1957. She is one tough cookie. Besides being a lousy mother, she cusses like a field hand, and she's lost her job at Galveston's swank gambling joint the Turf Club. Yet somehow, Lureen charms with sweet grit and steel-magnolia determination. She's stayed at the Rice several times before with playboy Ike West Jr., heir to an oil fortune. But this time it's going to be different. Ike's leaving his wife, you see, to marry Lureen. She's put her full faith into it -- but something tells us it's not going to happen. This world premiere by Jeff Millar, former Houston Chronicle film critic and now writer of syndicated comic strip Tank McNamara, lovingly evokes the era with details such as a princess phone (in turquoise) and Houston radio station KTRH. It's that damn phone that's the problem. Lureen is constantly center-stage -- and constantly talking on the phone, which only reminds us how much we crave real dialogue. No matter how brilliantly Gaston carries these one-sided conversations (and she's a font of nuance and shifting rhythm), they overburden the play and drag it down. Fortunately, there are some 3-D characters to pep up the narrative: a naively sweet bellboy she befriends (Nick Collins), the officious hotel manager Mr. Peck (Joel Sandel), who's well aware of her prior history of not paying bills, and her old flame Johnny (Jason Douglas), whom she asks up to her room for a last fling before the wedding. But it's Lureen's show from the get-go. Gaston rescues Millar's static play with a performance that has her swigging Pepto from the bottle, lashing out at cowardly, dumb-as-a-post Ike and lounging in a red satin cocktail dress to entice Johnny. She gives an impressive, full-blooded performance. As morally strong Johnny, Douglas does too, in an appealing, understated way. It's the play that needs a transfusion. Through October 10 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706.

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