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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Houston Ballet on the EdgeThis Cullen Series showcase featured Blindness, Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch's first creation since he took over the company. After tempting us with Diversions, then mostly boring us with Tales of Texas (which he created before taking over as artistic director), Welch has gone back to what he knows, and his Blindness is startlingly clear in its vision. This short, abstract work set to Bach features Victorian gowns; blindfolded, half-naked men; theatrical, slow, controlled movements; and Cirque Du Soleil-style partnering. It's sensual and dramatic while showing the company's ability to blend contemporary ballet steps with modern-dance torso twists. Blindness is a beautiful, evocative work -- if it doesn't have eyes, it certainly appears to have legs. The series also featured two other world premieres. Canadian Matjash Mrozewski presented the theatrical The Great Attractor, a stunning work in three movements that runs the gamut from Brahms to techno. Mrozewski is gifted with groups, using an exploding ensemble in the first movement and contemporary couples in the second. And then there was Adrian Burnett's new work, which isn't theatrical in the least. In fact, Fugitive Pieces is not only plotless but soulless. Somehow black mesh, flexed feet and angled arms just doesn't look as fresh they did 20 years ago. But even so, the fast-paced 20-minute ensemble piece does show the company's developing technique for this style of movement. Rounding out the bill was a previous Cullen piece, Trey McIntyre's always fun and jazzy Touched.

Laura's BushHaving never been photographed, interviewed or even seen, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jane Martin has long been a mystery. People assume that she is Jon Jory, former artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, as well as the spokesperson and director for all Martin premieres in Kentucky. But after sitting through her latest play, brought to Houston by Unhinged Productions, we think we've uncovered the playwright's real identity: She's Michael Moore! The cleverest thing about the sorry political satire Laura's Bush is the title. Otherwise, it's a witless waste of time and good acting talent -- unless, of course, you find the following at all funny: Mrs. Bush sitting on a toilet; national security adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice actually being Hilary Clinton in blackface; Mrs. Bush being kidnapped by a dominatrix riding a llama; and the president sitting around reading Kierkegaard before he undergoes a lobotomy. This is the kind of play that's not written but typed, or rather, dictated in great haste. It's frenetic, sophomoric, without charm and -- the worst fault -- lacking in joy. Satires, even scattershot, harebrained ones such as this, should have glee and a wicked glint. This is just without merit. But if the CIA ever does need a body double for the first lady, they need look no further than Elva Evans, who, in her lime-green pants suit, pearls and carefully relaxed hairdo, would be a smashing stand-in (even if Martin's version comes complete with a horn-dog, insatiable libido). Sympathies extend to Sara Gaston (so phenomenal just weeks ago in The Rice), Michelle Edwards and Adrianne Kipp, who all give more life to this dead-in-the-water sketch than it deserves. Through November 21 at Stages Repertory Theater, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

Leading LadiesOn paper, Ken Ludwig's new comedy, Leading Ladies, sounds about as fun as a toothache. The protagonists are two small-time, dead-broke actors who cook up a ludicrous scheme to bilk an old lady out of millions. Sounds like a real old-fashioned snoozefest. But here's the wacky thing: Old-fashioned though he may be, Ludwig knows how to make people laugh. The Alley Theatre's world-premiere production of Ludwig's newest farce is so funny, it will make sophisticated and reasonable men and women of the 21st century cackle till their faces hurt. When Leo (Brent Barrett) and Jack (Christopher Duva) arrive at the old woman's fancy digs, posing as long-lost nieces and dressed as female Shakespearean characters, the silliness soars. The shenanigans are made more endearing by charming supporting characters played with wacky joy by a cast of Broadway veterans. Each and every performer is a treat, especially as directed by Ludwig himself in big, brassy style. Particularly good are Erin Dilly as Meg, Leo's hysterical love interest; Jane Connell as grouchy Aunt Florence, who can bust up the place with a perfectly timed double take; Lacey Kohl as Audrey, a ditsy blond who falls for Jack; and Dan Lauria as easygoing Doc, who cracks up the house when he walks out wearing his own version of Shakespearean rags, including an enormous codpiece. Across the board, these actors are having a romping good time, and their joy is infectious. While this is not the sort of theater that ponders the great questions of life, it comes as a surprisingly welcome treat. Through November 7. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

Me-sci-ah When longtime company member Troy Schulze heads up an Infernal Bridegroom Productions show, the weird-factor goes off the scale. Lately, he's become a master at making theater out of seemingly nontheatrical texts. His recent "adaptations" include Actual Air, a production put together from David Berman's poetry, and Jerry's World, a wild celebration of language cobbled together from the oddball radio shows of Joe Frank. This season, Schulze uses "found" and "published sources" to stitch together a bitingly funny indictment of the Church of Scientology and its most famous follower, Tom Cruise. Me-sci-ah is collaged together from video, music, monologues and interviews, and it delivers some disturbingly compelling scenes. The show moves from weird Scientology behavior to the history of L. Ron Hubbard, the man who started Scientology in 1954. He apparently believed that "the best way to make a million dollars" is to start a religion. We get an interview with Hubbard's son, who argues that his father was a violent fraud, and an interview with a wonderfully narcissistic Tom Cruise (both are played by Schulze). Lasting only an hour, the show is riveting for all its dark undercurrent of violence and its utterly creepy statement about our collective ability to be bamboozled by any sort of Tom-foolery put out for public consumption -- a message that seems especially dark given our current political climate. Through November 6 at the Axiom, 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

 
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