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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Bad Dates An icky date can happen to anyone. But Theresa Rebeck's one-woman show is a reminder of how hilarious they can be in retrospect. The whole production takes place in single-mom Haley's bedroom, where she primps and dresses for several dates as she tells us about her life. The 90-minute monologue is chopped into several scenes; in each, she's either returning from a date or getting ready for one. We get to watch her mistakes and hear her horror stories. One moron talks endlessly about his colonoscopy; another is gay. Haley, of course, overlooks the man she's meant to be with simply because she meets him at a dinner full of wanna-be New-Agers who talk about preserving the lives of bugs. She calls him the bug guy. This television-style story is complicated slightly by Haley's unlikely working life, which includes the mafia-involved owner of the restaurant she manages and a shoebox filled with cash under Haley's bed. But the script is mostly taken up with her prattle about bad dates. Good thing Haley is played by the utterly charming Annalee Jefferies. It is Jefferies alone, under Jeremy B. Cohen's direction, who keeps the ship of this show from sinking under the weight of its own cuteness. Jefferies moves about Jeff Cowie's funky bedroom set with girlish grace as she tries on skirts and shoes, and giggles and moans about her experiences. When Haley triumphs in the end, Jefferies make it impossible not to smile along with her. There's nothing here that you won't find on television any night of the week, but Jefferies' radiant charisma makes the night out worth it. Through April 3 at the Alley Theatre, Neuhaus Stage, 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

Boston Marriage David Mamet, one of America's most important living playwrights, is well known for his smutty-mouthed male characters -- they scrape the bottom of the world as they eke out a bitter living, usually involving some sort of nefarious activity. His 1999 Boston Marriage, getting its regional premiere with the folks at Unhinged Productions, gives us an altogether new spin on Mamet's quintessential scam artist. Set in the Victorian age, the play focuses on a pair of lesbians who live discreetly together in a "Boston marriage," which is a 19th-century term describing the close (supposedly nonsexual) friendships between women who choose to cohabitate instead of marrying. Born from Mamet's imagination, these ladies are as capable as any of his male characters of hurling a nasty insult. Anna (Sara Gaston) and Claire (Patricia Duran) call each other everything from "vacant cow" to "impertinent cooz" to "immoral harlot" as they battle over who gets to sleep with whom. In true Mamet form, they're also willing to scam for money and for sex. Lighter and funnier than much of Mamet's work, Boston Marriage is a celebration of language and philosophy. The characters say things like "what a vast and pointless shithole it all is" as they explore the meaning of words and the meaning of love. Directed by Michelle Edwards, this show is clean and tight and often laugh-out-loud funny. Especially riotous is Gaston as the acid-tongued Anna. These women are catered to by their Scottish maid Catherine, played by Kelley Stolte with flaming red hair and fiery wit. Her well-timed curtsies are priceless. No Mamet fan should miss this production. Through March 27 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

The King and I "Shall we dahnce?" asks Anna (Stefanie Powers) in her best charm-school, upper-crust accent, extending her lace-gloved hands to the imperious King of Siam (Ronobir Lahiri). In Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 Tony award-winning classic musical, their last great one, this definitive scene -- in which polka stands in for sex -- packs a punch. The king and Anna, the young widow and governess to his children, embrace, the music swells, and off they gallop around the stage, moving to that ethereal, bouncy melody. It's music theater at its most sparkling. In this Theatre Under the Stars revival, however, the heat's been turned down. Powers has spunk and the right amount of propriety, but there's a serious lack of chemistry between this governess and the autocratic, yearning-to-be-benevolent ruler. Lahiri plays the King by following Yul Brynner's sterling interpretation, speaking his songs and blustering mightily. But he misses the exotic, animal danger that Brynner so naturally possessed. The beneath-the-surface spark that drives this West-meets-East tale and gives it sensual weight just isn't there. The most memorable sequence is a faithful restaging by Susan Kikuchi of the brilliant Jerome Robbins's "Little House of Uncle Thomas" ballet (one of Robbins's finest works), while the best voice belongs to mezzo Catherine MiEun Choi, as first wife Lady Thiang, whose deeply felt anthem "Something Wonderful" almost stops the show. The show looks great, though, with enough silk and gold lame for a dozen productions of Scheherazade. Through April 3 at Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887.

Office Hours It's not until the second scene of this sparkling little gem of a comedy, written by prolific Canadian playwright Norm Foster and playing at Company OnStage, that we realize what Foster's up to. Six separate scenes overlap during one Friday afternoon in six separate offices -- and everybody's interconnected in wonderfully goofy ways. Even certain inanimate objects show up to link each disparate story to the next. What at first seems totally random becomes clear when we least suspect it. The male ice-skater who's fleetingly perched on the building's ledge in scene one turns out to be the brother of the entertainment lawyer in scene four, who's putting a movie deal together with the toadying producer from scene two, who's the gay lover of the lawyer whose parents drop in unannounced right when he's late for a tryst. Meanwhile, there's the six-foot, 200-pound jockey in scene five who dreams of riding in the Kentucky Derby even though his last attempt gave his horse a heart attack; the agent in scene three who tries to convince his wife that the incriminating photographs she's holding are "the aftermath of some freak accident" in which he was thrown pantless into the back of a car; and a sleazy romance novel and Week-At-A-Glance daily planner that show up in each scene. Rest assured, it makes perfect sense by the final curtain. Audiences come away grinning, thanks to pinpoint performances -- Christine Vinh's tart-tongued wife with her purring voice, Bruce Countryman's harried dad, L. Robert Westeen's whining jockey, Donna Hainley's domineering mom. Through April 16 at 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.

 
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