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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Bad DatesAn 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 cash-filled shoebox she keeps under the 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 TV any night of the week, but Jefferies's radiant charisma makes the night out worth it. Through April 10 at the Alley Theatre, Neuhaus Stage, 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

Dance Salad Under the direction of Nancy Henderek, Dance Salad celebrated its tenth birthday this year. With it came dancers from 11 international companies and no shortage of hype. Much of the hype was deserved, though the Salad could benefit from fewer ingredients and more thought on how they all fit together. This year's big news was the U.S. premiere of Ballet de Monterrey under the direction of former American Ballet Theatre star Robert Hill. Unfortunately, Huapango, Hill's cheery but bland ballet-folk blend, couldn't match the hoopla surrounding Ballet de Monterrey's appearance. And forgive the hometown bias, but the Houston companies looked stellar. Houston Ballet guest artists Leticia Oliveira and Zdenek Konvalina lit up the stage in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky pas de deux. Dominic Walsh and Paola Georgudis portrayed pathos and passion in Once de Septiembre. Walsh and Ian Casady, who's also of Houston Ballet, showed sinewy bravado in Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's tribute to Balanchine, 2 &1 for Mr. B. Mats Ek's work with the Culberg Ballet of Sweden stood out; his Sleeping Beauty pas de deux paired a sad but funny couple with Tchaikovsky's famous music, employing eye-catching, inventive moves. And Yanni Yin of Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genéve created a Zen mood in Michel Kelemenis's mesmerizing Kiki la Rose.

The Elephant Man The bizarre but true story of Joseph Carey Merrick, a.k.a. the Elephant Man, is the ultimate tale of the ultimate outsider. Hideously deformed during childhood by the extremely rare disease known as Proteus syndrome, Merrick was a living monstrosity during the heyday of Victorian England, and was treated as such for much of his short life (he died in 1890, at the age of 27). Cast out of his family as a boy, exploited in the workhouse, exhibited in freak shows, degraded and treated with absolute contempt and horror by everyone who crossed his path, Merrick, miraculously, did not become hideous on the inside. Merrick's savior, the eminent Dr. Frederick Treves of the London Hospital, showed him kindness and compassion, giving him a home with loving care that included trips to the country and visits with the upper crust of London society. Merrick blossomed for a time, but it wasn't enough -- what could be? One afternoon, he lay down -- he always slept upright, his knees pulled up with his immense bulbous head resting on them -- and the weight of his head crushed his windpipe, suffocating him to death. Bernard Pomerance's Tony Award-winning play lays out the details of Merrick's life, embellishing some and truly moving us with this remarkable story. Unlike David Lynch's graphic movie bio, Pomerance allows us to use our imagination to see the monstrous. As Merrick, Nathan Railey is sublime, and so is Connie Embesi Bennicoff as sympathetic actress Mrs. Kendall, who elicits Merrick's humanity during her visits. And as Dr. Treves, Lee Honeycutt amply supplies his character with distinction and morality. The Country Playhouse production, sharply directed by Meghan C. Hakes, is immensely affecting and evocative. Through April 2. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

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 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 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 lamé for a dozen productions of Scheherazade. Through April 3 at Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887.

 
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