Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Morning Star Sylvia Regan's eternally optimistic Morning Star is a sugary throwback to better days. The play opened on Broadway in 1940, during an era when the American dream promised a glowing future to anyone willing to work. In keeping with the cloying hopefulness at the heart of the play, Main Street Theater's show, directed by Steve Garfinkel with boyish enthusiasm, is a bright, shining, happy production about the human heart's power to overcome adversity. The marathon (as one fellow theatergoer put it) three-act play covers lots of time and subject matter. Politics, culture and love all get their moments in this story about a Jewish immigrant family struggling to make it on New York City's Lower East Side. The story opens at the beginning of the 20th century. Events such as the infamous Triangle Factory Fire -- a real historical catastrophe in which 146 workers died, locked in on the burning top floors of the Asch Building -- and World War I find their way into the narrative. By Act III, it's 1931. The family is mired in desperate difficulties, but the matriarch, Becky Felderman, is always a survivor despite her family's troubles. This narrative represents the sort of "upbeat" mid-20th-century theater that has been replaced by Lifetime Television and Hallmark movies. The performers are an attractive bunch, even if they are a bit stiff (this is especially true of the younger members of the cast). And Karen Ross and Thomas Baird, who play the two leads with likable ease, are completely pleasant to watch. But, of course, running at just under three hours, with two intermissions, the production presses well into the outer reaches of pleasant. Through April 17 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706.

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. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.

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