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Capsule Reviews

Our critic weighs in on local theater

 The Hollow So, which one of the extended Angkatell family has killed the philandering husband John Cristow (Rich Adamus-Delgado)? Is it his mousy wife, Gerda (Amber Gugino), who's found standing over his dead body with a revolver? Is it the ravishing film star Veronica Cray (Kelley Goode), whose advances John has spurned, though they were once lovers in London? Is it sculptress Henrietta (Brenda Kuciemba), who is John's current mistress? Is it loopy Lady Angkatell (Candice Davis), who wants John out of the way so cousin Edward can keep the family house? Is it working girl Midge (Lauren Tunnell), who so desperately needs money? How about Sir Henry (Tony D'Armata), who owns a whole arsenal of guns and never stops dreaming of the family's past glories? But then, of course, never overlook butler Gudgeon (Revis Bell) or chambermaid Doris (Rebecca Rosenberg), both of whom know the family's secrets. One of Agatha Christie's least-known plays, The Hollow was adapted by the writer from her 1946 book featuring Belgian detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot. For its move to the stage in 1951, Christie removed Poirot and added lots and lots of exposition, giving the play more drawing-room texture than necessary. It's all quite languorous until the happy arrival of Veronica Cray, who bursts into the play like a bolt of Technicolor. Goode is exceptional as sultry Cray in her black-and-white peony-print sundress, dripping glamour and sexiness. So, too, are Gugino as droopy, dim Gerda, and Davis as flighty, batty Lady Angkatell. These fine actors keep the production hopping when Christie is content with a snail's pace. Directed by Barbara Hartman, The Hollow is still an intriguing murder-mystery, thanks to Christie's ever-abundant red herrings, abetted most wonderfully by the aforementioned ladies. Through July 2 at Theatre Suburbia, 1410 West 43rd, 713-682-3525.

Mister Roberts It's hard keeping those crisp navy whites cleaned and pressed when you're on a "can" of a cargo ship called the USS Reluctant, somewhere in the South Pacific during the waning days of World War II, out of harm's way. The Reluctant is delivering needed supplies, but its crew, under the thumb of a by-the-book martinet of a commander, is bored and itching for action. Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan's 1948 Tony Award-winner (Best Play, Actor, Direction) arrives at the port of Country Playhouse more rusted than necessary, probably because the captain was relieved of duty two days before opening night, and his role is now played by director Steve Carpentier. Choppy seas ahead! This change of command has put a pall over the production -- there's a tentative quality throughout, with noticeable hesitations in tempo and line readings. The large cast is game, though, and there's little doubt that by the end of the run, the crew will be nicely shipshape. Nelson Heggen's Mister Roberts, one of the sailors aching to see action before war's end, is stalwart and quietly commanding in an American sort of way. Heggen can slide down the ship's ladder with the devil-may-care attitude of Errol Flynn in Seahawk. Thomas Blanton's Ensign Pulver (the role that catapulted Jack Lemmon to stardom) is a big lecherous kid, out to do as little work as possible, unless it involves sweet-talking navy nurses. Carpentier's captain is suitably gruff, pompous and jealous of Roberts's popularity with the crew. And as Doc, Joe Floyd manages to portray reserve and levelheadedness during all the ship's shenanigans while slyly hinting that he knows more than he lets on. The crew of misfits is ably mismatched, and the camaraderie of men at war is convincingly portrayed. Through July 16. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

Shut Up and Drive No. 4 out of the 14 plays that make up Radio Music Theatre's enduring, hilarious saga of the Singing Fertle Family from Dumpster, Texas, this is the most physical of the comedies so far -- and every bit as wacky and laugh-out-loud funny as the preceding ones. In this installment, daughter Carol, who lives the high life in San Diego with husband George, feels guilty for not seeing her low-life family, and so invites Mom, Dad and brother Earl for a visit. This coincides with sister Justicena's visit to Dumpster, so in typical Fertle fashion, the entire clan ends up coming along, including Uncle Al (he of the eyebrow glasses and incessant stogie) and girlfriend Gwenda (she of the cat's-eye glasses and incessant stogie). Nine family members pretzel themselves into Lou's Buick Riviera and set off for sunny California. That the whole panoply of nutsy folk is played by the three multitalented members of RMT only makes this feat more impressive. The entire Fertle clan clambers over, under and around the front seat during their Act I adventure. Hands, legs and a foot-long sausage make appearances, as does a psychotic trucker with a purple Mohawk, along with Doc Moore (he of the gibberish speech). Somehow, the overloaded Buick limps into "San-di-damn-ego," as Lou calls it, and Act II is off and running amok as the family collides in utterly unpredictable, funny ways. Lou builds a boat in the garage and memorizes the Constitution (don't ask!); Earl wins a contest with his backward singing; Justicena finds her G-spot; Pete "bucks up"; and baby Angina learns to say, "My mommy is a slut." Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills are wondrous on stage, as are Mark Cain and Pat Southard backstage with their sound effects and music mixing. The evening flies by much too fast, and the show is brilliant and wild. Through August 27. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

 
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