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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

 Moonchildren Remember the '60s? Sittin' around, preferably on the floor, smokin' a fatty, blowin' soap bubbles and groovin' on how round and cool they are? Between giggles and the inevitable munchies, the talk was relevant, deep and meaningful, usually against the Man, the pigs, the war and anyone over 30. It all seemed so important at the time. Rootless young adults -- a literary genre for eons -- are at the center of Michael Weller's drama set during the mid-'60s in a college apartment shared by seven friends (soon to be eight, when a hippie chick meets one of the guys). It's a Polaroid of the age, and the Back Porch Players, adeptly directed by Peter Garcia, infuse the nebulousness of plot and character with an improv quality that suits the author's meanderings. The play is much too long, padded with a Whitman's Sampler of extraneous characters who bring it down. Bummer. But the young men and women playing these characters, who are now graduating and facing life's crossroads, give this comedy/drama a good buzz with their shifting alliances, misplaced loyalties and good-natured bickering over missing hamburgers and weird hang-ups. Youthful idealism gets lost between scene changes, as do some characters' motivations, but the gung-ho cast keeps us rooting for them, even when they're pompous little shits, or when playwright Weller has forgotten what he's trying to say. Lovely ensemble work by Nicholas Bogosian, Morgan Rosse, Dan Gordon, Kregg Dailey, Matt Hune, Rachael Kruk, Nick Collins and Elizabeth Bell. Through August 12. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

The Tale of the Allergist's Wife Consider Theater LaB's sparkling rendition of Charles Busch's Tale of the Allergist's Wife an early Christmas present. You'll kick yourself if you miss it. This literate, witty and sexy comedy has playwright Busch going mainstream, after decades of gay camp classics including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommy, Die. If you're familiar with Busch's work as both writer and drag actor, you weren't surprised by all the breathless acclaim he's gotten lately -- or his Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 2001. Marjorie (Terri Carter), married for more than 30 years, is in a midlife rut. Hell, she's in a chasm. Depressed and taking out her frustrations on the Disney megastore by smashing pricey figurines, she's "curious, yes; profound, no!" Marjorie is hungry for life's meaning but thinks she's of limited intellect. Her loving husband (Mike Lovell), an allergist, is worried, but more concerned with his exalted position among his devoted students. Marjorie's Jewish yenta mom, Frieda (Dorothy Edwards), whose primary concern is undergoing yet another colonoscopy -- her third in six months -- just wants her to buck up. "Go, do volunteer work, make yourself useful," she crows while apotheosizing her bowel movements. Marjorie is pushed out of her lethargy -- they all are -- by the magical appearance of her childhood friend Lee (Josephine John), whose sophisticated yet sinister fairy godmother changes everything. The laughs are nonstop, even when the conversation turns to Marjorie's beloved German novelist, Hermann Hesse, and the deeper significance of Siddhartha. Sex, of course, is the great liberator, bringing morning-after guilt along with wonderful repercussions. Carter is splendid as out-of-sorts Marjorie, as is Edwards as Frieda, but it's John who centers the show with her sleek elegance and name-dropping and her panther sultriness. Lee is the great enigma, the girl who's both good and bad, seductive and creepy -- and John portrays her magnificently. Through July 30. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

Tamalalia 10: The Greatest Hits Show Though she's only in her thirties, Tamarie Cooper has become a sort of institution in H-town. Every summer, she's treated the city to a brand-new musical episode of her ever-evolving, bust-a-gut-funny Tamalalia series, put on with the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. And hip Houstonians have come to love her for it. But sadly, all the fun is about to come to an end, as this year's show is the absolute last one ever. So what a treat it is to revisit some of the high jinks from past productions in our favorite redhead's last blowout. Narcissism never looked as good as it does here. As always, this revue is about Cooper's personal problems, but because they look an awful lot like those of most women trying to find love and happiness in America today, they only add to the production's appeal. Cooper's inner demons run the gamut, from unhealthy body image to substance addiction to crappy boyfriends to that eternal search for a really good dress. She's got a song about it all, and somehow, she makes those problems hysterical. One favorite blast from the past: the parade of former boyfriends that show us Cooper's dating mistakes, including Stalker Guy (Kyle Sturdivant), Racist Boyfriend (Richard Jason Lyders-Gustafson), Gay Boyfriend (Wayne Wilden) and Boring Guy (Chris Irvin). Along the way she also talks about her sexy dreams about the princes of England, her love of bad '80s MTV dance moves and a dreaded PE class she once had (led by the hilarious Noel Bowers as Coach Gascamp). These and other scenes add up to a wonderful night of memories from one of Houston's most charming performers. Through August 28 at the Axiom, 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

Unhinged, Uncut and Uncensored The Houston playwrights responsible for Unhinged Productions' summer fest of short GLBT plays surely had the best of intentions. But that doesn't mean anyone should create a play out of routine, scatological TV-sketch gags, as does Christopher Lewis in The Bump, a play about a sad-sack who discovers a sore on his penis and wanly fantasizes during his visit to the doctor. Nor is a play with nebulously written characters a good idea; in Lisa Bunse's Starbucked: Two former lesbian lovers talk around their affair using "cream" and "coffee" as euphemisms and more pregnant pauses than Pinter himself. Also to be avoided is barb-less political satire -- witness Fernando Dovalina's Land of the Free, a futuristic, blandly unfunny satire about what'll happen if the Marriage Amendment passes nationwide. The remaining three plays work better but suffer from speedy windups, extraneous padding and unreal characters. Terms and Conditions by Steve Stewart is fun, thanks to a frisky performance by Julia Traber, who can turn an ordinary Œhello' into a sarcastic put-down worthy of Eve Arden. Traber's the butch lover of femme Natalie (Nicki Thomas). They both want babies from Natalie's incredulous former boyfriend (Alan Heckner), who ultimately balks. Wine and Wafers by Ed Vela is polished, structurally adroit, and the most consistently acted, telling the story of Catholic teen Norman (Phillip Hays), who comes out to his devout dad (John Stevens) and young sassy brother (Al Falik) during communion. Dad's surprisingly nonplused and thoroughly sympathetic to Norman's confession, but the play's softly dramatic power is unnecessarily sapped by the clergy's shenanigans in the confessionals. Blanche Davidian by Joey Berner has the most promise and the quirkiest premise. The Man (Alan Heckner), a palooka living in some remote rural region, purchases a mail-order bride. Who should arrive but a whiny drag queen (Glen Lambert) who could give bitch lessons to both Bette and Joan. The vibrant, very comic culture clash cries out for a second act. Through August 7. Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch, 713-899-0468.

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