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Setting the Stage

August is over, and a new theater season is upon us

The dog days of summer might be howling, but for the past few weeks, Houston theaters have been silent as snow. Thankfully, the seasons are about to change -- in more ways than one. Watch the marquees around the city, and you'll find a multitude of reasons to buy a theater ticket in the coming months.

The Alley has announced a surprisingly sedate season, but in January, Houston's best-endowed theater is bringing back Culture Clash in AmeriCCa, the show created by Culture Clash, the wildly irreverent Latino trio from California. Last fall, they had us laughing till it hurt with their hard-hitting comedy about class, race and politics. And it's a real treat that the theater is bringing it back for everyone who wants to see it again -- and for all those unfortunates who missed it the first time. For the more traditionally minded, the Alley is bringing Molière's Miser in April, all the way from Minneapolis's Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the 2005 Tony Award-winner for Outstanding Regional Theater.

As usual, Infernal Bridegroom Productions is breaking new ground with an über-cool list of productions on the docket. Those include Speeding Motorcycle, an original rock opera written by the legendary Texas singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, whose songs have been covered by iconoclasts like the Flaming Lips and Beck. Opening in December, the project focuses on such topics as unrequited love and Captain America. The company also will put on one of theater's great classics: Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, a play that celebrates misery at its most tragic and most hysterical as it examines the hopes and dreams of a sad little family that lives in the Russian sticks. And always the experimenters, IBP will even take on a new genre with a yet-to-be-named independent film project, set to screen in the summer of 2006.

Ric Salinas, Richard Montoya and Herbert Sigüenza of 
Culture Clash return in January.
Ric Salinas, Richard Montoya and Herbert Sigüenza of Culture Clash return in January.

For musical lovers, Theatre Under the Stars has two especially interesting shows lined up this season. In the beginning of May, TUTS will bring the rarely produced 110 in the Shade to Houston. The show, which opened on Broadway back in 1963, is based on N. Richard Nash's Rainmaker, a story about a simple Midwestern girl and a fabulous man who makes dreams come true. Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, who wrote The Fantasticks, created the much-admired music. The story is lovely, and the score simply soars. The second half of May brings Bombay Dreamsto Houston. The lightweight, kitschy musical about a Bombay tour guide who becomes a famous Bollywood star was one of the most talked-about musicals on Broadway when it opened there in 2004.

For serious theater lovers, Stages Repertory Theatre is offering one of the most impressive lineups of the 2005-2006 season. The year includes a group of plays by such diverse playwrights as Eric Coble and David Schulner. And it all gets off to a gangbuster start with Moira Buffini's Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning Silence. Opening in October, the regional premiere tells the story of a tenth-century feminist who marries a 14-year-old ruler. The two make a startling discovery on their wedding night, and what ensues is a tale about cross-dressing, hallucinogenic mushrooms and a vicious murder. Philosophical, absurd and funny, the play has been called "a remarkably entertaining comedy" by The Village Voice. Concluding Stages' season in May is an exciting project called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Written by Joan Holden, the play is based on a book by journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who left her middle-class life to work a series of minimum-wage jobs so she could write about what it's really like to be part of the disenfranchised working poor. No theater in town does politically driven work better than Stages, and the show promises to be one of the most exciting of the entire theatrical season.

Main Street Theater is offering a whole slew of classics, including Clare Booth Luce's 1939 Margin for Error and Joe Orton's 1969 What the Butler Saw.But one of the most enticing offerings from the theater is the January world premiere of Wondergirl by local actor/director Rutherford Cravens. The timely drama centers on a couple expecting twins. The story starts off chronicling the hard choices they face, but the seemingly simple drama slowly evolves into an examination of medical ethics in a world where technological advances have us struggling to figure out what's right. Cravens, who has wowed Houstonians with his gorgeously gritty performances on stages across the city, promises to be an intense playwright.

In April, The Ensemble Theatre will bring back The Colored Museum, George C. Wolfe's gut-punching satire about African-American stereotypes. The play features 11 "exhibits" that lampoon both blacks and whites as it explores the black American experience beginning with the Middle Passage. For the less politically minded, in June the theater will produce Joel Schumacher's melodrama Sparkle, a doo-wop musical about girls struggling to make pop music.

August has been hell here in Houston, especially for theater lovers. But fall is coming, bringing with it a whole new season that promises great things for anyone who loves a good show.

 
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