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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Doo Wop II the SequelAccording to Big Mama in the Great Caruso's latest musical revue, doo wop was an incantatory musical potion created from "gospel, jazz and four-part harmony." Of course, as Big Mama (a smooth Samantha Coombs) adds, the biggest influence was the blues. Happily, all those head-bopping musical styles come together to make a surprisingly potent revue, Doo Wop II the Sequel. The first Doo Wop revue ran successfully for several months in 2002. The second is every bit as snappy. The show manages to stretch far and wide across the musical eras of the Œ50s and Œ60s and includes tunes as diverse as Debbie Reynolds's "Tammy," the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" (sung with fabulous attitude by Cynthia Williams) and Ray Charles's "Georgia." Little Richard makes a fiery and funny appearance (featuring Eric Mota all done up in a towering wig), as does Elvis (Charles Swan). Coombs oversees the whole affair, acting as a sort of narrator who explains some of the history behind the music. For example, there's a whole collage of tunes the program calls "Doo Wop Dances," including "Harlem Shuffle" and "Peppermint Twist." John Cornelius II's arrangements are often both informative and entertaining. We get to hear the original slowed-down and sexy "Hound Dog" before we listen to the well-known Elvis version. Directed by Michael Tapley, the show is an entertaining diversion, a jump back to a time when music only wanted to move our hearts -- and make us move our hips. Through November 25. Great Caruso Dinner Theater, 10001 Westheimer, 713-780-4900.

The Mousetrap This mother of all murder mystery plays, written by Dame Agatha Christie, the mother of all murder mystery writers, opened in London in November 1952, where it's still running. Needless to say, it's the longest-running play in the history of mankind. Whether it deserves such legendary longevity is questionable at best, since Christie was a much better novelist than playwright. This stage classic creaks a bit more than most other 53-year-old works, but the smooth production at A.D. Players keeps the unnecessary exposition, class commentary and clunky dramatics well oiled, quieting the noisy mechanics. Under Marion Arthur Kirby's thoughtful direction, the sprightly cast believes what it's doing, which goes a long way in making the audience itself believe in this old chestnut. Five guests arrive at a young couple's secluded hotel, as does a police sergeant on skis who's chasing a murderer among them. A snowstorm rages (although we never see any snow falling outside the large French doors), the telephone lines have been severed, there are back staircases galore, and we wait for the murderer to strike again if the policeman can't figure out whodunit in time. Of course, everyone has a secret that may link him or her to the past murder, which makes everyone a prime suspect or the next victim. This play has enough red herrings for a Russian fish market, and the ending is a classic among its kind. If you like murder mysteries, this Christie's for you. Through November 6. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721.

Whatshisname?The citizens of Dumpster, Texas, are at it again. Created by a trio of actors at Radio Music Theatre, the wacky Fertle family and all their friends and silly neighbors are now starring in Whatshisname?, a featherweight comedy about a stranger with an eye patch who comes visiting one fine day. Created by Steve and Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills (who also play all of the characters), along with two backstage guys named Mark Cain and Pat Southard, the play tells what happens when a man knocks on the Fertles' door one day, suitcase in hand, for an overnight visit. Only trouble is, nobody can remember who the fellow is. Being the polite people that they are, the Fertles figure that they're at fault. They mustknow this guy, since he seems to be so chummy with them. So the family makes nice and pretends that this stranger is as familiar as a "little baby owl" (as the Fertles like to say), all the while doing their darnedest to figure out who the heck he is. They serve him fruitcake, they ask him how he's doing, and they even let him put his suitcase in the "other room." Meanwhile, an all-points bulletin goes out to the Fertles' friends and family. They get so desperate, they even put up a $10 reward to anyone who can identify this strange man. As one character says, the situation is a "double order of weird with extra odd sauce." When the mystery is solved at last, the whole thing is perfectly logical, in a kooky, small-town kind of way. And though they might not be the brightest bulbs in the pack, nobody could ever say the Fertles don't practice Southern hospitality. Through November 19. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

What You've DoneAaron Landsman's site-specific work is a set designer's dream assignment: Furnish a little row house to reflect the characters who inhabit it. Before the play begins, the audience (only ten per performance -- the house is tiny) is asked to explore the intimate space -- peek inside drawers, see what books are on the shelves, spy on the letters lying about, read the overdue electric bills, open the closets. Installation designer Eric Zapata has performed a marvelous task in bringing the house to detailed life. If only playwright Landsman had been able to fill it as well. His one-hour, three-character play, tantalizingly acted by Autumn Knight, Troy Schulze and Eleanor Colvin, doesn't live up to the house's promise. The initial premise of two poor black sisters and their rich white boyfriend has potential, but the story isn't fleshed out dramatically to hold our interest. Instead of interacting with one another, they speak to us about their failed lives, lost dreams and random musings of abandonment. We get monologues instead of conflict, recorded telephone messages instead of scenes. Everything of import happens off the stage. We hear about it; we don't see it. And the novel opportunity to peruse the set doesn't deepen our understanding of the trio in any way. If we were going through Truvy's beauty parlor in Steel Magnolias, would we be surprised to find hair curlers and a bottle of shampoo? Inside this shotgun house, there's more life in the inanimate objects than the human. Through November 12. Project Row Houses, 2501 Holman. For tickets, call 713-335-3445.

 
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