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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Ouroboros Tom Jacobson's Ouroboros might be one of the most richly textured works Main Street Theater has put on in years. The story is told from two points of view in two productions shown on alternative nights. One, A Nun's Tale, is a comedy; the other, A Priest's Tale, a tragedy. Both stories collide in the middle, when the minister and the nun make love. Faith, death, the possibilities of miracles and the corporal sorrows of human love are all at stake in this strange and fascinating work about two lonely couples who meet in Italy. They go searching for answers to some very heady questions. The story takes us through Venice, Florence, Siena and Rome. The characters make strange and mystical discoveries involving a pair of golden rings, the head of Saint Catherine and a darkly violent priest. Somehow, these odd happenings manage to add up to a story that's perfect for the theater. It touches the kinds of profound mysteries -- death, love, faith -- that only art and spirituality can answer. Both highly dramatic and wonderfully eccentric, the script and this production are intelligent and so provocative, it's hard to see one show without longing to see the other. Through April 9. 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706.

To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee's classic novel of small-town Southern life in the '30s, so memorably depicted in the 1962 film that starred Gregory Peck in his Academy Award-winning role as noble and good widower/lawyer Atticus Finch, receives a redolent production at Country Playhouse. A large measure of its success is the result of strong cast performances, which help bypass the clunky adaptation that's more outline than penetrating drama. Inexplicably, the play discards tomboy Scout as narrator, as she serves in book and film, and gives the main voice to kindly neighbor Maudie, who now acts as omniscient author. This neutralizes Scout's journey from childhood innocence to burgeoning maturity and cuts the heart out of Lee's story, leaving the plot without its resonance. As Scout, Jem and Dill, the children who learn life's lessons about racism, hatred and justice, Iris Cronin, Allan Lawrence and Wesley Whitson are naturals. Jim Salners brings moral gravity and conscientiousness to his near-perfect Atticus; Tamara Siler portrays housekeeper Calpurnia with tough-love truthfulness; and Kathryn Noser and Jim Allman, as the lying, hateful Ewell family, are frighteningly real. But it's Hilton Jackson, as wrongfully accused Tom Robinson, who sets the standard for this production. His powerful courtroom testimony against the illiterate white girl who has accused him of rape is proof of this poor sharecropper's innate decency and, simultaneously, utter humiliation at having to tell this embarrassing story in public. It's a searing performance -- quiet, strong, perfect -- that stays with you long after the play is over. Through April 1. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

Waitin' 2 End Hell William Parker's in-your-face comedy/drama about buppies (black urban professionals) at the Ensemble Theatre elicits a big audience reaction. The play's multiple themes are laid out in sermonlike pronouncements. 1) Who's the head of the house? 2) If the wife is more successful than her husband, is she ripe for an affair? 3) Can a man ever really trust a woman? 4) Why is divorce so prevalent in contemporary black society? There's plenty of melodrama in the predictable way married couple Dante and Diane (Henry Edwards and Rachel Hemphill-Dickson) fall to pieces with recriminations, adultery and deadly threats. The fine cast brings these and the rest of the play's characters to life way beyond the dry page, making us sympathize with them and their issues in visceral ways; it feels like we're rooting for our favorite reality-show contestants. But there's too much going on -- too many schematic discussions, too many weighty themes -- and everyone stakes out a position and pretty much sticks to it throughout. Still, for all their dissertations, these seven friends are a likable group, and we want all of them to find contentment. That they battle among themselves trying to attain what may be unattainable makes them all the more appealing. Wife Diane, though, is the villain of the piece, and she gets her comeuppance at the end, much to the audible glee of the audience. Parker's play doesn't answer any of the questions it asks, but if that lessens the drama's heft, it certainly makes it more personable. Worth noting are Tracey Wheat as wisecracking, man-loving Shay and Alex Gardner as the always-hungry Alvin, who has solved his "sister problem" by marrying a docile Japanese-American. Through April 2. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055.

What About Luv?Teddy bear Harry (Jimmy Phillips), who's happiest when he escapes the world around him by encasing his head in a paper bag, arrives at the Brooklyn Bridge to kill himself. But things take a turn when he meets his old school chum Milt (Terry Jones), now rich and successful, who's at the bridge to meet his brainy wife, Ellen (Carolyn Johnson). Milt plans to throw Ellen off the bridge so he can live happily ever after with his new mistress. But in saving Harry, Milt has a better idea: He'll pair him up with Ellen. That works for a while, but soon Ellen is bored to tears from sublimating her intellect with slob Harry, and to complicate matters, Milt wants Ellen back. Now those two hatch a plan. This three-character chamber musical, adapted from Murray Schisgal's 1960s-era play Luv, is a charmer. Jeffrey Sweet's book is witty and sophisticated, Howard Marren's music is snappy, and Susan Birkenhead's lyrics are from the old-pro school. The enjoyable, bouncy cast at Theater LaB puts all this over without mussing their hair, a testament to their theatrical chops and winning ways. Although we'd like to spend more time with these lovable losers, the evening's over in a flash -- or a grin. Clever, tuneful and enjoyable, with just enough meat on its bones to satisfy. Through April 8. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

 
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