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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.

[sic] In the old days, Melissa James Gibson's comedy of manners would've been called experimental and avant-garde because of its overlapping dialogue, non sequiturs, intimate asides to the audience, flaccid plotline, linguistic flourishes, time bends and slacker characters not knowing which way to turn. It's still that -- the play's even written without punctuation -- but the old-hat unconventionality of its literary pretensions seems fresh and breezy in Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's winsome production. Three loser friends live next door to one another on the third floor of a ratty apartment building in a nameless big city. These empathetic sad sacks, whose failures are ingrained within them, are joined at the soul; they're thirtysomethings who can't make anything work in their lives. Their constant bickering, teasing and dreaming only draw them more tightly together. Pining for what they can't have, they feed off one another. Hack musician Theo (Eric Doss) stumbles over composing a theme song for the Thrill-A-Rama ride at the amusement park; overly analytical writer Babette (Jennifer Decker) can't finish her magnum opus of "20th-century outbursts"; gay Frank (Alan Hall) obsesses over his ex-boyfriend, who introduced the three to one another, and practices to be an auctioneer by reciting tongue-twisters. Adding to the enchanting disenchantment of their lives are the disembodied angry voices rising from the air shaft and the surprisingly frisky -- and also unseen -- Mrs. Jorgensen down the hall, who may be dead, sleeping or sleeping around. This clever, brainy, constantly amusing play, superbly acted and gracefully directed by Michelle Edwards, may be about failure and dashed hopes, but it succeeds like gangbusters. Through April 15. Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch, 832-418-0973.

Sound of Murder English playwright-director William Fairchild, perhaps best known as the screenwriter of Star, the Gertrude Lawrence biopic starring Julie Andrews, wrote this nifty little murder mystery, which has the distinction of being twice adapted into a movie, in 1969 and 1982. The hook in this chamber piece for six characters is not "who done it?" but "will they get away with it?" Esteemed kids' book author Charles Norbury (L. Robert Westeen) hates children, despises his wife (Laura Brown), berates his secretary (Callista Clark) and treats everyone, even the kindly Inspector Davidson (Glenn Dodson), with pompous contempt and sarcastic ill will. No wonder no one can stand him. To top it off, he absolutely refuses, with sadistic glee, to grant a divorce to long-suffering Laura, who has found happiness at last with lover Peter (Dean Dicks). The adulterous pair concocts the "perfect murder" and, after some startling red herrings and tricky plotting, manages to get away with it. Or do they? You'll just have to go to Company OnStage to find out. You'll be pleasantly surprised with both the show's production and its denouement. Westeen, in aubergine smoking robe with white ascot, exudes oily charm as the famous author. Brown gives a Hitchcock-blond interpretation to the wife, all subterranean heat under the cool facade. Dicks smolders with appropriate masculine hurt pride; and Clark comes into her own when her secretarial wiles reveal the conniving little she-wolf beneath those comfy sweaters and sensible shoes. The English do have a way with murder. Through April 15. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.

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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