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Capsule Reviews

Our critic weighs in on local theater

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to GoThere's a play buried somewhere inside Catherine Filloux's comedy/drama about transvestites vs. the Amish (yes, you read that correctly), but you'd be hard-pressed to find a coherent one in this messy production, now stumbling all over itself at Theatre Suburbia. Come to think of it, there are four or five plays wobbling about on their high heels, but playwright Filloux would rather clomp around playing grown-up than be one. Talk about your seams showing! A dramatist in residence at the University of Ohio, Filloux has written a slew of plays, so she should know better. The mixture of drag queens and the Amish is flammable enough, but Filloux unwisely throws in an unnecessary feminist tract, more family drama than three Eugene O'Neill slugfests, a patronizing rainbow attitude and jagged chunks of exposition that lie there waiting for life. Numerous plot digressions and monologues go nowhere but are nevertheless given the dramatic weight of a Shakespearean soliloquy. Filloux has done her research on the Pennsylvania Dutch, but she can't explain their sincere quirkiness without condescension. Potentially interesting characters are dropped after they're introduced (trannies Cleo and Toni) or are expendable (Joan, the motel owner); then there is Sarah, whose dramatic function is utterly unfathomable. Joan isn't the right character to give life-changing lessons to confused teenager Rebecca -- that's the province of principals Barbie or Jacky. There's a reason why God invented star roles. Only actors Gene Griesbach and Jay Menchaca (as matronly Jacky and sexpot Barbie) are comfortable on stage in their high heels, but even their professionalism can't save this bedraggled play, which badly needs a shave and a Botox injection. Through July 1. 1410 W. 43rd, 713-682-3525.

Impossible MarriageIn Beth Henley's stylized Southern universe (she's best known for her prize-winning Crimes of the Heart and The Miss Firecracker Contest), her eccentric characters with their eccentric names (here, Kandall, Floral and Pandora) speak wistfully of times and emotions past. They also pontificate in florid, literary pronouncements, as if Oscar Wilde had dropped into the Mississippi swamps. It takes a while to get used to Henley's odd people, who certainly mean no harm, as they talk with faux gentility about mundane topics -- like innocent Pandora's wedding to Edvard, a much older hippie-type novelist (Scot Smith). Her wise-to-the-world married sister Floral (Stacy Ann Spaeth), most visibly pregnant, attempts to talk Pandora (a dewy Rae Alexander) out of making such a mistake, but the impressionistic Pandora, wanting to experience all of life, will not hear of it. Ditsy mom Kandall (Barbara Hartman) doesn't want a scandal, while Edvard's estranged eldest son, Sidney (Eric Dunlap), argues that the marriage will cause the suicide of his own mother. We also learn that the pious Reverend (Bill Artzberger) has earlier sinned with Floral (hence the pregnancy) and Floral's rou#&142; of a husband, Jonsey (Roy Johnson), has never laid a gloved hand upon her or anyone else, contrary to what everyone in town says. No one in this make-believe Mississippi is quite what they seem, and all their marriages and relationships have been impossible from the beginning. The tone of the performance should fall somewhere between arch and utter sincerity, which is difficult enough to describe, let alone achieve, but under Victoria Beard's direction, the attractive cast at Theatre Southwest gets it just about right. They manage to make the impossible probable, and isn't that what theater is all about? Through June 24. 8144-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505.

Johnny Guitar, The Musical Send yourself to summer camp a little early by heading to Theater LaB for this extremely funny musical adaptation of Nicholas Ray's 1954 film-noir western. The cult film was pretty much a parody to begin with, considering its subtext of womanly homoeroticism out on the range, its overheated dialogue and its inclusion of Joan Crawford in skintight jeans, acting more butch than the guys. New creators Nicholas van Hoogstraren (book) and Martin Silvestri and Joel Higgins (music and lyrics) have taken the extant screenplay almost word for word, tossed in some '50s-type songs and created their own camp classic. Right from the start, as tumbleweed is pulled across the stage, we can sit back, relax and laugh ourselves silly. The hilarity continues with the show's cartoon cutout set design by Boris Kaplun, no-holds-barred performances, wonderfully goofy costuming (uncredited) and deft staging from director-choreographer Jimmy Phillips. The folks at Theater LaB deliver the goods -- and then some. Carolyn Johnson plays tough saloon owner Vienna, the gender-bending thorn in the townsfolk's side, with enough of Mommie Dearest's grand mannerisms and eyebrows to make you look twice. Mary Hooper, as rival Emma, who so hates Vienna that there's got to be more going on underneath that calico dress than even she lets on, belts out her songs and straps on her six-shooter with manly bravado. Jonathan McVay, as Johnny Guitar, Vienna's real love and former gunslinger, plays it cool, sings it hot and wears his own tight-fitting jeans; while Alex Stutler, as Johnny's rival the Dancin' Kid, is all burly posturing, with a lovely baritone to back it up. The sheriff and his posse of doo-wop singers, who keep popping up from behind the set, are nimbly handled by Craig Boucher, Josh Wright, John Berno and Luke Marsh. There's not a straight shooter in the house, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Through June 10. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

 
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