Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Speeding Motorcycle He's back! Jason Nodler, the founding artistic director of Infernal Bridegroom Productions, has returned to Houston and the Axiom to direct Speeding Motorcycle, a surprisingly sweet rock opera, which Nodler adapted from songs by Daniel Johnston with grant monies from the Rockefeller Foundation. For the uninitiated, Johnston is a cult musician-artist, who lives in Waller, where he continues to write and draw despite the fact that he suffers from severe bipolar disorder. As one might expect, Johnston's musical world is inflected by mental illness and extreme loneliness. He writes often of unrequited love, deep despair and death. So it's a strange and altogether wonderful surprise that the story Nodler has constructed out of Johnston's powerful music is nothing if not uplifting. The weirdly moving story focuses on a man who falls in love with an undertaker. When she marries another undertaker, our hero -- who goes by the unlikely name of Joe the Boxer and is played by three different actors (Kyle Sturdivant, Cary Winscott and Joe Folladori) -- realizes the best way to attract his lover's attention might be to die. After all, she is an undertaker. As maudlin as this might sound (and Johnston's songs are often so woeful they can move one to tears), the utterly unpredictable story turns in some fascinating directions. Angels appear. So do preachers. We watch an undertaker care for a dead body. And somehow all this gets happier and happier. One might read this musical as mimicking the emotional manic-depressive roller coaster that bipolars ride. But it is sweeter to think of this show as the least ironic and perhaps most joyful production that Nodler has ever created. Through June 23. 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

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