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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

The RaceIf the new Houston theatrical troupe GEMKNEM (pronounced "jim-nim") and its inaugural production is a herald for the quality to come, then unfurl the banners and blow those trumpets, because their first play is a doozy. Written and directed by George Oliver, Angela Watson and Dejamion McDowell, The Race is a provocative compilation of 13 playlets that confronts black reality head on. This production is superbly acted (and sung) by the writers themselves, along with Anthony Darden, Josette Harrison and Aurelia Holland. What supplies powerful new life to another play about such recurrent issues as drug use, absentee fathers, self-worth, prejudice, crime, gangsta culture and empty churches, among others, is that the authors focus their blistering lasers within the community. They laud personal responsibility, faith and family. Victimhood, seductive as it may be, is a relic of the past, as demonstrated in "Jim Crow and the Negro Display," an MTV-vaudeville number, and in the searing "Jones," in which Darden plays a pimp from hell who becomes a chilling force for evil, as he sells his vile elixir for "happiness," called Passion. The universal human spirit gets a phenomenal uplift in "Love Is a Scat and a Moan," a wordless operetta sung scat-style by McDowell and Harrison that details the truth of a relationship through courtship, pregnancy, breakup, reconciliation and childbirth. "And You Know How They Can Be" is a screamingly funny satire about reverse discrimination, as the black community is frightened to death by a lone white woman jogging through the 'hood. At the beginning of the show, the ensemble promises to make us think. They succeed gloriously, while also making us laugh, weep and recognize ourselves, whatever color. Through July 16 at SHAPE Community Center, 3815 Live Oak, 832-242-0156.

The Secret GardenMarsha Norman and Lucy Simon's Tony Award-winning adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's famed 1911 children's novel The Secret Garden, playing at Main Street Theater in a smartly minimalist revival, is the only musical that begins with a cholera epidemic. It might also be the first eco-friendly musical, as the eponymous garden holds the secret to everyone's wholeness. The little girl with the green thumb is Mary Lennox (Stephanie Styles), orphaned in India after the aforementioned epidemic, who's sent to live with her maternal uncle Archibald (Ilich Guardiola) in his dank, creepy manse on the bleak English moors. Strange cries echo down the corridors, while the ghosts of Mary's parents and her Indian servants swirl about. Distant and preoccupied, tormented by memories of his dead wife, Lily (Ivy Castle), Uncle Archie lets Mary run free, to the displeasure of Archie's brother Dr. Neville (Kregg Alan Dailey), who wants Mary put away at school so he can inherit the property. Watched over by sympathetic maid Martha (Katherine Randolph), kindly caretaker Ben (Jeffrey Lane) and Martha's nature-communing brother Dickon (Michael J. Ross), Mary discovers not only a secluded, walled garden gone to ruin but also Archie's spoiled son Colin (Lucas Postolos), bedridden and going to seed, too. The musical chronicles the miraculous changes wrought by little Mary at lifeless Misselthwaite Manor. At its heart-tugging finale, the garden blooms into life, as does the family. With its lilting tunes, a fine ensemble cast, smooth direction from Guardiola and a script unafraid to make us dream, this family-friendly show is a magical treat for children and parents alike. Through July 2. 1617 Montrose, 713-524-6706.

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