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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

A Bad Night's SleepThis crazy-quilt revue from the loons at Radio Music Theatre is really a show about nothing, but RMT out-Seinfelds Seinfeld -- and is much funnier to boot. Although one of the 14 Fertle Family shows, Sleep keeps our favorite family gang off stage until Act II. It works because the lunatic trio (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills) features enough new characters up their hilarious sleeves to populate Sugar Land. The first act is a variation on RMT's "infertle" comedies, such as Life Beyond the Loop and The Story of Burford, Category 5, wherein writer Steve Farrell aims his barbs at the idiosyncrasies of Houston. In one sequence, we're treated to Mills, in a nightmare, trying to pass a virtual driver's test. The instructor's electronic voice, amplified like Stephen Hawking's, speeds up, skips syllables and generally screws up like any government bureaucracy, while Mills, in brilliant pantomime, sits on a stool in his arcade helmet and rubber gloves and zooms madly through Houston's streets. He drives over barrels and rubber cones, loses points by even thinking of driving on U.S. 59, stops for days on Memorial because of the trail riders, and maneuvers over dead bodies. It's a screamingly funny sequence that shows, in essence, what makes RMT so unique: simplicity of execution, flawless timing, exquisite performance and wicked satire. Before the Fertles appear, we're treated to a parody of regional theater in a divinely bungled production of Macbeth, a TV commercial by insane furniture maven Uncle Dan, a delicious MTV knockoff, a Swedish movie from PBS, and Little Teddy Witherspoon singing his one un-hit "Tall in the Saddle" in Gregorian chant. Great big laughs inside this little theater. Through November 18. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical This frothy bubble of silliness now running at Stages Repertory Theatre requires absolutely zero brainpower to get through. Cobbled together out of stereotypes and a sitcom-like plot, the featherweight bit of camp by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso celebrates white-trash ladies and the men they love in a funky little tale about a phobic housewife and her lonely-heart man. Setting the stage and guiding us through the story is a chorus of three women: Betty (Susan O. Koozin), a sturdy mother hen with a heart of gold who runs the whole shebang; Pickles (Mikah Horn), a young dumb-as-dirt, sweet-as-sugar blond who shows all the signs of suffering from a hysterical pregnancy; and Lin (Carolyn Johnson), strutting around with her cleavage out to there and worrying all the while about her man on death row. This cartoon strip of a story focuses on Norbert and Jeannie Garstecki, a long-married couple who love each other despite the fact that Jeannie (Melodie Smith) suffers from agoraphobia and hasn't set foot outside her little trailer home in years. Nothing in the story is surprising, but the music is entertaining, and Stages has put together a cast of solid singers who capture their characters in bold, broad and colorful strokes. Through October 29. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change! Joe DePietro and Jimmy Roberts's enormously successful off-Broadway musical is a fun bit of fluff that's supposed to be a great date show. Maybe that's because the world of love and marriage, as depicted here, looks about as deep and dark as the waters of a backyard pool. Now running at the Great Caruso Dinner Theater, the musical is put together like a revue -- it has no central narrative other than the story of the middle-class American Every-Relationship. Told in short vignettes, most of which are punctuated by song, it features a tiny cast of four (all charming and intelligent singers on the night I went) who inhabit a predictable handful of characters looking for love. Soft humor stitches together the show's tunes. In "I Will Be Loved Tonight," a woman (Holland Vavra) thrills at the notion of the first night of sex with a new lover, and in "Always a Bridesmaid" a woman (Onyie Nwachukwu) recalls all the hideous dresses she's worn in others' weddings. There are less successful moments that deal with too-familiar stereotypes, including old folks and geeks, but even with the weaker moments, there's enough humor to move the show quickly along. The performers are so strong that they manage to infuse even the lamest jokes with energy, and Jimmy Phillips's direction makes good use of the performance space at the dinner theater. Add up all these good qualities and you've got a perfectly pleasant, if utterly safe, night of theater. It's no wonder this show is touted as great for dates. If love is as hard to find as the musical implies, it might be a good idea to keep the boat in shallow waters at the beginning of any potential relationship. Through November 19. 10001 Westheimer, 713-780-4900.

Miss Julie Swedish author August Strindberg had a long, varied, crazy career that had room for Shakespearean history plays, experimental dream plays and shocking sex vs. class plays. This one-acter from 1888 is the distillation of his thoughts on the battle of the sexes, and its frank depiction of the psychological S&M underpinnings of class warfare guaranteed an outrageous response from his audience. Strindberg was happiest when his work shocked the bourgeoisie. Daughter of an unseen count, whose knee-high boots are prominently displayed downstage to remain a potent symbol of male power, Miss Julie goes slumming among the servants and makes an overt play for her father's majordomo. She's playing with fire -- and also society's harsh class consciousness -- when she comes on to the servant; by the end of the drama, everyone is scorched. This work is both stylized, with dream imagery, and naturalistic, in the sexy tug of war between male and female. The high realism of the set design -- a perfect late-19th-century kitchen -- gives lie to the anachronisms in the translation and some of the actors' behavior: It's highly unlikely that even Miss Julie would sit under the table or swig beer out of the bottle. Even the cook wouldn't do that. Miss Julie's too coarse, while Valet Jean is too nice. The erotic charge between master and servant is missing, and the drama goes wanting. But how often do you get to see a Strindberg play anymore and realize that Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams were following some very deep Swedish footprints? Through October 8. Wortham Theatre, University of Houston, entrance No. 16 off Cullen, 713-743-2929

 
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