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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Antigone When Sophocles wrote this most stereotypical political tragedy about how a citizen questioning authority can devastate a community, he should have called it Creon. The king of Thebes, Antigone's uncle (Raven Peters), is the one who changes the most during the drama, the one who really suffers. This benevolent dictator undergoes the full force of the gods' retribution. To be sure, Antigone (Aline Elasmar) goes through hell, too, but she makes up her mind to do what she has to do even before the play begins and doesn't waiver throughout. She stays the course with a righteous dignity fit for the gods, defying Creon's order and burying her brother, who's fallen in combat after a failed coup attempt against her uncle. There are laws that supersede the ones made by man, she argues. But Creon's stubbornness goes against nature, and his good intentions spiral him right into a personal hell. At the climax, when he carries the dead body of his son, who has committed suicide, the image of a grieving father overpowers the rather fortune-cookie adaptation by Jack Young, who also directs (as if it's still 1965), and the simple, elemental emotions that these ancient Greek dramatists first put on stage hit you like a thunderclap. Here, finally, is the true power of theater. More than 2,000 years later, it still moves us. Through November 19. University of Houston, Entrance No. 16 off Cullen, 713-743-2929.

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.

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.

The Odd Couple (Female Version) In Neil Simon's rewrite of his 1965 comedy capstone, Florence (Ananka Kohnitz) is neat-nik Felix Unger, and Olive (Stacy Spaeth), the slob Oscar Madison. Florence is so neurotic, she carries a feather duster in her suitcase when she moves in with Olive after her husband throws her out. Tense and irritable, but always persnickety, she's given an impromptu back rub by Florence. But even bent over in a chair, legs splayed and face close to the carpet, with Olive rolling her arm up and down like a rolling pin, Florence picks lint off the floor. It's a delightfully batty moment, played so breezily by Kohnitz, she makes Simon's wheezy gimmick (written in 1985 for Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno) work as if it were Oscar Wilde. The comedy at Theatre Southwest soars, lifted by her ditsy propulsion. She walks away with this play with her breathy, hit-on-the-head-by-a-two-by-four interpretation. Meanwhile, Spaeth plays the sloppy curmudgeon as if she's just decamped from the Montrose GLBT softball team, which seems a trifle obvious, and not nearly as whimsical. The upstairs neighbors from the original, those daffy English Pigeon sisters, have been lovingly transformed into the equally daffy but hot-blooded Costazuela brothers from Spain (Chris Stafford and Simon Martinez). They trip over the English language and wind up in sympathetic tears with Florence. But it's Kohnitz's flighty Florence, with her room deodorizer, pearls and unappreciated Julia Child cuisine, who sends us straight to comedy heaven. Through November 18. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505.

 
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