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Stage Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Blue Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright creates an indomitable character in his black family drama from 2001. Elegant Peggy Clark (Detria Marie Ward), a former supermodel, doesn't belong in the small mill town of Kent, South Carolina, where she moved with her husband many years ago. Successful, upper-middle-class and well-off, they're the first black entrepreneurs in town; husband Sam (Byron Jacquet) runs the family funeral home. But still Peggy is not happy. She has enough disposable income to buy two mink coats to spite the redneck salesgirl; she pretends to cook exotic dinners but orders her Italian or Japanese from the best restaurants; and she steers her family with a strong will and a very short leash. What gives her contentment and calm are the songs of jazz singer Blue Williams (Norman Davis), who appears onstage every time she plays his records. She wants art and the finer things and demands that life be "divine." Her rebellious older son Sam (Kendrick Brown) and musically gifted young Reuben (Jonathan Thibeaux and, later and older, Le Darrin Johnson-Taite) are afterthoughts in Peggy's quest to keep everything "fine." Ghosts and dark secrets abound throughout the Clark home, and Randolph-Wright keeps events on the slow boil until the satisfying conclusion. Peggy's a sacred monster, a "life force" to her placid husband and a constant nettle to her sons and feisty mother-in-law (Shirley Marks Whitmore). She's a marvelous character for any play, and Blue does her proud. Through October 21. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — DLG

Carmen Hapless, lovesick soldier Don Jose isn't the only one to be seduced by the fiery gypsy girl in Georges Bizet's 1875 operatic masterpiece, now seducing anew at Opera in the Heights. Her alluring sexuality and love of freedom infects the whole shebang. Under OH's maestro William Weibel, the orchestra plays as if in love, and who wouldn't be with the smoky, sultry interpretation from mezzo Elena McEntire (from the Ruby cast, which alternates with the Emerald cast)? Not only does she play the castanets during her famous "Habeneña," but she deftly rolls a cigarette on her thigh to entice the easily led Don Jose – and runs her shapely foot up his calf. She's one hot lady of Spain. Her latest lover, macho bullfighter Escamillo (Rick Ziebarth), is just as athletic, jumping off the table during his "Toreador Song" and landing downstage, vaulting over the steps and plopping squarely in front of the proscenium. Julie Kinzey, as innocent Micaela, Jose's unrequited love, gives even her insufferably wimpy character pipes of velvet. Only Brad Ludwin, who as Don Jose sings his "Flower Song" with lovely tempered passion, loses his character halfway through and ends up as mad as Lucia. The supporting cast is exceptional, especially bandit leader Brian Shircliffe and Carmen's two confreres, Eileen Schlesinger-Benvegnu and Dawn Padula. Lovely work from all, especially Bizet. Through October 6. 1703 Heights Blvd. 713-861-5303. — DLG

Jeannette Clift George Onstage If Houston stage veteran Jeannette Clift George decided to read from the Yellow Pages, she could imbue it with drama to spare. She's that good. Her one-woman show ushers in the 41st season of A.D. Players – where she is founder and artistic director – and her wry, warm humor, compassionate humanity and unsurpassed stage presence shine forth with rare radiance. She regales us with her lively biography in Act I, as if we're cozying up to her on a summer porch swing. We get beguiling snippets of Dolly Levi from The Matchmaker, an all-too-brief sketch of Mrs. Malaprop from The Rivals and a longer interlude from her own work, Four Women in Love, as she plays a haughty actress who bestows a visit upon her less-fortunate (so she thinks) old school chums. Mesmerized as a small child by traveling theater companies, George either "wanted to be in that" or to be a trapeze artist in the circus. Blessed by having legendary Maude Adams (Barrie's original Peter Pan) as teacher during her formative years, George followed her heart and has been a "working actor" ever since. Act II showcases George in her other role, that of religious speaker and instructor. While her personal "remembering" of Ruth Graham (Rev. Billy Graham's wife) and Dutch Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom (whom George portrayed in The Hiding Place) is deeply touching, it just doesn't possess the drama of Act I. Give us Carrie Watts, Amanda Wingfield, Miss Daisy or Lady Bracknell. Through October 14. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

 
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