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bare Damon Intrabartolo (music and book) and Jon Hartmere (book and lyrics) call their vigorous and entertaining R-rated musical set at a co-ed Catholic boarding school a "pop opera," and that's all right by us, even though it's a long way from having an opera's thematic unity. Yes, everything's sung, so technically it's an opera, but more times than not when a song ends so does the scene, giving this impressive work a jerky rhythm when it should smoothly soar instead. Thanks to the two talented young creators — and Country Playhouse's talented, agile cast — bare flies high nonetheless. It's easy to see why this youth-oriented musical has had such a cult following ever since its L.A. premiere in 2000. Heavily influenced by Jonathan Larson's grunge romantic Rent, Intrabartolo and Hartmere have provocatively lowered the age of their social misfits. These are the ultimate tweeners, kids teetering before adulthood with a glaze of drugs, sex and attitude. Awash in gay sex, teen pregnancy, body consciousness and social pressure, mixed with hits of ecstasy and hash brownies, tumbled together with Catholic guilt and parental ineptitude, the headiness is aptly set to Hartmere's vernacular, spiky poetry and Intrabartolo's inventive, swirling pop score. It's mighty potent. The large cast, dewy-eyed in age only, is equally stirring, with standouts Jacob Wills, Nathan McManus, Cindy Godell, Jeremy Brown, Jessica Janes and Scott Lupton leading the way. Director O'Dell Hutchison lovingly focuses the youngsters, giving them room to breathe, while music director Luke Kirkwood, with the most minimal of orchestras, keeps the whole thing fresh, snapping and in-your-face. Through June 21. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

Big Range Dance Festival The sixth annual Big Range Dance Festival is a three-week smorgasbord of movement, with three different programs all featuring original choreography from Houston and beyond. Act I of Program B brightened the night with four delightful dances by UH Assistant Professor of Dance Teresa Chapman. Again, with dancing by Erica Lewis and music by Gotan Project, was especially charming. Its organic, fluid and focused movement was made wonderfully strange by odd narrative moments — Lewis's face was as fun to watch as her easy movement. Act II started with the lovely confection Sorbet!, choreographed by Karen Stokes to the intro to The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. It was a celebration of summer: The dancers were energetic and joyful in their brightly colored costumes. STKH, by choreographer Aydin Teker, was the most unusual performance. Kelly Knox often danced on her back with her legs in the air, showing all the bizarre ways a dancer's talented and much abused feet can move. Program C, running June 13 – 15, features choreography by Kent De Spain and Leslie Dworkin from Austin, along with others. Judging from Program B, dance lovers shouldn't miss it. Through June 15. Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, 713-529-1819. — LW

Electile Dysfunction Radio Music Theatre has tackled the wild and wacky political season with this funny play, which is full of characters as kooky as the past few months have been. Writer/director Steve Farrell knows just how to put things into perspective. His silly show features the Jones family from Precious Trees, "the most planned planned community" in Houston. Mom, Dad and Junior all support different candidates. The Spy Eye News team finds out about the argument and decides to feature the family as a human interest story. The actors present the newscast complete with commercials; the funniest features a very familiar furniture salesman named Uncle Dan (played by a hysterical Farrell), who sells a "political leaning chair" that leans to the left or the right depending on your preference and a recliner that shoots bullets. Back on the show, Damn Mad (Rich Mills) rants about politics, and the biggest story of the week focuses on the pastor of the biggest church in Texas — it's so big it used to be a whole ranch. Nothing is actually settled during the show, but lots of fun is had as the politics of the hour get chewed over. Through November 15. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — LW

La Sylphide and A Doll's House Thank you, Stanton. Houston Ballet's season-ender is a true delight. The two short, vastly different pieces showcase the strength of this company, the creativity of Artistic Director Stanton Welch and the skills of the costume and set folks, too. The program starts with the world premiere of Welch's A Doll's House, set to István Márta's percussive Doll's House Story, about a violent nighttime battle between the toys in a shop. It's a fine example of Welch's signature fleet-footed choreography for a large ensemble. We don't actually see torn doll limbs, but this is a stylized dance about pointless violence. GI Joes duke it out with Barbies as stuffed Teddies and Pandas are tossed about the stage. There's also very cool boxing moves and a test in leg strength when the ballerinas, crouched en pointe, rise straight up to standing, ready to do battle. The toy costumes, created by Travis Halsey and Monica Guerra and based on Japanese animé characters, are wild, colorful and sexy. The audience definitely needs the 20-minute intermission after the 20-minute Doll's Houseto prepare for what comes next: August Bournonville's 1836 chestnut La Sylphide. This is the epitome of romantic ballet, with its long tutus, fancy little beats and leaps and tale of love gone wrong. Opening night, Melody Herrera floated like a fairy, and Connor Walsh strutted his leading-Scottish man stuff. Unfortunately, his gal dumps him, he kills the Sylph with his lusty love, and then he drops dead. You'd think this would be a depressing program, but it's not. One leaves the dark theater feeling re-energized by this company's talents. Through June 15. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — MG

Present Laughter "I'm always acting, watching myself go by," emotes protagonist Garry Essendine, played by the incomparable Joel Sandel in this semiautographical play by Noël Coward, to anyone who crosses his path. Today, that would include his dewy morning-after lover, whose name he can't remember (Morgan McCarthy), his blasé maid (Sheryl Croix), his astringent secretary (Terri Branda Carter), his sensible former wife (Kara Greenberg), his harried business associates (David Harlan and David Wald), his worldly butler (Harlan again), the panther-like, seductive Joanna (Sara Gaston) and a mad playwright wannabe who lives to worship him (Nicholas Collins). And that's just during the morning. Staring into a mirror and watching his hair recede, Garry wails dramatically that he's not experiencing life and is weary of being adored. But we wouldn't have him any other way. In satin dressing gown with cocktail cemented firmly in hand, he spouts Coward's archly artificial, yet highly musical, dialogue. Garry doesn't want to be free of fame's trappings — it's mother's milk to him, if poured in a highball. Though not as well-known as Coward classics Design for Living and Private Lives, this immensely droll comedy is equally witty, well crafted and entertaining. This stylish Art Deco piece is caviar for the well-heeled cast at Main Street Theater. From top down — including costumes, lighting, set and crisp direction by Claire Hart-Palumbo — everything is pitch-perfect, led by the outstanding Sandel, who lounges, pouts and poses while he laps up his fawning press and basks gloriously in his own klieg light. Through June 22. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — DLG

The Splasher In May of 2007, New York Magazine reported that "In the fall, some anonymous figure started vandalizing the city's most celebrated vandalism." The culprit was throwing house paint on some pretty fancy street art that would have gone for thousands had it hung in a gallery instead of being wheat-pasted onto a building. As it was, this "Splasher" was committing the crime of graffiti on what was, in actuality, graffiti. Troy Schulze's brand-new work The Splasher from The Catastrophic Theatre explores the strange and layered rhetoric of the arguments on both sides of the Splasher situation. The Marxist arguments of the Splasher, who pasted his manifestos against street art with a glue containing "shards of glass," considered his acts as Marxist statements against a bourgeois elite — he argued that the street art was nothing more than free advertising for commodified art. Even worse, it signaled the impending gentrification of a neighborhood. The artists who get graffittied, including Shepard Fairey (played with gleeful haughtiness by Walt Zipprian), argue that they are just looking for the 21st-century patron. They don't get supported by kings or the church; instead, it's the bourgeois elite who feed today's artists. Both sides are presented with humor and intelligence. Schulze sculpted his play from dialogue he wrote, layered with bits lifted from interviews and The Splasher's "Manifesto." Woven into all these fractured ideas is funky '70s-TV-like video. Schulze himself is a bit like the Splasher – he corrupts the original to make a powerful, must-see, brand-new statement. Through June 14. DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Freeway, 713-223-8346. — LW

Capsule reviews by D.L.Groover, Marene Gustin and Lee Williams

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