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Capsule Stage Reviews: Broadway Bound, Electile Dysfunction, Unbeatable: A Bold New Musical

 Broadway Bound — It takes only a few minutes into Neil Simon's 1986 Tony Award-winning comedy/drama to realize that we are in the presence of greatness. It's not playwright Simon — who writes a very good, albeit atypical, Simon play — but actor Lisa Schofield. This wonderful Houston actress has graced our stages with indelible performances that have ranged from buzz-saw pyrotechnic (Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) to honey-baked heartfelt (Truvy in Steel Magnolias), and her intricately nuanced Kate, the stoic Jewish mother of Eugene (Andrew Jucker), the struggling comedy writer who narrates the semiautobiographical story, is no less beautifully shaded. She gives this betrayed mom the dignity and soulfulness of a biblical matriarch. Naturally, Kate has a few dramatic outbursts — and who wouldn't when she finds out her husband of decades has cheated on her? — but mostly she carries the hurts inside. Like the other mothers in Brighton Beach, Kate doesn't make scenes. She does her best, perseveres and deals with life's disappointments as best she can. Schofield does the most with very little, and the details she chooses are choice — a momentary pause while setting the table, a tiny shrug of the shoulders, an intake of breath — revealing the entire inner life of Kate with startling clarity. It's a beauty of a performance, abundantly enhanced by the rest of the Theatre Southwest cast, directed with great sensitivity by David Holloway. Raygan Kelly, Lee Born, Bob Maddox and Carole Orsak play up to Schofield's level and give Simon's brittle tale of heartache and joy a silky ensemble that's top-notch. Last weekend's performances were cancelled due to Ike, and I hope the management will see fit to extend the show's run, for Miss Schofield in all her Simonized glory deserves to be more widely seen — and appreciated. Through September 27. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

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

Unbeatable: A Bold New Musical Breast cancer isn't usually something to sing about, but don't tell that to Laurie Frey, the woman who thought up Unbeatable: A Bold New Musical. Frey is also a breast cancer survivor, and her experiences with chemo, radiation and surgery make for surprisingly funny and at times very tender theater. Shaped into a story by Eric Coble and put into song by Kevin Fisher and Todd Schroeder, the musical follows do-it-all, type-A Tracy (Kristy Cates) from her diagnosis to her treatment to her epiphany that it's best to live life for the moment. The overall conceit of the story is a bit odd: Tracy imagines that she is on trial for how she's lived her life since she found out she was sick. There are some good jokes about mothers judging their daughters (Tracy's mom is the judge of her trial), but otherwise, the whole story could be told without this rather clunky metaphor for Tracy's inner life. That said, there are several lovely moments, including "Follow the Light," sung by Janet Carroll, who plays Tracy's mom with sweet care. The show is also filled with humor such as a Miss Chemo pageant and lots of songs about eating right ("Supershake"), drugs ("Pharmacy Song") and the general humiliation of being a patient ("Picked, Poked and Prodded"). The opening-night audience was full of survivors and their families, and many were often moved to tears at Tracy's tribulations. The energetic cast, who traveled here from the Phoenix Theatre in Arizona, was directed by Michael Barnard (who is also credited as a co-creator in the program) with terrific joy. It's clear these actors are loving every minute of their time onstage, living out the show's central message — life should be savored. Through September 28. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW

 
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