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Capsule Stage Reviews: But Not Goodbye, A Fertle Holiday, The Gifts of Christmas, The Nutcracker, Panto Cinderella, Santaland Diaries, Spirits to Enforce, Twelve Ways of Christmas

But Not Goodbye Main Street Theater's But Not Goodbye has nothing to do with Christmas except its family spirit and joy of giving, but George Seaton's fantasy comedy is exceptionally well wrapped. Sam dies before he can rectify the muddle he has made of family finances, but when his father comes to escort him to heaven, Sam stays to make things right. Wistful and gentle, the comedy unfolds as if we're watching it from a comfy recliner. The twists are smooth, the complications not too difficult to knit back together, and the ensemble cast, under Steve Garfinkel's smooth direction, is exemplary, especially David Wald as cantankerous Benjamin, as feisty a dead leprechaun as ever was. Through December 28. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — DLG

A Fertle Holiday It just wouldn't be Christmas in Houston if the loony singing Fertle family and their equally crazy neighbors didn't sit down for their Christmas eve dinner of chicken in a bucket, heaping helpings of daughter-in-law Bridgette's creamed corn — slightly green around the edges — lime Jell-O squares and a big ol' slab of mom Mildred's butter pie, slathered with gobs of nondairy whipped topping. Hungry? You bet! You'll ache from laughing out loud at this most dysfunctional family, which strangely resembles almost any family you know, including your own. Daughter Justicena completes her holiday shopping when she and whipped hubby Pete and spawn-from-hell son Damien stop overnight at Motel 6, where she purloins the towels, hand soap, postcards and Gideon Bible to wrap up as gifts. Mildred and Ned's other daughter, Carol, accompanied by rich husband Roger and nelly son Curtis, flies in from San Diego on a private plane, causing no end of jealousy on the part of her loser brother Lou, who manages to get his big foot stuck in his mouth constantly. Balancing on one foot with his arms extended just so, slow brother Earl, who's recently hit his head again, makes the perfect TV rabbit ears, and nobody's in the mood to decorate Ned's scrawny, pathetic twig of a tree — "All the sequoias were gone," he whines in defense. Then there's Uncle Al, whose wife Orabella has suddenly died, attempting to play Santa for the kids. He just doesn't have it in him to be merry, getting out one lone "ho" before bursting into sobs. The inspired clowns responsible for the merriment, and who play every character, are Steve Farrell (who writes the satiric material), Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills. No matter what mood you're in, you'll be in a better one after seeing this one-and-only comedy troupe. Merry Christmas, indeed. Through January 10. Radio Music Theater, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

The Gifts of Christmas In A.D. Players' The Gifts of Christmas, two one-acters pair the profane (O. Henry's Gift of the Magi) with the sacred (The Foster Father) to remind us what the spirit of Christmas really means. O. Henry's classic story of poor newlyweds whose unselfish love is proved by their sacrifice can be read in less than five minutes, so Brainerd Duffield's theater adaptation is terribly overstuffed. Although tenement grit is absent in the production design, O. Henry's patented charm is amplified by Craig Griffin and Debra Duderstadt, who might have stepped right off the page as Jim and Della. They also shine in Foster Father, David Benedict's heartwarming comedy about Joseph's struggle to believe his virginal betrothed Mary is pregnant — by God, no less. Duderstadt imbues Mary with freshness and awe, while Griffin's real-guy intensity meshes with doubting Joseph. Marty Blair's witty Gabriel, who announces the mystery, would stop the show if the audience were less polite. Through December 31. 2710 Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

The Nutcracker It ain't Christmas till the Sugar Plum dances, and dance she does in Houston Ballet's annual production of The Nutcracker. Her grand pas de deux is one of the choreographic delights of this century-old ballet. Houstonians have been ogling this piece of holiday eye candy for 21 years now, yet the magic never seems to die. The production, with sets and costumes designed by Desmond Heeley, has gotten a little sprucing up this year, as many of the costumes were re-created or refreshed — with all the extra bling on the snowflake tutus, the "Snow" scene should be renamed "Diamonds in the Snow." Besides the new costumes, the ballet always offers the chance to spot up-and-coming talent, from corps kids getting solo roles to tykes from the Chance to Dance program getting their first taste of dancing onstage. The lovely, long-legged Mireille Hassenboehler was celestial as the Sugar Plum Fairy opening night, but Houston Ballet fans will want to catch 17-year-veteran Tyann Clement in the role as her finale performance before she retires. (Casting in the 32-performance run rotates; visit www.houstonballet.org for the cast list.) There's plenty for non-dance fans to ooh and aah over, too, like the stage tricks from the growing Christmas tree, the 200 pounds of falling "snow" and the flying cooks. And music lovers will delight in the Houston Ballet Orchestra's splendid rendition of Tchaikovsky's famous score. Through December 28. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — MG

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