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Capsule Stage Reviews: Beauty Queen of Leenane, Big Range Dance Festival, Complete Works of William Shakespeare...Abridged, Urinetown

Beauty Queen of Leenane If you know anything about the works of playwright Martin McDonagh (The Pillowman, Lieutenant of Inishmore), then you're well aware that his vision of Ireland does not include leprechauns, four-leaf clovers or pots of gold. His plays are infamous for their willful violence, black-as-pitch humor and solid theatrical craftsmanship. This humdinger from 1996 has all of the above, plus a crushing sense of dread and foreboding. Twisty as a shillelagh, the plot keeps one guessing from scene to scene as new info is cleverly introduced and expectations derailed. Even the mundane objects in the ramshackle Fenley cottage in the remote town of Leenane take on ominous import. Will fortyish spinster daughter Maureen, chafing under her harridan mother's control, take that spoon out of Mom's oatmeal bowl and stab her in the eye? Is that pot of boiling water, used for tea, waiting to be thrown in a face? Who's the crazy one here? And will poor Maureen take up with sweet neighbor Pato Dooley down the way, and run away with him to Boston? Will Mom let her? McDonagh answers these questions with natural ease and, dare I say, charm; his choices are a testament to his great gifts. The quartet cast is downright superb, without one false note — Melrose Fougere and Julie Thornley play sharp-tongued hag and spiteful daughter; Wade Gonsoulin and Joey Melcher play the Dooley brothers, one knowing and one clueless. Under Ananka Kohnitz's edgy and right direction, the claustrophobic play becomes as taut and relentless as a murderer's hand around the throat. It's another haunting winner from a sparkling season at Theatre Southwest. Don't miss it. Through June 20. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

Big Range Dance Festival Summer leaps back into Houston with the annual Big Range Dance Festival, a fun way to get acquainted with some of the best contemporary dance choreographers from Houston and afar. It plays out over three weekends with three different schedules. Program A featured dances from Jane Weiner, Kristen Frankiewicz and Andee Scott, among others. Weiner excerpted a section from Village of Waltz that deconstructs some of the movements we associate with waltzing. This was the most athletic of the pieces and had some of the most complex choreography, cycling from funny (they danced in black socks while Ana Treviño-Godfrey sang a little ditty about black socks) to serious, with the dancers lifted high in the air in lush, muscular flights of movement. Frankiewicz's I'm So Alone started off with the dancer trying on high-heeled shoes in the mirror, and then exploded into an energetic hip-hop-infused joy-ride of a dance about all the things we do when we're alone. Scott's I Am Stranger was perhaps the most avant-garde piece from Program A; using movement, video and amusingly odd monologues, Scott explores such wondrous linguistic paradoxes as the fact that when we move from "here" to "there," we are no longer "there" but "here" again. Together, the pieces made for a pretty terrific anthology of what's happening in the world of contemporary dance. The festival includes choreographers from Atlanta, New York City and Austin, along with all those terrific Houston dance masters. Through June 14. Barnevelder Movement/Arts, 2201 Preston, 713-529-1819. — LW

Complete Works of William Shakespeare...Abridged This amazingly wacky parody of the works of Shakespeare played for ten years in London, which says something about the state of theater in England. It's terribly silly and laugh-out-loud funny when approached with a sharp sense of style that references Monty Python, the Marx Brothers and low-rent Benny Hill. Ace Theatre doesn't give this show the respect it deserves. It goes all loosey-goosey and laid-back, losing a great many laughs with the slacker attitude. It's all rather haphazard and thrown together, as if the cast couldn't be bothered to rehearse. When the actors do quote Shakespeare, they get it wrong. If you're mocking the nose-in-the-air self-satisfaction inherent in Masterpiece Theatre, you'd better get the quotes right. There are still some funny bits, though. Othello, summed up by rap lyrics, is amusing; the gore fest Titus Andronicus tricked up as a TV cooking show is clever; and Hamlet, wrung through the wringer fast, faster and then backwards, is irreverent and goofy. Jillian Nolan, who also directs, seems most comfortable with the nonsense, as does stoner-esque Seth Radliff, who gets to play all the drag parts. Through June 27. 17011 Bamwood, 281-587-1020. — DLG

Urinetown Is this show the most ironic of them all? It mocks the very idea of the Broadway musical, especially serious ones such as those by Sondheim and Weill, while using all the tricks of the trade to make its points. It takes its sci-fi, eco-serious theme — a disastrous drought has given control over all toilets to greedy big business — flips it over and turns it into the very thing it mocks. The second number in the show is "Privilege to Pee," in case you haven't gotten the idea. Hey, if Sondheim can use assassins, serial killers and ugly heroines in his musicals, why can't youngsters Mark Hollman (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) use urinals? Although the show won Tonys for book and original score, it wears out its self-referential welcome sooner than it should, through no fault of the Playhouse 1960 cast, who give it the old college — or high school — try. Mixed in with the tyros of the chorus, who never quite get the hang of being onstage, are some really good performers who easily animate this quirky little work: Louis Crespo (Bobby), Rachel Orr (Little Sally), Jacob Buras (Lockstock), Teresa Zimmermann (Pennywise), Thomas White (Cladwell) and Tommy Waas (Barrel). The microphone setup is haphazard, to be kind, and since not everyone is wired, it seems terribly unfair to those who can't project. Tina Dennison's choreography is pretty spiffy, but a trifle too complicated to look smooth and uncomplicated. A few more hours of rehearsal will also get the follow-spot operators to focus on the actors and not the scenery. Through June 27. 6814 Gant, 281-587-8243. — DLG

 
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