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Capsule Stage Reviews: Reckless, Steel Magnolias, The Story of Burford, Category 5, The Wiz

Reckless Although her louse of a husband has just confessed to hiring a hit man to kill her — on Christmas Eve, no less — unconquerably happy Rachel (Jennifer Wood) puts on the smiley face of Doris Day as she flees into the snowy night in her robe and slippers to travel the country. For the rest of her shaggy dog tale, dexterously told at Company OnStage, she will not be deterred from the joy that she reckons comes from life itself, no matter how many times her optimism is tested. She also keeps on her robe and slippers, which should tell you we're not in Kansas anymore. Using a series of blackout sketches that get bleaker and more surreal with each punch line, playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, Dying Gaul, Light in the Piazza) is fiercely intent on deflating Rachel, if not slapping her back into reality. No one is quite what they seem, an intriguing theme that keeps recurring through Rachel's odyssey. Befriended by physical therapist Lloyd (Casey Coale) and his paraplegic deaf wife Pooty (Danitra Luers), Rachel discovers that these paragons of selfless devotion are also liars and cheats, but only for the most altruistic of reasons. It's Rachel in Wonderland as her story devolves into mayhem, tacky game shows, feel-good therapy (Mary McAtee as all six Doctors is showstoppingly good) and poisoned champagne. At the end, her trek through all 50 states and every town named Springfield ends on a sweet note of mission accomplished, as her dream of a life comes full circle. "The holidays can be rough," Rachel says with dubious goodwill. They can also be mighty fine theater. Through July 25. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

Steel Magnolias Old-fashioned as it may be, Robert Harling's 1987 comedy-drama about a girl who suffers from complications from diabetes remains a very tender story that's as funny as it is sad. And when the actors are as uniformly strong as the ones getting their up-dos at Truvy's Beauty Parlor on the stage at A.D. Players, the story is likely to move even the most cynical in the audience. Directed by Lee Walker with care and grace, the cast moves through the emotional tale with steely care, lifting it out of the sticky sweetness of melodrama. Christy Watkins is a charming Truvy Jones, the kind of hairdresser we'd all love to have. She listens to problems and gives out sweet advice and big hugs. As M'Lynn Eatenton, Cyndi Scarr Crittenden is heartbreakingly strong, especially when her daughter Shelby (Abby Bergstrom) is in trouble. The funniest of the bunch are Jeannette Clift George as Ouiser Boudreaux, the curmudgeonly rich neighbor, and Patty Tuel Bailey as the acerbic Clairee Belcher; both are laugh-out-loud funny. Everyone knows the ending, but this fine production makes the familiar ride worth it. Through August 30. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — LW

The Story of Burford, Category 5 Hurricane Ike might be just a sweat-soaked memory, but if Steve Farrell, the dude who writes all the silliness for Radio Music Theatre, has his way, we'll all be thinking storm surge soon. The Story of Burford, Category 5 imagines what will happen if a Category 5 storm really did blow our way. We meet the Spy Eye News team just as Burford is gathering steam out in the Gulf. City fathers are about to launch the "Houston Smug Campaign," thinking if that sort of attitude works for the folks in New York and L.A., the Bayou City should be able to get the same thing working. The story also follows the developers of places like Driftwood, who know they're building McMansions on floodplains but don't care. Then there are all those Canadians buying up Houston. One's here spending his time at the Poontang Club, getting the rib eye/table dance combo. Meanwhile, Burford is gathering power in the Gulf. Soon enough, it's a Category 5, enough to blow the city off the map — well, not quite. In Radio Music Theatre world, we still have the Art Boat Parade. And because we're so damned innovative, Houstonians know how to make big bucks out of disaster. Think gondolas and theme parks! It's all fun and giggles with Farrell, his wife Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills, the three-performer team who enact all the characters in this show — a very goofy way to forget about what could happen should a real Cat 5 barrel our way. Through August 30. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — LW

The Wiz The Ensemble Theatre's production of The Wiz, the Tony Award-winning musical remake of L. Frank Baum's novel about a girl who learns there's no place like home, is entertaining. But the space presents a problem. This is a big show, and on the Ensemble's modest-size proscenium stage, the large cast, dancing through hefty numbers like the most recognizable tune, "Ease on Down the Road," looks a bit crowded. James V. Thomas's set features two stairways that add dimension, but they also shrink the playing area down even more, so director Patdro Harris must find a place to put his larger-than-life characters, including Scarecrow (Gary E. Vincent), Lion (Anthony Boggess-Glover) and Tin Man (Tommie Harper). They generally end up squished down center or traveling up and down the stairs over and over. Still, Vincent, Boggess-Glover and Harper are uniformly wonderful in their roles. All three can both sing and dance, and they are charmers. And as sweet Dorothy, Melanie Finley brings down the house with her soulful version of "Home." The theater has extended the run, and tickets are going fast. So if you need some reminding in this heat that home really is the best place to be, get your tickets fast. Through July 26. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — LW

 
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