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Capsule Stage Reviews: Into the Woods, The House of Yes, The Lighter Side of the Recession

Into the Woods This Tony winner from 1987 is Stephen Sondheim at his most accessible, and Pasadena Little Theatre performs the fairy-tale infused musical with great charm and heart. Your favorite storybook characters and some new ones are here, all living next door to each other. There's Cinderella (J.C. Barras, with jewel-like soprano and pratfall timing), Jack of beanstalk fame (Marc James), Little Red Riding Hood (Meeka Opong), two Prince Charmings (Patrick Hoehn and Revis Bell), and a poor Baker (Frankie Flores) and his Wife (Ginger Posey), who wish for a child. Of course, there's also a Witch (Kara Michele Pohlkamp) and a bunch of spells to be broken. After a rousing first act with everyone singing about living happily ever after, Act II brings on the patented Sondheim wet-blanket angst, with responsibility, bad parenting, and disaster awaiting. While not perfect, the show has two remarkably affecting songs ("No One Is Alone" and "Children Will Listen"), and laughs not heard in a Sondheim piece since Forum. The production moves steadily and has a childlike quality that suits the tales. Though some of the tricky lyrics get garbled and the equally tricky music isn't always smooth sailing for some of the performers, for the most part the cast is game and willing. Posey, whose moral compass gets a spin from the seductive prince, is especially winning. If you're afraid of Sondheim with his deep-dish Broadway fame, soignée sophistication, and cafe-society wicked wit, you'll find a trip into his Woods most pleasant indeed. Through September 13. 4318 Allen Genoa Rd., 713-941-1758. — DLG

The House of Yes The timing of Country Playhouse's production of Wendy MacLeod's The House of Yes was strange indeed. The play, about a set of grown-up twins who enjoy acting out the assassination of John Kennedy, opened on the weekend of Ted Kennedy's death. This was, of course, completely unintentional; still, it was hard not to be distracted by sad events going on in the real world as MacLeod's story unfolded onstage. It was odd timing for an odd narrative. Intended to be a bitingly funny commentary on what happens to a family and a country without leadership, the story gives us a long night's journey into the lives of the Pascal family, a wealthy group of kooks who live in suburban Virginia, around the corner from the old Kennedy clan. Characters include a set of twins (played by Jessica Knapp and Nate Suurmeyer) with a very odd relationship, who enjoy re-enacting the Kennedy assassination. The production drips with droll irony that's clearly meant to be funny, but the ironic distance creates such a large chasm between audience and characters, it's hard to feel much of anything for this supremely dysfunctional clan. These problems seem more systemic than individual — they likely have more to do with Julie Thornley's too-cool direction. And even though the show moves quickly, once we get to the end, it's hard to know what all the weirdness was for. Through September 12. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — LW

The Lighter Side of the Recession Unemployment might be high, but so are the laughs at Radio Music Theatre, whose latest bit of hilarity is called The Lighter Side of the Recession. This handful of sketches, which are loosely connected around the idea of folks doing their best during hard times, is just what the economist ordered. The show opens with a very laugh-your-face-off skit that captures a couple trying to drive from downtown Houston to their subdivision, Precious Trees, during rush hour. Using nothing more than chairs and microphones, Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills make us believe in — and laugh at — the battle the couple in the Sentra have with a Harley rider. Other silly moments include the "Age of Consent Determination Test," which advises men to ask potential dates questions like, "Do you know who Ross Perot is?" The Fertle family, RMT's staple silly characters, also shows up during the second half of the show, and it's a hoot when they talk about all the things they're doing to get by during the recession. Money-saving measures include painting a bedroom bright red, of all things (you'll have to see the show to get the whole story). Steve Ferrell's Uncle Dan, a familiar-looking furniture salesman, makes an appearance, much to the delight of the audience. He talks a lot about the recent fire at his store and how he's selling furniture with a lovely barbecue smell already baked in. More relief from than commentary about the current state of economic affairs, The Lighter Side of the Recession ought to make anyone feel better, if only for a night. Through November 21. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — LW

 
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