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Capsule Stage Reviews: Mud, On the Town, Waiting in the Wings, Wayside Motor Inn

 Mud We are pleased to report there's new blood in town — theatrical blood, that is — coming at us in the form of Doorman Actors Lab. The small group started with a lovely-looking production of Maria Irene Fornes's Mud, a lean, dark story about the hopelessness of poverty. At the center was Mae (Lydia Lara), a young woman struggling to free herself from illiteracy and her relationship with Lloyd (Will Morgan), an ill man she called her "mate." They were like "animals," she said with disgust, when trying to explain their relationship to Henry (Rick Welch), an older man she hoped would teach her some of the finer things in life. As played by the very pretty Lara, Mae was an admirable, angry woman working long hours while trying to learn how to read. But she was silenced by the men who would crush her to stay alive. This is a story as raw and elemental as theater gets, and that's the strength of this devastating, elegant script. Under Liz Lacy's direction, the story moved quickly. Sheleigh Carmichael's set design was one of the best things about this production. Small yet complete, the fragmented room with wide-plank floor boards and a frail ceiling captured the ragged lives these people lived. Lara's Mae was the strongest character here. Tiny yet powerful, with lyrical hands that gestured her rage with grace, Lara was full of untapped potential. New theatrical companies are a good thing for our arts community, especially when they are brave enough to start with scripts as challenging as this one is. So, welcome. — LW

On the Town This classic musical from 1944 — music by Leonard Bernstein, book and lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, dances by Jerome Robbins — is one of the truly unknown works in the repertoire. Oh, sure, many have seen the Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra movie adaptation (1949), but it's almost completely devoid of Bernstein's score, not to mention the jazzy sex and bursting Manhattan energy. And since Robbins's fantastic nonstop dance scheme faded into the shadows as soon as the show closed, the driving propulsion evaporated, too. Paul Hope and co-director Philip Lehl's staging of the show last weekend at Heinen Theatre at least brought us as close as we're probably going to get to what all the excitement was about. Choreographer Krissy Richmond gave this seminal work a coherent dance plot that actually kissed the score. That some of her dancers couldn't manage the ballet steps without looking out of their element is fodder for further discussion, but her Broadway style was right-on. As is usual with Bayou City Concert Musicals, the performers and backstage talent gave their all, brilliantly, and it's better to just list them: the three sailors on 24-hour leave (Kregg Alan Dailey, Adam Gibbs, Will Luton), the girls they find and ultimately lose (Susan Draper, Tamara Siler, Melissa Pritchett), and assorted crazies in the Big Apple (Grace Givens, Richard Calvert, Susan O. Koozin), along with the costume designer (Pat Padilla) and conductor (Dominique Røyem). On the Town defines America during WW II. It's a classic, though, because it so effortlessly defines America, no matter which era. — DLG

Waiting in the Wings Not considered one of his better plays, Noël Coward's Waiting in the Wings nevertheless makes for an amusing evening at Country Playhouse. The tale about a retirement home for down-on-their-luck, elderly actresses focuses on grand old dames bridging ancient rifts and accepting the inevitabilities of life, which, in this case, include death. At the center are two old-time enemies, Lotta Bainbridge (Rachel Mattox) and May Davenport (Tess Wells). That the two ex-starlets end up stuck together at The Wings, as the home is called, starts off as a cruel twist of fate, but after a shot or two of whiskey, the old birds work things out. Whipped into the margins are other stories, including the one about Sarita Myrtle (Maud Ella Lindsley), a firebug who believes she's still onstage. There's also Deirdre O'Malley (Elaine Edstrom), an Irish fighter who hates the fact that she's ended up in a charity home. The play includes more than a dozen characters and runs three hours, with two intermissions — quite a long time for a story without much substance. But director Claire Hart-Palumbo moves her big cast along. The ladies are often funny and always charming as they work their way through Coward's one-liners. And Coward aficionados will enjoy seeing this often overlooked script onstage. Through October 3. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — LW

Wayside Motor Inn Hollywood Golden Age director Howard Hawks had a never-fail rule for comedy: When in doubt, keep it fast. For their work on Wayside Motor Inn, A.R. Gurney's early comedy from 1977, co-directors Malinda Beckham and Trevor Cone at Theatre Southwest would be wise to heed that well-used maxim. In this production, there's a lot of dead air that trips up the momentum, as characters pause and dawdle before speaking. The tricky plot that Gurney constructs and then so effortlessly interweaves bumps along in starts and stops. Five travelers check into the Wayside, but we see each of their stories played out in the same room. As horny traveling businessman Ray (Sam Martinez) settles in, tired Frank (David Holloway) and nagging wife Jessie (Zona Jane Meyer) enter and head for the bed to relax. While there, a pushy, upwardly mobile man (Scott Holmes) and his edgy son (Norm Dillon) arrive for the boy's interview at Harvard. As they squabble from the terrace, frisky Phil (Louis Crespo Jr.) and less-frisky Sally (Chelsea Curto) check in for an overnight quickie. Their sexcapades make room for rumpled husband Andy (Patrick Jennings), who's staying here to finalize his divorce from wife Ruth (Amanda Bonfitto). Tying loose clients together is Sharon from room service (Regina Ohashi), who's against everything from coffee to apple pie to The Man. Forward movement would keep us from pondering Gurney's slim themes and obvious situations. There aren't many surprises. Grumpy Sharon and put-upon Ray are the exceptions, and their scenes enliven the motel like a fresh paint job. Through September 26. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

 
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