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Capsule Stage Reviews: The Lighter Side of the Recession, Little Shop of Horrors, Our Town

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

Little Shop of Horrors Texas Repertory Theatre, the little theater that could, is showing that classic little show that could, Little Shop of Horrors. Nothing about this musical is ordinary. Have you ever seen a man-eating plant smile? Or watched it bop to a '60s tune while it tries to snap off a finger or two of the young man who holds it, nurtures it, feeds it with his own...blood? Well then, you'd better get to Texas Rep for your fix of the delicious little musical parody that ate NYC and practically every other theater venue in the last 27 years. Superbly crafted, amazingly clever and one hell of a good time, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 1982 work, adapted from Roger Corman's cheesy sci-fi flick from 1960, opened on Broadway without much hype or hope, and within days had ticket buyers lining up. The show ran for five years and kicked the writing duo into the waiting arms of Disney, for whom they penned Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and Aladdin, before Ashman's death in 1991. Little Shop is still their best work, and TRT lovingly produces it with all the theatrical know-how at its disposal. I don't think this show's ever looked, or sounded, so good. This is the way a musical's supposed to be: pepped up, slickly paced and gloriously acted, with all the little details thought out completely. Hats off to director Craig Miller, conductor Luke Kirkwood, actors Joshua Estrada, Blythe Kirkwood, Matthew Wade and Steven Fenley, and puppet creators Elliott Jordan, Joshua Clark and Daniel Roberts, who gave life to a really bad-ass blood sucker. Through October 31. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — DLG

Our Town Playwright Thornton Wilder was so far inside the closet that it should come as no surprise that the emotional wallop of his American classic play occurs when dead people converse from their graves. Like him, they're the ultimate outsiders, and they have his complete empathy. In Act III, young Emily dies in childbirth and joins the deceased townsfolk at the cemetery up on the hill — the dead sit on chairs and stare blankly straight at us. Impatient and wanting to explore the new insights that flood through her, Emily aches to return to the living. She is warned to forget, that it's not what she thinks it will be, but, as in life, she's insistent and curious. Granted a one-day visit back, Emily realizes her mistake almost instantly. The pain of seeing life slip away is too shattering — not only to Emily, but to us. Her searing cry, "They don't understand, do they?" can pierce through the toughest armor. The commonplace inhabits the universe with a kind of majestic grandeur in this great play, which is so simple and ingeniously crafted, there's no other work like it. It's unique in its staging (bare walls, no sets, few props), with a timeless message about the wasted beauty of everyday existence, and it's too special to be imitated. Our Town is one of a kind, and the Alley Theatre plays it that way in a stirring rendering graciously directed by Gregory Boyd. This production will draw you into the minutiae of the mundane (the milkman delivering cream, neighbors snapping green beans, moonlight on a spring evening, wedding-day jitters) and then break your heart with ineffable sadness. James Black, as the Stage Manager who leads us through the decades in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, at the turn of the 20th century, is a rather edgy, chilly cicerone to warm up the universe, but Elizabeth Bunch, as Emily, and Jay Sullivan, as her soul mate and husband George, strike the emotive balance between specific and universal. They light the stars, as does the large, impressive cast. Who shines the brightest, though, is Wilder, even hiding inside that dark closet. Through November 1. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

 
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