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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

The Nerd Actor L. Robert Westeen was born at least 40 years too late. In another life he would have had steady employment at RKO, MGM or Paramount Pictures. As befuddled and exasperated Willum Cubbert in Larry Shue's 1987 sitcom The Nerd, Westeen does frustration like the best of the old pros. In the play, Willum has agreed to meet the former soldier who saved his life many years ago. The trouble is, Rick Steadman (David Barron) is a real pain in the butt, annoying and whiny. He pushes his way into Willum's professional and personal life with a big bad thud. Willum's much too nice and guilty to throw him out, until Rick's shenanigans — which include airborne cottage cheese — cost him his job. That's when Willum's sometime fiancée (Ruth McCleskey) and best friend (John Wind) conspire to drive Rick permanently away. Shue's comedy is a low-rent Man Who Came to Dinner without that beloved 1939 classic's caustic wit and acidic charm. There are plenty of laughs, however, thanks to Barron's maddening single-mindedness and Wind's snarky line readings, which recall another old movie pro, George Sanders. But it's Westeen who supplies this clunky comedy with the smoothness of a Ferrari playing his everyman driven to distraction and thoughts of crossbows. His double takes are perfection, and his slow burn should be patented. As he has displayed in his other Company OnStage roles, he is a hidden gem among Houston actors. Through December 19. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

'night, Mother Marsha Norman's Pulitzer Prize winner packs quite a punch at Country Playhouse. Like an old-fashioned Saturday-night prize fight, this two-character drama feints and parries with the best of them. You can almost hear the end-of-round bell when mom Thelma (Carolyn Montgomery) or daughter Jessie (Julie Ann Williams) gets off a good shot that leaves the other one bloody and wobbly for a moment. It's a battle to the finish, and there's going to be only one person left standing at the end. We give nothing away when we tell you that daughter Jessie, battered by life and reeling from pain so deep she can be infuriatingly calm about what she's about to do, informs her mother that in an hour and a half, she will go into her bedroom, lock the door and shoot herself. Before she does, she has a list of chores she wants to finish, like cleaning out the refrigerator, filling the candy dishes and telling Mom who to call after she hears the shot. Naturally, mom has other ideas, like desperately trying to talk her out of it by cajoling, wheedling, anything she can think of. Both women have emotional baggage that confounds the problem and muddies the water — some of the exposition sucker-punches the audience — but Jessie won't be deterred. It's her life, and for once she's taking control. The actors are marvelous. With her sandpaper-gritty voice, Montgomery can do emotional wailing like no other, and as she moves around the house in slippers and odd layers of clothing, you feel her sense of overwhelming desperation at the terror of losing her child and not knowing how to stop it. As Jessie, Williams is downright eerie. She so inhabits the character, you feel she could fade into the wallpaper as easily as she could peel it off with the withering glance of one who knows that she won't be missed. Director Rachel Mattox keeps us in suspense and on the ropes until the final knockout. Through November 21.12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

Trey McIntyre Project He's been the choreographic associate for Houston Ballet and one of People magazine's 25 Hottest Bachelors. Now Trey McIntyre is running his own company, and a few lucky Houstonians got to see the work of the Trey McIntyre Project, based in Boise, Idaho, last Friday night, when the company came here for a one-night show brought to Houston by the Society for the Performing Arts. The program included four very different dances. The evening opener, Like a Samba, was a lovely collage of movement that coupled the traditional vocabulary of ballet with delicious samba music by Astrud Gilberto. Also on the bill was the laugh-out-loud-funny Shape, a short dance featuring three performers who used balloons to reshape our ideas of the body — think boobs and odd heads. The most dramatic performance was The Sun Road, danced to music as diverse as Young Grey Horse (traditional native American drumming) and Nina Simone. Commissioned by Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Sun Road was a powerful homage to the natural world as well as a haunting reminder of the human footprint on the planet. Performed against video of images from Glacier National Park, the muscular choreography made the dancers look like powerful shadows moving across the landscape. McIntyre is not only hot, he's a stunning choreographer. — LW

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