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Capsule Stage Reviews: A Fertle Holiday, Wonder of the World

A Fertle Holiday Another annual Christmas pleasure in Houston comes courtesy of Radio Music Theatre. This year marks the 25th production of A Fertle Holiday. The crowd-pleasing skit-comedy show celebrates family and the difficult joys of coming together for obligatory Christmas joy. Of course, the best thing about an RMT show is the cast. Headed up by Steve Farrell, who also writes all the shows, the trio of actors includes Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills. The team of three creates the entire population of Dumpster, Texas, where all the action takes place. They also make up the funny Fertle family, including a trashy sister named Justicena (Mills), a know-it-all named Lou (Steve), a brother named Earl who's been hit in the head one too many times (Mills) and a sister who got out and made it big in California, Carol (Vicki). The small-town Texans who fill up the tiny stage at RMT keep the capacity-audience hooting like "baby owls," as one character likes to say. Once all the siblings arrive home in Dumpster, fireworks spark (some are literal, as Justicena gives her bratty son a rocket launcher for Christmas). There are also the more subtle familial problems. In-laws hate each other, and the meal never turns out the way it's supposed to, except for the butter pie, which is always yummy. In the end, the Fertles manage to make it through one more holiday without killing each other, which is about as much as any group of relatives can hope for. Through January 16. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722 — LW

Wonder of the World David Lindsay-Abaire, the playwright who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for the domestic drama Rabbit Hole, developed his chops writing comedies such as Wonder of the World, a play full of goofy characters and strange happenings now running at Theatre Southwest. The popular script (Pandora Theatre Company also ran a production last fall) focuses on Cass (Stacy A. Spaeth), a ready-for-anything kind of gal who leaves her husband Kip (James Reed) when she discovers his very, very strange sexual fetish. She winds up in Niagara Falls, where she proceeds to mark off things on a to-do list for life, which includes getting a sidekick and wearing a wig. She meets a slew of oddballs such as Lois (Ananka Kohnitz), an alcoholic hell-bent on going over the falls in a barrel; Captain Mike (Brian Heaton), a lonely widower who turns out to be the closest to normal this show gets; and a therapist (Cheryl Tanner) who gets her clients to play a hostile round of the Newlywed Game as a get-to-know-you exercise. The script is full of clever moments, one of which finds the characters actually floating toward the falls. And this production, directed with lots of vivacity and good humor by David Holloway, is energetic. Spaeth's Cass is amusing but a little too snide and ironic to elicit much sympathy — the story opens with her calmly packing to leave her marriage, and she maintains that levelheadedness throughout, even when she witnesses a shooting. In fact, all the performances are emotionally distant. But even without deep engagement from the actors, Lindsay-Abaire's script is so original and his characters so imaginative, the production is worthwhile — if only to get an introduction to one of theater's freshest new voices. Through January 23. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — LW

 
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