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Capsule Stage Reviews: The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over, Master Class, Rent

The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over Houstonians owe Gerald LaBita, producing director of Theater LaB, a great big high-five for introducing us to Gemma Wilcox, the writer, director and star of her one-woman show, The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over, which ran here for one too-short week. The story, about a young couple who try to stay together despite their difficulties, is charming for its simplicity. They travel to visit older relatives on a farm, get advice, feed the chickens. One year later, they're still having trouble, and an old boyfriend arrives to complicate matters further. During these very tender scenes, Wilcox displays an astonishing range as she plays every character in this story, portraying each so convincingly, it isn't long before you forget there's only one performer on the stage. Everyone's from the British Isles so they all have accents. But what is striking is that they all have very different accents, making it clear that they come from different areas and socioeconomic backgrounds. But best of all are the nonhuman characters Wilcox plays, including the chickens in the yard, who worry over a fox, and an arrogant cat who licks his lips every time he speaks to his caged-rodent girlfriend, who spends all her time running on a wheel. Wilcox even plays a fire burning near the two young lovers as they discuss the status of their relationship. Everything in this story gets a moment onstage, and Wilcox embodies each so fully, it's impossible not to come away from her simple tale awed and utterly charmed by this lovely young actress. Too bad she's not a permanent resident of Houston. The only thing to do now is to implore LaBita to bring Wilcox back for an encore. — LW

Master Class In 2010, more than 30 years after the great Maria Callas died in 1977, fans can still buy a calendar featuring photographs of La Divina. Leonard Bernstein called her "The Bible of Opera," and her impact on the world of music and star-powered scandal has been documented in dozens of articles and books, not to mention all those still astonishing recordings of her controversial voice. And as the center of Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning Master Class, Callas makes a sparkling theatrical character, especially as played by a stunning Celeste Roberts at Main Street Theater, where the show is now thrilling lovers of any art. Inspired by tapes of actual master classes Callas gave at the Juilliard School of Music, McNally imagines an afternoon when Callas "instructs" three young singers on becoming an artist. As directed by Mark Adams, these two lessons are funny, provocative, mesmerizing and, most of all, inspiring. Callas's life was as interesting as her art. McNally deftly stitches her history into the advice she gives to her students, who come in nervous and generally leave shattered. We learn about her impoverished upbringing during WW II, her contentious relationship with her demanding mother and her sad love life. All this comes across beautifully in Roberts's powerful performance, which includes aria-like monologues spoken straight out to the audience, full of sweeping emotion and enormous heart. The music in the show all comes from her students. There's Sophie (Liz Cascio), Tony (Ross A. Chitwood) and Sharon (Danica Dawn Johnston). None of these students can do what Callas can, and though Roberts only sings one short phrase through the entire play, her Callas is completely believable as the master of the music and the one true singer on the stage. You do not need to love the opera to love McNally's Master Class, especially this production. It is a riveting homage to the rich life — and the demands, the sacrifices and the enormous gifts that come with making meaningful work. Through January 24. 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — LW

Rent Paper globe moon, graffiti-covered brick wall, chain-link fence, industrial pipes, corner phone booth: There's only one great show with all these elements, Jonathan Larson's hip, evergreen cultural phenomenon from 1996. Winner of the Tony, Drama Desk, Obie and a Pulitzer Prize, Rent is so full of life and such an exuberant rock paean to unconventional bohemianism that it always comes as a shock to recall that creator Larson (music, lyrics, book) died on the eve of the premiere and never witnessed its huge success. Even with this horribly ironic baggage, Rent is one of the great Broadway works, an instant classic, and Country Playhouse imbues this show with a tremendously winning, affecting production. It's one of the company's best shows ever, and that's saying something, for CP's been very hot recently. Director O'Dell Hutchison infuses this Manhattan East Village updating of Puccini's classic opera La Bohème with sexy energy, theatrical pizzazz and an immense heart, and the entire company goes the distance and makes his work look effortless. The talented young cast brings this wondrous show to life: Brad Goertz (AIDS-infected musician Roger), Christopher Patton (videographer Mark), Erich Polley (drag queen Angel), Julia Hester (drug-addicted Mimi), Jessica Janes (lesbian performance artist Maureen), Michael Alexander (Tom Collins, Angel's lover), Kyle Ezer (sellout Benny), Rikki Conner (Joanne, Maureen's lover) and chorus soloist Johanna Bonno are all standouts. The problems of mike balance (the orchestra's too loud and often drowns out the singers) and lighting (it sometimes misses the space where the actors stand) are minor annoyances and easily fixed, and they in no way harm the wonders of this work. Rent is a milestone in musical theater. Go to Country Playhouse and see why. Through January 30. 12802 Queensbury Lane, 713-467-4497. — DLG

 
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