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Capsule Stage Reviews: I Hate Hamlet, Mrs. Mannerly, Pig Farm

I Hate Hamlet When was the last time you saw a play and eagerly awaited each character's entrance, knowing that whoever came on next would be funnier than the last? Each character in I Hate Hamlet ratchets up the comedy by being outrageous, bizarre, utterly delightful — and, at times, full of life and truth. This rarely happens, trust me. But in Paul Rudnick's uproarious comedy, playing in a definitive production at Texas Repertory Theatre, it's the case from beginning to end. First is successful TV star Andrew (Rob de los Reyes), who's about to play Hamlet and scared witless at the daunting task. Next up is real estate agent Felicia (Marcy Kearns), who's dripping bangles, a Brooklyn accent and an amateur link to the spirit world. Then Andrew's dotty girlfriend Deirdre (Jen Lucy) lights up the room; she's made a career out of virginity, which drives him buggy. Andrew's agent Lillian (Barbara Lasater) reminds him that, like it or not, the contract's signed and he must appear. Scheming small-time Hollywood producer Gary (Rick Olvera) makes an appearance; he would be vacuous, but he doesn't know what that means. Then there's the one and only John Barrymore (Steven Fenley), accidentally conjured, who guides Andrew through the shoals of Shakespeare and helps buoy his miserable love life. This is Rudnick at his funniest, which is saying something since he's responsible for Addams Family Values, In & Out and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Here, the one-liners come as wicked and thick as anything Neil Simon ever penned. It's his hymn to the theater, to acting, to overacting, to being a legend. While the play wallows in the hammy fakeness of great and not-so-great theater, it exudes warmth and compassion and is extremely lovable, as is TRT's loving and detailed, beautifully acted treatment. Through February 21. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — DLG

Mrs. Mannerly In our constant-texting, bad-driving, reality-show world, good manners seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur, but don't tell that to Mrs. Mannerly (Josie de Guzman), the title character of Jeffrey Hatcher's delicious little play about a stand-up student named Jeffrey (James Black) and the time he spends in a 1967 etiquette class under the tutelage of a mysterious and wonderfully well-mannered teacher. At the beginning there are several students, all of whom Black plays with gusto; but slowly, over the course of the one act, each departs the class (some for naughty behavior), which leaves only Jeffrey and Mrs. Mannerly to create a presentation for the Daughters of the American Republic, showing off the young man's ability to do everything from setting a fancy table to opening the door properly for an ugly girl. During their lessons, we learn a lot about Mrs. Mannerly, including her surprising place in the social hierarchy of their little town. We also discover what's driving lonely, goofy Jeffrey to become the only student ever to score a 100 on the manners presentation that the DAR has hosted for decades. The multiple characters Black plays and the ironically awkward oddness of de Guzman's Mannerly add up to an absolutely charming night of theater, directed with wit and playful energy by John Rando. This is a ticket that everyone who loves good manners and live theater should have. Through February 28. The Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW

Pig Farm What's one supposed to do with this play? It's not funny enough to be a comedy, and it's not serious enough to be drama. It falls squarely in theater's No Man's Land. Writer Greg Kotis, whose previous work was the smash musical Urinetown (2001), treads water with this one. He takes the satire, the irony and the political outrage that were the distinct hallmarks of the former show, but forgets the heart, the Broadway savvy and how best to showcase these ingredients. The idiosyncratic mannerisms don't add up. Too shallow to mean much, the comedy comes off as preachy or corny — or, worse, bad. Coming after Urinetown, it's a major letdown. Tom and Tina (Bryan Maynard and Julie Thornley) run a pig farm. Hired hand Tim (Norm Dillon) is a juvenile delinquent fresh off probation. And EPA agent Teddy (Patrick Jennings) is due to check inventory and flush out the people responsible for dumping pig slop into the river. Tina wants a baby, not piglets, and seduces testosterone-laden Tim. She's so horny, she even puts the make on Teddy. Characters get bonked on the head with rolling pins, crushed in car accidents, stabbed with kitchen knives, stampeded by out-of-control pigs, and shot, but all they want is love. Tom and Tina survive the mayhem, which is Kotis's idea of a message, I guess, but this hillbilly ode to people behaving like pigs is one big boar. Through February 20. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

 
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