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Capsule Stage Reviews: La Bohème, Our Late Night, Speech and Debate

 La Bohème Giacomo Puccini's evergreen opera, perhaps the world's favorite musical work, receives a loving revival from Opera in the Heights — so loving, it borders on reverential, and you want to kick-start maestro William Weibel to get the whole thing moving. He conducts this most buoyant, springtime work as if it's Parsifal, all monumental and full of gravity instead of impetuous and full of life and love. He saps the energy right out of this masterful story of penniless bohemians. Fortunately, you can harm Puccini only so long until his astonishing music takes over and, no matter at what glacial pace he's played, those sublime tunes sing out and carry us away. OH is blessed with a roster of accomplished young artists who do Puccini's lovers proud. Three of the leads in the emerald cast (there's an alternate ruby cast) were making their OH debuts, and we eagerly await seeing them in the future. Tenor David Guzman sang ardently as lovesick Rodolfo, falling head over worn-down heels at first glance for sickly Mimi. Soprano Daniella Carvalho, as ailing Mimi, brought needed fire to one of opera's most bedraggled heroines. Her voice is wine-dark and expressive — and those Hepburn cheekbones make her an unforgettable stage presence. Baritone Charles Stanton, as lovelorn Marcello, who's smitten with flirty Musetta, acted as impressively as he sang, and he sang magnificently, as did soprano Alyssa Bowlby as the lovely thorn in his side. The other two bohemians who share the rooftop garret were ably performed by baritone Keir Murray (a complex De Bretigny in last season's Manon) and bass Nathan Resika (a spirited Figaro for OH in 2007). Under the adept direction of Brian Byrnes, the staging is one of OH's most accomplished in simplicity and effectiveness. Byrnes acquits himself equally well as scenic designer in his imaginative, adaptable unit set, which functions as garret, cafe and gatehouse. If you're new to opera, Bohème is the perfect introduction. If you're an old opera queen, Bohème, mighty familiar, is the one face you always love to see. Through April 10. 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5303. — DLG

Our Late Night Once again the original thinkers at Catastrophic Theatre are proving themselves to be the masters of all things strange, disquieting and ultimately mesmerizing. They have invited us into the bizarre, funny, smart and breathtaking world of Wallace Shawn's 1975 cocktail party of a play Our Late Night. Performed against a lovely set designed by Greg Dean (he's also a cast member) that's filled with muted, mushroom-colored walls and elegant artwork, the story follows a small group of revelers through a night of highballs and honest conversation unlike any you've ever heard, unless you've been to hell and back. Dolled up in suits, silk and shiny shoes, these four men (played by Dean, Jeff Miller, Troy Schulze and Kyle Sturdivant) and three women (played by Carolyn Houston Boone, Mikelle Johnson and Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers) drift about the small party clinking their ice cubes against crystal while engaging in what should be small talk, but in fact turns into the secret horrors of the human condition. Sturdivant takes full command of the stage as the pompous Tony, who tells a long, hypnotic tale of his savage and unsatisfying sex life. Schulze makes a wonderful creep wearing his nasty little mustache and drooling over the women, who tell him their dark and violent desires. Miller and Dean both exude a kind of avuncular ooze as they wrap themselves around different women and talk about all variety of inappropriate sexual thoughts. And the women are equally odd as they divulge everything from a constellation of Freudian freakiness from Boone, to masochistic desire from Montaño-Bowers, to a vapid, sadistic iciness from Johnson. And somehow much of this is horrifyingly hilarious — when it's not raising the hairs on the back of your neck. Directed by Jason Nodler with the dangerous and exacting patience of a snake, this show is both intellectually stunning and emotionally unnerving as it snatches evil out from its hiding place and holds it up to the dazzling light. Through April 3. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 713-522-2723. — LW

Speech and Debate Shocking grownups is a teenager's duty, and in Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate, running at Stages Repertory Theatre, three lonely adolescents work hard to make the old folks in their lives squirm. As these outcasts struggle to find their own voices — Solomon (Michael McClure), who longs to be a journalist; Diwata (Ashtyn Sonner), the drama queen; and Howie (Garret Storms), the out gay guy who also longs to be out of high school — they deal with teachers who like young boys, parents who send them to antigay camp and other teenagers who make their lives miserable. Along the way, they create their school's first speech and debate team. Directed by Kenn McLaughlin, the sweet tale of kids coping with adolescent angst is told through an intimate series of scenes that starts with the kids online — chatting, blogging and trying to find someone to connect with in cyberspace. The story then follows them to school, where Diwata has managed to talk the boys into helping her start a speech club, her last chance at performing, since the theater department won't cast her in any major roles. We learn about Howie's past problems in Boy Scouts and Solomon's secrets, which slowly get revealed over the course of the play. Running at close to two hours without an intermission, the show could use a trim. There's a lot of time spent on the kids' bad music, but the story eventually pulls the audience in as the characters figure out how they will exact their revenge on the big bad world out there. The ending is smart and real and will leave you rooting for the geeky kid inside us all. Through April 11. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW

 
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