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Capsule Stage Reviews: The Little Foxes, Man from Nebraska, Reefer Madness

 The Little Foxes Not since Agamemnon and the house of Atreus has there been such an entertainingly decadent family as the house of Hubbards in Lillian Hellman's classic tale of greed, The Little Foxes (1939), about three on-the-rise siblings in 1900 Alabama. Ben is ceaselessly scheming at ways to get rich, and he's not above theft to see his dreams come true. Oscar has married into faded gentility. And their sister Regina has married well, but sickly Horace is too tame for her: He has no dreams, while Regina has too many. Of all the Hubbards, she is the most clever, sly, poisonous and cold-blooded. In one of theater history's most brazenly theatrical scenes, she withholds Horace's lifesaving medicine and silently watches him expire on the staircase as he struggles in vain to retrieve his pills. It's a wondrously chilling scene, and A.D. Players wrings out every last ounce of it. Famously portrayed onstage by Tallulah Bankhead and then gloriously archived on film by Bette Davis, Regina is a fascinating spider, full of charm, sarcasm, selfishness, pretense and an abiding strength not reckoned on by her brothers and family. Christie Watkins, with her honeyed voice and gracious physicality, embraces Regina with striking force. She's youthful enough that we can sympathize with her desires to "go to Chicago" and be someone, even if we can't condone her dubious methods of achievement. She's formidable, frightening and fun to watch in action, so long as we're not standing in her path. The ensemble cast is equally fine, with Ric Hodgin as Horace, who realizes much too late what a destructive force of nature he has married; Chip Simmons as oily Ben; and Orlando Arriaga as blunt Oscar. All in all, this is a delightful evening with some very despicable people. Through May 30. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Man from Nebraska Each Tracy Letts play is unique unto itself. If you know the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright from only one work, you'd never guess he wrote the others. His first, Killer Joe, is gothic slasher; Bug is violent and paranoid; August: Osage County is all grown-up dramaturgy and scathing comedy; Superior Donuts is socially conscious TV sitcom; and Man from Nebraska is quiet and polite, so unprepossessing that it becomes all the more powerful for its lack of outright dramatics. It's a pocket drama that sneaks up on you and clobbers you over the head. At first, you wonder where it's going, for the opening scenes are cryptic and impressionistic. Ken (Paul Hope) and wife Nan (Cristine McMurdo-Wallis) are in their car. We haven't a clue where they're going. We know they're in Nebraska. Video and slides of streets and landscapes play across the background screens. He drives; she looks out the window. "They're finally gonna tear down that ugly house," she says without much inflection. Next into view: They're at church, singing a hymn. Next: at the cafeteria after church. "How's your steak?" she asks. "Good," he replies. "How's yours?" Next: They're at the nursing home visiting Ken's mother (Sylvia Froman), with the TV playing too loud. The routine of living hits Ken hard, and when he suffers a debilitating crisis of faith ("I don't understand the stars," he cries to Nan in one of the play's many felicitous phrases), he's off to London by himself to find the answers, leaving wife and daughter (Lisa Thomas Morrison) to stitch together the missing family. The play comes fully alive when he takes flight, meeting the raunchy divorcee (Krissy Richmond), the knowing earth mother (Portia Gant) and her cheeky sculptor boyfriend (David Matranga). The splendid ensemble cast keeps the play alive until Ken discovers his abandoned feelings and reconciles his life — or as best as one can, so Letts writes, with someone by your side. Life is full of pain; it's mysterious and infinite — but you're not alone if you just ask. That's plenty of comfort for any play. Through May 16. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — DLG

Reefer Madness In no way do we at the Houston Press advocate or condone drug use — that just wouldn't be right. However...if you happen to get your grubby little paws on some herbal refreshment, it wouldn't hurt tokin' up before you see this stoned little musical. Based on the classic 1936 B-grade cinematic morality tale Tell Your Children, a.k.a. Reefer Madness (heartily revived in the '70s as a hip campus joke), this puffy little musical spins the cheesy movie into an equally cheesy little theater hallucinogen. It's totally whacked. Thank the cannabis gods that Theater LaB (who else would be so gleeful and giddy?) has procured the prodigious — and nutty — talents of director/choreographer Jimmy Phillips, who supplies the almost constant stream of hilarity when the smoky haze starts to disperse. He keeps us inhaling. The cast is spot-on, always just on the cusp of over-the-top, which would be the easy way out; instead, it stops short and lets us go over ourselves. The pluses include Kregg Dailey in his multiple roles as a lecturer ("The dread marijuana may be reaching forth next for your son or daughter...or yours...or yours!"), a friendly soda fountain proprietor who also happens to be a nefarious pusher, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Corey Hartzog as innocent Jimmy, who's whisked into degradation as soon as his first puff; Jessica Janes as low-down harlot Mae, who has a penchant for Chinese dressing gowns; Joshua Estrada as laugh-happy Ralph; and John Dunn in the show-stealing role of heavenly instructor. The tacky tinsel and Depression ensembles are perfectly spoofed through Pat Padilla's period costumes and Boris Kaplun's crayon-infused sets, and everyone kicks up their saddle shoes with abandon in the Busby Berkeley-inspired "Down at the Ol' Five and Dime" and the raucous "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy." Even without a toke, Theater LaB's kitschy production is a natural high. Through May 23. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG

 
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