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Capsule Stage Reviews: Arcadia, Funny Money, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Arcadia The extraordinary depth of playwright Tom Stoppard's knowledge is on full display in the melancholic, gorgeously realized world of his ambitious and stunning Arcadia. Everything from Newtonian physics to the ridiculousness of academia to the sweet pangs of teenage crushes fills the tiny stage at Main Street Theater, where Stoppard's masterwork is now on the boards. The story concerns two time frames, both taking place in the same room at the Coverly Estate in England. One period is the very early years of the 1800s, when teenage Thomasina (Jennifer Gilbert) is being tutored by the tender Septimus Hodge (Steven Laing). Of course, the girl has a crush on her teacher even though her intellect is actually larger and more imaginative than that of her fine instructor. In fact, Thomasina makes a mathematical discovery that won't be able to be fully investigated until 200 years later, which is when the second story takes place. In the present, the Coverly family still occupies the estate. Thomasina's distant relative Valentine (Justine Doran) finds the girl's notebook and proceeds to take up her mathematical discovery using a computer to figure out where the discovery might take him. The past and the present are connected by more than a single notebook. There is also the smart but ridiculous modern-day scholar Bernard Nightingale (Philip Lehl), who's snooping through the library at the estate looking to make a new discovery about the poet Byron. Bestselling writer Hannah Jarvis (Shannon Emerick) is also looking through the libraries. The modern-day folk get everything about the past very wrong. But still they are intertwined, and Stoppard makes the lovely point that one "cannot stir things apart" by having the characters from the past and the present together onstage (all sitting around Liz Freese's elegant set). Directed by Rebecca Greene Udden, the production makes lovely use of its mostly terrific cast (Rutherford Cravens does an excellent job as Richard Noakes, the landscape architect from the 1800s). Stoppard's intellectually engaging work is always a challenge, and this show makes paying attention satisfying. Through June 6. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — LW

Funny Money Greed is good in Ray Cooney's 1994 English farce. It's also funny, as presented in a gently goofy production from Company OnStage, directed with spirited mayhem by Anita Samson. Nondescript and schlubby Henry (David Barron, in nice, oblivious mode) picks up the wrong briefcase on the way home, only to discover it is filled with oodles of English pound notes. Henry is ecstatic. He celebrates, then hastily packs for a lifetime vacation in Spain. Needless to say, everything goes wrong in his short but eventful criminal life. He's not in the least happy about it, but we are. Henry's harried wife (Kathy Davis) doesn't want to leave England, and besides, they have dinner guests due any minute, and what's to be done with the chicken already in the oven? She proceeds to get pleasantly toasted as the evening wears on. (While Davis portrays a delightfully tipsy spouse, she's too old for twinkly Barron.) An officious police detective (Glenn Dodson) has followed Henry home from the pub, where he was acting awfully suspicious in the men's room, and things careen monumentally out of control as little lies add up to great big ones. Everyone jumps to the wrong conclusions, and more clueless characters are added to the simmering plot, which is vigorously stirred at every entrance. This is the type of silliness the English toss off in their sleep, and Cooney is a master at it. (If you're unlucky, you might remember the blah 2006 film adaptation starring Chevy Chase as Henry.) Here the ensemble cast plays well together, and Cooney's lunacy keeps everyone hopping, audience included, without time to analyze or find fault. It's always a pleasure to go to the theater and just relax and have scads of fun. Through June 12. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest As iconoclastic rabble rouser Randle P. McMurphy, whose sudden arrival at the Oregon mental hospital challenges every notion of conformity, Allen Dorris explodes the already cinemascopic proportions of Country Playhouse's main stage. He's an actor who enlarges the playing space just by walking into it. He did so memorably in the company's searing production of Of Mice and Men, and he takes command here in Dale Wasserman's dramatic adaptation of Ken Kesey's seminal book from 1962. Though set in the '50s, the novel is as much an icon of '60s counterculture as it is an indictment of convention and social rigor mortis. To get out of a prison work farm, McMurphy has himself declared incompetent and sent to the asylum to finish his sentence. Thinking he's pulled a fast one, he realizes, too late, that he's under the dictatorial rule of Nurse Ratched (Melody Gray), a tyrannical authoritarian who uses every sort of intimidation, threat and physical harm to control her patients. As if primordial opponents, McMurphy and Ratched fight to the death. Director John Mitsakis (who's also an exceptional set designer) keeps the melodrama at high boil and his phenomenal ensemble cast at fever pitch. The drama's exciting, physically so, as it moves inexorably toward its smashing climax. As Nurse Ratched, Gray keeps her emotions tightly clamped, which makes her character more frightening and somewhat alien. She and ultra-emotional Dorris send off sparks when they clash. The seven wards of the state are artfully limned by Jordan Real, Scott McWhirter, Ricky Welch, Trevor B. Cone, Lee Ray, Nate Suurmeyer and John Zipay. It's quite a show, one of Country Playhouse's finest. Through May 22. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

 
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