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Capsule Stage Reviews: Fear of Ducks, The Little Foxes, Romantic Comedy

 Fear of Ducks Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theater, along comes the inspired lunacy of Radio Music Theatre. You're never safe around these three (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell, Rich Mills), for you could die laughing, or at the very least spray your drink out of your nose as you gasp for breath. We wouldn't want it any other way. This scrumptious little tour de farce is one of the group's "unfertle" comedies, which means it doesn't feature those lovable Fertles from Dumptser, Texas. But never fear; author Steve Farrell has populated this juicy fable with new creations that could each have an entire series written about them, too. Revealing too much of the plot would be sacrilege — and nearly impossible — for the show doesn't move as much as it's propelled, by entrances and exits, one-liners, non sequiturs and our continuing laughter. Suffice it to say, there's a whacked-out, curly-headed televangelist, Jimmy Dillard, who's in a hissy fit over the fact that rocker du jour A.C. Adapter is to appear at the Margaret Mueller Mitchell Miller Pavilion at Precious Pines, Houston's most-planned planned community. Dillard's ready to do his "instant damnation" on this horn-headed smut rapper, especially for his hit tunes "Bra Full of Love" and "Set Your Parents' Pants on Fire." Adapter is not suitable for children, being one himself. That he also has two gigantic electrical prongs imbedded in the top of his head should say something about his state of mind, or lack thereof. Everything goes blissfully out of control, and there's even a delightfully affecting, albeit brief, scene between the fried rocker and the oblivious Mrs. Peeples, whose son has won a day with A.C., that's surprisingly lovely. Situated among the verbal mayhem, it's a little gem. Through August 28. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

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

Romantic Comedy One of the cardinal rules in writing a script for a romantic comedy involves the main characters "meeting cute." Having them bump into each other with immediate dislike is one of the most common ploys. Author Bernard Slade (TV scribe of The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family, Bewitched and, later, Broadway hit Same Time, Next Year) knows all about meeting cute, as his eponymous romantic comedy proves to a fault. Flighty and irrepressible would-be writer Phoebe (Jemma Evans) sneaks into the apartment of famous writer Jason Carmichael (Kevin Daugherty), who at that very moment carries in a massage table. He is, naturally, naked. She keeps her eyes averted, mostly, as she nervously jabbers away, and he hides behind the table, throwing out clever lines of dialogue. It's love at first sight. And that's how you write an opening to a romantic comedy, via '60s television. Some of Slade's zingers land; most do not. Even the spiced-up scenes and a hip attitude seem rather flat, if not dated. This mustiness might have been averted if Slade's characters were interesting — or believable. There's not a moment when we think Phoebe capable of becoming a world-class writer. Jason immediately hires her because he's in love with her, but he can't tell her, of course, for this is a romantic comedy, and the author must keep everyone dangling as long as three acts will allow. In this case, it's 14 years until the clinch. Daugherty and Evans (a fresh presence even in this stale contrivance) do their best to breathe life into this mummy, but it's futile. There are always sidekicks in a romance, and Slade at least steps up to the job with these two winners: the wisecracking agent (Ruth Suhler) and Phoebe's poor slob of a husband (Jeff Johnson). Deadpan is resurrected nicely by Johnson, and the shade of Eve Arden is ably conjured by Suhler. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to raise Slade himself. Through June 5. Island ETC, 2317 Mechanic, Galveston, 409-762-3556. — DLG

 
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