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Capsule Stage Reviews: The Marriage of Bette & Boo, Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, Shadows in Bloom

 The Marriage of Bette & Boo Christopher Durang might be famous for his wildly sardonic satires, including Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You and Baby with the Bathwater, but his 1985 flaying of familial love, The Marriage of Bette & Boo, is as tragic as a tale about the postmodern American family can be. And the production from Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company directed by both Greg Dean and Jennifer Decker captures the darkly haunting hilarity of Durang's writing with economy and speed. The two-hour story skips over dozens of scenes as it covers a vast landscape of action, moving from the beginning of the marriage of Bette (Julie Boneau) and Boo (Mark Carrier), through the birth of their son Matt (Bobby Haworth), the still-births of Bette's subsequent children, the illnesses of their parents and then finally Bette's own death. Along the way, we encounter the horrors of relatively normal family life. Boo's father is an old alcoholic bastard who thinks all women are fools. His mother is a fool. Bette and her sisters can't stop bickering like girls, no matter how old they get. And nobody is able to provide anyone else comfort, not even Bette's creepy priest Father Donnally (played with wonderfully wicked irreverence by Mark Roberts) — he simply believes all his flock are stupid. The deep sadness of this play (which is also often very funny) lies in the way Durang strips away all the sentimentality usually attached to the idea of family. In this production, mothers might love their children, but that doesn't help anyone survive the terrors of the world. If anything, Durang shows us how parents and their children barely make it out of each other's grasps alive. Through October 23. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch, 832-463-0409. — LW

Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up The Alley Theatre is putting on a thrillingly buoyant production of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. While Peter may not fly through the Alley as imaginatively as he should — the aeronautics from ZFX, Inc. lack magic, and nobody seems troubled to camouflage the wiring — the spirited production still captures Barrie's sublime, dark, sad humor. No one writes like Barrie. What a strange, odd little man he was. Scalded at a young age by the death of his older brother and forever striving to get his mother's love, he remained in a state of arrested development. He adored children, to a fault, and if he were to appear today, his unabashed obsession with young boys — and a few girls, too — would raise countless red flags. This marvelous play contains all of Barrie's fixations: the wild boy who refuses to be tamed, intense motherly love, ineffectual fathers, dark whimsy, flights of fancy, filigreed language, no sex. The Alley's fine production, fetchingly directed by Gregory Boyd, is the 1982 Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation by John Caird and Trevor Nunn. It artfully combines the play's elaborate stage directions with descriptive passages from Peter and Wendy, Barrie's 1911 novelization of the play. This inventive approach creates a Storyteller (John Tyson) made up to look like Barrie, who draws us conspiratorially into the story with his quirky insights and wit. The RSC's biggest change is having Peter played by a man, or a man playing an adolescent boy forever on the cusp of manhood. Jay Sullivan as Peter is such a punk wild child, with spiky hair and feathery garb, that he carries off the masquerade with conviction. He's the very picture of petulant Peter's wanton disregard of feeling and perpetual forgetfulness. With him as leader of the gang, we'd join up instantly. Through October 31. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

Shadows in Bloom In her most recent one-woman show, award-winning writer/actor Gemma Wilcox returns to Theater LaB to play 20 characters: Sandra, turning 30 and hearing the definite deafening roar of her biological clock; dim but hot musician boyfriend Pete, who's not about to commit when he has the pick of any young thing around; Pete's insolent young daughter Lou, who doesn't like Sandra hanging around the morning after; biddy neighbor Flora, who putters around her garden dispensing wisdom like ancient Cassandra; Kate, the sultry singer whom Pete can't resist sleeping with, even on Sandra's birthday; and other nameless ones who pepper her dreams and red-tinged nightmares. For all the human personalities so tightly packed throughout the one-hour monologue, it's the nonhumans who define the show and make the biggest impression. How about a high-maintenance calla lily with plenty of attitude, or a sunflower who bickers with the lily about Sandra's love life? A memorable quick detour with two lobsters in love, Tristan and Gwyneth, seconds before they're plunged into boiling water? Or Lou's stuffed animal, who's having a hissy fit after being thrown out of bed and forgotten? These toys, crustaceans and plants are so much more interesting than Sandra that they seem to belong to another play. Wilcox has done this form shifting before, most memorably in The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over, in which Sandra, Pete and Louise also appeared, as did peacocks, cats and hamsters. Wilcox has been delineating Sandra's life in three previous stage incarnations, but Bloom is impressionistic to a fault. Sandra doesn't grow in this one and, like the sunflower, wilts while we're watching. She stays on the sidelines, never taking control and letting others define her. When our hearts go out to lobsters about to be poached, Wilcox must battle uphill. — DLG

 
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