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Who Was That Masked Man? The term "meller-drammer" says it all — outlandish acting, deliberately exaggerated actions, simple plots, a mustachioed villain and a damsel in distress. Hisses at the villain were encouraged, as were cheers for the hero, and Theatre Suburbia capped it all by providing popcorn to throw at the cast, who sometimes threw it back. An uncomplicated set permitted something like a theater-in-the-round arrangement, and a bar in Slick Willy's Saloon doubled as a teller's cage for the local bank. The widow (tearfully well-played in the expected histrionic mode by Susan O'Connor) was slated to lose her home to the evil bank president whose mustache and black cape are certain emblems of villainy. Glenn Dodson played the morally challenged villain with confidence, but I did miss some of the lip-smacking relish and the savoring of pure evil that's the traditional hallmark of roles such as these. I especially liked Donna Dixon, who played the barmaid in an attractive red gown with eye shadow to match, and who dominated the stage with her powerful self-assurance. Daniel Corrigan was great as the dim-witted, bungling sheriff, and he managed to add nuance — believe it or not — to his role. Amesti Reioux played the widow's daughter — she can flutter a mean eyelid, nailed the ingenue smile and made us want to protect her virtue from the inevitable assault. The young Andrew Miles was effective as the Magnolia Kid, a gunslinger dressed in black but with so much cherry-red jacket fringe that I feared it might slow down his quick draw. The hero was the Masked Man, played by James Plake, and, while I found him unconvincing as the hero, he came to life in a dance routine in a dress — no, not cross-dressing, just a disguise. There was more dancing in the play, including an energetic, engaging can-can by a woman well past the first blush of youth. And there was singing as well, by the cast and the audience — a song-sheet was provided with the program, though the songs are familiar classics. The entire cast worked well together under the able direction of Doris Merten, creating a world of high jinks and low humor that, much to my surprise, I came to believe in. The events were enhanced by Alice Smith's appropriate piano accompaniment. Nineteenth-century histrionics were displayed shamelessly onstage in a fun-filled performance, and unless you're a curmudgeon by nature, you'll enjoy it. See it — you may exit with popcorn in your hair, but there will be a smile on your lips. Through August 27. Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — JJT

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