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Republic Day Playwright Tom Stell directs the world premiere of his own play about just how savage class warfare can really be, using cinematic techniques and a largely talented young cast to create vivid snapshots of unrestrained brutality. A bare stage is populated with simple props as needed, which disappear as quickly as they arrive, while projected images suggest a location or a violent action. The starkness suits well the theme of man's inhumanity to man — especially in times of violent revolution. Here the aristocratic "Browns" control the wealth while the plebian "Grays" struggle for survival. Playwright and director Tom Stell plays the patriarch of the Rivers Family, an imprisoned revolutionary leader. He enters late in the drama but is convincing as a conflicted leader with few illusions. Leighza Walker plays the wife he abandoned for the cause, and she is warm and wise as intended. The lead role is that of son John Rivers (Kurtis von Krueger), who aspires to escape poverty and does so by hook or by crook, mostly the latter. Von Krueger captures moments of drama, and some humor, but John's moral compass is so changeable that a convincing characterization may not be possible. The opposite is true of his brother Simon, a hot-headed, single-minded revolutionary acted with fire and enthusiasm by James Monaghan, who puts his brand on the role. Lindsy Greig is tall, blond, beautiful and in admirable physical shape — she is interestingly persuasive as a "Brown" slumming with John Rivers. The Rivers family is rounded out by daughter Beth (Liz King), who is quietly effective in the first act and noisily so in the second. I liked less well her paramour and father of the child she is carrying, Trevor Winchester. Tucker Rhodes plays him and looks like a very young Beatle, but speaks rapidly with little variation and even less diction. Rod Todd and Sandi Morgan play the parents of Trevor and other roles and are quite good in them all. Shawn Everiss and Norm Dillon play brutal soldiers — Everiss etches a vivid portrait. Playwright Stell leaves some of the brutality offstage with sound effects only, but there is enough onstage, effectively presented, to service several plays. This is Stell's first full-length work and shows talent worth cultivating, but some of the many scenes go on too long, and their points might be telegraphed instead of spelled out — irony needs to be brief. And the pantomime ending is much too subtle for a play with such bravura power. Judicious trimming would heighten impact, but playwright Stell has fashioned an ambitiously epic drama and found a young and capable cast to flesh out his parable. Through October 1. Big Head Productions at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-889-7837. — JJT

A Texas Romance A youngish widow is courted by a shy younger man, to her older sister's disapproval, in this sweet romance set in a small Texas town. The world of rural Texas is created onstage in a simple but compelling set designed by Judy Reeves, who also directed the play, and an adroit painting of the floor to resemble a sandy yard brings cheerful life to the play. Donna Dixon plays Daisy Wilson, abruptly widowed after 12 years of a less-than-ideal marriage. A year of widowhood has left her with a longing in her loins. Enter Garland Steinholden, portrayed by Jeffrey Dorman, shy but with his own brand of determination — dedication to the church, to the sanctity of marriage and to Daisy, whom he's admired from afar. His inexperience with women is monumental and not about to change soon, since he doesn't believe in premarital relations. Lee Raymond rounds out the cast as the older sister of Daisy, Doris Perdue, whose husband is away being treated for an illness. Daisy is a strong-minded woman intent on having her own way in no uncertain terms – her grilling of Garland on their first meeting is rigorous and unrelenting and actually very funny. The action here is largely verbal and the pace leisurely, but what the play lacks in drama and ambition is made up for by its sweetness and its charming portrayal of naivete. The work reaches for drama in a metaphorical scene in Act Two involving rocks and a table, a moment that is difficult to imagine working, so its near-miss here may be as good as it gets. Dorman creates an authentic, credible individual, his connection with the other characters is vivid, and even some of his pantomimed hesitation has elements of interest and rich humor. Dixon finds the strength in Daisy, but much of her delivery strikes the same note, regardless of content; still, her portrayal of a forthright woman captures a novel individual. The part of Doris is underwritten, so she has little to do except chide her sister. Except for Dorman, the actors lack spontaneity, and this fault falls in the director's bailiwick, as I've seen Dixon provide it in spades in another production. Yet the director has successfully shaped an unusual love story, and she and playwright Ellsworth Schave permit us to visit a world where character survives in the midst of doubt and cynicism, and for that we are grateful. This rare low-key romance allows time for sweetness and character to emerge, and nuggets of its rich humor enliven life in a rural setting in Texas. Through October 15. Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — JJT

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