Romeo and Juliet To open its 12th season, UpStage Theatre makes its first foray into the thicket of Shakespeare with this ambitious production. Anna Yost as Juliet looks beautiful and virginal, and her looks and poses are sufficient to evoke some sympathy for the heroine's plight. But her voice is high, approaching shrill, and her usual expression is one of petulance. We fail to see the luminous spark of young love. Young Romeo is played by 14-year-old Jacob Allen, who is handsome enough, and stalwart enough, to carry off the role, if that were all it required. But he strolls through the role without passion or fire, and delivers his lines flatly, without much reference to their meaning. The result is that there is a hole at the center of the play where there should be a heart. Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers is fortunately blessed with major roles other than those in the title, and director Sean K. Thompson has cast many of these well. In the major supporting role of Nurse, Jackie Lovell is wise, humorous and caring, and provides a powerful anchor to Shakespeare's genius. So does John J. Zipay, who creates a wholly human and interesting Friar Laurence, a key adviser to the lovers, who marries and plots with them. Brian Heaton brings rollicking humor and exuberant, gifted body language to Mercutio, creating a vivid, memorable character. Equally memorable, but for the wrong reasons, is Mack Hays as Lord Capulet, apparently under the impression that the play is about him. His extravagant gestures and overly broad theatricality might better suit a vaudeville turn. Tyrrell Woolbert as Lady Capulet is restrained and elegant, and gives an interesting, nuanced performance. Joseph Moore as Prince Escalus finds the authority in his voice and commanding mien, though he might be less stilted. Joshua A. Costea does very well as an apothecary, making the most of a bit part through gait, manner and timing. Lenvi Tennessee as Tybalt has a strong stage presence, perhaps too strong for ensemble acting. The simple set serves quite well, some costumes are opulent and the direction in general is competent. But the rhythm of Shakespeare comes and goes, and one of the great love stories of all time is portrayed with words but no passion. However, strong performances in important supporting roles provide a taste of the brilliance of the Bard and his mastery of human relationships. Through October 22. UpStage Theatre at Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-838-7191. — 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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