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There Is a Happiness That Morning Is When Troy Schulze's character Bernard ambles onto the tiny stage of Catastrophic Theater's "micro-theater" to open There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, he is planning to give a lecture on William Blake's poem "Infant Joy" from Songs of Innocence and of Experience. He's also going to explain the leaves. Rather, he's going to apologize for the behavior that led him to be covered in same. The night before he and his love, Ellen, a fellow Blake scholar at the same financially strapped small college, had been inflamed by Blake's poetry to the point of ripping off their clothes and making love in front of their students — and school administration. To keep their jobs, Bernard and Ellen are going to have to publicly apologize for their display of — what? Bernard argues that their lovemaking was an act of innocence, and he uses Blake's poem to make his case. Schulze is wonderful in this long opening monologue. He gives a down-home touch to the often high-flying rhetoric of playwright Mickle Maher. It's so high-flying, in fact, that much of it comes in rhyming couplets. Ellen (Amy Bruce) takes the stage, setting up for her afternoon class in which she is going to damn well refuse to apologize for anything. She has contempt for the school administration, particularly Dean James (Kyle Sturdivant). But James upends the expectations of both Bernard and Ellen. He wasn't horrified by their lovemaking — he was turned on by it. He doesn't want to kill their Blake seminars; he's cut funding to the rest of the university so that they can continue. In short, he's in love — with both of them. Despite the strength of the other performers, Sturdivant dominates the stage. A large actor bursting with manic energy (that sparkle in his eyes comes from a deep place), Sturdivant fills the stage with his character's degradation. Under Jason Nodler's direction, the play's energy never comes close to flagging, and the experience of seeing it in the tiny theater ups its already considerable ante. Through November 19. Catastrophic Theatre Micro-Theatre, 1540 Sul Ross, 713-522-2723. — DT

Wait Until Dark As a follow-up to his ultra-successful suspense tale Dial M for Murder (filmed in 3-D by Hitchcock in 1954), Frederick Knott upped the ante by making his leading character blind. During the final scene, when housewife Susy is menaced by sadist Roat, trying to get his grubby hands on a doll filled with heroin, all the lights go out onstage. Susy has leveled the playing field. Until that point, which is presented by Texas Repertory Theatre with chilling precision, the play's fairly leaden with top-heavy exposition and some plot mechanics that don't creak so much as scream. Susy's got to be the most resourceful heroine since Scarlett O'Hara saved her beloved Tara from those nasty Yankees. Once she realizes that the dutiful policeman and the former marine buddy of her husband are not who they say they are, and that the old man who just barged in happens to wear the same shoes as his son who came to talk to her earlier, her suspicions go into overdrive. She concocts an elaborate plot, too, just like the meanies. The fun of this thriller is finding out if she can outfox the foxes. An innocent in peril is the epitome of suspense, and TRT delivers the chills with gusto. It helps to have some fine actors deliver Knott's knotty lines with conviction. Watch old pro Steven Fenley (TRT's artistic director), playing a recently released petty criminal who's eating a sandwich, and you'll see an entire seminar in acting as he turns throwaway action into the stuff of character development. Ross Bautsch, as evil Roat, has real menace in him as he baits poor Susy. He makes a glorious villain. And Lauren Dolk, as Susy, radiates convincing innocence and, later, compelling resourcefulness in her battles. She's fierce and comely. The rest of the cast is ably played by Keiana Kreitz (bratty Gloria), David Walker (thug-with-a-sympathetic-streak Mike) and Fong Chau (stalwart husband Sam). Jodi Bobrovsky's ratty set really looks like a Greenwich Village basement apartment, and Eric Marsh's lack of lighting is pretty spiffy, especially the last blinding effect that not even Susy has thought of. Chills in the theater are difficult to come by. This one takes the cake. Make a wish and blow out the lights. Through October 30. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — DLG

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