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

Zombie Prom A rejected teenage swain turns to nuclear suicide but returns as a radioactive toxic avenger to reclaim his true love. Romance blossoms between Jonny (Philip Orazio) and Toffee (Jenna Simmons), and their acting and vocal skills let us savor their love. Toffee's parents disapprove of Jonny, and he hurls himself into the embrace of a nuclear doom. All this is enhanced enormously by the powerful presence of the school principal, Mrs. Delilah Strict, played by Melanie Burke, who provides a commanding stage presence and an authentic martinet spirit. Her rule is threatened when Jonny returns to resume his quest to take Toffee to the senior prom. His skin now a vivid green, he seems to have grown an extra set of cojones, as he now has the style, energy and moves of a rock star. Thus, an epic battle for the soul of Enrico Fermi High begins, and it is interesting indeed. But wait — there's more! Newscaster Eddie Flagrante enters and Andrew Garrett captures wonderfully his persona – smooth, good-looking, self-centered and glib. He and Mrs. Strict have a (gasp!) history, and share a duet that masterfully delivers humor, sensuality and characterization. The three girl pals of Toffee, the three buddies of Jonny and the ensemble create with exuberant energy a nostalgic reminder of the conflict between authority and teenage hormones. The songs are not especially memorable, but enjoyably propel the action. The music has pep and vigor, and the five-piece band is excellent. The fast-paced direction is by Paul Hope, and the entire effort is presented with loving care and a lighthearted touch. Young talent and experienced direction shape an entertaining script into a delightful comedic event, perfectly timed to add sharp pleasure to the Halloween season. Through November 6. University of Houston, Cullen Hall, 4800 Calhoun, 713-743-2929. — JJT

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