Skin Deep An attractive but overweight woman with a self-image problem is persuaded to undertake a blind date, and awkwardness ensues. The play features four actors, who add credibility, interest and charm to the show - this is fortunate, since playwright Jon Lonoff hasn't written much of a play. Little happens in Act One, except that two strangers meet for a blind date and, after an awkward beginning, get to like each other. Missy Lane plays Maureen Mulligan, attractive, witty and prone to use snacking for solace. Her sister, Sheila (Micahla Vaccaro), is slender but has her own self-image problems, turning to plastic surgery. Her husband, Squire (Bill Krause), pays for the surgery to keep peace in the family, but tunes out Sheila with selective listening. Enter blind-date Joe Spinelli (Barry Chambers), shy, bumbling and helpful, who sees the beauty in Maureen. Lane has great comic timing and some very good lines, and she carries the play. Equally good is Chambers, who manages to make awkwardness interesting, and Act One accordingly has some warmth and humor. Even less happens in Act Two, though there is a contrived misunderstanding. The ending is predictable, so don't get your hopes up. The set is realistic and detailed, though the apartment must be the only one in Queens, New York, with a peephole but no dead-bolt lock on the front door. Rather than explore his themes seriously, the playwright has been content to go only skin deep, and the script has less content and humor than many a sitcom. It was directed by Rob de los Reyes, who deserves credit for evoking gifted performances from talented actors, and the skilled actors go a long way toward making palatable a wafer-thin play. Through November 20. College of the Mainland Community Theatre, 1200 Amburn Road, Texas City, 1-888-258-8859, ext. 8345. -JJT

Speed-the-Plow David Mamet's 1988 withering, perverse dissection of Hollywood insiders achieves a caustic, take-no-prisoners production at Country Playhouse. New head of production Bobby Gould (Trevor B. Cone) green-lights an inane blockbuster that's brought to him by longtime partner and underling Charlie Fox (Jacob Millwee). It's an easy sell with a bankable star, a deal sure to make both men's fame and, much more importantly, fortune. Money and power are what's made in Hollywood, not movies; they're just byproduct. Bobby wants to "do right" by his work, but he's clouded by a lack of fortitude and self-esteem. Temp secretary Karen (Mischa Hutchings) throws a dangerous curve into both men's easy path. In Mamet's world, the ones at the top possess the least awareness. Workplace loyalty, male bonding and Eve in the garden are standard Mamet fare, and while this isn't the best of him (that would be Glengarry Glen Ross), ironic Plow has enough nifty twists and turns all its own – and nifty turns of phrase, a Mamet specialty – to warrant a look. As conflicted Bobby and go-getter Charlie, both Cone and Millwee careen through Mamet's patented elliptic dialogue at breakneck speed, savoring the guys' insightful banter and boys-are-us demeanor. Their partnership is palpable. As hyper Fox, Millwee barges through the play with flailing arms and voice pitched to auction his own grandmother if this deal doesn't work out. He brings out the dread in the comedy. Hutchings brings out the serpent. As new-agey hipster Karen, she breaches the male lair with defiant innocence. If you're unfamiliar with Mamet, Plow's a primer into his archetypical male world that's full of bluster, taunts, threats, conceit and unbridled buddy sex. Hermetically sealed, it's not for the faint of heart. Under Joey Milillo's cohesive direction, Country Playhouse serves him up with a spoon. In Hollywood, it's difficult to tell if it's gold plate or 24-carat, but always bet on the plate. Through November 17. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. – DLG

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

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