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Capsule Stage Reviews: Cosi fan tutte, Dear Santa, Speed-the-Plow, There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, When the Day Met the Night (a moosehunt experience)

Così fan tutte Among all of Mozart's splendid operas, perhaps Così is most special, because it has taken the most lumps, molding in the closet after its 1791 premiere for more than one hundred years and then bowdlerized when it later infrequently appeared. Hard to believe that a work with such mastery, wit and finesse could be forgotten and unloved, but it was. Well, times change, and now Mozart's comic sex masquerade is regarded as a masterpiece. Opera in the Heights delivers Mozart's genius — and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte's, too — with a genius all their own. Could this be the company's best production ever? When Ferrando and Guglielmo (Emanuel-Cristian Caraman and Kevin Wetzel), two army officers, crow of their lovers' faithfulness, old cynic Don Alfonso (Erik ­Kroncke) bets them that within the day, their fiancées, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi (Ann Sauder and Emily Newton), will be unfaithful. In his plan, the men pretend they're called to war but immediately return in disguise as two "Albanians," with great plumed mustaches, to each woo the other's betrothed. Needless to say, the women prove inconstant. The title freely translates as "they're all alike." At its time it was a shocking, ultramodern theme, with infidelity, casual sex and an irreverent, saucy maid, Despina (Jennifer Whalen), added to the mix. You can almost hear Mozart purring in the background, as his unique voice gives the characters weight and emotion. The whole affair bubbles. Music and words meld just so in this opera, fitting perfectly on the ear. Opera in the Heights has it right, too, with a flawless ensemble cast and an intelligent, witty staging from director Lynda McKnight, who gracefully applies layers of irony and smartness to Mozart and Da Ponte's artifice. Nothing is overplayed, overwrought or overthought. Maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo conducts orchestra and chorus with a jaunty passion, and the singers romp through Mozart with vigor and elegance, tuning his phrases into electricity. Sophisticated and full of charm, Così at OH sings with the dimensions of Shakespeare, which this masterpiece of adult operatic comedy most resembles. It's a triumph. Through November 17, 18 (Ruby cast with Sarah Beckham, Rebecca Heath, Zach Averyt and Brian Shircliffe), 19, 20 (Ruby cast). 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5303. — DLG

Dear Santa Christmas comes early to Theatre Suburbia with a comedy set in Santa's North Pole workshop, where elves cope amusingly with production problems. But if you're looking for Ibsen, you're barking up the wrong chimney. This line might be from Bozidar, Santa's mechanic, who delightfully garbles common expressions — a device which works beautifully. Bozidar is played by Tony D'Armata with perky energy and great style. Equally fetching is Kelly Browning as Octavia, Santa's housekeeper, combining body language and a high voice to create an interesting and likable character. Santa himself oversees all the hijinks, and Michael J. Steinbach shows us the human Santa, a dedicated, benevolent manager with authentic charm. Bob Galley plays a glib, aggressive salesman intent on selling Santa a rocket sleigh, and makes the character compelling, persuasive and funny. Keitha Mae Hanks plays Kit Bishop, a young stowaway with an agenda, and finds life in the character in Act Two. There are subplots: A missed shipment of glue threatens disaster, Octavia's unrequited love, Kit Bishop's hardworking mother — but much of the fun is in the running gags, the amusingly detailed set and the colorful costumes — I loved the elf shoes with the curled toes, and Octavia's vest with Christmas scenes. David James Barron plays Algernon, Santa's chief-of-staff, but fails to find the fun in the role. Elvin Moriarty, artistic director of Theatre Suburbia, directed this comedy and found its gentle humor, though the pace might be picked up. The work is by Norm Foster, Canada's most produced playwright, and this is its Houston premiere. This slight comedy, perfect for the holiday season, delights with gentle charm, and is strengthened by skilled acting which adds humanity and wit to the pleasant goings-on. Through December 3. 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — 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

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