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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

When the Day Met the Night (a moosehunt experience) The world premiere of a new, experimental play explores five friends using recreational drugs 20 years ago, then leaps into the present to see them as they are today. The first act re-creates the ambience of an all-night party, with a variety of mind-expanding drugs available for the taking, and take them they do. Diana (Lindsy Greig) is having a bit of a bad trip, and she provides enough eye candy for several plays. She loves Elery (Cris Skelton), the host of the party, but physical interactions with others are apparently not taboo. In attendance are Bryan (Joshua A. Costea), Gene (Ricky Welch) and Annie (Randi Hall). From the outside, none of this seems like much fun — the mind may be expanded, but humor, wit and pace are not. Act II is a different kettle of fish entirely, and different actors now play the characters. Elery is played by Jonathan Harvey, Bryan by Tom Stell, Annie by Susan Blair and Diana by playwright and director Leighza Walker; Gene is still played by Ricky Welch. Also present are Elery's young son Henry (Rider Welch) and Alan Kitty as Bill, Henry's grandfather. The acting of all is excellent. Here future lives are grappled with, and characters emerge as much more interesting. Leighza Walker's first full-length play here indicates a gift for plot, characterization, tension and surprises, and the authenticity of the drama is due in large part to the directorial authority brought by playwright Walker. This experimental work is well-acted and well-directed, and, after a somewhat slow start, creates a vivid, gripping portrayal of adults facing a moment of crucial decision-making. Through November 19. Big Head Productions at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-889-7837. — JJT

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