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Capsule Stage Reviews: Deadly Murder, Name in Lights...Diary of a "Mad Fat" Woman, Uncle Vanya

 Deadly Murder This murder mystery combines suspense, humor, attempts at drawing-room comedy, bizarre twists, violence and sturdy actors in an unlikely medley offering something for everyone. The play opens as middle-aged but in-shape Camille Targus (Cheryl Tanner) emerges from the bedroom with muscular Billy (Adan Inteuz), younger than she by an Ashton Kutcher margin. Tanner undergoes substantial abuse: bondage, handcuffs, being toted around like a sack of meal, and a bad wig. The auburn wig covers a large part of her face, giving the impression she is hiding from something — her past, yes, but something else as well. Perhaps it's the plot? Tanner carries the play on her shoulders, and I came to like her a lot. Inteuz delivers the muscles, and his physicality and occasional snarls convey the requisite menace — he is a villain, but wait, it's really just that he's bought into the American dream of being rich, and is willing to bend a few rules to get there. Taylor Biltoft rounds out the cast as Ted, a security guard, and earns his keep, too, providing yeoman service in pretending that the goings-on make sense. The plot contains expensive gems, stocks, ancient grudges, mistaken identities, unexpected liaisons, a gun changing hands and firing, a knife brandished and used, and twist piled on twist until the poor burro of a play crumples to the ground. In the midst of considerable violence, there are inexplicable moments of quiet conversation between victim and predator. The play is not so much wrapped up as ended, as though playwright David Foley's battery had died on his laptop. Leave your thinking cap at home, and savor instead an unlikely mélange of humor and violence, with considerable variety and some occasional charm. Through February 4. Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — JJT

Name in Lights...Diary of a "Mad Fat" Woman Juliana Wathen and Beautiful Girl Productions offer up, with "liberation" songs, a one-woman show that charts the progress of a plus-size woman into acceptance, poise, confidence and charm. Juliana is anything but angry — she knows our world is oriented toward images of fitness models, and our perception of beauty colored by it, but she is determined not to be confined by it. She is "out, and proud," but Juliana's cabaret act is mainstream entertainment, not niche, for her style, wisdom and humor transcend gender and sex. Juliana has some of Barbara Cook's keen phrasing, sensitivity to the meaning of a lyric, and acting ability. Her voice serves her well; it is clear and can soar when needed and segue into sweetness – but there's not much sweetness, as the evening is a bittersweet saga, a chronicle told in song sometimes, but mostly in words, of how Juliana came to accept herself as beautiful. Juliana has elements of a motivational speaker and a revivalist, but essentially she is a truth-teller. Her rendition of "You Are Not Alone" is poignant and compelling, and the finale of "I Am What I Am" has the requisite power and authority. The writing is fine, sensitive and amusing, and the performer gifted — too gifted for some of the too-casual audience interactions. Kenneth Clayborne provides the fine keyboard accompaniment, and textured red curtains and a few props create a warm, inviting setting. The show is a compelling story of progressing past prejudices to enter a world of beauty and love. Through January 14. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-889-7837. — JJT

Uncle Vanya In all of theater, Anton Chekhov wrote the most famous gunshot. It happens at the end of Act III of this most gentle, hilarious and sad play from 1899 and ushers in the 20th century with a disruptive comic violence that still amazes. Every character in this marvelous work — presented in a stunningly perceptive and heartfelt production from Classical Theatre Company — is weighted with regret and chained to the past with an overpowering force of inertia. Each of them is, in turn, sad, wistful, full of passion, useless, mired in ennui and, like Vanya (Philip Lehl), who chases old professor Serebryakov (Carl Masterson) through the house, a very bad shot. Illusions keep these country folk alive; even the respect they have for each other is illusory, based upon false judgment and a moral near-sightedness. They are as inept in love as in living, and the heart fails them as often as the brain. Chekhov's evanescent plot — revered, sickly Serebryakov and his young wife move onto daughter Sonia's estate, run by Vanya for decades without thanks or much compensation, and wreak havoc among all — is solidly anchored by his rich array of characters, who are as finely etched as any drawing by Rembrandt. Things might change in this world if somebody did something, but life according to Chekhov has a funny way of sweeping all things asunder. His people are in love, they're out of love; they hate each other, they embrace warmly after a slug of vodka; they fall for the wrong person, or they don't fall at all. One moment we laugh at their pathetic antics, and the very next moment flattens us with one radiantly detailed outburst that makes us weep for the human condition. It's a delicate balance of comedy and ineffable melancholy that Chekhov evokes, and Classical delivers. The exquisite cast catches every nuance, every held breath and every side glance, held together under John Houchin's subtle direction. Along with a stunning Lehl and blustery Masterson, the cast is damn near flawless: Eva Laporte (love-sick yet temperate Sonia), David Matranga (the country doctor resigned to loving nature over people), Tracie Thomason (icy and bored Helena), Terri Branda Carter (practical housemaid Marina), S.A. Rogers (toady butler Telegin) and Julie Oliver (obtuse matriarch Marya). Chekhov's timeless tapestry is delicately woven but strong as a suspension bridge. Through January 22. Talento Bilingüe de Houston, 333 S. Jensen Dr., 713-963-9665. — DLG

 
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