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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

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change As its visionary producer James Hammerstein once said, this intimate, four-character, Off-Broadway musical revue about relationships (1996) will make you feel better when you leave than when you came in. This pleasant, unexciting, eager-to-please little show played Off-Broadway for 12 years, the second longest-running show since the immortal The Fantasticks, and now tours all over the globe, making the producers feel very happy indeed. If not completely nourishing, the show is certainly warm and comfortable. It doesn't offend; it doesn't probe too deep. We've been through many of these iconic situations. (And if not, we've seen them in countless TV sitcoms and variety shows — they're old friends by now.) The show's abiding message that the cycle of life is imperfect and the people we fall in love with are perfectly flawed, too, is sweet and rosy-cheeked, without sharp edges to leave permanent scars. There's something for everyone to relate to: nervous anxiety of a first date, grooming habits, bridesmaids' dresses, sex during marriage, divorce, growing old, widowhood. Zippy and tuneful, if not exactly memorable, the songs by Jimmy Roberts (music) and Joe DiPietro (lyrics) adeptly serve this heterosex look at love with plenty of joyful smiles and just a hint of rue. (DiPietro won Tony Awards for lyrics and book for Memphis. His latest musical, The Toxic Avenger, recently opened at the Alley Theatre.) Country Playhouse's version, directed by Wayne Landon and Vance Johnson, with musical direction by Rachel Landon, has a personable performing quartet that wrings every bit of shtick and goofiness out of DiPietro's book scenes. They mug like champs where applicable. Although their voices don't blend quite as well as they should when at full throttle, individually, each shines when called. Louis Crespo ("Shouldn't I Be Less in Love with You?"), Monica Passley ("I Will Be Loved Tonight"), Sean Ferratt ("I Can Live with That") and Jennifer Ferratt ("Always a Bridesmaid") comprise the sprightly quartet, any one of whom would be acceptable to meet the parents. For a pleasant supper-club-type entertainment, ILY,YP,NC is admirably cheerful, and, yes, you will leave in a better mood than when you entered. In this day and age, that's a definitive rave. Through January 26. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury. 713-467-4497. — DLG

Motel Tropicana Big Head Productions solicited short plays set in a seedy motel room, and presents the eight selections in an evening filled with considerable variety, a range of talent, and some powerful comedic and dramatic moments. The opening play, Two Night Stand by Ron Burch, contains both humor and the nuanced subtleties of a not-yet-formed relationship, as first a young woman (Randi Hall), then a man (Joshua Costea), awaken after a night of coupling. She seeks to flee, and he seeks to persuade her to remain a bit longer. The acting is excellent, as is the direction by Ricky Welch, who also directed Winner by Tom Stell, as a coach (playwright Stell) is found tied to a chair, being menaced by a former athlete (Corey Kendrick), now high on crystal meth. Stell is authentic and convincing as the stoic coach, and Kendrick is riveting as the meth addict. On the Set at the Motel Tropicana by Eric James delivers the strongest comedic punch of the evening. Joshua Costea plays the director of a porn film, Randi Hall his assistant, Gabriel Queiroga a straight porn star and Chris Rivera a gay porn star. Chris Rivera directed as well, and captured the rich humor. The concept of one-set-fits-all, and short plays, permits a valuable training ground for actors, playwrights and directors, as well as an evening of rich entertainment. Big Head Productions plans to continue this approach on occasion, and is seeking plays with an "office" theme, set in four cubicles; scripts may be mailed to submissions@obsidianartspace.org. Motel Tropicana's eight short plays, running the gamut from violent to hilarious, provide a most entertaining evening, aided by excellent acting and deft direction. Through February 4. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-889-7837. — JJT

The Temperamentals Newly formed Celebration Theatre presents the Houston premiere of an important moment in the movement for gay rights, the founding of The Mattachine Society, an underground activist group that began in Los Angeles in the '50s. Brief scenes convey a cinematic sense and include humor as well as drama. Harry Hay (Steven Bullitt) is the driving activist force, joined by his lover Rudi Gernreich (Mitchell Greco), Viennese-born designer of women's fashions. Bullitt captures the dedication of Hay, while Greco's Gernreich is nuanced and intelligent, but understated, as though he or the director had too much reverence for the subject matter. The other founders are Chuck Rowland (John Dunn) and Bob Hall (Rob Flebbe). The fifth important character is Dale Jennings (Jeff Dorman), a defendant who won an important case involving false entrapment. The last three actors also portray many other characters and do so exceptionally well — John Dunn as Vincent Minelli uses stance, walk and vocal shifts to create an indelible portrait. Dorman sews up the blue-collar role of Dale, and is invariably interesting in other roles, as is Flebbe, who apparently can change personalities as quickly as he can change a jacket. The staging by director Jimmy Phillips is highly effective, molding episodes seamlessly into a vivid portrait of the times. The play is best in the first act, as plans and friendships are formed; the second act veers off into some tangential areas, such as Hay's growing fondness for flamboyant shawls. The production is graceful and stylish, making wise use of Barnevelder's ample stage. Rich humor enlivens a docudrama about the early struggle for gay rights, and skilled acting makes it well worth seeing for its entertainment value alone. Through February 11. Barnevelder Movement/Arts, 2201 Preston St., 832-303-4758. — JJT

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