Top Shelf Shorts Houston's new NightCap Theatre presents ten brief plays that showcase the writing talents of its two founders. Peter Wittenberg scores with $20 Bowl of Soup — a young man wakens a buddy to report rejection by his dream girl. It's brought to rich comic life by director Justin Doran and actors Kyle Cameron and Dayne Lathrop. Standing Up to a Bully is a comedy with nuanced performances by Brian Heaton and Michael Chiavone. Accused features a monologue delivered with compelling passion by Brian Heaton as an unmarried father seeking custody of his daughter. In Guayaba Tree, Wittenberg captures the poignant gap between a warm mother (Dolly Fisher) and a son too interested in being a provider. In The Cabin, an affectionate father and son meet, but there is a surprise in store as well. The other writer and NightCap co-founder, Eric James, centers on relationships. In the Morning introduces an academic and his younger lover, when passion has cooled, illustrating the chilling effects of a dream receding. In Untitled (Self-Portrait), an older man and woman admire a Van Gogh, and the encounter captures the loneliness of those whose partners have died; actor Robert Lowe is wonderfully moving. In Dinner First, a rent boy wants to get to business while the john prefers conversation first; the differing priorities are humorous. James's Toil & Trouble has the witches from the Scottish play squabbling like it's a bad day on The View — it had some amusing moments. Blood, in which a gay man can't donate blood, may be too polemical. NightCap Theatre keeps momentum going with these ten plays, almost all powerful and amusing, rich in talent and a delight to savor. Through August 4. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 281-788-2319. — JJT

Travelsty Two couples travel around the country, singing about various states or cities, and through the alchemy of talent and showmanship turn this slight material into a totally entertaining two hours of pure pleasure. The setting is cabaret, with the talented four-piece band G Sharp and the MBT 3, and refreshments are available. The concept is minor, but the skits that bridge the songs — all original writing — range from merely pleasant to absolutely hilarious. Three of the skits had punch lines that seemed to come out of the blue but paid off so well I was blown away. The gifted performers are Rebekah Dahl and Brad Scarborough, married in real life and founders of The Music Box Theater, and Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel, and after journeying cross-country with them, I'm calling them by their given names. All are attractive and work well together in harmony and in the choreography supporting the songs. Rebekah is tall and blond, Cay is medium height and dark, Luke looks like an American David Niven, and Brad has movie star looks but excels here as a comedic actor. He plays briefly several singers in a skit about Record #17 of Tony Bennett's Duets — it's fast-paced and huge fun. A recurring thread has them all in a car, Luke driving and Brad in the passenger seat, with the ladies behind. They also travel by rail and, hilariously, by plane. Videos accompany the opening and closing songs and add fun, but the show's triumph is the ensemble acting that creates a sense of friends off on a madcap odyssey. Four strong performers and a witty script weave familiar pop hits into a thoroughly pleasurable evening, a must-see for cabaret aficionados and for music lovers of any stripe. Through August 5. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — JJT

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