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The Submission A young, gay white playwright writes a play about a black family struggling to escape from "The Projects" and submits it under the pseudonym of a black female to increase its chance of acceptance. The ensuing complications stem organically from the initial plan to deceive, and are compounded by playwright Danny (Ross Bautsch) hiring black actress Emilie (Candice D'Meza) to impersonate the playwright. The narrative is both masterfully amusing and also deeply serious in its insights into complicated issues. The writing, by new playwright Jeff Talbott, is simply superb, balancing sophisticated views on racial and gender-orientation issues with all-too-human character weaknesses, all explicated with wit that evolves into raw vitriol as tensions mount. The essential conflict is between Emilie and Danny, but we also meet Danny's best friend Trevor (Darcy Cadman) and Danny's live-in lover Pete (Matt Benton). All are excellent actors, and create portrayals pulsing with authenticity. Bausch as Danny provides a vivid portrait of an uptight, intense artist, increasingly tortured by seeing his work identified with another. D'Meza does Emilie justice in an admirably riveting and nuanced performance. Cadman brings a sense of balance to Trevor, torn between loyalty to Danny and a close relationship with Emilie, making him likable and interesting. Benton creates a parody of a gay man, a "screamer," which is strangely ajar in a play dealing so sensitively with issues of bigotry. The pace is rapid-fire, directed with flash-point velocity by Jordan Jaffe, artistic director of Black Lab Theatre, who takes us on a most enjoyable roller-coaster ride. This writing tour de force will leave you breathless with laughter and intrigued by revelations, brought to vibrant, exciting life by wonderful acting and direction, making it a must-see theatrical event. Through January 27, Black Lab Theatre at Frenetic Theatre, 5102 Navigation Blvd., 713-417-3552 or 713-515-4028. — JJT

The Young Man from Atlanta The "young man" in the title of Horton Foote's 1995 drama is never seen. He's talked about by everybody, usually with suspicion, but sometimes with sympathy. He calls Mr. Kidder at work daily, although Kidder won't talk to him; he's been given thousands of dollars by Mrs. Kidder, unbeknownst to her husband, to pay for medical bills and other emergency family expenses; the young man even waits patiently in the car in the Kidder driveway in hopes of persuading Mr. Kidder to look upon him as fondly as Kidder's dead son supposedly once looked upon him. This young man is Foote's unseen deus ex machina — unknown, but known; mysterious, but always present; sinister, yet somehow comforting. More mysterious than the "young man" kept forever in the background is how this pale work ever won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Company OnStage doesn't ground this lightweight production with any sort of gravity. It floats out of their reach. After a most distinguished career that includes Academy Award-winners To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies, as well as Broadway hits The Trip to Bountiful, Dividing the Estate and his epic nine-play The Orphans' Home Cycle, Foote's late play is irritatingly amorphous. Granted, it's set in the early '50s, when certain pointed questions — like, Who is this young man from Atlanta and what exactly is his relationship to the Kidders' unmarried son? — weren't talked about ever, but all this priggish circumspection reminds us of rehashed closeted Inge. We long for the young man to make a star turn and give this play a kick start. The world of old salesman Will Kidder is moving fast and out of his control, but the play's so overly calculated that nothing seems real. Big chunks of exposition are clumsily shoehorned into monologues; characters enter, leave, then re-enter to complete scenes in a stilted, bygone theatrical style; coincidences mount in an almost comic progression, prompting unforced laughter from the audience. This isn't the Foote we love, who can move us to tears with his simple honesty and homespun smartness; this is faux Foote. Company OnStage doesn't know what to do with this problematic play. Everything is off: the set, the music, the cast. The actors seem uncomfortable, either miscast, woefully underrehearsed or misdirected. Only Robert Lowe, as a knockoff Willy Loman-type salesman whose life quickly careens downward, strikes the right tone. While he doesn't dig deep enough, he digs deeper than the others and has enough confident bluster in the early scenes, later turning into feisty stubbornness until he reaches a deflating acceptance in the final scene. He doesn't move us as he should since he's basically acting alone. Through February 16. 536 Westbury Square. 713-726-1219. — DLG

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