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Ubu Roi (King Ubu) Ubu Roi is one of those famous works of literature that no one ever sees. If its influence has been diluted over the century through countless imitations, it is still the ur-text in absurdity. Classical Theatre Company does itself proud in this definitive, inspired production. Jarry once famously said that "the applause of silence is the only kind that matters." Well, Jarry, you're wrong this time. It's a standing ovation. Ubu, a slovenly, grotesque force of nature, is the corrupt face of bourgeois conventionality and raw power. His first word upon entrance is "Shit." As you can imagine, in 1896, even for à la mode Parisians, this was over-the-top. There was a mini-riot at the theater, somewhat orchestrated by Jarry himself, who had planted friends in the audience to heckle the hecklers. He knew perfectly well the value of publicity and scandal, being one of the weirdest Frenchmen of the belle époque. Ubu, with its sets painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, lasted for one preview and one performance, but its influence was shattering. In this one moment, the theater of the absurd was born. Wielding a toilet brush as scepter, this corpulent tyrant, the King of Poland, with his obscene vocabulary is the Dada of them all. In an embodiment of all the seven deadly sins, a terrifying buffoon, Ubu is theater of the ridiculous. Without Jarry, there would have been no Beckett, no Ionesco, no Monty Python. The ingenious production is a feast for the eyes, with its sweeping wooden arc of a stage littered with trap doors from which the cast appears and disappears. We're constantly amazed by the droll staging, crafted with wide-eyed enthusiasm and wicked wit by director Philip Hays, abetted with superb design by Ryan McGettigan, exquisite lighting by Alex Jainchill, inventive costumes by Macy Perrone and a minimalist Kurt Weill-like cabaret score by Lucas Gorham. Everything works to turn Ubu into the subversively silly — and threatening — masterpiece it is. The cast is sublime: Bellowing and blustery in his fat suit, Mark Roberts is Ubu's flesh made id. Susan Koozin, with clownishly amplified bosom and butt as Mother Ubu, drips with sloth like an earth mother gone to seed. Carl Masterson brings Shakespearean gravity to doomed good King Wenceslas. Dylan Godwin, in greasy black wig and striped union suit, poses with hands splayed on his attenuated body like an actual Jarry drawing. But it's young Lorenz Lopez who steals the show as an androgynous Jarry himself, as he sets the scene cribbed from Jarry's printed intro to the play. With exaggerated enunciation and puppet-like movement, he is the whole weird play encapsulated in human form. It's quite a performance. Dain Geist, Jovan Jackson, Blair Knowles, Eva Laporte and Kalob Martinez round out the talented cast, each one bringing their own touch of absurdity to the proceedings. Through February 3. Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring, 713-963-9665. — DLG

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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