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Fishing In the world premiere of Leighza Walker's first full-length play, a marriage is in the doldrums, but the husband finds solace in a platonic relationship with an attractive blond. Wife Dana is aware that husband Grant has Meg as his best friend. Meg sends up flares that she wants to move beyond being soul mates. Grant seems satisfied with the status quo but would rather not talk about it. This tinderbox is set afire by Dana's decision to intervene. Since Meg's behavior is also highly manipulative, Grant becomes a pawn between two chess queens. The acting is first-rate and the characters vividly drawn, but motivations tend to be murky. Mischa Hutchings plays Meg, attractive and described as having an engaging vitality, so Meg should be a dude-magnet, but she seems drawn to married men. Dana is played by Margaret Lewis, who conveys the dedication of a loving wife but one devoid of a sense of play. Her intervention seems ill-fated from the start. Grant enjoys the attention of two women and wants to leave things as they are, and Michael Weems captures the passivity and comfort. In a smaller role, Gina Williamson is excellent as Amy, Meg's down-to-earth cousin, and Eddie Rodriguez is equally good in a cameo role as Mac, another husband. Playwright Walker directed, and the pace is quick, providing a gripping drama of three protagonists struggling, each aware that someone is going to be hurt. There is not much humor, as each of the central characters has a thermometer embedded firmly in his or her heart to chart the emotional temperature — perhaps that is their real problem. See it to learn who wins. Through February 2. From Cone Man Running Productions, at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-889-7837 or 281-773-3642. — JJT

The Lion in Winter King Henry II of England is celebrating Christmas and is joined by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the visiting King of France and by Henry's three sons, each scheming to succeed him on the throne. The play begins simply with 50-year-old Henry and his mistress, Alais, 23, but as Eleanor enters, we are swept into a vortex of deceit, lies, double-dealing, knives drawn and sheathed, and vanquished protagonists seizing new stratagems to reverse defeat. Heady indeed, and a delight for the ear and for the eye, for the actors come alive with excitement. The intellectual duel between Henry and Eleanor is the heart of the play, and Steven Fenley as Henry reveals a forceful personality, a blustering authority, and a love for Alais and for his youngest son, John. Pamela Vogel plays Eleanor with vivacious energy, a quicksilver mind and great emotional depth. Matt Hune plays John in a compelling portrait, adding shadings of charm and appeal. Matt Lents plays young King Philip and is superb in his climactic scene with Henry. Seán Patrick Judge plays Richard, the tested and brave warrior, and brings a stalwart presence and commanding voice. Joshua Estrada plays Geoffrey, the middle son, coping well with an underwritten role. As Alais, Caroline Menefee has the youthful beauty required and a gradually stiffening spine. The striking set is by Trey Otis, the magnificent costumes are by Adam Alonso and the admirable lighting design is by Eric Marsh. Director Julia Traber has created a powerful ensemble of complex and fascinating individuals. Clicking on all cylinders and with a driving force and sharp wit, this is a dynamite production — see it to savor how good theater can be. Through February 17. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — JJT

The Mountaintop It is April 3, 1968, the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, and Dr. King is staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. An attractive black maid, Camae, enters — she is feisty, quick-witted, attractive and "built," so the situation is suggestive and the body language of the characters becomes a pas de deux. Cigarettes are smoked, and shared; drinks are consumed, and shared; and a connection develops. This long beginning is very funny indeed. Dr. King is portrayed as more of an everyman than a heroic, epic figure, and Camae has all the best lines. The play suddenly shifts gears and moves us into magic realism. The segue is handled smoothly, aided by sound effects and some striking lighting — what happens is best not revealed, but the play becomes a drama of desperation. There is an epilogue involving video montages, skirting the shoals of moralizing, and the play might be stronger without it. Camae is played by Joaquina Kalukango and she is brilliant, with a commanding stage presence, an easy poise and great timing in delivering lines, and she even makes slouching in a chair mesmerizing. Bowman Wright portrays Dr. King and is excellent. The play is directed by Robert O'Hara, and he is skillful in generating action within the confines of a motel room and just two characters. Playwright Katori Hall here reveals a rare comic gift for dialogue and shows the courage of a lioness in breaking theatrical traditions and succeeding. Two skilled actors keep interest alive and treat the audience first to humorous banter and then to highly charged drama as the situation turns serious, resulting in a strange hybrid of a play, but one which succeeds in both of its endeavors. Through February 3. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — JJT

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