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Capsule Stage Reviews: Nijinsky's Last Dance, The Real Thing, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

Nijinsky's Last Dance Renowned as one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time, Vaslav Nijinsky was a complicated character. He changed the face of the art through his distinctively angular, sexually charged choreography. Edge Theatre is currently presenting the regional premiere of Nijinsky's Last Dance, penned by Normal Allen, winner of the Helen Hayes Award for New Play. Newcomer Darnea Steven Olson plays the role of Nijinsky as well as capturing eight other characters that are interwoven throughout. This is a difficult production in all respects. Aside from the subject, tackling a one-man, hour-and-a-half production is a monstrous exploit in itself. You have to give Olson a lot of credit for taking on this role. It is obviously physically exhausting and mentally draining as well. He did a commendable job and should be proud of his work. However, he wasn't quite there. That fierce, obsessive behavior that Nijinsky became known for, which would ultimately drive him mad, wasn't powerful enough to understand his painful mental downfall. Despite this, Olson has a great career as an actor ahead of him. He is captivating and unadulterated, a raw talent who will go far with some more coaching. For both those familiar and those not with the dancer's fascinating story, this play is worthy of watching. Through September 20. Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch, 832-894-1843 or www.brownpapertickets.com — AK

The Real Thing Tom Stoppard's 1982 play The Real Thing has won two Tony Awards (1984 Best Play, 2000 Best Revival). The central question posed by the playwright is the relevance of monogamy — is the demand for exclusivity of love a tenable position in the contemporary world? Stoppard is noted for his wit and wordplay — the script sparkles with examples — but this is about a warrior playwright, Henry (Joe Kirkendall), who battles for literacy in theater. Henry must choose between pragmatic compromise in a relationship or emotional loss. Kirkendall gives a remarkable, nuanced performance, captivating in its authenticity and refreshing in its vigor. Henry is married to Charlotte (Sara Gaston), as strong-willed as he, beautiful and an actress starring in one of Henry's plays. They are friends with Max (Justin Doran), an actor also in the play, and his wife, Annie (Shannon Emerick). We see the extraordinary acting range of Doran as he performs a scene from Max's play. Gaston as Charlotte has a rapier way with deadpan wit. Emerick as Annie sails through a complex role with brisk aplomb. The play is directed by Main Street Theater's artistic director, Rebecca Greene Udden, and she has forged a winning ensemble. There are three other characters: Debbie (Shannon Nicole Hill), the late-teens daughter of Max and Charlotte; Brodie (David Clayborn), a jailed activist; and Billy (Scott Gibbs), an actor, and all are good. The Real Thing is about infidelity, not physical passion or even love, but about relationships, how much to give in exchange for companionship and a bedmate. Humor is abundant as a brilliant cast adds polish and exuberant, exciting life to a battle of wits and of conflicting beliefs. Through September 29. Main Street Theater - Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — JJT

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays Nine short plays with a common theme — gay marriage — have been gathered into an evening of entertainment. They avoid polemics, proselytizing and anger, and instead center on loving, long-term relationships, newly-mets, and articulate, voluble mothers. The plays lend themselves to being read with scripts on music stands, as is done here. The writing is superb, and watching master playwrights at work is one of the many pleasures of the evening. Two of the plays are by Paul Rudnick, and they are brilliant and hilarious. In The Gay Agenda, a distraught mother insists that she has no prejudice but fears gays, and her paranoia deepens as she hears imaginary gay voices telling her she needs to lose weight and that her home is poorly decorated. In My Husband, a mother is proud of her gay son but deeply disappointed that he is not yet married; she sets out to remedy this, and just as you think it can't get any funnier, it does, as Rudnick piles on new and inventive riffs. Marcy Bannor plays both mothers, and is a paragon of energy and comic timing. Neil LaBute surprises with a tender love story, beautifully crafted, and sensitively performed by Randall Jobe and Lynn Miller. Equally moving is London Mosquitos by Moises Kaufman, as a surviving partner gives the eulogy for his lover. On Facebook, by Craig Wright, satirizes a running thread of debate between a homophobic divorcee and more liberal view-holders, and is original and witty. The evening is co-directed by Jimmy Phillips and Ron Jones, and its entertainment value is primarily mainstream and can be enjoyed by anyone who is a mensch, though grinches need not apply. Through September 29. From Celebration Theatre at the Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 E. 11th, 832-330-5478. — JJT

 
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