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Capsule Stage Reviews: How the Other Half Loves, A Raisin in the Sun, Under a Cowboy Moon

How the Other Half Loves Bob Phillips's shoe is in the wastebasket. Taken for granted, his wife, Theresa, is slovenly and edgy. Their baby is covered with prunes and honey. Frank Foster, Bob's boss, has settled into a predictable married routine. Frank's neglected wife, Fiona, finds excitement by having an affair with Bob. To deflect suspicion, Fiona creates a tale that draws in Frank and Bob's dull co-worker, William Detweiler, and his mousy wife, Mary. These three couples collide in wonderfully theatrical ways because their farce is played out on one set that depicts the Phillips and Foster homes. Divided right down the middle, we watch simultaneous action in each place. In one of the great scenes in all English comedy, two disastrous dinner parties — the Detweilers at the Phillipses, and the Detweilers at the Fosters — take place on two different nights but occur at the same time. This masterful playing with stage time and space is the hallmark of prolific English playwright Alan Ayckbourn (Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce, Communicating Doors, House & Garden, My Wonderful Day, among the 78 he's written so far). This farce from 1969, with its dizzying sleight-of-hand stagecraft, spins with glee yet throws off dark sparks amid the laughs. Theatre Southwest's sterling production sets off its own sparks, thanks to a splendid ensemble cast whirling under David Hymel's spirited direction. The characters aren't deep or drawn with any sort of insight — this is classic farce, after all, and unbridled, preposterous situations rule — but the cast takes these one-note caricatures and gives them a real semblance of life. Scott Holmes, as clueless Frank — "there isn't much that escapes me," he says as evidence of Fiona's infidelity sails completely over his head — sputters with pompous import. Holmes turns obtuseness into fine art. Crys Hymel, as philandering Fiona, has a lovely way of arching her eyebrows just so, as if she can twist the truth with a glance whenever Frank's prying questions get too close. Brian Heaton, as Fiona's boy toy, plays him both dangerous and foolish. Spoiled and conceited, he tries to rule his little kingdom with macho bluster and charm and almost gets away with it. He butts heads with a matchless Autumn Woods, as Theresa, who's unfulfilled and swamped by the lack of domestic bliss. She shows us the stirrings beneath Theresa's strident outbursts, guessing almost from the start that Bob is up to no good. As with Stanley and Stella, their fights are forgiven, if not forgotten, in the bedroom. As the boring Detweilers, Scott McWhirter and Michelle Drake Wilson bring a spry touch to their comic timing. The double dinner party is the highpoint, as they pingpong between the out-of-control tag team of the Phillipses and the infuriatingly polite Fosters. Controlling and inflexible, William gets his deserved comeuppance when doormat Mary finally has had enough of his bullying. A little slap to his hand instantly deflates him. It's a lovely moment, and we laugh at how easy, and how satisfying, it is for Mary to finally take the reins. All three couples are a bit different by the end of the play. Whether it's for the best is something Ayckbourn teasingly leaves up in the air. Ayckbourn is master enough to know when to tickle and when to prick. Theatre Southwest's fine production knows how to do both also. Through January 18. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

A Raisin in the Sun Lorraine Hansberry's acclaimed play opened on Broadway in 1959 and chronicles how an African-American family purchases a house in a white neighborhood while a neighborhood association attempts to persuade them not to occupy it. This is a domestic drama, laced with humor, with cleanly drawn characterizations of a loving family, though bickering sometimes blots out affection. Terri Renee White is excellent as matriarch Lena Younger, conveying her moral fiber and a keen sense of permitting her two children to develop in their own fashion. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, is portrayed by Tamekia Jackson, who finds her inner strength and endurance. Monique Holmes plays the daughter, Beneatha, struggling to find her identity, and captures her vibrant youth and openness to change. Her grandson Travis is played by Santana Draper, who brings charm and energy to the youthful role. Lena's son, Walter, is played by Jeff Brown, who has the most complex and difficult role, since Walter is a dreamer, but an acquisitive one, and is self-pitying, bitter and less responsible than he might be. Beneatha has two suitors, George Murchinson (Andrew Barrett), from a well-to-do African-American family, and Joseph Asagai (Atseko Factor), from Nigeria. Barrett captures the preppy look of an assimilated youth, while Factor conveys a sense of idealism and makes idealism look like fun — this is an actor to be watched. Devan Callihan plays Bobo, an acquaintance of Walter's, and is persuasive in his brief appearance. The only white character is Karl Lindner (Reid Self), head of a "welcoming" committee from the landowners association, played as a parody rather than a character. The work is directed by Sedric Willis, who has delivered on the inter-family dynamics and finds the heart and appeal in their aspirations.Through February 2. Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Rd., 281-685-6374. — JJT

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