The Good Thief Playwright Conor McPherson attracted attention with this early 1994 play, and went on to write The Weir, winner of the Olivier Award as Best Play in 1999, and to receive a Tony nomination in 2008 for his The Seafarer on Broadway. The Good Thief is a one-man monologue filled with plot and events that are described in vivid detail by the unnamed narrator, a low-level Irish hoodlum portrayed by Santry Rush. It begins ominously as Rush mourns the loss of his girlfriend to a man higher up in the Irish underworld, assuring himself it was not much of a loss, but with a lingering resentment. The brutality of his speech and the coldness of his eyes indicate that violence comes easily to him, a ready solution for almost everything. There are increasing revelations of amorality and crassness, of insensitivity, but with the perception of a wounded animal searching the wind for the scent of danger. But not carefully enough, for an expedition to do some enforcing runs into a snag, and he becomes prey instead of predator. A gunfight launches him into flight across Ireland, accompanied by Mrs. Mitchell, survivor of the melee in which her husband was killed, and her young daughter. There is high adventure, and it becomes clear that those who embroil themselves with the narrator may wish they had never met him. Rush commands the stage with a powerful presence, seething with hostility, as he recounts horrific events with equanimity. We share in his desperate moments, and struggle to believe in a quasi-redemption that an extended sojourn in prison may have led to. John Tyson's deft direction matches Rush's compelling performance, and the gripping narrative speaks to the rich talents of playwright McPherson. Through February 15. Presented by Stark Naked Theatre Company at Studio 101, 1824 Spring, 832-866-6514. — JJT

Into the Woods Familiar fairy-tale characters spring to exciting life in the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical as Little Red Ridinghood visits her grandmother, Cinderella meets her prince, Jack grows his beanstalk and Rapunzel lets down her hair, while a new tale is created about a baker and his wife desperate for a child. The action is nonstop, and delightful, as director Andrew Ruthven brilliantly crams wit and joy into the intimate space of Main Street Theater. Thirteen actors play a score of characters, and the ensemble blending pays off with style and pace, but standouts still emerge — talent will out! Christina Stroup plays a powerful Witch disguised as a crone, then sheds her rags (a wonderful costume by Macy Lyne) to reveal her beauty in a black velvet gown. Stroup dominates the stage with a vivid presence and an enchanting voice. The youthful Scott Gibbs shines with pathos as the cow Milky White — Gibbs must have the most expressive face in Houston — and serves handsomely as Rapunzel's lascivious lover. As the baker's wife, Amanda Passanante has no star turn but is consistent and credible in inhabiting her leading role. These three also project their voices beautifully, while some others do so less well, so lyrics can fade under the beat of the music. Act One ends with the possibility of living happily ever after, but Sondheim and Lapine warn us in Act Two that life is harsh, and provide murder, adultery, child abandonment and scapegoating to prove it. Some songs in the Tony Award-winning score seem too brief, so I especially enjoyed "Agony," which lingers longer, as Gibbs and Kregg Dailey as two Princes in Act One lament the problems of pursuing damsels, and in Act Two reprise it to lament married life. Through February 16. 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706. — JJT

Sexy Laundry The great staple of comedy is the midlife marital crisis, and Canadian playwright Michele Riml has added to the genre with a two-character play about a wife seeking to rejuvenate sexuality by booking a room in an upscale hotel tor her husband and herself — and bringing along a "how-to" book. Alice is elegant, slender and highly articulate, and Henry is sincere and agreeable, though so unenthused about the "rejuvenation" project that it's hard to imagine why he agreed to it. The very good news is that the actors playing them both have warmth and charm, and can turn what might be bickering in other hands into comfortably light banter. Susan Koozin plays Alice and is wonderful as a controlling woman, still quite beautiful, though with doubts about her looks. Josh Morrison plays Henry as a less complicated human being, a husband and father of three whose idea of a good time is to watch the news after work. They are celebrating 25 years of marriage. The play begins as a romantic comedy, but about halfway through its 85-minute journey, more serious matters emerge, and it appears that reality might intrude, and then it veers into farce as Alice engages in behavior that is comical though out of character with her dignity. The set by Kristina Miller is very attractive, and lighting design by Bryan Ealey, an important part, is excellent. The direction by Kenn McLaughlin is impeccable, and he has evoked the charm from the actors that makes this endeavor worthwhile. I would hate to see this comedy with less-gifted actors, but with Koozin and Morrison, it pays off handsomely as they find the humor and rich comedy in a midlife marital crisis and carry us along with them on a most pleasant theatrical journey. Through March 16. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — JJT

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