Capsule Stage Reviews: The Columnist, Fool, Rome, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, The Wizard of Oz

 The Columnist David Auburn received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his play Proof, and now turns his attention to the widely read Joseph Alsop, whose influential column until the mid-'70s made him one of the power brokers of Washington, D.C. Joe Alsop was a closeted homosexual when homosexuality was still deeply underground, making this new play already a period piece. It begins promisingly in a hotel room in Moscow in 1954, with Joe attempting to persuade a young male Russian, Andrei, to repeat their sexual encounter. John Kaiser portrays Joe, in owlish black horn-rimmed glasses, and brings a courtly charm to the role. Adam Richardson plays Andrei and creates an air of credible integrity. Their chemistry is intriguing, though irrelevant to the plot, but then there is no plot, just sketched scenes at Joe's home that are static and lifeless. We meet his younger brother and one-time collaborator, Stewart Alsop (Reid Self); Joe's fiancée and later wife, Susan Mary (Mykle McCoslin); and her teenage daughter, Abigail (Emma Yarrow), and we learn that Joe, a trusted adviser to JFK, is vain, name-dropping, self-centered, waspish and petty. Kaiser delivers his lines in a sing-song rhythm lacking variety, and fails to find the requisite authority. Self's portrayal of Stewart seems tentative, as though such a successful journalist had no self-confidence. McCoslin brings a slender, elegant beauty to the role of Joe's wife, but fails to project her voice. Yarrow creates Abigail as an interesting and credible teenager, no small feat. And in a minor role, Scott McWhirter, as the journalist David Halberstam, anchors the play with vigor and strength. Director Malinda L. Beckham delivers what she can from a lean larder of writing, and is also responsible for the often excellent costuming and, with Trevor Cone, the stylish set. Through March 15. Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT

Fool The Alley Theatre presents the world premiere of a new comedy by the prolific Theresa Rebeck, an acclaimed playwright and television writer. Court jester Stuart waits in a castle kitchen for his turn at entertaining offstage royalty, hearing and envying the laughs that another unseen jester, Joss, is getting. Then Joss enters, and it's Stuart's time to entertain offstage, while Joss mocks his efforts. The jesters are linked to each other as part of the underclass, joined by the cook, Lizabeth — all are pawns on a chessboard that may be deadly. These three carry the play triumphantly, helped by the deft direction of Gregory Boyd, the Alley's artistic director. Jeremy Webb plays Stuart with an engaging smile and unflagging energy, and his reactions and body language are rich. Elizabeth Bunch plays Joss — this jester is a woman disguised as a man — adding beauty to extraordinary comic vivacity; she and Webb create a strong relationship. Carine Montbertrand plays Lizabeth, becoming the third musketeer in scheming against the overlords. Montbertrand is energetic, quick, subtle and vastly amusing, a match for the comedic talents of Webb and Bunch. Sean Dugan as evil courtier Marvel and Joey Collins as evil courtier Elliott create vivid and intriguing portraits. The king is played by Jeffrey Bean, who brings an imposing presence to the role of an amorous ruler. The Queen, who enters late in Act Two, is played by the entertaining Alma Cuervo, chatty to the point of garrulousness. Rebeck draws characters with heart and soul, making us care, so we become deeply involved in their welfare — important when beheadings loom on the horizon. This new play breezes into hilarity, with brilliant performances riding a taut, inventive script, to create delightful comedy. Through March 16. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — JJT

Rome John Harvey has written Rome, a world premiere and his tenth play for Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company. Three men and three women discuss death, mutilation, body parts, murder and suicide; engage in flirtations; and plot seduction and midnight rape, done with such intensity that we realize this is also a continuing aesthetic debate, though macabre. We meet a duo, Charles (Bobby Haworth) and Fanny (Patricia Duran), and then a couple, George (H. R. Bradford) and Georgina (Christie Stryk), all about 30 and attractive. Another duo is Lauren (Amy Warren) and Thomas (John Harvey), who complains about the absence of wine as he chats up Lauren. George asks Charles about the best way (fasten your seat belts here) to seduce a child. This is an upper-class milieu, peopled with self-indulgent aristocrats, fixated upon sex, an Anglo-American version of Liaisons Dangereuses. An employee, Joseph, middle-class, is less protected, as we find out in the gripping finale when a female captain enters (Courtney Lomelo in a brilliant cameo) with two armed soldiers. Jennifer Decker directed superbly, with style and pace. Actor Jon Harvey is compelling in a complex role, and Warren is good, with interesting body language, as is Reeder, whose pantomime in a climactic scene is excellent. The four principals — Haworth, Duran, Bradford and Stryk — deliver sharply etched, fascinating portraits of deeply flawed individuals with overreaching needs. The Captain urges them to travel to Rome, whetting appetites with a vivid description of the pedophilia of the Roman emperor Tiberius. The play runs an uninterrupted engrossing 90 minutes. Brutal discussions deepen the mystery in a brilliant, wonderfully acted play that hurtles us into a world we seldom contemplate, providing riveting entertainment and an intellectual treat. For adults only, but don't miss it. Through March 22. Studio 101, 1824 Spring, 832-463-0499. — JJT

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