The Dying Gaul Playwright Craig Lucas, who delivered gentle magical realism in Prelude to a Kiss and genuine romance in Longtime Companion, delivers neither in The Dying Gaul. In fact, this bleak, graphic little shocker doesn't even bring decency or common sense to the table. Wannabe Hollywood screenwriter Robert (a miscast O'Dell Hutchison, who's too sad-sack to be a golden boy) is seduced by Tinseltown glamour in the guise of oily producer Jeffrey (Brent Biggs, who can play amoral and fatuous at the same time). Jeffrey's former countless flings have never fazed wife Elaine (Anne Zimmerman, whose melodious alto never quite wraps around Lucas's elliptical phrases), but when hubby falls a trifle too hard for this new young thing, she wonders what Robert has that she doesn't. Somehow she breaks into the locked office of Robert's psychiatrist (Walt Zipprian, who brings so much life to the underwritten Dr. Foss that he single-handedly saves the evening), steals Robert's files and then, using the personal info therein, communes with him over the Internet in a gay chat room, pretending to be his dead lover to learn his secrets. Buddha-loving Robert, who never stops spouting Hallmark sentiments, falls for this ruse -- he's such an innocent, don't you know? Much of the play consists of our watching two people type. This is death to a drama that doesn't have much kick to it anyway, and the work wilts on the vine as we watch. Bleak and unconvincing, and more blog than play, The Dying Gaul was typed, not written. Through September 9. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.
The Great American Trailer Park MusicalThis frothy bubble of silliness now running at Stages Repertory Theatre requires absolutely zero brain power to get through. Cobbled together out of stereotypes and a sitcom-like plot, the featherweight bit of camp by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso celebrates white-trash ladies and the men they love in a funky little tale about a phobic housewife and her lonely-heart man. Setting the stage and guiding us through the story is a chorus of three women: Betty (Susan O. Koozin), a sturdy mother hen with a heart of gold who runs the whole shebang; Pickles (Mikah Horn), a young dumb-as-dirt, sweet-as-sugar blond who shows all the signs of suffering from a hysterical pregnancy; and Lin (Carolyn Johnson), strutting around with her cleavage out to there and worrying all the while about her man on death row. This cartoon strip of a story focuses on Norbert and Jeannie Garstecki, a long-married couple who love each other despite the fact that Jeannie (Melodie Smith) suffers from agoraphobia and hasn't set foot outside her little trailer home in years. Nothing in the story is surprising, but the music is entertaining, and Stages has put together a cast of solid singers who capture their characters in bold, broad and colorful strokes. Through October 29. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!Joe DePietro and Jimmy Roberts's enormously successful off-Broadway musical is a fun bit of fluff that's supposed to be a great date show. Maybe that's because the world of love and marriage, as depicted here, looks about as deep and dark as the waters of a backyard pool. Now running at the Great Caruso Dinner Theater, the musical is put together like a revue -- it has no central narrative other than the story of the middle-class American Every-Relationship. Told in short vignettes, most of which are punctuated by song, it features a tiny cast of four (all charming and intelligent singers on the night I went) who inhabit a predictable handful of characters looking for love. Soft humor stitches together the show's tunes. In "I Will Be Loved Tonight," a woman (Holland Vavra) thrills at the notion of the first night of sex with a new lover, and in "Always a Bridesmaid" a woman (Onyie Nwachukwu) recalls all the hideous dresses she's worn in others' weddings. There are less successful moments that deal with too-familiar stereotypes, including old folks and geeks, but even with the weaker moments, there's enough humor to move the show quickly along. The performers are so strong that they manage to infuse even the lamest jokes with energy, and Jimmy Phillips's direction makes good use of the performance space at the dinner theater. Add up all these good qualities and you've got a perfectly pleasant, if utterly safe, night of theater. It's no wonder this show is touted as great for dates. If love is as hard to find as the musical implies, it might be a good idea to keep the boat in shallow waters at the beginning of any potential relationship. Through November 19. 10001 Westheimer, 713-780-4900.
The Lion in WinterThe royal spiders of the Plantagenet family deliciously spin their treacherous webs in Playhouse 1960's deft production of James Goldman's 1966 Tony- and 1968 Academy Award-winner. The love-hate relationships among the parents, Henry II (John Stevens) and his fallen-from-grace queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Salle Ellis), and their no-count sons, Richard pre-Lionheart (Jeff Featherston), scheming Geoffrey (Katt Gilcrease) and dim John (Brian Heaton), are brought to life in this anachronistic but detailed history lesson, co-directed with panache by Sheryl Stanley and Michel Brown. Tying this dysfunctional family in all manner of entertaining Gordian knots are lies, shifting alliances, assassination plots and affairs -- Henry's with Alais of France (a delightfully fresh Laura Romero) and Richard's with Philip, King of France (Andrew Adams). Goldman's crafty, darkly humorous style mixes High Middle Ages argot with contemporary attitudes, like Eleanor's gentle rebuff to dopey John, who interrupts her during a skirmish with Henry ("Hush, dear, Mother's fighting"), or Henry's smug boast that "I do love being king." Stevens, indeed, does love being king, as evidenced by his powerhouse performance. Ellis matches him crown for crown, evoking a cold beauty gone to seed, ingratiating herself to him or playing each son against him. The boys are perfect: Featherston, handsome, aloof, dangerous; Gilcrease, all serpent, unloved for so long he's forgotten what that emotion feels like; and Heaton, whose stupidity knows no bounds, which is just as dangerous as knowing too much. Familial fun and games haven't been this entertaining since Edward Albee. Lovely. The one downer is the toneless lighting that washes the entire stage with searchlight intensity. Lion roars for shadows -- better to camouflage duplicity or the knife behind the back. Through September 16. 6814 Gant, 281-587-8243.
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