Done to Death Vermont playwright Fred Carmichael's 30-plus light romances and murder comedies have been a boon to regional theaters, and his works and patronage have been instrumental in the reputation and success of that state's Dorset Theatre Playhouse. If you're acquainted with one of his most performed plays, thanks to Company OnStage, there's no need to rush to see another. This empty exercise at murder mystery/comedy has no style, little imagination and clunky dramatics. The premise has promise: Five out-of-style mystery writers have been hired to collaborate on a TV series. Whisked off to a deserted island, they discover their TV producer dead in the closet and their own ranks dispatched one by one. They must use their distinctive styles of deduction to discover the killer before more mayhem ensues. This might work if any conviction or depth had been given to the characters other than the clichs they've been clothed in, as Carmichael forces his convoluted plot twists into superficial pretzels and needless, unfunny digressions. Only Dottie McQuarrie, as a gruff Agatha Christie look-alike, and John Patterson, as a martini-swilling, urbane Nick Charles clone, find the correct tone in this toneless play. It's awfully difficult to supply these types with personality, logic or believability when the playwright can't be bothered. That's the ultimate mystery. Through June 11. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.
Glengarry Glen Ross Clocking in at just under 90 minutes without an intermission, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross is a fast gut-punch of a play. Done right, it will leave you breathless. And for the most part, the Alley Theatre's production of this postmodern tale about the nasty business of salesmen hits its target dead on. Directed by James Black with lean muscle and hair-raising rhythm, the show burns -- it's a thrilling celebration of greed, profanity and the sorry darkness in all our souls. Focusing on five middle-aged schmucks who slave away in a soul-crushing real estate office, the simple story is as disturbing as they come. The office is the sort of hellhole where every grunt must sell enough properties to get his name on the board. If you don't sell, you don't have a job. We meet the major players in three swiftly moving scenes in a Chinese restaurant across the street from the office. First up is the sniveling Shelly Levene (John Tyson), who's on a bad "streak" and trying to persuade his ice-hearted manager John Williamson (Jeffrey Bean) to give up the good leads. Scene two happens in a booth across the restaurant. There, George Aaronow (Todd Waite) and Dave Moss (James Belcher) sit bitching about their jobs, their boss, their lousy luck. Finally we meet the infamous Richard Roma (Sean Patrick Reilly), top man on the board. He's in the middle of his own special sales pitch, targeting one James Lingk (K. Todd Freeman), a twitchy little man who's mesmerized by Roma's strange methodology. Then comes the scene change. Lights come up on the office. Everything's trashed. Someone has broken in during the night, and now it's time to figure out whodunit. The production gathers speed as the men begin to unravel under the pressure. Of course, one man ends up completely demolished in this wasteland of greed and want. The final image will haunt you as you make your way to the car. Glengarry Glen Ross will make you squirm even as you thrill at its nastiness. Through June 5. 615 Texas, 713- 228-8421.
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Madame Butterfly The rhapsodic Puccini classic got superlative treatment from Houston Grand Opera in its alfresco production last weekend at Miller Outdoor Theatre (to be repeated with the same cast this weekend in The Woodlands). In some ways, it bettered the Wortham version from last October. Francesca Zambello's version -- pretty to look at, but inopportune dramatically -- was scrapped for a minimalist touring show designed by Edward Berkeley, which uses a small playing area, two ramps leading offstage, a few shoji screens, and poetic photographs projected on a large screen. Everything is pared down, "Japanese"-style, and this condensation works wonders for Puccini's tale about Cio-Cio-San, a humble but proud geisha who marries a randy American naval officer, eschews her heritage, becomes an outcast and faces her fate with the only honor she knows: hara-kiri. While some of the singers had appeared in the Wortham show, Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo, who plays Cio-Cio-San, was new. They were all a revelation. Even the zooming helicopters, screaming kids and shufflings of the crowd couldn't drown out the passion, the drama or the lyric glories that Puccini poured into his sublime score, whipped up by conductor Richard Bado. During the drama's many high points, a concentrated hush fell over everyone. Capalbo made a radiant Butterfly, the child bride gentle as porcelain who grows into maturity through disaster and heartache. And she has a voice to match, easily floating those stratospheric pianissimos once patented by Montserrat Caballe, raising Miller Outdoor Theatre's pitched roof with dramatically focused outbursts. She was marvelously paired with Mexican tenor Arturo Chacon-Cruz as the cad Pinkerton, who sublimely sailed through Puccini's treacherous vocal reefs whereon many others have bellowed and floundered. And the rest of the cast members were tremendously believable. When everything meshes like this, opera is unbeatable. Friday, May 27. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive in The Woodlands, 713-629-3700.