13 Miles from Security Local playwright Kathy Drum creates vivid characters in a Texarkana setting as the battle of the sexes rages on. The sometimes stark stage of the Obsidian Art Space now sports not one but two detailed sets, designed by Leighza Walker, the rural porch and yard of a small cattle ranch, and the front of a closed small general store. The ranch couple are Herb and Tess (Tom Stell and Leighza Walker), combative and locked together with lust and inertia, while Tonic and Judy (Ryan Kelly and playwright Kathy Drum) play a couple deeply in love and with God in their hearts. Short scenes alternate in cinematic style between the locales, with the men in the yard and the women at the store, and we learn about the marital relationships, the bonding and the problems, without seeing the interaction between husband and wife, an interesting approach that creates suspense. Two other characters enter in Act II: William (Jon Egging), a sweet-talkin' cowboy type with a red pickup (aptly named), and Wanda (Randi Hall) as a bearer of truth. All the actors are wonderful, authentic, interesting, powerful when needed, but supplying subtlety in moments of dry wit or irony. Director Ricky Welch keeps the action flowing and the pace brisk. Kathy Drum's writing, like David Mamet at his best, creates through natural dialogue a milieu with which you may not be familiar, but you'll recognize its truth when you see it. The play has originality, twists, conflict, real events and a dramatic denouement, and augurs well for future works from Drum. Powerful acting and an original, authentic script create a vivid portrait of six Texarkana individuals, etched beautifully by playwright Kathy Drum, making for exciting and highly enjoyable theater. Through March 24. Big Head Productions at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-889-7837. — JJT
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Oscar in the Box If you want to go to the movies with five friends, who better to accompany you than the talented quintet at Music Box Theatre? This musical send-up of movie genres is a lively romp, filled with silly parodies yet heart-felt renditions of complementary songs that, while not always Oscar winners, are awarded with all the professional polish that this group so effortlessly possesses. Brad Scarborough, one of the talented five, gets accidentally whacked on the head by real-life wife Rebekah Dahl, and he spends the evening trapped in movie mayhem trying to get back home. There's a James Bond goof, radiantly offset by Colton Berry's rendition of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager's ballad from The Spy Who Loved Me, "Nobody Does It Better." Cay Taylor, all innocent but knowing, plaintively hugs Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home," while Luke Wrobel, playing godfather Don Cortisone (it's funnier in person, trust me), spins the classic Herman Hupfeld song from Casablanca, "As Time Goes By," and turns it into pure vocal butter. Dahl gets her golden chance with a muscular rock rendition of Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford's "Holding Out for a Hero," appropriated from Footloose, and then positively shines during the second act in Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin's "The Man That Got Away" from A Star is Born. Scarborough shows off his impeccable showmanship and silvery voice with his interpretation of Roy Orbison and Bill Dees's "Oh, Pretty Woman" and Alex North and Hy Zaret's poignant and haunting "Unchained Melody." Perfectly accompanied by the jazz quartet of Glenn Sharp, Mark McCain, Long Le and Donald Payne, all five talents comprise cabaret at its best. Oscars for everybody. Through April 28. Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG
Play On! An amateur troupe rehearses a mystery drama as temperamental, ill-prepared actors clash with their director, and with the playwright. Act I is a rehearsal, Act II dress rehearsal and Act III the performance itself. All-too-familiar incidents abound: Actors bristle, props don't arrive but rewrites do, cues are missed, sound effects are absent and overacting rises to the point of hilarity in this comedy from director Laura Schlecht and assistant director Nicholas Garelick. The result works wonderfully. John Lazo plays a WASPish actor quick to offend with criticism of others, and lards the role as though in an 1850s mustache-twirling potboiler. Amanda L. Baird plays the ingenue, and communicates through arms flailing like a windmill. Ryan Rasmussen plays the young man, remaining within the parameters of a plausible performance (alliteration is a prime plot pivot), and achieves precisely a perfect pratfall. Victoria Harkrider plays the feisty tech gal and Jessica Brogan the put-upon stage manager. Carolyn Montgomery and Gene Griesbach play older actors, and convey clearly that they have been in better productions. Michelle James plays an actor being kept up long past her curfew, and Susan Bray plays the director of the murder mystery with vocal power and histrionics. Sudeane Holmes plays the playwright, unaware that a murder occurs in her play titled Murder Most Foul. Rick Abbott has written a resourceful, inventive comedy with a number of surprises. This is mayhem of the highest comic order, as we recognize the perils and pratfalls of live theater. This lighthearted comedy works on all cylinders, with enthusiastic actors and an entertaining script, and can be strongly recommended for all ages: young couples dating, suitable for children and a must-see for dedicated theatergoers. Through March 24. Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — JJT
Shout! The Mod Musical The songs of London in the '60s join the galaxy of jukebox musicals, bringing the energy, verve and style that made the music so memorable. Five young women, identified by the color of their clothing, fill the stage at Theatre LaB with a vibrant presence. The Blue Girl is the statuesque platinum blond Adrian Coco Anderson, The Green Girl is red-haired Amber Bennett, often portraying women in touch with their sensual nature, The Yellow Girl is the mainstream blond Kelly Cornell, and The Red Girl is the red-haired Monica Marcha, often portraying domestically oriented women. Rounding out the cast is raven-haired Melanie Bernsen Clickscales as the Orange Girl, who early on says, "I don't look like the other girls," but she provides the comic relief and a welcome change from what sometimes seems like interchangeable onstage beauty. All the performers are excellent working as an ensemble, and shining when they segue into solo moments, but it is fair to single out Cornell as a performer who can really sell a song. Anderson shows poise and style as she interacts with the audience in "Don't Sleep in the Subway." Marshall makes us care about her character, Bennett delivers with telling bravura some of the best lines and Clickscales, of course, is a stand-out in every sense of the word. Vignettes bridge and connect the songs, and these work wonderfully well, adding humor and wit. Direction, choreography and costuming are excellent, with much of the credit due to the talented composers and lyricists who created these powerful moments etched indelibly into our memory, and presented here with all the ebullience, power and fire they have earned. Moments of nostalgia merge seamlessly with humor as the hit songs of the '60s are honored in an evening of delightful entertainment. Through March 25. Theatre LaB, 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — JJT
Whatever Happened to the Villa Real? Residents of the country inn Villa Real meet and meddle, and learn a bit about human nature, while rocking on the raised wide porch. Playwright Jeannette Clift George is not only playwright, starring actor and the play's director, but also the play's producer as artistic director of A.D. Players. The good news is that George is a highly skilled, deft actor with huge charm, and she etches an indelible portrait of a woman at the age when a walker is found useful. She endows "Clarice Moffatt" with vivacity, wit and a wicked sense of humor — no wonder that a younger man is intrigued by her. The younger man, played by Andrew George Barrett, is "Perry Rockdale," who has graduated from Dartmouth with honors, but has a physical handicap resulting in a limp; Barrett finds his enthusiasm and naiveté and makes him likable, and their rhythm together is admirable. Ric Hodgin is a doctor with a working moral compass, Christy Watkins and Patty Tuel Bailey are nosy parkers of the first order, and a trio serves as the focal point of their inquiries: Craig Griffin, Sarah Cooksey and Katharine Hatcher. Marijane Vandivier as the inn manager completes the cast, which never quite achieves ensemble acting. The play could use some strengthening — the sisters are sketched with a heavy hand, and the Dartmouth grad needs elaboration. The rocking chairs may be too seductive — a few firecrackers under that veranda might speed things up. The work will be savored most by those of "a certain age," but its humor and charm will ensure that these patrons truly enjoy it. Though the drama is far from explosive, the comedy is rich and the wit often brilliant, enhanced further by a stunning performance by Jeannette Clift George. Through March 25. Grace Theatre, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — JJT