All Girls Being a 13-year-old girl is so miserable! This distressing era is at the center of Stark Naked Theatre Company's newest production, All Girls, written by up-and-coming playwright Anna Greenfield. Not much happens in All Girls, yet so much happens at the same time. The interchange between the characters is an endless stream of thrusts and parries, insults and hugs, ego boosters and esteem destruction, totally what you would expect from a bunch of preteen girls. The dialogue ranges from purposefully witty to awkwardly uncomfortable to downright nasty, and the three young actresses, all strong in their own right, don't miss a beat. Additionally, veteran actress Kim Tobin plays Mother, Mrs. Gray, a sociopathic master manipulator, and Tobin plays her frighteningly well. While the writing, on the whole, has its pluses and minuses, strong acting and directing, coupled with Greenfield's wholly realistic dialogue, make All Girls a piece of theater that we can all relate to and enjoy. Whether you were once a 13-year-old girl or not, the struggle to be your true self is universal. Through October 26. Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring, Starknakedtheatre.com tickets. — AK
Saloon Songs Those wonderful entertainers at Music Box Theater get their twang on for Saloon Songs, their spirited foray into country music. The show, an absolute crowd-pleaser. is as comfy as a well-worn pair of jeans and as refreshing as a long neck, or two. They turn the intimate venue on Colquitt into the best little honky-tonk on the bayou. Although irreplaceable, co-founder Rebekah Dahl is taking time off after the birth of her little baby cowboy, so proud father Brad Scarborough and the other three intrepid troupers (Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan and Luke Wrobel) carry on with the boot-scootin.' As in all their revues, the four mix and match their prodigious musical talents in a rodeo of solos, duets, trios or a cappella numbers, each member getting to shine on his or her own in a number especially designed for that performer's particular vocal personality. The plot is a wisp of a thing: Four people who all intend to be somewhere else stumble into a bar during a dust storm. Since there's already a band in place, why not sing their troubles and dreams? A little goofy comedy and bad puns keep the wagon wheels rolling, but it's the incredible singing that lifts MBT into blue heaven. If you're familiar with these theater pros, you already know what miracles they perform when they get their hands on the American Songbook, so it's no surprise at all to hear their supple way around country and bluegrass. These guys and sexy little ladies know how to put across a song. Most often, under their loving treatment, the way they sing a song turns it into the definitive version. This is something to behold, and Music Box Theater's ace in the hole. Take, for example, Wrobel's rendition of Lionel Ritchie's ballad "Stuck on You." Okay, not every song in the revue is pure country, but where it falls in the show, this easy-listening tune makes perfect sense. Wrobel's honeyed baritone wraps around such pop sentiment as "I'll be with you till the end; guess I'm on my way; mighty glad you stayed," and breaks your heart with understated intensity. Or wallow in Scarborough's sincere sweetness for the Eagles' plaintive "Desperado," or his rockin' Elvis on "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog." Taylor, who plays a comically psychotic serial murderer, goes all scary for Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" (with Wrobel and Scarborough hullabalooing wildly in the background), and then magnificently reverses direction and softly charms during Alison Krauss's "When You Say Nothing At All." Sullivan ups the wattage in Reba McEntire's low-down "Fancy," and then mesmerizes with Joni Mitchell's haunting "All I Want," her crystalline soprano in sync with the plaintive fiddle of Alisa Pederson. Throughout the night, Pederson's exquisite music-making adds a fifth person to the onstage quartet. Her playing wails, weeps and laughs. Under Glenn Sharp (keyboard), Mark McCain (steel guitar), Long Le (bass) and Donald Payne (percussion), the band has never sounded better. Boot-scoot over to Colquitt for this country-fried revue. These urban cowboys will take you for a melodic hayride into the warmest, loveliest sunset. Weekends through October 26. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG
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Veronica's Room Playwright Ira Levin in Veronica's Room gives us an intimate drama and the sense of looming danger, unexpected twists and suspense for which he is noted. An elderly couple have discovered a young woman and her newly met date at a restaurant, and persuaded them to accompany them to a mansion to view a photograph of Veronica, the deceased occupant of the mansion, to whom the young woman bears a striking resemblance. The girl is persuaded to dress up as Veronica, to provide some forgiveness to a woman who's dying of cancer and is delusional. Sally Edmundson and James Belcher portray the elderly couple, and mesh seamlessly into their roles, providing the same distinctive acting they had displayed in the two-hander The Unexpected Man at Stages last year. Teresa Zimmermann as the girl is persuasive and interesting in a very complex role as she attempts to comprehend increasingly strange events. The young man, portrayed by Dwight Clark, has an early minor role but gives an impressive performance in a powerful later re-emergence. The material is strong stuff, not for the weak of heart, as Levin has pulled back a curtain on the tortured extremes to which human beings can resort, and has asked us to join him on a voyage into the heart of darkness. Director Josh Morrison keeps the pace appropriate for whatever deception is on deck at a given moment. Motivations are somewhat ambiguous, though actions are not, and audience members may exit still pondering and musing on some truly startling events. This is not the kind of mystery that is wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow at its conclusion. Consummate acting and unexpected events take us on an entertaining, gripping roller-coaster ride from a proven master of suspense. Through November 3. Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — JJT