Capsule Stage Reviews: Always...Patsy Cline, Electile Dysfunction, Fine Arts Fascists, Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming

Always...Patsy Cline Stages Repertory Theatre's favorite cash cow is back and as much fun as ever. Created by Ted Swindley, the Stages founding artistic director, 20 years ago, Always...Patsy Cline is one of the theater's biggest crowd pleasers. With the current two-woman cast, which includes the hilarious Susan O. Koozin as Louise Seger, Patsy's biggest fan, it's easy to understand why the show sells out every time Stages brings it back. There's also all that terrific country music, sung with smooth Patsy style, by Melodie Smith, who plays the country-singing queen. The show, told from Louise's point of view, tells how she first fell in love with Patsy's music hearing it on TV one morning, and then one night, got to meet the star when she came to Houston to sing at a honky tonk. The two women kept up their friendship through letters and phone calls until Patsy died in a plane crash in 1963. As directed by Kenn McLaughlin, Koozin is big and brassy as the Texas fan. With a big wig and lots of swagger, Koozin creates a charmingly plain-talking Louise. Smith covers such fabulous tunes as "Back in Baby's Arms," "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy," to name just a few, with crooning style. All the great music, plus the fun performances, take the audience on a fun trip through bygone days when stars were just like regular folk and Texans sounded like...well...Texans. Through November 9. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — LW

Electile Dysfunction Radio Music Theatre has tackled the wild and wacky political season with this funny play, which is full of characters as kooky as the past few months have been. Writer/director Steve Farrell knows just how to put things into perspective. His silly show features the Jones family from Precious Trees, "the most planned planned community" in Houston. Mom, Dad and Junior all support different candidates. The Spy Eye News team finds out about the argument and decides to feature the family as a human interest story. The actors present the newscast complete with commercials; the funniest features a very familiar furniture salesman named Uncle Dan (played by a hysterical Farrell), who sells a "political leaning chair" that leans to the left or the right depending on your preference and a recliner that shoots bullets. Back on the show, Damn Mad (Rich Mills) rants about politics, and the biggest story of the week focuses on the pastor of the biggest church in Texas — it's so big it used to be a whole ranch. Nothing is actually settled during the show, but lots of fun is had as the politics of the hour get chewed over. Through November 15. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — LW

Fine Arts Fascists Here's the ultimate slacker rendition of that showbiz chestnut "my dad has a barn, let's put on a show." Playwright/actor Paul Locklear subversively asks what would happen if President Bush stopped his "war on meanness" and plowed all that money into the arts. A fairy-tale idea, to be sure, but when the blue-collar types decide to become artists to get their grubby hands on all this free government largesse, it's a wacky enough premise to have legs. However, in this low-rent comedy, performed low-rent, would it dampen the improv mood if, perhaps, the company pretended to have had a rehearsal or two? Would it take the edge off the "experimental theater" badge of honor to indulge in a tinge of direction or pacing? Is mise-en-scène anathema to gonzo art? The Brazosport Laser Panthers think so. And yet, some real fire emerges through the rough-and-tumble frat house theatrics. The Crust Cut factory, where a bored assembly line cuts the crust off bread with gigantic shears to make little tea sandwiches for our troops, is a manic high point. Mark Carrier hones in honestly on his character's desperation and gives a most spirited performance as newly christened "art fag" Duane; Kelly Manison is completely out there as Duane's whacked-out girlfriend with equally whacked-out accent; and Walt Zipprian takes closet-case Gary and animates him with the finesse of Dr. Frankenstein and Richard Simmons. Rowdy and bawdy, Fascists is send-up, put-down and exposé scrambled together; there's no focus to the satire, it's all crazy and played for easy, insider laughs. Uneven — to be charitable — a few of Locklear's barbs make contact, but most zing all over the place, missing their intended targets by a mile. Through August 23. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch, 713-869-2294. — DLG


Always...Patsy Cline

Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming If you like your gospel music tinged with Sunday school, this sequel to the successful Smoke on the Mountain and Sanders Family Christmas franchise will entertain, enlighten and set your boots a-tappin'. The singing Sanders Family — somewhat akin to the von Trapps, only without those annoying children — have scheduled a reunion at the North Carolina home base of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. One of their own is leaving to go to Texas with her preacher husband, and the family wants to sing together one last time. There's Mom and Dad, Vera and Burl (Karen Hodgin and Gerry Poland); the twins, Denise and Dennis (Abby Bergstrom and Jason Hatcher); and daughter June (Katharine Weatherly), who's married to Pastor Oglethorpe (Stephen Hurst). The black sheep of the family, Uncle Stanley (Craig Griffin), has suddenly arrived after being spotted at the Blue Nose Bar. Because he's the last one to "witness," you know he has a secret that's soon to be revealed. Everything works out swell at the end, because that's the type of musical this is — faith-based and good — which is a refreshing change of pace for sure. The harmonies the cast members spin are luscious, and they're all fine performers and musicians — they play mandolin, harmonica, bass fiddle, piano, ukulele, guitar, washboard, spoons, you name it — and June signs for the deaf, too. The knotty pine church interior is perfect, as are the '40s day dresses and seamed silk stockings. If you've recently been naughty, go get smacked upside the head with a Sanders rendition of "I'll Never Die" or "Children Talk to Angels"; it'll do you a world of good. Through August 31. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama,713-526-2721. — DLG

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