Capsule Stage Reviews: August in August, Fear of Ducks, Leaving Iowa
August in August In Obsidian Art Space, Houston's coolest new venue, The Fan Factory Theatre has returned after a hiatus to present August in August, a collection of works by Swedish writer August Strindberg that will change from weekend to weekend. The one constant in the production is Pariah, or The Outcast, a richly imagined two-character play full of large ideas on the politics of crime and punishment. Strindberg was mostly a far left-leaning socialist (though his notions were not consistent), and the one-act is, at heart, a long essay about the philosophical underpinnings of a judicial system that allows heinous crimes to go unpunished while lesser ones get brutal sentences. The story unfolds as a simple conversation between two men, an archeologist (Jon Harvey) and a traveler from America (Matthew Carter), who find themselves alone in a room full of gold the archeologist has dug up from a landowner's property. The archeologist despairs about his unpaid bills, surrounded by jewelry he's excavated but can't steal. Theft out of need is wrong, he says. On the other hand, if he wanted to steal a piece to complete a collection or for scientific inquiry, that would be okay. "Vanity, ambition, could gain pardon where need could not?" asks his American acquaintance. These ideas develop as we discover the dark histories of each character. As heady as some of this might sound, the play feels visceral and oddly relevant to our new world order, where white-collar criminals get away with obscene thefts and three-strikes rules put small-time repeat offenders in prison for decades. Actors Harvey and Carter make these questions feel deeply personal and important; Carter is especially powerful as a man who's terrified of prison. It's always good to see a theater company come back, and Houston needs all the deep thinkers it can get. Through August 28. 3522 White Oak, 832-413-1607. — LW
Fear of Ducks Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theater, along comes the inspired lunacy of Radio Music Theatre. You're never safe around these three (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell, Rich Mills), for you could die laughing, or at the very least spray your drink out of your nose as you gasp for breath. We wouldn't want it any other way. This scrumptious little tour de farce is one of the group's "unfertle" comedies, which means it doesn't feature those lovable Fertles from Dumpster, Texas. But never fear; author Steve Farrell has populated this juicy fable with new creations that could each have an entire series written about them, too. Revealing too much of the plot would be sacrilege — and nearly impossible — for the show doesn't move as much as it's propelled, by entrances and exits, one-liners, non sequiturs and our continuing laughter. Suffice it to say, there's a whacked-out, curly-headed televangelist, Jimmy Dillard, who's in a hissy fit over the fact that rocker du jour A.C. Adapter is to appear at the Margaret Mueller Mitchell Miller Pavilion at Precious Pines, Houston's most-planned planned community. Dillard's ready to do his "instant damnation" on this horn-headed smut rapper, especially for his hit tunes "Bra Full of Love" and "Set Your Parents' Pants on Fire." Adapter is not suitable for children, being one himself. That he also has two gigantic electrical prongs imbedded in the top of his head should say something about his state of mind, or lack thereof. Everything goes blissfully out of control, and there's even a delightfully affecting, albeit brief, scene between the fried rocker and the oblivious Mrs. Peeples, whose son has won a day with A.C., that's surprisingly lovely. Situated among the verbal mayhem, it's a little gem. Through August 28. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG
Leaving Iowa There's family entertainment playing at A.D. Players that's just about the best thing going. Written by Chicago standup comedians Tim Clue and Spike Manton, this warmhearted comedy about family — the American family, to be precise — pulses with nostalgia, radiates soft charm and stays entertaining without running out of gas. Although it focuses on the classic summer road trip, where the kids whine nonstop in the backseat while Dad and Mom try to keep peace from the front, it's really about the undertow influence dads wield over their sons. While driving his father's ashes back to his family home, Don (Chip Simmons) conjures up a family "adventure" one summer long ago. The family dynamics are there in the details and the finely wrought performances. You know almost everything about Dad (Ric Hodgin) just by the way he sits in the driver's seat, satisfied and sure, knowing and protective. With immense patience, Mom (Patty Tuel Bailey) keeps a loving vigil over her brood, finally erupting with justified rage when the kids really get on her nerves. Sis (Katherine Weatherly) is a princess and already knows just how to play her father. Nothing momentous happens on the trip — or on Don's — but as in a miniature version of Thornton Wilder, it's the little things that'll be remembered later with such force. Along the way, the family encounters a host of characters straight out of American Gothic via '30s Hollywood screwball comedy — Civil War re-enactors, an Amish couple who are the ultimate capitalists, the odd, taciturn waiter and the equally garrulous one — all played by the wondrously inventive Lee Walker and Sarah Cooksey. Each manifestation gets funnier as the play goes on, and they get laughs just by appearing. The two give the play a lively framework upon which the family, and the grownup Don, interact. Simmons, an A.D. regular, outdoes himself. No one seems so natural when acting — it's a rare gift. He is transcendent as the wayward son making amends with the father he once undervalued. And all of them, under Jennifer Dean's whispery direction, create that rare time in the theater: You watch transfixed and wonder what's going to happen next. And you aren't disappointed in the slightest. Through August 29. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG
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