Capsule Stage Reviews: Awake and Sing!, Antigone, Dangerous Corner, Rock 'N' Roll, The Third Side
Awake and Sing! Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! is more relevant than ever in Main Street Theater's emotionally charged performance — and it was first produced in 1935, during the Great Depression. The famous play attacks everything from petty bourgeois desire to heartless capitalists ready to crush the little guy for a buck. But this tale isn't all political ranting, especially from Main Street's actors, who inhabit Odets's characters with a largesse of soul. Under the quiet direction of Cheryl L. Kaplan, the squabbling of the Jewish family at the center of Odets's story reaches glorious heights. Crowded into a Bronx apartment, the Bergers are trying to make ends meet. Even Grandpa Jacob (Steve Garfinkel) makes a little change cutting hair here and there. Keeping everyone working, whether they like it or not, is Bessie (Luisa Amaral-Smith), the iron-fisted matriarch who dictates all major decisions for her hungry son Ralph (Charles Swan) and her raging daughter Hennie (Natalie Arneson). This is a tragedy of small increments. Every day, another lick of cruelty punches these characters down. Bessie berates her kind father, who speaks up for the little guy, even as she dotes on her successful capitalist brother Uncle Morty (Jack Young), who would swindle a working man for a few extra dollars. The disappointed woman also saves some blows for her dreamer of a husband Myron (George Brock). The only one able to fight back is Moe Axelrod (Jamie Geiger), a gambler and a conman who rents a room from the Bergers and is in love with the beautiful Hennie. This cast provides a potent night of theater. Throw in Trey Otis's smart set (the odd space on Times Boulevard never looked so good), and you've got a show that really shouldn't be missed, especially these days. Odets's story won't make you feel better about the economy, but it will remind you that all things will pass. Through June 7. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — LW
Antigone Classical Theatre Company's rendition of Sophocles's Antigone, directed by John Johnston, doesn't seem to have found its center. He has a strong cast of actors who are not used to their full potential. Two of the city's most interesting, including Bree Welch in the title role and Greg Dean as Kreon, seem unmoored in this tragedy, although their usual fire flickers during the long monologues about duty, familial love and obedience to the state. Even the chorus isn't being used for all its worth, dressed in robes and beaked masks that hide one of the best things onstage — Rutherford Cravens as the Chorus Leader. It all feels like an oddly reverent take on a Greek chorus, especially when set against a grunge metal background, a corrugated metal set lit from odd places and sliding doors that give off a prison-like vibe as they rumble closed. And though Matthew Keenan as Haimon, Kreon's doomed son, has an undercurrent of intensity, even his moments on stage feel muted. All this results in an overly restrained show that doesn't let the blood of this tragedy flow. Through May 31. Jose Quintero Theatre, University of Houston, Entrance No. 16 off Cullen, 713-963-9665. — LW
Dangerous Corner Whodunits are often so predictable that you can guess the outcome halfway through scene one. The one great thing about Company Onstage's production of J.B. Priestley's Dangerous Corner is that it really is hard to tell what's going to happen, all the way down to the chilly end. While it's true the dialogue is silly and melodramatic, the British accents are, well, not British, and the performances are just about what you would expect from a community theater, the show is nonetheless interesting, if for no other reason than that you really would like to know what the heck is going to happen in the end. The story starts out with a gunshot and a scream, which, once the lights come up, turn out to be on the radio. It's 1932, and dinner's just finished. All the fancy folks are sipping brandy in the drawing room. They turn off the wireless and pass around a cigarette box. When someone remembers a story about the box, she starts a chain of questions that ends with all sorts of secrets divulged. There's even a man who admits he doesn't like girls — not bad for the era. The production would have been much better had director Patti Lindloff played up the campy underside of Priestly's silly tale. Through June 6. 536 Westbury Sq., 713-726-1219. — LW
Rock 'N' Roll As Jan, a Czech lover of music, Todd Waite is the guiding force of the Alley's compelling production of yet another of Tom Stoppard's magical gifts to the theater. Of course, Stoppard's astonishingly brainy writing gets almost equal billing with Waite's lovely performance. The story skitters over 20 years of recent history, examining the Soviet invasion and subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia from the late '60s all the way up to 1990. The lens through which we get to see these events is the hapless Jan, a smart Cambridge student who decides to return to the motherland once the Soviet tanks roll into his home country. The only thing Jan takes home with him from Cambridge is his much-adored collection of records, which includes everything from the Rolling Stones to Plastic People of the Universe, an outlawed Czech group that gets labeled as subversive simply because the lead singer won't cut his long hair. Jan, who just wants to listen to his music and be left alone, instead gets swept up in politics. The entire Alley cast, under the direction of Gregory Boyd, handles the performance with the sort of grace and wit Stoppard's writing demands, but it's Waite who makes us fall in love, once again, with Stoppard. Through May 24. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW
The Third Side In a 1981 essay entitled "Evolution as Fact and Theory," Stephen Jay Gould argued that evolutionists have always been clear about the difference between the fact of evolution and the theory of natural selection. Gould states, "while no biologist questions the importance of natural selection, many now doubt its ubiquity." If Gould's statements are true, it's hard to understand why the faculty of the fictional university of Tom Vaughan's The Third Side, premiering here with Mildred's Umbrella, gets so undone by Henry (Mark Carrier), a biologist up for tenure who finds himself in trouble for proposing a idea that's neither intelligent design nor natural selection to explain evolution. According to this world, no biologist can argue for anything but natural selection if he wants to keep his job, which is what Henry wants, but not at the cost of giving up his ideas. Although the scientific world that Vaughan creates isn't that believable, his script goes on to explore the boundaries of knowledge in a more philosophical way, both in science and in familial life. As poor Henry learns, his troubles at work are caused in part by his estranged daughter Jessie (Blair Ault), who starts an e-mail campaign to get her father fired for something he said in the classroom that gets taken out of context. To complicate matters further, the daughter believes Henry caused her parents' divorce by cheating on her mother. That Henry didn't cheat changes nothing; Jessie believes what she believes. This throw-down between belief and truth makes for interesting and provocative theater, though some of the best writing in the entire show happens when Henry tells his boss to fuck off in several different ways, a moment that has nothing to do with philosophical questions and everything to do with raw emotion. Through May 30. DiverseWorks Art Space, 1117 E. Freeway, 832-418-0585. — LW
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