Capsule Stage Reviews: Beatrice and Benedict, The Mystery of Irma Vep, Secret Order, Times Square Angel

Beatrice and Benedict Lush and utterly gorgeous, Houston Grand Opera's production of Hector Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict is a treat for multiple senses. The charming love story, adapted from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, is the perfect backdrop for Berlioz's complex and enchanting music. Rarely performed, the opéra comique about two people who are tricked into falling in love demands a great deal from its performers and, happily, the powerful cast sweeping across Michael Yeargan's breathtaking set at the Wortham is more than up to the challenge. As lover-comedians, Norman Reinhardt's Benedict and Joyce DiDonato's Beatrice are often laugh-out-loud funny. And their singing is swoon-worthy. But some of the best moments come when the three central women in the cast sing together. The duets between Ailish Tynan's Hero and Leann Sandel-Pantaleo's Ursula are hypnotic, and when DiDonato joins them for a trio, the music and the moment spin together into a rich and arresting moment of theatricality. Michael Hofstetter's graceful conducting and Robin Tebbutt's visually and emotionally clever direction make the most of the stunning music and cast, creating a production that anyone who enjoys Berlioz isn't likely to forget. Through November 14. Brown Theater, Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 713-228-6737. — LW

The Mystery of Irma Vep Charles Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep (yes, the woman's name is an anagram for vampire) is as silly as it gets. Happily, Tim Evers and Rob de los Reyes seem to be having the most hilarious time of their lives playing all the dingbats in this goofy tale. Though we are a couple of weeks past Halloween, the play's an homage to our campiest holiday, and the tiny cast, under the direction of Meghan Hakes, does its best to bow down to the night some children (and some adults) live for. The strange collage of scenes follows a series of cartoonish characters who speak in silly British accents. The actors dress in drag for a good deal of the night, as they play a housekeeper and second wife. There's also a wooden-legged groundsman, a wealthy husband, a wolf howling in the distance and a mummy in the corner. A scene change in which Reyes distracts the audience with a sleazy British lounge act is especially funny. Both these men are pretty terrific, although the play itself runs about an hour too long. There just isn't enough here to sustain two acts of theater. But it is fun, and the kids in the audience howled. Through November 16. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573. — LW

Secret Order A researcher and his lab hardly seem like the stuff of edge-of-your-seat theater, but that's exactly what Bob Clyman creates in Secret Order, now running at the Alley Theatre. The tale of lab coats and deceit takes us into the high-stakes world of cancer research, where money, publishing and power are all tied to lab rats and promising results. We first meet William Shumway (Dylan Chalfy), an unassuming researcher, as a young and gentle man in the Midwest. A bit of a geek, Shumway doesn't care a whit about getting famous or winning prizes — he just wants to have the time and the space to think out his theories and poke around the infinitely small universe of cellular biology. Of course, such thinking and poking takes a great deal of money. The equipment alone is worth, say, a soul or two — at least, that's what the play implies. After Shumway sends off a paper to Robert Brock (Larry Pine), the head of a cancer research institute in New York, his life is forever changed, in ways the earnest young man could never have imagined, as he makes a series of deals with the devil. Layered into this story is the tale of Saul Roth (Kenneth Tigar), an over-the-hill researcher who spends a good deal of time being jealous of all the attention Shumway is getting. When Brock takes all Roth's funding and gives it to Shumway, Roth starts plotting his revenge. As Shumway's world unravels, it's his female assistant, the eager Alice Curiton (Melissa Miller), who represents everything Shumway left behind in the Midwest — ethics, brilliance and a simple love of science. All four of the characters shape a terrifically tight plot, and the dynamic cast, under the sharp direction of Charles Towers, creates a high-stakes world that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Through November 23. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW


Beatrice and Benedict

Times Square Angel The camp's been beaten out of Charles Busch's loving Christmas homage to those 1940s Warner Bros. slice-of-Bowery-life movies. Country Playhouse plays it straight (and narrow) and takes all the buoyancy right out of this hard-boiled tale of scrappy Irish O'Flanagan and her rise to stardom, inevitable comeuppance and guardian angel interference. The story needs smears of red lacquer lipstick and quarts of Jungle Gardenia to be funny and effective, but no one knows what tone to take with this tongue-in-cheek material, and the many adoring references to a bygone past found mainly in the movies fall flat or go untapped and unexplored. The offstage role of the Lord is now given pride of place, which isn't a bad idea when He's played so roundly by Glen Lambert, but it throws the whole play out of whack, as we're constantly watching Him in his white lair at the far corner of the stage. Stacy A. Spaeth takes a game stab at playing un-drag, but the fun and the glamour's far away. Only Mia Marie Migliaccio and Cris Keller tease the Damon Runyon flavor out of Busch's savory tenderloin. This early gay holiday treat, which should have put us in the mood, needs to be rewrapped and put back under the tree. Maybe next year, just like fruitcake. Through November 22. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG


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