Capsule Stage Reviews: Beebo Brinker's Chronicles, Fleaven, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Murdering Marlowe,

Beebo Brinker's Chronicles Celebration Theatre specializes in gay theater, and presents its third production, a play set in Greenwich Village in the '50s, centering on the lives and loves of lesbians. The script is based on the pulp fiction novels of Ann Bannon, and is sincere in resisting the temptation for parody, but that may be its downfall. Coincidences are rife, the characters are unhappy and crudely drawn, and the motivations and behavior are implausible. A wife abandons husband and children to "find herself," another woman in search of herself gives up and marries a gay man afflicted with self-loathing, all centered around a gay bar. Director Randall Jobe and the actors followed the intentions of the authors, so we have sincerity aplenty, and it is tedious indeed, though there are some laughs. The lesbians here tend to be beauties, with good figures, and I especially liked Autumn Clack, in a bad blond wig, as Marcie, giving us an endearing Jean Harlow impersonation. Margaret Lewis plays Laura, carrying a torch for a lost love and badly in need of Sex Addicts Anonymous as she searches for lovers to "fix" her. Darin Montemayor looked unhappy with her husband, but cheered up considerably once she hit the fleshpots of New York. The talented Elizabeth Marshall Black is seriously miscast as a butch lesbian. The men — Taylor Biltoft, Blake Alexander and Steve Bullitt — are good in minor roles. I loved the leopard-skin chaise lounge, perfect for Marcie, but seriously question the Little-Bo-Peep party outfit for Laura. The script has a great many short scenes, requiring constant set changes, and it never rises above the level of sincere good intentions, rather like film noir but without the noir. Through December 1, Celebration Theatre at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Dr., 832-303-4758. — JJT

Fleaven Playwright Miki Johnson has creatively imagined an entire town contained within a huge shopping mall. The set is the disco bar, with escalators to get to another shopping level. Drummer-musician Heaven had a huge success with the disco band Denim Shorts, until its success was cut short by his archenemy, Flame. Kyle Sturdivant plays Heaven, in a bravura performance that is strong and hilarious. Flame is played by Noel Bowers in a comic-book-hero costume complete with a large entourage, varying in ethnicity but united by rich, raw talent. Bowers is a powerful protagonist, determined upon revenge against Heaven, who once partnered with Flame in a band and bonded with him. Heaven's sidekick, Seven, is portrayed by Troy Schulze; Seven is in love with Feather, a member of Flame's entourage, but is too shy to pursue her. Feather is portrayed by Ashey Allison, tall, slender, stunningly beautiful, with a model's gift for wearing exotic garments. Jeff Miller is Slick, deceased owner of a motorcycle repair shop — his eager eyes gleam with maniacal glee, peering from raccoon-style eye makeup. The large ensemble is wonderful, and the choreography by Tamarie Cooper is inventive and witty. The lines are written in doggerel, usually amusing. The set design is by Laura Fine Hawkes and the excellent set construction is by Mark Jircik Exhibits Fabricators. The lighting by Kirk Markley and Bryan Nortin is varied and adroit. Director Jason Nodler and playwright Johnson have created an entertaining event of sustained levity. The plot is complex and contains considerable suspense. In her second play, after last year's award-winning American Falls, Miki Johnson gives us a fresh, witty and vastly entertaining comedy, in a polished production certain to delight. Through November 17, Catastrophic Theatre at Frenetic Theatre, 5102 Navigation Blvd., 713-522-2723. — JJT

I Capuleti e i Montecchi You can hear the haste in Vincenzo Bellini's The Capulets and the Montagues (1830), whose libretto is a maladroit rewrite of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The Bard was horribly ill-served by most opera adaptations until Verdi set him right. The musical patchwork is uneven, but Bellini's distinctive dramatic style and those spinning melodies, which would make his fame and fortune a bit later in masterpieces La Sonnambula and Norma poke through the pedestrian and bloom ever fresh. Under maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo, Opera in the Heights does wonders with this bel canto opera rarity. He coaxes transparency from the chorus, an exemplary cast of principals, and the orchestra (the horn and clarinet solos from Debra Rathke and Patricia Carde were this side of heavenly). He brings fire to the "War, War" chants (shades of Norma's Druids), slows up the pace for the love duets, delivers a sterling "Funeral Scene" with standout support from sopranos Trace Davis and mezzo Patricia Bernstein as nuns whose musical line floats ethereally above the male chorus, and then heats up the pathos for the Tomb Scene. He carries that flame to the singers. Romeo is a pants role and sung by a mezzo. Sarah Heltzel makes a very handsome young man, ardent and sleek, and handy with a rapier. Her rich, powerhouse voice travels from high to low without strain, and is equally supple, gracefully scaling those essential vocal arabesques of which the nineteenth-century ear was so enamored. Camille Zamora, as conflicted Giulietta, was nearly as smooth. Her soprano is appealingly dark and agile, with heft behind it. Giulietta's famous romanza, "O quante volte" (a take on "Romeo, wherefore art thou"), which begins over haunting harp and horn accompaniment, was rhapsodic, and her voice melded beautifully with Heltzel's. Sweet-singing tenor Lázaro Calderón brought burnished silvery tone to Tebaldo; he soared in the fiery confrontation with Heltzel's Romeo in the second act. The supporting roles were lovingly handled, with Justin Hopkins's well-deep bass-baritone an aural treat in his role as physician Lorenzo, while bass Daymon Passmore ably seethed as Lord Capulet. Bellini spins out melody as if he were weaving gold. Sung and conducted with passion, adorned with the velvets of costumer Dena Scheh, and directed by Carlos Conde, who at least doesn't get in way, Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi may be rare in the opera house, but it's right at home at OH. Through November 18. 1703 Heights Blvd. 713-861-5303. An alternate Emerald cast (with Julia Ebner as Giulietta, Brandy Lynn Hawkins as Romeo, and Zachary Averyt as Tebaldo) performs November 16 and 18. — DLG

Murdering Marlowe 'Ods bodkins, good gentlefolk, there's an intriguing premise at work in Charles Marowitz's English Renaissance thriller Murdering Marlowe. If you have a passing interest in Elizabethan theater and the world of Shakespeare, this will be your goblet of tea. Scribbler Marowitz has turned the immortal Bard of Avon into a green-eyed, envious young lout who plots the death of fellow playwright, the honored Christopher Marlowe, playmaker of such popular London hits as Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus. Sweet William becomes the biggest opportunist in town, a struggling upstart who paves the way to success by hiring thugs to ice his rival and, to really gild the lily, bed Marlowe's mistress and make her his own. The basic premise is shaky, but there's so much love for the ripe language of the time that we forgive the skewed painting of Shakespeare and focus on the gilded frame that's bright and dazzling. This play is a treat to listen to. We're caught in the net from the very first scene, young Shakespeare in prayer as he confesses his hatred, fear and obsession over Marlowe. He compares him to a "giant compass so wide-extended that his north cannot his south observe," whose "dark genius is to mine like a firebrand to a lighted straw." This honey-tongued language sounds so true we smile as it hits our ears, for it contains both reverence and parody. Actor J. Cameron Cooper has a long history with Shakespeare, so it must come as something of a delight for him to actually be playing the Bard. Lean as sea grass, he's a passionate poet brimming with ideas and hot for married lady Emilia. He reads those sweet Elizabethan phrases of Marowitz with tender feeling and ease of command. Scott McWhirter is Marlowe encapsulated: usually drunk and continuously horny. He's dark and conflicted, and McWhirter eats him up. As conspirators Poley and Frizer, Sam Martinez and Anthony Torres play them with relish; Haley Cooper, as free-wielding Emilia, overlays her sexiness with wiles; L. Robert Westeen blusters convincingly as interrogator and royal toady Maunder; and Scott Holmes, as theater producer Henslow with one eye on the cashbox, mines all the comedy out of his toadying character. While we never really understand what drives genius Shakespeare to this murder most foul, the Elizabethan spider web of treachery, deceit, debauchery and high-soaring language is amply on display. Marowitz flies his banner high; Country Playhouse waves it with panache. Through November 17. 12802 Queensbury. 713-467-4497. — DLG

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