Capsule Stage Reviews: Beebo Brinker's Chronicles, Girls Only — the Secret Comedy of Women, Home for the Dysfunctional Family Holidays!, Love Goes to Press, Sylvia

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

Girls Only — the Secret Comedy of Women Two gifted female improv actors in Denver, Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, discovered a golden lode of material in their high-school diaries and mined it into scripted vignettes of what it's like to be young and female. The resulting comedy is having its regional premiere after extended runs in major U.S. cities. The set is a pink teenage bedroom, frilly without being fussy. As the audience is seated, on stage are two local female actors, Tracy Ahern and Keri Henson, dressed in bra and panties, who mime conversations and laughter. Both Ahern and Henson are excellent comediennes with great timing. They discuss diaries, valentines, including those returned, the first crush, breast-feeding and other topics. This comedy is intended for a female audience, but this may be too restrictive — these are babes, goodlooking, fit, with outgoing personalities and a great sense of humor. They're good sports, they tell jokes well and they like men. What male wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes in their company? I especially liked the skit about sex education, as the actors play counselors so inept that they never get to the subject. The overall tone never strays far from sweet and amusing, although there is a hint of anger in a video section on restrictions on public breast-feeding. The event ends with a hilarious ballet to music as the ladies struggle to don pantyhose. The comedy is directed by Luanne Nunes de Char; this is her seventh time directing the work and her experience pays off brilliantly, with pace and exuberance. These vignettes will warm your heart while convulsing you with laughter. Extended through December 2. Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — JJT

Home for the Dysfunctional Family Holidays! Two actresses with operatic voices take us through some of the holiday pitfalls, assisted by a piano player who does a lot more than tickle the ivories. An almost bare stage can barely contain the exuberance of Julia Kay Laskowski and Patti Rabaza as they create the characters of Mavis Applebee (that's Julia) and Myrtle McGillicurdle (that's Patti), and convince us instantly that these are old friends who know each other's secrets — and strengths. If Mavis has to hide everything with 2 percent alcohol, including Listerine, from a visiting aunt, well, that's not the end of the world, is it? Julia and Patti also briefly portray two young-uns, Agnes and Henriette, who have changed their names to Tiffany and Buffy. Patti creates a rehabilitation facility named "From Slut to Saint," and Julia re-enters as Candy LaRue, pole dancer — this amusingly skirts the edge of bawdy humor. Daryl Banner provides piano accompaniment, and displays an elfin charm and some fancy footwork. One film skit covers a costume change, but does fall a bit flat. There are Christmas songs, with some lyric variations, and both Julia and Patti more than do them justice — the walls come close to shaking. Michael Tapley as director and choreographer keeps the pacing brisk and the movements flowing, and he has added wit and humor. Julia and Patti are expressive actors stopping short of mugging, with great comic timing, and they are also the writers. The current offering is a world premiere, but it could become an annual event on Houston stages. Comfort entertainment for the holidays comes early to Houston, as good-natured humor and adroit comic timing bring good cheer and flashes of wit to a world premiere. Through Dec. 2, Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo St., 713-868-7516. — JJT

Love Goes to Press was a hit in London's West End in 1946 and a flop on B'way in 1947. Two female journalists, Annabelle and Jane, old friends, meet in the press room of an army base in northern Italy in the midst of WWII, and scheme to get scoops on other war correspondents. Romantic complications ensue as Joe Rogers, former lover of Jane and also a reporter, is there with his fiancée, Daphne, an airhead actress. Intended as a madcap comedy, the work has frenzy but not humor, with too many characters and not enough characterization. Elissa Levitt is good as Annabelle, but Joe Kirkendall plays Rogers by resorting to shouting his poorly written character, dominated by a fiancée he doesn't like and given to rage. Joel Sandel plays a Yorkshire dairy farmer/soldier who falls for Jane, ably played by Crystal O'Brien as a Katherine Hepburn type. He proposes, and Jane inexplicably accepts the offer to live on a rural farm. This lengthy passage, intended as a running gag, goes nowhere. Jacqui Grady is excellent as actress Daphne, making a triumph of a minor role, and lightens the mood of stilted fake whenever she enters. The writing has some delicious irony, as Daphne's misadventures turn into brilliant successes. There are laughs, but not enough to warrant attendance — with the two male leads miscast, director Mark Adams never gets this off the launch pad. The play is written by Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles, both successful war correspondents. If you go, savor the brilliance of Jacqui Grady in a role that might have been a throwaway, and the diligent efforts of Elissa Levitt and Crystal O'Brien to rise above so-so material. Through December 23 at Main Street Theater — Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — JJT

Sylvia "You never say the things to me you say to her, like...'You're beautiful'...or 'I love you.'" The "you" is harried husband Greg (Wayne White), going through midlife crises. The accusing "me" is neglected wife Kate (Ruth S. McCleskey), who knows a rival to her affections when she sees one. The other woman, the "her," is a real bitch, Greg's new dog Sylvia (Renata Smith). She's come into the household and upset everything, including making a mess on the living-room floor. Greg has found his new spark in life. A.R. Gurney's bouncy little bauble of a comedy is an authentic shaggy dog story. If you have a pet, this play will be your chew toy. (I'd say catnip, but Sylvia might bite.) If you're going through marital troubles, however, watch out; Gurney will rub your face in it. He writes about people of a certain social status who find themselves in the throes of comic crisis better than any other living playwright (Mrs. Farnsworth, The Cocktail Hour). Warm and cuddly as a favorite blankie, what sets this far above the ordinary is that Gurney writes Sylvia as a young, attractive girl, which gives the dog a lively temperament as both temptress and perky puppy. It's terribly clever and a lot of fun. No wonder Kate feels threatened by this nubile female plopped down in her house who so easily reroutes her husband's affection. Ms. Smith deserves a heaping bowl of Kibbles for her lovely performance. We first meet her fresh from rescue as a grunge teenager, with torn jeans and wayward sweatshirt, two ponytails draped on each side of her head like beagle ears. She scratches and sniffs, jumps on and off the couch, and circles around before she plops down, happy as can be. By the end of the play, she's outfitted in glamour mode with little black dress, black patent pumps and her hair up. As Greg would say, she's gorgeous. The other kooky aspect in the comedy is the triple role of Tom, Phyllis and Leslie, all played by the same actor (Jim Allman). Tom is Greg's dog-run buddy, all macho bluster, who knows the answers, except when he doesn't. Phyllis is Kate's waspy school chum who can't find the charm in a dog who jumps up and humps her leg. Sylvia triggers all sorts of hilarious confessions from Phyllis about her husband's obsession with his pet — a goldfish. Perfectly costumed and bewigged, Allman stops the show with obtuse Phyllis. In the last act, Leslie is Greg and Kate's marriage counselor whose gender identity problems have a couch life of their own. Throw everyone a bone. Four paws for Company OnStage. Through December 15. 536 Westbury Square. 713-726-1219. — DLG


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