Black Comedy It takes a scene or two for the cast to settle into Theatre Southwest's production of Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy, but once it does, the farcical story about a night in England when a starving artist manages to destroy both his love life and his career is a charming hoot. The play, which debuted in New York in the late '60s, is most famous for one central gimmick: It opens in the dark. We hear the actors talking and know the production has started, but the stage lights never come up — that is, until the breakers get fried in the building where artist Brindsley Miller (Louis A. Crespo Jr.) and his fiancée Carol Melkett (Hayley Shaw) are preparing for a visit from a wealthy collector. With the electricity fried, the room goes dark for the characters, but the stage lights suddenly come up for the audience, and we get to watch the characters stumbling around in darkness dealing with multiple problems, including two difficult neighbors and Brindsley's ex-girlfriend, who shows up to wreak havoc on his current relationship. This eclectic group of oddballs is lots of fun to watch; especially funny are Sam Martinez's Harold Gorringe and Kathy Drum's Miss Furnival as Brindsley's two quirky neighbors. Director Mack Hays pulls the group together and spins a story that flies by in less than two hours. And with tickets at just 15 bucks, the show might be the best bargain of the new year. Through January 24. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — LW
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A Fertle Holiday It just wouldn't be Christmas in Houston if the loony singing Fertle family and their equally crazy neighbors didn't sit down for their Christmas eve dinner of chicken in a bucket, heaping helpings of daughter-in-law Bridgette's creamed corn — slightly green around the edges — lime Jell-O squares and a big ol' slab of mom Mildred's butter pie, slathered with gobs of nondairy whipped topping. Hungry? You bet! You'll ache from laughing out loud at this most dysfunctional family, which strangely resembles almost any family you know, including your own. Daughter Justicena completes her holiday shopping when she and whipped hubby Pete and spawn-from-hell son Damien stop overnight at Motel 6, where she purloins the towels, hand soap, postcards and Gideon Bible to wrap up as gifts. Mildred and Ned's other daughter, Carol, accompanied by rich husband Roger and nelly son Curtis, flies in from San Diego on a private plane, causing no end of jealousy on the part of her loser brother Lou, who manages to get his big foot stuck in his mouth constantly. Balancing on one foot with his arms extended just so, slow brother Earl, who's recently hit his head again, makes the perfect TV rabbit ears, and nobody's in the mood to decorate Ned's scrawny, pathetic twig of a tree — "All the sequoias were gone," he whines in defense. Then there's Uncle Al, whose wife Orabella has suddenly died, attempting to play Santa for the kids. He just doesn't have it in him to be merry, getting out one lone "ho" before bursting into sobs. The inspired clowns responsible for the merriment, and who play every character, are Steve Farrell (who writes the satiric material), Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills. No matter what mood you're in, you'll be in a better one after seeing this one-and-only comedy troupe. Merry Christmas, indeed. Through January 10. Radio Music Theater, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG