Capsule Stage Reviews: Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood, The Heidi Chronicles, The Nutcracker

Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood Catastrophic Theatre's magnificent world-premiere production, written and directed by Jason Nodler and featuring a blistering performance by Matt Kelly in the title role, could easily be the next smash hit on Broadway. It's got dysfunction in spades since it's based on the life of Dutch musician/painter Herman Brood, a walking — when he could manage — billboard of how not to live your life. He was, and still is, revered as a demigod in the Netherlands, that country's one true rock star, a lethal combination of Cobain, Morrison and other egotistical fuckups. The worst of all possible role models, he attained mythic status after his suicide when, at age 54, he threw himself off the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton. When he died in 2001, while his work was having a resurgence, his body was in complete meltdown. When the dope quit having an effect, he knew it was time to go. It's to Bluefinger and Kelly's great credit that we fall under his anarchic spell. But we never plow into Brood too deeply. That's the only buzz kill in this cleverly structured and expressionistically written show. He's fucked up when we meet him, and he remains an unrepentant screw-up throughout. If there's a moral center to be found in this hedonistic portrait, if only by default, it's Koos, Brood's childhood friend and exasperated agent. Adroitly played by Troy Schulze, Koos is the ultimate enabler, assisting in the debaucheries because he's too cowed by Brood's talent to stop him. Though the work is not strictly chronological, Jason Nodler embroiders all the high points (or low points, if you will) of Brood's untamed life, helping us with background projections of dates and place names. Like a dream rush, Brood comes at us in oblique little scenes, with music the binding tie. Inspired by Charles Thompson's 2007 concept album about Brood, Bluefinger, Nodler flies off in truly exceptional riffs. As author and director, Nodler rejuvenates this tortured artist, but it's Matt Kelly as Herman Brood who dissects him with a medical precision that takes our breath away. His performance is overpoweringly physical, and, without question, absolutely starmaking. Through December 18. Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks Art Space, 1117 East Freeway, 713-522-2723. — DLG

The Heidi Chronicles Consider Heidi Holland. In 1988, when Wendy Wasserstein wrote about her in her iconic play, Heidi was emblematic of her generation. She had struggled with feminism, she had overcome male domination, she was independent and strong. The play was such a touchstone that it received both the Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize. In hindsight, though, Heidi now seems a little passé. Like a true touchstone, eventually society caught up with her. As she comments in the play, she's a "highly informed spectator" of her life. Heidi watches. She talks a good game, but she doesn't "do." Her friends do. They may be wrong in their choices and make mistakes, big juicy ones, but they move; they're always moving. Heidi splashes but stays in place. They change personas like fashion, but Heidi's comfortable the way she is. She's loveable and played most winsomely by Cheryl Kaplan, so that we know she'd be a great friend, like she is to Peter, her gay best friend (David Wald), who is closer to her than family. She's wise and fun, but doesn't seem quite so admirable as she once did. For one thing, except for Peter, she has abysmal taste in men, carrying an unrequited torch for louse Scoop Rosenbaum (Justin Doran), who could no more be faithful to her than he is with his own wife (Amanda Baird). Through today's lens, Heidi's friends are much more interesting: lesbian, in-your-face Fran (Stephanie Holladay Earl) or career woman deluxe Susan (Jen Lucy) go through seismic changes that Heidi can only dream of. Sure, she becomes a respected art professor, and two of her astute lectures open each act, but even she wryly acknowledges that she can't have it all and feels betrayed. Wald and Doran are deliriously impressive in their roles, bringing out hidden lives with surgical precision. So, is Heidi truly happy? With this fine, perceptive production, she'd better be. Through December 19. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. 713-524-6706. — DLG

The Nutcracker It just wouldn't be the holiday season without Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker, now would it? Once again the company has begun its mega-run of this Christmas classic created by HB Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson in 1987. And both the charming, family-style choreography and Desmond Heeley's sets and costumes still look as fresh and as filling as chestnuts roasting on an open fire. (Feel free to sing along.) Part of the beauty of this ballet is the joy Houston Ballet Orchestra brings to Tchaikovsky's incredibly danceable score, and the rest lies in the fantasy elements: Toys come alive, the Christmas tree grows to dizzying heights, mice attack, snow falls onstage, pastry chefs fly. It's just magical. And the little ones in the audience — dressed in their holiday finest with their eyes all aglow — just love it. Dancing? Oh yes, there's plenty of that as well. Because there are so many roles and so many, many performances, the cast rotates, which means you might see stars and stars-in-the-making. The corps de ballet performs solos, and even the assistant conductors take a turn with the baton. You might get to see new principal Jun Shuang Huang dancing his first Nutcracker Prince (there is no Christmas celebration, let alone Nutcracker, in China) or see corps member Jordan Reed in her first Arabian solo. Last Sunday, demi soloist Jessica Collado turned in a pristine Snow Queen performance partnered by Linnar Looris as the Prince, but it was corps member Elise Judson who truly charmed as Clara. Still, this ballet is less about who's dancing what and more about the entire ensemble performing a Houston holiday classic. From the mimed overture to the coda where all the sweets and the Sugar Plum Fairy dance with joy, you'll feel the holiday spirit move you. Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker is the best holiday stress reliever. It's doubtful even the Grinch could watch this ballet without feeling all warm and tingly. Through December 26. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — MG


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