Capsule Stage Reviews: Christmas Tree-O, Over the River and Through the Woods and The Scene

Christmas Tree-O In a world that seems overwhelmed by ever-encroaching secular progressiveness, it's refreshing to find Christ plopped firmly back into Christmas at A.D. Players, now showing a triptych of one-act comedies by Jeannette Cliff George, who knows how to preach without being preachy. "The Littleboro Valley Story" is a bit too homespun in its telling — four actors enact all the persnickety caricatures in the very small town. They want to do away with Christmas for this year because of various personal reasons (too much food since Thanksgiving, the economy's bad, etc.), but are reminded of the true reason we celebrate Christmas. "A Christmas of Many Parts" shows an amateur touring group with limited company members putting on the Nativity story and having to improvise the performance. The farce has some very funny moments that are standard-issue for anyone who's ever been onstage, but a surprisingly moving finale. The least religious-oriented of the three works, "En Dash," is also the best, a wacky goof of an office comedy in the best of farce tradition. The six actors in these shorts are finely accomplished, with veteran company members Lee Walker and Patty Tuel Bailey as standouts for subtlety and multifaceted characterizations. Through December 31. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Over the River and Through the Woods Audiences will lap up Joe DiPietro's heartwarming family comedy like a big bowl of minestrone. Grandson Nick (L. Robert Westeen), who visits both sets of grandparents every week for Sunday dinner in Hoboken, New Jersey, is practically smothered in their loving embrace — and broiled alive in their stifling house. These older, first-generation immigrants know all about change, having lived through the tumult of arriving here so long ago. Yet Nicky's announcement that he's moving away to Oregon because of his job is seen as personal betrayal and abandonment. "For a job?" they seem to scream together at him. In the grand scheme of things, a job is so insignificant — it's not family! The wily folks devise their own plans to keep their unmarried grandson nearby, and how these schemes play out provides a great deal of the fun. The cast plays their stereotypical parts with spontaneity. They also actually seem to be part of the same family — a tribute to their ensemble playing and director Anita Samson. Especially good are Westeen, with his puppy-dog look, and Quint Bishop and Jo Ann Levine, as Nunzio and Emma Cristano, the louder set of grandparents, if that's possible. Your brain will go on autopilot with a visit to these meddling, adorable oldsters, but that's okay because your heart will get all toasty and warm instead. Through December 10. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

The Scene Set in the New York City of today, a world bifurcated into a land of haves and have-nots, Theresa Rebeck's The Scene focuses on a lonely narcissist named Charlie, an out-of-work actor whose life slips slowly over the edge as he grasps for a hand up in a world populated by selfish, frightened bastards. Self-centered though he may be, Charlie (Jeffrey Bean) is an intensely interesting ne'er-do-well. Smart and angry, he's a master of language ready to spin his rage on the world at the least provocation. We first meet him at a fancy party where he's gone to schmooze and beg for a part in a new pilot. He's so mortified by his own deadbeat status, and by the entire scene, that he ends up drinking in a lonely spot of the high-rise with a buddy named Lewis (Liam Craig) and a young woman named Clea (Elizabeth Bunch). Fast and tight, the play cuts to a scene in Charlie's apartment where his wife Stella (Elizabeth Rich), a producer for a talk show, is blabbing about her day. Her job, which she "hates," is to book ungrateful guests, then make contingency plans in the likely event that they don't show. Of course, she's no less self-centered than he is. Just like Charlie, she rants endlessly about herself, mostly her work, while her anxious husband tries to make love to her. She just pushes him away. Rebeck's dialogue is deliciously rich with wry observation about the current human condition. Everything from television to overeating to vapid sex gets a moment to shine in all its glorious hideousness. But these fabulous lines wouldn't be worth much if the cast weren't up to the script. Happily, director Jeremy B. Cohen has found four actors who all seem born for their parts. Through November 25. The Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-228-8421. — LW


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