Capsule Stage Reviews: Close Up Space, Malcolm and Teresa, Road Show, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club

Close Up Space The tyrannical senior editor of a publishing house keeps his rebellious teenage daughter in a boarding school, but, expelled for destruction of property, she returns to attack him. Add an assistant whose past excesses with Mary Jane have left him mentally challenged, salt with a high-strung female writer, drop in an inexperienced editorial intern and one has the ingredients of a zany comedy. So much for theory. David Wald plays the assistant Steve, and brings enthusiasm, impish charm and comedic acting skills to create an indelible portrait of an aging slacker with a heart brimming with good will. Carolyn Johnson plays the writer, Vanessa Finn Adams, and usually finds the entertaining notes of arrogance, but sometimes substitutes overacting, quite a different thing. Brittny Bush plays Bailey, the intern, and fails to find a way to make her interesting or amusing. As the teenage daughter, Harper, Joanna Hubbard provides a cheerless, dour personality as she commits personal assaults and major felonies, needing a cell, either padded or prison. Rutherford Cravens plays editor Paul Barrow, and creates the vivid persona of a pedant in an early scene, but fails utterly to convince as later scenes strip him of dignity and compel him to grovel. The seriously miscast Cravens portrays Barrow as stolid, phlegmatic, slow-speaking, the antithesis of what a comedy needs. Andrew Ruthven directed the play, a hapless job, as playwright Molly Smith Metzler has no respect for motivation, consistency, her characters or the audience. Zany characters inhabit a would-be poignant comedy, but the laughs are few and far between. David Wald is brilliant as a 40-year-old slacker, but his warmth and comic genius can't overcome a miscast lead and a largely humorless script. Through June 16. Main Street Theater — Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — JJT

Malcolm and Teresa If anyone put Mother Teresa on the international map, it was British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who interviewed the unknown "little nun from Calcutta" on the BBC in 1968. Prickly and iconoclastic, this former newspaper editor had been one of only two international journalists to document Stalin's genocide against the Kulaks of the Ukraine in the early '30s, which led to the deaths of millions by famine and brutal repression. The experience changed Muggeridge, a fervent supporter of communism, into a rabid anti-red and intensified his Anglican faith, although he practiced a very eccentric form of Christian spirituality. While the interview with humble, forthright and spiritual Teresa was a ratings bonanza, Muggeridge's 1969 TV documentary filmed in Calcutta, Something Beautiful for God, was a smash. Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity went prime-time. In her distinctive blue-edged sari, Mother Teresa was recognized everywhere. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she was beatified by the Vatican as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in 2003, the penultimate stage to sainthood. This is heady stuff, especially when larded with two such disparate personalities as sweet Teresa (Vicky McCormick) and somewhat sour Malcolm (Marty Blair) in A.D. Players' sharply acted production of this regional premiere. But playwright Cathal Gallagher trips over history and unwittingly removes all the drama. Mother Teresa takes a backseat so we can watch Muggeridge struggle with Communism's feet of clay. His scenes, set in 1932 Moscow and Manchester, are intercut with Teresa's '60s interviews. As testament to her unshakeable faith and abiding Christian love, these interviews, taken verbatim from the actual transcripts, thud loudly when used as dialogue. We might as well be reading a book. Gallagher doesn't connect themes; he cuts and pastes. Juxtaposing Muggeridge's past Russian history against Teresa's present falls flat, giving us two pale plays. Neither one satisfies. As Teresa, McCormick is appropriately shy and retiring with an underlying backbone of burnished metal when it comes to faith; and Blair, as Muggeridge, with clipped upper-crust demeanor and voice, supplies a lot more thoughtful verve than does the playwright. Christy Watkins exudes a radiant naturalness as wife Kitty; Patty Tuel Bailey gives socialist firebrand Aunt Bo more charm than she deserves; Craig Griffin is solidly understated as Anglican theologian Vidler; and Blake Weir provides warm comic relief as the harried TV producer who can't see any value in interviewing "a nun." After decades of ceaseless devotion in the slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa is a saint, whether officially recognized by the church or not. Gallagher's play won't get her into that pantheon anytime soon. Through June 23. 2710 Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Road Show

If only this latest musical from Stephen Sondheim were his first, then we could hail a rising new talent instead of having to justify a spinning of his wheels. Coming from the reigning master of the American musical (Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Follies, Company), this show is mighty disappointing. What Stages Repertory Theatre does to it, though, is tremendously impressive. Director Kenn McLaughlin bedazzles with stagecraft and is responsible for whatever singing this show has, not Sondheim or Weidman. The staging throws off heat and pizzazz, while the show keeps circling back on itself in an endless loop. It travels all over the globe, following the exploits and dreams of the ill-fated real-life Mizner brothers, but never goes anywhere. Continuously reworked since its workshop premiere, Road Show (2008) still needs work. Addison Mizner (L. Jay Meyer), renowned '20s architect, designed opulent fairy-tale palaces for the rich on Long Island and in Palm Beach. He was also a con man deluxe, single-handedly responsible for the pre-Depression collapse of banks in Florida due to his corrupt real estate ventures in Boca Raton. Brother Wilson (Tom Frey) was just as shady but perhaps even more colorful. A coked-up swindler, he abetted Addison in swindling the swells of Palm Beach, ran drugs, took drugs and ended up a screenwriter in Hollywood, giving Warner Bros. and MGM an electric jolt of pre-Code jazz, all while he co-owned and managed the famous Brown Derby restaurant. These guys are ripe for Sondheim's patented musical treatment. They get only a shadow of what they richly deserve. The juicy historical facts of the brothers' lives are glossed over, neglected or turned on their heads in this padded, busy musical. Sondheim and Weidman turn the brothers into symbolic Siamese twins, joined at the subconscious. Addison is whiny and schoolmarmish, Wilson slick and smarmy. They love each other, they hate each other, they're inseparable even when apart, using each other as crutch and bludgeon in their far-off quest for happiness just down the road. The musical catches fire when Addison travels to Palm Beach, meets young dreamer Hollis Bessemer (Michael McClure) on the train and falls in love, although Addison's sudden attack of gayness comes out of nowhere. Except for two exceptionally fine ballads, the music is a parody of what Sondheim sounds like. The lyrics, unlike the master's best, are perfunctory when not downright tired: "extends...bends...and ends" is just as trite as the cliché of "June...moon...spoon." As Addison Meyer, seems worn out from the beginning, too old for the young dreamer in California. It's not his fault; his character never gets out of the rut the authors put him in and there's no place for him to go. Frey comes off better because dissolute Wilson is such a natural scene stealer. He, too, may only be cardboard, but he's got color, unlike Addison's wimpy gray. McClure has the freshness of youth and a handsome tenor to see him through. The brothers aren't on the road, they're on a treadmill, still waiting for Sondheim to take them to the promised land. So are we. Through June 30. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — DLG

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club Playwright Jeffrey Archer has borrowed Sherlock Holmes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a plot from a thriller by Robert Louis Stevenson, to create this theater mystery, set in London in 1914. Holmes learns of a "suicide club," where members draw billiard balls; the white one's a pass, the black one selects the victim and the red one determines who is to be executioner, for the would-be suicide does not die by his own hand. This intriguing premise is given a polished production by the Alley, and the narrative begins strongly, with Todd Waite as Holmes in a striking performance. Josie de Guzman plays the Club Secretary and contributes a compelling performance and some surprises in Act Two. Sidney Williams plays Dr. John Watson with the requisite hero worship and naiveté. Jay Sullivan portrays convincingly Nikita Starlov, a Russian prince, while his fiancée, Christiane (Elizabeth Bunch), wears stunning costumes by Alejo Vietti. James Black plays Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother, and finds both humor and power. Alley stalwarts Jeffrey Bean and James Belcher are excellent in double roles. The effort is directed by Mark Shanahan and Geoffrey Boyd, who have found a delightful mixture of dry wit and understated gravitas, though charm dissipates with too many meetings under bridges, too many corpses and too much international plotting. There are scenes in a chemist shop and in a cemetery, magic acts take center stage, all to obscure the fact that Holmes has neither an antagonist worthy of his stature nor a real paradox to resolve. But Archer means to entertain us rather than to mystify us, and thanks to this deft, fast-paced, amusing production, he has succeeded. Through June 23 at the Hubbard Stage of Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — JJT


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