Capsule Stage Reviews: Company, Tartuffe

Company When it debuted on Broadway in 1970, Stephen Sondheim's Company was a brand-new sort of musical. The swinging homage to marriage and friendship among the cool, hip denizens of Manhattan includes a couple who smoke pot, a homoerotic suggestion between old pals, and lots and lots of booze as it tells the story of 35-year-old Robert, a single guy who's trying to figure out whether marriage is worth all the pain. The folks at Masquerade Theatre have put together a strong revival of the 40-year-old show that proves Sondheim's music remains as fresh and original as ever. As Robert, the lost soul who spends most of his nights hanging out with his married couples' friends, Luther Chakurian makes a likable third wheel. And though his singing voice is perhaps too dramatic to establish the cool emotional reserve that keeps Robert from being able to commit to a woman, it brings a fullness to Sondheim's unforgettable tunes, which include "Someone Is Waiting" and "Side By Side By Side." The supporting cast is strong. Especially good is Luke Wrobel (who has the sweetest singing voice of anyone in the cast) as henpecked Harry. And Kristina Sullivan makes Jenny, the wife who gets hysterically stoned for the first time with Robert, one of the most charming characters on a Houston stage this year. There are some problems with the production, including lots of feedback from the headset microphones the cast wears, a grand piano that needs a serious tuning, and some blocking by director Phillip K. Duggins that often puts the cast awkwardly upstage behind furniture so that the audience spends at least half the show not being able to see all that well. But the music shines in spite of these distractions, proving the muscular range and staying power of Sondheim's considerable gifts. Company runs through April 18 at Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-861-7045. — LW

Tartuffe Badly behaving men of God have become very familiar to Americans, which makes Classical Theatre Company's production of Molière's Tartuffe wonderfully timely. The 17th-century French farce tells what happens when a scoundrel dressed up in piety fools a rich man into giving up his home, his son and his daughter in the name of goodness. Directed by John Johnston, this adaptation sets the story in 2010 in River Oaks. Orgon (Greg Wise), the patriarch of this household, has been bewitched by the mysterious Tartuffe (Thomas Prior). Though we don't meet Tartuffe for quite some time, we do get to hear what Orgon's household thinks of this supposed man of God, and nobody likes him, especially not Dorine (Holly Haire), the bigmouthed maid, who hates him most of all. Unfortunately, it's Orgon's children who have the most to lose. Mariane (Blair Knowles), his daughter, is ordered to marry the scoundrel so that he can become a true member of the family and share in all their riches. And Damis (Caleb George) is disowned by his father when the boy speaks his mind about the hypocrisies of Tartuffe. When the mystery man actually makes his entrance, Prior doesn't disappoint. He is hilarious as the wicked Tartuffe, who flagellates himself with a whip before taking the time to put the moves on Orgon's lovely wife Elmire (Pamela Vogel). This production is energetic, though the cast is uneven and the men are, for the most part, the real strength here. Prior carries the night with his oily Tartuffe, but both George and Philip Hays (who plays Mariane's kicked-to-the-curb suitor Valere) add a clownish charm to the production. Mark Roberts is also strong as an over-the-top evil process-server who tells Orgon he's got to give his River Oaks digs over to Tartuffe. This is a big show, with lots of complications including a script with dialogue written in rhyming verse. But Johnston and his cast manage to pull it off and keep the audience laughing at the hypocrites dressed up in religion. Tartuffe runs through April 18 at Barnevelder Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, 713-963-9665. — LW


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