Capsule Stage Reviews: Dangerous Corner, Miss Firecracker Contest, Rock 'N' Roll

Dangerous Corner Whodunits are often so predictable that you can guess the outcome halfway through scene one. The one great thing about Company Onstage's production of J.B. Priestley's Dangerous Corner is that it really is hard to tell what's going to happen, all the way down to the chilly end. While it's true the dialogue is silly and melodramatic, the British accents are, well, not British, and the performances are just about what you would expect from a community theater, the show is nonetheless interesting, if for no other reason than that you really would like to know what the heck is going to happen in the end. The story starts out with a gunshot and a scream, which, once the lights come up, turn out to be on the radio. It's 1932, and dinner's just finished. All the fancy folks are sipping brandy in the drawing room. They turn off the wireless and pass around a cigarette box. When someone remembers a story about the box, she starts a chain of questions that ends with all sorts of secrets divulged. There's even a man who admits he doesn't like girls — not bad for the era. The production would have been much better had director Patti Lindloff played up the campy underside of Priestly's silly tale. Through June 6. 536 Westbury Sq., 713-726-1219. — LW

Miss Firecracker Contest It might be 30 years old, but Beth Henley's Miss Firecracker Contest holds up surprisingly well, especially when the production is as lively and tender as the one running at Texas Repertory Theatre. The Southern tale features all sorts of eccentrics, including a girl who stitches clothes for bullfrogs and an ex-beauty queen on the lam from her marriage. There's family trouble, a love story and, of course, a Miss Firecracker Contest, but Henley's sweet tale is most of all about learning self-acceptance, which is what Carnelle Scott (Kay Allmand) has struggled with her entire life. To prove herself worthy, the 24-year-old dyes her hair flaming red and signs up for the beauty contest. She longs to show all those town folk who used to call her Miss Hot Tamale on account of all her boyfriends that she's changed. She's a good girl now and worth some love and admiration. Of course, she learns her lesson, but not in the way she thinks she will. Directed with lots of heart by Steven Fenley, the actors fit into their roles with charming ease (though it's strange that so many characters spend so much time facing the audience with their eyes cast toward the heavens). Jen Lucy is a joy as Popeye Jackson, the sweet, odd seamstress who teaches Carnelle what real friendship is. Joshua Estrada is wonderfully strange as Delmont Williams, the young man with the "wild hair" who just got out of the "institution." And as Carnelle, Allmand is brimming over with nervous desire to be loved. Out off of FM 1960, Texas Rep is a long way from the center of town, but with a show this charming, it's worth the trip. Through May 24. 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573. — LW

Rock 'N' Roll As Jan, a Czech lover of music, Todd Waite is the guiding force of the Alley's compelling production of yet another of Tom Stoppard's magical gifts to the theater. Of course, Stoppard's astonishingly brainy writing gets almost equal billing with Waite's lovely performance. The story skitters over 20 years of recent history, examining the Soviet invasion and subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia from the late '60s all the way up to 1990. The lens through which we get to see these events is the hapless Jan, a smart Cambridge student who decides to return to the motherland once the Soviet tanks roll into his home country. The only thing Jan takes home with him from Cambridge is his much-adored collection of records, which includes everything from the Rolling Stones to Plastic People of the Universe, an outlawed Czech group that gets labeled as subversive simply because the lead singer won't cut his long hair. Jan, who just wants to listen to his music and be left alone, instead gets swept up in politics. The entire Alley cast, under the direction of Gregory Boyd, handles the performance with the sort of grace and wit Stoppard's writing demands, but it's Waite who makes us fall in love, once again, with Stoppard. Through May 24. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW


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