Capsule Stage Reviews: Dollhouse, Henry V, Kimberly Akimbo, The Night of the Iguana,

Dollhouse Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House remains hugely popular, and Chicago's Goodman Theatre commissioned Rebecca Gilman to create an updated version. The parallels to Ibsen's play are strikingly successful and brilliantly integrated, but this is a sparkling contemporary comedic drama that stands on its own hind legs and roars. Nora, the feminist heroine, is played by Rachel Logue with such warmth and charm; a dazzling smile; a sultry, voluptuous body; and mercurial changes in mood that it's easy to see why husband Terry (David Matranga) lusts after her and why his best friend Pete (Jon Egging) carries a torch for her. Logue conveys not just the siren song of sex unparalleled but equally vividly the perception that she is a caged lioness, strong, seething and searching. Matranga is excellent in establishing the sense of community so essential to a play about a family, and comes into his own in the powerful climactic scenes. The entire cast is outstanding, including Egging as Pete, Jennifer Bassett Dean as Nora's college friend Kristine and Samuel Jon as Raj in principal roles. The play is brilliantly directed by Eva Laporte, who has honed the cast into ensemble acting and kept the pace energetic. Dollhouse is about moral choices, yet they are not black or white but instead come in as many shades of grey as an E.L. James novel. Its success is that it portrays humans grappling with situations crucial to them, each one unique but perhaps similar to ones shared with the neighbor next door. Well-intentioned but thoughtless behavior can mushroom into a tsunami threatening to destroy an existence. But that wave is not water, it's money. This is exciting theater — don't miss it. Through April 28. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — JJT

Henry V In this thrilling coproduction between Main Street Theater and Prague Shakespeare Company, whose collaboration produced last season's equally thrilling Richard III, Shakespeare's stirring yet ironic flag-waver bursts onto the stage. As the untested, newly crowned heir to the throne, Guy Roberts has eyes that can pierce through you with a steely unconcern, weep with you or wink knowingly as if you're an unindicted co-conspirator. In the intimate playing area at Main Street, this glorious panorama of war and its consequences is up close and personal. The mud and blood is right in our faces, as are those eyes. They glint through the gloom like watch fires. After a dissolute adolescence, Harry has matured into a formidable yet untried English monarch. He's a mash of contradictions: rash and bold, clever and tricky, heartless and sympathetic, brutal and gentle. Shakespeare's humanism prevents quick judgment; he presents Harry warts and all. Virile and blustery, a master diplomat, a simple wooer and valiant warrior, Roberts captures Harry's paradoxes with gleeful flair. He loves his men, but will not spare them in pursuit of his own glory. Roberts is equally adept as director. The mighty pageant flows like the Thames and is given an overall wash that resembles Japanese anime meets Mad Max. Red takes center stage with the swathes of blood that drench the battle-weary soldiers. Some of them carry medieval axes, others automatic weapons. The mashup gives the production a bleak, apocalyptic tone. The finest touch is the addition of two taiko musicians, Khechar Boorla and Nicholas Hill, who thump their great drums and use other eerie percussion effects to enhance the warlike, end-of-the-world mood. Shakespeare's epic history play is cinematic as it cuts from English court to French palace, war-scarred trench to princess's boudoir, beleaguered town to rain-soaked battlefield (a striking coup de theatre effect from set designer Ryan McGettigan). We never lose our way. The splendid cast, who all double and triple up roles, make poetry out of the aromatic, dense text. Standouts include Philip Hays as petty thief Bardolph and the clueless, headstrong Dauphin of France; Seán Patrick Judge as wily Archbishop and burr-besotted Scotsman Jamy; Celeste Roberts as bawdy Mistress Quickly and comic lady-in-waiting Alice; Crystal O'Brien as petulant herald Montjoy; Jessica Boone as spirited Davy and English-challenged Katherine, Princess of France; Rutherford Cravens as opportunistic Pistol; Mark Roberts as hotheaded Irishman Macmorris; and Bill Roberts as loyal Welshman Fluellen. War is hell, Shakespeare shouts in Henry V, but replete with life. Kings are good, kings are bad, kings can be mediocre. Patriotism is courage and cowardice, like soldiers, like all of us. Shakespeare shows us the world; Main Street chisels the panoply of medieval life as finely as any Gothic icon. The eyes have it. Through April 28. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-521-6706. — DLG

Kimberly Akimbo "Quirky" might be one's first reaction to David Lindsay-Abaire's impressionistic view of modern family life, but give it time. Time is also what all the characters want, more of it, because they're fast running out of it. None more so than heroine Kimberly, whose sixteenth birthday may be her last. Kimberly suffers from a rare genetic disease that makes her age four and a half times faster than normal. At 16, she appears geriatric (and thus is played by actresses of "a certain age.") This theatrical device hooks us right from the start. We watch an old lady — here, the actress Lee Raymond in a glorious and revelatory performance — be a teenager who's already lived through menopause. Talk about time bending. Slogging through the trials of adolescence is nothing compared to wading through her wildly, comically dysfunctional lower-middle-class family. She handles them like an pro. Kimberly is the oldest person at home, in all ways. Her dad Buddy (James Reed, marvelously heartbreaking) is a schlubby gas station attendant who dreams of seeing Pamplona and running with the bulls. Wouldn't that be cool, he confesses, knowing he'll never get there. All his choices are gone. Mom Pattie (Amanda Baird) is a hypochondriac shrew, her hands bandaged after recent surgery, who has to be fed by others. She bawls in a profane rant, rubbing her pregnant stomach, waiting for the birth of her "normal" child. With Lindsay-Abaire's constantly shifting surprises, we will later learn who the father is and why the family bid a hasty retreat from Secaucus. A bright side to Kimberly's rapidly fading life is classmate Jeff (Rolando Cantu), a nerdy loner whose own family life is on a downward par with Kimberly's. He's a whiz at anagrams and Dungeons and Dragons and is more than ready to give Kimberly her first kiss. In a delightful twist, here comes Aunt Debra (Gina Williamson), a perpetual con artist and felon who needs money to run away to Florida. She comes up with the wild bank scam that has Kimberly impersonate an old lady. Except for the inordinate amount of time necessary to switch out the sets, which stops the play's dream-like flow like a busted watch, director Aimee Small lets Lindsay-Abaire's little drama play out with delicate shading. There'd be no play at all without Ms. Raymond's finely detailed Kimberly, who never lets life — or her freaky family — get her down. Eternally optimistic — make that fatalistic — she plows through life's increasing disappointments with sparkle and grit. She is the face of youth, regardless of the wrinkles: life's or hers. Through April 27. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

The Night of the Iguana The Night of the Iguana in 1961 was Tennessee Williams's last real success on Broadway. Now Theatre Southwest mounts its own revival, with its intimate space successfully creating the feeling of a sleepy, slightly run-down hotel on the coast of Mexico, and into these premises strides Lisa Schofield as Maxine Faulk, recently widowed and the owner/manager of the hotel. Schofield creates an involving and grippingly authentic portrait of a woman rooted in reality and seeing things clearly, but lightened with charm and a sense of humor, anchoring the play. Tyrrell Woolbert portrays Hannah Jelkes, caregiver and granddaughter to the 97-year old poet Nonno, whose memory and mind are receding. Woolbert stamps the role with quiet authority, and in her description of Hannah's limited sexual experiences, Woolbert finds the majesty in truth-telling and the poetry in the tattered human soul. Less successful is Scott McWhirter as the Reverend Larry Shannon, disgraced minister reduced to a position as a tour guide, with a taste for the bottle and an eye for 16-year-old girls. Shannon enters as a man driven by demons, all twitchy and distraught, defeated, cowardly and panicky, an object of derision and contempt, leaving him nowhere to go for the rest of the play. McWhirter portrays Shannon without dignity or charm rather than as the intended chick magnet. John Stevens as Nonno creates an interesting and convincing portrait. The rest of the large cast is admirable in less prominent roles, and director Mimi Holloway keeps the pace flowing and has ingeniously solved the many production problems inherent in the script. A complex, dynamic play by a theatrical master is brought to exciting life by skilled actors, resulting in a fascinating evening filled with insights, power and moments of pure magic. Through May 4. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT


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