Capsule Stage Reviews: Dollhouse, Henry V, Mauritius, Waiting for Godot
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
Mauritius Two half-sisters dispute the ownership of a collection of rare stamps. One stamp in particular, from the tiny African country of Mauritius, may be of incalculable value. Jackie (Rachel Landsman) inherited the stamps from her mother, but half-sister Mary (Shivani Morrison) asserts they weren't hers to give. Enter Dennis (Beb Seidensticker), who sweet-talks both sisters and hopes to get a broker's commission as he puts Jackie in touch with Sterling (Thomas "T. C." Weinlandt), a wealthy collector with a passion for rare stamps, and for violence, in roughly equal proportions. Philip (Adrien Pellerin), the owner of a rare stamp shop, is jaded, and had a prior experience years back with Sterling that has left him embittered and hostile. Jackie is the best-written character, as she evolves from relative naiveté into a determined negotiator who can face down Sterling. Mary is the hapless role; her dialogue is repetitive and she's given little chance to be likable. Seidensticker captures the energy and drive of Dennis, but plays him so slick that it's difficult to believe he gains the trust of Jackie. Weinlandt creates a violent, volatile character, but also makes us believe in his sensual addiction to philately. Pellerin captures jaded indifference and simmering anger while persuading us that he has legitimate expertise. Matthew Schlief did the scenic design and Justin Tannahill the lighting design, and both work well. Director Julia Traber, who had a triumph earlier this year with The Lion in Winter, builds the momentum well. In a thriller, the plot's the thing, and playwright Theresa Rebeck delivers beautifully. Rice University has done well to present this challenging work, which has enough surprises and twists for several thrillers, and dedicated actors keep the action flowing. Through April 13. Hamman Hall at Rice University, 6100 Main, 713-348-7529. — JJT
Waiting for Godot Following the acclaimed success last year of its production of Samuel Beckett's End Game, the Catastrophic Theatre dares greatly yet again, and has mounted the most famous and most produced of Beckett's plays. The two central characters are Estragon, who is dominant, and Vladimir, more nurturing, dressed in remnants of once respectable clothes. They are old friends, deeply committed to each other, and the symbiotic relationship, the mutual need, the rich co-dependency are palpable and brought to pulsing, vibrant life by two brilliant actors: Charlie Scott as Estragon and Greg Dean as Vladimir. They wait in a wasteland for an appointment with a Mr. Godot. Appointments are made, new acquaintances are met and re-met, a messenger adds an element of ambiguity, a man is blinded and a slave mistreated. The narrative is linear — essentially so, since Beckett dares us to face our own mortality, and has given us an example of how two men cope with this inconvenient truth. The acquaintances they make are Pozzo, wealthy, who's on his way to sell his slave, ironically named Lucky. Kyle Sturdivant plays Pozzo, etching a memorable portrait of smugness and vanity; Troy Schulze brings his rich talents to Lucky, creating a vivid characterization of an abused servant. In a cameo role, young Ty Doran is compelling as the messenger from Mr. Godot. The work is brilliantly directed by Jason Nodler, artistic director of the Catastrophic Theatre, who makes every moment interesting. The connection between the characters is dynamic — even Vladimir's brief interaction with the messenger sparks with need, hope and disillusion. A deep, intriguing, insightful play is brought to exciting life in a brilliant production — don't miss its breathtaking power and superb acting. Through April 13. 1119 East Fwy., 713-522-2723. — JJT
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