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Capsule Stage Reviews: Doubt, Five Flights, Masters of Movement, Nursery School Musical, The Pie Dialogues

Doubt Given its pretentious subtitle, "A Parable," as if this warrants deep, after-theater discussion, John Patrick Shanley's phenomenally successful Catholic-school whodunit is a play that should be hawked on Oprah's book club. Shallow, anemic and faintly homophobic, it has inexplicably been bestowed a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize. It's not that good, for God's sake. What it does have, however, are four powerhouse roles that, when done just so, make this play speed by, keeping us on the edge of our seats and fooling us into thinking the play's better than it is. Prim and rigid Sister Aloysius (Julie Oliver) is convinced that unconventional and beloved Father Flynn (Patrick Jennings) has molested one of his students. She sets in motion her personal inquisition to investigate. Innocent Sister James (Kathryn Noser) has doubts, while the boy's mother (Sophia Flot-Warner) has her own unique take on the situation, temporarily dealing a setback to the fanatical Aloysius. Oliver doesn't need thumbscrews or the rack to define her character — a firm mouth and hands planted inside her habit will do. She's on a mission, and God himself cannot deter her. Although Jennings begins too high and has nowhere to go when his big scene occurs, his lower-decibel scenes with Sister James ring true. Whatever you think about Shanley's play, it's still a gripping crowd-pleaser. Through April 11. Company Onstage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

Five Flights If you want to catch a playwright on his way up, check out Adam Bock's little charmer from 2002. Here's the perfect opportunity to taste his rich, savory outlook on life. The Receptionist just finished a highly regarded run on Broadway, and The Thugs won the 2006 Obie Award for Best Play, so this is the closest to Bock you're going to get for a while. In the throes of dividing their parents' estate, brother and sister Ed and Adele (Josh Taylor and Beth Hopp) must decide what to do with the huge, decaying aviary — their father's monument to their mother — on the property. Wounded by a gay love affair gone sour, Ed could care less and wants the structure to crumble; Adele wants to give it to flaky "friend" Olivia (Alexandra Dorman) to turn into a bird cult church; and practical sister-in-law Jane wants to tear it down and build condos. There's much symbolism about birds and flight, hockey and ballet (don't ask). Bock writes in halting, choppy phrases that can be murder for an actor, but Unhinged Productions does wonders with this everyday poetry that, yes, takes flight and soars distinctively. Brandan Kankel, Ilich Guardiola and Heather Bryson round out the impressive cast. Roy Hamlin's unobtrusive direction grounds all the airy-fairy and keeps this impressionistic play from getting lost in too many clouds. Through March 28. 5102 Navigation, 281-781-7035. — DLG

Masters of Movement In Houston Ballet's new repertory program, sandwiched between Antony Tudor's dreamy The Leaves Are Fading and Jirí Kylián's deeply moving Soldiers' Mass, is a gem of pure movement. William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude runs just 12 minutes, but this little wonder is to ballet what Twitter is to writing — and that's just fine. It leaves you elated but longing for more. Five dancers show off their fabulous fleet footwork and firepower, proving this ballet from 1996 is still one for today and tomorrow. The banana-yellow Judy Jetson tutus and Easter-grass purple men's shortie unitards by Stephen Galloway are perfect for the lightning-quick and uplifting choreography. HB dancers execute this breathless ballet with style and wonderful abandon. Of course, it makes sense to squeeze this mini-movement between the two longer pieces, but it's really a shame not to let the audience leave with this feeling of elation. Soldiers' Mass, a contemporary take on the futility of war, does have a slightly upbeat ending, but, hey, it's about war and soldiers being cannon fodder. It does, however, show the mostly male corps off well. Not to mention, the Houston Ballet Orchestra is superb with Bohuslav Martin's Polní Mse, and the men's chorus is haunting. Through March 22. Wortham Theater Center, 510 Preston, 713-227-2787. — MG

Nursery School Musical Politically incorrect and often very funny, Theater LaB Houston's production of Nursery School Musical features everything from an alcoholic teacher to a preschooler singing about pooping ("My Pants"). The wacked-out story about a trio of three-year-olds on their first day of school is as silly as it gets, but some of the moments will hit home for anyone who's got a toddler underfoot. The book and lyrics by Racheal and Brett McCaig, along with Anthony Bastianon's bouncy music, aren't complicated, but the young, charming cast at Theater LaB, under Jimmy Phillips's direction, moves the tale along with unflagging energy. Between songs, there are commercial interludes featuring a cloyingly vapid host (Kregg Dailey) announcing first a company called Nannies 4 Nothing (all immigrants willing to raise your child for you), and then Buddies for Breeders (people who will listen to your boring stories about your kids). During songs parents fuss over their little ones, then gloat about being able to have sex now that their baby's in school. Josh Wright is especially funny in "I'm Boring," about how he's turned into a guy whose sole focus is his child, and Wright and Leo Laredo have some hysterical scenes dressed up as babies in strollers discussing such things as the fine art of breast feeding. It's fast and fluffy, but the one-act offers a laugh-out-loud diversion for anyone who's been a parent. Through March 21. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. LW

The Pie Dialogues Parenting is a long, hard road. Joseph Lauinger's engrossing The Pie Dialogues, premiering at Main Street Theater, follows one couple as they travel from their daughter's first days in school to the moments before her wedding. Dawn (Gwendolyn McLarty) and Sean (Josh Morrison) are two very different people, but that doesn't stop them from adoring their sweet Pie. While loving their daughter, they bicker with each other relentlessly about everything from the value of private school to whether teenage Pie should be allowed to paint her room black, to Sean's wobbly career as a writer. Dawn is a potty-mouthed lawyer who makes the big bucks. Over the years, Sean and Dawn struggle with their relationship, but their love for their daughter stays constant. Under the direction of Andrew Ruthven, the quiet pair of actors, who make up the entire cast of this small but effective story, build steam and pull the audience in, both despite and because of their constant conflict. McLarty makes a smart and headstrong mom, while Morrison is both kind-eyed and tender as the adoring dad. And though it takes a few scenes for these characters to bloom into compelling individuals, their arguing develops into a thoughtful story about parenthood's power to make friends of the most unlikely people. Through March 22. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. LW


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