Capsule Stage Reviews: Dracula, Macbeth, Malcolm and Teresa, MBTV, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club
Dracula Fog swirls underfoot and Gregorian chant reverberates. Red light bathes two blanched, debauched brides wearing dusty wedding dresses. They perch on the stairs near the Gothic windows, watching with hungry anticipation. One pets a raven on her arm, the other hisses menacingly. An old crone sheathed in garlic and entangled in a bulky crucifix silently intones a benediction. A large bed with coverlets of red and black is to our left, a blighted jail cell to our right. Stacked in the bookcase at the foot of the bed are multiple volumes of Bram Stoker's novel, all with blood-red spines emblazoned with the title. This ride is gonna be fun. Via Theatre Southwest's deliciously creepy production of Steven Dietz's somewhat-faithful 1996 stage adaptation of Stoker's masterpiece of Victorian horror, Dracula, we're in the land of demonic dreams and nebulous nightmares, fog and crashing waves, howling wolves and unquenchable blood lust. The novel's Victorian-laced prose adds an antique flavor to the melodrama, but the playwright structures Act I with impressionistic flashbacks, a series of annoying detours that leap hither and yon in time. Dietz also adds a "young" and an "old" Dracula — the wizened old count, once infused with fresh new blood, morphs into a revitalized, virile presence. However, the "old" version, played with theatrical gusto by John Stevens, is so damned indelible, the "young" one (Scott McWhirter) doesn't stand a chance. Stevens's eyes blare forth from a face ashen and powdered with mold, and his gnarled hands end in black fingernails. Against his red medieval robe, his cascading white hair offsets his gaunt, icon-thin body; he's like a Chinese mandarin gone to seed. Stevens sinks his teeth into this part with demonic relish. However, the old ghoul disappears from the play faster than if he'd been hit by a sunbeam, and McWhirter, appearing from a neat revolving casket in the castle walls, must take his place. Dietz amends the story with an abundance of erotic undertones only hinted at in Stoker's original (not for nothing is the large bed a centerpiece of the set), yet McWhirter brings no sensuousness to the bloodsucker. Even with a mane of swashbuckling locks and leather trappings, he can't compete with the dread that Stevens imparts. In the transformation, young Dracula has lost his mojo. His boudoir manner needs a transfusion. Under the visually astute direction of Anaka Kohnitz — who also designed the set and, with Jim Allman, the play's evocative soundscape — the ensemble goes all hellfire, appropriately chewing up the scenery when not chewing on each other. Fog, gloom and doom scamper throughout Theatre Southwest. Abetted by J. Cameron Cooper's spooky lighting, it's a blood-curdling good time, never veering into camp but never straying too far from it either. The play is enriched with a full-blooded cast (Tyrell Woolbert, Bryan Maynard, Autumn Woods, Sam Martinez, Kevin Bray, John Zipay, Julie Oliver, Liz King and Shannon Grave). It's enough to raise the dead — a bloody good show! Through June 22. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-861-9505. — DLG
Macbeth In Stark Naked Theatre Company's season finale, Macbeth, real-life couple and troupe co-directors Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin tackle Shakespeare's most murderous married tag team. I'm not sure who wins. Knotty phrases that can seem so impenetrable on the page are rendered clear and clean when Stark Naked's ensemble sinks their skills into them. The Jacobean dust of centuries past is blown away, and Shakespeare is brought smack into our life, vivid and immediate. The joy can be delirious. "Can be" is the rub. There are also times when dear Shakespeare should be left alone, his directions followed and not made a hash of. It's all there on the page, complete, waiting for life. Full of prophecies, black magic and buckets of blood, Macbeth seethes with life. Concise, the play gallops across the stage with a breathless tale of ambitious Macbeth and his just-as-ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, whose gruesome rampage toward the throne of Scotland leaves an epic wake of slaughter. But the price of evil is what the conscious-stricken Thane describes so juicily as "full of scorpions is my mind." Once husband and wife start their evil journey, the blood lust is insatiable and inevitably leads to madness and destruction. How does respected director Kevin Holden begin? With Lady Macbeth leisurely soaking in her bathtub. High up on designer Jodi Bobrovsky's corrugated staircase, she reads a book, sips some wine and pours more bath oil while her leg languorously drapes over the side of the rounded marble bath. It's certainly an arresting image as we enter the theater, but oddly comic and slightly bizarre, too. What does it mean to Macbeth? Nothing, really. As quick, the lights go red and there's a violent rush of "Macbeth 101" as the entire plot is telescoped for us in dumbshow, with bodies dispatched, soldiers running about with knives drawn, and crowns swapped. It's busy, noisy and completely unnecessary. The production settles down, though, and Shakespeare holds sway. Miscast as Lady Macbeth, Tobin, one of Houston's most accomplished actors, tamps down the murderous interior but later finds the chill in the "sleepwalking" scene. Lehl is constantly alive. You can see him thinking, pondering, weighing the wickedness of his deeds, and later being crushed under his very bad decisions. In his sure hands, Macbeth's famed soliloquies are master classes of passionate precision. His Macbeth is brought low through his own shortfalls, but we understand how it could happen to any of us. Lehl makes us understand. Most of the cast rises to his level, with outstanding work by Matt Hune, as untested virginal Malcolm; David Matranga, as vengeful Macduff; Jeff McMorrough, as good-old-boy Banquo; and silky-voiced Jack Dunlop, as Macbeth's first victim, King Duncan. The witches (Susan Draper, Amy Buchanan and Regina Ohashi) whisper their prophecies with creepy glee, but where, oh where is the weird sisters' most famous scene, Macbeth's most famous scene? Why has the cauldron with its "double, double, toil and trouble" and "eye of newt" vanished? Director Holden has some explaining to do. Through June 22. Studio 101, 1824 Spring, 832-866-6514. $10-$20. — DLG
Malcolm and Teresa If anyone put Mother Teresa on the international map, it was British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who interviewed the unknown "little nun from Calcutta" on the BBC in 1968. Prickly and iconoclastic, this former newspaper editor had been one of only two international journalists to document Stalin's genocide against the Kulaks of the Ukraine in the early '30s, which led to the deaths of millions by famine and brutal repression. The experience changed Muggeridge, a fervent supporter of communism, into a rabid anti-red and intensified his Anglican faith, although he practiced a very eccentric form of Christian spirituality. While the interview with humble, forthright and spiritual Teresa was a ratings bonanza, Muggeridge's 1969 TV documentary filmed in Calcutta, Something Beautiful for God, was a smash. Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity went prime-time. In her distinctive blue-edged sari, Mother Teresa was recognized everywhere. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she was beatified by the Vatican as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in 2003, the penultimate stage to sainthood. This is heady stuff, especially when larded with two such disparate personalities as sweet Teresa (Vicky McCormick) and somewhat sour Malcolm (Marty Blair) in A.D. Players' sharply acted production of this regional premiere. But playwright Cathal Gallagher trips over history and unwittingly removes all the drama. Mother Teresa takes a backseat so we can watch Muggeridge struggle with Communism's feet of clay. His scenes, set in 1932 Moscow and Manchester, are intercut with Teresa's '60s interviews. As testament to her unshakeable faith and abiding Christian love, these interviews, taken verbatim from the actual transcripts, thud loudly when used as dialogue. We might as well be reading a book. Gallagher doesn't connect themes; he cuts and pastes. Juxtaposing Muggeridge's past Russian history against Teresa's present falls flat, giving us two pale plays. Neither one satisfies. As Teresa, McCormick is appropriately shy and retiring with an underlying backbone of burnished metal when it comes to faith; and Blair, as Muggeridge, with clipped upper-crust demeanor and voice, supplies a lot more thoughtful verve than does the playwright. Christy Watkins exudes a radiant naturalness as wife Kitty; Patty Tuel Bailey gives socialist firebrand Aunt Bo more charm than she deserves; Craig Griffin is solidly understated as Anglican theologian Vidler; and Blake Weir provides warm comic relief as the harried TV producer who can't see any value in interviewing "a nun." After decades of ceaseless devotion in the slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa is a saint, whether officially recognized by the church or not. Gallagher's play won't get her into that pantheon anytime soon. Through June 23. 2710 Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG
MBTV Under full disclosure, I must declare that there is no more talented musical theater quintet than this collective (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan and Luke Wrobel — veterans of the late, great Masquerade Theatre), and I would be happy as a clam just to sit and listen to them sing whatever they want to. Which is exactly what they do in this revue, without much thought to the theme, which is The Music Box Does Television. To be fair, they state this objective right at the beginning — that the songs are a bunch of their favorites and this seems the right time to perform them — but why do a show about television if the songs have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject? Exquisitely sung, as always, the show is rushed and slapdash, not up to MBT's usual standards. The skits, as they are, are fairly lame and flatline badly but are saved in every way by the guest appearance of John Gremillion (another quality alumnus from Masquerade), who performs in knockout impersonations of Mr. Rogers, creepy and soft; Regis Philbin, peppy and overmedicated; and Johnny Carson, full of tics with perfect timing. Gremillion raises the level of the nonmusical segments with graceful ease. Of course, none of this truly matters when the five of them open their mouths and sing, instantly transporting us to a higher plane. Each gets to shine. Taylor, who does a brilliant but brief appearance as whiney Fran Drescher, turns on a dime and dazzles as a glamorous "Material Girl," squealing in little chirps as she paws the diamonds. Scarborough, with his trumpet-bright tenor, sails through "Hooked on Feelings," with the ensemble backing him up with those patented "ooh-ga-cha-kas." Dahl, pregnant and about to give birth if she wails another high C, channels her inner Grace Slick with a smoking "Somebody to Love." Wrobel, all honeyed baritone swirling like haze, mesmerizes with the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic "One for My Baby." Sullivan, all crystal-clear soprano, plunges deep into the Heart power ballad "Alone" and later gloriously traipses through Sting's elegiac "Fields of Gold," although she's overshadowed by a "best of" tribute to TV personalities playing behind her. The five join forces, unsuccessfully, I must confess, in an a cappella version of the rhapsodic Brian Wilson/Tony Asher "God Only Knows." But the best is saved for last, a rip-roaring Joe Cocker take on "With a Little Help from My Friends," fabulously rendered by Wrobel with all those neurotic Cocker mannerisms in place. No need to grab that remote when any of these five are singing center stage. Through July 3. Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club Playwright Jeffrey Archer has borrowed Sherlock Holmes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a plot from a thriller by Robert Louis Stevenson, to create this theater mystery, set in London in 1914. Holmes learns of a "suicide club," where members draw billiard balls; the white one's a pass, the black one selects the victim and the red one determines who is to be executioner, for the would-be suicide does not die by his own hand. This intriguing premise is given a polished production by the Alley, and the narrative begins strongly, with Todd Waite as Holmes in a striking performance. Josie de Guzman plays the Club Secretary and contributes a compelling performance and some surprises in Act Two. Sidney Williams plays Dr. John Watson with the requisite hero worship and naiveté. Jay Sullivan portrays convincingly Nikita Starlov, a Russian prince, while his fiancée, Christiane (Elizabeth Bunch), wears stunning costumes by Alejo Vietti. James Black plays Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother, and finds both humor and power. Alley stalwarts Jeffrey Bean and James Belcher are excellent in double roles. The effort is directed by Mark Shanahan and Geoffrey Boyd, who have found a delightful mixture of dry wit and understated gravitas, though charm dissipates with too many meetings under bridges, too many corpses and too much international plotting. There are scenes in a chemist shop and in a cemetery, magic acts take center stage, all to obscure the fact that Holmes has neither an antagonist worthy of his stature nor a real paradox to resolve. But Archer means to entertain us rather than to mystify us, and thanks to this deft, fast-paced, amusing production, he has succeeded. Through June 23 on the Hubbard Stage of Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — JJT
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