Capsule Stage Reviews: Fear of Ducks, Leaving Iowa, The Marvelous Wonderettes, St. Nicholas

Fear of Ducks Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theater, along comes the inspired lunacy of Radio Music Theatre. You're never safe around these three (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell, Rich Mills), for you could die laughing, or at the very least spray your drink out of your nose as you gasp for breath. We wouldn't want it any other way. This scrumptious little tour de farce is one of the group's "unfertle" comedies, which means it doesn't feature those lovable Fertles from Dumpster, Texas. But never fear; author Steve Farrell has populated this juicy fable with new creations that could each have an entire series written about them, too. Revealing too much of the plot would be sacrilege — and nearly impossible — for the show doesn't move as much as it's propelled, by entrances and exits, one-liners, non sequiturs and our continuing laughter. Suffice it to say, there's a whacked-out, curly-headed televangelist, Jimmy Dillard, who's in a hissy fit over the fact that rocker du jour A.C. Adapter is to appear at the Margaret Mueller Mitchell Miller Pavilion at Precious Pines, Houston's most-planned planned community. Dillard's ready to do his "instant damnation" on this horn-headed smut rapper, especially for his hit tunes "Bra Full of Love" and "Set Your Parents' Pants on Fire." Adapter is not suitable for children, being one himself. That he also has two gigantic electrical prongs imbedded in the top of his head should say something about his state of mind, or lack thereof. Everything goes blissfully out of control, and there's even a delightfully affecting, albeit brief, scene between the fried rocker and the oblivious Mrs. Peeples, whose son has won a day with A.C., that's surprisingly lovely. Situated among the verbal mayhem, it's a little gem. Through August 28. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

Leaving Iowa There's family entertainment playing at A.D. Players that's just about the best thing going. Written by Chicago standup comedians Tim Clue and Spike Manton, this warmhearted comedy about family — the American family, to be precise — pulses with nostalgia, radiates soft charm and stays entertaining without running out of gas. Although it focuses on the classic summer road trip, where the kids whine nonstop in the backseat while Dad and Mom try to keep peace from the front, it's really about the undertow influence dads wield over their sons. While driving his father's ashes back to his family home, Don (Chip Simmons) conjures up a family "adventure" one summer long ago. The family dynamics are there in the details and the finely wrought performances. You know almost everything about Dad (Ric Hodgin) just by the way he sits in the driver's seat, satisfied and sure, knowing and protective. With immense patience, Mom (Patty Tuel Bailey) keeps a loving vigil over her brood, finally erupting with justified rage when the kids really get on her nerves. Sis (Katherine Weatherly) is a princess and already knows just how to play her father. Nothing momentous happens on the trip — or on Don's — but as in a miniature version of Thornton Wilder, it's the little things that'll be remembered later with such force. Along the way, the family encounters a host of characters straight out of American Gothic via '30s Hollywood screwball comedy — Civil War re-enactors, an Amish couple who are the ultimate capitalists, the odd, taciturn waiter and the equally garrulous one — all played by the wondrously inventive Lee Walker and Sarah Cooksey. Each manifestation gets funnier as the play goes on, and they get laughs just by appearing. The two give the play a lively framework upon which the family, and the grownup Don, interact. Simmons, an A.D. regular, outdoes himself. No one seems so natural when acting — it's a rare gift. He is transcendent as the wayward son making amends with the father he once undervalued. And all of them, under Jennifer Dean's whispery direction, create that rare time in the theater: You watch transfixed and wonder what's going to happen next. And you aren't disappointed in the slightest. Through August 29. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

The Marvelous Wonderettes Okay, kids, let's write a second-rate musical that has no chance of ever seeing the lights of Broadway. Judging from Roger Bean's creation from 1999, it's not too difficult. First we need music — not original music, that's too iffy. How about great tunes from the '50s? Every­body likes "Mr. Sandman," "Lipstick on Your Collar" and "Secret Love". Then we need to put these oldies-but-goodies in context with a story, but not much of one. A prom, we'll set it at a prom, where a girl group can sing the songs. And these four? One's a slut, one's a butch, one's a nerd, one's a dope. The butch and the slut have the same boyfriend and hate each other. The nerd's in love with her music teacher, and the dopey blond loves a greaser. That's enough plot, except there's Act II. All right, we can do it. Remember, no thinking. Got it! Act II takes place ten years later at the high school reunion. How brilliant is that? (Well, it's expedient, anyway.) Keep it simple. The slut and the butch still hate each other, the nerd's about to marry her teacher and the dumb blond is pregnant with marital problems. Nothing else has changed. Quickly wrap up any loose ends in a song, with everybody best friends at the end. And there you have it: an instantly forgettable new musical fit for Sunday matinees. Stage all this with utmost professionalism in lighting, dance moves and over-the-top prom dresses (although, the'60s mod minis in Act II are extremely unflattering on all concerned). Finally, cast four likable singing actresses who can put this tripe over with ease (Rachael Logue, Chelsea McCurdy, Christina Stroup and Holland Vavra Peters). Voilà! It's a musical that will run through summer, delight the nostalgia buffs and break all box-office records. Aren't you proud? Through October 17. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0220. — DLG

St. Nicholas Vampires have gotten pretty lame. Even when they show up in live theater, as they do in Conor McPherson's 1997 St. Nicholas, now running at the Alley Theatre, they aren't much to say boo at. McPherson is most famous for The Weir, a lovely Olivier Award-winning script about a group of Irish neighbors who sit around telling stories as they get soused in a pub one melancholy eve. St. Nicholas is also about the art of storytelling, but here there's only a single character, and he takes center stage to spin his yarns straight out to the audience. Like The Weir, this play also concerns drinking and the loneliness of the human condition, but here McPherson has layered in a weirdly unscary tale about a vampire named William. In the first act, before the vampire shows up, the writing is powerful. Onto an almost naked stage strolls the only character, a nameless, angry theater critic, played with rich depth of feeling and voice by the Alley's James Black. The critic tells us that when he was writing about the theater, he was a "jealous" asshole who "rehashed columns." This is a sad, dark tale about a man who finds himself at middle life with absolutely nothing to show for it. And when McPherson sticks with this, he is surprisingly good, especially since he wrote it when he was in his twenties. But when the story turns to vampires, the fire goes out of the writing. The critic tells us how he learned that most of what we know about vampires is wrong — they aren't really all that bad. They live in the suburbs and throw fabulous parties. As far as the victims go, "nobody dies," and besides, the victims forget everything by morning. So vampires aren't that compelling as mythical creatures go. In the end, the only thing the vampire does for the critic is to give him something to live for. "Most important. Over everything else. I had a story," he tells us. But McPherson has a story before the vampire ever shows up. The dark nights of middle age are a lot scarier than bloodsuckers in the suburbs. Through August 8. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW


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