Capsule Stage Reviews: Five Guys Named Moe, The Hollow, Hunter Gatherers, The Mousetrap

Five Guys Named Moe The joint's jumpin' at Ensemble Theatre with this jukebox tribute to Louis Jordan, the musician acclaimed by such masters as Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and James Brown as the "father of rhythm and blues." Jordan was an influential bandleader in the '40s whose style and professionalism earned him the respect of peers and audiences alike. His music, certainly as evidenced by this loving show, is very Fats Waller — syncopated rhythms and catchy lyrics, with a smile. It's enjoyable just to hear songs that are mostly fresh to our ears. The show, with a book by Clarke Peters, is pretty simple. Hard-drinking, hard-living Nomax (TV star T.C. Carson) has lost his girl. He's in the dumps. Out of his radio appear five guys named Moe, who set him straight with a musical revue made out of songs by Jordan and others. Act I has the Moes teaching him life lessons ("Brother Beware," " I Like 'Em Fat Like That," "Safe, Sane, and Single"), and Act II is a cabaret act without any dramatic purpose, but wall-to-wall singing and dancing ("Saturday Night Fish Fry," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," "Choo Choo Boogie," "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby"). What pulls this revue together is the electrifying staging by director/choreographer Patdro Harris, who's worked his fleet-footed magic on many of Ensemble's most memorable musicals. The show doesn't falter because there isn't any time to — it never stops moving. And thanks to the ultra-talented cast, the singing and dancing is the best around town. Donald Collier (Little Moe), Chioke Coreathers (No Moe), Anthony Boggess-Glover (Eat Moe), Tommie Harper (Four-Eyed Moe) and Carlton Leake (Big Moe), who also doubles as musical arranger and director, make as fine a quintet as you're ever likely to hear and see. And Carson has a velvety voice that Mel Torme would kill for. It ain't deep, but it's a very cool blast for a very hot summer. Through July 25. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — DLG

The Hollow Dame Agatha Christie's English producers must have paid her by the word. This early stage work from 1951, based on a previous novel of the same name, takes forever to really get going. The novel originally starred her famous detective Hercule Poirot, but Christie had become so un-enamored of her Belgian sleuth that she wrote him out of her stage adaptation. It's a good thing, too, because it couldn't stand another character. This is one of those English manor mysteries that Christie delighted in, with upper-crust characters doing their damnedest to kill each other off, have affairs and drive the help bloody bonkers. The play has all that and a Hollywood star, too. She appears at the Angkatells' dinner party asking for a match, and before you know it, blowhard John Christow is dead in the parlor, and his wife Gerda is standing over him with a gun. He whispers "Henrietta" before he dies. Of course, everyone thinks drab Gerda shot him, but everyone has a motive. It's up to Inspector Colquhoun to sort it all out — isn't it? Something's still not right with this picture, but the guilty get punished — or poisoned, in this case — and the English empire sails into the horizon with a leaky bottom. In this production, the English accents come and go like a soundtrack fading in and out, but the preposterous action is redeemed by some jewel-like performances. In particular, Julie Oliver gives eccentricity a run for its money as dopey Lady Angkatell. Endearingly ditzy, with spot-on non sequiturs, she turns into the life of this macabre party. John Patterson, too, amazes with his neatly trimmed performance as the all-work, no-play Inspector. Did he come straight off the lot from Pinewood Studios? Diane Eshbacher keeps mousy Gerda right this side of hysterical, which is exactly where she should be. This is not Christie's best, but it's fun, and doesn't seem nearly as long as it really is. Through July 30. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

Hunter Gatherers Civilization is a ruse. Down in our guts, we're all just bloodthirsty animals. That's the truth devouring audiences of Catastrophic Theatre's remount of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's hilariously gory Hunter Gatherers. The four-character play Catastrophic first produced last year to critical raves is running this year at DiverseWorks. The show is violent fun, featuring a slaughtered lamb, sodomy and a strangling, among other violations of the flesh. Sleek urbanites Richard (Greg Dean) and Pam (recast this year with Shelley Calene-Black) plan to party all night with a couple they've known since high school. And when Wendy (Amy Bruce) and Tom (Troy Schulze) arrive, it's the start of an evening that will change everyone's life in the end. Wearing a tight miniskirt and high-heeled boots, Wendy rages that her husband Tom is sterile, screaming, "Every single sperm in his nuts is a retard." Richard pins Tom yet again in their yearly match of who's the strongest man, a game the mild-mannered Tom would just as soon do away with, unless they add "a written portion." All this is just in the early part of the evening. The violence seems to have nowhere to go, but Nachtrieb is not afraid to take his story to its grotesque end. Director Jason Nodler has a marvelous grasp of every comedic possibility in this script. Dean is perfectly cast as Richard — testosterone personified. Bruce is a wonderfully awful man-stealer. And Calene-Black is a pool of calm reserve in this storm of hedonism. But the real standout in this show is Schulze, whose razor-sharp comic timing amps up the volume of this entire production as soon as he finally gets onstage. Part of what makes this show so wonderful is the shock of where it dares to go. Second-­timers might not enjoy it as much as last year's production, just because they know what sort of whacked-out weirdness is coming next. But even without the surprises­, the show is good and nasty fun. Through July 17. ­DiverseWorks, 1117 East Fwy., 713-522-2723.— LW

The Mousetrap More than half a century since it first opened on a London stage, Agatha Christie's old warhorse of a thriller The Mousetrap is still good fun. In the lively, imaginative production Gregory Boyd has directed this summer at the Alley Theatre, the oddball characters are full of the sort of vivacious energy that makes live theater such a rich experience. Set in a country guesthouse just outside of London, the very British tale imagines what happens when all the occupants get snowed in. They soon discover there's a murderer among them! Everyone's a suspect, starting with Mollie and Giles Ralston (Elizabeth Bunch and Chris Hutchison), the charming newlyweds who own the manor. After all, the first thing they do is lie to each other. Then there's the eccentric lineup of guests. Here comes Christopher Wren (Todd Waite at his irrepressibly giddy best), an architect whose electric-blue pants and wild hair grate on the nerves of Mrs. Boyle (a perfectly pinched-lipped Anne Quackenbush), a mean old witch of a woman who harrumphs about the place in her sensible shoes, glove-testing the furniture for dust. Miss Casewell (Josie de Guzman) is a walking mystery who smokes cigarettes as she moves gloomily about the great room. Only Major Metcalf (James Belcher) seems halfway ordinary, and even he is inordinately taken with prowling through the cellar of the building. When Mr. Paravicini (John Tyson) arrives unexpectedly, things only get weirder — and funnier. He's a man wearing makeup, after all. Detective Sergeant Trotter (Jeffrey Bean) arrives to sleuth out the killer among them, but of course, he can't save every intended victim from the evil within the house. At least one character dies before the night is through. Doors creak; there's that nasty business about those abused children down the lane; and that terrible tune "Three Blind Mice" keeps playing somewhere in the house. And so it is, without a drop of blood or a glimpse of gore, the Grande Dame of Whodunits, along with some help from the clever folks at the Alley, share with audiences the simple joys of a tale wonderfully told. Through August 8. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421. — LW


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