Capsule Stage Reviews: Girls Only — the Secret Comedy of Women, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Year in Review

Girls Only — the Secret Comedy of Women Two gifted female improv actors in Denver, Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, discovered a golden lode of material in their high-school diaries and mined it into scripted vignettes of what it's like to be young and female. The resulting comedy is having its regional premiere after extended runs in major U.S. cities. The set is a pink teenage bedroom, frilly without being fussy. As the audience is seated, on stage are two local female actors, Tracy Ahern and Keri Henson, dressed in bra and panties, who mime conversations and laughter. Both Ahern and Henson are excellent comediennes with great timing. They discuss diaries; valentines, including those returned; the first crush; breast-feeding; and other topics. This comedy is intended for a female audience, but this may be too restrictive — these are babes, good-looking, fit, with outgoing personalities and a great sense of humor. They're good sports, they tell jokes well and they like men. What male wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes in their company? I especially liked the skit about sex education, as the actors play counselors so inept that they never get to the subject. The overall tone never strays far from sweet and amusing, although there is a hint of anger in a video section on restrictions on public breast-feeding. The event ends with a hilarious ballet to music as the ladies struggle to don pantyhose. The comedy is directed by Luanne Nunes de Char; this is her seventh time directing the work, and her experience pays off brilliantly, with pace and exuberance. These vignettes will warm your heart while convulsing you with laughter. Extended through February 3. Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — JJT

Last of the Red Hot Lovers The title is ironic, as restaurateur Barney Cashman's experience is so limited that the sexual revolution not only passed him by, it never threw him a fleeting glance. Playwright Neil Simon has given us a central character without experience, without charm and without a sense of humor. Only a truly gifted actor could make this role interesting, and director Lisa Schofield has found him in the person of Bob Maddox. The play has three acts, hence three attempted seductions, the first with Elaine, a cut-to-the-chase attractive woman, played with great timing and finesse by Melissa J. Mayo. Maddox and Mayo make this one-joke section work, carrying the burden of slack writing on the shoulders of acting skills. Simon's capacity for inventiveness picks up with Act Two as we meet Bobbi, played by Kelly Walker with an endearing bubbling charm. Walker portrays a vivacious nonstop talker, an airhead and a pot smoker, and makes her every move interesting. In Act Three, Barney is suddenly and unexpectedly feisty, intent on having his way with a family friend, Jeanette, played by Vicky McCormick. Jeanette is so deep into therapy and depression that one prays the seduction never occurs, as it would have all the excitement of watching grass grow. Maddox captures the intensity of desperation, delivers lines with convincing sincerity and is a master at conveying emotions, whether in lines or in reaction. Lisa Schofield's direction keeps the pace brisk and the movements of the actors fluid, and she finds humor in scenes that are inherently sad. Even for those lukewarm to Neil Simon comedies, it's well worth a visit to see what made B'way happy for so long, and to see top actors plying their craft so well. Through Jan. 19, Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT

The Year in Review The Music Box Theater provides a reprise of 2012 musical events that fits in beautifully with a longing look backward and a joyful look ahead. The repertory cast consists of five stalwart singers — and a most excellent band that keeps the rhythm going and the pace energetic and fun — and their trademark is ensemble acting, working so well together, hand-in-glove, that they become an organic unity. They are having as much fun as the audience, and the result is a delightful, warmhearted and welcoming ambience. Brad Scarborough has movie-star good looks and can switch from a romantic ballad to a comedic falsetto, and he owns the stage when he's the lead singer. The same holds true for Rebekah Dahl, tall and blond, with a powerful presence and voice. Luke Wrobel has rich body language, verging on genius, in some of his numbers. My favorite among many was a song belted by Dahl as Scarborough and Wrobel did backup, so brilliantly and entertainingly, with compelling and hilarious "crazy hand" gestures, that they became front men instead. Wrobel was brilliant in a nonmusical skit about a Frenchman embittered because the capitalist Americans had won so many Olympic gold medals. Cay Taylor and Kristina Sullivan round out the cast, providing additional female charm and holding their own in a spotlight number. There is choreography, handled with the brim-snapping charm of professionals. The evening is a pastiche of songs, filled with excitement and drive, with an occasional slow song for a change of pace. Five exceptionally talented performers deliver an evening of song and dance that is exciting, pleasurable and even memorable, so good that the audience exits walking on air, as will you. Through January 12 at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — JJT

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