Capsule Stage Reviews: Gone Missing, I Do! I Do!, An Inspector Calls, OVO, Shards of Love

Gone Missing Experimental, yes, but still entertaining — talent will out. Gone Missing is based on actual interviews with real people, conducted by The Civilians, a journalistic acting troupe headquartered in New York City, and carved into theatrical shape by Steven Cosson, the group's founder. Theater LaB has mounted its own production of the work, with three stalwart men (John Dunn, Jamie Geiger and Brad Goertz) and three attractive women (Shelley Auer, Beth Lazarou and Lydia Meadows), all garbed in gray suits and shirts and sparkling with energy. The program is a series of episodic stories — sometimes a full anecdote, other times simply a snatch of a thought — about things "gone missing," ranging from a ring to a body part to a continent, freshened with enough songs to call it a musical. That it is both journalism and art is its blessing, but a mixed one; the anecdotes tend sometimes to trail off, as though the punch line itself has gone missing. (Like real life, I know.) The biggest laugh of the evening was nailed by Goertz, in a brilliant rendition of a dancer who has lost his cell phone, and, significantly, this story has both a surprise and a punch line. Dunn relates well an engrossing story about a very determined dog, and navigates the shoals of a Hispanic accent. Indeed, accents abound as the performers adopt a smorgasbord of different characters, and Geiger even a different gender. His solo song in German is a standout, and I enjoyed Goertz's quieter rendition of "Lost Horizon." Meadows brings sophistication, great beauty and superb comic timing to the party, and she makes even a prosaic thought seem profound. I admired Auer's capacity for portraying female strength and toughness without losing her warmth, and Lazarou's straightforward sincerity. The three ladies form a trio to sing with style the amusing "I Gave It Away." The saga of a lost Gucci pump is amusing, helped again by a surprise element. The script calls for both pathos and humor, adding irony by juxtaposing semi-related "losses," and the talented performers deliver as intended. The direction and choreography by Linda Phenix keep things moving briskly, and Mary Carol Warwick handles the musical direction. Music and lyrics are by Michael Friedman. I found the songs briefer than I would have liked, as though lingering is not allowed in a fast-paced program, but their brevity does fit the kaleidoscopic motif. Theater LaB has done well to produce an experimental, innovative work, yet one with enough elements of traditional theater to keep it well within the range of delightful entertainment. Through April 10. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — JT

I Do! I Do! Once your first musical, The Fantasticks, runs for 42 straight years — that would be an astounding 17,162 performances — making it the universe's longest-running musical, you are forever cursed. Rich, but cursed. You can never top it. Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (book and lyrics) followed their immensely popular smash with a modest hit, 110 Degrees in the Shade, and then went even smaller in this two-character study about marriage, adapted from Jan de Hartog's The Fourposter. They had the savvy to cast Broadway supernovas Robert Preston and Mary Martin, and the strength of the stars kept the production going for a respectable year-and-a-half run. The show itself is fairly feeble, with undistinguished music, pat situations and a big fat slap in the audience's face right in the middle of Act I, when husband Michael suddenly announces he's having an affair. The affair's not the problem — it's just so dramatically sloppy and unmotivated. Once announced, we lose sympathy for Michael for the rest of the show, which still has a long way to go. It seems all wrong, and even Steven Fenley, one of Houston's most natural and sympathetic performers, can't get the character back into our good graces again. Wife Agnes (Shondra Marie), following a dreadful hoochie-koochie number, "Flaming Agnes," forgives him after a fashion, but we don't believe it. The show keeps lurching from one low point to another: through childbirth, hubby's inattention, wife's list of irritating habits, their son's staying out late (oh, my!) and other quite boring occurrences of married life. There's nothing unique about the material, nor is it uniquely dramatized by its music and lyrics. Under Rachel Mattox's lively direction, which cleverly camouflages the show's lack of quality, Fenley and Marie work overtime to charm us, but, sorry to say, it's a losing battle. Through April 10. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573. — DLG

An Inspector Calls Don't expect fireworks. But for the patient, a highly satisfactory evening can be passed watching J.B. Priestley's drawing room drama An Inspector Calls, here set in a formal dining room. The plot is a series of revelations revolving around the closely knit, though quarrelsome, Birling family. The plot is thin to the point of being nonexistent, but things pick up, after a slow beginning filled with exposition, when a police inspector arrives to ask questions regarding a young woman who had committed suicide nearby. The good news is that the director, Jeannette Clift George, has created a smoothly functioning ensemble of actors, with a real sense of family, a feeling that these people live with and know each other all too well. I wish Lee Walker were a bit more authoritative as Arthur Birling, patriarch and captain of industry, but he is effective, and I especially admired Sarah Cooksey as the matriarch and Abby Bergstrom as the Birling daughter, whose blunt, dry observations generate appropriate laughs in Act Two. Jason Hatcher rounds out the family as the errant son, in a largely thankless role, since he has little to do in Act One except to drink too much port, look sullen and interrupt. Soon to join the family, by wedding the daughter, and displaying the smugness and hypocrisy of the English moneyed class, is Gerald Croft, played by Chip Simmons. The outsider is Inspector Goole, and Marty Blair makes his taciturn questioning and shift of tone credible. We can see why the Birling family would tell him, well, far too much. The audience anticipates some of the more predictable events, but the ending brings a few twists and surprises that pay off well. There is a curious out-of-character speech Inspector Goole is compelled to deliver before he exits, in which a socially conscious message is awkwardly shoehorned in — no one will ever accuse Priestley of subtlety. Through April 3, A.D. Players Theater, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — JT

OVO Part traveling circus, part arena spectacle, 100 percent experience. Under the canopy of the Grand Chapiteau, Cirque Du Soleil's newest touring show is in full bloom. OVO, which translates as "egg" in Portuguese, plunges into the wild world of the insect. Butterflies, ants, spiders and fireflies are just a few of the creepy crawlers that populate this flourishing microcosm. Featuring a variety of electrifying acrobatic, juggling and flying numbers, OVO also has a particularly nice emphasis on dance. Small choreographic numbers spring up between the main acts, often unifying different characters in the diverse insect world. While three clowns — Flipo, the Lady Bug and the Foreigner (Joseph Collard, Michelle Matlock and François-Guillaume) — provide lighthearted high jinks, they are the least interesting characters in the show. The feet-juggling Ants provide the most charming act of the first half of OVO. The six Ants tumble large barrels made to look like kiwis, mushrooms and corn with their feet, effortlessly tossing the food among themselves as they change formation. In Act Two, a Spider (Li Wei) literally defies gravity as he performs on a slackwire. He walks on his hands, somersaults and cartwheels on the tightrope — and this is just to warm up! This agile Spider balances on one hand as the wire is lifted upward of 30 feet above the stage, topping that by riding a unicycle across the wire upside down. Clearly no expense is spared on this production. The ever-changing scenery and complex costuming are Cirque Du Soleil signatures. OVO is an astonishing showcase of superhuman feats of strength, balance and contortion. Through March 27. Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 N. Sam Houston Pkwy., 800-450-1480. — RT

Shards of Love Shards of Love, eight short plays by Paulette MacDougal, illustrates how a playwright with imagination and heart, a talented cast and a dedicated theater can remind us that humor, love and understanding are not in short supply, at least in mature relationships. Seldom have the benefits of age been better illustrated than in these charming, insightful vignettes, in their Houston premiere at Theatre Suburbia. Each features a couple with a problem, with the program moving in chronological order from characters in their twenties to their nineties. The "20's" shows us a stridently mismatched bride and groom in a private talk just before the vows are to be taken. There are several amusing surprises, though the bride shouting her lines is an irritant. The "30's" involves a vegetarian's conflict with hunting, and the "40's" introduces us to a couple married for 15 years, who have found both the perfect house and a major gap in their ability to communicate. The "50's" features a body-conscious woman and her patient husband, played by John Wright with an engaging, wry wistfulness. The evening gets into high gear in the "60's," with Susan O'Connor as an endearing, spunky blond widow getting ready to enjoy some traveling; she's visited by the ghost of her solicitous husband, played by Michael Steinbach with charm and style. We see here a love that can survive the grave, yet without a trace of sentimentality. The "70's" charts a loving, longtime couple with a shared secret. The "80's" wins our hearts, with Jack Dunlop giving an admirable performance as a persistent swain, despite his age, in pursuit of a new acquaintance, portrayed with sensitivity and grace by Marylynn Coryell. And the "90's" gives us a couple who want to prove to a son that they can take care of themselves outside a nursing home. Kenn Cullinane is the husband, Bobbie Giachini the wife, and their talented performances are authentic and arresting. Their movements were so well-staged that credit must be shared with the director of this portion of the evening, Lee Raymond, who also directed the highly effective "60's" play. Kudos as well to Rebecca Pipas Seabrook, who directed the "50's" and "80's" plays, bringing the playwright's vision to vibrant life. Both are here making their directorial debut, which bodes well for Houston theater. Do yourself a favor and go see Shards of Love — you will love it. Through March 26. 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — JT


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