Gutenberg! The Musical! Pirate Queen, Dance of the Vampires and Kelly – these were rank bombs all, made legendary by their horridness. Billed as serious Broadway contenders, they should have been spoofs. Gutenberg! The Musical!, on the other hand, wants to be bad – and succeeds wildly. The little comic gem written by Anthony Brown and Scott King starts off at a backers' audition put on by the two incompetents, Doug and Bud, who have written the gaseous show. Lovable boobs with stars in their eyes, their idea of how to reach Broadway is a musical about "just the most important person in history," Johannes Gutenberg, 15th-century inventor of the printing press. Doug and Bud play all the parts — love interest Helvetica, anti-Semite flower girl, beef fat cutter and evil monk, as well as most of the scenery. "If you don't know the person next to you, he's probably a producer," they gush hopefully, proceeding to put on the lamest show you've ever seen. Brilliantly rendered by Josh Wright and Dylan Godwin, the duo has no shame and less talent; they'd better not quit their day jobs at Starbucks and the nursing home. Assisted at the piano by Steven Jones and smartly directed and choreographed by Linda Phenix, this little show that could is every big bad Broadway musical condensed into one little lump of — well according to their own deathless lyrics — feces. Through April 19. Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG
Sty of the Blind Pig Playwright Phillip Hayes Dean keeps us mesmerized with this intriguing, finely wrought comedy/drama, a New York Drama Desk winner from 1971. It's the story of controlling matriarch Weedy Warren (Deborah Oliver Artis); her spinster daughter Alberta (Cheray Dawn Josiah); her gambling, "whiskey head" son Doc (Wayne DeHart); and street singer Blind Jordan (Timothy Eric), who arrives at the doorstep of their south side Chicago apartment and changes their lives. The Warrens are on the verge of momentous social history but don't realize it. At the end of Act II, Weedy takes a church trip to Montgomery, Alabama, where she witnesses the famous "bus boycott" that will usher in the modern civil rights movement. She returns complaining about sore feet and all the young people who have let their hair go natural. Her generation can't grasp the significance of what's happening. Daughter Alberta's too introspective and vulnerable to see history right in front of her, but she is cleansed by Blind Jordan. In a tour de force monologue, she pours forth emotion as she relives the funeral of an unrequited love. Although Weedy isn't given as showy a set piece as Alberta's confessional, Artis keeps her character front and center at all times. Consummate pro Wayne DeHart is so at home onstage, it's impossible for him to give a bad performance; Doc, the lovable wastrel, is another of his distinguished, full-bodied portraits. And though it's difficult to play a symbol and make it real, Timothy Eric as Blind Jordan succeeds in giving this deus ex machina a sexy, mysterious presence. This play is a rare work of poetry and power. Through April 13. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — DLG
Gutenberg! The Musical!
Underneath the Lintel John Tyson's Librarian, in the Alley Theatre's lovely production of Glen Berger's one-man show Underneath the Lintel, is just the sort of city worker most of us never, ever want to meet. He lives for late fines. Imagine his excitement when he discovers a book left in the night-drop-box that's more than 100 years overdue! With a handful of clues that include an old laundry ticket left in the late book, he sets out on a weeklong trip to find the cheeky culprit who's dared to keep a book out for so long. What he ends up with is a life-changing journey that takes him far, far from home. This small play that's shaped into a speech given by the Librarian to inform the public of his journey deals with such large ideas as how to live a life that actually matters. And it is surprisingly rich, especially as rendered by Tyson with the help of director Alex Harvey. Tyson's Librarian shows us that passions run deep in the quietest souls. When he holds up the library date-stamper he wears on a cotton string around his neck and declares that the date of everyone's death can be found in the little device, the moment resonates with a profound truth. And Tyson so thoroughly inhabits this misanthrope with his slightly turned-in toes and his awkward attempts at jokes that the character and his quest move from funny to outrageous and finally to deeply moving. Designer Kevin Rigdon's bleak, bare stage, which looks a bit like an auditorium about to be torn down, underscores the frail hope found in this tender play that anyone who's looking for a little bit of meaning in this world should not miss. Through April 20. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW
Wit At first glance, Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play could be a downer of colossal proportions: not only does its leading character, Dr. Vivian Bearing, die from ovarian cancer, which we witness with horrid precision and clinical intimacy, but Professor Bearing is also the foremost authority on the 17th-century metaphysical poet John Donne — "death be not proud," "no man is an island" and other heady, religious thoughts — and throughout the play we are treated to snippets from her probing lectures and random thoughts on Donne's "Holy Sonnets." This has every intention of transforming into the most insufferable of dramas, like something meaningful and good for you from Public Broadcasting. But Edson performs the miraculous: harrowing as it ultimately is, she makes the act of dying entertaining and full of grace. Bearing's only passion in life is Donne; she has no lover, no family, no friends, and is fiercely proud of her immense intellect and cognitive skills. However, these will do her no good as she screams in pain from the treatments meant to cure her. Self-absorbed lovers of research and as dedicated as she to pure knowledge, her doctors dissect her malady with as much unemotional precision as she once used to parse the great Jacobean poet. Neither art nor science, Ms. Edson states with utter felicity and theatrical know-how in her dexterously intelligent and playful play, is of much comfort when one faces death. Everything boils down to a great essence: a kind word or a soothing deed. In Texas Rep's sublime rendition, Pamela Vogel, as Vivian, is show-stoppingly radiant: icy, Olympian, witty and, at the end, all too human as she heads into the light. Edson's play is equally redeeming and triumphant, and must not be missed. Through April 13. 14243 Steubner Airline. 281-583-7573. — DLG