Capsule Stage Reviews: July 31, 2014

Equus Equus, which won the 1975 Tony Award as Best Play, depicts a psychiatrist trying to find out why a 17-year-old boy blinded six horses. Matthew C. Logan brings a revival to the Frenetic Theatre, with Kevin Daugherty as psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who yearns for an imagined, idealistic golden era of ancient Greece. Daugherty brings a vibrant stage presence to the role, as well as a sense of humor, dry wit and irony, so his monologues spring trippingly from his tongue. Ed Theakston plays the 17-year-old Alan Strang, capturing his stubbornness and naiveté, and providing a variety of interesting moments and a touching vulnerability. The direction by Logan is excellent, and he did the brilliant lighting design, as well as creating ensemble acting. Mykle McCoslin is charming as Hesther Saloman, a magistrate who persuades Dysart to take on Alan as a patient. The parents of Alan, Dora and Frank, are played by Jody T. Morse and Rhett Martinez, and they are wonderful, finding the humanity in their strongly held though misguided views of the world. Natasha Marie Gualy plays Jill Mason, who introduces Alan to the stables, where he works weekends. She is convincing and very attractive. The actors playing the horses are Eddy Lindsey, James Glenister, Kaleb Babb and Eddie Edge, and they are all good in their pantomime. The pace is effective, and the staging carries us forward on the buoyant shoulders of Daugherty, who infuses the work with charisma, intellect and nurturing that permits us to see his love for Alan. The play ends with a tableau, a heart-breaking pietà, as Dysart cradles a broken Alan in his arms. Logan and this fine cast have seen the genius of playwright Peter Shaffer and brought this masterpiece safely to port. Through August 2. Second Life Productions, Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation, 1-866-967-1867, — JJT

Fallen Angels While not in the pantheon of classic Coward (Private Lives, Cavalcade, Design for Living, Present Laughter, Blithe Spirit and the films In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed and Brief Encounter), Fallen Angels is an utter lark of a sex comedy. Main Street Theater gives this romp the high gloss of Art Deco: stylish and stylized. The play gleams. Under director Claire Hart-Palumbo, who marshals her talented forces with the zing of a bracing martini, this cartoon farce is terrifically funny, constantly on the move and still rather shocking. Best girlfriends Julia (Crystal O'Brien in best comic form and looking period-lovely) and Jane (Lisa Villegas in Jean Harlow mode) are bored with their marriages. After five years, the passion has gone. They love their husbands, but there's got to be more. Can we blame them? Their husbands are fatuous and nonresponsive, and have more fun playing golf together than paying attention to their hot-to-trot wives. Fred (Bobby Haworth, super as a twit) and Willy (Dain Geist, insufferably stuffy) are clueless. Sporting a fine brush of a mustache, Haworth bears an uncanny resemblance to J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Years before their marriages, Julia and Jane each had affairs with Frenchman Maurice (Joel Sandel in perfectly smarmy Pepé Le Pew imitation oozes Continental charm like an oil slick). He's back in town and wants to see them. The girls are so giddy at the prospect, they practically swoon. With their husbands off on another golf outing, they make a pact to stay together and await the rendezvous. Julia drapes herself over the sofa, while Jane poses languidly against a column. They're ripe for picking. The waiting occurs in the second act; so does a lot of drinking and very little eating. The girls get blasted and secrets come out, as do the claws. Overseeing this farce is the classic sassy Coward maid who knows more than all of them put together (Elizabeth Marshall Black, who steals every scene with twinkling yet bulldozing aplomb). With a symmetry resembling Buckingham Palace, Coward structures his comedy with extraordinary technique, wit and surefire pace. Situations mirror each other, whether marriage, friendship or betrayal, so if one couple has trouble, so will the other couple soon enough. When Julia and Jane have an argument, rest assured that Fred and Willy will fight, too. Complications ensue like clockwork and always get the required hearty laugh. Coward juggles the nuts and bolts of playwriting with consummate flair, and the cast plays him with heigh-ho infectious glee. The production is tasty, enveloped in Eric L. Marsh's subtle lighting design and Claire A. Jac Jones's Deco-inspired set design. Margaret Crowley's costumes are aptly tweedy for the guys and diaphanous and silky for the gals. Julia's pajama pants are a singular Cowardly touch. But those wigs for the leading ladies?! They're appropriately styled for the period, but where'd they come from, Arne's? Sometimes an intimate theater space is just that, too intimate. Coward's deliciously prickly sex farce seems amazingly fresh even today. Julia and Jane eventually get what they want. If you think they're actually checking out Maurice's curtains as all three head upstairs, you've been watching the wrong marital comedy. Through August 10. 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706. — DLG

Festival of Originals Cause for joy, Theatre Southwest celebrates its 17th annual Festival of Originals. Produced by Southwest's artistic director, Mimi Holloway, this evening of world-premiere short plays is a must-see for theater junkies. Where else in Houston can you watch five new one-acts, each with its own distinct cast and direction? The idea is a crap shoot, for sure, since you never know exactly how these works, all unproduced and unseen, will play before an audience. Theatre Southwest's intimate stage space has been scrubbed clean for the festival. Stripped of color, it's been turned into a black box, which means no built pieces for the sets, only rudimentary props, just bare bones. This lets the plays shine without distraction. This, of course, also lays bare their more obvious faults. Steven Oberman's sci-fi psycho drama A Slip from Reality (two bodies, one person), is a watered-down Twilight Zone episode; Jeffrey Strausser's Peaks and Valleys, another country-fried diner comedy, has downtrodden waitresses who crack wise to persevere through their troubles. Raymond Fast's heavily symbolic The Train to Tranquility, a visible portrait of Asperger's syndrome, is gracefully acted by young actors Sydney Dunlop and Helen Rios, who portray the two sides: her physical self and her thoughts. The audience favorite is Steve Stewart's Last Ride of the Iron Angels, with four tough biker mamas of a certain age, dressed in skintight black leather, drinking like sailors and acting like 'em, too. The play's practically sure proof. Friends since high school, they obviously haven't seen each other in years, because once the beer and tequila are swilled, secrets pour out of them. Soap actress Alex (Sonia Kronberg) — her chopper jacket accessorized with pounds of bling — has been axed from her show and has lost all her money because of her shady business manager. Flight attendant Winnie (Suzanne King) is divorcing her wayward husband, who's drained the bank account and fled to Russia with his young mistress. Lesbian Wall Street wizard Liz (Jada August) is about to be prosecuted for massive bank fraud. Clueless Janie (Anne Boyd), the Republican of the group, treads water with her constant grieving over her dead husband. Todd the bartender (Sam Martinez) oversees the rowdy group. His is the hardest role, for he has to react to the confessions but say nothing. When he's paid to perform a lap dance for the girls, another set of secrets is revealed. From behind the bar, Martinez is this side of brilliant — and his lap dancing isn't bad, either. Janie's munificence settles all their problems, and they, like a younger Thelma and Louise quartet, vow to keep riding across country. The heck with it, swears Janie, let's live! The gals are a lively group, no question about it. Of the five plays, Steven Alan McGraw's Rougher Stuff is the most intriguing, with menace to spare. It's both hot and cold-blooded. Screwup nephew Joe (Jose Luis Rivera), in need of quick cash to run off to California and elude the police, attempts to rob his favorite uncle, Jim (Scott Holmes), a rich, powerful and corrupt attorney. Unbeknownst to hapless Joe, his uncle is on to him, as is Jim's hothead son Alex (Aaron Echegaray). Stuff has the feeling of Mamet and a lot of clever Hitchcock, for there's an overwhelming chill of dread just under the brittle, well-written surface. You know that universal theater precept: If there's a gun in the first scene, it had better go off in the last scene. Well, there is Joe's gun, but there's also Alex's baseball bat. One of Houston's best, Holmes is ideal as malevolent Uncle Jim, oily and smart, like an inverse Perry Mason; Rivera has pitiful loser Joe down pat; and Echegaray, so memorable as regal Oberon in Theatre Southwest's recent Shakespeare in Hollywood, steams and sputters with banked fury. Director David Hymel keeps the play bubbling on near-boil; the cast supplies the fire; McGraw fans the flames. We shiver and sweat. Through August 2. 8944-A Clarkcrest. 713-661-9505. — DLG

Les Misérables The Broadway production of Les Misérables had 6,680 performances and was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning eight, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Houston Family Arts Center has mounted a major production with a huge cast — 40 plus — that sizzles with professional polish and extraordinary talent. The music is enthralling; the book is compelling, with raw emotional power; the staging is electric; the costumes are intriguing; the lighting is exceptional; and the energy that cascades from the stage is dynamic. Based on Victor Hugo's acclaimed novel, Les Misérables is set in Paris from 1805 to 1830. The protagonist is Jean Valjean, an ex-convict pursued with intractable vigor by Inspector Javert. The opening "Work Song" alerts us to the fact that we are in the hands of a director of remarkable talent, Adam W. Delka. Eric Domuret plays Valjean, singing with power, resonance and a crystal-clear intelligence. Taylor Fisher as Javert sings beautifully, and delivers an inner authority. Jared Barnes as the revolutionary student Marius provides similar vocal strength and is excellent. Jennifer Stewart plays Fantine, mother of Cosette, revealing her vulnerability and desperation. Hannah Kipp as Cosette sings beautifully and provides poignance and beauty. Nicole Palmer as Eponine tugs at our heartstrings with skill and warmth. The corrupt married couple, the Thenardiers (Harry Robert Perrin and Lisa Borik), could not be better, transforming their roles into major triumphs. Through August 3. 10760 Grant Road, 281-685-6374, — JJT


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