Capsule Stage Reviews: Large Animal Games, The Poets, Tell Me on a Sunday, Travelsty

Large Animal Games An upscale lingerie shop serves as a focal point in Steve Yockey's comedic play about — well, finding out what it's about is part of the fun, so let's just say it chronicles the needs, aspirations and foibles of semi-affluent would-be sophisticates in their thirties, give or take a few years. The proprietor, Jimmy (Ron Jones), has an "I'm smarter than you are" air of knowing something you don't, perhaps because he knows what the play is about. For me, it's like reading a book with vivid characters but with pages missing. Airhead shopaholic Alicia (Crystal O'Brien) is engaged to Stan (Bobby Haworth), who seems like the boy next door, except with more money. His attempt to increase intimacy by sharing a secret with Alicia backfires, though this is remedied by Jimmy, who dispenses wisdom. Lyndsay Sweeney portrays Rose, who has been to a bullfight in Spain and returned home with Miguel (Kalid Puentes), who seems to speak no English but exudes smoldering sexuality, so it's no surprise that he catches the eye of Rose's best friend, Nicole (Autumn Clack). Rose's roommate is Valerie (Brittny Bush), vacationing in Africa not to find roots but for a holiday. The intriguing, elegant set is by John Dunn. Director Matt Huff has done well in bringing this souffle to life, as has Mildred's Umbrella in continuing to bring the unusual to Houston stages. More of a lark than a play, it offers up some surprises and some vivid characters, and keeps you on your toes puzzling it out. Through July 14. Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring St., 832-463-0409. — JJT

The Poets In this play from E. Catter Productions, a young poet is rejected by his father and bullied at school by a classmate for not measuring up to their concept of masculinity. The boy in question, Santiago (Mark Bush), lives with his mother, Anita (Catlin Uhlig), who has a restraining order against her husband, Juan (Al Bauman), Santiago's father. Juan is alcoholic, given to rages and homophobic to the bone. Interestingly, Santiago is not gay, but his slender frame and soft manner persuade Juan and schoolmate Darryl (Alex Rubit) that he is. Pot-smoker Audrey (Ashlie Elyse Sustaita), a fellow poet, befriends Santiago, and the seeds of a relationship are planted, but after some especially high-octane bullying from Darryl, Santiago contemplates another suicide attempt, and here the play takes a surprising turn from kitchen-sink drama to magical realism. Tommy (Caleb White) enters and breathes some fire into the play; the character is poised, humorous and sprightly, and White is a consummate actor. Tommy has a lengthy, impassioned monologue in Act Two, delivered powerfully, and the play comes close to being about Tommy instead of about Santiago. The work has patches of brilliance, and playwright Ricky Catter has a keen ear for the phase that ends a scene or an act. He shapes his scenes well, usually keeping them brief and cinematic. The play as a whole is shaped less well, lapses into preaching on occasion and slides too easily into sentimentality, but it has a power and an authenticity that mark Catter as a playwright to be reckoned with. Director Stephanie Morris hasn't achieved ensemble acting, though there are some crisp, exciting scenes. This play is well worth seeing for White's performance alone. But be patient through the weaker moments. Through July 8. Frenetic Theatre, 5102 Navigation, 832-426-4264. — JJT

Tell Me on a Sunday This play from SRO Productions is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's lesser known works, and it's brought to vibrant life by Rachel Landon as the sole performer. The plot? Girl finds boy, girl loses boy — repeat as needed. It follows Emma, a British lass seeking her fortune in the States, and that future must include, naturally, love. The character, like Landon herself, is talented and attractive, with a classic oval face and a great stage presence. She's spunky, but she's no great judge of men. The story is told through the lyrics, which are by Don Black and Richard Maltby, and they convey the narrative while Webber's music and the performer supply emotion — Landon is more than up to the task. She has the expressiveness and range to carry us with her on her journey and to make us care. With a strong persona, she comes as across as nobody's fool — except, of course, in matters of the heart. Her voice can caress or damn as needed, and there is an undercurrent of reserved power that generates its own interest; her diction is impeccable. I was touched by "First Letter Home," because the lyrics were witty and because of Landon's interpretation. "An Unexpected Song" has some originality and an appealing freshness, as does "Come Back with the Same Look in Your Eyes." I loved the driving force and attitude of "Let Me Finish." The four-piece band is great. Landon directed as well, and she meets and conquers the challenge of a one-woman solo musical role. Her engaging, powerful performance breathes life into a soap-opera plot, and provides a fascinating evening of a rarely seen musical curiosity. Through July 7. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Dr., 713-300-2358. — JJT

Travelsty Two couples travel around the country, singing about various states or cities, and through the alchemy of talent and showmanship turn this slight material into a totally entertaining two hours of pure pleasure. The setting is cabaret, with the talented four-piece band G Sharp and the MBT 3, and refreshments are available. The concept is minor, but the skits that bridge the songs — all original writing — range from merely pleasant to absolutely hilarious. Three of the skits had punch lines that seemed to come out of the blue but paid off so well I was blown away. The gifted performers are Rebekah Dahl and Brad Scarborough, married in real life and founders of The Music Box Theater, and Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel, and after journeying cross-country with them, I'm calling them by their given names. All are attractive and work well together in harmony and in the choreography supporting the songs. Rebekah is tall and blond, Cay is medium height and dark, Luke looks like an American David Niven, and Brad has movie star looks but excels here as a comedic actor. He plays briefly several singers in a skit about Record #17 of Tony Bennett's Duets — it's fast-paced and huge fun. A recurring thread has them all in a car, Luke driving and Brad in the passenger seat, with the ladies behind. They also travel by rail and, hilariously, by plane. Videos accompany the opening and closing songs and add fun, but the show's triumph is the ensemble acting that creates a sense of friends off on a madcap odyssey. Four strong performers and a witty script weave familiar pop hits into a thoroughly pleasurable evening, a must-see for cabaret aficionados and for music lovers of any stripe. Through August 5. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — JJT


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