Capsule Stage Reviews: Last Easter, Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood, Steel Magnolias, The Tamarie Cooper Show: Journey to the Center of My Brain (in 3-D)

Last Easter Bad English accents swirl through Bryony Lavery's confessional drama presented by Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company, but that's the least of the problems. Although the last half of the first act is set at Lourdes, the French town made famous by the sightings of St. Bernadette and the healing springs, playwright Lavery does not work any miracle with this play. This is a rather fey drama about four friends who have absolutely nothing in common, except that they're thrown together for dramatic purpose. The whole premise reads false from the get-go. Lighting designer June (Karen Schlag) is dying from cancer that is spreading and uncontrollable. She's very stiff-upper-lip about it and talks right to us about how she's feeling, which quickly drains the play of real conflict. Everybody gets little monologues throughout. All talk, no show. It's really annoying. Her friends are Gash (Dennis Draper), a performer of sorts, but who's the typical nelly queen found in better plays by Harvey Fierstein and Terrence McNally; Leah (Cynthia Williams), an American Jewish set designer, who's here mainly to rebut Christianity, I think, although I'm not really sure why; and Joy (Brandy Robichau), a boozy party girl whose zest for life is this play's only redeeming quality. There's not an original thought or emotion throughout, so we quickly lose interest in poor June's failing health and her comrades' attempts to lessen her tribulation or hasten her demise. Sadder still, we lost empathy with June hours ago. Through August 15. Gremillion Art Gallery, 2501 Sunset. 832-418-0585. — DLG

Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood Starring Todd Waite as the supremely clever Holmes, the Alley Theatre's Summer Chills show Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood moves from India to the famous Baker Street library, where Holmes does all his super-sleuthing, to a Victorian opium den as it tells what happens to three men who swear a blood oath over a treasure. Paul Giovanni's story based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a bit dated, but the cast finds a way to make the script work surprisingly well. Waite is both funny and deliciously smart as the investigator who always gets his man. And the rest of the cast provides pitch-perfect support. This may be the best summer chill in a decade. Through August 16. 615 Texas, 713-228-9341. — LW

Steel Magnolias Old-fashioned as it may be, Robert Harling's 1987 comedy-drama about a girl who suffers from complications from diabetes remains a very tender story that's as funny as it is sad. And when the actors are as uniformly strong as the ones getting their up-dos at Truvy's Beauty Parlor on the stage at A.D. Players, the story is likely to move even the most cynical in the audience. Directed by Lee Walker with care and grace, the cast moves through the emotional tale with steely care, lifting it out of the sticky sweetness of melodrama. Christy Watkins is a charming Truvy Jones, the kind of hairdresser we'd all love to have. She listens to problems and gives out sweet advice and big hugs. As M'Lynn Eatenton, Cyndi Scarr Crittenden is heartbreakingly strong, especially when her daughter Shelby (Abby Bergstrom) is in trouble. The funniest of the bunch are Jeannette Clift George as Ouiser Boudreaux, the curmudgeonly rich neighbor, and Patty Tuel Bailey as the acerbic Clairee Belcher; both are laugh-out-loud funny. Everyone knows the ending. Through August 30. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — LW


Last Easter

The Tamarie Cooper Show: Journey to the Center of My Brain (in 3-D) The latest installment of Miss Cooper's annual summer musical enchantment possesses all the comic elements we've come to expect from Houston's Botticelli comic. So why does it seem so flat? There have been at least a dozen versions of the franchise — the current production delves scientifically into her state of mind because of her pregnancy — but the surprise of it all is dampened. We expect goofy songs (more second-rate ones this time around), Monty Pythonesque humor, and political putdowns — and they're all in there — but it's not very different from previous shows. Granted, it's fairly funny, and no matter what she does, we laugh, because, let's face it, she's a damned funny lady. While she spends a great deal of this show sitting down, her face is never in repose, and that's what we want to see. Naturally, she has the incredible theatrical sense to surround herself with equally wacky colleagues, who take some of the weight of the show off her delicate condition, especially the inventively hilarious Kyle Sturdivant as Miss Cooper's battered, embittered Self-Control; the dead-pan drollery of Walt Zipprian as drugged-out Dopamine and dead-on Ann Coulter; the blissful Sen Patrick Judge as a never-ending Cat Stevens and a perfectly platitudinous Mr. Darcy; and over-the-top Jeremy Carlson as over-the-top Adrenalin. If you've never experienced Miss Cooper and her Catastrophic Theatre rogues gallery, by all means go and have a swell time. If you love her shows, you could care less what I say. Through August 29. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. — DLG


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