Capsule Stage Reviews: Little Shop of Horrors, Seven Guitars, Red Light Winter, Our Town,

Little Shop of Horrors Texas Repertory Theatre, the little theater that could, is showing that classic little show that could, Little Shop of Horrors. Nothing about this musical is ordinary. Have you ever seen a man-eating plant smile? Or watched it bop to a '60s tune while it tries to snap off a finger or two of the young man who holds it, nurtures it, feeds it with his own...blood? Well then, you'd better get to Texas Rep for your fix of the delicious little musical parody that ate NYC and practically every other theater venue in the last 27 years. Superbly crafted, amazingly clever and one hell of a good time, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 1982 work, adapted from Roger Corman's cheesy sci-fi flick from 1960, opened on Broadway without much hype or hope, and within days had ticket buyers lining up off-Broadway. The show ran for five years and kicked the writing duo into the waiting arms of Disney, for whom they penned Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and Aladdin, before Ashman's death in 1991. Little Shop is still their best work, and TRT lovingly produces it with all the theatrical know-how at its disposal. I don't think this show's ever looked, or sounded, so good. This is the way a musical's supposed to be: pepped up, slickly paced and gloriously acted, with all the little details thought out completely. Hats off to director Craig Miller, conductor Luke Kirkwood, actors Joshua Estrada, Blythe Kirkwood, Matthew Wade and Steven Fenley, and puppet creators Elliott Jordan, Joshua Clark and Daniel Roberts, who gave life to a really bad-ass blood sucker. Through October 31. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — DLG

Seven Guitars It's 1948, and the Pittsburgh Hill District is full of possibility for the fast-talking, fine-dining folks who populate August Wilson's gorgeously poetic Seven Guitars, now running on high octane at The Ensemble Theatre. The story about four men and three women who dance, dream and hope for the good life is American theater at its very best, and under the direction of Eileen J. Morris, the cast in the little theater on Main Street get down to the very marrow of Wilson's astounding tale. Shaped into a beautiful circle, the story starts at a funeral, and then flashes back over the course of events that led up to the dark day. Each character wants something. Floyd (Broderick "Brod J" Jones) wants to make music. And with his tune playing on the radio, it looks like he's on his way to fame and fortune, if only he can get enough dough together to get his guitar out of hock. "Quiet" Vera (Rachel Hemphill Dickson) wants Floyd, but he burned her once, leaving her for another woman. When he comes around to her doorstep, she's not sure she wants to trust him with her heart again. Sexy Ruby (Jordyn Lorenz) wants a father for her unborn child. And crazy Hadley (Wayne DeHart) wants to be somebody someday. There's also Louise (Bebe Wilson), Canewell (Timothy Eric) and Red Carter (Byron Jacquet), who round out this tight group of friends who preen and strut, showing off their guns and knives and foreshadowing the great danger to come as they tell their histories of heartache and struggle. These actors have entered into the lives of these characters with rare generosity and grace, and it all plays out on James V. Thomas's moody backyard set. This is the wondrous sort of theater that leaves you tingling when it's all over, amazed at the delicious power of a committed cast and crew paired with a truly great play. Through October 18. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — LW

Red Light Winter Horse Head Theatre, Houston's newest hot company, made a disturbing debut in our city's theatrical scene this past month with its production of Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter. The most unsettling part of the production is Rapp's bitter story, which is about two soulless men who travel to Amsterdam, meet a prostitute and sleep with her, before returning to their dreadful lives in New York City. Troy Schulze plays Matt, the "emerging" playwright, while Drake Simpson plays his freakishly cruel buddy Davis, who's become a newly successful book editor. These are smart, well-educated assholes who enjoy sparring over the literary accomplishments of writers such as Henry Miller and Raymond Carver. Their entire relationship revolves around a perpetual fight over who's got the larger intellectual penis. They both went to Brown, they both know Latin, and they both want to sleep with the same women. The homoerotic implications are actually stated out loud by Drake, who admits that one reason he couldn't get it up with the prostitute he brings back to their Amsterdam hotel room is that he knew his buddy Matt was going to sleep with her. The fact that he tries to in the first place says it all. There is a third character in this story — the prostitute, or "whore," as Drake so poetically puts it over and over. She identifies herself by several names, including Christine, Christina and Annie, and is played by the very lovely Amy Burn. This character is so underwritten that she becomes little more than a plastic blow up doll onto which these two men spew their pent-up rage about each other — this spewing involves both physical and verbal violence. And so, even though the direction, design and performances were actually quite good throughout, the story itself was so cruel, so banal and so frankly unoriginal, that the whole thing ended up leaving one wanting a good long hot shower and a stiff shot of forgetfulness. — LW


Houston Stage

Our Town Playwright Thornton Wilder was so far inside the closet that it should come as no surprise that the emotional wallop of his American classic play occurs when dead people converse from their graves. Like him, they're the ultimate outsiders, and they have his complete empathy. In Act III, young Emily dies in childbirth and joins the deceased townsfolk at the cemetery up on the hill — the dead sit on chairs and stare blankly straight at us. Impatient and wanting to explore the new insights that flood through her, Emily aches to return to the living. She is warned to forget, that it's not what she thinks it will be, but, as in life, she's insistent and curious. Granted a one-day visit back, Emily realizes her mistake almost instantly. The pain of seeing life slip away is too shattering — not only to Emily, but to us. Her searing cry, "They don't understand, do they?" can pierce through the toughest armor. The commonplace inhabits the universe with a kind majestic grandeur in this great play, which is so simple and ingeniously crafted, there's no other work like it. It's unique in its staging (bare walls, no sets, few props), with a timeless message about the wasted beauty of everyday existence, and it's too special to be imitated. Our Town is one of a kind, and the Alley Theatre plays it that way in a stirring rendering graciously directed by Gregory Boyd. This production will draw you into the minutiae of the mundane (the milkman delivering cream, neighbors snapping green beans, moonlight on a spring evening, wedding day jitters) and then break your heart with ineffable sadness. James Black, as the Stage Manager who leads us through the decades in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th century, is a rather edgy, chilly cicerone to warm up the universe, but Elizabeth Bunch, as Emily, and Jay Sullivan, as her soul mate and husband George, strike the emotive balance between specific and universal. They light the stars, as does the large, impressive cast. Who shines the brightest, though, is Wilder, even hiding inside that dark closet. Through November 1. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG


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