Capsule Stage Reviews: Miss Julie, Getting Sara Married, The Glass Menagerie, Life Could Be a Dream, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure
Miss Julie August Strindberg's ground-breaking psychological drama, originally set in Sweden in 1874, is transferred to New Orleans in the '20s, as the valet engaged to the cook beds the lady of the house, leading to complications most dire. The setting is the large kitchen to a mansion, and the cook Christine is played by the excellent Michelle Ogletree, who creates a credible characterization of a devout churchgoer with common sense. David Matranga plays Jean, the valet, and provides the requisite good looks and a tall, imposing presence. Miss Julie herself is portrayed by Jennifer Dean, who enters in a flapper dress and dazzles us with an exciting, vibrant characterization, floated with enthusiasm, coquettish charm and a teasing sense of command — she is wonderful, but she's soon torpedoed by the script, which requires her to become morose and hysterical. Julia Traber directed, and obtained vivid characterizations from talented actors. The change to New Orleans in the '20s doesn't work, as the plot requires a closed society, which New Orleans in the Jazz Age is not. What's missing is the sexual chemistry between Jean and Julie. They quarrel, they bicker, they discuss, they change their minds and quarrel again; this might be palatable if we sensed they were caught in the powerful web of sexual attraction. Without it we have a depressing drama, a quasi-tragedy, with too much exposition, and too many themes. Strindberg sensed the dark vortex of the human soul, but The Classical Theatre Company hasn't found a way to present the heart as well as the text of Miss Julie. Excellent acting goes a long way to make interesting a dated drama with an exciting opening, but one which buries itself in a dead end. Through October 14. Studio 101, 1824 Spring St., 713-963-9665. — JJT
Getting Sara Married It's no surprise Sara has TV written all over it — playwright Sam Bobrick is a former master craftsman of the family comedy. He's had his hand in The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, Get Smart and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, among many other classic shows, so he knows all about the technique for writing comedy. The basic hook is whimsy itself. Workaholic Sara (Sarah Jean Bircher), a lawyer in Manhattan, insists she doesn't have time for romance, doesn't want romance, doesn't "need" romance. Her yenta Aunt Martha (Jan Searson McSwain) has other ideas, and, before you can say "old maid," has taken matters into her own hands and dropped off a potential suitor — literally. Knocked unconscious, Brandon (Ozzy Tirmizi) is wheeled in on a freight dolly by teamster Noogie (Ainsley Furgason) and dropped at Sara's feet. Emerging from his amnesiac haze, Brandon comically reveals he has a fiancée (Sabrina Rosales). Cut to his moony eyes and then Sara's surprised face. Go to commercial. We're in sitcom land with a vengeance, where this type of genre demands finesse and a deftness of playing that belies the gravity-less situations. Although she's an attractive performer, Bircher's tone is off. She gives Sara a lot more brittle edges than the character needs. If you let these paper-thin people start to think and have real feelings, you'll collapse their house of cards. Tirmizi fares better, with a sweet, lighthearted approach to Brandon, probably due to those multiple knocks on the head from Noogie. He's young and reedy, barely filling out the three-piece suit, but he's light without being lightweight. When he warms to Sara, there's that glint in his eye. Wacky sitcom sidekicks were invented to give comic relief, and Bobrick invents two good ones in Aunt Martha and Noogie. When McSwain and Furgason are onstage, the play feels right. Martha's an airhead with a heart of gold who kidnaps Brandon for the purest of reasons. McSwain lands her punch lines with a pro's swagger, delivering the gems by the bagful. Furgason barrels in like a Bronx Yosemite Sam, one of those countless delivery men or telephone repairmen made famous by Neil Simon. You know, the guys who have the timing down to the second and the quip even faster. After a while, you start thinking: What if Aunt Martha and Noogie got together? What a play that would be! Through October 13. Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — DLG
The Glass Menagerie The Glass Menagerie was Tennessee Williams's first successful play, opening on B'way in 1945, and winning the New York Drama Critics Award as Best New Play. Amanda Wingfield grew up with Southern gentry, but married a man who swept her off her feet and abandoned her with two children, Tom and Laura, adults when the play opens. Nora Hahn plays Amanda, and captures her deep sense of betrayal, having fallen from the grace of debutante balls to a lower-middle-class apartment in St. Louis. Amanda is overprotective, not seeing that her constant attempts to correct and "improve" her children end up as nagging. Tom, played by Roy Hamlin, is an embryonic poet working in a shoe warehouse, and Laura, who is lame, is painfully shy — she is portrayed by Jacque Dowell. The work is directed by veteran Elaine Edstrom, who has brilliantly created the sense of family crucial to the drama's success. Edstrom found the rich humor in the play, provided chiefly by Hamlin, whose performance is virtually flawless. The action of the play is simple — the central event is Tom bringing home a friend from work, Jim O'Connor, portrayed by Patrick Barton with a rhythm and grace that work beautifully. Jacque Dowell captures the innocence of Laura, and is effective in her climactic scene with Jim, but the spark that moves O'Connor to admiration glows but dimly. Nora Hahn gives us a compelling Amanda, but her Southern charm might play better as authentic, not fake. Presenting Tom's memory monologues on film weakens their poetic power. An interesting production revives a classic with most of its magic intact, an exceptional cast captures the rich humor and strong performances make this a must-see event. Through October 14. Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Rd., 281-685-6374. — JJT
Life Could Be a Dream Another jukebox musical — the time is the '60s and the music is doo-wop — delivers nostalgia, charm and warm good feelings, but this time with a plot as well. The setting is a basement rec room where the slacker kids hang out, and, yes, "Get a Job" is amusingly staged, with the unseen mother chiming in on an intercom system. Denny (Adam Gibbs) is leader of the singing group, and he's the one with some show-business polish. Eugene (Mark Ivy) is a stereotypical nerd, and friend Wally (Dylan Godwin) drops in and joins the Denny and the Dreamers group; his trademark signature is enthusiasm. The group expands to include Skip (Cameron Bautsch), a mechanic from the wrong part of town; his trademark is to look hunky, which doesn't go unnoticed by Lois (Rebekah Stevens), whose uptight dad is a snob. The suspense is whether the group can get its act together to win a local contest being held the coming Saturday. Director and choreographer Mitchell Greco keeps the pace clipping along, and the voices are pleasant enough to carry the 20-plus songs, such as "A Sunday Kind of Love" and "Unchained Melody." Godwin has the greatest range, most intelligent rendition and impeccable phrasing. There are a lot of physical comedy and broad reactions, and these are appropriate and work well. The finale has a Chorus Line moment that lets us escape the basement and the irritating mother on the intercom. All this is created by Roger Bean, who wrote the long-running hit The Marvelous Wonderettes. This musical, intended for light summer fare, delivers on its promise, providing humor and nostalgia and letting us again relive the tuneful melodies of the '60s. Through October 14. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — JJT
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure Steven Dietz's 2006 "adaptation" of William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle's 1899 play is rather false advertising, as it's technically a rewrite of two Holmes adventure stories, A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem, with some of the old play's dialogue used as spackle to join the two stories together, which doesn't do much justice to the original. There's a tantalizing hint of steampunk gothic in the setting by Mark A. Lewis with brickwork at the back and up the sides, wooden scaffolding and metal Erector-set pylons , but that doesn't last long, for the atmosphere is quickly dispelled by rudimentary lighting that washes over Holmes's bleak London-like fluorescence. Lit up, even the subterranean gasworks are as bright and cheery as a diner. This doesn't help the antique sheen, although Donna Southern Schmidt supplies sumptuous period costumes. In a whirligig plot afoot with whiz-bang action and Holmesean dialogue, Holmes (Chip Simmons) and his "one fixed point," his dearest friend Dr. Watson (Blake Weir), are off on near-death adventures that include multiple disguises, a damsel in distress (Katherine Hatcher), a scoundrel (Marty Blair), blackmail, ransom, abduction, possible asphyxiation, a Cockney safecracker (Brad Zimmerman), the future King of Bohemia (Craig Griffin), sleuthing of the highest kind and shady parlor maids (Leslie Reese), all ending in a final, thunderous confrontation with evil Professor Moriarty (Jeff McMorrough) atop Switzerland's treacherous Reichenbach Falls. Fortunately, the ensemble cast plays the hell out of it, staying one step away from the precipice. They keep a knife-edge distance between parody and reverence, never actually winking at us, although we know they dearly want to. Simmons plays Holmes like an effete cat with a catnip dash of Noël Coward as he springs about with deft tread or suddenly turns to pounce on a point well made. He's odd, like some alien dropped into polite society, which in fact he is, as he unleashes his unworldly powers of observation and deduction. He's perfectly matched with Weir as a handsome, debonair Dr. Watson, who's always one step behind. Although the new play creaks, the crack ensemble cast keeps it well oiled. Through October 14. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama. 713-526-2721. — DLG
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