Capsule Stage Reviews: Mr. Pim Passes By, Over the River and Through the Woods, Sister's Christmas Catechism, The Twelve Ways of Christmas

Mr. Pim Passes By Winnie the Pooh's dapper creator A. A. Milne wrote for grown-ups, too. His 1919 featherweight farce Mr. Pim Passes By is now skipping lightly over the boards at Main Street Theater. Love, marriage and the rules we live by all get a moment of amusing contemplation in this charming production, which starts when a pasty-faced, proper fellow named Carraway Pim (Fritz Dickmann) drops in on the Mardens' country house with a letter of introduction one lovely English day. Mr. Pim is a perfectly innocuous fellow — one who still manages, eventually, to cause plenty of trouble. George Marden (Rutherford Cravens) doesn't want his pretty young ward, his niece Dinah (Morgan McCarthy), to marry the young Brian Strange (Andrew Ruthven). The couple's only hope is to appeal to Olivia Marden (Carolyn Johnson), George's reasonable, handsome wife – a woman everyone, including George, adores. The real joy of this production happens when this married couple is together. There's a lovely, old-fashioned chemistry be­tween Craven's George and Johnson's Olivia, and the two look terrific together. Mr. Pim delivers the news that Olivia's ex-husband, the one everyone thought had died in Australia many years ago, is very much alive. Of course, if that's true, Olivia is actually a bigamist and George is living in sin. By-the-book George is horrified. Ah, but this is a farce, and things have a way of turning out so unexpectedly in a farce. With three acts and two intermissions, one would think the show would drag, but Milne has somehow made his turn-of-the-century world feel as refreshing as a walk through Hundred Acre Wood. Through December 23. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — LW

Over the River and Through the Woods Audiences will lap up Joe DiPietro's heartwarming family comedy like a big bowl of minestrone. Grandson Nick (L. Robert Westeen), who visits both sets of grandparents every week for Sunday dinner in Hoboken, New Jersey, is practically smothered in their loving embrace — and broiled alive in their stifling house. These older, first-generation immigrants know all about change, having lived through the tumult of arriving here so long ago. Yet Nicky's announcement that he's moving away to Oregon because of his job is seen as personal betrayal and abandonment. "For a job?" they seem to scream together at him. In the grand scheme of things, a job is so insignificant — it's not family! The wily folks devise their own plans to keep their unmarried grandson nearby, and how these schemes play out provides a great deal of the fun. The cast plays their stereotypical parts with spontaneity. They also actually seem to be part of the same family -— a tribute to their ensemble playing and director Anita Samson. Especially good are Westeen, with his puppy dog look, and Quint Bishop and Lauren Bigelow, as Nunzio and Emma Cristano, the louder set of grandparents, if that's possible. Your brain will go on autopilot with a visit to these meddling, adorable oldsters, but that's okay because your heart will get all toasty and warm instead. Through December 10. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

Sister's Christmas Catechism Sunday school is a whole lot of fun in Sister's Christmas Catechism. The one-woman show, now running at Stages Repertory Theatre, takes the audience through a catechism class unlike any other — we learn the story behind Santa Claus, the first nativity and a grilled cheese sandwich that held the image of Mother Mary and sold on eBay for $29,000. There's a whole lot of laughter stirred in to make the lesson go down easy — Sister (Amanda Hebert) is amusingly stern as she calls on members of the audience, who eagerly raise their hands. Good answers earn such lovely delights as a box of Christmas Peeps. The entire second act is devoted to a live nativity scene enacted by chosen audience members. Sister dresses each one up in a clever costume contrived of bed sheets and toilet covers, then tries to figure out what happened to the wise man's gift of gold. She assumes it was stolen, since nobody seems to have gotten very rich off all those fabulous first Christmas gifts. Every one left in the audience watches and hoots with laughter. Created by a team of writers that includes Maripat Donovan, the woman who wrote Late Nite Catechism, which ran at Stages throughout the summer and fall, this new incarnation follows that same strategy of audience participation and offers an amusing entry into the Christmas spirit. Hebert is warm and inviting. And it's surprisingly funny to watch middle-aged men dress up like donkeys. Through December 30. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — LW


Houston theater

The Twelve Ways of Christmas There's no dancing sugar plum, not even a Scrooge, in this family-friendly musical/Christmas celebration at Ensemble Theatre, but you won't miss these holiday icons — the joy and rambunctious high spirits on stage are too shiny and bright. Writer/composer Carlton Leake and director/choreographer Patdro Harris fill the stage with so much Christmas cheer, you'll think the punch bowl has been overly spiked. The season's divided into 12 segments (Family, Financial, Romantic, Military, et al.) with songs and skits. There's nothing new to be discovered inside each clever scene, given polish and pizzazz by James Thomas (set design), Tiffany Turner (costumes) and Kelly Babb (lighting), but everyone's having such a grand time, who cares? Leake's gifts are surprisingly versatile, and many of his tuneful numbers could become seasonal standards if heard often enough, especially "Meet Me under the Mistletoe" and "Christmas Comes from Within." What keeps the spirits on high, of course, is the septet of ultra-talented performers (and the trio of musicians) whose unflagging enthusiasm, good will and sheer joy embody the essence of the holiday. Any one of them — Keeona Gabriel, Raena White, Teacake Ferguson, Andrew Jackson, Anthony Glover, Scarlett Barnes or Vincent James — could be wrapped up and placed under the tree. Through December 30. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — DLG


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