Capsule Stage Reviews: Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners, Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood, Steel Magnolias

Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners Given anyone the middle-finger salute on the freeway recently? Bought coffee at Starbucks while chatting on your cell phone? Eaten dinner with your elbows on the table? Oh, you naughty, naughty Houstonians — Main Street Theater has a show for you. Indeed, Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners, a world-premiere family musical by Steve Garfinkel, featuring tunes by Trout Fishing in America, has a message for us all. Shaped like a radio show along the lines of A Prairie Home Companion, Garfinkel's story follows what happens one night both on and off the air of a radio broadcast program, also named Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners. Starring the diva-like Jillian Ledbetter (Shondra Marie), the show moves through several segments as it covers everything from the repercussions of being tardy to the history of table manners. Characters include "The Late Great Nate McTate" (Micah Stinson), who is so important to the show he's got a song named after him. "The Manners Police" stop an "audience member" who dares to chat on his phone during the show. And the history of table manners moves from the Renaissance (learn why we place a knife facing the eater!) to Victorian England. Under Mark Adams's direction, Ps and Qs works as the family show it's supposed to be. With a wink and a nod toward the grownups, the characters go about delighting the children in the audience. In the end we learn that, of course, the most important rule is the golden one. Following it will help make sure that your heart's in the right place, even if your elbows aren't. Through August 9. Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — LW

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. Under Gregory Boyd's sure-handed direction, everybody from the hysterical Justin Doran as Birdy Johnson, the creepiest butler going, to Chris Hutchison as Dr. Watson, Holmes's trusty sidekick, adds a layer of fun to this perfect seasonal confection. Surprising, funny and beautifully visual (designers Kevin Rigdon and Rui Rita seem to have kicked it up a notch or two for this year's summer show), 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, but this fine production makes the familiar ride worth it. Through August 30. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — LW


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