Capsule Stage Reviews: The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead, Death, the Musical, Romeo and Juliet, A Texas Romance, Wait Until Dark

The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead This theater curiosity is a hybrid — part point-of-view drama, part acting exercise — recording the aftermath of a husband walking out, with seven characters played by a single actor. Rhonda has been married for almost two decades, apparently a conventional woman to be found in many a suburban development, when to her astonishment her husband walks out. Her reaction is unexpectedly violent and leads to a chain of events, like ripples in a pond, that spread and create chaos in the lives of others. A gifted actor, Susan O. Koozin, plays all the roles and displays an admirable versatility, though some of the acting requirements present insurmountable problems. The main role is that of Rhonda (The Redhead), seen as she digests the news of being abandoned, and again a decade later, in a poignant finale. Koozin captures her, but Rhonda is humorless, apparently deeply naive as to human nature, and a bit boring. Her violent reaction seems inexplicable, even more so when we meet the husband in Act Two, who turns out to be such a loser-lout that Rhonda might better have knelt to give thanks for his departure. Koozin does get down on her hands and knees in one vignette, not to pray, but to portray a four-year old boy — observing a mature woman under a table playing with toys is a sight I hope never to witness again. Koozin's skills come into sharp focus when the writing is crisp, as it is in the vignette with an inquisitive neighbor (The Brunette), and I enjoyed this enormously, as it is filled with humor, irony, denial and even a twist. And I loved Koozin as The Blonde, all shiny and desirable and self-assured. As the husband, Koozin gives it a valiant try, but she is no drag king, though vivid writing makes this passage interesting. As a female doctor, Koozin is credible, though little range is demanded here. And Koozin fails to hit the mark playing a senior female with a walker, appearing far too young. There are six extensive costume changes, seen usually through a transparent curtain and accompanied by music, often lugubrious, and these are tedium itself, stopping the play dead in its tracks. It occurred to me early on, and regretfully, that the play would have had several times the impact, and twice the pace, if each part had been played by a different actor. The audience, apparently more receptive than I to acting exercises, provided a standing ovation. The play is by Robert Hewitt, and Stages artistic director Kenn McLaughlin directed the evening. In this ambitious effort, a gifted actor essays a variety of characters, with mixed success. Through October 30. Stages Repertory, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — JJT

Death, the Musical If, by any chance, the title of this world-premiere revue doesn't give away this show's theme, perhaps the white coffin propped up stage left or pianist/musical director Steven Jones dressed in iconic medieval cowl should give you a hint. Just in time for Halloween, this four-performer musical from Thunderclap Productions takes the hoary old subject of death, kicks it around in 34 scenes and 14 songs without much humor or finesse, and pretty well keeps it where it finds it – hoary. The revue uses blackout sketches and much better songs in its comic examination of all things related: morticians ("Necrophilia"), the electric chair ("Sizzlin' Sally"), serial murderers ("Black Widow Bitch"), taxidermy, suicide. Even the despised Transportation Security Administration gets a deservedly funny skewering, as a passenger's tweezers become the trick ending and another passenger's coup de grace. Most of the skits are in questionable taste, but the worst fault isn't the show's flaunting of its anti-PC correctness, but the sketchiness of the sketches. Most have no perceivable ending – they just stop and the lights go off, or we're not sure what the point of the sketch is supposed to be. Take "Douche," for example. Two employees stand at the coffin of their hated boss. You can tell they despise him because they shout "douche" at the body. But one of the guys has an idea. He'll give his boss from hell the ultimate send-off, he'll pee in the coffin. Only he can't. Lights out. It's not all deathly pallor at Ovations, thanks to the lively quartet who put over this canned material as if it were the best of Neil Simon. H.R. Bradford, Ashley Maack, Erin Roche and especially Kregg Dailey (always a friend to any musical) give their all in a desperate attempt to resuscitate this dead body. At least the music has a heartbeat. Although there are seven composers, the tunes seem of one piece. All of them, even the weakest, have more charm than the skits that surround them. "Lullaby," by composer Aaron Alon, sung by concerned mom Roche to baby Dailey, tells the tyke not to be afraid of the dark, but afraid of the day, because that's when bad things really happen. Equally ironic and deeply chilling, that song has all the power that's mostly missing from the show. Without much sting in the material, the attractive foursome, under sprightly direction from Jimmy Phillips, keeps the show alive with some savvy showbiz CPR, but ultimately, as all things must, the show flatlines. Through October 31. Ovations, 2536-B Times Blvd., 281-954-4399. – DLG

Romeo and Juliet To open its 12th season, UpStage Theatre makes its first foray into the thicket of Shakespeare with this ambitious production. Anna Yost as Juliet looks beautiful and virginal, and her looks and poses are sufficient to evoke some sympathy for the heroine's plight. But her voice is high, approaching shrill, and her usual expression is one of petulance. We fail to see the luminous spark of young love. Young Romeo is played by 14-year-old Jacob Allen, who is handsome enough, and stalwart enough, to carry off the role, if that were all it required. But he strolls through the role without passion or fire, and delivers his lines flatly, without much reference to their meaning. The result is that there is a hole at the center of the play where there should be a heart. Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers is fortunately blessed with major roles other than those in the title, and director Sean K. Thompson has cast many of these well. In the major supporting role of Nurse, Jackie Lovell is wise, humorous and caring, and provides a powerful anchor to Shakespeare's genius. So does John J. Zipay, who creates a wholly human and interesting Friar Laurence, a key adviser to the lovers, who marries and plots with them. Brian Heaton brings rollicking humor and exuberant, gifted body language to Mercutio, creating a vivid, memorable character. Equally memorable, but for the wrong reasons, is Mack Hays as Lord Capulet, apparently under the impression that the play is about him. His extravagant gestures and overly broad theatricality might better suit a vaudeville turn. Tyrrell Woolbert as Lady Capulet is restrained and elegant, and gives an interesting, nuanced performance. Joseph Moore as Prince Escalus finds the authority in his voice and commanding mien, though he might be less stilted. Joshua A. Costea does very well as an apothecary, making the most of a bit part through gait, manner and timing. Lenvi Tennessee as Tybalt has a strong stage presence, perhaps too strong for ensemble acting. The simple set serves quite well, some costumes are opulent and the direction in general is competent. But the rhythm of Shakespeare comes and goes, and one of the great love stories of all time is portrayed with words but no passion. However, strong performances in important supporting roles provide a taste of the brilliance of the Bard and his mastery of human relationships. Through October 22. UpStage Theatre at Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-838-7191. — JJT

A Texas Romance A youngish widow is courted by a shy younger man, to her older sister's disapproval, in this sweet romance set in a small Texas town. The world of rural Texas is created onstage in a simple but compelling set designed by Judy Reeves, who also directed the play, and an adroit painting of the floor to resemble a sandy yard brings cheerful life to the play. Donna Dixon plays Daisy Wilson, abruptly widowed after 12 years of a less-than-ideal marriage. A year of widowhood has left her with a longing in her loins. Enter Garland Steinholden, portrayed by Jeffrey Dorman, shy but with his own brand of determination — dedication to the church, to the sanctity of marriage and to Daisy, whom he's admired from afar. His inexperience with women is monumental and not about to change soon, since he doesn't believe in premarital relations. Lee Raymond rounds out the cast as the older sister of Daisy, Doris Perdue, whose husband is away being treated for an illness. Daisy is a strong-minded woman intent on having her own way in no uncertain terms – her grilling of Garland on their first meeting is rigorous and unrelenting and actually very funny. The action here is largely verbal and the pace leisurely, but what the play lacks in drama and ambition is made up for by its sweetness and its charming portrayal of naivete. The work reaches for drama in a metaphorical scene in Act Two involving rocks and a table, a moment that is difficult to imagine working, so its near-miss here may be as good as it gets. Dorman creates an authentic, credible individual, his connection with the other characters is vivid, and even some of his pantomimed hesitation has elements of interest and rich humor. Dixon finds the strength in Daisy, but much of her delivery strikes the same note, regardless of content; still, her portrayal of a forthright woman captures a novel individual. The part of Doris is underwritten, so she has little to do except chide her sister. Except for Dorman, the actors lack spontaneity, and this fault falls in the director's bailiwick, as I've seen Dixon provide it in spades in another production. Yet the director has successfully shaped an unusual love story, and she and playwright Ellsworth Schave permit us to visit a world where character survives in the midst of doubt and cynicism, and for that we are grateful. This rare low-key romance allows time for sweetness and character to emerge, and nuggets of its rich humor enliven life in a rural setting in Texas. Through October 15. Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — JJT

Wait Until Dark As a follow-up to his ultra-successful suspense tale Dial M for Murder (filmed in 3-D by Hitchcock in 1954), Frederick Knott upped the ante by making his leading character blind. During the final scene, when housewife Susy is menaced by sadist Roat, trying to get his grubby hands on a doll filled with heroin, all the lights go out onstage. Susy has leveled the playing field. Until that point, which is presented by Texas Repertory Theatre with chilling precision, the play's fairly leaden with top-heavy exposition and some plot mechanics that don't creak so much as scream. Susy's got to be the most resourceful heroine since Scarlett O'Hara saved her beloved Tara from those nasty Yankees. Once she realizes that the dutiful policeman and the former marine buddy of her husband are not who they say they are, and that the old man who just barged in happens to wear the same shoes as his son who came to talk to her earlier, her suspicions go into overdrive. She concocts an elaborate plot, too, just like the meanies. The fun of this thriller is finding out if she can outfox the foxes. An innocent in peril is the epitome of suspense, and TRT delivers the chills with gusto. It helps to have some fine actors deliver Knott's knotty lines with conviction. Watch old pro Steven Fenley (TRT's artistic director), playing a recently released petty criminal who's eating a sandwich, and you'll see an entire seminar in acting as he turns throwaway action into the stuff of character development. Ross Bautsch, as evil Roat, has real menace in him as he baits poor Susy. He makes a glorious villain. And Lauren Dolk, as Susy, radiates convincing innocence and, later, compelling resourcefulness in her battles. She's fierce and comely. The rest of the cast is ably played by Keiana Kreitz (bratty Gloria), David Walker (thug-with-a-sympathetic-streak Mike) and Fong Chau (stalwart husband Sam). Jodi Bobrovsky's ratty set really looks like a Greenwich Village basement apartment, and Eric Marsh's lack of lighting is pretty spiffy, especially the last blinding effect that not even Susy has thought of. Chills in the theater are difficult to come by. This one takes the cake. Make a wish and blow out the lights. Through October 30. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — DLG


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