Capsule Stage Reviews: The Complete History of America (Abridged), The Girl, The Grouch, and The Goat, Panic

The Complete History of America (Abridged) If you like the idea of a balloon-headed Abraham Lincoln being popped dead in a lame parody that mocks the JFK killing, then this tasteless vaudeville, now dragging its lifeless body around Stages Repertory Theatre, will be absolute catnip. Written by the Ridiculous Shakespeare Company, the trio who so giddily deconstructed the works of Shakespeare in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), this attempt at humor palls so completely that you wonder why they even bothered to take such a feeble slap at us — or is that U.S.? I'm sure there's a way to ridicule our country's foibles, abuses, idealism and hypocrisy, but Holy Father of Our Country, this isn't it! Instead, this is a tired compendium of ninth-grade scatological jokes, crude puns, product placement name tags and stale pop cultural references that are in sore need of refreshing. Must we sit through another musty nod to Gilligan's Island or I Love Lucy (not even the great Kregg Dailey in Lucy drag can save that lame skit)? None of this parody, and I use the term lightly, is anywhere near the level of what the crazies of Monty Python might do with this ripe subject, for there's plenty in our history to be mocked and ridiculed. The creators find themselves in a bind, and even they have to admit there's a lot that's not funny in our history (how did the Lincoln assassination sneak under the radar?). Fleeting attempts at sober thought fall by the wayside as Italians are given shtick accents and the Civil War is portrayed as a living tableau of a soldier getting kicked in the crotch. The talented Dailey, Susan Koozin and David Matranga try their best to romp through this muck with as much gaiety as they can muster, but it's impossible for them to make it any less vulgar. They just wind up covered in muck. Through June 27. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — DLG

The Girl, The Grouch, and The Goat The poster for this uninspired musical adaptation of Menander's only extant comedy, The Dyskolus (The Grouch), is a closeup of a goat wearing Groucho glasses and fake moustache. Unfortunately, it's the funniest thing at Upstage Theatre. How could Mark Hollmann, the writer of the Tony Award-winning musical Urinetown, come up with something so pointless and derivative? He's worked on this project for 20 years (!), so it must have some significance to him, but there's nothing here to suggest anything meaningful to anyone. The obvious inspiration is The Fantasticks (1960), Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's little show that could — a fable that used a minimal, artsy-fartsy jazz combo and had a subtle heart of darkness. The Girl, The Grouch, and The Goat has the fable and the combo down, but there's little art and no heart. The play is the story of a girl locked up by her father, who doesn't want her to marry. Hollmann's music is so lightweight, you forget it as you hear it. Only Brett Hurt as Myrrhinne, the girl of the title, has the requisite showbiz sparkle to keep our interest, although Michael Esterheld as the Grouch has a good stage voice, and Robert Pimentel as Myrrhinne's love Xander has boyish charm. Unfortunately, they're stuck in this awful show. The rest of the cast is uneven, like the material, while the sets and costumes are cartoony in a Sesame Street sort of way. Come to think of it, children's TV is the only appropriate venue for this limp little show. If only Groucho would appear. His irrepressible smirk is just what this needs. Through June 19. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-838-7191. — DLG

Panic Not only was master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock a superb visual stylist, he was also a supreme conductor who knew exactly when to speed up the action or slow it down for maximum suspense. In putting on Joseph Goodrich's Hitchcock homage, which won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Play, director Suzanne King would be wise to study Hitch's editing rhythms. She gives this production at Theatre Suburbia such a leisurely pace, the suspense takes a back-row seat. The pauses aren't pregnant so much as annoying — and as with too many productions this year, the appearance of a stagehand to rearrange the props at scene change stops the flow completely. Goodrich doesn't need these roadblocks; his mystery, compelling and intelligently written, is a loving homage to Hitchcock (here called Henry Lockwood and played with arching magnanimity by Paul Hager). Lockwood is accused of raping and fathering a child by a French extra during a previous shoot in Paris. He's back in the capital for the premiere and for interviews with a noted French film critic (Scott Holmes) when the young Frenchwoman (Allie Collins) confronts the great man's secretary (Rebecca Pipas Seabrook) and attempts blackmail. This being a jigsaw-puzzle contraption, the mystery keeps us guessing until the end. The murder scene is unnecessarily drawn out, and the needed gore is left to our imaginations, which is cause for unintentional laughter when the director's wife (Robin Beckwith, nicely befuddled) exclaims that the murderer has obviously had a heart attack, blithely unconcerned that he's been stabbed and slashed multiple times. Seabrook is a sturdy Gal Friday who pieces the puzzle together, Holmes is suave, and Collins and Allison Carr, as sisters, sport the worst French accents this side of the Pink Panther. Despite the show's problems, Hitchcock survives his stage tribute — even the faux movie posters in the lobby advertising Lockwood's films are delightful. Fridays and Saturdays through July 3; Sunday matinees June 20 and 27. 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — DLG


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