Capsule Stage Reviews: The New Century, Our Late Night, Speech and Debate

The New Century Paul Rudnick's The New Century isn't so much a play as it is a series of monologues stitched together to create an hour and a half of intermission-less theater. As directed by Joe Watts for Theatre New West, the show holds together and is both amusing and tender, even if it does feel a bit like the neighborhood adults have gotten together to put on a show, with its funky little stage in a dance studio and its lights on a dimmer. The show opens with Helen Nadler (Josephine John), the most tolerant mother in the world. She has three children — one is a lesbian, another is a transgendered lesbian and the last is a gay man into scatological sex. They all love their mother because she's so accepting. The second story comes from "Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach" (Taavi Mark), a man who was kicked out of New York for being "too gay." Now he's got his own public-access television show that comes on at 4 a.m. He spends it all swishing about, reading letters from fans and talking to his hunky helper Shane (Lance Marshall). Finally there's Barbara Ellen Diggs (Julie Oliver), a mom who loves crafts and her gay son who died from AIDS years ago. At the end, all the characters magically end up in a New York hospital looking at the newborns and thinking about the brave new world that's out there. Rudnick, whose writing includes films such as The Stepford Wives and In & Out, doesn't seem to have worked all that hard with this newest play. The characters are clever, but since most of what's written is told straight out to the audience, there isn't a lot of conflict. Still, the performers are clearly enjoying themselves, and it's impossible not to smile at Rudnick's one-liners. Through April 3. Sirrom Studio, 5570 Weslayan, 713-522-2204. — LW

Our Late Night Once again the original thinkers at Catastrophic Theatre are proving themselves to be the masters of all things strange, disquieting and ultimately mesmerizing. They have invited us into the bizarre, funny, smart and breathtaking world of Wallace Shawn's 1975 cocktail party of a play Our Late Night. Performed against a lovely set designed by Greg Dean (he's also a cast member) that's filled with muted, mushroom-colored walls and elegant artwork, the story follows a small group of revelers through a night of highballs and honest conversation unlike any you've ever heard, unless you've been to hell and back. Dolled up in suits, silk and shiny shoes, these four men (played by Dean, Jeff Miller, Troy Schulze and Kyle Sturdivant) and three women (played by Carolyn Houston Boone, Mikelle Johnson and Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers) drift about the small party clinking their ice cubes against crystal while engaging in what should be small talk, but in fact turns into the secret horrors of the human condition. Sturdivant takes full command of the stage as the pompous Tony, who tells a long, hypnotic tale of his savage and unsatisfying sex life. Schulze makes a wonderful creep wearing his nasty little mustache and drooling over the women, who tell him their dark and violent desires. Miller and Dean both exude a kind of avuncular ooze as they wrap themselves around different women and talk about all variety of inappropriate sexual thoughts. And the women are equally odd as they divulge everything from a constellation of Freudian freakiness from Boone, to masochistic desire from Montaño-Bowers, to a vapid, sadistic iciness from Johnson. And somehow much of this is horrifyingly hilarious — when it's not raising the hairs on the back of your neck. Directed by Jason Nodler with the dangerous and exacting patience of a snake, this show is both intellectually stunning and emotionally unnerving as it snatches evil out from its hiding place and holds it up to the dazzling light. Through April 3. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 713-522-2723. — LW

Speech and Debate Shocking grownups is a teenager's duty, and in Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate, running at Stages Repertory Theatre, three lonely adolescents work hard to make the old folks in their lives squirm. As these outcasts struggle to find their own voices — Solomon (Michael McClure), who longs to be a journalist; Diwata (Ashtyn Sonner), the drama queen; and Howie (Garret Storms), the out gay guy who also longs to be out of high school — they deal with teachers who like young boys, parents who send them to antigay camp and other teenagers who make their lives miserable. Along the way, they create their school's first speech and debate team. Directed by Kenn McLaughlin, the sweet tale of kids coping with adolescent angst is told through an intimate series of scenes that starts with the kids online — chatting, blogging and trying to find someone to connect with in cyberspace. The story then follows them to school, where Diwata has managed to talk the boys into helping her start a speech club, her last chance at performing, since the theater department won't cast her in any major roles. We learn about Howie's past problems in Boy Scouts and Solomon's secrets, which slowly get revealed over the course of the play. Running at close to two hours without an intermission, the show could use a trim. There's a lot of time spent on the kids' bad music, but the story eventually pulls the audience in as the characters figure out how they will exact their revenge on the big bad world out there. The ending is smart and real and will leave you rooting for the geeky kid inside us all. Through April 11. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW

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