Though she's just barely out of her twenties, Sarah Ruhl has become a veritable theatrical force. The graduate of Brown University's prestigious playwriting program has seen her work produced at some of the country's headiest venues. Oh, and this year, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Houstonians will get a glimpse of this fiery newcomer's stuff when Late: A Cowboy Song makes its world premiere at Stages Repertory Theatre this week. The odd tale follows the lives of two city dwellers, Mary and Crick, a couple who've known each other since second grade. They live normal lives, marked by the birth of their child and endless holidays. But Mary longs for something more. Her dreams come true when she meets Red, a "lady cowboy" who eats Chinese food, rides horses and sings lonesome cowboy songs. Ruhl, who wanted to "write a play where a woman was late to every scene," calls her creation a "meditation on time, the American cowboy, boundary crossings, love." Rob Bundy, the production's director, says that "if Chekhov were writing in the 21st century, this is how he would write." Not bad for three short decades of living. Opens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 1. Show runs through June 19. 3201 Allen Parkway. For tickets and showtimes, call 713-527-0123 or visit www.stagestheatre.com. $20 to $35. -- Lee Williams
Death Becomes Her
The Company OnStage shakes up the classic whodunit
We don't care how "cutting edge" they're supposed to be -- murder mysteries are formulaic. Come on! Someone dies, someone else freaks out, calls the cops, the detective shows up, everything's figured out, case closed. How creative can you really be? The Company OnStage is pushing the envelope on the genre with the new show Done to Death. In the story, penned by Fred Carmichael, five famous mystery writers are brought together to create a successful TV mystery series. Carmichael's script cleverly incorporates parodies of just about every mystery plot, sleuth and villain in popular history. But things get really interesting when the authors try to solve the murders happening around them by using their individual styles, not to mention a little audience participation. Throw in your two cents at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through June 11. 536 Westbury Square. For tickets, information and reservations, call 713-726-1219 or visit www.companyonstage.org. $10 to $14. -- Steven Devadanam
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Talk with the Animals
Ever hear the one about the cheetah? How about the one about the spider and the turtle? These aren't geeky Discovery Channel jokes, but rather traditional African folklore. These stories get some fresh interpretation thanks to a new performance from Second Generation Dance Company and Kuumba House Dance Theatre. Watch for the classic tale of the Flying Africans: Originating in an actual 1803 slave uprising in Savannah, Georgia, the grim tale has been magnified by the oral tradition into one of physical and spiritual transcendence over slavery. Now it's part of an uplifting, family-friendly dance performance that adds new energy to African folklore and fairy tales. 11 a.m. Thursday, May 26. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive. For information, call 713-526-1331 or visit www.secondgenerationdance.org. Free. -- Scott Faingold
Guys, if you doubt Chris Botti and his trumpet have the slick stuff to make your jazz-leaning lady melt, consider this: Sting sings on Botti's new disc. In French. Sure, Sting won't be at the Verizon show Wednesday, but we're guessing his essence surely will stain the proceedings. Botti, who for 2004 was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" (lucky you), takes the stage at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 1. Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas. For tickets and information, call 713-230-1600 or visit www.verizonwirelesstheater.com. $26 to $45. -- Scott Faingold