Stage Capsule Reviews

Late Nite Catechism You don't have to be Catholic to love Late Nite Catechism, the "one-sister" show running at Stages Repertory Theatre, though it probably wouldn't hurt. No matter your denomination, there are plenty of laughs, even if you're one of those unfortunate "publics" whose parents obviously didn't care about them and sent them for a substandard education at a nonreligious school. Well, that's what Sister (Amanda Hebert) tells us, and what she says during her evening class is Holy Writ. Discard her wisdom at your peril. Under her 20 pounds of black gabardine, Sister commands her after-school catechism class with smooth, sly humor and a martinet's tough-love discipline, teaching us, her unruly pupils, the finer arts of Catholic theology. Never fear, heathens, this is one sharp Sister. We learn about which saints should be eliminated from the 75,000 on the Vatican's official list, and the exact meaning of the Stigmata, and who in fact populated the earth after Adam and Eve. It's a free-form sort of show, with classroom participation leading Sister to deliver delightful asides while gently mocking her charges. As a piece of education, it works, but it falls short as theater, being much too long, meandering and, in Act II, repetitive. But Hebert, a former stand-up comedienne who's been performing Sister since 1999, still has us right in the palm of her ruler-clad hand. Through September 30. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — DLG

Night and Her Stars In the '50s, what few knew about game shows of the era was that they were rigged. Contestants were given the answers and coached to act surprised, and the powers-that-be couldn't care less about the sleazy dishonesty they promoted. They wanted to sell the sponsors' products. As TV quiz-show producer extraordinaire Dan Enright (Chris Tennison) states in Richard Greenberg's poetic epic on the Twenty-One game show scandal, Night and Her Stars, "In the first place, we have done nothing wrong. In the second place, we have done it in the utmost secrecy." In the richly evocative tale, on view at the new Town Center Theatre, Enright sells the souls of his hapless contestants with a slap on the back, using unctuous humility to betray their better natures. The plan works brilliantly, except for schlub contestant Herb Stempel (Joey Milillo), a sad sack with an astonishing photographic memory. He wants money, and the respect, he so wrongly thinks, that fame brings. Loquacious, maddening and annoying, Herb wants his lonely, depressed wife (Laura Kaldis) to love him. But even his engineered persona doesn't play with the audience — they hate him. Into this web falls the perfect anti-Herb: Charles Van Doren (Aaron Stryk), an elite, erudite, photogenic Columbia University English professor, scion of an esteemed and prized literary family. That, of course, eats up loser Herb, whose dreams have crashed and burned. In a vengeful rage, he exposes Enright's lies, but nobody believes him. How all these devilish reversals play out, we leave in Greenberg's most dramatic hands. Under Ilich Guardiola's sparklingly fluid direction, the ensemble acting is peerless, as is the entire production. Everything meshes. Through September 15 (no performances September 7-9). Bock Auditorium, 3800 S. Panther Creek Dr., The Woodlands, 832-592-9697. — DLG

The Subject Was Roses "Kitchen sink" drama is a maligned genre that can surprise when least expected. Small in scale, intimate in production, its themes of family dysfunction can resound with deafening accuracy when the actors meld into their characters and speak from the heart. Frank Gilroy's Tony Award-winning play, set after World War II, is almost too big for Country Playhouse's Black Box. The shifting alliances between blustery dad John (Bob Maddox), suffering mom Nettie (Lisa Schofield) and returning son Timmy (Raygan Kelly) stress the decibel level whenever possible. Emotions don't seethe under the surface so much as explode every time someone disagrees, except for one scene that has the quiet desperation and volcanic regret around which the entire play revolves. The family's a mess; love has gone unsaid and undemonstrated so long it's a faded memory. After another fateful confrontation, Nettie lies awake in the darkened living room. Timmy discovers her on the sofa and confesses that he's leaving home to make a life of his own — implying "away from you two." Mom knows this instinctively. She hugs a cushion as if it were her lost dreams and quietly tells her son of her early loves, how she met his father and what he was like before life took its toll on both of them. It's a haunting monologue, the best in the play, and Schofield plays it like she's revealing moonlight — sharp shadows and blue outlines. She's mesmerizing. Mattox and young Kelly's reconciliation scene is equally affecting. Before then, all the yelling might scream "drama," but sometimes it's best to just hug a pillow and quietly sigh. Through September 8. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG


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