Stage Capsule Reviews

Houston Shakespeare Festival Forget the endless rain, the suffocating heat, the blasted bugs — now is the summer of love at the Houston Shakespeare Festival. And the smoldering heat onstage at the Miller Outdoor Theatre will go a long way toward making you forget about the weather outside. The most famous teenage lovers of all time are especially hot in director Carolyn Houston Boone's inventive, utterly captivating rendition of Romeo and Juliet. Jonathan Middents's set takes us to a sort of Dick Tracy-style metropolis. And the Montagues and Capulets, who start off the story getting ready for a fight, dress like old-style gangsters in Margaret Crowley's smooth costumes. Even Shakespeare's lingo gets delivered in Brooklyn accents. All this might sound wrong to any purist out there, but it doesn't take long before the whole mise en scne that Boone creates feels like the world Shakespeare intended all along. Also on the bill is Love's Labor's Lost, a bawdy comedy about a King (Justin Doran) and his three Lords, who determine to spend three years cloistered in monastic-like study. They make a pact to give up wine, women and song. Then the Princess of France (Celeste Roberts) arrives with three pretty French Ladies in attendance, and the young men's best intentions burn up in their fiery desire. The comedic farce is one of Shakespeare's least performed works. Full of puns and wordplay, the real star of this work is language itself. And as directed by Sidney Berger, it all actually make sense — most of the time. Through August 11. 100 Concert Dr., 713-533-3276. — LW

Little Shop of Horrors Up on Bamwood, the joint's jumping. That's where the tiny Ace Theatre proves that regional theater, when the stars align just so, can knock the socks off any pro troupe in town. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's kooky little musical about nebbish Seymour (Louis Crespo), who sells his soul to a man-eating alien plant to get fame, fortune and the girl of his dreams (Crystyl Swanson — a real dream as ditsy Audrey), made quite a splash off-Broadway at its premiere in 1982. Set in the doo-wop 1950s, this low-rent show with high-end irony and toe-tapping pizzazz, knocked off from Roger Corman's absolute bargain-basement B-movie from 1960, zoomed into the stratosphere thanks to Ashman's tongue-in-cheek book and lyrics and Menken's soft rock-infused score. The success of Little Shop propelled the team into the waiting arms of Disney, for whom they penned Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, before Ashman's untimely death in 1991. The musical is a joy. There's the opening backup trio of wise and naughty streetwalkers (Jennifer Brawley, Kristyn Chalker, Charlotte Byrd); Audrey's S&M boyfriend Orin, the #159ber-sadistic dentist (Andrew Adams); and the ever-growing Audrey II (gravelly-voiced by Hal Thackston and puppeteer Patrick Hofsommer), the plant from outer space whose basso "Feed Me" keeps Seymour supplying it with human nutrients. The plant's growth spurts have much to do with the fun in the staging, and watching it swallow Seymour's boss (Michael Taylor) whole is a tasty treat. Taylor also doubles, brilliantly, as the show's director, and, as if he has a box of Miracle-Gro up his sleeve, he knows exactly the right tone to impart to this cheery, cheesy little musical to keep it wonderfully fresh and alive. Through August 11. 17011 Bamwood, 281-587-1020. — DLG

10th Annual Festival of Originals "Original" is one way to describe producer Mimi Holloway's evening of one-acters, but then, so would "great time" and "surprisingly good." These brand-new plays run the gamut. There's the strangely bizarre (Kathleen Merritt's Under the Oleanders). There's the somewhat familiar, as in a lost Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode (George Rapier's The Sketch), a whimsical Twilight Zone story (Dennis Jones's Judgment Day at the Whistling Pig) and a sweet, in-your-face take on Coward's bickering ghost comedy Blithe Spirit (John Bohane's The Anniversary Gift). And then there's the fascinatingly quirky and just really good (John Kaiser's Instant Messaging). Stunningly directed by Mack Hays, Messaging takes the prize, if one were given. Vapid slacker Campbell (Brian Heaton), a victim of cell phone over-usage, happens upon a flyer for a new, experimental message chip that's implanted in your brain, resulting in truly hands-free communication. "That's so cool," he whoops to best bud Syncho (Nathan Suurmeyer), "it'll be like having super powers." Creepy Dr. Basil (Jay Menchaca, with Joan Crawford-esque painted eyebrows) and equally creepy Nurse Rosemary (Tina Samuelsen Bauer, with whispery, conspiratorial voice) set implanted Campbell loose to pursue superficial party girl Magnesia (Claire Hunt), the girl of his desires. At first he's cock of the walk as the only person at the bar without a phone, but soon his head-phone is ringing non-stop with spam, promo calls and numerous wrong numbers. The constant interruptions drive him crazy, and he takes drastic action trying to get "off-line." So much happens in so little time, you'd swear this is a full-length play; it's that rich. Gift (with John Biondi's delightfully flummoxed geezer, who's ordered a prostitute for the express purpose of giving him a heart attack) and Judgment Day (in which Satan and God must talk the grouchy accountant-like Grim Reaper out of doing away with young Bob, who's been inadvertently placed on his death list) are equally cream. Through August 11. Theater Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG


Houston Shakespeare Festival, Little Shop of Horrors, 10th Annual Festival of Originals and Tuna Does Vegas

Tuna Does Vegas It's somewhat less than hilarious to see what those two wily stage magicians, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (abetted by co-writer/director Ed Howard) have in store for the inhabitants of Tuna, Texas, our state's third-smallest town, when they pack all the inhabitants off to Sin City for this world premiere two-man show. Our loopy favorites are pretty much front and center (sweet and crafty Aunt Pearl, gun-totin' Didi Snavely, man-hungry Inita and Helen from the Tastee Kreme, pinched Vera Carp, P.E.T.A.-obsessed Petey Fisk, et al.), but so are a few new crazies, with cheapo Vegas impresario and female lounge lizard Anna Conda leading the pack, and two Elvis impersonators right behind. These new faces are welcome additions indeed and nailed by Sears and Williams with the patented pinpoint accuracy and gently biting satire that's a hallmark of their Tuna franchise (Greater Tuna, Tuna Christmas, Red, White, and Tuna), but Vegas, for its many charms and belly laughs, treads water. Too many scenes lack focus or simply meander until a snazzy punch line pricks us awake. And the guys' split-second costume changes (the two actors play all the characters) have slowed down a bit, which may be nothing more than backstage mishaps, but the sluggishness also shows up in the script. Although this is the weakest Tuna of the four, there are enough laughs to compensate for the storyline. Just to see Didi Snavely dragging on a cigarette like it's life support, or sweet Bertha exposing herself to a water pistol-packing Arles, or Aunt Pearl and Vera scrambling for the winning coins that spew out of a slot machine are enough reasons to drive to Galveston, where these large-hearted Tuna cartoons are amply displayed. Through August 19. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice St. in Galveston, 409-765-1894. — DLG


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