It Could Be Any One of Us English playwright Alan Ayckbourn has to be one of history's most prolific writers for the stage. As of last count, there are 70 attributed works. Ayckbourn loves to play with theatrical structure, usually with simultaneous action that occurs in two places at the same time, accomplished via split-level sets or the mind-bending feat of two plays running concurrently. The farces are sidesplittingly funny, not only because of their jigsaw plots but also because the audience knows what physical stunts are being performed backstage to keep the plays running smoothly. His plays are deftly, dizzyingly constructed. So when Ayckbourn wrote a murder mystery in 1983, it was no surprise it wasn't like anyone else's. He took the classic plot (everyone in a lonely country house has a motive for knocking off a despised brother), added truly quirky characters and then tweaked it so that any one of the actors could be revealed as the murderer at each specific performance if they drew the right card during their Act I card game. That means that all the actors must remember at least five separate versions of their lines. Company OnStage's able-handed mechanics relish Ayckbourn's challenge and run with it. Best among the sextet are Jim Allman (as weird, childlike brother Brinton, a failed painter who has yet to finish a picture) and Ananka Kohnitz (as bottled-up sister Jocelyn, a failed writer who has yet to finish a book). There's a real person behind Kohnitz's breathy delivery and tightly-buttoned sweaters, someone with a life when the character exits offstage. She and Allman supply all the necessary quirks and finely hewn shading to keep us guessing and Ayckbourn gently smiling with appreciation. Through June 9. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.
The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) How many times have you been disappointed when a play was over, wanting it to go on and on? Not many, right? Well, this divinely inspired show at Theater LaB Houston has only one appropriate response: frenzied shouts of "Encore!" The play has a hackneyed plot: Naive, in-love heroine must pay the rent, but she doesn't have it, and if she doesn't pay up, the lecherous landlord will take her in lieu of money. No matter, that's not the divinely-inspired part, which is the telling of this tale in five different ways, as if it were five different Broadway musicals written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb. Musical spoofs their styles, kicks them in the ass, pokes them in the eye and makes fun of them in short, it creates five wicked parodies that are a slice of Broadway heaven. Composer Eric Rockwell and lyricist Joanne Bogart lovingly screw them all to hilarious effect. Even with only a passing knowledge of musical lore, you'll still find plenty of humor in the silliness: What the hell is a cowboy "dream ballet" anyway, and what's it doing in an Oklahoma corn field? Why is everybody in Sondheim so angry and full of angst? Why is Jerry Herman so gay? Is Andrew Lloyd Webber receiving royalty checks from the estate of Puccini? Would there be Kander and Ebb without Bob Fosse's pelvis? These and other pressing issues will be answered in full. On the other hand, if you do know the difference between Irving Berlin and Berlin, Germany, then you'll eat up this delicious confection with a spoon! The musical crazies include director/choreographer Jimmy Phillips (brilliant), Haley Dyes (inspired), Dylan Godwin (pipes of gold), Melodie Smith (brilliant, inspired and golden pipes), and musical director Steven Jones (hands of gold). Through June 9. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.
Treasure Island After sitting, slack-jawed and seething, through the Alley Theatre's world-premiere adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure novel, you might be tempted to rename it Ken Ludwig's Pirated Tale, or The Alley at Sea or Jim Hawkins in Drag. Whatever you call it, it isn't Treasure Island, and more's the pity. Stevenson's never-fail tale of young Jim on his hazardous voyage among rapacious buccaneers in search of buried treasure rivals Dickens in atmosphere, indelible characters, sweeping language, immediacy and plain old fun. If there ever was a novel that deserves grand theatrical treatment, it's this one. But instead of bracing sea air, the Alley's production gives off an undeniable whiff of dry rot. The whole thing weighs a ton, and the fun's been keelhauled. What happened to Stevenson? Forty lashes to playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon over Buffalo) for his ballast-heavy adaptation. He loads on large swaths of his own exposition that becalm the tale or take it way off course. Where Stevenson suggests, Ludwig bludgeons. And whose bright idea was it to have Jim played by a woman? What the hell is this loopy English pantomime doing in Treasure Island? What's next, Dame Edna as Long John Silver? Through June 17. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.
It Could Be Any One of Us, The Musical of Musicals (The Musical), Treasure Island and Twenty Love Songs
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Twenty Love Songs Infernal Bridegroom Productions' Tamarie Cooper spent a decade accumulating fans with her hilariously silly Tamalalia series. When it ended, summers didn't feel the same. But now Cooper has come up with a new concept-driven piece, a "variety show" called Twenty Love Songs. And though this new idea is not nearly as well developed as her Tamalalias, fans will recognize her supreme sense of the bizarre in the new show. Despite the title, much of this is not musical. In fact, the funniest piece, called "Young Love," features Cooper and Jennifer Mathieu Blessington perched on barstools at either end of the stage reading from their teenage diaries. It's a riot of sweet humor. But while some scenes are hysterical, others are just head-scratchers. In a skit called "(An Untitled Skit about a Woman's Complex Relationship With her Vibrator)," a woman's vibrator comes to life and tells her all about his love of demolition derbies. Other problems happen when the material gets sentimental, as when Blessington later reads from her grown-up diary in "The Most Important Thing," about Blessington's middle school students, who are going through what she did as a girl. Had Cooper and company cut Twenty Love Songs to one hour, it would be a great activity for a weekend night. But as it is, too much of the show isn't nearly as good as what we all know Cooper is capable of producing. Through June 9. The Axiom, 2525 McKinney, 713-522-8443.