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Stage Capsule Reviews

Galley Proof Jeannette Clift George's tale of Moses and his wayward Israelites is given the intimate, let's-put-on-a-show Godspell treatment at A.D. Players. Under the guise of a Sunday school lesson, or a living sermon, the six-member assembly acts out this week's pastoral homily, asking us to suspend disbelief and use our imagination as they conjure up the eternal, drama-filled story from Exodus. Theirs is a scaled-down production, to be sure, but replete with warm, gentle humor and a fresh-scrubbed take to this twice-told tale. Lee Walker makes a fine Moses, absolutely befuddled at being picked by God to deliver the Hebrews. He's so unsure while at the Burning Bush, he lies down and talks to Him as if to a shrink. The plagues of Egypt are given contemporary dash. There's TV reporter commentary and a surprise visit from the Food Channel's Emeril on how to prepare a tasty frog stew, and the seven daughters of Jethro are impersonated by three actresses who spin around to change the color of their headbands and their initials to become valley girl or hippie chick. Also, the wandering in the wilderness is accompanied by comic road signs. There are even a few a cappella songs -- and one Hymn -- to give this show an off-Broadway patina; if only there were more, for George's down-home treatment cries out for music. The ensemble includes Marty Blair, Jason Bergstrom, Patty Tuel Bailey, Abby Dawson and Natalie Lerner. Their unflagging spirits and good neighborliness punch up the charm and keep the preaching breezy and light, cleverly deflecting our greatest concern: What in the hell does that title mean? Through June 3. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721.

I Am My Own Wife Doug Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning one-man show I Am My Own Wife, now running at Stages Repertory Theatre, focuses on the American playwright's enigmatic relationship with a German transvestite named Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (Philip Lehl). Born Lothar Berfelde in the 1920s, Mahlsdorf lived a most astonishing life, managing to survive both the Nazis and the Communists while living her life as an open transvestite in East Germany. Wright meets her in the early 1990s after a journalist friend "discovers" her and imagines she might be of interest to the playwright. Wright flies to Germany and promptly becomes so fascinated with the rarified Mahlsdorf, he snaps up some grant money and begins to tape her stories -- and so begins a long relationship that ends up moving in directions the playwright never anticipated. At first, Mahlsdorf is interesting for her quiet, bird-like manner. She asserts her femininity with a simple black frock, a single strand of white pearls and a pair of black lace-up, grandmotherly shoes. As Lehl plays her, she is not flirtatious, but coy nonetheless. As Wright (who is also played by Lehl, as are all the other characters in a virtuoso performance by one of Houston's finest actors) learns more and more about this woman, he grows to admire her courage, her will to survive, her strength. But some documentation comes to light that appears to finger Mahlsdorf as a possible mole for the Stasi police. The playwright confronts Mahlsdorf. As her biggest fan, he adores her, but how did she manage to escape the Nazis and the Communists when so many others lost their lives? Was she an angel or a devil? Mahlsdorf offers no answers, other than that she was human. Through May 10. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

The Wisdom of EveIf nothing else, Mary Orr's play, based upon her 1946 Cosmopolitan short story and 1949 radio version that would be eclipsed by the exceptional film known as All About Eve, is the classic case study in how to adroitly adapt one medium into another. All credit, of course, goes to movie writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who mined ordinary Orr into sublime gold. He gave Orr class, literacy and sophistication. If the movie is on your all-time great list, the original play will shock and probably dismay, mainly through what's not there. Mankiewicz added so many layers: poison-tongued critic Addison DeWitt, deliciously dumb Miss Caswell (graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art), ample bitch-fest wit that had shimmering bons mots unheard since Wilde's day, the role of a lifetime for Bette Davis (as spoiled, neurotic, aging Broadway legend Margo Channing) and classic lines such as "fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night." Once you get past the let-down that your favorite lines and characters aren't going to show up, the play has its own set of virtues -- if Playhouse 1960 wouldn't play it as though this were Eugene O'Neill's More Stately Mansions. It couldn't be any slower if acted underwater. The cast needs a taser (and another week of rehearsal to smooth out the truly bumpy dramatics and to fully memorize their lines and cues). Even without Mankiewicz, Orr's story should snap; it has plenty of sharp edges all its own. Josie Kaul, as evil Eve, shows her malevolent hand right from the beginning, which deflates our surprise when she later reveals her fistful of aces. Maria Sirgo, as Margo's best friend Karen, whose reflected marquee light comes from her hubby playwright, is all common sense and catches the character's subtle goodness in a warm, loving performance. As theater goddess Margo, Carolyn Corsano Wong has a diva's sprightly timing and wicked way with a put-down, but her posture's all wrong. She should flaunt her divadom, not slump about as if taking out the garbage. Straighten up, honey, strut your stuff; you're Margo! And they're not! Through May 12. 6814 Gant. 281-587-8243.

Zero HourIf you've never had the absolute pleasure of experiencing the one-and-only Zero Mostel -- and that's the only way to describe his free-wheeling performances, an experience -- then Jim Brochu's one-man show on Mostel's life and times, running concurrently at Stages Repertory Theatre with another one-man show, I Am My Own Wife, is probably the nearest and best you'll ever get. Three-time Tony winner, Mostel is one of Broadway's monstres sacrs: an original, something titanic, a force of nature. As a performer, he was his own shock and awe, and his story is one of steely determination, fierce pride and unquenchable anger at what happened to him and his many friends during the '50s Communist witch-hunts. When his performing career was curtailed, he survived through his first great love -- painting -- his lifeline to creativity. Mostel was one of the lucky ones; he outlived his adversaries and returned in triumph to Broadway (Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Harnick and Bock's Fiddler on the Roof) and then Hollywood (Mel Brooks's The Producers). An incredibly versatile actor, he made you weep with his brilliant insight into James Joyce (Ulysses in Nighttown), or roar with laughter from his antics with The Muppets. All the highlights and lowlights of Mostel's complicated, seismograph-like life are covered by Brochu, who bellows, cajoles, pleads and charms much like Zero. There's a snippet from Mostel's comic days at Caf Society; an improv from his first drama class; his "Hello, loose lips" speech in front of the full Forum cast, coldly welcoming HUAC rat Jerome Robbins as the show's new director; and endearing personal family confessions. Comedy, pathos, Borscht belt schtick, bombast and sentiment, and Mostel's instantaneous shift from one to another, it's all here and rendered with loving photorealism. The physical resemblance is downright eerie: a slicked-down comb-front that Mostel should have trademarked, those haunting saucer eyes, that surprising agility like one of the hippos from Fantasia and that melodious thunder of a voice. The intermission, though, is redundant. Mostel, the classiest of class clowns, would have relished telling his life story without taking a break -- or a breath. Through May 13. 3201 Allen Parkway. 713-527-0123.


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