Burn This Playing one of the most incendiary, original characters in modern drama, Pale in Lanford Wilson's 1987 oddball romance drama, Bernardo Cubria sets Silver House Theatre's small stage afire. Let's hope Unhinged Productions carries insurance. Cubria lights up the place and the overwrought script with a blazing characterization that borders on the sublime. There's so much life in Pale, such volatile conflict and raw emotion, that he immediately fascinates and mesmerizes, not that we'd ever want to meet him when drunk or after a few lines of blow. He sucks all the air out of the room and leaves you breathless -- and charred. He also frightens Anna (Jennifer Farley), who's in mourning for her dead gay roommate, Pale's younger brother, as well as in mourning for her inability to have a life. These two, of course, are destined for each other, even though Anna repeats her mantra, "I don't want this," while edging closer to Pale. Two others are entwined in Wilson's heated but circuitous pas de quatre: Anna's rich, spoiled boyfriend Burton (Mat Boudreaux) and her bitchy other roommate, gay Larry (Christopher C. Conway). All four are clueless in regards to making satisfactory connections, and the more they try, the deeper they are mired in grief and loss, which is mandatory Wilson territory (Hot L Baltimore, Fifth of July, Talley's Folly). But no matter how life keeps these sad, desperate people adrift without a harbor, far out on the horizon gleams a small beacon called hope. It may be elusive; it may also be a mirage; but for Anna and Pale, it's a lifeline. And for us, there's always Cubria, who burns as bright as any acetylene torch. Through March 10. 1107 Chartres Street, 713-547-0126.
The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) Take Shakespeare's entire oeuvre, add great quantities of British pantomime -- outlandish drag, boob humor and silly slapstick -- gloss it with lowbrow Benny Hill and the higher absurdity and wit of Monty Python, add healthy doses of uppers and caffeine, and then just sit back and laugh yourself stupid. This sidesplitting reduction of Shakespeare, fully entertaining via a trio of madcap guys at Texas Repertory Theatre Co. (the original played for ten years in London), not just takes down the Bard, but first spins him overhead before bouncing him off the ropes and head-butting him to the ground. While dissing the Great One, this zany whirl respects him, too, if only subliminally. So, for example, all the histories are played as a spirited football game with the English crown being tossed down field; the comedies are encapsulated in the whacked-out, ridiculously plotted "The Love Boat Goes to Verona"; the tragedy of Othello is animated with uptown rap; and the surreal, gory Titus Andronicus is parodied as a TV cooking show. The second act is devoted to Hamlet, and if their initial telling is not funny enough, which it most surely is, then you get to see the boys perform it faster, then fastest, then backwards. Even a passing knowledge of the plays will not deter your admiring laughter. The ultra-talented trio boasts Craig A. Miller, Steven Fenley and Ryan Schabach, who stop at nothing to get a laugh, for which we thank them heartily. Through March 3. 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573.
Fools Neil Simon's comic fable was a big fat flop when it appeared on Broadway in 1981 and ran for 40 performances. Although apparently written in his sleep and savaged by critics, this tissue-paper-thin little comedy has plenty of Borscht Belt charm and Catskills know-how in its incessant one-liners, easy-on-the-brain story and characters whose main purpose is to be stupid. What's easier for the master of comedy than put-downs? Leon (Kevin Dean) is the new head schoolmaster in the remote Ukrainian village of Kulyenchikov. Eager and earnest about his job, he has stumbled into a place that's been cursed with stupidity for 200 years. The shepherd (Cliff House) constantly loses his sheep; the butcher (Ric Hodgin) sweeps dirt into his house; the doctor (Orlando Arriaga) offers up any prescription because "some people like prescriptions"; the postman (Chip Simmons) can never find the right address. Leon discovers he has 24 hours to lift the curse -- which entails the lovely but dumb-as-a-stump doctor's daughter Sophia (Jessica Lewis), with whom he's fallen hopelessly in love, and the pompous Count (Jeffrey McMorrough), who proposes to Sophia twice a day. Pitfalls and verbal pratfalls hound Leon in his quest to educate the girl, but this being simple Simon, the outcome's never in doubt; nor could it be, or this fragile comedy would blow away. A.D. Players, under Marion Arthur Kirby's snappy direction, plays this vaudeville as if it were vintage Sid Caesar, which adds a sprightly and soothing naturalness to the time-worn routines. If exchanges like the following set you aglow, you'll find Simon's merry Russian village much to your liking -- Sophia: "Would you like to kiss me?" Leon: "With all of my heart." Sophia: "No, I mean with your lips." Through March 18. Grace Theater, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721.
Interior Roach (Philip Hays) hunches on his thin futon, flipping pages of his diary but not reading. He stares into the void in his sterile, white-tiled underground bunker. He sleeps fitfully. He eats powdered food out of plastic bags. He plays chess against himself and is jubilant when he wins. He sprays his reading lamp with astringent when he feels dust, then sprays his hands afterward, when not wearing medical gloves. Time goes by in fleeting little scenes. He checks his scanner for evidence of noise from above. Through the static, is that a voice? Supplies low, Roach is running out of time. The water tastes metallic. Maybe the filter's gone bad. He confesses to us his hopes, fears and growing paranoia. He may be the lone survivor of some holocaust above. He sees bugs. He rants at the scanner to talk to him. Then a bang from below, and in a grand coup de thaatre, his hallucinations materialize through the floor tiles as the Intruder (Salvador Chavez) -- or the Intruder's head -- pops out to confront him. "Come on, man," the disembodied head needles Roach. "Pull it together, work with me. What specifically is causing your problem?" Needless to say, Roach freaks out. "I think I'm losing my mind," he says presciently. "Maybe I should have built a spaceship." Later, the provocative head pops up again to ask what's real, while the voice on the scanner becomes more distinct. People have survived up above, but they need his help -- and his food, for the sick. We wait for the head to reappear, but Roach fades into helpless, hopeless insanity before that happens. Playwright Clinton Hopper channels Rod Serling's Twilight Zone for this one-acter from Nova Arts Project, but whether Serling would ever have written in a sassy head from the basement is a more pressing question than what happens to crazy Roach in his bunker. Through March 10. Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, 713-623-4033.
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Parade This rich, darkly atmospheric, poignant musical is one of the finest Broadway creations -- undeniably, one of Masquerade Theatre's capstone productions. The story's a boiling maelstrom of community prejudice, legal corruption, religious bigotry and the worst kind of yellow journalism, which leads to the railroading and ultimate destruction of an innocent man, all rendered more incomprehensible and horrible by its being true. Based upon the infamous 1913 Atlanta trial and subsequent lynching of Jewish Leo Frank (Luther Chakurian) for the murder of "little Mary Phagan," a poor young girl employed in the pencil factory where Frank was manager, the musical, by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry, ironically, tragically contrasts Frank's downward public spiral with the emotional deepening of his marriage. In heart-wrenching counterpart to all the brutal ugliness, he and wife Lucille (Kristina Sullivan) become a true loving couple the more they're forced apart. Sumptuously produced and elegantly directed by Phillip Duggins; abetted by ravishing costumes by Stephanie Bradow and Beth Hempen, deft choreography by Kristin Warren and sweeping musicality from conductor Paula Smith; and superbly sung and acted by the entire gigantic cast, this shattering, powerful modern work gives the lie to the death of the Broadway musical. If anything, through Masquerade's thrilling and intelligent rendition, Parade is its resurrection. Through March 4. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-861-7045.