Stage Capsule Reviews: Arsenic and Old Lace, Rough Night at the Remo Room, Rumors, Sleeping Beauty and A Streetcar Named Desire

Arsenic and Old Lace It may be old, but it's certainly not weary — Joseph Kesselring's murderous comedy premiered on Broadway in 1941, and you'd think the story about two old-maid killers would feel a little bit tired at this point. But director Gregory Boyd proves that old dogs can still bite with this hilarious and surprisingly youthful production. The tale focuses on the Brewster sisters, Abby (Dixie Carter) and Martha (Mia Dillion), two kindly old maids who lure "lonely" men to their Brooklyn brownstone with an ad for a room to let. Once the men arrive, the very kindly ladies serve up a glass of sweet, poisoned wine that sends the men straight to the grave dug for them in the Brewster basement, courtesy of the old ladies' kooky nephew Teddy (James Belcher), a man who believes he's actually Teddy Roosevelt. But the sisters aren't as evil as their actions make them seem. They just hate to see lonely men running around the city. The old girls are trying to help strangers get off to a better, happier place, and they even conduct private funerals. Things are going fine until one day when their other nephew, the perfectly sane Mortimer Brewster (Todd Waite), finds one of the ladies' dead "gentlemen" hidden in the window seat, waiting for his funeral. Kesselring's writing remains a joy. It's full of goofy fun, and the writer keeps us guessing up to the very end. Making this production especially strong is the Alley's fabulous cast. While it's true that there's nothing new here, it's reassuring that some old warhorses can hold their own in a fight now and again. Through November 4. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421. — LW

Rough Night at the Remo Room Things are hopping over at Radio Music Theatre, where Texas-style sketch comedy reigns supreme. Ever since Steve and Vicki Farrell created RMT more than 20 years ago, it has been home to the Fertle Family of Dumpster, Texas, a handful of oddball, small-town characters born from the imaginations of the Farrells and their sidekick Rich Mills. In Dumpster, the ladies have big hair and the men are just a little bit slow. But that's all right. Nothing much happens in the tiny town, even though it seems like everyone is always getting themselves in a whole pack of trouble. In the current story, Rough Night at the Remo Room, everybody in town has their knickers in a twist over a new Vegas-style bar moving in. There's a suspicious fire and some Baptist preaching, and the Fertle Family Singers have to change their act from country-gospel to fiery Latin in just one day. Zany as it might sound, this production is not the knee-slapper that many of the RMT scripts have been (the annual Christmas show is the best in town), but the relaxed venue and the cocktail service still make RMT a great place to take the in-laws. Through November 17. 2623 Col­quitt, 713-522-7722. — LW

Rumors Neil Simon's sublimely silly farce isn't so much a play as a litany of one-liners and smart-ass putdowns. But if this is the lazy man's guide to writing a farce, one could do worse, for Simon's slender little premise is surprisingly funny. The plot, so to speak, concerns a dinner party where guests spin more and more elaborate deceptions about what happened to the host and hostess. It makes no sense why all the guests, good friends of each other, would succumb to this game and not spill the beans right away about what's going on, but then, of course, there'd be no play. Ace Theatre throws itself into the fray with a bustling, boisterous production that smoothes over Simon's own road bumps with three Broadway-caliber performances from Michael Taylor, Jennifer Wittorp and Lacy Lynn. Taylor, as whiplash victim Lenny, cavorts and bellows in showstopping tradition, even with his head bent at a 45-degree angle; Wittorp, as sarcasm queen Claire, nonchalantly drops verbal zingers like olives into a very dry martini; and Lynn, as scatterbrained cooking-show host Cookie, has a wide-eyed, giggling presence that should be trademarked. Simon's comedy doesn't progress so much as it's propelled, not least of all by our expectations of the nonsense ahead. Whatever it may be, we'll be laughing. Through November 3. 17011 Bamwood. 281-587-1020. — DLG


houston theater

Sleeping Beauty Can a narcoleptic, heroin-addled, rebellious teen find true love with a romantic, straitlaced office worker? Heck, yeah — Dominic Walsh Dance Theater's new Sleeping Beauty is a fairy tale, after all. With his second attempt at a full-length classic, Walsh takes the beloved ballet, dresses it up in modern attire and stands it on its head. The result is probably the most amazing piece of dance theater Houston's ever seen. Walsh enters a whole new arena of dancemaking with this 90-minute ballet; his vision, his movement and even his choices in set and costume (designed by Jeremy Choate and Travis Halsey respectively) are spot-on. This tale is set in Houston somewhere in the '70s and '80s. It's got a city skyline complete with the Williams Tower, disco divas, office drones, nerds, a Mohawked punk and Walsh himself as Dr. Lyle Lac, as in the Lilac Fairy. The storyline pretty much follows the original, but Carabosse in this case is an evil socialite who prances down a red carpet to lead the young Aurora into a night of sex and drugs. The Rose Adagio becomes a brilliant series of sexual encounters, and the punk supplies the needle (a heroin needle, not a boring spindle) she pricks herself with, falling into a coma. Dawn Dippel's Aurora drips with teenage angst; her dancing is perfection, and her dramatic skills, as the ballet moves from comic to downright freaky, are amazing. The entire company flies through the ups and downs of this masterpiece with perfection. Even the princely Domenico Luciano shows his comic bent in the office scene when he's typing, smoking and talking on the phone before sliding into the dream pas de deux with the comatose Aurora. And Walsh is hysterically superb as the fairy-doctor-godfather, who contrives the happy ending while capturing it all on film. — MG

A Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams's timeless classic receives an especially dramatic push from Playhouse 1960's stirring rendition. This beautifully wrought drama, with its theatrically thrilling archetypal characters — illusion-obsessed Blanche DuBois (Ananka Kohnitz) and the ultimate illusion-destroyer, Stanley Kowalski (Andrew Adams) — blazes with pitch-perfect emotion and that searing dramatic poetry for which Williams is justly famous. Kohnitz and Adams supply everything Williams imagined in these two conflicting forces. Underneath Blanche's wilting-magnolia facade, Kohnitz provides a desperate, bristling spine and more than a whiff of eroticism. We realize right away why Blanche was such a live wire at the Tarantula Arms and was run out of town. But by escaping her past, she blindly runs right into the path of brutal Stanley, whose unyielding animal instincts overpower her. No actor on earth can overshadow the über-male young Brando in the role, but Adams, mimicking Brando's voice, is highly credible as the vibrant, violent life force he represents. Chuck Houston, playing Mitch, Blanche's last chance for happiness, gives an everyday-guy character a heartbreaking interior, while Elizabeth Thompson, as Stanley's forbearing wife Stella, exudes an earthy sexiness that every so often can overpower even the likes of macho, selfish Stanley. Firmly directed by Lisa Garza, Williams's harrowing, but most sublime, drama comes fully, satisfyingly, to life. Through October 27. 6814 Gant Road, 281-58-STAGE. — DLG


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