Stage Capsule Reviews: Fools, The Marriage of Figaro, Over the River and Through the Woods, Rough Night at the Remo Room, The Scene

Fools Community theater gets a bad rap, but Theatre Southwest proves it can be wonderfully charming with its latest production of Fools by Neil Simon. The "comic fable" takes place in a cursed Ukrainian village. The whole town has been made up of fools since long ago, when a count got angry and made everyone stupid. One girl can't remember her name; another woman sells flowers and calls them fish; the prettiest girl in town, Sophia Zubritsky (Candyce Prince), is having trouble learning how to sit down. Into this terrible state of affairs comes Leon Tolchinsky (Sean Ferratt), a teacher who has just one day to make Sophia smarter. If he achieves his goal, the curse will be lifted. Of course, he takes one look at the lovely Sophia and falls madly in love. The trouble is, the only other way for the curse to be lifted is for Sophia to marry a relation of the count who cursed the village. The new Count Gregor Youskevitch (Brian Heaton) shows up every day asking the pretty girl to marry him. Silly as all this sounds, the script is full of Simon's famous wit, and the cast does a fabulous job with the jokes, especially Mack Hays and Carolyn Montgomery, who play Sophia's daffy parents. And directors J. Eric Dunlap and Amanda Ferratt make the most of their cast's talents. At $15 a ticket, this show is worth every penny and more. Through November 17. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — LW

The Marriage of Figaro Mozart's sublimely human, very comic opera has been getting buoyant treatment from the intimate Opera in the Heights. Although the orchestra sounded slightly under-rehearsed at a recent performance, the singers enliven the anarchic story of valet Figaro and sly fiancée Susanna outwitting the philandering Count Almaviva with marvelous, full-throated joie de vivre. Written during the social upheaval that would soon topple the crowned heads of Europe, Lorenzo da Ponte's sparkling libretto pulses with humor, spirited romance and just a smidgen of heartache (the Countess pines for the days when her husband only had eyes for her), and the genius Mozart matches the wit, charm and heart of the story with some of his most radiantly beguiling music. Nothing is out of place, other than numerous musical repeats that can cause stupor in the unwary — audiences in 1786 wanted to fill time, and three-and-a-half hours at the theater was a trifle. Nathan Resika (Figaro), with his sonorous baritone and sprightly acting, fleshes out this witty servant, and Dalma Boronkai-Rodriguez, as Susanna, literally sparkles with freshness. Bill McMurray imbues the lusty Count with a surprising amount of sex appeal; Dawn Padula, in the trouser role of Cherubino, the page who lusts after the Countess, suavely maneuvers through his/her arias; and Eleni Calenos, as the Countess, melts hearts with her sumptuously sung "Dove Sono." Also to be applauded are Scott Heumann's English surtitles, which perfectly capture da Ponte's grace and wit. Through November 17. 1703 Heights Blvd. 713-861-5303. — DLG

Over the River and Through the Woods Audiences will lap up Joe DiPietro's heartwarming family comedy like a big bowl of minestrone. Grandson Nick (L. Robert Westeen), who visits both sets of grandparents every week for Sun­day dinner in Hoboken, New Jersey, is practically smothered in their loving embrace — and broiled alive in their stifling house. These older, first-generation immigrants know all about change, having lived through the tumult of arriving here so long ago. Yet Nicky's announcement that he's moving away to Oregon because of his job is seen as personal betrayal and abandonment. "For a job?" they seem to scream together at him. In the grand scheme of things, a job is so insignificant — it's not family! The wily folks devise their own plans to keep their unmarried grandson nearby, and how these schemes play out provides a great deal of the fun. The cast plays their stereotypical parts with spontaneity. They also actually seem to be part of the same family -— a tribute to their ensemble playing and director Anita Samson. Especially good are Wes­teen, with his puppy dog look, and Quint Bishop and Lauren Bigelow, as Nunzio and Emma Cristano, the louder set of grandparents, if that's possible. Your brain will go on autopilot with a visit to these meddling, adorable oldsters, but that's okay because your heart will get all toasty and warm instead. Through December 10. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG


Houston theater

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

The Scene Set in the New York City of today, a world bifurcated into a land of haves and have-nots, Theresa Rebeck's The Scene focuses on a lonely narcissist named Charlie, an out-of-work actor whose life slips slowly over the edge as he grasps for a hand up in a world populated by selfish, frightened bastards. Self-centered though he may be, Charlie (Jeffrey Bean) is an intensely interesting ne'er-do-well. Smart and angry, he's a master of language ready to spin his rage on the world at the least provocation. We first meet him at a fancy party where he's gone to schmooze and beg for a part in a new pilot. He's so mortified by his own deadbeat status, and by the entire scene, that he ends up drinking in a lonely spot of the high-rise with a buddy named Lewis (Liam Craig) and a young woman named Clea (Elizabeth Bunch). Fast and tight, the play cuts to a scene in Charlie's apartment where his wife Stella (Elizabeth Rich), a producer for a talk show, is blabbing about her day. Her job, which she "hates," is to book ungrateful guests, then make contingency plans in the likely event that they don't show. Of course, she's no less self-centered than he is. Just like Charlie, she rants endlessly about herself, mostly her work, while her anxious husband tries to make love to her. She just pushes him away. Rebeck's dialogue is deliciously rich with wry observation about the current human condition. Everything from television to overeating to vapid sex gets a moment to shine in all its glorious hideousness. But these fabulous lines wouldn't be worth much if the cast weren't up to the script. Happily, director Jeremy B. Cohen has found four actors who all seem born for their parts. Through November 25. The Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-228-8421. — LW


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