Capsule Reviews

Enter Laughing You'd be hard-pressed to find a play as sweet and family-friendly as this one. It's as warm and cozy as your favorite old sweater, if a little threadbare. Based on a partly autobiographical novel by legendary comedy writer Carl Reiner (Your Show of Shows, Dick Van Dyke Show), Joseph Stein's 1963 adaptation for Broadway is loving and nonthreatening, entertaining and genial. If plays were rated like movies, Theatre Southwest's production would be a definite G, suitable for all audiences, which is fine, because every now and then, it's nice to go to the theater and not have to think -- just sit back, relax and grin. Nebbish David (an easygoing, charming Aaron Thompson) "wants to be somebody" but right now works as a delivery boy for a small-time women's hatmaker in NYC's garment center. His parents, strictly out of the Jewish school of theatrical parents, who know all about guilt and worry, want David to be a pharmacist, but David dreams of being an actor. When he spies an ad in the paper for prospective students for Harrison Marlowe's school of dramatic arts, his heart leaps. Marlowe (Scott Holmes), a rich-voiced, second-rate ham, bilks his students for tuition, but he sorely needs a leading man, and Marlowe's sexpot daughter takes a liking to the eager puppy. Complications ensue, of course, as David stays out too late rehearsing, his parents fret and his girlfriend gets jealous. The sprightly cast makes the most of this fluff, with Thompson, Holmes and Mack Hays, as the fatherly hatter, delivering standout performances that make us believe in a story where the conflicts are small, gentleness is all and dreams are fulfilled. Through January 27. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505.

A Fertle Holiday One of the best ways to spend an evening this holiday is with the Fertles, the oddball family that resides at the Radio Music Theatre. Yes, it's time yet again for A Fertle Holiday. The laugh-out-loud show is full of the small-town characters that Rich Mills and Steve and Vicki Farrell have made famous. Everything takes place in Dumpster, Texas, and the cast of characters sounds like a long clich. But the performers at Radio Music Theatre have turned The Singing Fertle Family into a lovable bunch of wackos that audiences fall into absolute love with -- many shows sell out during the holidays. The story finds all the Fertles coming home, including a wealthy sister who lives in California and who charters a plane to get to Dumpster. Her fancy family includes a teenage son who likes the drama club and student council more than sports, something the other Fertles don't really understand. There are the continual struggles between in-laws and the bad-for-you Southern cooking that features huge helpings of butter pie. Most of all, there's the extraordinary talents of Mills and the Farrells to delight us all for yet another holiday season. Give yourself a terrific gift this year -- take yourself, your family and even the in-laws to one of the best holiday treats on any stage this season. Through January 13. Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

Hamlet The world's most famous -- and, some would say, best -- play goes goth in Nova Arts Project's somewhat misguided, but vigorous, staging. In this show, adapted and directed by noted Houston "fight director" Brian Byrnes, Prince Hamlet and the entire court at Elsinore zoom and ricochet around the midnight-dark small theater space with no downtime for anything so mundane as introspection or self-awareness. Shakespeare's justly celebrated soliloquies have been slashed to the bone, rearranged or deleted, as if the characters can't be bothered to tell us their thoughts. This makes mincemeat of poor Will's great themes and psychological understanding, but it does move the story by astounding leaps and bounds. For a man of crippling inaction, this Hamlet never stops moving. Fortunately, Aaron White, as the young prince commanded by the ghost of his dead father to avenge his murder, moves superbly and tosses off the Bard's fabulous poetry with astonishing aplomb and conversational know-how. His is a vibrant, young, deeply-felt Hamlet who shines through all the murky trappings that threaten to turn Shakespeare's sublime tragedy into something akin to CSI: Denmark. When we're at a loss with cremation chambers, riot police, prisoners from Abu Ghraib, demented Ophelia strapped to a gurney or Queen Gertrude severing the finger from her dead husband to get at the wedding ring, there's energetic White to pull our focus squarely back where it belongs: to this most glorious play, and the young man caught so horribly in a world not of his choosing. Through January 20. Jose Quintero Lab Theatre at the University of Houston, Entrance No. 16 off Cullen Blvd., 713-623-4033.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover
Lee Williams