Capsule Reviews

Blithe Spirit In Nol Coward's delightful drawing room ghost comedy, martinis are mixed, characters dress for dinner, dead wives materialize and the battle of the sexes rages on, whether the participants are alive or not. A deft, almost throwaway touch is necessary to keep this thoroughly entertaining wisp of a play aloft; anything less, and the farce deflates. Needing research for a novel on the occult, skeptic Charles (Arnold Richie) asks his neighbor, amateur psychic Madame Arcati (Dottie McQuarrie), to hold a sance so he can study her ways. His first wife Elvira (Angela Boeck) is conjured from the other side, much to his consternation, and the annoyance of his current wife Ruth (Ann Richie). Madame Arcati doesn't know how to de-materialize Elvira, so Charles is stuck with two wives who hate each other. This delectable Cowardly custard receives a somewhat less than ethereal presentation from UpStage Theatre, although Boeck's Elvira catches the bitchy flair of her sexy, flighty ghost and rattles off Coward's epigrams with zest. Richie's Charles is a bit too dour to warrant the bickering jealousies of the two women now sharing his bedroom; Ann Richie's very proper Ruth needs more oomph and less speed; and McQuarrie could use more baffled wonder when she realizes that she does, indeed, have the power she always hoped she had. Why the supporting character of the doctor's wife (Jan McSwain, who has a lovely, easy presence on stage) is given an accent that hails from Long Island, not Mayfair, is anyone's guess, but this is more evidence of the misplaced tone overall. Through October 28. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-838-7191.

Captain's Outrageous Playwright and industrial communications consultant David DeBoy began his acting/writing career in Baltimore's dinner theater scene. "With so many dinner theaters and not enough light comedies, we were sometimes forced into doing mediocre plays that needed a lot of punching up," he has said. "One day I was handed a really poor script, and I suggested that I could write a funnier one from scratch in three weeks. The producers took me up on my offer." With those facts in mind, his light little comedy Captain's Outrageous makes perfect sense. It's ideal dinner theater fare, because it needs as much distraction as it can get: clanking silverware, sounds of chewing and plenty of alcohol. There are so many themes, plots, styles, character inconsistencies and digressions that you could, indeed, take time out to devour a steak dinner and, upon looking up, see that nothing much has happened. Unfortunately, Playhouse 1960 does not give you food, so when you watch it without interruption, you also think, "I can do better than that." Loveable curmudgeon Captain Sean W. O'Michaels (John Stevens) raises hell at the hospital where he's undergoing tests for ulcers. In any normal world, his behavior -- which includes kidnapping and serious investment scams -- would have him behind bars or in a straightjacket; here, though, they're just the cute, adorable antics of a cute, adorable old codger. Fortunately, the production (which seems to have gone on stage with minimum rehearsal) is blessed by the performance of John Stevens as the old rascal. Stevens knows exactly what he's doing and how to do it, so he imbues the "captain" with the charm and charisma that the playwright has shoved aside to make room for wheezy jokes and stale farce. Pass the broccoli, please. Through October 28. 6814 Gant Rd., 281-587-8243.

E_Merging Dominic Walsh Dance Theater opened its 2006-2007 season last week with a collaborative effort inspired by the Ballets Russes era, using local choreographers, dancers, musicians and visual artists. When it worked, as was the case with Lindsey McGill's Adorning Breath, it was brilliant. Her closing dance really raised the ghost of Diaghilev with elegant and smooth choreography for an ensemble of six, danced in front of Atton Paul's creative video and set to such cool music as Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek." It was the most fully realized collaboration of the performance. DWDT company member Paola Georgudis offered up Ilumina with sets by Cameron Sands, whose dangling bare bulbs depicted the light inside us all and showcased dancer Spencer Gavin's athletic body while Andrea Dawn Shelley perched in a swing above the stage. Shelley turned in a joyous romp of dancemaking of her own with Silly Little Faeries, with winged dancers and delightfully colored butterfly-like mobiles by Tami Merrick Creative; whimsical and well danced, it was an amusing high point. Walsh's own rendition of the Ballets Russes' classic Le Spectre de la Rose blended his beautiful movement, inspired by Fokine's choreography, with Katy Heinlein's innovative set and costumes. Kim Wagman Stafford, as a young girl returned from a dance, shed her sumptuous ball gown only to have it rise behind her as a curtain. When she fell asleep clutching a rose, Domenico Luciano sprung to life as the spirit of the flower. Even when the program didn't quite gel, as in Leslie Scates's Emergence, it was still, at least, innovative.

Get Ready In Get Ready, the joyous Jaye and Debi Stewart/Joe Plummer play with music, which inaugurates Ensemble Theatre's 30th season, we meet a fictional doo-wop group years after their prime. They peaked in the '50s, disappearing after a few semi-hits, and now gather dust in pop music's close-out bin. On the cusp of major stardom when the group imploded, the five former singers have gone separate ways, but they've just been spinning their wheels. Now, 30 years later -- the play is set in the early '80s -- the chance of a reunion tour has revived that tantalizing youthful dream. This is the meat of the meager plot, and there are no surprises in the bare-bones conflicts that the guys stumble over and persevere through. But -- and this is the big saving grace -- for all its write-by-numbers dramaturgy, Get Ready has magnificent charm and wonderful innocence, along with a fresh, throwaway quality that relishes the antique plotlines and revels in character. And the guys are gold. This is genuine theater magic at work. The five smoothies are given quirky edges: Former lead singer Roscoe (David J. Broussard) has sold his soul along with the Doves' contract to his wicked witch of a wife; Vern (Norman W. Davis) is the big optimist with a surprisingly agile falsetto; horndog Johnson (Henry Edwards) is the pessimist always baiting the others; Bunch (Kevin Haliburton) is little and squat but has the slickest moves; and Frankie (Andrew Jackson) wears an eye patch because his girlfriend has thrown him out of the house but kept his glass eye. The Doves soar high and graceful in Get Ready under the graceful co-direction of Clarence and Shirley Whitmore. It's a real crowd pleaser. Through October 22. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055.

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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
Marene Gustin