Capsule Reviews

A Bad Night's Sleep This crazy-quilt revue from the loons at Radio Music Theatre is really a show about nothing, but RMT out-Seinfelds Seinfeld -- and is much funnier to boot. Although one of the 14 Fertle Family shows, Sleep keeps our favorite family gang off stage until Act II. It works because the lunatic trio (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills) features enough new characters up their hilarious sleeves to populate Sugar Land. The first act is a variation on RMT's "infertle" comedies, such as Life Beyond the Loop and The Story of Burford, Category 5, wherein writer Steve Farrell aims his barbs at the idiosyncrasies of Houston. In one sequence, we're treated to Mills, in a nightmare, trying to pass a virtual driver's test. The instructor's electronic voice, amplified like Stephen Hawking's, speeds up, skips syllables and generally screws up like any government bureaucracy, while Mills, in brilliant pantomime, sits on a stool in his arcade helmet and rubber gloves and zooms madly through Houston's streets. He drives over barrels and rubber cones, loses points by even thinking of driving on U.S. 59, stops for days on Memorial because of the trail riders and maneuvers over dead bodies. It's a screamingly funny sequence that shows, in essence, what makes RMT so unique: simplicity of execution, flawless timing, exquisite performance and wicked satire. Great big laughs inside this little theater. Through November 18. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

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.

The Cook Eduardo Machado is known for his lyrical scripts full of poetic language. Unfortunately, little of that shows up in The Cook, a political play about Castro's Cuba now running at Stages Repertory Theatre. The story that travels over three decades all takes place in the kitchen of a wealthy Cuban who must run from her country when Castro takes over in 1958. The heroine is Gladys (Annie Henk), the cook who works here. She is left behind to watch the mansion her mistress abandons. Act II fast-forwards to 1972. The Communists are safely in power, but Gladys is waiting for her mistress to come back. Act III takes place in 1997, after the Russians have stopped funding Castro. The only thing keeping Gladys and her family from starving is Gladys's cooking. Tourists flock to her kitchen, which is in all the guidebooks. But soon enough Gladys learns a difficult lesson about the ruling class. Unfortunately, during most of the play, the dialogue is stilted. And Gladys's trust in her old boss is beyond believable. Mariana Carreo King's direction does little to smooth out Machado's difficult script. The Cook might offer some interesting insight into the politics of the Communist movement, but the play's strokes are broad indeed. Through October 29. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical This frothy bubble of silliness now running at Stages Repertory Theatre requires absolutely zero brain power to get through. Cobbled together out of stereotypes and a sitcom-like plot, the featherweight bit of camp by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso celebrates white-trash ladies and the men they love in a funky little tale about a phobic housewife and her lonely-heart man. Setting the stage and guiding us through the story is a chorus of three women: Betty (Susan O. Koozin), a sturdy mother hen with a heart of gold who runs the whole shebang; Pickles (Mikah Horn), a young dumb-as-dirt, sweet-as-sugar blond who shows all the signs of suffering from a hysterical pregnancy; and Lin (Carolyn Johnson), strutting around with her cleavage out to there and worrying all the while about her man on death row. This cartoon strip of a story focuses on Norbert and Jeannie Garstecki, a long-married couple who love each other despite the fact that Jeannie (Melodie Smith) suffers from agoraphobia and hasn't set foot outside her little trailer home in years. Nothing in the story is surprising, but the music is entertaining, and Stages has put together a cast of solid singers who capture their characters in bold, broad and colorful strokes. Through December 31. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

Much Ado About Nothing Director Scott Schwartz has delivered a gorgeous production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Now running at the Alley Theatre, this must-see confection is filled with charm, grace and sumptuous joy. The originality starts at the top of the show when Claudio and Benedick, the two men destined to fall in love with Hero and Beatrice, enter the stage via an enormous hot air balloon. Designer Walt Spangler has covered the Alley stage with a simple landscape of cartoon cutout green hills, giant daisies and puffy blue skies. Fabio Toblini's costumes are a wonder of comedic beauty. The music, put together by Jill BC Du Boff, ranges from rock to Latino, and the dance scene that comes toward the middle of the show is a thrill of exciting sound as well as gorgeous images (on more balloons, covered with drawings that hearken to Commedia dell'Arte and old-fashioned puppet shows). The only thing missing from this love story is real sexual chemistry between the lovers. But this hardly matters. The true love story happening in this production is not between men and women but between a deeply talented director and the magical capabilities of theater itself. Through November 5. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

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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