Capsule Reviews

Black Comedy The Alley Theatre's Summer Chills season is supposed to provide Houstonians breezy, easy shows that will distract us from the dreadful Gulf Coast heat. Happily, that's exactly what Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy does. An English farce written in the '60s, the amusing popsicle of a one-act features a bumbling young artist with one too many girlfriends, who gets in trouble one night when the power goes out just when he's about to present his work to a famous collector. The plot gets even wackier when his silly neighbors show up along with his both his girlfriends and one angry father. The fact that all this happens in the dark -- because, of course, there is no power -- only makes the night more ridiculous. Director Gregory Boyd uses a convention called Chinese darkness in which the characters can be seen by the audience but not by each other. Watching them fumble about the stage, nearly missing each other as they go about trying to make their way through the evening, is laugh-out-loud funny. The cast is a delight, with Jeffrey Bean, Paul Hope and Annalee Jefferies standing out as the kookiest of all the characters (Jefferies is a scream as an old biddy neighbor who guzzles down one too many glasses of gin). And while Black Comedy is not the kind of powerhouse, life-altering theater that the Alley does during the regular season, that's perfectly okay. Summer is supposed to be fun. Through August 6. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

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 September 3. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

Incorruptible The Company OnStage, out at old Westbury Square, is true old-fashioned community theater. There's a casual ease to the place, and all the volunteers seem to have a fine time serving coffee and directing folks to their seats or to the bathroom. Even the set for the current show, Michael Hollinger's Incorruptible, has a hardworking, can-do feel to it, with its carefully painted faux-stone walls, which wrap around the tiny proscenium stage in an admirably earnest attempt at realism. And while the actors might be amateurs and John Wind's flat-footed direction might have everyone standing in lines, dutifully facing the audience, the show itself is surprisingly entertaining. Hollinger's story focuses on a group of monks who are losing money. Their "saint," a skeleton lying in state under red velvet, hasn't bestowed any miracles in quite some time, so few peasants are paying for the chance to kneel before the relic in hopes of a cure. The monks come up with a cockamamie plan to save the church from ruin. The plot involves a graveyard, the pope and a silly con; imagine Lucy and Ethel running around a medieval monastery, and you get the drift. Ultimately, the story is about the power of faith, but it manages to get in a few laughs even as it poses some fairly heady questions about the righteousness of organized religion. Through August 5. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.

Smoke on the Mountain The highly entertaining and sweetly sentimental Smoke on the Mountain may be A.D. Players' best show of the season. Connie Ray and Alan Bailey's charming musical takes the audience back to the '30s, when bluegrass gospel was in its heyday. The show opens on Reverend Oglethorpe (Kevin Dean), the young pastor of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. It's Saturday night, and he has asked the Sanders Family Singers to grace his flock with a night of joyful music praising the Lord. Only trouble is, the singing group is late. Nervously eyeballing the door, Oglethorpe kills time by preaching a bit, telling us all that God "scratches where the world itches." Turns out a little preaching is all that's needed, for soon enough the entertainment shows up. And after recovering from a little bus accident, they fill up the stage with some of the best bluegrass you're likely to hear anywhere in town this summer. Guitars, a stand-up base, a washboard, a mandolin, a cow bell -- you name it, the Sanders family knows how to play it. It's even fun to hear the testifying each family member does between songs. The cast features some lovely singers, including Gerry Poland as the saved sinner Uncle Stanley Sanders, and Karen Hodgin as Vera Sanders, the mother hen who tells a hysterical story featuring a june bug tied to a string. There's some conflict over whether the Sanders should be dancing on stage -- folks don't dance in the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. But mostly everybody stays in high spirits, and a wonderful time is had by all. Through August 27 at the Grace Theater, 2710 West Alabama, 713-526-2721.

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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