Capsule Reviews

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go There's a play buried somewhere inside Catherine Filloux's comedy/drama about transvestites vs. the Amish (yes, you read that correctly), but you'd be hard-pressed to find a coherent one in this messy production, now stumbling all over itself at Theatre Suburbia. Come to think of it, there are four or five plays wobbling about on their high heels, but playwright Filloux would rather clomp around playing grown-up than be one. Talk about your seams showing! A dramatist in residence at the University of Ohio, Filloux has written a slew of plays, so she should know better. The mixture of drag queens and the Amish is flammable enough, but Filloux unwisely throws in an unnecessary feminist tract, more family drama than three Eugene O'Neill slugfests, a patronizing rainbow attitude and jagged chunks of exposition that lie there waiting for life. Numerous plot digressions and monologues go nowhere but are nevertheless given the dramatic weight of a Shakespearean soliloquy. Filloux has done her research on the Pennsylvania Dutch, but she can't explain their sincere quirkiness without condescension. Potentially interesting characters are dropped after they're introduced (trannies Cleo and Toni) or are expendable (Joan, the motel owner); then there is Sarah, whose dramatic function is utterly unfathomable. Joan isn't the right character to give life-changing lessons to confused teenager Rebecca -- that's the province of principals Barbie or Jacky. There's a reason why God invented star roles. Only actors Gene Griesbach and Jay Menchaca (as matronly Jacky and sexpot Barbie) are comfortable on stage in their high heels, but even their professionalism can't save this bedraggled play, which badly needs a shave and a Botox injection. Through July 1. 1410 W. 43rd, 713-682-3525.

Don Quixote Break out the castanets and ruffled skirts! Ben Stevenson's high-octane spectacle, Don Quixote, is back and closing the season at Houston Ballet. Created in 1995 for Lauren Anderson and Carlos "Air" Acosta, this Don Q looks as vivacious and colorful as ever. Judanna Lynn's luscious costumes and Thomas Boyd's theatrical setting transport balletgoers into the world of Old Spain, where the man of La Mancha's search for the ideal woman leads him to Barcelona and the middle of a family feud over the star-crossed lovers Kitri and Basilio. Anderson reprised her role of the fiery and funny Kitri opening night, this time partnered with Randy Herrera. The cast also features hot new hunk Sergio Torrado -- a native of Madrid -- as the penniless barber Basilio. Torrado, a brand-new soloist snatched from San Francisco Ballet, is definitely one to watch for next season. In this Don Q, he's an excellent match for Mireille Hassenboehler's Kitri, and their wedding grand pas is a display of classical fireworks. Everything about this ballet is big: the romance, the comedy, the sets. Opening night, the Spanish-flavored score by Alois Louis Minkus, artfully arranged by the late John Lanchbery, was performed with verve by the Houston Ballet Orchestra. As story ballets go, this one is the whole enchilada -- it even has a live horse on stage, a dream sequence and a big dancing-peasant number -- so catch it before it's gone. Through June 18 at the Wortham Theater Center, 501, Texas, 713-227-ARTS.

Impossible Marriage In Beth Henley's stylized Southern universe (she's best known for her prize-winning Crimes of the Heart and The Miss Firecracker Contest), her eccentric characters with their eccentric names (here, Kandall, Floral and Pandora) speak wistfully of times and emotions past. They also pontificate in florid, literary pronouncements, as if Oscar Wilde had dropped into the Mississippi swamps. It takes a while to get used to Henley's odd people, who certainly mean no harm, as they talk with faux gentility about mundane topics -- like innocent Pandora's wedding to Edvard, a much older hippie-type novelist (Scot Smith). Her wise-to-the-world married sister Floral (Stacy Ann Spaeth), most visibly pregnant, attempts to talk Pandora (a dewy Rae Alexander) out of making such a mistake, but the impressionistic Pandora, wanting to experience all of life, will not hear of it. Ditsy mom Kandall (Barbara Hartman) doesn't want a scandal, while Edvard's estranged eldest son, Sidney (Eric Dunlap), argues that the marriage will cause the suicide of his own mother. We also learn that the pious Reverend (Bill Artzberger) has earlier sinned with Floral (hence the pregnancy) and Floral's rou of a husband, Jonsey (Roy Johnson), has never laid a gloved hand upon her or anyone else, contrary to what everyone in town says. No one in this make-believe Mississippi is quite what they seem, and all their marriages and relationships have been impossible from the beginning. The tone of the performance should fall somewhere between arch and utter sincerity, which is difficult enough to describe, let alone achieve, but under Victoria Beard's direction, the attractive cast at Theatre Southwest gets it just about right. They manage to make the impossible probable, and isn't that what theater is all about? Through June 24. 8144-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505.

Mass Appeal "If you want to become a priest, lie," advises Father Tim (John Stevens) to his firebrand young deacon Mark (Aaron Thompson) in Bill C. Davis's two-character study of faith, love and commitment, now playing at Country Playhouse. He ought to know -- he speaks from experience. Comfortably ensconced in his parish for the last ten years, Father Tim knows how to play the game, how to get along. He doesn't make waves and never challenges his well-to-do congregation. He doesn't want to end up in the wilds of Iowa, running a parish as a "Bangladesh granola head." He drives a Mercedes, goes to the races on Monday and drinks fine wine supplied by his parishioners. In fact, he drinks a lot of wine. He also gives comfort when it's convenient, but with minimum effort. Mark, the new guy in the pew who's learning to be a priest, speaks the truth without thinking through the consequences, which is admirable but hazardous to his future career. These two seemingly diametrically opposed men of the church butt heads throughout the play, until they realize their similarities and discover the personal strengths they assumed had been lost. You don't have to be Catholic to relish this faith-based duologue, which brims with humor and humanity. Though set in a church, the men's quest is universal. It seems odd, though, that Stevens, the mouthpiece for uptight tradition, sports a ponytail. He's wearing the other character's hair. It's the only wrong note in this warmly entertaining piece, which makes us laugh and think, most often at the same time. Through June 24. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

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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