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#&142; 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.
Johnny Guitar, The Musical Send yourself to summer camp a little early by heading to Theater LaB for this extremely funny musical adaptation of Nicholas Ray's 1954 film-noir western. The cult film was pretty much a parody to begin with, considering its subtext of womanly homoeroticism out on the range, its overheated dialogue and its inclusion of Joan Crawford in skintight jeans, acting more butch than the guys. New creators Nicholas van Hoogstraren (book) and Martin Silvestri and Joel Higgins (music and lyrics) have taken the extant screenplay almost word for word, tossed in some '50s-type songs and created their own camp classic. Right from the start, as tumbleweed is pulled across the stage, we can sit back, relax and laugh ourselves silly. The hilarity continues with the show's cartoon cutout set design by Boris Kaplun, no-holds-barred performances, wonderfully goofy costuming (uncredited) and deft staging from director-choreographer Jimmy Phillips. The folks at Theater LaB deliver the goods -- and then some. Carolyn Johnson plays tough saloon owner Vienna, the gender-bending thorn in the townsfolk's side, with enough of Mommie Dearest's grand mannerisms and eyebrows to make you look twice. Mary Hooper, as rival Emma, who so hates Vienna that there's got to be more going on underneath that calico dress than even she lets on, belts out her songs and straps on her six-shooter with manly bravado. Jonathan McVay, as Johnny Guitar, Vienna's real love and former gunslinger, plays it cool, sings it hot and wears his own tight-fitting jeans; while Alex Stutler, as Johnny's rival the Dancin' Kid, is all burly posturing, with a lovely baritone to back it up. The sheriff and his posse of doo-wop singers, who keep popping up from behind the set, are nimbly handled by Craig Boucher, Josh Wright, John Berno and Luke Marsh. There's not a straight shooter in the house, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Through June 10. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.