Carmen If you were going to be remembered for only one opera in your prolific career, you'd do no worse than Carmen. Composer Georges Bizet died during its premiere run in 1875, thinking his Gypsy girl had shocked his native Parisians, who weren't accustomed to such brazen hussies on the stage of the Opera-Comique. Boy, was he wrong. After a bumpy start, which was scandalous only because the Paris audiences pretended they were above such things, the opera shot off around the world as if from a cannon, and it hasn't stopped since. The familiar tale of the fiery, liberated woman who'd rather die than be hemmed in by jealous lovers is as evergreen and fresh as ever, thanks to the revival at Houston Grand Opera. In her patented interpretation, Batrice Uria Monzon -- the reigning Carmen of the day -- is all sexy smoke and fire, with a lush vocal beauty that could melt ice caps. As she waits for her lover at the tavern, she arrays herself across a table, hikes up her voluminous skirts, shows off those shapely gams and still manages to sing up a storm. Hapless Don Jose (Marcus Haddock) doesn't stand a chance; he throws everything away to be in her arms, and his robust tenor fills the house with ardor, passion and dramatic surety. Raymond Aceto's baritone is a trifle too grainy for him to be utterly convincing as Carmen's current honey, but the five smuggler pals rip through their "pizzicato quintet" with precise abandon and excellent technique. Studio alumna Jessica Jones can't make milksop Micaela any less insufferable, but she sings all her prayers with radiant conviction. The production is sultry and minimal, and the orchestra sparkles and glows under the heated conducting of Sebastian Lang-Lessing. Viva Carmen! Through May 2. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas, 713-228-6737.
I Love You, But You're Sitting on My Cat In this installment of the Fertle Family saga, deadbeat offspring move back in with the folks -- amnesiac dad Ned and giddy mom Mildred -- in Dumpster, Texas. Bitchy, menopausal Justicena and her whipped nerd of a husband, Pete, pull up in their battered Nova after Pete goes on strike at the khaki factory. And son Lou, with ditsy wife Bridgette and baby Angina in tow, has "been reduced" and now can't pay the rent for parking the double-wide. What's the family to do? There are only so many split wieners to be resplit to feed them all, and Mildred's special dessert, Whipped Whiz, can go just so far. Money's needed, and there's no better place to get some than at Tony Mandini's Pink Palace, the crappiest casino in Lake Charles. Lou's got a plan for beating the house odds, so they all grab their not-so-secret stashes of money and hop on the Big Pink Bus. Included in the group are Uncle Al and girlfriend Gwenda, dumb, lovable son Earl and even scene-stealing, gibberish-speaking Doc Moore. This is funny in itself, but with all the characters played by Radio Music Theatre's three zany actors (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills), the hilarity expands exponentially. Once the action moves inside the tinsel palace, more crazies join the mix: squirrelly Tony, who used to host the Fertle's favorite TV show, Bowling For Balls, and whacked-out '70s musical icon Pot Pie. That still leaves time for unisex bathroom sex, the frisking of Justicena, nelly Sheriff Curtis and a Village People disco karaoke. This is a wonderful comic trip that leaves you laughing long after the show's over. Through May 3. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.
Orson's Shadow The magical land of great theater bubbles forth from the minds of titanic narcissists in Austin Pendleton's compelling Orson's Shadow. Now running at the Alley, the strange and funny play takes us back to the '60s, during the sunset years of theatrical monarchs Orson Welles (Wilbur Edwin Henry), Laurence Olivier (James Black) and Vivien Leigh (Elizabeth Heflin). Pendleton re-creates the fascinating rehearsals for Ionesco's Rhinoceros, in which stadium-size egos and beautifully broken hearts battle for a little bit of respect in a world that has all but forgotten them. The play opens on famous theater critic Kenneth Tynan (Jeffrey Bean) persuading Welles to direct Rhinoceros and to feature Olivier in the starring role. Now Tynan has to persuade Olivier to do the project with Welles, and the Alley's production picks up speed once Black's Olivier walks on stage. Wearing a pair of black horn-rims and a starched dark suit, Black is a flurry of frenetic and self-absorbed energy; he captures the grace and the unique body rhythm of Olivier. This is one of Black's best performances at the Alley in quite some time, reason enough to see the production. Another good reason: the opportunity to watch the rehearsals within the play. As directed by David Cromer, these delicious scenes capture the creative work that goes on behind the lights and costumes. There is something highly romantic in Pendleton's curious story about what happens to creative geniuses as they grow older. But because it is based on true events, the romance moves through the tale with an abiding melancholy. This production will linger in the hearts of those who revere artists and all they go through to make our lives richer. Through April 30. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.