Capsule Reviews

Bus Stop In the 1950s theater world, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Inge did for the Midwest what Tennessee Williams did for the South: He brought it sex. His 1955 comedy Bus Stop is a primer on various facets of love: the getting, the losing and the keeping (although when the characters actually get what they think they want, they seem fated for a crash). During a vicious Kansas snowstorm, a bus pulls into Grace's Diner to wait until the roads clear. The passengers include Cherie (Kristin O'Toole), a sweet, no-talent singer with Hollywood stars in her eyes who's literally been carried aboard the bus by gruff, macho cowboy Bo (Houston Hayes); after a one-night stand with her, Bo has decided to take her to his ranch in Montana as his wife. Along for the ride are Virgil (Tom Parker), Bo's laconic ranching partner, and Dr. Lyman (Bob Maddox), an intellectual, self-loathing professor with a taste for adolescent girls who immediately zeroes in on Elma (Nicholl Varga), the diner's high school waitress. Carl (Scott Mendell), the philandering bus driver, puts the make on earthy Grace (Zona Jane Meyer), who's equally in need of a quickie. Will (Robert Lowe), the small town's sheriff, oversees this lusty, rowdy group, and he vows to protect Cherie from Bo's unwanted advances. Under Lisa Schofield's persuasive direction, Theatre Southwest's able cast makes the most of Inge's rather unhappy worldview, where the most macho turn out to be virgins, marriage vows last only until a different urge strikes, and lechers and loners usually stay that way. Through March 18. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505.

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.

An Infinite Ache David Schulner's play is a minor miracle of writing. Now running at Stages Repertory Theatre, it manages to move across a wide landscape even as it plunges deep. The story, about marriage and how difficult it is to love someone till death, starts with Charles (David Kenner) and Hope (Tasheena Miyagi) on their first date and follows the ordinary American couple through the joys of childbirth, the trials of familial loss and, ultimately, the sorrows of sickness and old age. The couple also deals with everything in between, including sleepless baby nights, difficulties with parents and a wild teenage daughter. After getting off to a creaky start, the story about long love moves quickly. This is a fast two hours of theater, but for all its speed, it often cuts to the quick, especially when it lingers over the most banal sorrows a married couple encounters, such as Charles's difficulties getting a well-paying job and Hope's wandering eye. And even though the young cast at Stages is inexperienced, and Peter Webster's direction doesn't do much to develop the emotional nuances of the story, the writing is strong enough to lift up this attractive couple and carry them along on the powerful wave of truth. Through March 12. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0220.

Women Behind Bars Tony Award-winner Tom Eyen's homage to sleazy B-movie matinee-fillers, Women Behind Bars, is exploitation theater to the max. It's set in the Women's House of Detention, smack in the middle of NYC's Greenwich Village, but where it really takes place is at camp — a delicious, over-the-top, send-up land populated by a butch matron, a toady assistant and seven female prisoners (six nutcases and a sympathetic first-timer). There is nothing redeeming in this mindless, hysterical romp, and even less political correctness, thank goodness. Lesbianism runs amok in the hothouse prison, but then so do S&M, sexual torture, revenge lobotomies and a pet chicken. Under Joe Watts's direction, nobody changes for the better, or for the worse, and the cartoon situations are brightened by a game cast, who play it straight even when in drag. During the show's initial run off-off-Broadway in 1974, drag superstar Divine played the Matron, just so you know what kind of prison play this is. Glen Lambert, though, is himself divine as the bull dyke Matron. Burly, with a rotund contralto voice that Tallulah Bankhead would envy and lime eye shadow arching onto his forehead, Lambert is like a careening semi-wide trailer barreling full-tilt upon you. Actors Ronnie Williams (street-tough JoJo in a pink Afro), Taavi Mark (Blanche, inspired by the neurotic Tennessee Williams heroine), Tara Stevens (Cheri, a dead-on Marilyn Monroe type), Richard Solis (chicken-loving Guadalupe), Melrose Fougere (foul-mouthed Granny), Julie Oliver (a Katherine Hepburn-crazy Ada), Lisa Marie Daugherty (tough-as-nails Gloria), Candyce Prince (innocent Mary Eleanor), David Barron (not-so-dumb assistant Louise) and Joseph Easton (who plays multiple male roles) give these low-lifes just enough semblance of truth to keep the campy high jinks under control and the laughs coming. Through March 11. Club Resurrection, 711 W. Gray, 713-522-2204.

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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