Capsule Reviews

Barrymore Theater LaB should serve up baked apples and brown sugar to complement the mouthwatering ham so gloriously played by Charles Krohn in William Luce's two-man show (the prickly prompter Frank, drolly acted by Josh Wright, remains off stage throughout). The human pork portrayed at this theatrical feast is none other than fabled actor John Barrymore, seen during his last days as he prepares a vanity production of his greatest hit, Shakespeare's Richard III (the play takes place in 1942). The effects of a lifetime of alcoholism cloud his every move but spur his fertile, addled memory as this beloved rogue relives, in painfully funny bits and pieces, the highlights from his celebrated career. Krohn, an Alley Theatre veteran, gives the performance of a lifetime, replete with ribald humor, nuance and warm sympathy for this wreck of an actor falling apart before our eyes. Granted, Krohn in no physical way resembles even the shattered remnants of Barrymore, but emotionally he nails it. Wearing a faded fedora, he recites dramatic snippets from Shakespeare, belts out "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" and regales us with bawdy limericks and choice descriptions of his four ex-wives ("bus accidents" is one of the more polite descriptions), all the while inhabiting the still-breathing shell of that once-great tragedian who pissed it all away. Barrymore may be waylaid by regrets and haunted by ghosts, but as portrayed by Krohn, he's amazingly alive, unique and oh so tasty a ham. Through February 18. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

Cavalia Even if your equine appreciation ossified with Mr. Ed reruns when you were a kid, this artsy-fartsy horse show will astonish you in ways you'd never expect. Conceived by artistic director Normand Latourelle, a founder of the ubiquitous Canadian New Age circus Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia is the hippodrome to end all hippodromes: a mighty pageant to man's enduring love for the horse, overlaid with that inscrutable Eastern feel-good mumbo-jumbo, as well as good old-fashioned Las Vegas glitz and pizzazz. Stunningly designed in a cinemascope format and played underneath a marvelous Arabian Nights fantasy of a tent -- the largest big top since Ringling Bros. -- the score of Lusitano, Arabian, Percheron and Quarter Horse beauties (they're all stallions or geldings, but each and every one is a beauty) prance, cavort, perform dressage and mesmerize with their artistically precise routines, all while human ringmasters, bareback and trick riders, and gymnasts twirl overhead, fly by wire onto their galloping backs, or summersault over, among or between them. Sumptuously costumed, glossed with a hypnotic contempo-hippie live musical accompaniment and meticulously lighted (especially the immense hologram of a white steed projected onto a wall of rain), the show is a perfect mesh of highbrow art and jaw-dropping circus tricks. An amazing evening in the theater, it's definitely a horse of a different color. Through February 19. Post Oak Boulevard at Richmond, 1-866-999-8111.

Hold Me! There are two good reasons to see this sparkling little jewel of a play: 1. You know the work of newspaper cartoonist Jules Feiffer; and 2. You don't. In either case, this quirky little bauble will thoroughly delight. Feiffer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for The Village Voice and The New Yorker, has been drawing his distinctive pen-and-ink panels for decades. They're a microcosm of modern life's neuroses, paranoia, dysfunction, emotional detachment and eternal quest for love and acceptance -- all flavored with a wry and simple, but achingly true and very funny, absurdist irony that gently reveals us for the sad little sacks we are. Feiffer's play is a live-action, zippy collection of his cartoons. With a terrific cast (Julie Reinagel, Steve Finn, Carl Masterson, Laura Moss Brown and Shea Feeley) adroitly shuffled around the stage by director Maryanne Lyon and played against a cartoony interior of crayon-sketched red walls, Feiffer's idiosyncratic worldview is lovingly depicted. Wafting throughout these short, needle-sharp little skits or monologues is an iconoclastic Greenwich Village interpretive dancer, who moves to whatever cause, emotion or year she happens to remember. The last vignette perfectly captures the sardonic essence of Feiffer: The character Bernard sits on his bed with the blanket over his head. He says he's all alone, behind walls, in a fort, in a tunnel, buried under the sea. Everyone looks for him. The lights go dim. He stays under the blanket, covered in his protective shell, hiding from the world. "If you love me," he says, "you'll find me." Through February 18. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.

Jane Eyre Paul Gordon and John Caird's faithful-to-a-fault musical adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's enduring Victorian tale is a demanding work. During the pocket-size epic, we follow the life of orphan Jane from her Dickensian childhood at a repressive boarding school to her work as governess at the brooding estate of equally brooding Edward Rochester. We watch her stir with love, discover the house's harrowing "dark secret," fly into the arms of another and return to the ruined shell of Rochester. When it was published in 1847 under Brontë's pen name Currer Bell, the novel shocked the gentry with its plain, independent heroine who battled for equality in love. The musical is a big romantic opus, a more personal Les Misérables, with soaring, emotional pop-rock anthems and overly ripe lyrics. This type of show works only when the cast is unafraid to soar, and Masquerade Theatre's production, under Phillip Duggins's fluid direction, is blessed with a stage full of top-notch fliers. At the pinnacle stand Kristina Sullivan (Jane) and Luther Chakurian (Rochester), who pour their hearts, souls and lungs into their characters, bringing the ill-fated lovers to blazing life. They are tremendous. Close behind are Monica Passley (snobby fiancée Blanche), Stephanie Bradow (busybody housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax), Allison Sumrall-Hunt (mad Mrs. Rochester), Alex Arthur (saintly girlfriend Helen), Rebekah Dahl (evil Mrs. Reed), Sam Brown (virginal St. John) and John Gremillion (misguided brother-in-law Mason). For a robust, old-fashioned and surprisingly affecting piece of musical theater, Jane Eyre is that rare Victorian cameo -- a tad worn, but luminous when it catches the light. Through February 12. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525.

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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