Capsule Reviews

As You Like It Every Shakespeare festival needs a comedy, and in Houston the offering this year is As You Like It, directed by Sidney Berger. Filled with much singing and philosophizing, the play isn't one of the Bard's most focused comedies. But the easygoing plot allows for lots of fun, especially for the rambunctious Jennifer Cherry, who clearly loves every minute she spends on stage as Rosalind, the centerpiece of this happy production. In the early scenes, she's stunning in her gorgeous clothes, and when she ends up in the countryside dressed as a boy, she has great fun as a girl who frequently forgets she's supposed to be a boy and has to remind herself not to be so dainty. Also funny is Rutherford Cravens as Touchstone, the flamboyant, randy clown who follows his mistress Celia into banishment. Daniel Magill makes a sexy love object as Orlando, the man Rosalind desires; and Tomas Prior adds a lovely soulfulness to the production as the cape-wearing Jaques, a most melancholy philosophizer. And while As You Like It may not be Shakespeare's best comedy, there is much to recommend this production, including the obvious fact that this is Shakespeare, after all. Through August 13 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive in Hermann Park, 713-284-8354.

Hamlet Of all of Shakespeare's beleaguered heroes, none is more woeful than the grief-stricken Hamlet. The poor man's father is dead, and to make matters worse, it looks as if his brand-new stepfather may have murdered dear old Dad. Any good son would be positively undone by these circumstances, especially one as prone to brooding as Hamlet (Matthew Carter). But as imagined by director Carolyn Houston Boone in the Shakespeare Festival's production of Hamlet, the infamous Prince of Denmark is burdened by even nastier problems, most notably a shockingly slutty mother who can't keep her hands or lips off her new husband, even when she's in the presence of her son. The production starts off as conventional as they come. John Gow's set consists of painted backdrops that look like a 19th-century version of realism, and the ghost of Hamlet's dead father (Thomas Prior) looks old-school, dressed up in white and looking an awful lot like Dickens's Jacob Marley. But the production takes a fast left into the land of the odd when we first meet Hamlet's mother, Gertrude (Jennifer Cherry), and his stepfather, Claudius (Daniel Magill), who are conducting business even as they all but hump each other in front of Hamlet and everyone else in the court. Of course, any director who takes on Hamlet is charged with finding something new in the most familiar play in western civilization. And making Gertrude, a character who is often thought of as simply weak, into a craven narcissist is certainly interesting. But when Hamlet wails, "Frailty thy name is woman," the line rings completely false; anyone, especially the obsessively observant Hamlet, can see that this Gertrude is anything but frail. Still, for all its weirdness, this energetic production is certainly not dull. Hamlet in the park makes for a surprisingly decent night out. Through August 12 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive in Hermann Park, 713-284-8354.

Moonchildren Remember the '60s? Sittin' around, preferably on the floor, smokin' a fatty, blowin' soap bubbles and groovin' on how round and cool they are? Between giggles and the inevitable munchies, the talk was relevant, deep and meaningful, usually against the Man, the pigs, the war and anyone over 30. It all seemed so important at the time. Rootless young adults -- a literary genre for eons -- are at the center of Michael Weller's drama set during the mid-'60s in a college apartment shared by seven friends (soon to be eight, when a hippie chick meets one of the guys). It's a Polaroid of the age, and the Back Porch Players, adeptly directed by Peter Garcia, infuse the nebulousness of plot and character with an improv quality that suits the author's meanderings. The play is much too long, padded with a Whitman's Sampler of extraneous characters who bring it down. Bummer. But the young men and women playing these characters, who are now graduating and facing life's crossroads, give this comedy/drama a good buzz with their shifting alliances, misplaced loyalties and good-natured bickering over missing hamburgers and weird hang-ups. Youthful idealism gets lost between scene changes, as do some characters' motivations, but the gung-ho cast keeps us rooting for them, even when they're pompous little shits, or when playwright Weller has forgotten what he's trying to say. Lovely ensemble work by Nicholas Bogosian, Morgan Rosse, Dan Gordon, Kregg Dailey, Matt Hune, Rachael Kruk, Nick Collins and Elizabeth Bell. Through August 12. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

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