Capsule Reviews

Medea Under the guidance of Euripides, one of the oldest playwrights in Western civilization, director/adaptor Charlie Scott has created what may be the most innovative, exciting and outrageously original piece of showmanship to grace a Houston stage this year: his dangerously delicious Medea, featuring the most infamous scorned woman of all time. Into this ancient tragedy Scott has woven some gloriously surprising and contemporary gestures that feel organic but are completely new to the tale. Before the houselights go down, we watch a silent film in which Medea (played by a beautifully raging Tamarie Cooper) and Jason (Jeff Miller) -- the hubby who abandons Medea and their two children for another woman -- drive through a wasteland of refineries in a bleak, foreboding landscape. The image is chilling. Enacting Medea's internal struggles are four dancers (Helen Cloots, Nicole Craft, Jessi Harper and Tina Shariffskul) choreographed by Suchu Dance artistic director Jennifer Wood. This odd addition to the play works like poetry -- it is often inexplicably moving. The dancers are beautiful to look at, and their strange, fluid movements include everything from hissing like cats to tilting sideways in straight-back chairs. There are many other surprises in this production, including the chorus -- typically the most dreadfully dull part of any Greek play -- which has been turned into a pack of pot-smoking, bizarre-looking creatures, who are often very funny. Batman, of all things, struts out in the second act. And Creon (Paul Locklear), the doomed, power-hungry king who banishes Medea from Corinth, bears a striking resemblance to George W. Bush as he makes his cruel statements about Medea's "voodoo" capabilities. All these seemingly disparate pieces add up to a deliciously rich night of theater. Through May 7 at the Axiom, 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

The Mineola Twins The Mineola Twins never has been considered Paula Vogel's best work. The strange little comedy about women's changing roles in American politics is strident, preachy and a little too obvious for many people's tastes. It spanks the religious right and questions the liberalities of the left as it tells the story of Myra and Myrna, twin sisters who embody opposite ends of the political spectrum. But you don't have to be a political animal to enjoy the production now waving across the boards like a brightly colored flag at Stages Repertory Theatre. The show, directed by a ruefully irreverent Rob Bundy, is a snapping romp across a wildly diverse and often violent historical landscape that includes everything from Patty Hearst-style bank robbers to abortion-clinic bombers. Heading up the assault is Shannon Emerick, who plays both uptight Myrna and wild-child Myra with equal charm. Her good girl Myrna huffs and puffs as she starts out life dreaming of the suburbs, only to end up scared to distraction of "tofu-eating, fetus-flushing, femi-Nazis." And Emerick is enchanting as the wicked Myra, who lifts her chin to the wind as she talks about sleeping with the football team and declares that she wants to spend her life doing "everything people tell me I can't." These very different American perspectives are shaped by lovers and children. And, of course, each sister eventually picks a profession that fits her politics. Myrna ends up a right-wing talk show host, while Myra heads a Planned Parenthood branch. As history tells us, both stories are riddled with violence. And despite their differences, the sisters have a spooky connection -- the nightmare sequences in which they dream each other's lives are some of the best moments of the play. Oh, and the ending is a blast, in more ways than one. Through May 8 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0220.

Romeo and Juliet To tell Shakespeare's immortal tale of star-crossed lovers from warring families without its Renaissance passion and ultraviolence is to take the Shakespeare out of the tale. Charles Gounod's 1867 opera was an international hit -- at the time, an even bigger success than his Faust. But in spirit it's as far removed from the Bard as the Seine is from the Avon. With libretto by Parisian theatrical pros Barbier and Carr (Mignon, Faust, Tales of Hoffmann), the story has been French-fried into a romance, with the tragic elements excised. This is what's on stage at Houston Grand Opera. The plot is familiar in a CliffsNotes sort of way, but a lot of Will gets dumped, and an extraneous character, Stephano (a trouser role for soprano) is grafted on like a third leg without adding anything to the opera except another female voice. Moreover, the Nurse doesn't sing much, and there's no Lady Capulet. Gounod dexterously overlays this truncated classic with a diaphanous web of melody that resounds with tantalizing hints of what's to come in French music in the decades ahead, turning Shakespeare's jagged brutality into extremely lyrical duets for the lovers and bravura set pieces for Mercutio, Friar Lawrence and Stephano. Tenor Ramon Vargas (Romeo), who sounds better here than he has in previous appearances, and soprano Ana Maria Martinez (Juliet), who doesn't, won't ever pass for teenagers. Of course, to be fair, minus ballet dancers or that photogenic duo from the Zeffirelli film, who could? The lesser characters come off best: baritone Daniel Belcher's quicksilver Mercutio, who sings Gounod's shameless knockoff of Berlioz's "Queen Mab" scherzo; bass Nikolay Didenko's sonorous Friar Lawrence; soprano Patricia Risley's butch Stephano. This Euro-trash production is one of HGO's dreariest, with ungainly costumes that mix Lord of the Rings with Kansas City Bomber, and a mise-en-scne that includes -- joltingly -- Lady Fortuna with two faces, not to mention a very fey one-winged angel who slinks around the sliding walls of the set as if cruising for Mephistopheles. Through May 8. Wortham Theater Center, 713-228-OPERA.

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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