Capsule Reviews

Bad Dates An icky date can happen to anyone. But Theresa Rebeck's one-woman show is a reminder of how hilarious they can be in retrospect. The whole production takes place in single mom Haley's bedroom, where she primps and dresses for several dates as she tells us about her life. The 90-minute monologue is chopped into several scenes; in each, she's either returning from a date or getting ready for one. We get to watch her mistakes and hear her horror stories. One moron talks endlessly about his colonoscopy; another is gay. Haley, of course, overlooks the man she's meant to be with simply because she meets him at a dinner full of wanna-be New Agers who talk about preserving the lives of bugs. She calls him the bug guy. This television-style story is complicated slightly by Haley's unlikely working life, which includes the Mafia-involved owner of the restaurant she manages and a cash-filled shoebox she keeps under the bed. But the script is mostly taken up with her prattle about bad dates. Good thing Haley is played by the utterly charming Annalee Jefferies. It is Jefferies alone, under Jeremy B. Cohen's direction, who keeps the ship of this show from sinking under the weight of its own cuteness. Jefferies moves about Jeff Cowie's funky bedroom set with girlish grace as she tries on skirts and shoes, and giggles and moans about her experiences. When Haley triumphs in the end, Jefferies make it impossible not to smile along with her. There's nothing here that you won't find on TV any night of the week, but Jefferies's radiant charisma makes the night out worth it. Through April 10 at the Alley Theatre, Neuhaus Stage, 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

La Bohme Giacomo Puccini's perennially evergreen masterpiece is blooming at Opera in the Heights, thanks to a youthful, credible band of singers who throw themselves into their roles of penniless Parisian bohemians, but no thanks to the molasses-slow tempi of conductor William Weibel. The camaraderie of the six friends who live in the scandalous Latin Quarter in mid-19th-century France is infectious and, ultimately, deeply affecting, as Puccini spins his rhapsodic melodies around and through his (and librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa's) sublime tale of young love found, split by jealousy, regained, then heartbreakingly lost. It's the world's most popular opera. As sickly flower-maker Mimi, Dana Zenobi looks like a drawing by Ingres, and her voice is just as inky: a deep, luscious soprano that spills out Puccini's achingly beautiful tunes with grace to spare. There isn't a false move in her performance, either. Hard on her heels is Mela Dailey as tempestuous good-time girl Musetta, who blasts on stage like a Hollywood diva and sings the hell out of her famous "Waltz." Christian Sebek, as poet Rodolfo, who falls for Mimi, bellows ardently in Act I but, fortunately, tones it down in time for the intimate Act IV, when Mimi succumbs. Christian Guajardo's softly powerful Marcello, the on-again/off-again lover of Musetta, and Jason Lester's Colline, the philosopher who pawns his beloved overcoat to pay for a doctor for Mimi, add weight and texture with deeply felt vocalizing and subtle characterizations. If only Maestro Weibel had followed the lead of La Bohme's first interpreter, the legendary Arturo Toscanini, who summoned Puccini's fire, ardor and dreamy romanticism. But, of course, that's no small task. Through April 9. 1703 Heights Boulevard, 713-861-5303.

Maximal Schnapper Jennifer Wood promised that her new Suchu Dance opus, Maximal Schnapper, would conjure serenity -- and it did, to the max. There were white floors, white costumes, white (bland) movement, white curtains, white skies...White is a tricky color choice, tending to make things float away, which is exactly what happened in this loosely structured dance. Wood and Louie Saletan's arresting video images of water, birds and a lonely dock grounded the "white" ephemera. During one ravishing moment, the dancers lay still, curled up in the fetal position against a backdrop of birds frantically flapping their wings while intense drumming pounded in our heads. This mix of stillness and hyperkinetic sound and visuals brought a rare moment of clarity. A hilarious "pas de thug" played out well, with Toni Leago Valle and Aileen Mapes as the bad girls of Suchu; close-ups of grooming waterfowl made for a curious juxtaposition. In a gorgeous moment toward the end, the company danced to its own lyric drumbeat while waves crashed and birds sailed by. The foaming crests of the waves synchronized beautifully with the all-white terrain. Unfortunately, a few stunning moments can't save an otherwise aimless piece filled with rather nondescript choreography and lackluster dancing. As always, the costumes and musical selections were superb. Through April 9 at Barnevelder Movement/Arts, 2201 Preston, 713-540-7634.

Morning Star Sylvia Regan's eternally optimistic Morning Star is a sugary throwback to better days. The play opened on Broadway in 1940, during an era when the American dream promised a glowing future to anyone willing to work. In keeping with the cloying hopefulness at the heart of the play, Main Street Theater's show, directed by Steve Garfinkel with boyish enthusiasm, is a bright, shining, happy production about the human heart's power to overcome adversity. The marathon (as one fellow theatergoer put it) three-act play covers lots of time and subject matter. Politics, culture and love all get their moments in this story about a Jewish immigrant family struggling to make it on New York City's Lower East Side. The story opens at the beginning of the 20th century. Events such as the infamous Triangle Factory Fire -- a real historical catastrophe in which 146 workers died, locked in on the burning top floors of the Asch Building -- and World War I find their way into the narrative. By Act III, it's 1931. The family is mired in desperate difficulties, but the matriarch, Becky Felderman, is always a survivor despite her family's troubles. This narrative represents the sort of "upbeat" mid-20th-century theater that has been replaced by Lifetime Television and Hallmark movies. The performers are an attractive bunch, even if they are a bit stiff (this is especially true of the younger members of the cast). And Karen Ross and Thomas Baird, who play the two leads with likable ease, are completely pleasant to watch. But, of course, running at just under three hours, with two intermissions, the production presses well into the outer reaches of pleasant. Through April 17 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706.

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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
Nancy Galeota-Wozny
Lee Williams