Capsule Reviews

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield's silly comedy will be funniest to those who know the great bard's work. But the three stooges playing all the characters in the wacky production at Country Playhouse -- Larry Hermes, Matt Hitchens and John Mitsakis (who both directed and understudied on the night reviewed here) -- are just the sort of knuckleheads who could make just about anybody giggle, even those who don't know their Lears from their Hamlets. On an almost empty stage, save for a few large and badly painted canvases featuring some of Shakespeare's most famous titles, the actors kick up their heels and do just about every irreverent thing possible to cut old Will down to size. In two and a half hours, the show makes some sort of gesture to every play Shakespeare wrote. Macbeth is done in girly plaid skirts, and Othello becomes a rap complete with bling. All the comedies are condensed into one short scene featuring several sets of twins who wash up on an island and get lost in a forest. There's even enough time to do Hamlet four times through -- the funniest is when we get to see it backward. This is the lightest sort of theatrical froth -- and certainly not for anyone looking to see Shakespeare treated with the respect he deserves -- but these guys are having so much fun on stage, it's impossible to come out of the theater without a bit of a grin on your face. Through February 5. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

Varekai Cirque du Soleil's production of Varekai, with all its dizzying circus acts, is shaped around a loosely constructed story that happens in a fantastically imagined world. Enter the canvas flaps and be amazed. Wondrous beings appear and wander through designer Stphane Roy's mazelike set, against a backdrop of slender cane rods. Along with composer Violaine Corradi's otherwordly music, the sounds of birds and insects flitting and singing around the tent add depth. Nol van Genuchten's lighting infuses the stage with the dappled glow of morning, and the whole place becomes some forgotten fairy-land grove. Dressed in Eiko Ishioka's fantastic costumes, the performers create a menagerie of beings, the sort that might come from the most fabulous childhood dream. One of the most astonishing acts is also the one most integrated into the story of the show. According to press materials, varekai means " 'wherever' in the Romany language of the gypsies." And so this show is a sort of homage to the wanderer, who appears in the shape of an Icarus-like being who falls from the sky dressed in angel-white and long wings. Once he lands, he loses his wings, and in an act called "The Flight of Icarus," he must work his way out of a creamy-white net that holds him captive. Performer Anton Chelnokov is breathtaking to watch. Other acts -- such as "Water Meteors" and "Icarian Games" -- amaze simply because they look so impossibly difficult and dangerous. As with all of the Canadian company's productions, this circus provides a story with characters that infuse the acrobats and jugglers with an almost mystical energy. The show takes us to another world that anyone with an imagination would love to inhabit, if only for one night. Through February 13 in the parking lot of Reliant Park, 1-800-678-5440.

Wiener Day at the Rollercade Okay, so who's the biggest wiener in Dumpster, Texas, now that the tiny town's favorite holiday is here? Is it Mildred, who's made her family's sacrosanct meal on the eve of wiener time: Vienna sausage roll-ups? Is it her husband, Ned, the town's former preacher, who seems to have lost his mind? Is it their daughter, Justicena, come all this way from Bangor, Maine -- without her husband because she wants to be assured of having a good time -- just to be "hurled" from the festival's tower? Is it loser son Lou, who's trying to invent a cheaper heart medicine using ordinary household chemicals? Is it their other son, dim and lovable Earl, who's raising a rabbit that's as "odd" as he is? Is it Uncle Al, still mourning the death of his beloved wife and bruised from a mammogram he received as a gift? Is it flittery, none-too-closeted Sheriff Benton, who loves roller-skating and wearing women's clothes? Maybe it's Bridgette, Lou's "slutty" wife, who's having an affair with singer Country Wayne Conway, or Doc Moore, whose gibberish conversations are Dumpster's own version of the Tower of Babel, or Gwenda, Dumpster's stogie-chomping postmistress, who lusts after Uncle Al even when he's wearing his dead wife's housedress. Maybe it's all of them, especially when they all make painful public confessions thinking the town is about to be destroyed (don't ask, but it has something to do with Lou smashing his car into the rollercade's generator after he's been beaten to a pulp by town bully Braxton Hix, lately out of prison, who attacks him every Wiener Day). Certainly, though, the wieners are not the mad trio responsible for this Fertle Family funfest: Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills. This live-action cartoon from Radio Music Theatre is the funniest show in town. If you don't go see it, the biggest wiener will be you. Through May 7. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

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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