The Eighth Order With his wild, wide eyes, cantilevered eyebrows, unruly straw mane of hair and medieval saint's bony build, Cory Grabenstein's otherworldly Philip Steele catches the light like a burnished Russian icon, throwing sparks that illuminate Nancy Kiefer's somewhat dim The Eighth Order. He's an angel, you see, a genuine supernatural being -- or soon to become one, we're not really sure, because Kiefer keeps stamping out her play's sparks just when they're about to ignite. She does this with a professional firefighter's ardor. There's always either too much exposition or not enough, making all the religious, metaphysical chunks seem as heavy as doom. Kiefer blithely places her characters in such unbelievably mystical circumstances that no one's given a chance to behave as a normal person. Philip is not of this earth; he's much too sweet and compassionate for the depression-era hardscrabble small town. The gossips think he's "different" and "queer" because of his flower-loving ways. Mom Steele (Suzanne King) may call him nuts, but she's well aware what's in his genes and dreads what the future holds. When Philip heals a sickly cat and has an angelic close encounter, and then later raises the dead neighbor's child, his fate is sealed. Unfortunately, the resolution to all these weird occurrences is sadly unsatisfactory. Philip voluntarily whisks himself off to a secluded, secretive monastery. What? This miracle worker, this second-coming incarnate, packs his bags to forever shun the world? This at the time of such successful evangelical tent-revivalist rousers such as Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple MacPherson? It just doesn't make sense; nor does Kiefer supply the grandeur or even the simple religious fervor of, say, The Song of Bernadette, to make us believe in miracles. Unlike Philip, the play never takes wing. Through February 5 at Theatre Suburbia, 1410 West 43rd, 713-682-3525.
Promises, Promises Burt Bacharach will forever be associated with the '60s. Tunes like "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," made famous by the velvet-voiced Dionne Warwick, defined urbane cool. So it might come as a surprise to learn that the master of easy-listening pop also ventured into a genre no one would ever call, umm, cool. In 1968, Bacharach, Hal David and Neil Simon opened Promises, Promises on Broadway, where it ran for 1,281 performances. But Promises, Promises is not a musical that travels easily across the years. The story treats women like objects; married men are almost always horny philanderers who openly harass their secretaries; and heavy drinking is de rigueur at office parties. More important, much of Bacharach's Broadway music, aside from a few fabulously familiar hits, is surprisingly silly. So it's nothing short of a wonder that Main Street Theater has conjured such a likable production from this dated script and music. Rob Babbitt's lively direction manages to make us believe once again in the highball charm of the office world of the '60s, despite the rampant sexual harassment. Most of the credit for this production goes to Joel Sandel, a Main Street favorite who plays the central character, C.C. Baxter, with an endearingly crumpled half-smile that ought to make any audience fall head over heels. It's Sandel who turns this otherwise tired story into a surprisingly winning night of theater. He's helped along by four stoogelike executives, played by David R. Wald, Mike Lovell, Robert Leeds and Terry Jones. Besides making Baxter's working life miserable, they also make a pack of ridiculously funny foils for Sandel. Like Bacharach's name, this is a musical inextricably tied to the smooth hope of the American '60s, when corporate America seemed like a cool place to be. Most of us now know it's a snake pit at best, but Sandel's performance gives us reason to dream. Through January 22. 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706.