Capsule Reviews

Last Night at Orabella's The wizards responsible for the nonstop hilarity at Radio Music Theatre are Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills, abetted behind the curtain by Mark Cain on lights and Pat Southard on sound effects and keyboard. Last Night at Orabella's is the first in a 14-play series about Houston's most beloved dysfunctional family, the fictional Fertles of Dumpster, Texas. The lunacy begins -- as any fine comedy should -- right smack in the middle of things. We're at Orabella's, Dumpster's only bar/dance hall, and, as the title says, tonight's the last night. Proprietor Uncle Al Peeler (Rich Mills, with great gray eyebrows glued on the rims of his glasses, munching a stogie) is selling the place. Since he's 22 months behind on his rent on a 24-month lease, it's time to give it up. So the town's loony inhabitants converge there for its last night. Dumpster is the kind of place where something ominous is swimming in Luminetta's gravy; where Dolly keeps talking about getting breast implants; and where the town's doctor -- squint-eyed, porkpie-wearing Doc Moore (in a brilliant turn by Steve Farrell) -- talks gibberish. Only in Dumpster would the local Chinese take-out joint serve fortune cookies that read, "You will be decapitated in a boating accident." Steve and Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills nail their characterizations using nothing more than a change of a hat or a ratty wig. You won't find any better performing on a Houston stage than what these three ultra-talented actors accomplish through body language and voice. It's a primer on acting. And it's prime. Through November 20. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

Laura's Bush Having never been photographed, interviewed or even seen, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jane Martin has long been a mystery. People assume that she is Jon Jory, former artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, as well as the spokesperson and director for all Martin premieres in Kentucky. But after sitting through her latest play, brought to Houston by Unhinged Productions, we think we've uncovered the playwright's real identity: She's Michael Moore! The cleverest thing about the sorry political satire Laura's Bush is the title. Otherwise, it's a witless waste of time and good acting talent -- unless, of course, you find the following at all funny: Mrs. Bush sitting on a toilet; national security adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice actually being Hilary Clinton in blackface; Mrs. Bush being kidnapped by a dominatrix riding a llama; and the president sitting around reading Kierkegaard before he undergoes a lobotomy. This is the kind of play that's not written but typed, or rather, dictated in great haste. It's frenetic, sophomoric, without charm and -- the worst fault -- lacking in joy. Satires, even scattershot, harebrained ones such as this, should have glee and a wicked glint. This is just without merit. But if the CIA ever does need a body double for the first lady, they need look no further than Elva Evans, who, in her lime-green pants suit, pearls and carefully relaxed hairdo, would be a smashing stand-in (even if Martin's version comes complete with a horn-dog, insatiable libido). Sympathies extend to Sara Gaston (so phenomenal just weeks ago in The Rice), Michelle Edwards and Adrianne Kipp, who all give more life to this dead-in-the-water sketch than it deserves. Through November 21 at Stages Repertory Theater, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

Roseburn Jennifer Wood, choreographer, director, costume designer and performer of Suchu's newest opus, Roseburn, steals her own show. Making a welcome return to the stage, Wood portrays Madame Olga, the stern Russian impresario of the mythical 75th international Roseburn tableau competition. Plaid, floral, striped and other patterned material drape the stage, creating a richly textured backdrop for Wood's anti-fashion costumes and Olga's wisdom, which includes such nuggets as "You can put your mother on a pickle, but you cannot teach your horse to deliver the newspaper." Therein lies the twisted logic of Wood's world. In between Madame Olga's hysterical deadpan monologues, serious dancing occurs as the competitors prepare for the final moment at the competition. Opening weekend, Wood showed mastery of the trio form and pushed past her postmodern vocabulary, moving in a direction that was simultaneously more classical and more hip-hop. Jessi Harper's pixie presence and strong technique shone, while Aileen Mapes demonstrated a charming comic pathos. Returning Suchu dancers Dana Wessale Crawford (back from a knee injury) and Toni Valle (back from motherhood) were oddly cast as the disabled competitors in a bit that could have been funnier. In the end, Olga's nonsensical ramblings on perfection and pickles outshine the dance. Through November 13 at Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, 713-529-1819.

Salsipuedes Daniel Catán's Salsipuedes: A Tale of Love, War, and Anchovies, with its literate libretto by Eliseo Alberto and Francisco Hinojosa and its neon-colored fantasy-island set, is eminently listenable and refreshingly old-fashioned. The story is set in 1943, on a fictional island much like Cuba, as a double wedding takes place. Ulises (Chad Shelton) and Chucho (Scott Hendricks), headliners of the band the Dolphins, are the small island's celebrities, and they're marrying two sisters, Lucero (Ana Maria Martinez) and Magali (Zheng Cao). But all is not well on the island known as Salsipuedes. Interrupted on their honeymoon, the grooms are ordered by dictator General Garcia to play a farewell song aboard an old frigate that's off to fight against Germany in World War II. It's really a ruse -- Garcia is selling contraband to the Nazis (including Viagra-like anchovies for propagandist Joseph Goebbels). Naturally, the ship departs without warning, stranding the hapless grooms on board and their frantic brides on the pier. It's a romp of a story, and all the performers capture the comic flair of the opera, but musically there's trouble from the downbeat. The audience isn't greeted with the shimmering, limpid, turquoise seas that Catán describes during the prelude. Instead, the show's beginning is cloaked in murkiness, as if we were swimming in Wagner's Rhine. Conductor Guido Maria Guida seems more influenced by molasses than rum, and though there are tantalizing sparks throughout, the opera never catches fire. In Spanish with English surtitles. Through November 14 at the Wortham, 501 Texas, 713-228-6737.

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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