Crimes of the Heart Wow, what a magnificent production of Beth Henley's 1981 multi-Tony Award-nominated comedy. In the hands of the Country Playhouse, this tale about the three Southern Magrath sisters, which takes place on one memorable October day, is rendered as crisp as fried chicken, as rich as pecan pie, and as tangy as a chilled mint julep. Plain and sheltered Lenny (Leigh Anne Mitsakis) has wasted her life caring for her ailing granddaddy. Favorite and baby of the family Babe (Michelle Hill) has shot her abusive husband because, she says, "I couldn't stand his looks." Rebellious Meg (Lara Hermes) returns from L.A. with a derailed singing career and a big case of "nobody loves me." Will Lenny break out of her suffocating shell? Will Babe go to jail? Will spoiled Meg put the make on her old flame, the now-married Doc (Lance Marshall)? Will Babe's lawyer Barnette (Adam Stallings), now soft on his client, have any case at all after he sees a private detective's candids of Babe with her 15-year-old black lover? Henley's Southern Gothic comic valentine about these three steel magnolias is a tribute to the power of sisterhood and a great big kiss to family values -- the good, timeless ones. The splendid ensemble cast, under O'Dell Hutchinson's tenderhearted direction, supplies all the magnanimous warmth and soul that these characters require. There's not a misstep among them as they wring every drop of warm humor and pathos from Henley's adroitly plotted script. As dowdy Lenny, Mitsakis gives an incandescent performance that adds layers to an already complex character. She centers the play and makes the entire cast shine, and we get to bask in their glow. Through November 27. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.
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.
You Can't Take It with You Some of the most difficult roles to pull off in the theater are "normal" people -- everyday, ordinary types you'd pass on the street without noticing. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's truly classic screwball comedy from 1936 has two of these roles: Alice (Ruth Shauberger), daughter of a nutty but adorable family of slackers and dreamers, and Tony (Matt Tramel), rich son of a Wall Street investment banker, who's in love with Alice. Swirling around these two are some of the wackiest, juiciest roles in theater history, and yet Shauberger and Tramel hold their own against all the loonies surrounding them. Alice's mom (Jaci Jeanne) writes racy, albeit unfinished, plays on a typewriter that was mistakenly delivered to the house eight years ago. Dad (Ron Putterman), with the help of best friend Mr. De Pinna (Jim Kearney), makes fireworks in the basement. Older daughter Essie (Diane Eschbacher) traipses about the living room in toe shoes because she thinks she'll become a great ballerina. Her husband, Ed (Jim Walsh), is devoted to his xylophone and amateur printing press, inserting communist slogans into boxes of candy he sells in the neighborhood. And patriarch Grandpa (Carl Masterson) gave up his lucrative career 35 years ago because he wasn't having any fun in life. Now he attends Columbia graduation ceremonies, goes to the zoo and dispenses wisdom. This whirligig of a play, the first comedy to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, is as relevant today as when it premiered during the Great Depression. Because it deals with the issue of happiness vs. career, You Can't Take It with You will always be relevant, and this rendition from Company OnStage displays all the zaniness and love inherent in the work. Through December 18. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.