Capsule Reviews

Boy Groove "You make my hips buck," sings the gyrating boy band, voguing in front of the audience. Aaron Macri and Chris Craddock's musical spoof Boy Groove is having its U.S. premiere at Theatre LaB Houston, and in it, fictional teeny-bopper sensation Boy Groove gets screwed just like it ought to be. Your hands will be chapped from applause and your face will ache from laughter during its zippy, intermission-less 90 minutes, which lay out the quartet's history, from gestation through meteoric success, scandal, comeback and burnout. This is all thanks to Carl, the greasy manager-producer who hires the four twinkies not for their talent, but because his marketing demographics require four distinct "types." What's so much fun about this parody is that by fade-out, when the fab four reprise their first hit, we actually like these insipid little twits, in no small part because of the singing-and-dancing young actors, whose energy brings Craddock's narcissistic foursome to vibrant life. They also play all the other characters who swirl through this rags-to-riches-to-rags Teen Beat story: fatuous reporters, a low-rent lawyer, a cop, George Michael, Richard Simmons, badass rapper Hype-tastic and a twitchy hip-hop alien from planet DuranDuran. Jason Blagec plays egotistical, gay Lance, who prays to Jesus for a bigger penis "to match my stature in pop music." Quincy Starnes plays clever, financially savvy Kevin, who parlays his fortune into starting another annoying boy band. Aaron Stryk plays dumb, sensitive Andrew, whose shallow humanitarian streak (see song "Stop Right There, Hunger!") is matched only by his IQ. And Doug Thompson plays angry, spiked collar-wearing, space-tripping Jon, who can't wait to be "bonin' some alien." Superbly directed and choreographed by Linda Phenix, Boy Groove is platinum, man, pure platinum. Through June 27. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

The Last of the Red Hot Lovers Pity poor schlub Barney Cashman (Bob Maddox), the protagonist of Country Playhouse's latest production, Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Owner of a fish restaurant, he spends his days opening so many clams that he has to douse his fingers in breath spray to freshen them up. Barney's 47, has been married for 23 years and always wears a blue suit. Life, it seems, goes out of its way to ignore him, and all he wants is one day of pleasure -- just once to give in, indulge himself, do something that he can remember the rest of his life. So he decides to have an afternoon affair, and since the play's written by funnyman Neil Simon, it's an affair to remember, all right. As a matter of fact, there are three affairs -- three different acts and three different women, each of whom brings his desire to a screeching halt. The first one to deflate Barney is the purring, predatory Elaine (Lisa Schofield), in her flashy jewelry and leopard-print dress and pumps. She couldn't give a damn about getting to know Barney; she just wants to get laid or have a cigarette, and it doesn't really matter in what order. Next up is blissful Bobbi (Sonia Montoya), a whacked-out hippie chick he meets in the park. She's lived more lives than Shirley MacLaine, and if it weren't for the pot she incessantly smokes, she'd probably remember a few more. Then Barney invites over his best friend's wife, Jeanette (Martha Schlott), who recently threw herself at him at a drunken dinner party. Prim and nervous, she arrives clutching her purse in gloved hands and never lets go. She's so depressed over the state of the world that she can't taste food, and according to her psychiatrist, she has a "percentage of happiness" quotient of 8.2. Her gloom and doom bring forth the goodness in Barney, and by play's end, it's his wife he wants to join him for an afternoon delight. Directed by Barbara Lasater, this smooth production brings out all the many laughs and the humanity in Simon's slick sitcom script. The four actors are picture-perfect and make these quirky people seem like friends we haven't yet met. Although only two actors appear on stage at the same time, this is ensemble work at the highest level. Through May 29. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

Patient A Although Lee Blessing's AIDS drama, Patient A, has been imaginatively produced on a shoestring by Fan Factory Theatre Company, it seems woefully out of date. In theme and style, it's from another time. As the defining pandemic of our age, AIDS has had a presence on stage almost from the time it was given a name by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1982. There have been so many AIDS plays that they're their own subgenre. The disease has been chronicled, railed against, sung about, even laughed at -- from the heartfelt diatribes of Larry Kramer to the audaciously windy plays of Tony Kushner. Blessing's play centers around Kimberly Bergalis (Elizabeth Seabolt), a young straight woman in Florida who became a media sensation in 1991 when she was infected during routine dental work. When, how and, even more important, why Dr. Acer passed on the virus to this "innocent victim" is still hotly debated today, but these great mysteries aren't delved into here. To add heat, the invisible gay face becomes the character of Matthew (Eric Doss), who speaks for all those countless dead men who became nameless statistics, with their stories left untold. Since Blessing was asked by the Bergalises to tell Kimberly's story, he puts himself smack in the middle of the play. Although his character is given gravity and a solid core by actor Allen Dorris, this device falls flat. The playwright keeps getting in the way: We don't need him to tell us how we feel. Patient A somehow ends up more about Blessing than either Kimberly or Matthew. Through June 5. 1423 Holman, 832-651-5287.

Suburb Robert S. Cohen and David Javerbaum's Suburb is, most of all, a musical love note to the land of wide green lawns, shopping malls and do-it-yourselfers. Citified folks might not have much sympathy for this song to the land of the "undead," as one character calls the suburbs. But the little musical, now running at Main Street Theater, makes the nirvana of soccer moms look quaintly appealing. The story focuses on a warring young couple. Pregnant Allison, played by the lovely-voiced Kaytha Coker, is afraid that moving to the suburbs will turn her into a younger version of her own unhappy mother. Husband Stuart (Rob Flebbe) believes that "to have a lawn is Avalon," which he sings about in a funny number called "Mow." Their conflict is complicated by a charmingly aggressive realtor named Rhoda (Terri Branda Carter). When the perfect house, owned by handyman Tom (David Grant), presents itself, everyone (including Rhoda and Tom) must make a decision about what to do with the rest of their lives. Cohen and Javerbaum's show says nothing new about suburbs, but the music, which has a Sondheim-like quality, is often rich and bizarrely funny. During "Mow," for example, blades of grass float around Stuart as he sings, "Master! Master! Teach me your culture! Give me a shot of your magical mulcher!" Through June 27. 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
Lee Williams