Capsule Reviews

Coyote on a Fence is an offensive yet entertaining play. It takes place on death row and is basically a low-budget version of Dead Man Walking. John Mitsakis plays John Brennan, a less creepy, less carnivorous Hannibal Lecter who's always analyzing people and correcting their grammar. He writes the Death Row Advocate, a prison newspaper that scores the attention of The New York Times. Kirk Weston is touching and hilarious as Bobby Reyburn, a somehow lovable Jew-hating racist. One minute he's swearing the Aryan code, the next he's watching television and asking, "John, why do they call it All My Children? I've been watching for a week, and I ain't seen no kids." And Suzanne King is excellent as the mulleted, white-trash, hippie-protester-hating guard. You have to suspend disbelief for a minute or two when the Times reporter gets repeated, in-person, no-glass-and-telephones interviews with Brennan. But the play is fast-paced, powerfully acted and surprisingly funny. Through February 28 at The Fan Factory Theater, 1423 Holman, 832-465-4563. $8--$10.

Fallen Angels As a playwright, Noel Coward definitely didn't live up to his surname. When Fallen Angels first premiered in 1925, reviewers attacked its immoral content, thereby ensuring it would be a success. Nowadays the play might not seem so naughty -- after all, the original scandal revolved around a scene where two married women booze it up and pine for the same paramour -- but the production at Company OnStage is still shockingly good. Marianne Lyon and Karla Brandau play the parts of the pent-up housewives with such honesty that one wonders how well their own home lives are treating them, while Carl Masterson and Steve Carpentier seem to have mastered the husbandly art of cocksure bumbling. But the real star of the show is Julie Oliver, whose role as the talkative maid keeps the story moving along with classic Cowardian wit. Keep an eye out for her presence between acts, when she literally sets the stage for this comedy of errors. Through March 13 at Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. $14.

The House of Yes A blood-red carpet anchors the space where Wendy MacLeod's blackest of black comedies unfolds, the better to hide the blood and other bodily fluids these characters copiously shed. The family in Unhinged Productions' The House of Yes has problems that would put a blush upon the cheeks of the House of Atrius. The passive-aggressive Mrs. Pascal (Josephine John, who looks every bit the patrician) runs the clan with an iron fist that always manages to hold a cocktail. Her seemingly normal son Marty (Anthony Marsala) returns to the family's Washington, D.C., home with his fiancée, Lesly (Niki Thomas), only to be ensnared by his loving and overly medicated sister in Jackie-O garb (a mesmerizing Jennifer Farley) and his equally neurotic younger brother Anthony (a beguiling Chris Rivera), whose virginal jealousy promptly zeroes in on Lesly. They mix and match in delightfully obscene situations that make you laugh out loud -- and then immediately choke on the bile. In the tradition of Nicky Silver and Harry Kondoleon, MacLeod's bleak satire is not for the faint of heart or the politically correct, which of course makes it immensely entertaining. As a befogged Mrs. Pascal says to her incestuous son, "Normal? It's a little late for that." Through February 29 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. $20.

Parallel Lives: The Kathy & Mo Show Actors/friends Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney had no idea that their 1989 two-woman feminist romp would become a staple of regional theater. In the Bayou City alone, there have been three different productions in as many years, but the current incarnation at Theatre New West, presented by Theatre con Queso Productions, brushes the dust off this faded valentine to the female gender and adds spirited new lace to its frayed edges. In 12 sketches, the women play a host of characters, male and female. When the material is good, it's very good. Leigh Anne Patterson and Shannon Woelk bring several fully rounded characters to vibrant life: not-so-grieving sister Karen gulping ice cream right from the container, Jewish matron Madeline explaining her gay nephew, single mom Karen Sue straightening out her fringe jacket while her country/western song-like life unravels. The show's success lies in the winning combo of actors Patterson and Woelk, who burst onto the stage with bubbly enthusiasm and make us feel right at home, even when some of the material in these sketches is subpar. Their camaraderie is infectious, and we get as much pleasure from their playing together as they do. Through March 13. 1415 California, 281-224-3170. $20.

Tributaries Ed Vela¹s homage to fathers and sons, which is premiering in Houston at Theatre Southwest, would be a lot less creaky with a judicious application of basic stage craft. The 12 scenes that make up this play are wildly uneven in tone. The dramatic "Perspectives" depicts a professional father who's never home for his son; the raunchy "Long Ride Home" explores farting as bonding; the solo monologue "Step-Hell" details a geek's quest for acceptance from his new stepfather; the improbable "Wine and Wafers" recounts a gay son coming out to Dad during communion. None of these playlets is, in and of itself, poorly conceived or weakly structured, but none of them feels quite right, either. The dialogue doesn't ring true -- you hear the playwright, not the people. Some of the acting is stiff, which impedes the flow, and there are enough lines blown to bring a smile to any cokehead. Also, those interminable waits between scenes while the stage crew rearranges the meager set dressing only drags out the proceedings. This is not a good thing. Just how long does it take to move five boxes? What is a good thing, though, is the acting from Evin Grabenstein and Jesse Lozano, who bring a smooth naturalness to their overwrought roles and help us forget we're watching a play. They would make any father proud. Through March 13. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. $14.

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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
Wendy Grossman
Contact: Wendy Grossman
Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek