Capsule Stage Reviews: All Girls, Lizzie, Veronica's Room, You Can't Take It With You

All Girls Being a 13-year-old girl is so miserable! This distressing era is at the center of Stark Naked Theatre Company's newest production, All Girls, written by up-and-coming playwright Anna Greenfield. Not much happens in All Girls, yet so much happens at the same time. The interchange between the characters is an endless stream of thrusts and parries, insults and hugs, ego boosters and esteem destruction, totally what you would expect from a bunch of preteen girls. The dialogue ranges from purposefully witty to awkwardly uncomfortable to downright nasty, and the three young actresses, all strong in their own right, don't miss a beat. Additionally, veteran actress Kim Tobin plays Mother, Mrs. Gray, a sociopathic master manipulator, and Tobin plays her frighteningly well. While the writing, on the whole, has its pluses and minuses, strong acting and directing, coupled with Greenfield's wholly realistic dialogue, make All Girls a piece of theater that we can all relate to and enjoy. Whether you were once a 13-year-old girl or not, the struggle to be your true self is universal. Through October 26. Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring, tickets. — AK

Lizzie Theatre Under the Stars inaugurates its TUTS Underground series with the rock musical Lizzie, the story of Lizzie Borden, tried and acquitted for the murder of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1892. The creators (Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner) opted for a rock concert rather than a musical drama, so four female rockers portray not so much characters as rock-star personas. The victims are never seen, though projections of dripping blood convey their slaughter. Carrie Manolakos portrays Lizzie, and Natalie Charle Ellis plays Emma, the older sister; Courtney Markowitz plays Lizzie's friend Alice, and Carrie Cimma plays Bridget, the maid. All are laced into skintight costumes, by Lisa Zinni, corsets, bustiers and leather mini-skirts. Markowitz is a tall, longhaired redhead with a stunning physicality. Ellis created an interesting character in Emma. Cimma as Bridget soldiered bravely as a maid who was a rocker. Manolakos portrayed Lizzie as distant, cold and not especially dramatic. A sense of family came through with duets by Lizzie and Emma, chiefly with "The Fall of the House of Borden." "Gotta Get Out of Here" captured the feeling of claustrophobia in the loveless household. "The Will," where a change in inheritance is revealed by Emma to Lizzie, generated real emotion, and the burning of a possibly blood-stained dress is staged with imagination. The voices are powerful and ride along with the drumbeat of the music. Kent Nicholson directed and choreographed, and delivers the energy and pace that rock concerts promise. Some projection designs by Joe McGuire are witty. Lizzie is an unusually interesting rock concert, carried along by a strong narrative theme, vocal authority and a truly great band. If you like rock, you'll love Lizzie. Through Oct. 20. Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887. — JJT

Veronica's Room Playwright Ira Levin in Veronica's Room gives us an intimate drama and the sense of looming danger, unexpected twists and suspense for which he is noted. An elderly couple have discovered a young woman and her newly met date at a restaurant, and persuaded them to accompany them to a mansion to view a photograph of Veronica, the deceased occupant of the mansion, to whom the young woman bears a striking resemblance. The girl is persuaded to dress up as Veronica, to provide some forgiveness to a woman who's dying of cancer and is delusional. Sally Edmundson and James Belcher portray the elderly couple, and mesh seamlessly into their roles, providing the same distinctive acting they had displayed in the two-hander The Unexpected Man at Stages last year. Teresa Zimmermann as the girl is persuasive and interesting in a very complex role as she attempts to comprehend increasingly strange events. The young man, portrayed by Dwight Clark, has an early minor role but gives an impressive performance in a powerful later re-emergence. The material is strong stuff, not for the weak of heart, as Levin has pulled back a curtain on the tortured extremes to which human beings can resort, and has asked us to join him on a voyage into the heart of darkness. Director Josh Morrison keeps the pace appropriate for whatever deception is on deck at a given moment. Motivations are somewhat ambiguous, though actions are not, and audience members may exit still pondering and musing on some truly startling events. This is not the kind of mystery that is wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow at its conclusion. Consummate acting and unexpected events take us on an entertaining, gripping roller-coaster ride from a proven master of suspense. Through November 3. Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — JJT

You Can't Take It With You For the title of their latest collaboration, a whirligig comedy set in a house full of fun-loving eccentrics, Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman decided on Grandpa's Other Snake. Having discarded Money in the Bank, They Loved Each Other and Foxy Grand­pa as nondescript and a bit too pastel, Snake had just the right touch of naugh­ty anarchy that appealed to the collaborators, but when the title was run by Mrs. Kaufman, George's formidable and most trusted adviser, she promptly squash­ed that idea. (She was still somewhat miffed that her husband's sexual escapades with Hollywood actress Mary Astor had become tabloid fodder only mont­hs before.) When Snake went in the tras­h, they wisely appropriated one of Grandpa's lines that summ­ed up his commonsense philosophy, and today we know this immortal American theater comedy as You Can't Take It With You. They couldn't have pick­ed a better title. In most comedies there's one crazy among the sane, but Broadway's royal couple of screwball comedy give us an entire brownstone full of them. In this most American of plays, winner of the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it's the loonies who are normal — sweet, innocent, decent and upright. They have their act together; it's the outside world that's nuts. The household of Grandpa Vanderhof (James Black) overflows with goofballs and hangers-on who have come for dinner and stayed for years. This close-knit family knows how to live and how to have fun. The witty farce is so infectious, we want to move in, too. The Alley Theatre polishes this classic with its patented gloss right from the get-go with a deliciously scrabbled set by Hugh Landwehr. Everything but the kitchen sink is on view: Grandpa's snake tank, Ed's clunky printing press, the skull that dispenses candy, rubber masks, dartboard, Penny's typewriter and easel, paper streamers, potted cacti and that giant musk ox grinning down from the wall. The pineapple wallpaper is a touch of genius. The set's a comedy character all by itself — messy, lived-in, warm and inviting: home. Constructed like a Swiss watch, the play is a marvel of timing. Characters rush about, doors slam, fireworks erupt in the basement, gags are set up pages before they're needed and the confusion is comforting. The piece whirls along, dropping political comments and social satire like they were Ed's little printed sayings that he plants in Essie's candy boxes. The play never slows down, never runs out of breath, never stops being warm and fuzzy and terribly funny. If the plot is slight, nobody cares — will "normal" daughter Alice (Emily Neves), the only one in the family with a job, marry the boss's son, Tony (a dashing Jay Sullivan), after the snooty Kirbys (Paul Hope and Anne Quackenbush with noses permanently poised in the air) meet her extended family? It's the characters who drive this play and make it live and laugh. This is a play for actors, and Hart and Kaufman supply a fabulous who's who of nonconformists for the Alley regulars to sink their teeth into and gobble up. With electrified hair curled like Elsa Lanchester's in Bride of Frankenstein and overwhelmed in a baggy stuffed suit, John Tyson stops the show as Russian emigré Kolenkhov, Essie's ballet teacher who's as mad as Rasputin, only a whole lot sweeter. The large company, on the same wavelength thanks to director Sanford Robbins with his whiplash pacing, has a high-ho time. We do, too. This rollicking comedy, beautifully mounted by the Alley, is America at her best. Free and liberated, the Vanderhof world is where we'd all like to reside. You Can't Take It With You hasn't dated one comma since 1936. Through October 20. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

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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
Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig