Capsule Stage Reviews: Amadeus, bobrauschenbergamerica, Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Eurydice, John, His Story

Amadeus The life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has fascinated the world since the child prodigy turned musical genius died in 1791, when he was only 35 years old, after producing an astounding body of work. Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (made famous in the 1984 film directed by Milos Forman) captures a bit of that life through the point of view of Antonio Salieri, Mozart's greatest enemy — as imagined in Shaffer's drama. Though Shaffer takes quite a few liberties with Mozart's story, the play is nevertheless compelling, and the revival at Country Playhouse manages to make Mozart's sad tale fascinating, even if it does run three hours. A good deal of the credit goes to Travis Ammons, whose take on the giggling Mozart is charmingly tragic. Also good are Shenoa Cramer as Constanze Weber, Mozart's wickedly adoring wife, and J. Clark Bawcom, the effeminate and hysterically funny Emperor Joseph II. Andrew Adams does as well as one might expect with the overwritten role of Salieri, even if Adams does chew the scenery a bit during some of the more dramatic moments. Director Stuart Purdy might tone that down a bit. But Mozart is such a fascinating fellow, most will forgive Shaffer's long monologues so that they can enjoy the briefer moments with Ammons's wildly beguiling take on the genius that was Mozart. Through March 7. 12802 Queensbury Lane, 713-467-4497. — LW

bobrauschenbergamerica High up in the rarefied world of poetry and modern dance drifts Charles Mee's bobrauschenbergamerica, a fascinating take on the art and life of Robert Rauschenberg, one of the 20th-century art world's most important innovators. Born in Port Arthur, Rauschenberg moved on from his homely roots to change the world of contemporary art with his extraordinary collages of found objects. Mee, an iconoclast in his own right, captures the energy and imagination of Rauschenberg's work and life with his odd and lovely play, which is getting its Houston premiere thanks to the University of Houston. Director J. Ed Araiza, a member of the acclaimed New York SITI Company that first produced Mee's gauzy and strange script, provides innovative direction that uses the stage and the UH actors with great wit and grace. The narrative isn't linear, but images abound. Girls roll along on skates, one beauty in a bathing suit swims across the stage in a pool of gin, a brass band marches up the aisle and it seems as though food (including cake, corn on the cob and fried chicken) is in just about every scene. The performances are terrific, and this show functions as close to a piece of collage as one might imagine theater can. The cast's collaborative energy turns art into a deliciously living thing. Through March 1. The University of Houston, Wortham Theatre, 4800 Calhoun, 713-743-2929. — LW

Compleat Female Stage Beauty In 1660, when the English monarchy was restored after the conservative rule of the Puritan Roundheads, one of the first acts of "merry monarch" Charles II was to reopen the theaters that had been shuttered for 20 years. Unfortunately, the boy actors who played the female roles — in a theatrical convention that besotted Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences — were found to be terribly passé, so for the first time women were allowed upon the English stage. What were the bewhiskered Cleopatras and Desdemonas to do for a career? Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher parlays this rarefied theatrical conundrum into a lively, sexy Restoration romp that Mildred's Umbrella embraces with ribald panache. Hatcher weaves his tapestry around real historical people — actors Edward Kynaston, Thomas Betterton and Margaret Hughes (played by Chris Rivera, Jamie Geiger and Christie Guidry Stryk); diarist Samuel Pepys (Timothy Evers); fun-loving Charles II (Marion Kirby); the unstoppable Nell Gwynn (Sara Jo Dunstan); Villiars, Duke of Buckingham (Steve Bullitt) — but there's no whiff of waxworks about it. He doesn't let history get in the way of a ripping good yarn, either, as Kynaston, down on his luck to say the least, turns his professional life around with the invention of method acting centuries before the fact. All have fun getting down and dirty in Restoration London, but Kirby, Dunstan and Evers wear their flounces and furbelows with especially intriguing abandon. Through March 28. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch, 832-418-0585. — DLG

Eurydice The keening ache of loss and death are at the center of Sarah Ruhl's extraordinary Eurydice, now playing at the Alley Theatre. But there is so much more to this magically theatrical story, in which the young playwright, who has already been nominated for a Pulitzer (for The Clean House) and won a prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," turns her imagination to the tale of Orpheus in the underworld. The gorgeous collage of a story opens with the moment Orpheus (Jay Sullivan) proposes to Eurydice (Mary Rasmussen) one day while they are about to go for a swim. It then fast-forwards to their wedding day; it's after the ceremony that Eurydice follows a man back to his high-rise looking for a letter from her dead father. She mysteriously slips and falls to her death, and then into Hades, where she arrives via an elevator in which it's always pouring rain. Ruhl's work gets truly mesmerizing in the underworld, where big ideas — like the limits of language and the sweet sorrows of remembering versus the easy emptiness of forgetting — all dance across the stage in ways that are funny, odd and gently moving. When she arrives in Hades, Eurydice doesn't recognize her father (John Feltch). But he is overjoyed to see his beloved daughter. Feltch is the soul of this production, and his tender and simple ministrations to Eurydice capture the very essence of fatherly love. There is so much to recommend this production. Gregory Boyd's direction and Hugh Landwehr's set, which drips rain from every corner, make the play come alive with strange joys. The entire cast is simply magnificent. No one should miss this production. It will haunt your days and live in your dreams. Through March 1. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW

John, His Story If you're looking for a bit of Sunday school mixed with sturdy theatricality, then you'll enjoy A.D. Players' production of Jeannette Clift George's clever rendition of Christ's seven miracles, or "signs," as they're called in Johannine literature. If you remember your theology, John is the "beloved disciple," the only follower who remained true to Jesus up to the very end at Calvary. Using four actors to play many, George takes an everyman, you-are-there approach to the miraculous happenings around Galilee. At the pool of Bethesda where Christ heals a paralyzed man — the play's best vignette — the tale's related by a local huckster selling questionable balm (Patty Tuel Bailey, wittily channeling the Borscht Belt). The focus then switches to the vigorous old coot, newly healed and basking in his heaven-sent good fortune (Kevin Dean, amazingly frenetic). Lying on his back after kicking up his heels and kissing his knees, Dean sighs, "Lordy, sudden health is exhausting!" Jeff McMorrough and Natalie Melcher Lerner round out the solid cast. A few pieces of scenery, along with fetching costumes, solid lighting and proficient direction from Lee Walker, bring the message of the fourth Gospel up close and personal, using the mundane to illuminate the miraculous. Through March 22. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — 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
Lee Williams