Capsule Stage Reviews: Anne of Avonlea, Tamarie Cooper's Old as Hell, Tea and Sympathy

Anne of Avonlea Anne of Green Gables, by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, was published in 1901; it has sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into 20 languages. Montgomery wrote six sequels, and the first of these, Anne of Avonlea, has been adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette. It covers protagonist Anne Shirley from the age of 16 to 18. This work is simplistic, painting a portrait of a charming world in which good things happen, problems are resolved and this is the best of all possible worlds — especially when a girl marries and escapes being an "old maid." The play is reminiscent of a staged reading or readings from a book, acted out, as Anne, played with affability by Joy Spence, frequently comes downstage to tell us what is happening. The events are trivial: A cow gets into a neighbor's oats, a meeting room is painted the wrong color, male children misbehave, Anne gets a job teaching and one student is rebellious. Jason Hatcher plays fellow teacher Gilbert, with whom Anne shares a burgeoning relationship, and he is excellent. His wife, Katharine Hatcher, plays Mrs. Harrison, and adds class and sophistication. Patty Tuel Bailey portrays Marilla, who has taken in the orphaned Anne, and can deliver a line with telling authority. I liked Chip Simmons as Mr. Richardson and Stephanie Bradow as Miss Lavandar Lewis. This is simple fare, so go prepared to be underwhelmed, though it clearly serves an entertainment function — there is considerable low-key humor. Perhaps this is the way the world should be, and we have here nostalgia for a simpler world — one that never existed, of course, except in our imaginations. Sarah Cooksey directs, and keeps the events flowing. Through August 18. A.D. Players, Grace Theater, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — JJT

Tamarie Cooper's Old as Hell It wouldn't be summer without a Tamarie Cooper musical, and this year's tightly written show deals with the problems of old age. For Tamarie, the great fear of aging is not the aches and pains, the forgetfulness and the incontinence, though these are faced ruthlessly, but the dark, forbidding dread of being terminally...unhip. Death holds no sting, but being unhip is the bourn from which no traveler returns. The show is breathtakingly funny, approaching brilliance, and aided by consummate actors who seldom miss a chance to enhance the wit with pantomimic vulgarities. Kyle Sturdivant provides a bravura performance. The classic porn pizza delivery scene is skewered, with Karina Pal Montano-Bowers sexy in a towel. Internet "trolls" each have a laptop and horns, and Tamarie tries to upgrade from flyers to "social media." The plot pretends the show is closed down by policemen (Noel Bowers and Seán Patrick Judge) because Tamarie is too old to play an ingenue, and she is replaced by a younger actress, but fights to regain her fame, her hipness — and her boa. Xzavien Hollins is cool as a rapper, and Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott has great reactions as a hipster; all actors play multiple roles. There is an amusing confrontation between an older Tamarie and a younger version (Jessica Janes) exploring youthful dreams. Tamarie's enormous energy, expressive face and engaging persona light up the stage. She sings, she dances and she can carry a show. She is wonderful, and if you haven't met her yet, there is no time like the present. The exciting book is by Patrick Reynolds and the engaging music by Miriam Daly. Get to this annual jamboree of Tamarie Cooper and friends. Through August 24. Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 East Fwy., 713-522-2723. — JJT

Tea and Sympathy This play by Robert Anderson opened on Broadway in 1953 and ran for 712 performances, with John Kerr in the role of the student struggling with the perception that he is effeminate. Tea and Sympathy is strong theater, about human beings working their way through challenging choices; these themes are not dated. Director David Rainey has created an admirable sense of milieu, and we feel the insular, stifling closed world of a prep school. Joanna Hubbard portrays Laura Reynolds, married to Bill Reynolds (Steve Bullitt), the headmaster of a residential facility for students. Joanna has a special fondness for a "loner" student, Tom Lee (Jacob Perkel), perceived by classmates as a "fairy" and a "queer," to use terms employed in the play. Bullitt is excellent, and creates a plausible and complex character. Jim Salners nails the role of Herbert Lee, Tom's father, in a totally convincing portrayal of a man determined that his son meet his standards of manhood. Jonathan Downey plays Al, the student sharing a residential suite with Tom, and is subtle and persuasive in a difficult role. The performances of Perkel and Hubbard as Tom and Laura are good, but not quite good enough. Perkel finds the angst of Tom, and his unhappiness, but the role requires an inner light as well, so that we sense a Dionysian spirit is being smothered. The role of Laura can be glamorous, but Hubbard appears too young to play Laura, and she conveys a determined sincerity, but without the expected layer of charm. An excellent play, deeply moving and emotionally rewarding, wears its age well and still shines, aided by a strong ensemble cast. Through August 18. From the Back Porch Players, at Main Street Theater — Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — JJT

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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