Capsule Stage Reviews: bare, Electile Dysfunction, Present Laughter

bare Damon Intrabartolo (music and book) and Jon Hartmere (book and lyrics) call their vigorous and entertaining R-rated musical set at a co-ed Catholic boarding school a "pop opera," and that's all right by us, even though it's a long way from having an opera's thematic unity. Yes, everything's sung, so technically it's an opera, but more times than not when a song ends so does the scene, giving this impressive work a jerky rhythm when it should smoothly soar instead. Thanks to the two talented young creators — and Country Playhouse's talented, agile cast — bare flies high nonetheless. It's easy to see why this youth-oriented musical has had such a cult following ever since its L.A. premiere in 2000. Heavily influenced by Jonathan Larson's grunge romantic Rent, Intrabartolo and Hartmere have provocatively lowered the age of their social misfits. These are the ultimate tweeners, kids teetering before adulthood with a glaze of drugs, sex and attitude. Awash in gay sex, teen pregnancy, body consciousness and social pressure, mixed with hits of ecstasy and hash brownies, tumbled together with Catholic guilt and parental ineptitude, the headiness is aptly set to Hartmere's vernacular, spiky poetry and Intrabartolo's inventive, swirling pop score. It's mighty potent. The large cast, dewy-eyed in age only, is equally stirring, with standouts Jacob Wills, Nathan McManus, Cindy Godell, Jeremy Brown, Jessica Janes and Scott Lupton leading the way. Director O'Dell Hutchison lovingly focuses the youngsters, giving them room to breathe, while music director Luke Kirkwood, with the most minimal of orchestras, keeps the whole thing fresh, snapping and in-your-face. Through June 21. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

Electile Dysfunction Radio Music Theatre has tackled the wild and wacky political season with this funny play, which is full of characters as kooky as the past few months have been. Writer/director Steve Farrell knows just how to put things into perspective. His silly show features the Jones family from Precious Trees, "the most planned planned community" in Houston. Mom, Dad and Junior all support different candidates. The Spy Eye News team finds out about the argument and decides to feature the family as a human interest story. The actors present the newscast complete with commercials; the funniest features a very familiar furniture salesman named Uncle Dan (played by a hysterical Farrell), who sells a "political leaning chair" that leans to the left or the right depending on your preference and a recliner that shoots bullets. Back on the show, Damn Mad (Rich Mills) rants about politics, and the biggest story of the week focuses on the pastor of the biggest church in Texas — it's so big it used to be a whole ranch. Nothing is actually settled during the show, but lots of fun is had as the politics of the hour get chewed over. Through November 15. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — LW

Present Laughter "I'm always acting, watching myself go by," emotes protagonist Garry Essendine, played by the incomparable Joel Sandel in this semiautographical play by Noël Coward, to anyone who crosses his path. Today, that would include his dewy morning-after lover, whose name he can't remember (Morgan McCarthy), his blasé maid (Sheryl Croix), his astringent secretary (Terri Branda Carter), his sensible former wife (Kara Greenberg), his harried business associates (David Harlan and David Wald), his worldly butler (Harlan again), the panther-like, seductive Joanna (Sara Gaston) and a mad playwright wannabe who lives to worship him (Nicholas Collins). And that's just during the morning. Staring into a mirror and watching his hair recede, Garry wails dramatically that he's not experiencing life and is weary of being adored. But we wouldn't have him any other way. In satin dressing gown with cocktail cemented firmly in hand, he spouts Coward's archly artificial, yet highly musical, dialogue. Garry doesn't want to be free of fame's trappings — it's mother's milk to him, if poured in a highball. Though not as well-known as Coward classics Design for Living and Private Lives, this immensely droll comedy is equally witty, well crafted and entertaining. This stylish Art Deco piece is caviar for the well-heeled cast at Main Street Theater. From top down — including costumes, lighting, set and crisp direction by Claire Hart-Palumbo — everything is pitch-perfect, led by the outstanding Sandel, who lounges, pouts and poses while he laps up his fawning press and basks gloriously in his own klieg light. Through June 22. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — 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