Capsule Stage Reviews: Christmas Tree-O, Diva, Over the River and Through the Woods

Christmas Tree-O In a world that seems overwhelmed by ever-encroaching secular progressiveness, it's refreshing to find Christ plopped firmly back into Christmas at A.D. Players, now showing a triptych of one-act comedies by Jeannette Cliff George, who knows how to preach without being preachy. "The Littleboro Valley Story" is a bit too homespun in its telling — four actors enact all the persnickety caricatures in the very small town. They want to do away with Christmas for this year because of various personal reasons (too much food since Thanksgiving, the economy's bad, etc.), but are reminded of the true reason we celebrate Christmas. "A Christmas of Many Parts" shows an amateur touring group with limited company members putting on the Nativity story and having to improvise the performance. The farce has some very funny moments that are standard-issue for anyone who's ever been onstage, but a surprisingly moving finale. The least religious-oriented of the three works, "En Dash," is also the best, a wacky goof of an office comedy in the best of farce tradition. The six actors in these shorts are finely accomplished, with veteran company members Lee Walker and Patty Tuel Bailey as standouts for subtlety and multifaceted characterizations. Through December 31. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Diva Although her silver-screen career is gone with the wind, faded film star Deanna Denninger (Celeste Roberts), the diva of Theater LaB's Diva, has slickly maneuvered into a phenomenally successful TV sitcom — called Deanna, naturally — while abusing all the truly talented people who are responsible for creating her second career: writer Isaac (Eric Doss), producer Kurt (Bob Boudreaux), agent Barry (Steve Bullitt), costar Ezra (Rafael Zubuzarreta) and studly fourth husband Petey (Richard M. Keck). Okay, Petey's only talent is keeping Deanna happy in the sack and walking the dogs — a nasty job, but somebody's got to do it. When we first meet her, as she browbeats everyone within sight into submission, Deanna is sad, delusional, megalomaniacal, salty as the Dead Sea and frequently hilarious. Playwright Howard Michael Gould tells his nasty little valentine to television, and showbiz in general, backward in time – a big mistake. Gould's backpedaling, time-shifting structure is pointless and needlessly confusing, and director Ron Jones, who keeps the action moving at sprightly sitcom pace, obviously didn't read Gould's own printed script instructions, which state that "the time change be made clear to the audience at the beginning of each scene, via projection or narration, or both." As the psycho bitch from TV hell, Celeste Roberts is sublimely wicked and thoroughly obtuse. As the altogether frustrated writer Isaac, a clear stand-in for author Gould, Doss is less convincing. Then again, he has to spout Gould's dubious beliefs about the importance of the Great American sitcom and a TV writer's place in the universe. Through December 2. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG

Over the River and Through the Woods Audiences will lap up Joe DiPietro's heartwarming family comedy like a big bowl of minestrone. Grandson Nick (L. Robert Westeen), who visits both sets of grandparents every week for Sunday dinner in Hoboken, New Jersey, is practically smothered in their loving embrace — and broiled alive in their stifling house. These older, first-generation immigrants know all about change, having lived through the tumult of arriving here so long ago. Yet Nicky's announcement that he's moving away to Oregon because of his job is seen as personal betrayal and abandonment. "For a job?" they seem to scream together at him. In the grand scheme of things, a job is so insignificant — it's not family! The wily folks devise their own plans to keep their unmarried grandson nearby, and how these schemes play out provides a great deal of the fun. The cast plays their stereotypical parts with spontaneity. They also actually seem to be part of the same family — a tribute to their ensemble playing and director Anita Samson. Especially good are Westeen, with his puppy dog look, and Quint Bishop and Lauren Bigelow, as Nunzio and Emma Cristano, the louder set of grandparents, if that's possible. Your brain will go on autopilot with a visit to these meddling, adorable oldsters, but that's okay because your heart will get all toasty and warm instead. Through December 10. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — 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