Capsule Stage Reviews: Electile Dysfunction, Little Women, Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming, Snoopy

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

Little Women Although faithful enough in plot to Louisa May Alcott's 1868 best-seller, this 2005 Broadway musical adaptation by Jason Howland (music), Allan Knee (book) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics) is all over the place. The show, about the small-town life and aspirations of the four young March sisters, whose insignificant daily routine accurately described an entire era in American history, is way too long, with an inconsistent tone that hovers between slavish dictation and a wanton disregard for period. In their desire to load in as many favorite moments from the beloved book as possible, the authors neglect the dramatic arc, skewing the time frame. Events rush by as if checked off a list. We barely say hello to a character before she's married, sick or dead. The music suffers the same fate: pop and dramatic when necessary ("Days of Plenty" is a knockout), but usually just too much uneven Broadway pap. It's not Masquerade Theatre's fault that the show has an out-of-kilter center. The work focuses on tomboy Jo (the powerhouse Beth Lazarou), who dreams of being a novelist, so naturally her three sisters get skimpy treatment and never feel like equals. The musical opened two years after the behemoth Wicked, and the influence of that mega-show for tweeners is readily apparent in Jo's power ballad "Astonishing" (suspiciously just like Elphaba's "Defying Gravity"). However, to a great extent, dexterous scene stealers Allison Sumrall (Aunt March), Corey Hartzog (Laurie Laurence) and John Gremillion (Professor Bhaer) bring this anemic musical to life, effortlessly expanding their subsidiary characters and buoying up the show. They care more about this musical than the authors. Through August 3. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525. — DLG

Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming If you like your gospel music tinged with Sunday school, this sequel to the successful Smoke on the Mountain and Sanders Family Christmas franchise will entertain, enlighten and set your boots a-tappin'. The singing Sanders Family — somewhat akin to the von Trapps, only without those annoying children — have scheduled a reunion at the North Carolina home base of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. One of their own is leaving to go to Texas with her preacher husband, and the family wants to sing together one last time. There's Mom and Dad, Vera and Burl (Karen Hodgin and Gerry Poland); the twins, Denise and Dennis (Abby Bergstrom and Jason Hatcher); and daughter June (Katharine Weatherly), who's married to Pastor Oglethorpe (Stephen Hurst). The black sheep of the family, Uncle Stanley (Craig Griffin), has suddenly arrived after being spotted at the Blue Nose Bar. Because he's the last one to "witness," you know he has a secret that's soon to be revealed. Everything works out swell at the end, because that's the type of musical this is — faith-based and good — which is a refreshing change of pace for sure. The harmonies the cast members spin are luscious, and they're all fine performers and musicians — they play mandolin, harmonica, bass fiddle, piano, ukulele, guitar, washboard, spoons, you name it — and June signs for the deaf, too. The knotty pine church interior is perfect, as are the '40s day dresses and seamed silk stockings. If you've recently been naughty, go get smacked upside the head with a Sanders rendition of "I'll Never Die" or "Children Talk to Angels"; it'll do you a world of good. Through August 31. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Snoopy Snoopy, Charles M. Schulz's musical version of his cartoon strip, isn't great theater by any means. But as directed by Janet Hansen at Company OnStage, it provides a reasonable summer distraction for families. With songs about what bothers Snoopy the dog (L. Robert Westeen) and his kid cohorts, the show, while not officially children's theater, mostly will appeal well to youngsters. The night I saw the show, when Snoopy sang "The Big Bow-Wow," the kids in the audience giggled out loud. And they cracked up every time Snoopy said something snide to Charlie Brown (James Wetuski). But the show has something for adults, too. "Edgar Allan Poe," about the drudgery of schoolwork and the fear of being called upon by the teacher, is charming enough for everyone. And for the most part, the cast sings well. The lone piano accompaniment, by Gary Gillispie, gives the whole thing a decidedly underdeveloped feeling, and the taped-together flats with cartoon scenery painted on them look like they might fall over at any minute. But the rug-rats in the audience didn't seem to mind, and all the parents looked relieved to have found something to do with the kids on a summer Saturday night. Through August 2. Company Onstage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — LW

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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