Experimental, yes, but still entertaining — talent will out. Gone Missing is based on actual interviews with real people, conducted by The Civilians, a journalistic acting troupe headquartered in New York City, and carved into theatrical shape by Steven Cosson, the group's founder. Theater LaB has mounted its own production of the work, with three stalwart men (John Dunn, Jamie Geiger and Brad Goertz) and three attractive women (Shelley Auer, Beth Lazarou and Lydia Meadows), all garbed in gray suits and shirts and sparkling with energy. The program is a series of episodic stories — sometimes a full anecdote, other times simply a snatch of a thought — about things "gone missing," ranging from a ring to a body part to a continent, freshened with enough songs to call it a musical. That it is both journalism and art is its blessing, but a mixed one; the anecdotes tend sometimes to trail off, as though the punch line itself has gone missing. (Like real life, I know.) The biggest laugh of the evening was nailed by Goertz, in a brilliant rendition of a dancer who has lost his cell phone, and, significantly, this story has both a surprise and a punch line. Dunn relates well an engrossing story about a very determined dog, and navigates the shoals of a Hispanic accent. Indeed, accents abound as the performers adopt a smorgasbord of different characters, and Geiger even a different gender. His solo song in German is a standout, and I enjoyed Goertz's quieter rendition of "Lost Horizon." Meadows brings sophistication, great beauty and superb comic timing to the party, and she makes even a prosaic thought seem profound. I admired Auer's capacity for portraying female strength and toughness without losing her warmth, and Lazarou's straightforward sincerity. The three ladies form a trio to sing with style the amusing "I Gave It Away." The saga of a lost Gucci pump is amusing, helped again by a surprise element. The script calls for both pathos and humor, adding irony by juxtaposing semi-related "losses," and the talented performers deliver as intended. The direction and choreography by Linda Phenix keep things moving briskly, and Mary Carol Warwick handles the musical direction. Music and lyrics are by Michael Friedman. I found the songs briefer than I would have liked, as though lingering is not allowed in a fast-paced program, but their brevity does fit the kaleidoscopic motif. Theater LaB has done well to produce an experimental, innovative work, yet one with enough elements of traditional theater to keep it well within the range of delightful entertainment. Through April 10. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.
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Or, What a fine play. A wonderfully charming farce, it's so solidly entertaining, we yearn for more from playwright Liz Duffy Adams. She puts a cheeky, sexy spin on England's Restoration — when Charles II returned from exile, rousted Cromwell's Puritans and "restored" the monarchy — and imbues that licentious period with a contemporary wash of sensual abandon and eye-opening frankness. Using the proto-feminist, real-life playwright, novelist and royal spy Aphra Behn (Stephanie Holladay Earl) as inspiration, Adams spins a provocative tale in which headstrong Behn, lowlife actress Nell Gwynne (Jessica Boone) and randy King Charles (Patrick D. Earl) share their lives and each other's beds. Adams's characters collide in a marvelous swirl of love, sex, theatrical commitment and political intrigue, all while speaking in a most haunting, pseudo-authentic style, peppered with anachronisms to keep everything up to date. To boost the farce quotient, the actors run out of the room and hide in closets, then enter minutes later as someone else. Patrick Earl is kept busy in the roles of Charles, a jailer, and opportunistic spy William Scott, while Boone appears first as jaunty Prologue, Nell, Aphra's loyal servant Maria, and flighty theater impresario Lady Davenant, who could have popped in from a play by Sheridan or Wilde. The play keeps rising, in interest, theme and humor, and always keeps us completely mesmerized. How will Aphra balance her new lover Nell with Charles, a former fling hot and eager to resume the affair? And what about William, another former lover who attempts to blackmail Aphra and ruin her chance as a playwright? If Charles enjoys the considerable charms of Nell, what becomes of Aphra? And Lady Davenant demands Aphra's new play tomorrow morning, if only to occupy the actors so they won't turn to drink or debauchery. Adams's play merrily hops along, constantly amusing us with wisdom and warm wit. She turns history's dry textbook into an inviting personal tale, full of contemporary relevance. "Variety is the soul of pleasure," Behn said in her popular play The Rover. If so, then Adams, director Troy Scheid and the marvelous actors please us greatly. Through March 20. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — DLG
OVO Part traveling circus, part arena spectacle, 100 percent experience. Under the canopy of the Grand Chapiteau, Cirque Du Soleil's newest touring show is in full bloom. OVO, which translates as "egg" in Portuguese, plunges into the wild world of the insect. Butterflies, ants, spiders and fireflies are just a few of the creepy crawlers that populate this flourishing microcosm. Featuring a variety of electrifying acrobatic, juggling and flying numbers, OVO also has a particularly nice emphasis on dance. Small choreographic numbers spring up between the main acts, often unifying different characters in the diverse insect world. While three clowns — Flipo, the Lady Bug and the Foreigner (Joseph Collard, Michelle Matlock and François-Guillaume) — provide lighthearted high jinks, they are the least interesting characters in the show. The feet-juggling Ants provide the most charming act of the first half of OVO. The six Ants tumble large barrels made to look like kiwis, mushrooms and corn with their feet, effortlessly tossing the food among themselves as they change formation. In Act Two, a Spider (Li Wei) literally defies gravity as he performs on a slackwire. He walks on his hands, somersaults and cartwheels on the tightrope — and this is just to warm up! This agile Spider balances on one hand as the wire is lifted upward of 30 feet above the stage, topping that by riding a unicycle across the wire upside down. Clearly no expense is spared on this production. The ever-changing scenery and complex costuming are Cirque Du Soleil signatures. OVO is an astonishing showcase of superhuman feats of strength, balance and contortion. Through March 27. Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 N. Sam Houston Pkwy., 800-450-1480. — RT
Sleeping Beauty On the eve of moving into new downtown facility the Center of Dance, the Houston Ballet has planned a greatest-hits season of sorts. The Sleeping Beauty pays homage to former Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson, reviving his 1990 staging of this seminal classical ballet. But there's nothing dated about this production; its crispness is staggering. The fairytale is familiar, yet it's that which allows the interpretation of the characters to be danced so passionately. This is a name-dropping ballet. Originally choreographed in 1890 by Marius Petipa, arguably one of the most influential ballet masters of the 19th century, and backed with music composed by Tchaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty remains one of the most technically challenging story ballets to date. But more than that, it possesses some of the most sought-after roles in the dance world. With a prologue and three full acts, this ballet is epic. The three main female roles — Princess Aurora (Sara Webb opening night; the cast rotates), the Lilac Fairy (Danielle Rowe) and the evil Carabosse (Amy Fote) gave powerhouse performances. And with cutting precision and flawless unison dancing, the corps de ballet continued to amaze throughout the evening. Sara Webb's Rose Adagio was truly lovely, and the six Fairy divertissements unfolded with searing speed and delightful delicacy. This ballet is a tour de force of dancing that never loses sight of how the romance of a prince's kiss can still charm us all. Through March 20. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — RT