Capsule Stage Reviews: John, His Story, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Nursery School Musical, The Pie Dialogues

John, His Story If you're looking for a bit of Sunday school mixed with sturdy theatricality, then you'll enjoy A.D. Players' production of Jeannette Clift George's clever rendition of Christ's seven miracles, or "signs," as they're called in Johannine literature. If you remember your theology, John is the "beloved disciple," the only follower who remained true to Jesus up to the very end at Calvary. Using four actors to play many, George takes an everyman, you-are-there approach to the miraculous happenings around Galilee. At the pool of Bethesda where Christ heals a paralyzed man — the play's best vignette — the tale's related by a local huckster selling questionable balm (Patty Tuel Bailey, wittily channeling the Borscht Belt); then the focus switches to the vigorous old coot, newly healed and basking in his heaven-sent good fortune (Kevin Dean, amazingly frenetic). Lying on his back after kicking up his heels and kissing his knees, Dean sighs, "Lordy, sudden health is exhausting!" Jeff McMorrough and Natalie Melcher Lerner round out the solid cast. A few pieces of scenery, along with fetching costumes, solid lighting and proficient direction from Lee Walker, bring the message of the fourth Gospel up close and personal, using the mundane to illuminate the miraculous. Through March 22. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

The Man Who Came to Dinner "Fabulous monster." "Spoiled baby." "Improbable...insufferable." "Fat duchess." "A scorpion." "God's big brother." And that's just what his close friends called him. He was all these and more, but most important for posterity, he was the inspiration behind Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's The Man Who Came to Dinner, the funniest screwball farce in American theater. In 1939, one of the most recognized names in theater was critic, actor and wit Alexander Woollcott. Kaufman and Hart, inspired by the oversize character of Woollcott, created the equally oversize Sheridan Whiteside, and the rest, as they say, is theater history. Under John Rando's inspired direction, the Alley cast ratchets up the lunacy and produces a pitch-perfect rendition of this classic comedy. Whiteside is a horror, dropped smack into the conventional laps of the Stanleys of Mesalia, Ohio, where he proceeds to wreck their lives to make his more cushy. On a lecture tour, he has slipped on the ice in front of their home and is now ensconced in a wheelchair on the first floor, bellowing commands like the large spoiled baby he is. While enamored of his celebrity, the Stanleys are virtual prisoners of his whims. The large cast of characters includes penguins in the study, an octopus in the bathroom, convicted murderers sitting down for lunch in the dining room, as well as Hollywood stars sashaying to his side to sympathize with the great man. The role of caustic Whiteside fits James Black like an embroidered smoking jacket. As he fills the stage with stentorian put-downs, Black twinkles with glee, keeping the inherent meanness on slow burn. This sparkler-infused comedy has lit up the American theater sky for decades, and it's performed at the Alley with love and admiration. Through March 22. 615 Texas, 713-228-5700. — DLG

Nursery School Musical Politically incorrect and often very funny, Theater LaB Houston's production of Nursery School Musical features everything from an alcoholic teacher to a preschooler singing about pooping ("My Pants"). The wacked-out story about a trio of three-year-olds on their first day of school is as silly as it gets, but some of the moments will hit home for anyone who's got a toddler underfoot. The book and lyrics by Racheal and Brett McCaig, along with Anthony Bastianon's bouncy music, aren't complicated, but the young, charming cast at Theater LaB, under Jimmy Phillips's direction, moves the tale along with unflagging energy. Between songs, there are commercial interludes featuring a cloyingly vapid host (Kregg Dailey) announcing first a company called Nannies 4 Nothing (all immigrants willing to raise your child for you), and then Buddies for Breeders (people who will listen to your boring stories about your kids). During songs parents fuss over their little ones, then gloat about being able to have sex now that their baby's in school. Josh Wright is especially funny in "I'm Boring," about how he's turned into a guy whose sole focus is his child, and Wright and Leo Laredo have some hysterical scenes dressed up as babies in strollers discussing such things as the fine art of breast feeding. It's fast and fluffy, but the one-act offers a laugh-out-loud diversion for anyone who's been a parent. Through March 21. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — LW

The Pie Dialogues Parenting is a long, hard road. Joseph Lauinger's engrossing The Pie Dialogues, premiering at Main Street Theater, follows one couple as they travel from their daughter's first days in school to the moments before her wedding. Dawn (Gwendolyn McLarty) and Sean (Josh Morrison) are two very different people, but that doesn't stop them from adoring their sweet Pie. While loving their daughter, they bicker with each other relentlessly about everything from the value of private school to whether teenage Pie should be allowed to paint her room black, to Sean's wobbly career as a writer. Dawn is a potty-mouthed lawyer who makes the big bucks. Over the years, Sean and Dawn struggle with their relationship, but their love for their daughter stays constant. Under the direction of Andrew Ruthven, the quiet pair of actors, who make up the entire cast of this small but effective story, build steam and pull the audience in, both despite and because of their constant conflict. McLarty makes a smart and headstrong mom, while Morrison is both kind-eyed and tender as the adoring dad. And though it takes a few scenes for these characters to bloom into compelling individuals, their arguing develops into a thoughtful story about parenthood's power to make friends of the most unlikely people. Through March 22. 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — LW

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
Lee Williams