Capsule Stage Reviews: July 31, 2014

Equus Equus, which won the 1975 Tony Award as Best Play, depicts a psychiatrist trying to find out why a 17-year-old boy blinded six horses. Matthew C. Logan brings a revival to the Frenetic Theatre, with Kevin Daugherty as psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who yearns for an imagined, idealistic golden era of ancient Greece. Daugherty brings a vibrant stage presence to the role, as well as a sense of humor, dry wit and irony, so his monologues spring trippingly from his tongue. Ed Theakston plays the 17-year-old Alan Strang, capturing his stubbornness and naiveté, and providing a variety of interesting moments and a touching vulnerability. The direction by Logan is excellent, and he did the brilliant lighting design, as well as creating ensemble acting. Mykle McCoslin is charming as Hesther Saloman, a magistrate who persuades Dysart to take on Alan as a patient. The parents of Alan, Dora and Frank, are played by Jody T. Morse and Rhett Martinez, and they are wonderful, finding the humanity in their strongly held though misguided views of the world. Natasha Marie Gualy plays Jill Mason, who introduces Alan to the stables, where he works weekends. She is convincing and very attractive. The actors playing the horses are Eddy Lindsey, James Glenister, Kaleb Babb and Eddie Edge, and they are all good in their pantomime. The pace is effective, and the staging carries us forward on the buoyant shoulders of Daugherty, who infuses the work with charisma, intellect and nurturing that permits us to see his love for Alan. The play ends with a tableau, a heart-breaking pietà, as Dysart cradles a broken Alan in his arms. Logan and this fine cast have seen the genius of playwright Peter Shaffer and brought this masterpiece safely to port. Through August 2. Second Life Productions, Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation, 1-866-967-1867, equusinhouston.com. — JJT

Fallen Angels While not in the pantheon of classic Coward (Private Lives, Cavalcade, Design for Living, Present Laughter, Blithe Spirit and the films In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed and Brief Encounter), Fallen Angels is an utter lark of a sex comedy. Main Street Theater gives this romp the high gloss of Art Deco: stylish and stylized. The play gleams. Under director Claire Hart-Palumbo, who marshals her talented forces with the zing of a bracing martini, this cartoon farce is terrifically funny, constantly on the move and still rather shocking. Best girlfriends Julia (Crystal O'Brien in best comic form and looking period-lovely) and Jane (Lisa Villegas in Jean Harlow mode) are bored with their marriages. After five years, the passion has gone. They love their husbands, but there's got to be more. Can we blame them? Their husbands are fatuous and nonresponsive, and have more fun playing golf together than paying attention to their hot-to-trot wives. Fred (Bobby Haworth, super as a twit) and Willy (Dain Geist, insufferably stuffy) are clueless. Sporting a fine brush of a mustache, Haworth bears an uncanny resemblance to J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Years before their marriages, Julia and Jane each had affairs with Frenchman Maurice (Joel Sandel in perfectly smarmy Pepé Le Pew imitation oozes Continental charm like an oil slick). He's back in town and wants to see them. The girls are so giddy at the prospect, they practically swoon. With their husbands off on another golf outing, they make a pact to stay together and await the rendezvous. Julia drapes herself over the sofa, while Jane poses languidly against a column. They're ripe for picking. The waiting occurs in the second act; so does a lot of drinking and very little eating. The girls get blasted and secrets come out, as do the claws. Overseeing this farce is the classic sassy Coward maid who knows more than all of them put together (Elizabeth Marshall Black, who steals every scene with twinkling yet bulldozing aplomb). With a symmetry resembling Buckingham Palace, Coward structures his comedy with extraordinary technique, wit and surefire pace. Situations mirror each other, whether marriage, friendship or betrayal, so if one couple has trouble, so will the other couple soon enough. When Julia and Jane have an argument, rest assured that Fred and Willy will fight, too. Complications ensue like clockwork and always get the required hearty laugh. Coward juggles the nuts and bolts of playwriting with consummate flair, and the cast plays him with heigh-ho infectious glee. The production is tasty, enveloped in Eric L. Marsh's subtle lighting design and Claire A. Jac Jones's Deco-inspired set design. Margaret Crowley's costumes are aptly tweedy for the guys and diaphanous and silky for the gals. Julia's pajama pants are a singular Cowardly touch. But those wigs for the leading ladies?! They're appropriately styled for the period, but where'd they come from, Arne's? Sometimes an intimate theater space is just that, too intimate. Coward's deliciously prickly sex farce seems amazingly fresh even today. Julia and Jane eventually get what they want. If you think they're actually checking out Maurice's curtains as all three head upstairs, you've been watching the wrong marital comedy. Through August 10. 2540 Times Boulevard, 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
JIM J.TOMMANEY