Capsule Stage Reviews: The Seven Year Itch, "The Share of the Future", Rigoletto, Working

The Seven Year Itch Hurry to Theatre Southwest if you want to see a star being born. Come to think of it, there may be more than one. None are novices, to be sure, but they radiate like supernovas in George Axelrod's adroit, adult, laugh-out-loud comedy of manners. If you've seen the Billy Wilder 1955 funfest with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell (a Tony winner for his stage performance), you know this classic tale about sad-sack married Richard, left alone during the summer doldrums, who fantasizes about an affair with the bombshell upstairs. The movie prudishly eliminated the actual one-night stand that occurs in Axelrod's original, but the rich laughs and insight only deepen onstage. Under Mimi Holloway's crafty direction, and flawlessly cast, this is one of Theatre Southwest's most proficient productions. Lloyd Clingman is rumpled perfection as Richard, as he debates with himself over attempting a tryst that is bound to fail, or at least to be found out by faithful wife Helen (Malinda L. Beckham). Hey, maybe she's not so faithful after all, since she's sharing a summer with seductive writer Tom (James Reed), who's forever on the prowl whenever Helen's nearby. Psychiatrist and wannabe author Dr. Brubaker (John Kaiser) warns Richard of impending doom while hoping for more clients. But then there's that girl upstairs (Kate Nelson), and what a girl! In Richard's initial fantasy, she's sophisticated and poured into an ice-blue beaded gown — curves for days. When she actually shows up to apologize for dropping an iron-potted tomato plant smack where he had been sitting not moments ago, she's all creamy and peachy, the girl next door who innocently sets hearts aflutter. Later, after dinner with Richard, she appears in a summer halter top, bubbly, ready for fun and not all that innocent after all. Who could resist? Nelson, and the others, light up the stage as if pyromaniacs. Catch this show before the flames go out. Through May 2. 8944-A Clarkcrest. 713-661-9505. — DLG

"The Share of the Future" "The Share of the Future," a dance concert last weekend created by the Central College fine arts division of Houston Community College, featured three lovely collage-piece performances that were at turns funny, moving and visually evocative. Notes from Houston — a dance that featured athletic choreography from Deborah Quanaim, moody music from Mary Carol Warwick, and quirky, smart poetry by Alan Ainsworth — revealed a city that is filled with strange and arresting images. Everyone from artist hecklers to middle-aged characters named Space and Time showed up in this sophisticated marriage of words, music and movement. Sister Stroke, Shani Henderson's quiet piece about a woman who suffers a stroke, was made stronger by the irony of Henderson's choreography, danced beautifully by Kimberly Dice. Also lovely was a piece called Dualities, featuring choreography by Jenny Mendez and the Central Repertory Dancers. The work featured several dollops of golden light on a dark stage. Pairs or trios of dancers told mini-narratives, in movement, about such strange and intimate subjects as girls slumbering together like puppies. Dressed in flannel PJs, they rolled over and over each other in tender, loving, sleepy embrace. If these earnest young dancers truly are the shape of the future, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. – LW

Rigoletto Sly maestro that he was, composer Giuseppe Verdi wrote the role of the libertine, sex-obsessed Duke of Mantua as a tenor, making the character thoroughly detestable yet giving him the most passionate, flying melodies about free love. The Duke is forever seducing the wives of his courtiers, all while cocking one eye toward someone new. His jester Rigoletto makes fun of the hapless cuckolds, but underneath he really hates his work. When the Duke makes a play for Rigoletto's virginal daughter and succeeds, all hell breaks loose. This opera masterpiece from 1851 is blessed by a ripping good yarn, psychologically believable characters and situations. It's also scored to some of Verdi's most luscious tunes. Houston Grand Opera mounts a staggeringly effective production with a cast of fresh, young singers who give this operatic chestnut a wondrous face-lift. Conductor Patrick Summers does Verdi fast and furious, which works like gangbusters. Michael Yeargan's clever expanding-box set, Peter J. Hall's sumptuous costumes and, especially, Paul Pyant's dramatic chiaroscuro lighting, straight from a Rembrandt canvas, bring out the work's elemental power. With searing intensity, baritone Scott Hendricks gives the unlucky jester a father's big heart; soprano Albina Shagimuratova, with her crystalline voice, conveys Gilda's dewy freshness and rash choice of lovers with ease; tenor Eric Cutler is the sexiest of Dukes and romps through his signature arias as if walking on clouds; and bass Andrea Silvestrelli booms out his assassin's insinuations and threats like the real thing. This is one of the best Rigolettos in memory, a production that would make Verdi smile in appreciation. Through May 2. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-228-6737. — DLG

Working In 1978, the first version of this musical adaptation by Stephen Schwartz (and other composers) of Studs Terkel's classic oral history ("Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do") bombed on Broadway. Stuffed and mammoth, the show resembled a Red Square pageant for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and closed after 24 performances. Revised for TV in 1982 and further updated in 1999, the show has finally been given a fresh face-lift. There's still a strong whiff of agitprop as the saintliness of everyday workers is lauded if not etched in stone, but it's not nearly as overpowering or bombastic as the original. Thanks to director Wayne Landon and the simple but effective choreography by Belinda Barnes, the sprightly staging at Ace Theatre is a real pleasure, as are the affecting performances by Andrew Adams, Lee Bentley, Heather Dahlberg, Vance Johnson, Allison Phillips, B. Renda, J.D. Rose, Elaine Steinbach and Crystyl Swanson. Not all of them are singers, but somehow the imprecision adds to the verisimilitude of everyday lives. However, what is a total mess is the clumsy lighting design that projects explanatory slides — factory interiors or rows of office cubicles, say — in a great swath across set and actors alike. The light balance is so out of whack that we get actors in the dark or, when they take a few steps either way, overexposed with projections running down their faces like really bad Picasso. The show's been running for a week; hasn't anyone noticed? Through April 28. 17011 Bamwood. 281-587-1020. — 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
Lee Williams