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Catastrophic's Paradise Hotel Is a Flawless Mess

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The Setup: Catastrophic Theatre takes on playwright Richard Foreman's wayward and terribly unfunny dissection of sex.

The Execution: Foreman, the darling of underground New York theater, is an acquired taste, but this dank, existential sex farce -- loosely inspired by the wittier, less obnoxious originals of Georges Feydeau -- is a mess. Still, Catastrophic deserves credit for a flawless production.

The costumes (by Tiffani Fuller) are clever, and the set (designed by Greg Dean, who co-directed with Troy Schulze, also arts and culture editor at Houston Press) is witty and candy box-ideal for a sex farce. The sound design (Greg Dean again, and Chris Bakos) couldn't be better, and given what the actors have to work with, the performances are exquisitely shaded. Who could act any more insanely in heat than Matt Carter as Frankie Teardrop, who runs his tongue over his pencil-thin moustache and twitches out of control, yet remains steadfastly loveable? So too does George Parker as Martin X, in a most becoming green satin dress throughout, and Kyle Sturdivant as oh-so-gay Professor Percy Kittens, who's impaled with bouquets of roses and implores us to "Look at me, look at me." Then there's voluptuous Jessica Janes as voluptuous Jessica Juggs, on permanent boil for a physical encounter, and master of ceremonies Drake Simpson, as Drake Van Dyke, an oily confection complete with phallus and red fez. The characters, such as they are, are searching for -- wait for it -- Hotel Fuck. Of course, once they get there, as if in a bus-and-truck No Exit, they can't leave and no one ever has sex. There's also a foreboding, omnipotent voice that controls the action and makes them repeat sections when things go askew. They fall down, bounce back, shoot themselves and then are resurrected. An entire evening with everyone saying "fuck" every other sentence quickly loses all shock value and whatever little amount of humor it started with. There's one shining moment: Janes sits at a table, and all is blissfully quiet. A platter is held behind her head, as if a halo. She wears a tiara. The light seems to emanate from inside her as she slowly spins a tale of ecstatic memory. She's a penny-ante Madonna, and our heart goes out to her. It's the only part of the bawdy vaudeville that touches us, because it finally shows some real emotion.

The Verdict: The rest is Benny Hill on a bad day. A very bad day.

(Through February 26. Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks ArtSpace, 1117 East Freeway, 713-522-2723.)

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