Charming Shards of Love Presents Authentically Mismatched Couplings

The Setup: Shards of Love, eight short plays by Paullette MacDougal, illustrates how a playwright with imagination and heart, a talented cast and a dedicated theater can remind us that humor, love and understanding are not in short supply, at least in mature relationships. Seldom have the benefits of age been better illustrated than in these charming, insightful vignettes, in their Houston premiere at Theatre Suburbia.

The Execution: Each vignette features a couple with a problem, with the program moving in chronological order from characters in their 20s to their 90s.

The "20's" shows us a stridently mismatched bride and groom in a private talk just before the vows are to be taken. There are several amusing surprises, though the bride shouting her lines is an irritant. The "30's" involves a vegetarian's conflict with hunting, and the "40's" introduces us to a couple married for 15 years, who have found both the perfect house and a major gap in their ability to communicate. The "50's" features a body-conscious woman and her patient husband, played by John Wright with an engaging, wry wistfulness. The evening gets into high gear in the "60's," with Susan O'Connor as an endearing, spunky, blonde widow getting ready to enjoy some traveling; she's visited by the ghost of her solicitous husband, played by Michael Steinbach with charm and style. We see here a love that can survive the grave, yet without a trace of sentimentality. The "70's" charts a loving, long-time couple with a shared secret. The "80's" wins our hearts, with Jack Dunlop giving an admirable performance as a persistent swain, despite his age, in pursuit of a new acquaintance, portrayed with sensitivity and grace by Marylynn Coryell. And the "90's" gives us a couple who want to prove to a son that they can take care of themselves outside a nursing home. Kenn Cullinane is the husband, Bobbie Giachini the wife, and their talented performances are authentic and arresting. Their movements were so well-staged that credit must be shared with the director of this portion of the evening, Lee Raymond, who also directed the highly effective "60's" play. Kudos as well to Rebecca Pipas Seabrook, who directed the "50's" and "80's" plays, bringing the playwright's vision to vibrant life. Both are here making their directorial debut, which bodes well for Houston theater.

The Verdict: Do yourself a favor, and go see Shards of Love - you will love it.

(Through March 26, Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525)

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Jim Tommaney