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Experimental, Entertaining Gone Missing at Theater LaB

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The Setup: Experimental, yes, but still entertaining - talent will out. Gone Missing is based on actual interviews with real people, conducted by The Civilians, a journalistic acting troupe headquartered in New York City, and carved into theatrical shape by Steven Cosson, the group's founder.

The Execution: Theater LaB has mounted its own production of the work, with three stalwart men (John Dunn, Jamie Geiger and Brad Goertz) and three attractive women (Shelley Auer, Beth Lazarou and Lydia Meadows), all garbed in grey suits and shirts and sparkling with energy. The program is a series of episodic stories -- sometimes a full anecdote, other times simply a snatch of a thought -- about things "gone missing," ranging from a ring to a body part to a continent, freshened with enough songs to call it a musical.

That it is both journalism and art is its blessing, but a mixed one; the anecdotes tend sometimes to trail off, as though the punch line itself has gone missing. (Like real life, I know.) The biggest laugh of the evening was nailed by Goertz, in a brilliant rendition of a dancer who has lost his cell phone, and significantly, this story has both a surprise and a punch line. Dunn relates well an engrossing story about a very determined dog, and navigates the shoals of a Hispanic accent. Indeed, accents abound as the performers adopt a smorgasbord of different characters, and Geiger even a different gender. His solo song in German is a standout, and I enjoyed Goertz's quieter rendition of "Lost Horizon." Meadows brings sophistication, great beauty and superb comic timing to the party, and she makes even a prosaic thought seem profound. I admired Auer's capacity for portraying female strength and toughness without losing her warmth, and Lazarou's straightforward sincerity. The three ladies form a trio to sing with style the amusing "I Gave It Away." The saga of a lost Gucci pump is amusing, helped again by a surprise element. The script calls for both pathos and humor, adding irony by juxtaposing semi-related "losses," and the talented performers deliver as intended. The direction and choreography by Linda Phenix keep things moving briskly, and Mary Carol Warwick handles the musical direction. Music and lyrics are by Michael Friedman. I found the songs briefer than I would have liked, as though lingering is not allowed in a fast-paced program, but their brevity does fit the kaleidoscopic motif.

The Verdict: Theater LaB has done well to produce an experimental, innovative work, yet one with enough elements of traditional theater to keep it well within the range of delightful entertainment.

(Through April 10, Theater LaB, 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.)

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