Stage Capsule Reviews

All in the Timing Playwright David Ives is what you might call the king of one-acts. Kooky, subversive and piercingly sharp, his mini-works are as accomplished and complex as anyone else's full-lengths. Fourteen plays comprise Timing (every now and then, Ives will plug in a new one), companies choose which ones to perform. Company OnStage presents seven, among them three Ives' classics: Sure Thing; Words, Words, Words; and Variations on the Death of Trotsky. In Sure Thing, Betty and Bill (Sarah Assenmacher and James Wetuski) meet cute at a coffee shop, but each time one of them says something the other doesn't like, a little bell rings, and the conversation starts over again at the line that elicited the wrong response. A better response is offered, and the two continue their date until the bell rings again. Betty: So you didn't stop to talk because you're a Moonie, or have some weird political affiliation? Bill: Nope. Straight-down-the-ticket Republican. DING. Straight-down-the-ticket Democrat. DING. Can I tell you something about politics? DING. I like to think of myself as a citizen of the universe. DING. I'm unaffiliated. NO DING. Meanwhile, Words skewers the skin-deep philosophical question, if you give a monkey a typewriter, how long before it types Hamlet? Ives spins this late-night college theme like a Chinese acrobat, as three chimps (Andy Huggins, Alex Scott and Renata Santoro), smarter than their keepers, pound away in their prison/cage not knowing what a Hamlet is. And Variations is Ives's homage to Monty Python, as Trotsky (Andy Huggins) sits in his Mexican study with a mountaineer's axe buried in his skull. Every time he or his doleful wife (Renata Santoro) realizes his fateful predicament, he falls over dead, but then he bounces back to life to ask another question until the next realization. Trotsky's goofy hope is like the best of Ives — life will kill us, but if we laugh at it, we delay death ever so slightly. Through August 4. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

Pride and Prejudice Stitched from bracing wit, remarkable characters and enormous tenderness, Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice is one of the smartest and most entertaining social commentaries ever written. It's been turned into some terrific films featuring the English countryside, but a workable theatrical production presents its challenges — the cast of characters is enormous, and the vast number of settings would be enough to shake the confidence of even the most accomplished designer. The folks at A.D. Players are clearly up to the task. Their production of Austin's story (adapted by James Maxwell and revised by Alan Stanford) handles multiple settings, along with a stage full of young people falling in love, with grace and surprising beauty. Most impressive is Mark A. Lewis's deceptively simple set. The unadorned bright-blue walls turn from country living room to cloud-flecked sky in moments. When the lovers walk through bucolic gardens, the effect created from a scrim and lighting is utterly convincing. Director Lee Walkers keeps the characters moving; even the ballroom scenes, which can be so slow with all those characters and all that dancing, are amusing. And while this Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Dean) and Mr. Darcy (Jeffrey McMorrough) are not the most passionate couple, they do suit each other; it somehow feels absolutely right when they find each other at the end. In fact, the entire cast is persuasive and often funny enough to satisfy any Austin fan needing a fix this summer. Through August 26. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — LW

10th Annual Festival of Originals "Original" is one way to describe producer Mimi Holloway's evening of one-acters, but then, so would "great time" and "surprisingly good." These brand-new plays run the gamut. There's the strangely bizarre (Kathleen Merritt's Under the Oleanders). There's the somewhat familiar, as in a lost Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode (George Rapier's The Sketch), a whimsical Twilight Zone story (Dennis Jones's Judgment Day at the Whistling Pig) and a sweet, in-your-face take on Coward's bickering ghost comedy Blithe Spirit (John Bohane's The Anniversary Gift). And then there's the fascinatingly quirky and just really good (John Kaiser's Instant Messaging). Stunningly directed by Mack Hays, Messaging takes the prize, if one were given. Vapid slacker Campbell (Brian Heaton), a victim of cell phone over-usage, happens upon a flier for a new, experimental message chip that's implanted in your brain, resulting in truly hands-free communication. "That's so cool," he whoops to best bud Syncho (Nathan Suurmeyer), "it'll be like having super powers." Creepy Dr. Basil (Jay Menchaca, with Joan Crawford-esque painted eyebrows) and equally creepy Nurse Rosemary (Tina Samuelsen Bauer, with whispery, conspiratorial voice) set implanted Campbell loose to pursue superficial party girl Magnesia (Claire Hunt), the girl of his desires. At first he's cock of the walk as the only person at the bar without a phone, but soon his head-phone is ringing non-stop with spam, promo calls and numerous wrong numbers. The constant interruptions drive him crazy, and he takes drastic action trying to get "off-line." So much happens in so little time, you'd swear this is a full-length play; it's that rich. Gift (with John Biondi's delightfully flummoxed geezer, who's ordered a prostitute for the express purpose of giving him a heart attack) and Judgment Day (in which Satan and God must talk the grouchy accountant-like Grim Reaper out of doing away with young Bob, who's been inadvertently placed on his death list) are equally cream. Through August 11. Theater Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

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