The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Sugar Bean Sisters, The Turn of the Screw, Young and Fertle

The Lieutenant of Inishmore The Alley Theatre is dripping in bloody good fun, and we're not speaking in metaphor. Martin McDonagh's 2006 Tony nominee The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a festival of violence about a man so dangerous that even the IRA won't have him, is a funny farce for the new millennium. Anyone who appreciates Quentin Tarantino or even a good slasher film will be able to laugh at McDonagh's strange fascination with violence and death. The characters include a handful of Irish knuckleheads who are all afraid of Padraic (Chris Hutchison), a crazy gun lover who enjoys torturing people in the name of Ireland. When he finds out his best bud, a black cat named Wee Thomas, isn't doing so well, all hell breaks lose. Nobody is safe from Padraic's rage, and silly plots and big, bloody messes are the name of the day. Think I Love Lucy meets Pulp Fiction, and you'll get close to how silly and how violent this story is. The ending is as fabulous as any that McDonagh has written, and director Gregory Boyd, who does farce better than anyone else in Houston, finds the ridiculousness in every moment. While there's certainly not as much meat on the bone here as in past works by McDonagh presented at the Alley, all the blood should satisfy anyone hungry for more of this great Irish writer's work. Through February 24. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW

Sugar Bean Sisters Nathan Sanders's Southern gothic fantasy is a potent, odd mix of Tobacco Road's shabby poetics and Ma and Pa Kettle's whimsy, with a dollop of supermarket tabloid Weekly World News thrown in. After a slow start the play begins to captivate, and soon we lose ourselves in the pungent Florida swamps. As the last remaining members of the hardscrabble, dirt-poor Nettles family — Pa was lynched by the townspeople after he inadvertently poisoned 12 beauty queen contestants, Ma was eaten alive by flying cats and younger sis was set upon by gators — flinty Faye (Dottie McQuarrie) and flighty Willie Mae (Marianne Lyon) long to escape. Faye waits with sandwiches and a packed suitcase for the return of the flying saucer that will whisk her away, while Willie Mae pines for the return of her hair so she can woo a man and move to Salt Lake City to be near her beloved Mormon celestial kingdom. With a few backwoods plot twists involving the Reptile Woman (Julie Oliver in delicious scene-stealing mode), the Bishop Crumley (James Walsh), who may or may not be an angel, and a Las Vegas lounge singer under a voodoo curse (Helen Warwick, a bit too much in overdrive), the sisters' dreams don't evaporate under harsh reality, they metastasize. The production's a tad bumpy and needs tightening, but it leaves us pleasantly lightheaded nonetheless. Through February 16. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

The Turn of the Screw Although the opening night at Country Playhouse was plagued by naughty ghosts occupying both light booth and backstage, the obvious blunders couldn't erase the very real sense of dread conjured by this production. The ghosts will surely be exorcized and dispatched for future performances, but Henry James's nasty supernatural ones will linger through the production's minimal, but eerily effective, panels of walls and windows, which have a life of their own. Their diaphanous look is just right for James's open-ended classic Victorian thriller, whose disturbing power arises from the many ways it may be interpreted. Does the virginal, newly hired governess of sweet, innocent Miles and Flora see dead people? Do the children? Did the previous governess, Miss Jessel? What exactly did servant Quint and Miss Jessel do to the children? Is this a tale of hideous sexual psychopathy? Are the ghosts real, and the governess not going mad? This finely wrought tale continues to fascinate, and while Douglas Jones's adaptation is a bit too cinematic and choppy for the stage, it leaves all questions delightfully out of focus. What's left is a palpably creepy production, atmospherically realized by director Rachel Mattox, with finely etched gothic performances from Julie Ann Williams as the governess at her wit's end, Katerina Pasat as precocious Flora and Connor Heaton as a snips-and-snails-and-puppy-dog-tails version of Miles. Through February 16. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

Young and Fertle If you think the goofy Fertle family of Dumpster, Texas, is hilarious enough in the present, you should see them back in the day. In this installment, the 20th Sentral High School Reunion sends the loons time-tripping into their past, which is just as screwy and dysfunctional as their lives today. If you're new to Radio Music Theatre — and just what has taken you so long? — you don't need to know the backstory to appreciate the nonstop nuttiness, since the witty script by Steve Farrell fills in the blanks. Of course, if you're already a committed Fertle Head, the extra details just make the show funnier. The three actors who play all the characters (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills) are at the top of their form, and their glee is as infectious as ever. In the old days, Justicena and Bridgette were already bitch-fighting; Lou was as clueless as ever; sweet, dumb Earl found a friend in sweet, dumb Special Ed; Doc Moore couldn't be understood any better than he is now; greaser Braxton Hix continued his mischief; fey Curtis Miller dreamed of wearing a uniform; and Michael (who's never seen) spent all his time in the boy's bathroom with Bruce Nelly, much to the chagrin of Justicena, who carried a torch for him that would light up West Texas. Well, it certainly would light up Clem, Texas, next door to Dumpster, because only Clem lived there. It doesn't get any funnier — or smarter — than the Fertle family and their bizarre neighbors. Through May 10. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — 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