Suspense on stage is difficult to achieve. But New York's Collective: Unconscious succeeded with its play Charlie Victor Romeo. The title refers to a plane's black box, or cockpit voice recorder. The theater group took public-domain transcripts of plane crashes and staged the scenes with a cockpit mock-up. Before each of the six scenes, title slides indicated the flight information and reason for disaster. The exceptional sound design established the pressurized cabin environment with such accuracy that you could actually feel your ears pop, and a feeling of doom gripped you and didn't let go. The actors treated the material with respect and restraint, letting the transcripts speak for themselves. It was a panicky wild ride of a show.

The gothic setting of rural North Carolina, with its hidden back roads and lost graveyards, is part of what made Stargaze Theatre's spring production of Eric Rosen's Dream Boy so gripping. But it was a terrible paradox -- that such a bucolic setting could hide puritanical repression and extreme violence -- that was the real triumph of the show. There couldn't be a worse place for a gay boy to come of age. Director Christian DeVries created a technically clever production that included a starry-night backdrop and a rolling country river made of light. Against this beautiful landscape, the boys of Rosen's world got naked and engaged in some of the most disturbingly erotic scenes seen on a Houston stage in years. Violent, painful and deeply moving, Dream Boy rose above the constraints of "gay" theater and captured the desperate sadness of the human condition.

The gothic setting of rural North Carolina, with its hidden back roads and lost graveyards, is part of what made Stargaze Theatre's spring production of Eric Rosen's Dream Boy so gripping. But it was a terrible paradox -- that such a bucolic setting could hide puritanical repression and extreme violence -- that was the real triumph of the show. There couldn't be a worse place for a gay boy to come of age. Director Christian DeVries created a technically clever production that included a starry-night backdrop and a rolling country river made of light. Against this beautiful landscape, the boys of Rosen's world got naked and engaged in some of the most disturbingly erotic scenes seen on a Houston stage in years. Violent, painful and deeply moving, Dream Boy rose above the constraints of "gay" theater and captured the desperate sadness of the human condition.

Most of the time it's the stars who get all the attention. But Irish playwright Marie Jones turned all that around with her story about two extras on location in a small Irish village. The Alley's April production of Stones in His Pockets starred Todd Waite and Jeffrey Bean as the quintessential Irish blokes, working for 40 quid a day and sneaking extra slices of lemon meringue pie from the food cart. They broke our hearts with their Hollywood dreams and small-town means. But Waite and Bean did more than bring these lovable extras to life -- they actually played every part in this multicharacter show, including the movie's bratty female star and a local drug addict who commits suicide during filming. The production offered an astonishing display of the art of acting, with both performers morphing from role to role with a flip of the wrist and a turn of a head.

Most of the time it's the stars who get all the attention. But Irish playwright Marie Jones turned all that around with her story about two extras on location in a small Irish village. The Alley's April production of Stones in His Pockets starred Todd Waite and Jeffrey Bean as the quintessential Irish blokes, working for 40 quid a day and sneaking extra slices of lemon meringue pie from the food cart. They broke our hearts with their Hollywood dreams and small-town means. But Waite and Bean did more than bring these lovable extras to life -- they actually played every part in this multicharacter show, including the movie's bratty female star and a local drug addict who commits suicide during filming. The production offered an astonishing display of the art of acting, with both performers morphing from role to role with a flip of the wrist and a turn of a head.

No theater group in town is better equipped to pull off Sarah Kane's fiery Phaedra's Love than the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. All about incest, murder and mayhem, the fall 2002 production, under Jason Nodler's direction, was filled with the technical magic that sets IBP apart. Fires blazed, bellies were cut open, and every gory thing the Greeks and Romans (Seneca wrote the original version) relegated to the wings was pulled to center stage -- much to the audience's voyeuristic delight. The moment when Phaedra's body went up in smoke in a great funereal pyre at the back of the stage couldn't have been more electrifying or immediate.

No theater group in town is better equipped to pull off Sarah Kane's fiery Phaedra's Love than the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. All about incest, murder and mayhem, the fall 2002 production, under Jason Nodler's direction, was filled with the technical magic that sets IBP apart. Fires blazed, bellies were cut open, and every gory thing the Greeks and Romans (Seneca wrote the original version) relegated to the wings was pulled to center stage -- much to the audience's voyeuristic delight. The moment when Phaedra's body went up in smoke in a great funereal pyre at the back of the stage couldn't have been more electrifying or immediate.

Medea has nothing on Regina Giddens. The matriarch at the head of Lillian Hellman's Southern Gothic melodrama The Little Foxes is one of the most treacherous villains ever to walk across a stage. And with her slithering brothers Benjamin and Oscar Hubbard, she completes a gruesome troika. The cast of Main Street's wicked spring production lived up to the deliciously nasty script. As Regina, Claire Hart-Palumbo did everything but spit venom into her victims' eyes. Robert Leeds made a heartless, machiavellian Benjamin, clearly willing to cut off his siblings at the knees. And Thomas Baird, as Oscar, a man who alternately beat his poor wife and cowered before his mighty family, was shamelessly spineless.

Medea has nothing on Regina Giddens. The matriarch at the head of Lillian Hellman's Southern Gothic melodrama The Little Foxes is one of the most treacherous villains ever to walk across a stage. And with her slithering brothers Benjamin and Oscar Hubbard, she completes a gruesome troika. The cast of Main Street's wicked spring production lived up to the deliciously nasty script. As Regina, Claire Hart-Palumbo did everything but spit venom into her victims' eyes. Robert Leeds made a heartless, machiavellian Benjamin, clearly willing to cut off his siblings at the knees. And Thomas Baird, as Oscar, a man who alternately beat his poor wife and cowered before his mighty family, was shamelessly spineless.

Conor McPherson's The Weir revolves around a tiny cast of five actors who spend the entire evening on stage together, telling spooky stories and getting soused. It's imperative that the actors be perfectly in tune with one another in this demanding play. And the players in Main Street's luminous production last spring were more than up to the task. Rutherford Cravens played the cantankerous and crusty Jack. George Brock's shuffling, awkward Jim tried his best to keep the peace. Kent Johnson played oily Finbar to greasy perfection. And Mark Roberts made a charming host, pouring drinks and listening to his customers' tales. At the center of all this testosterone was pretty Rosalind Blacoe, whose character had quite a story of her own. But this ensemble award goes to those who worked behind the scenes as well -- particularly to Patti Bean, for her understated direction, and to Jodi Bobrovsky for a fabulous tavern set that looked like it had been lifted, intact, from some lost village in Ireland. Working together, the Weir cast and crew created one of the best productions of the season.

Best Of Houston®

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