Sweet stench

Fumes from Undermain's haunting Thrse Raquin will get you high

You've probably gotten the idea that Therese Raquin is no springtime stroll through the park--unless, of course, there's a storm raging overhead and that park happens to be littered with decomposing corpses. Even the laughs in this show--and there are quite a few--arrive from a sad sense of fatalistic absurdity. But it's not really correct to call this show depressing--director Owens and her cast are too skillful, too subtle in the mood they stir to make you feel weighed down or blotted out. What you get is an indifferent God's-eye view of human tragedy--a karmic expression that when we push, somebody else pulls, and vice versa, throughout life and death. The ripple effects of an evil act will eventually expand to dampen the perpetrators, if they have any shred of humanity left. For this observer, the waves felt bracing but beautiful.

Therese Raquin runs through November 7. Call (214) 747-1424.

Banter
Dallas spoken word artist, singer, and playwright C.J. Critt is juggling an incontinent dog and a journalist at the same time as she describes a staged reading and a performance reading that are upcoming from Natural Blonde Productions, a company she co-formed with Dallas playwrights Molly Louise Shepard and Molly Moroney. After a long explanation of the troubles she must take to care for the 14-year-old dog's bladder problems and crippled back legs, she explains, unnecessarily, "I don't have kids." Then, by way of segue, she declares, "Dorothy Parker had an incontinent dog that was always piddling on the rug!"

Parker, as well as her literary comrades Robert Benchley and Alexander Woolcott, are supporting players in Algonquin, a one-hour staged reading of a musical Critt is writing with composer Michael Hirsch, a New York friend of 20 years. Besides Algonquin, Critt will rejoin her Angry Girl Sextet--along with Fran Carris and Morgana Shaw--for a performance of The Idea of a Woman, a "poetry drama with music and comedy about four women recovering from different addictions," she says. Both shows close Natural Blonde Production's "A Month of Sundays" October series.

Hirsch and Critt did a short showcase of Algonquin with story and libretto at Square One Composer's Series in New York City in May.

"It got a great reaction," she says. "I finished both acts over the summer, and now I try to get back to New York every two months to help while he finishes the music."

For "A Month of Sundays," Algonquin features 10 actors reading 17 characters. Critt will provide the narrative thread through this one-hour precis of the full-length script that includes six full musical numbers. It's a combination of Critt's own experiences in the '80s at the Algonquin and those of America's most famous literary roundtable.

"I'd read At Wit's End and What Fresh Hell Is This," Critt notes. "And I'd always thought it was interesting how these Algonquin wits paralleled the original Saturday Night Live cast--celebrated comic voices, standard-bearers of their generation, but very self-destructive. I wanted to address that, but also my own time at the Algonquin, where I was good friends with two men who've since passed on--one was an Algonquin bartender who used to take me to these huge Italian family dinners in Brooklyn. The other was a pianist there, a kind of poor man's Michael Feinstein. Every time you mentioned Feinstein's name, my friend would grit his teeth."

Algonquin is a boy-meets-girl story set in the late '80s about a privileged young woman who falls for the hotel bartender against her family's wishes. The ghosts of Parker, Benchley, and Woolcott attempt to keep them together while trying to scare away the hotel's new owners, an international consortium "trying to turn the place into Howard Johnson's," Critt says. "Before, there were no peanuts in the place. It was complete class--cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts. The new owners replace them with Chee-tos."

Algonquin and The Idea of a Woman are performed October 25 at 5 p.m. in Frank's Place at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. Call (214) 467-3636.

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