Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline Nobody can sing Patsy Cline the way Jenny Thurman can, and she gets to do it again in this two-hour musical tribute. All the hit songs are here: "Crazy," "Walkin' After Midnight," "Leavin' on Your Mind," "Back in Baby's Arms." It's like a living jukebox of country music nostalgia. Dean Regan's script isn't much, just a loosely structured bio recounting the highlights of Cline's career (she died in a plane crash in 1963, still at the top of the pop and country charts). So it leaves plenty of room for the tunes. Chamblee Ferguson plays a radio show host reading the singer's biography to listeners between records. He also cameos as a hillbilly comic on the Grand Ole Opry and as a Vegas wisecracker who was Cline's opening act. Jeff Kinman, Tony Martin, Jimmy Nelson and Sara Shelby-Martin are the backup singers who kill time between Cline songs, crooning old radio ads for Ajax ("The foaming cleanser!") and Mr. Clean. Thurman, who also sang the lead in Always...Patsy Clineand did some Cline tunes in WaterTower's Rockin' Christmas Party, has perfected her impersonation of the star's familiar vocal style. She can caress the notes or belt 'em to the rafters. But whether you're a Cline fan or not, you'll be a dedicated Thurman fan after seeing this production. Now if only someone would let Thurman sing for herself, instead of as Patsy Cline, we could see what this talented woman could really do. Through December 31 at WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, 972-450-6232. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown The Peanuts gang seems poised for a pop-culture comeback, and this lighthearted production of the old musical (reworked for a Broadway revival in 1999) is reason enough to get reacquainted with Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder and everybody's fave black-nosed beagle, Snoopy. The characters sing and dance and crack G-rated jokes in two hours of gentle, whimsical vignettes adapted by Clark Gesner and Michael Mayer from Charles M. Schulz's comic strips. Directed by Terry Dobson, with sprightly choreography by Michael Serrecchia, the cast in Theatre Three's production makes the audience forget they're really watching grown-up actors. Megan Kelly as Lucy and Arianna Movassagh as Sally are especially good at throwing themselves into their kiddie roles with playground-sized energy and wide-eyed wonder. Ric Leal makes a snappy Snoopy, fighting the Red Baron from atop his oversized doghouse and dancing with puppylike glee as he waits for dog chow in the Act 2 showstopper, "Suppertime." Through January 15 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St., Suite 168 in The Quadrangle, 214-871-3300. Reviewed this week. (E.L.)

The Gift of the Magi Feeling a little anemic Christmas spiritwise? This production by the Classical Acting Company is just the tonic for the holiday-weary. Dallas actor-writer Lee Trull blends two O. Henry stories--Magi and Compliments of the Season--into a seamless one-act that loses not a morsel of the writer's trademark irony and wit. It's the classic tale of an unexpected Christmas miracle. Jim (Steven Walters) and Della (Elise Reynard) are newlyweds circa 1907, living in a sparsely furnished walk-up in Lower Manhattan, "married to each other, married to poverty." Jim, a writer, regales the delicate Della with fanciful stories, from the baseball player he met at a busy lunch counter to the wild and woolly adventures of three down-and-outers who find a kid's lost doll and try to cash in on a $100 reward. Rich in love, Jim and Della are poor in finances, down to their last few pennies. No gifts, they promise. But they can't help themselves. Each thinks of the perfect present the other will love. But what must they sacrifice to buy them? No spoilers here, in case you've forgotten O. Henry's famous tragicomic twist at the end of the story. But even if you know it, you'll get swept into the simple elegance of this beautifully acted and precisely staged production (directed by Matthew Gray). When Walters sweeps Reynard into his arms for a slow waltz across the floor to the warm notes of a far-off cello, it's as lovely a moment in the theater as we've witnessed all year. Shows this good really do feel like a gift. Through December 24 at the Arena Theater, Fannin Hall, Richland College, 12800 Abrams Road, 214-505-1655. (E.L.)

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Nuestra Pastorela The best translation of nuestra pastorela might be "our own Nativity play," but that does nothing to describe the madcap zaniness Chicano troupe Cara Mia's nine actors--many of them non-professionals--have injected into the traditional story of Christ's birth. Before the play really begins, two of the actors, pretending to be audience members, argue with each other loudly in Spanglish up on the stage (where the rest of the audience is seated, to echo the intimate humility of the typical Mexican pastorela). After donning bright red clown noses, the two become gibberish-spouting shepherd-clowns joined by another clown, three devils, the angel Gabriel and eventually Jose and Maria. The chief devil has decided that baby Jesus is "trying to get our job"; after all, if he has the ability to cleanse humans of their sins, what work is left for devils? So he and his diablo colleagues must intervene in the shepherds' journey to Bethlehem by tempting them with all seven of the deadly sins. There are points at which the tomfoolery drags on too long to maintain its burst of biting humor, but the enthusiasm of the cast is infectious. Through December 19 at the Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak St., 214-946-9499. (Claiborne Smith)

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