Capsule Reviews

Anna in the Tropics In a little cigar factory in Ybor City, Florida, workers sit at a long wooden table, quietly rolling tobacco leaves while listening to their hired "lector" read aloud from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Soon they're taking on the roles of Anna, her husband and the count in their real lives. Affairs spring up, intrigues are plotted, duels are threatened. In Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, the mood is steamy even as the Cuban-American characters of 1929 dream of Russian winters. Full of passion and poetry, the play casts a spell of magical realism as haunting as Like Water for Chocolate. The actors at Dallas Theater Center throw themselves into it body and soul, particularly Al Espinosa as the Cuban lector, the dashing Juan Julian. When he finally seduces the factory owner's daughter at the end of the first act...well, you might just need a good smoke afterward. Continuing through October 3 at Dallas Theater Center, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-522-8499. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know Pack up your troubles and your high expectations for this 90-minute musical revue based on the travel columns of Fodor's writer Wendy Perrin. It's a light romp through tales of lost luggage and resort romance in this community theater production. Morgan Spollin, Meredith Morton and Doug Fowler lead a cast of nine through their paces. Lyrics aren't exactly Sondheim-esque. "Eating pork in Tel Aviv is not considered groovy/In Rwanda Tutsi's not a Dustin Hoffman movie." This is non-pro theater, so the production qualities are kind of La Quinta. The lighting is weaker than a motel desk lamp. The set is uglier than a Motel 6 bedspread. Still, there are lots of laughs, and the performers seem to be having so much fun, it's impossible not to hop on board and go along for the ride. Continues through October 2 at Richardson Theatre Centre, 718 Canyon Creek Square (near Custer and Renner roads), Richardson, 972-699-1130. Reviewed September 9. (E.L.)

The Tale of the Allergist's Wife Charles Busch's hit 2001 comedy finds an Upper West Side Jewish matron named Marjorie Taub (Pam Dougherty) in the throes of midlife crisis. Her shrink is dead, her kids are grown. Her doctor-husband (Ted Wold) devotes all his time to caring for the allergy-needy. Marjorie lies on the couch, wishing she'd finished her epic novel and musing on the writings of Hesse and Mann. Then an old friend appears, a free spirit named Lee (Connie Coit) who has served as a muse for Lenny Bruce, Kerouac, Warhol, Sondheim and scores of other high-culture heroes. Lee is a tonic for sad old Marjorie. Or is she a ghost? Busch ends Act 1 with a rousing surprise. Act 2 veers into sexual politics and biting social commentary. Too bad Theatre Three doesn't do better by the playwright and his witty, smart, lively characters. Except for Robert Silva as Mohammed the doorman, the actors are all wrong for the roles. Wold's too young to play a retired doc. Dougherty and Coit are too much the Southern shiksas--Sugarbaker sisters visiting Manhattan instead of Zabar's-loving natives. As a bowel-blocked granny, Ada Lynn bawls like a stuck pig and looks confused about dialogue and blocking. The set and costumes aren't as elegant and designer-label as they should be for the world Busch creates. But then, at Theatre Three, such visual details rarely get the attention they deserve. Continues through October 2 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St., Suite 168. 214-871-3300. Reviewed September 9. (E.L.)

Steel Magnolias As Suave shampoo is to the better brands, this play is to American drama. It's a cheap imitation, too sudsy by half. Robert Harling does Southern women a terrible disservice by depicting them as honking harpies obsessed with their hair, their husbands and their money. In Truvy's beauty parlor (here, implausibly, run by a black woman), five small-town gals get their hair and nails done every Saturday. Young Shelby (Stephanie Young, badly miscast) is a selfish little bow-head with diabetes who fights with mama M'Lynn (Sue Loncar) over every little thing. Everybody speaks in clichés, spouting jokes Harling seems to have jotted down from episodes of Hee-Haw. If it weren't for Nicole Case's terrific turn as Annelle, the new girl in town, we'd give this production a permanent wave bye-bye. Through September 26 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears St., 214-828-0094. Reviewed August 26. (E.L.)


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