An Inspector Calls The old J.B. Priestley ghost story finds an upper-crust British family interrupted in the celebration of their daughters engagement by a mysterious Inspector Goole (Neil Carpenter). A poor young woman has committed suicide. The inspector questions each member of the family and makes connections between the dead girl and each of them. Who is responsible for her demise? On a set that resembles an abandoned bomb site, the drama unfolds, changing in each of the three acts from 1912 to the 1950s to the present day, although all the action takes place on the same night. Confusing? Yep. As are the casts uneven British accents and the presence of two mute children who crawl in and out of the floorboards for reasons that never become clear. This is a talky old piece, not enlivened much by Terry Martins static direction. The mystery here is whyd they do this play at all? Through April 25 at the WaterTower Theatre at the Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Call 972-450-6232. Reviewed this week.
Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes or The Green Pill Visually stunning--all reds, greens, blues and yellows, like Stanley Kubricks Eyes Wide Shut--this absurdist work by Polish playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkacy Witkiewicz gets a lively production by Our Endeavors Theater Collective. The luscious Lydia Mackay plays Sophia, the embodiment of all human desires. Her costumes, sexy layers of fishnet, lace, leather and feathers, are right out of the fetishists catalog. She even carries a riding crop. Vying for her attention are Tarquinius (Matthew Hutchens), an innocent young man fighting temptation, and Pandeus (Jeffrey Schmidt), a worldly wise philosopher. In a battle of words and wills, they discuss the decadence of the bourgeoisie in language that sometimes sounds like The Cherry Orchard with every other line removed. This production is a visual circus, complete with ballet dancers, human-sized puppets and furniture adorned with breasts and nipples (from the Janet Jackson collection, perhaps). Haunting original music by pianist Frank Mendez accompanies the nonstop action. Dig the sexy swordplay at the end. Through April 18 (no performance April 11) at The McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Ave. Call 214-327-4001. Reviewed this week.
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Three Days of Rain Walker and Nan, the son and daughter of a renowned architect, are reunited after their fathers death. Before the reading of the will that determines who inherits the architects famous showplace home, the siblings (Greg Wilkins, Rebecca Pense) open old wounds and try to reach some understanding. Enter the son of their fathers famous and long-dead partner. Pip (the wonderful Halim Jabbour) is a TV actor formerly in love with Nan. When he is named the heir, all hell breaks loose. Act 2 rewinds to 35 years earlier to show the complicated relationships between the architects (Wilkins, Jabbour) and the woman they both love (Pense). What happens in the past serves to explain the architects choice of heir later on. The spare production of Richard Greenbergs play by Boaz Unlocked Productions features fine performances by the men, but Pense isnt compelling enough as the two women characters. Original music by Dan Walker adds nicely to the themes of longing and abandonment. Evocative black-and-white slides projected on one wall illustrate key moments in the characters lives. Through April 18 at the Mesquite Arts Center Black Box Theatre, 1527 N. Galloway Ave., Mesquite. Call 214-293-3769.
Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues When Smith, a superstar on the vaudeville circuits of the 1920s, died in a car accident in 1937, rumors started that she bled to death after being refused treatment at a whites-only hospital. Edward Albee picked up on the tale for his controversial 1960 play The Death of Bessie Smith, even though it wasnt true (she actually was treated at the scene by a white doctor and died before reaching a hospital). The authors of this new musical biography, Jubilee Theatre members Rudy Eastman and Joe Rogers, stick to the facts and deliver a powerful, clever and uncluttered two-hour show about the life and career of a musical legend. They find the perfect leading lady in Sheran Goodspeed-Keyton, who belts the blues like a legend-to-be. Her voice leaves the audience awestruck and begging for more. When shes not singing Smiths signature tunes, including After Youre Gone and St. Louis Blues, Goodspeed-Keyton shows strong acting skills in poignant vignettes about the singers sorrow-filled later years. The supporting cast of four male singers is tops, too. Well worth the drive to Cowtown, this show offers a look back at a time when Smith was empress, queen and reigning goddess of the brand of music that hurts so good. Through April 18 (no show Easter Sunday) at Jubilee Theatre, 506 Main St., Fort Worth. 817-338-4411. Reviewed this week.
Dirty Blonde When actress Julie Johnson is done up in full bewigged blond drag as the bawdy movie comedienne Mae West, this jumbled play by Claudia Shear comes briefly to life. But for most of the show, Johnson plays Jo, a dowdy, obsessed West fan who meets her match in Charlie (Terry Dobson), a fellow nerd and dedicated West-y who secretly dresses in spangles and curls to worship his favorite movie diva. As Jo and Charlie fall in love, they share scrapbooks and factoids (and later, makeup tips) about Mae West, whom Charlie met when he was a teen and she was one platform heel in the grave. All the exposition slows down a show that focuses too little on its title character. Five songs, none memorable, are woven into the narrative, making this not quite a comedy, not quite a musical. Johnson does a passable version of Wests ooh-ooh delivery but lacks her hip-wobbling sex appeal. Through April 17 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St. (in the Quadrangle). 214-871-3300. Reviewed this week.
Lone Star/Laundry and Bourbon In two one-acts with six related characters, the gossip and heartbreaking secrets of small-town Texas life are explored in get-down funny vignettes. In the first play, three frowsy gals (Marisa Diotalevi, Sue Loncar, Lyn Montgomery) fold clothes and get rip-roaring drunk on the back porch. The second play looks at the men in their lives, chugging beer behind the local roadhouse. This half is the winner, with fine performances by Mark Nutter and Todd Terry as brothers hashing out a lifetime of pain over booze and Baby Ruth bars. The set by Randel Wright is so magical it gets its own round of applause. Through April 10 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears St. 214-828-0094. Reviewed March 18.