Capsule Reviews

Art Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning script calls for expert actors capable of making this talky play a tour de force. The three men onstage in this low-rent production--Howard Winningham, Tim Shane and Mark-Brian Sonna--aren't up to the challenge. They don't seem to understand the text (not to mention subtext) of this play about the meaning of art and the meaning of friendship. When a wealthy dermatologist (Shane) buys a white-on-white canvas, his friends can't agree on its artistic merit. So they argue about it for 70 minutes nonstop. On a "set" that consists of a smudged white floor and sheets of white paper taped to the back wall, these actors stumble over dialogue and reveal too many weaknesses in simple acting technique. The worst cop-out for any actor is to turn his back for the emotional breakdown, exactly what Sonna is forced to do when he can't summon the requisite tears. And it's terribly distracting in a space this intimate to see Sonna's big toes sticking out of torn, dirty socks. These characters are supposed to be cultured gentlemen, not slobs. Through September 10 at Dallas Hub Theater, 2809 Canton St., 214-749-7010. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

The Miss Firecracker Contest Carnelle (Jennifer Knight) is a little gal with a short fuse. The pageant contestant wants so desperately to win the July 4 beauty pageant in her little Mississippi town that she'd do anything short of murder to get the crown (even dye her hair cherry red). A victory will help Carnelle to leave home "in a crimson blaze of glory," rather than with the scarlet letter she's earned as one of the town tramps. But she also needs to declare her independence from a family of kooks that includes a stalker cousin named Delmount (John Venable) and his middle-age crazy sister Elain (Sue Loncar). Add a seamtress named Popeye (Jenny Thurman) and a pageant coordinator (Trista Wyly) who uses her whistle in a most aggressive manner and you've got one of the most colorful collections of characters playwright Beth Henley ever created. Funnier than Henley's first play, Crimes of the Heart, this comedy gets lively direction by Susan Sargeant and first-rate performances by the entire cast (Loncar's never been better). Through September 18 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears St., 214-828-0094. Reviewed this week. (E.L.)

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