Capsule Reviews

Leaving Eden SMU's upper-level drama students glide seamlessly through an evening of six Chekhov stories woven into an abstract, spare narrative on the nature of loneliness and female identity. Director Greg Leaming assembles a strong cast--notably former Walker, Texas Ranger co-star Clarence Gilyard--and takes his sweet time letting us get to know the peasants and their betters struggling to define themselves on the brink of revolution. Good performances by Gilyard in a variety of roles, Kate Cook as the ragged seamstress Anyuta and Kate Costello as Varvara, a chorus girl with a heart of tin. For the epilogue, the action jumps to present-day Long Island, where a wedding reception table finds seven contemporary characters surprised to find an amiable Chekhovian doctor (Gilyard again) in their midst. If only the first two hours of the production were as fresh and funny as this last bit. Through March 6 at the Greer Garson Theatre, Hillcrest at Binkley on the SMU campus, 214-768-2787. (Elaine Liner)

The Violet Hour The title has two meanings. It's the novel an ambitious young publisher (Matthew Floyd Miller) wants to print in 1919. And it's that magical moment between daylight and darkness when anything might happen. Strange things do happen in Richard Greenberg's tragicomic play, thanks to a mysterious machine that spits out books from the future. It takes heavy prodding by the publisher's assistant (the immensely enjoyable Matthew Boston, mincing like a madman) to get his boss to look at the pages, which could change both of their destinies, depending on the authors they choose to make famous. Based loosely on legendary editor Max Perkins, his wildchild friend F. Scott Fitzgerald (and crazy wife Zelda) and Jazz Age star Josephine Baker, the play asks the usual questions about second chances. It was Fitzgerald, remember, who said that there are no second acts in American lives. There is one in this play, however, and it's about a half-hour too long. Through March 20 at Dallas Theater Center, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-522-8499. Reviewed this week. (E.L.)

A Man of No Importance Turns out he's a man of great importance, to his friends and family anyway. Middle-aged bachelor Alfie Byrne (the wonderful Chamblee Ferguson) is a Dublin bus conductor by day and a theatrical impresario by night. He lives for the little troupe of amateurs he directs in the church basement. They perform plays by Alfie's idol, Oscar Wilde, but when Alfie attempts Salome, he comes up against strong resistance from church officials and his own prissy spinster sister (Pam Peadon). With music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally, this show explores the redemptive quality of artistic expression, a fancy way of saying that art has a way of making us better people. It certainly helps Alfie and his friends. And the lovely Irish-themed music, honest performances and gentle humor of this Uptown Players production will fill your heart with joy. Through March 6 at Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 Stemmons Freeway at Motor Street, 214-219-2718. (E.L.)

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