Capsule Reviews

Circumference of a Squirrel (A Riff With an Inner Tube) It's not really about a squirrel. And yet, it is. John Walch's one-man one-act considers the fuzzy circle of life, namely the connections between fathers and sons and men and squirrels. Chester (played with great physical and vocal pizzazz by David Goodwin) is a grad-school dropout afraid of introducing his Jewish fiancee to his anti-Semitic father. Way back in Chester's childhood, he'd seen his dad get bitten by a squirrel. Did the old man pick up a rare form of rabies that hardened his heart and reddened his neck? Asking interesting questions about bigotry, forgiveness and redemption, the play jumps back and forth in time as Chester faces big crises that somehow all connect to his fear of furry rodents. Directed by Tina Parker and featuring a set by Mary Wynn Allen made of a cartoonish triptych depicting squirrelly scenes, the Kitchen Dog production adds artistic flourishes to a sometimes corny script. Goodwin, who's won local theater awards as actor, playwright and puppeteer, gives a fine-tuned, memorable performance. Nice work, too, by sound designer Jonathan Taylor, who can't resist a cut from Alvin and the Chipmunks. Through December 18 at Kitchen Dog's Black Box Theater at The McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Ave., 214-953-1055. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

Get a Wonderful Life The new Labyrinth Theatre company has earnest goals of taking on projects that focus on theology, philosophy and "matters of the soul," according to their mission statement. But they stumble badly on the path to enlightenment with this holiday comedy about an angel trying to earn his wings by convincing a non-believer that there is a God. (If there is a God, he/she should smite down playwrights who lift key plot points from Frank Capra movies.) On Christmas Eve, a prissy shrink named Frank (Paul Taylor) rescues a wayward angel, Donald (Kevin Ash, mugging like a clown-college dropout), who's fallen onto his penthouse balcony. They argue, eat microwave popcorn, decorate a rubber plant with whipped topping and get all gooey about the meaning of Christmas. Long stretches go by in which very little happens. Not since Anna Nicole Smith's American Music Awards appearance has physical comedy been this unfunny. Too boring for kids to sit through, this two-act dose of holiday drear feels longer than the lines at the Target return desk. Through December 11 at the Arapaho United Methodist Church, 1400 W. Arapaho Road (at Coit), Richardson, 972-231-1012. Reviewed this week. (E.L.)

Jenufa Who knew that an opera sung in Czech and set in an insular Moravian village at the turn of the previous century could still have this much resonance? In Dallas Opera's gripping production, Jenufa Buryjovka (Patricia Racette) is the wide-eyed, romantic town beauty who is as "proud as a poppy" to finally marry Steva (Jay Hunter Morris), poised to run the local mill. When Jenufa's plans start going downhill, they tumble: Steva, it turns out, is a narcissistic lout who leaves Jenufa with the exhausting ache of neglected love (and an as yet unborn child). Because Jenufa's stepmother (Judith Forst), a cold, self-righteous and bitter woman, is the village's stern religious authority, she tells everyone that Jenufa has gone to Vienna to work and hidden her in her house so Jenufa can give birth in secret. The stepmother murders the newborn to protect her own pristine reputation, but Forst conveys the vast fragility of the woman. You don't exactly feel sorry for her, but you are aware that you're witnessing a deep and absorbing tragedy. Last performance on November 27 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, 214-443-1000. (Claiborne Smith)

The Velveteen Rabbit For all its starched and stagey upper-crust formalities, this classic British offering disgorges some rather elemental and piercing issues: Death, grave illness, even a little sadistic torture takes a turn here. Dallas Children's Theater's new adaptation is rigorously faithful to Margery Williams' 1922 Christmas tale about a pampered little boy (Will Altabef/Ian Stack) who receives a stuffed rabbit covered in cheap velveteen, which he promptly neglects. When the boy isn't around, his toys decide, just because he's new, that it would be a good idea to fatally separate the Velveteen Rabbit (Derik Webb) from his vital sawdust innards. But the Nursery Fairy (Ashley Puckett Gonzales) has more ambitious plans for the rabbit--to make him real, but only if the boy, who is in danger of succumbing to scarlet fever, loves him enough. The director, Robyn Flatt, has put the toys' puppeteers right up onstage, a bold move. This is a thoughtful production, but try to land a spot near the stage--the acoustics in the theater are awful, and not all of the actors projected well. Through December 19 at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts, 5938 Skillman St., 214-740-0051. (C.S.)

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