Capsule Reviews

Blasted Within four years, British playwright Sarah Kane churned out a steady raft of confrontational plays, as if she knew she would die at 28 (at the very end, she did know--she committed suicide). Not everyone agreed she deserved a stage: London's Daily Mail called Blasted, her violent first salvo, a "disgusting feast of filth." The Undermain Theatre's production is rigorously faithful to Kane's apocalyptic vision, which means that local audiences should brush up on their British slang and harden their gag reflexes before attending. Blasted is the story of two perfectly mismatched souls--nave, drifting Cate and a reporter named Ian, her paranoid, jingoistic ex--fumbling toward reconciliation in a hotel room in a grim city in Northern England. An unnamed war rages in the street below that eventually, and irrevocably, enters their room; every manner of treachery humans can engender takes place in that room. The Undermain's actors sink their teeth into this material with a fierce and admirable allegiance. They make the play never less than spellbinding to watch, but Kane's conclusion feels too easily earned. Its tenet, though--that kindness is possible after even the most hideous things happen between two people--makes it worth sitting through all the painful degradation that precedes it. Through November 20 at the Undermain Theatre, 3200 Main St., 214-747-5515. (Claiborne Smith)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead And there you have it, the end of the play, neatly revealed in the title by writer Tom Stoppard. The title characters are two minor courtiers in Hamlet, sent with the moody Dane to England by King Claudius (murderer of Hamlet's father). But Hamlet double-crosses the duo. They end up dead, not he. Hamlet returns to Denmark to do everybody in. Stoppard's three-act play attempts to show what R and G are up to when they're not in the action in the Shakespeare tragedy. "There's art in the building up of suspense," says Guildenstern (played with great verbal dexterity by Ian Leson). Like Waiting for Godot, this play, produced by Risk Theater Initiative, lays on absurd amounts of suspense, scene after scene, hour after hour. Not much really happens, unless you catch the bits and snatches of Hamlet unfolding here and there (some of it offstage). Director Marianne Galloway and her cast present the play with minimal technical intrusion. No set to speak of. Just a dozen lights to give the tiny acting space an orange glow. The acting's OK. It's the play within the play within the play that drags on too long. Through November 14 at Sons of Hermann Hall, 3414 Elm St., 972-943-8915. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

The Importance of Being Earnest We read it aloud in bad British accents in high school; we groaned when we saw it turn up on the season schedule at Dallas Theater Center. And surprise, it arrives as a perfectly lovely, immensely satisfying production of Oscar Wilde's play about the comic dilemmas of living a double life. Algy and Jack (Michael A. Newcomer, Paul Whitthorne) are rich city boys who meet wealthy young women who've each decided they won't marry anyone not named Ernest. Faster than you can toast a scone, the guys pretend to be Ernests (that they're pretending to like girls is another matter entirely). The ladies get confused over who is engaged to which Ernest. Old Lady Bracknell (the absolutely fabulous Brenda Wehle) shows up to complicate the issue. The butler serves tea and everyone gets married. Director Stan Wojewodski Jr. keeps the pace brisk and the performances as crisp as a cold glass of champers. If you've never seen this classic, this is the one to catch. And even if you have, you won't find one better than this, so it's worth getting reacquainted. Continues through November 14 at Dallas Theater Center, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-522-8499. Reviewed October 28. (E.L.)

The Rocky Horror Show Time to gather up the water pistols, rubber gloves, toilet tissue and newspapers for a trip to Dr. Frank 'N' Furter's spooky manse. Richard O'Brien's 1973 rock musical holds up just fine in this slick and sexy production. Paul Taylor makes a gorgeous "sweet transsexual from Transylvania" in his satin bustier and thick-as-jam lipgloss. Marisa Diotalevi and William Blake, as the doctor's alien helpers Magenta and Riff-Raff, do some mad-good singing. Doug Miller as the squaresville Brad and Cara Statham Serber as his virginal girlfriend Janet (dammit!) are almost too good to deserve the audience's shouted insults (don't worry--they're supposed to say those things). Director Bob Hess adds some original flourishes to the kitschy idiocy and keeps the pace at warp speed. By the time the cast reprises "The Time Warp," you won't want to leave. Through November 13 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Special midnight performance November 6. 5601 Sears St., 214-828-0094. Reviewed October 21. (E.L.)

Rounding Third "You can observe a lot by watching," Yogi Berra once said. In Richard Dresser's warm little comedy about baseball and friendship, two coaches--one a veteran, one a newbie--watch their Chicago Little League team progress through a season. And we watch them watching baseball games we can't really see. Somehow it works, making for a winning play about wanting to win. Don (Doug Jackson, channeling Bob Elliott of Bob and Ray) is the die-hard coach whose 12-year-old son is about to age out of the league. Michael (Jeffrey Schmidt), a young widower with a clumsy kid, is the new assistant, so green he's not sure what a fungo is. Sharing the bench during games and practices, Don and Michael get to know each other the way men do, by talking sports and women. "Why do you coach?" Michael asks Don, who answers, "Why does Sinatra sing?" Thinking about baseball takes up 55 percent of Don's waking thoughts, followed by money, sex and "revenge fantasies." Between the wisecracks, the play also says serious things about middle-class men leading lives of quiet desperation. "Ever notice who the happy people are? Winners," says Don. "Everybody else is 30 seconds away from blowing their brains out." Nice subtle work from the two actors under the direction of T.J. Walsh. Continues through November 20 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St. in the Quadrangle, 214-871-3300. (E.L.)

Trailer Trash vs. the Monster of Booger Creek There's a reason they cook up the popcorn at Pocket Sandwich Theatre so insipid and dry: You can eat it, but the actors at this cozy, campy playhouse like it when you throw it at them. The melodrama currently being staged at Pocket offers up popcorn-projectile opportunities about every five minutes, which, for this place, is an endorsement. As the scheming denizens of Beaver, Arkansas--Velda, Cleophus, and Sassy Pants among them--gather 'round the trailer park, they encounter the new sheriff, Buck Stallion, who has arrived (in a fey, baby-blue cowboy outfit, by the way) to replace the law man recently consumed by the shaggy, 100-year-old titular creature. There is one character driving the reins of the plot here, and she's nasty enough to induce more dizzying plot twists in two hours than in a month's worth of the average Mexican soap opera. Don't worry if you've forgotten the lyrics to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"--they've printed them right in the playbill so you can sing them loud and proud with the actors. Through November 13 at Pocket Sandwich Theatre, 5400 E. Mockingbird Lane, 214-821-1860. (C.S.)

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