Capsule Reviews

The Exit The new Labyrinth Theatre company debuts with Kevin Ash's dramatic two-act answer to Sartre's existential classic, No Exit. This time, writes Ash, there's a way out of hell. Trapped together in a hotel room decorated in nauseating colors (and sans mirrors, beds or air-conditioning), three characters--a sweaty fat guy, a pop songstress and an angry lesbian--are forced to confess their sins and try to find forgiveness so they can move on to a nicer place in the afterlife. It sounds preachy, but Ash, who also directed, and his company of very good actors (Jarod Warren, Ray Gestaut, Jennifer Engler and Jamie Korthase) keep it simple and even-handed. "Hell is other people," one of Sartre's (and Ash's) characters says. Or, as a frequent theatergoer might put it, hell is other people kicking the back of your seat. Two things this new troupe might want to reconsider: the hard-to-get-to 7 p.m. curtain time and the overpriced $25 ticket. Through September 5 in the fellowship hall at Arapaho United Methodist Church, 1400 W. Arapaho Road, Richardson, 972-231-1012. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

Little Shop of Horrors The music is a pastiche of '50s styles, and the story is an old sci-fi standby about a mysterious alien plant that wants to take over the earth by eating all of its citizens. Starting as a black-and-white Roger Corman cheapie in 1960, Little Shop became a hit off-Broadway musical in 1982 (with a subsequent movie version), then sprang back to life in a slick revival on Broadway not long ago that's spawned this road tour. Trouble is, in each incarnation the show's lost more of its edge; polished away is too much of the grisly good stuff that made it so much fun. With music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman (contributors of catchy tunes for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Little Mermaid and other Disney fare), this show now is as plastic and predictable as a theme park ride. As nebbishy Seymour, the caretaker of the man-eating plant named Audrey II, Anthony Rapp gives a bland, unmemorable performance. Tari Kelly beeps and boops like Ellen Greene, the original musical Audrey, but without the insouciant squeaks. As Mr. Mushnik, Lenny Wolpe darn near steals the show out from under the giant yellow flytrap. Through August 21 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, 214-631-ARTS. Reviewed this week. (E.L.)

Pool Plays...a splash act! Folks from Ground Zero Theater offer three short one-acts performed in and around a health club swimming pool. All proceeds go to charity, so we can't be too hard on them. But really, these plays are all wet. They sink like stones. They're just no damp good. It's such a good idea, putting on plays in an outdoor pool. And the venue is a beaut. So why didn't they use the element of water more in the little play about two purple-finned fish (James Gilbert, Maura Murphy) arguing whether to evolve and crawl on land? Why didn't the play about the tugboat in New York harbor feature the little guy chugging around the pool? And why is the one about heaven played beside the pool and not in it? The balmy evenings recently would have been ideal for diving into some sexy, synchronized deep-water acting. Too bad this production stayed in the shallow end. Through August 21 at the Signature Athletic Club, 14725 Preston Road (off Alexis), 972-680-4430. (E.L.)

Porn for Puritans In just over an hour of sketches and songs, writer-performers Leigh Tomlinson and Tim Wardell attempt to show the funny side of wooing and winning the opposite sex. If only they weren't afraid of the topic. Instead of driving their audience to ecstasy with saucy observations and sexual repartee, this duo pulls back and plays it safe with dippy old jokes about vibrators and "going to second base.'' It's all a bit quaint--not even as dirty as the comedy "party records'' their grandparents might have played to liven up bridge nights back in the '50s. Tomlinson and Wardell write material that reflects none of their own generation's comic influences. Have they never heard a Monty Python or Richard Pryor record? Never seen AbFab or Will & Grace? Was Sex and the City not on their cable lineup? Has anyone since the Leave It to Beaver era referred to breast-fondling as "second base''? These two are to comedy writing what the Patriot Act comedy writing. Their punch lines are flat and sexist (in this show, all men are horny beasts and all women are needy clingers). There's not an original thought to be heard. Pleasant to look at these two are, but smart and funny? Not on your tintype. Still, they're selling lots of tickets to church singles groups and other seriously comedy-impaired herds. The run of this show has been extended, and there's talk of giving it a home for an indefinite engagement. Budding comedy writers, take note: If you can do better, start writing today. If this piffle can pull in a crowd, anything can. Through August 28 in the Black Box Theatre at The McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Ave., 214-953-1622. Reviewed August 5. (E.L.)

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