Theater

Semi-sweet

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One actor who does stand out--and electrifies the second act with his too-late appearance--is James Crawford as a painter and former consort of Alexa Vere de Vere's.

He appears early and fleetingly as a new-wave rocker who roughs up Schmidt, but takes off that sitcom garb and relaxes into a funny, off-hand, flirtatious performance as a man who's survived Ms. Vere de Vere and lived to tell the tale. He performs that toughest of theatrical tricks--he's an average-looking guy who convinces the lead actor (and us) into falling hard for him through sheer charm.

As a gay man who reveres controversial, colorful women, I should have adored As Bees in Honey Drown in both New York and Dallas. So what gives? I'm going to split the blame between playwright Douglas Carter Beane and Jac Alder. The latter has so much rich, red, pliant clay to work with in this show (I'm talking about the actors, not the script), he doesn't have an excuse for the disharmony of shape on display here. Approaching it from different angles, you'll think it's great one minute and disappointing the next. By all means, see it, if only because of Cecilia Flores' delicious performance. But expect to feel hungry three hours after you've left the theater.

As Bees in Honey Drown runs through May 15. Call (214) 871-3300

Big fish
Is it a bad sign when your life partner snoozes through half of the world premiere of your latest, lavishly expensive performance-art piece? I'm going to give Lou Reed the benefit of the doubt on this one--most likely, he'd just flown in during a crazy schedule. And he's probably been living with Moby Dick, the most ambitious show Laurie Anderson has mounted in 15 years, for the better part of a year. Still, it was hard to keep a straight face as Reed, sitting across the aisle at McFarlin Auditorium, was bent over in his seat almost double, like he was in hyperventilation recovery.

And Anderson is Anderson, constantly challenging herself and us with this kind of material. It's going to be a hard sell to audiences, though, which is why I love her all the more. She doesn't care about whittling herself down to fit a demographic.

All joking about Reed's nap aside, there is a dolorous quality to Moby Dick that lulls you like the "Hawaiian Surf" setting on a white-noise machine. The gigantic images of crashing waves and psychedelic coral reefs; the sounds of dripping or rushing water; the beautiful, imploring strains of Anderson's electric violin that begin both acts. Add to that the fact that this may be the least humorous show Anderson has ever mounted, and you have a beautifully constructed but densely philosophical show (in this latter aspect, much like the book Moby Dick).

Anderson's show seems to fetishize words, words, words: Many times, they literally tumble and stumble across the giant screens in front of you, as the alphabet does in many a Sesame Street montage. Early on, one actor--referring to what many audiences won't bring to this grim spectacle--even says: "I'll be honest. I haven't read the book." The evening's funniest break has Anderson, her voice modulated to sound butch, stroll through a library and plop down in a chair, explaining how a very old movie version is absurdly different from the book.

There is much to admire about Anderson's Moby Dick, and there is much to cause befuddlement and even boredom. Quite frankly, there's too little Anderson and too many Anderson-like performances from the other actors--Tom Nellis as Ahab, in a giant smoking pipe hat, comes the closest to standing out in his blustery but bull's-eye delivery.

Yet even he, during his non-Ahab roles, looks as though he's doing a Laurie Anderson impression. This is all her show (and bravo!), but you should believe they've tapped other actors only to advance her adaptation:

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Jimmy Fowler