Capsule Reviews

Crowns Regina Taylor wrote and directed (with an assist from Rene Moreno) this musical about African-American women and their Sunday hats. Six women, ranging in age from teen to grandma, step forward to share their stories about headwear, anecdotes that offer peeks into the history of a culture that believes in the glory of plumage as a sign of respect for God. M. Denise Lee and Liz Mikel lead a fine cast blessed with voices of angels. The sole gent, Wayne W. Pretlow, does yeoman's work playing all the men's roles. "Rock of Ages" and other traditional church songs get the full treatment from these singers, each of whom is allowed generous solo time. The set by Randel Wright banks the stage with tall hat trees flowered with flamboyant styles. And every one of them has a story, which is the weakness of a script that is short on plot and too devoted to its title subject. Through October 30 at Dallas Theater Center, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-522-8499. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

Handler This haunting play travels deep into the Appalachian hollows for a story of love, sin and redemption. Geordi (Mike Tuck) and wife Terri (Colleen O'Connor) reunite uneasily when he's released from prison. She takes him to church, a secretive congregation that believes the power of God will keep them safe from the venom of the rattlesnakes they handle during worship services. Well, most of the time, anyway. Playwright Robert Schenkkan's words flow with the poetry and prayers of an America so remote it seems medieval. Strong performances by the two leads--and by J-M Specht as a pushy media man investigating Geordi's "miracle"--make this one of the most moving theater experiences of the season. Director Gail Cronauer takes her college-age cast into the realm of something really important, spiritually and artistically. Through October 23 at Quad C Theatre, Collin County Community College, 2800 Spring Creek Parkway, Plano, 972-881-5100. Reviewed this week. (E.L.)

Honour Australian dramatist Joanna Murray-Smith must know a thing or two about what it feels like to get dumped. In her laser-sharp two-act, staged by Theatre Quorum, she skewers male chauvinism, feminism, journalism and a few other isms in such an elegant way that it's only later that we realize the biggest loser in the plot--jilted wife Honor (Adriana Bate)--is really the only winner in the piece. Honor's 63-year-old husband Gus (T.A. Taylor) is an important writer being interviewed for a book about "influential communicators" by perky young Claudia (Elizabeth Van Winkle), a bespectacled preppy with good legs and a way of flirting without seeming to. Within days of meeting the girl, Gus has dumped his poet-wife of 39 years and moved in with Claudia. Shattered at first, Honor comes to see that her new freedom has shifted her priorities from husband and daughter (Jennifer Pasion) back to her own ambitions. As Honor becomes more confident, Gus realizes his dream of a new life is merely folly. It's a wordy play--what play about writers isn't?--but the insights are witty, wise and well-informed. "What is it about facing death that makes a man turn to a tanning bed?" asks Honor. In the small Black Box Theatre at WaterTower, the production, directed by Carl Savering, is staged within three walls of towering bookshelves, stuffed with the mementos of a long marriage that's crumbling. Fine work by Taylor and Bate (a New Orleans actress who landed here after Katrina). She has the grace and bearing of a Jane Alexander or Dame Judi Dench. Perfect for a woman named Honor. Through October 29 at Theatre Quorum at WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, 972-450-6232. (E.L.)

The Who's Tommy The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper, and The Who had Tommy, a 1969 concept album about a "deaf, dumb and blind kid" who plays pinball with "supple wrists" and who attracts a rabid cult of fans. Tuned up for Broadway in the early 1990s, Tommy now takes on the look and sound of a big Vegas revue. It should, that is. The Uptown Players' production is hampered by major audio problems. The singers' head-mikes don't work. The band sounds both muffled and too loud. In a theater this small, the audience shouldn't have to strain to hear, but somehow the acoustics have gone dead. Handsome Casey Robinson in the title role displays youthful rage as the 21-year-old Tommy, finally sprung from his self-induced catatonia--but what's he singing about? And young Alexander Ferguson makes the 10-year-old Tommy into a haunting image of an autistic child--too bad his singing is drowned out by the band. Through October 23 at Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180, 214-219-2718. Reviewed October 6. (E.L.)

Charlotte's Web E.B. White's timeless tale of life and death and unexpected miracles on the farm gets its fourth production at Dallas Children's Theater. Forget any preconceptions about plays for kids. This is big-budget, high-quality entertainment worth seeing even if you don't have rugrats tagging along. Equity actors Karl Schaeffer and Trisha Miller Smith play Wilbur the piglet and Charlotte the spider. He's funny and physically adept as the puny runt of the litter, saved from the ax by a little girl named Fern (Katy Tye and Kendall Howen, alternating performances). Sharing the barn with the pig and the bug are two sheep (Jody Rudman, Deidre Huffines) who divulge the "conspiracy" about where fat little piggies go in the autumn (hint: next to fried eggs and toast). A couple of geese (Mariel Mickens and Cole Spivey) waddle in, saying everything-thing-thing three times. Adapted faithfully by Joseph Robinette, this Web, directed by Robyn Flatt, weaves real magic into a story whose themes of friendship, selflessness and the meaning of life never grow whiskers. Zak Herring's towering steel web gleams under Linda Blase's warm lighting scheme. Best performances are by Miller, traversing her web in a sparkly black bodysuit, and Derik Webb as that old scrounger, Templeton the rat. As all fans of the book know, the rat gets all the best lines. Stick around after the show to watch the littlest audience members pose for pix with the actors and stare with wonder at the intricate costumes by Leila Heise. Through October 23 at Dallas Children's Theater, Rosewood Center for Family Arts, 5938 Skillman St., 214-740-0051. Reviewed September 29. (E.L.) Wicked The story of the Wonderful Wizard of you-know-where is re-imagined as a lavish musical by composer Stephen Schwartz and writer Winnie Holzman (adapted from Gregory Maguire's novel, which was based on L. Frank Baum's books). Now the focus is on the ladies. We find out why Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Kendra Kassebaum) tries so hard to keep the Munchkins away from the green-tinged Wicked Witch of the West (Stephanie J. Block). And just who was the witch onto whom Dorothy's house fell after the cyclone carried "the wretched little farm girl" away from Kansas? And how did the Scarecrow lose his brains? And the Tin Man his heart? With a score more tuneful than The Lion King or Peter Pan and performers in the leads that out-sing and out-act their Broadway counterparts, this is the show of the year. At last, a touring company with energy and talent! For the first time ever, the audience at the Music Hall rushes back to their seats at intermission, eager for the second act. Don't miss a word, a note of this production. Bring the kids and Auntie Em. This is a musical the whole family will love and remember. Through October 23 at the Music Hall at Fair Park,

909 First Ave., 214-631-2787. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)