Fall brings a dramatic few months for Houston theater lovers. Most theater companies' new seasons have just begun, yet there's usually enough time to offer only one or two plays before thespians have to climb up into their figurative attics and drag out holiday decorations for the multitude of Christmas shows.
The good news is that many companies use those two months before the elves arrive to present some of the most provocative shows on their schedules. With the seasonal window closing quickly, audiences have to rush to their seats to catch it all.
To help you plan, here are five picks that bring the fun, the sexy, the unusual and enough of the creepy that you'll be set for Halloween.
Catastrophic Theatre presents The Pine
I saw this play opening night and am still pondering what it means. Set in two sad hotels, one on the shores of Lake Michigan, the other on a spiritual plane between life and death, the play feels like an absurd comedy one minute, a gothic romance the next. With allusions to Emily Dickinson, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and perhaps a small nod to the Eagles' "Hotel California," The Pine muses on the nature of grief, love and storytelling. The play makes Death a heroic character and warns against love when it's warped by grief.
Did I mention the whole story is told in verse?
While The Pine could probably use an edit of 20 minutes from the beginning and middle, the acting is stellar. Special kudos goes to the performance from Catastrophic's newest and furriest company member, Fat Fat the cat.
TUTS Underground presents Lizzie
When I interviewed Bruce Lumpkin more than a year ago, when he began settling into his new role as Theatre Under the Stars artistic director, the idea for TUTS Underground was just a proverbial gleam in his eye. Lumpkin wanted to create a second TUTS season of contemporary musicals of a "different flavor" for the Hobby Center's smaller Zilkha Hall, which might appeal to audiences looking for something more rock 'n' roll and risqué.
Now, Underground has finally been dug and Lizzie, a hard rock look at the life, legend and murders of Lizzie Borden, is taking the stage. With what looks like Victorian punk costuming and TUTS promising 32 utterances of the word "fuck," I'm already primed to love the ax-wielding craziness.
Alley Theatre presents Venus in Fur
Moving from a figurative underground to a literal one, Alley Theatre patrons know when they head downstairs to the Neuhaus Stage that they're in for eclectic performances they can practically reach out and touch. Venus in Fur seems like a good fit for the smaller space.
The Tony-nominated play by David Ives was a hit on and off Broadway two years ago. Now, regional theaters across the country are picking up this sexy, dark comedy about an actress' private audition with the writer/director of a new play based on the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel, Venus in Furs. (Fun etymology fact: The word masochism derives from Sacher-Masoch's name.)
Nicole Rodenburg, who plays actress Vanda, and Michael Bakkensen, who plays director Thomas, will undoubtedly end up on each others' laps. And who knows, in Neuhaus, they might end up on yours, as well.
Stark Naked Theatre presents All Girls
Stark Naked believes in truth in advertising, if All Girls by playwright Anna Greenfield is any indication. With the writer, director and cast being all women, the tale of the horrors and joys of being a 13-year-old girl is probably in good hands. The play, which just debuted in New York last spring and earned much critical praise, chronicles the lives of three best friends who find that friendship might not last forever when the therapist mother of one of the girls want to psychoanalyze them and their relationships.
Committed to the all girl theme, Stark Naked will host a visual arts exhibit to run concurrently with the show. Finding Self: An All-Woman Art Show will be available for viewing one hour in advance of each performance.
Stages Repertory Theatre presents Veronica's Room
Another Halloween appropriate production comes from Stages Repertory Theatre as the company revives an Ira Levin play you probably didn't know existed. First performed a year after the publication of Levin's The Stepford Wives and six years after Rosemary's Baby, the play sounds like the creepy love — or maybe horror — child of the two novels.
The story unfolds when a strange older couple convinces a young gal to impersonate Veronica, a dead woman, in order to console Veronica's mentally ill sister. What could possible go wrong? The ending is said to have more twists than the next thriller in the Levin canon, Death Trap.