STAGE REVIEWS: ‘Re-Designing Women,’ ‘Penix,’ ‘Wicked,’ ‘Rx’

Posted on 12 Apr 2013 at 11:44am

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Re-Designing Women. When Jamie Morris writes a spoof, he doesn’t hold back. Even before the actors come onstage for the first scene of Re-Designing Women, Morris’ send-up of the ’80s-era sitcom Designing Women, we’re treated to an “opening credits” video to remind us of the tone and characters. Of course, once the show begins (which is does at the Rose Room most Fridays and Saturdays for the next month-and-a-half), we simply revert, like muscle memory, to knowing who we’re seeing.

It’s the present day, and Sugarbakers Designs is going strong … well, not so strong. They’ve fallen on hard times. Finances are so bad, Suzanne (Ashton Shawver) has tricked the others into appearing on a Bravo reality show, Sugar Walls. They’re all mortified, until the show becomes a hit and Mary Jo (Chad Peterson) and Charlene (Michael B. Moore, whose vocal impersonation borders on the uncanny) become rivals while Bernice (Mikey Abrams) becomes the break-out star.

Morris, who also plays the stentorian Julia, has a knack for capturing the essence of a show while simultaneously updating it. Thus, there are tacky (but hilarious) jokes about “Sarah Palin’s half-wit baby” and the contemporary exacerbations that rankle Julia, including the cross-eyed Bravo producer Andy Cohen (Kevin Moore). (If you follow the ModernSeinfeld Twitter feed, you get the idea.) And while Morris never hesitates to push the line a bit too far (fart jokes!), this play — following Mommie Queerest, The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode and The Silence of the Clams — is probably his best writing: The characters are sharply drawn and even better performed. And when Morris recites one of Julia’s famous speeches from the TV days (her “Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” riff), fully half the folks in the Rose Room seemed to recite along. That’s called knowing your audience.

Engorgement Charm #2John Michael and the Order of the Penix. Jamie Morris was in the audience the same night I was for the opening of Penix, and he summarized what most people probably think when the come out in one word: Fearless. For 90 minutes (too long, but that’s another matter), John Michael single-handedly regales anyone who will watch him roam around the lobby (and, eventually, stage) of the Magnolia Lounge will his confessional fantasy: A combination of memoir and feverdream, John Michael talks frankly about living as a young gay man in today’s Dallas: Hooking up on Grindr, volunteering for GayBingo and being oddly obsessed with Harry Potter. Hogwarts begins to enter his consciousness (reality or not? He never seems sure) as John Michael “learns” that Harry and much of the rest of the non-Muggle population has contracted HIV. (The death of Hagrid is especially a blow to the bear community, he notes.)

John Michael knows no second gear: He sets his show on “play” until it’s over. Sometimes, it could use a fast-forward, especially when he smirks at his own cleverness and in the excessive use of food onstage. (Hey, this is “performance art,” not strictly a play — if there’s weren’t interaction with the audience and messy foodstuffs, it wouldn’t be “alternative.”) The ending veers toward the mawkish. But damn if you don’t spend most of the performance agog at John Michael’s energy, his youthful talent (he turned 25 earlier this week), his bravery and his skill. This is a guy who’s going places, and The Order of the Penix is a step down that road with him. How often do you get to be the Scarecrow tagging along with Dorothy? Catch him this weekend before you’re woulda-coulda-ing yourself.

3CLIFFTON_HALL_and_DEE_ROSCIOLI_as_Fiyero_and_Elphaba[1]Wicked. Speaking of Dorothy, she makes only a cameo appearance in shadow in Wicked, which Dallas Summer Musicals has brought back for a four-week run at Fair Park Music Hall. The story here, as fans of this musical phenomenon well know, is what happened with the witches of Oz before a Kansas farmgirl flew her house on the wings of a cyclone.

If you’ve seen it before — and chances are, you have — I don’t need to convince you it’s a worthy, expansive musical with a great book, a better score and lush production values. This version has all that. And the dueling witches — green Elphaba (Dee Roscioli) and perky Galinda (Jenn Bambatese) have chemistry, though sometimes they and the others need to project more, even when miked. This time, however, I was drawn to Madame Morrible (Guiding Light veteran Kim Zimmer); and while Curt Hansen, who plays leading man Fiyero, has an unmistakable boy-band quality to his singing, he also has boy-band looks. He’s the most swoon-worthy of Fiyeros I’ve seen — it’s enough to send you over the rainbow.

RX MEENA, PHIL & ALLISON1Rx. You’ll go farther than that with Kitchen Dog’s new show, one of the freshest comedies in a while. Once again, it’s a showcase for Tina Parker, who plays high-strung damaged heroines better than about anyone on Dallas stages. Rx is a dark romantic comedy about Big Pharma, where a woman with debilitating anxiety enters an experimental drug program to combat workplace depression. She ends up in a prickly entanglement with her doctor (Max Hartman), who himself isn’t all that stable.

Kate Fodor’s play has a lot of smart observations about modern society, bureaucracy, foot fetishes and the prescription drug culture, and has an ally in director Christopher Carlos in telling it well; a descending screen of granny panties triggers a laugh every time it happens, and Rx has, hands-down, the best onstage sex scene I’ve ever witnessed. And with Parker and Hartman, plus intensely funny work from Martha Harms and John M. Flores, this is one show that’s good for what ails ya.

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