Sally Edmundson, making her directorial debut, does an excellent job crafting distinct and fascinating characters. She expertly segues actors through 4th wall breaking monologues and scenes throughout the play, but fails to tighten Julia Cho's prolonged first act. Intermission comes about four scenes too late; however, the second act clips along and never drops momentum, adeptly making up for the faults present in the first act.
As the Elloway speaking couple, Luisa Amaral-Smith's Alta and James Belcher's Resten steal the show. These engaging, brilliant, and dynamic characters are the reason Houston audiences should be packing the house each night. Both Lusia Amaral-Smith and James Belcher make these fantastical and over-the-top Eastern European stereotypes believably realistic. The audience clings to every moment they are on stage, rolling with laughter and being drawn into the plot. Moreover, Luisa Amaral-Smith and James Belcher breathe vigorous and interesting life into their other characters as well, ensuring that the Esperanto Instructor, the Baker, the Conductor, and Ludwik Zamenof are charismatically magnetizing.
Beth Lazarou's conflicted Emma the second best part of the show because she is a fascinating study in unrequited love and loyalty. She beautifully longs and agonizes for the affections of George. Beth Lazarou's Emma consistently traverses flames and eggshells, keeping the audience in anticipation as she approaches each subsequent move in the chess match to win his heart.
George, played by Rick Silverman, is adroitly a man who cannot communicate, connect with, nor understand his wife. Similarly, he does not comprehend that he has the inability to understand his wife, which causes the couple's strife in the play. Moreover, despite his passion for language and its ability to display riveting emotions, he is unable to express himself emotionally. The character is stilted by the writing and comes across as wooden and is rather uninteresting when dealing with aspects relating to his wife. However, Rick Silverman saves the character by allowing him to be eagerly excited about capturing Elloway and preserving it in his library.
By no fault of her own acting, Shelley Calene-Black was devastatingly boring as Mary. Julia Cho has created a character that feels so uninspired and disconnected from everything else in the play, that I felt the character was utterly superfluous. Shelley Calene-Black delivers an excellent performance that Julia Cho's writing makes forgettable. She wowed me as Truvy in Stages' production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS, and I hope to see her take the stage in a role that allows her to showcase her talents again because, simply put, this one is not it.
Dialect Coaching by Jim Johnson is striking, astounding, and highly effective. No accent or foreign words sounds out of place or inappropriate.
Ryan McGettigan, as usual, has designed a superb set for the show. His Scenic Design is overwhelmingly cluttered and unusual upon first appearance; however Kirk Markley's Lighting Design expertly showcases its genius by transforming seeming piles of junk into clues that indicate setting and locale. The surreal nuances, such as the filing cabinet that bends into the floor and the floating sink in the first scene instantly hook audiences, visually explaining that this play is grounded in reality but takes audiences out of it and twists it for their enjoyment.