Hide the dog

Through Aug. 15
Footlight Theater, the Parliament House
$10; 407-454-8478

VarieTEASE: Carnivale was the runaway hit of the 2007 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, earning the Patrons Pick award and an encore run at the Parliament House. So how do you top an avant-garde fable set to a blistering pop soundtrack? If you're director/choreographer/performance artist Baby Blue, you return to your roots — which in her case are evidently Southern-fried and served with cornbread and sweet tea.

For VarieTEASE: SHEE-HAW, whose homespun feel is 180 degrees from the polished Carnivale, Blue's regulars (like Lollie and Nick Gray) are joined by fresh faces, including guitarist Amy Mullens and the American Racket cloggers (whose parents probably didn't have this in mind when buying that first pair of tap shoes).

Those old enough to remember the 1971 "rural purge" that wiped Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies off the airwaves will recognize the affection poured into parodying Hee Haw. Beyond the profane puns on Buck Owens and Roy Clark, there's real reverence for the time-tested variety format and country music. Between cornpone comedy and stoner satire, Blue and company show off fine singing voices with soulful renditions of classics such as "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Even those too young to get why Minnie Pearl (Miss Sammy) still has the price tag on her hat should appreciate the intentionally awful litany of "walked into a bar" jokes and single-letter Southern slang.

Blue presides over this white-trash wonderland as a shotgun-toting belle in her mama's dress. If some bits bomb badly, she can always save the show with a wink, saying, "Y'all should've seen that in rehearsal!" By the fatally frantic finale, featuring a faux-Dolly Parton (Danielle Hunter) flailing to "Stairway to Heaven," you have no choice but to surrender to the Confederate chaos. Go in with a gut full of white lightning (or a head full of herb), and you're guaranteed a shit-kicking good time.

— Seth Kubersky


Fresh folly

The Fantasticks
Through Sept. 2
Mad Cow Theatre
$22-$24; 407-297-8788

Five years ago, Mad Cow Theatre Company produced Tom Jones' romantic parable The Fantasticks, and now they've brought it back, fresher than ever. The story follows the hormone-enhanced romance of a young couple (Blake Logan and Marissa Montigney) as they fall in and out of love. The duo didn't invent romance, but their wily parents (Dennis Enos and Rod Cathey) trick them into thinking they did, and even hire the swashbuckling El Gallo (Stephan Jones) to produce a romantic abduction to seal the deal.

They squeeze 20 years of marriage into intermission, and then the Boy heads off for adventure while the Girl sits and fumes. That's theater time — distorted as all get out. Deceptively simple on the surface, The Fantasticks reveals a new layer each time you see it (and it shows up often on stages around the country). The idea of "adventure" seems wonderful until you're cold and wet, and "passion" can quickly fade from hot-oil rubs to paying the bills.

Director Alan Bruun compensates for the forgotten decades with a solid cast and a sensitive production. Logan is a genuine belter (it's a shame he didn't sing in his recent Fringe show, Boys Boys Boys) and Montigney pairs well with him; you really would like to dance at their wedding. Jones nails the signature "Try to Remember" and makes a wonderful duet with Logan in "I Can See It."

The comic roles of the Old Actor (Bobbie Bell) and the Man Who Dies (Jason O'Neill) balance the show — after all, too much huggy huggy-kissy kissy gets boring. These two make more of a tattered doublet and a tom-tom than many professional comics. There's one word for this production — fantastic!

— Al Pergande

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