FROM ORCHIDS TO OCTOPI: AN EVOLUTIONARY LOVE STORY | Commissioned by the National Institutes of Health to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, and presented by Underground Railway Theater’s CatalystCollaborative@MIT, Melinda Lopez’s new work is a combination of Darwinian Sesame Street and clichéd marital soap. The saving grace is David Fichter’s boldly colorful, ever-evolving, Darwin-inspired mural on moving panels. In the play, that’s the mural that contemporary artist Emma (Mrs. Darwin’s given name) is commissioned to create, and she’s blocked as she reads up on Darwin and struggles to translate billions of years of slo-mo evolution into Fichter’s bright jungle of a mural. What’s more, after 10 years of marriage to restaurant chef Charles (you-know-who’s given name), Emma is newly pregnant and given to strange dreams. This opens the door to visitations from Darwin and family. Director Diego Arciniegas keeps the alternately informative and banal carnival moving along, and the performances by the actors (who include Wesley Savick, Kortney Adams, and URT artistic director Debra Wise) in their primary roles are natural enough. But as a play, From Orchids to Octopi is paint-by-numbers — even if, thanks to Fichter, the paint’s at least as impressive as the numbers. | Central Square Theater, 450 Mass Ave, Cambridge | 617.576.9278 | Through May 2 | Curtain 7:30 pm Wed-Thurs | 8 pm Fri-Sat | 2 pm Sun | $35; $25 seniors; $20 students

LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL | Characterized by its author as a “drama in the form of a cabaret act,” Lanie Robertson’s 1987 play about the jazz great at the end of the line precedes both the Donald Clarke and the Stuart Nicholson biographies of Billie Holiday, and one presumes that it relies, as did the 1972 Diana Ross film, on Holiday’s own somewhat sketchy autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. The script is pretty perfunctory, but the piece continues to turn up, primarily because it offers a talented African-American singer/actress the chance to put her stamp on the jazz standards most closely associated with Holiday, and to dip into the sad story of her life. Jacqui Parker, whether starting out the show draped in mink stole and bittersweet melancholy or ending it deeply immersed in drugs and the music, is a performer who can get both jobs done — if not the impossible one of bringing Holiday, with her singular delivery, back to life. And in this Lyric Stage production directed by Spiros Veloudos, she’s abetted by musical director Chauncey Moore as her worried but cajoling man-of-few-words pianist in such numbers as “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “When a Woman Loves a Man,” “Them There Eyes,” and “God Bless the Child.” | Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St, Boston | 617.585.5678 | Through April 24 | Curtain 7:30 pm Thurs | 8 pm Fri | 3 + 8 pm Sat | $25-$54

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