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Everyone's a star in 'Love's Labour's Lost'
Dream cast freshens 'Romeo and Juliet'
RCRT’S ’GLASS MENAGERIE’ GREAT THEATER
River City Repertory Theatre – the area’s first professional theater – is bringing its initial season to a triumphant finale with a superb rendering of Tennessee Williams’ classic “The Glass Menagerie.” From the company’s debut with Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” through Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and now with “The Glass Menagerie,” RCRT has set its standard, and that is quite high. The consistency is admirable and the reason people who love theater, and serious theatergoers, should flock to “Menagerie.” The final offering gets a boost with the appearance of Tony Award-winning actress Donna McKechnie in the now-legendary role of Amanda Wingfield. “The Glass Menagerie” is Williams’ autobiographical memory play in which the playwright comes to terms with, or at least revisits, his desertion of his mother and sister. Tom, the narrator, recalls the events that led to his leaving St. Louis, and leaving behind his painfully shy and slightly crippled sister, Laura, and his anguished and desperate mother, Amanda. A creative, romantic young man, Tom feels stifled and on the fast track to nowhere, which is heightened by Laura’s helplessness and Amanda’s demands. The catalyst leading to Tom’s going away is the gentleman caller he brings home one evening to appease Amanda who is looking for someone to take care of Laura and to assure some kind of future when Tom does leave. Under the direction of Patric McWilliams, the play springs to life with a new freshness, part of that due to his own vision of this almost ephemeral play and part due to his and McKechnie’s different take on Amanda, the force who drives the drama. The director reinforces Williams’ idea of a memory play through such devices as lacey curtains that not only act as room dividers but also give characters behind them the appearance of moving in, well, perhaps a dream. He enhances that haunting quality through Tristan Decker’s often muted and evocative light designs that envelope the principals in a subdued glow and sometimes in half light. Technically, he and Decker seduce the audience into the drama, and audiences for this staging will be easily seduced. In rethinking the classic, McWilliams and McKechnie have bypassed the shrewishness which often is used to interpret Amanda and replaced that with a softer but no less determined character that actually makes a great deal of sense. Amanda’s smothering love for her offspring makes Tom’s sense of being stifled more palpable and, yes, understanding. Amanda is a woman caught in a cultural conflict, trying to reconcile her gracious Southern upbringing of the past with her present paltry existence in a fairly shabby St. Louis apartment. As she says, her husband worked for the telephone company and fell in love with long distance, deserting his family. McKechnie, who won her Tony as best musical actress in Michael Bennett’s “A Chorus Line” and has been in a myriad of successful musicals, spreads her dramatic wings here and smoothly sails forward. Her Amanda, though seemingly soft and gracious at times, is seething with desperation and an emotional weariness that seems to drag alongside the character. It’s in her quiet looks and nuanced moments that McKechnie soars. When McKechnie’s interpretation of Amanda collides with Logan Sledge’s interpretation of the no less desperate and emotionally wrought Tom, the dramatic fireworks erupt into riveting theater. What a match these two are as their characters spar in a love-hate relationship. Sledge, a graduate of Centenary College’s theater department under Robert Buseick, was a good actor then, but he now has grown artistically by the proverbial leaps and bounds. Sledge has learned to inhabit and submerge into a character, and his Tom is at once exciting and painful to watch. The actor beautifully balances Tom, the reflective narrator, with Tom, the anguished young man of the near past, in a towering performance to savor. Ellen Lindsay, so good in RCRT’s “A Little Night Music,” is even better here as the gentle, timid Laura who has poured all her romantic yearnings and hopes into a menagerie of small glass animals. The actress exudes a quite beauty that cloaks her character. What Lindsay has so wonderfully been able to do is make Laura’s feelings so real that when her character offers a weak, sometimes perfunctory smile, your heart breaks. In the capable hands of Youree McBride Jr., another Buseick theater graduate, the gentleman caller becomes a bit of bravura stage acting that earned him spontaneous applause when he exited the stage. At first expansive and just shy of overbearing, the character reveals his other side – the quieter, disappointed young man – to the receptive Laura. Director McWilliams has brought together and shaped such a fine ensemble that you can just sit back and admire their work. And, as one of his hallmarks as a director, he has merged stage acting with an almost cinematic execution. McWilliams shows are noted for their flow, and this “Glass Menagerie” is no exception. He has heightened that filmic sense with an original music score from composer Kermit Poling that underscores some of the play’s most relevant moments. For his part, Poling has created some haunting musical themes, especially the shimmering, tinkling one for Laura, connoting her menagerie. With McWilliams’ atmospheric set design, this “Glass Menagerie” looks like a dream and it certainly plays like one.
By LAWSON TAITTE / Theater
They ought to make a law
requiring every theater in
The Wharton native, who'll
turn 91 this year, has been turning out plays and screenplays for many decades.
Most of the stage pieces are set in a town very much like the one he grew up in.
They're realistic to the point of being homespun, but quirky enough that they
always surprise us, introduce us to fascinating characters and warm our hearts.
Theatre Three opened a nifty
production of Mr. Foote's Talking Pictures on Monday. The play seems simple, but
its themes spread out in ripple after ripple.
It's the summer of 1929 – a
year of great change in
Mr. Foote cleverly lets us
know that other change is in store.
More to the point, the divorce
Even Estaquio (Michael
Madrinkian), the son of the new Mexican Baptist minister, has a broken family.
He has befriended the younger
Director Kerry Cole has cast
Talking Pictures shrewdly. She has allowed Ms. Rudman and a few of the others to
execute the comedy rather broadly, but at least they actually are funny.
Talking Pictures looks sharp
in the square Theatre Three space, too. Tristan Decker's
gorgeously atmospheric lighting bathes the set by Jac Alder and Barbara Murrell
and the costumes by Michael Robinson in the tones of a hot
by Glenn Arbery
When I see a play, I rarely notice lighting. Still less do I imagine the things these words signify: fresnels, ellipsoidal spotlights, cukes, gobos, light plots, snoots, twofers. Of the opulent workstuffs of the arts—the oils that make magenta and teal, the textures of muslin and tulle, the grain of teak or slate, the taut strings of the instruments that let out music, the whole astonishing palette of language—hardest for me to imagine as a substance, palpable and shapeable, is light. How can there be an art of light? What could it mean to “design” it?
Real as the question is, when I think back on the productions in Dallas that retain a satisfying form in my imagination, phenomena of light always have something to do with them. How that is, though, I could not have begun to say before talking to three of the best lighting designers in
Tristan Decker, Russell Dyer, and Linda Blase, known to every director in
“The best notice a lighting designer can ever get is no mention at all,” says Dyer, repeating what all lighting designers are taught. These artists have no false modesty. They know exactly what they’re doing and why. They remind me of what Joyce writes: “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” At least neither Decker nor Dyer nor Blase, to their credit, mentions that God, according to a widely cited source, began his own creation by calling attention to the lighting.
Decker, who teaches at the University of Dallas, talks to me beside his desk in the Margaret Jonsson Theater, surrounded by detached stage lights, extension cords, catalogs, and assorted reusable mess. The place looks like the office in an electrician’s or mechanic’s shop, except for the brightly colored, hook-nosed masks for Volpone (which opened the next night) on his bookshelf.
Describing himself as a gadget nut, Decker is full of lore about lighting technology—“intelligent” or robotic lights, for example, whose dozens of “parameters” or properties he demonstrates for me. How did a UD drama major get interested in lighting? On a daring trip in 1995, during the heart of the war, when Undermain Theatre took a play called Sarajevo into Bosnia and he had to bring about stage effects with very basic equipment.
Thoughtful about what he does, Decker patiently explains everything from the “light plot”—a diagram showing each light and its exact placement above the stage—to the “light board” that lighting designers program to move between any number of “cues,” defined in David Hays’ book Light on the Subject as “the planned and timed operation of changing light levels.” He speaks carefully of the kind of art he practices.
“I perceive lighting design as more like sculpture?” Decker says, his quiet voice going up in the slight interrogative. “I see the beams of light, the cones of light, as a sculpture medium—the way the actors move through it.” He compares lighting design to the work of Dan Flavin, whose light sculpture retrospective appeared at the
“The colors of all the lights interact with each other,” he says, “but the space that they’re in can really change the feel of them. It’s kinetic; it’s alive. Turn the power off and it’s gone. That sculpture no longer exists. I think maybe that’s why the theater element appeals to me. Theater doesn’t last forever. We take art for granted, particularly the stuff that’s always there. Theater—you don’t have that choice. It forces me to keep thinking.”
When I talked to Russell Dyer half an hour later at the MAC, we sat at a table on the main stage with the large, garish, crucified Christ for Jesus Hates Me (the next play) already spookily presiding over the stage behind us. He was in the process of designing the lights for Theatre Three’s production of Glorious, but he still had to take down the lights from Kitchen Dog’s Fat Pig, so we met there. I wanted to know more specifics about the art of lighting, building on what Decker had already taught me. If the audience needs to notice the reaction of a character to something being said elsewhere on stage, how does a light designer do it? A film can simply cut from Gloria Swanson speaking to William Holden’s reaction. Not so in the theater, where the audience can look at anything they want to, even if noticing a certain reaction might be crucial.
“If you’re good, you know how to do it very subtly,” he says, obviously relishing the problem. “We’re directing the focus. All of a sudden, they’re staring over here at this, and they don’t know why. We’ve done that. We’ve pulled their eyes over here. We can do it very subtly—literally just brightening, changing, shifting color.”
Out at Dallas Children’s Theater on Skillman an hour later, Linda Blase says that doing the Halloween show she designed for Dallas Children’s Theater is typical of what a lighting designer does. “You read the script, you talk to the director, you watch some rehearsals, you notice the blocking, and you figure out what you need to do to make it look like what you want. Then you go to your paper and pencil and your very small inventory,” she says, laughing, “and figure out what you can do with what you’ve got, what you have to circuit together and what you don’t.”
She takes me through the set of Night of the Living Dead and shows me how the lights work with the attacking zombies. Then we go to the light board in a small room up behind where the audience sits, and she demonstrates what a “cue” looks like on the computer, explaining that each number on the screen—say from 1 to 35—signifies a particular light above the stage. Take light 19, for example, which focuses on a spot upstage left. She starts imagining how bright or dim it might be.
“Say I put it at 65,” she says, typing the figure in the box beneath the light’s number. “That brings it up to a level of 65 percent. Or if I decide I want more, I bring it up to, say, 88 percent, or maybe I want it less and I take it down to 18. Let’s say in the same cue, I want number 13 at 50 percent. Now I’ve got two lights up. Now say I want 1 through 3 at 65.” She enters it and shows me the array onscreen. “When I get all the levels the way I want them, I record the cue.”
It sounds simple, until you realize that in some “cue-heavy” plays—mostly contemporary ones—there might be 150 different cues to design and record. Russell Dyer talks about that part of the process as “painting,” the part that he does by himself at the computer and the light board. What he particularly likes is affecting the way an audience feels endings—the way the light fades around an actor. “If I can,” he says, “even though it happens in six seconds, I do it in seven cues. So this one particular light starts coming, the next one follows, and the next one, and you get this really incredible fadeout. It’s an emotional effect you’re trying to bring. You want to milk it as long as you can, but you also want to tell the audience we’re done. You’re really trying to heighten whatever emotion you can.”
I asked him about the very end of Fat Pig. Just after Tom (Ian Leson) tells Helen (Christina Vela) that he can’t overcome the social shame of being with her even though he loves her, they sit on the beach, just the two of them, and her future happiness gradually fades in the course of a minute or two, but goes out irrevocably in the last few seconds after the last line.
“What I was able to do is bring it in about six steps,” Dyer says. “Light starts sort of going out behind the audience. Hopefully, as an audience member, you don’t notice that, but something’s changing so you feel that it’s ending. I actually start that before the last line is delivered, so that you’re already into this slow feel—and then I just make it interesting.”
I can feel something begin to take shape, a startled recognition, like seeing for the first time what Shakespeare can do with metrical variations in a sonnet.
“You lose your angles and get down to your absolute last light,” he continues. “Even Ian’s out before Christina. I mean it’s instantaneous—not even a second. It might be that Ian went out .4 seconds before Christina did, but subconsciously, you know that it’s not Ian and Christina. It’s really Christina.”
Then darkness. Everything is illuminated.
THEATER REVIEW: Director, acting lift
Theatre Three's adaptation of Capote story
The Dallas Morning News, December 15, 2006
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
"Heartfelt" isn't a word ordinarily associated with the work of Truman Capote, who was known first for his elegant prose, then for his chilling look at evil, and finally for scandal and gossip. His story A Christmas Memory, though, brims over with nostalgia and loss. As adapted by Theatre Three, it is ideal holiday fare.
Christmas, after all, is the holiday of the marginal, all about a child shunted off to the barn and born in a feed trough. The young hero of the Capote story, Buddy, has similarly been brushed aside and neglected, along with his elderly, simple-minded relative Sook. A Christmas Memory recounts their annual projects, making fruitcakes to give away and cutting down a tree to decorate. Underneath, however, this small memoir deals with big themes such as love and death and even gives us a glimpse of the heavenly.
In the basement production that opened Wednesday, longtime Dallas favorite Jerry Haynes reads the story and sometimes steps into the narrative. At other moments, young Chance Jonas-O'Toole portrays the boy in the story. Mr. Haynes achieves remarkable eloquence by the simplest of means, but he is quite outshone by the actress playing Sook.
Sally Cole captures the poignancy of innocence and old age from the moment we see her at the window announcing that it is fruitcake weather. She shuffles silently across the set, glowing with good will, but at bottom perplexed by the intricacies of the world around her. Amid the character's frailty, Ms. Cole's smile lights up the whole theater.
Director Jeffrey Schmidt has done well by his little cast, helping them mine the script for all it is worth. He hasn't been so successful, though, with the new curtain raiser that Theatre Three commissioned from Erik Knapp this year. A Christmas to Forget is best forgotten. This tale about an elf who illicitly flies sleigh and reindeer, only to crash into Santa, is tedious stuff. (The main laughs at its Wednesday premiere were at a couple of in-jokes about Mr. Haynes' history as the children's TV host Mr. Peppermint.) Fortunately, the piece is only 20 minutes long.
The idea to use shadow puppets to illustrate both one-acts doesn't add
much, although the surprise first glimpse of Rudolph as the tempter who lures
the elf into the sleigh provides a moment of amusement. The other design
elements work better. Tristan Decker's lighting subtly focuses
the audience's emotions in A Christmas Memory, and sound designer Richard
Frohlich has cannily selected holiday songs that bridge perfectly the
transition in mood between the two playlets.
The Dallas Morning News, October 10, 2006
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
Brilliant patches light up Shakespeare Dallas' most recent version of Much Ado About Nothing. It might have been brilliant as a whole if it had just trusted the play and the audience a bit more and didn't rely so heavily on speed, volume and comic shtick.
This production repeats last year's initiative to extend Shakespeare Dallas' season into the fall. Following two weekends at the festival's home in Samuell Grand Park, it will move to Addison for a final five performances.
After a co-production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with her own company, Risk Theater Initiative, Marianne Galloway has her first opportunity to direct Shakespeare for the company. Her Much Ado, reviewed Sunday, is smart, brisk and great to look at. Clare Floyd DeVries' set looks like a Las Vegas hotel with an Italian theme. Judy Wenzel's contemporary costumes use beige and white to create stunning stage pictures (with lots of help from Tristan Decker's lighting design), and the switch to brilliantly colored Renaissance garb for the masked ball is a trip.
Much Ado stands or falls on its Beatrice and Benedick, the sharp-tongued wags whose friends trick them into falling in love with each other. Jack Birdwell, the Benedick here, has been onstage around town almost constantly for more than a year, and has profited from all the experience. Ms. Galloway, like other Shakespeare Dallas directors in recent years, scales everything in loud words and large gestures. Mr. Birdwell really uses all the scope this big style affords him. He's oversize, funny and actually quite touching.
Elise Reynard, one of Dallas' most highly regarded young actresses, does well by Beatrice, too. In her case, maybe the scale of the acting is a bit too large. Sometimes she could achieve more by doing less. But she has the intelligence and force and innate good humor you need for the role, and she, like almost everyone else in the show, really gets across the music of Shakespeare's verse, even at such a fast clip.
Chad Gowen Spear makes a dastardly villain as Don John and a cute Keystone cop as Dogberry, but it was a miscalculation on Ms. Galloway's part to double these roles. Mr. Spear has too recognizable a face, and the roles are too visible. Scott Milligan manages to submerge himself more completely in the parts he is doubling.
The biggest disappointment in this Much Ado comes in the key scenes in which Beatrice and Benedick's friends are tricking them. Each of them is positioned too far upstage for maximum comic effect. Shawn Parikh also fails to convince as Benedick's friend Claudio, who woos, and hurts, Beatrice's cousin Hero (Allison McCorkle).
The best moments in the production come at the near-tragic climax. Raphael Parry, silly-funny up till that point as Beatrice's uncle, utters his speech of anger and lament with such power and simple sincerity that it seems like a whole new play. Ms. Reynard and Mr. Birdwell also excel in the succeeding scene in which they declare their love comically while reacting to a very serious turn of events between Claudio and Hero. If only Ms. Reynard had slowed the quick pace long enough for the scene's punch line to make its full effect!
Even as the third Much Ado by a major Dallas company in three years, this one has something to say and seldom fails to amuse. But we're still waiting for a Shakespeare Dallas director to prove that outdoor Shakespeare can survive and prosper at something less than full throttle.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 22, 2006
Author: PERRY STEWART; SPECIAL TO THE STAR-TELEGRAM
DALLAS — You could categorize Theatre Three's new production as a portrait of the artist as a lonely and quietly desperate young man.
The artist is playwright Tennessee Williams, whose autobiographical surrogate is known in Vieux Carré only as "Writer." In the winter of his discontent (1938) he journeys to New Orleans and finds lodging in a third-rate rooming house in the French Quarter. There, he encounters a parade of sad eccentrics of the sort who will inhabit his later plays, such as A Streetcar Named Desire, not coincidentally also set in the Crescent City.
Williams' familiar wit is in abundance, but Vieux Carré remains a cheerless visit. We have scenes of high hilarity as Bob Hess, playing a consumptive artist known as Nightingale, insinuates himself into the life of the new boarder. Hess' silent emoting as the Writer (Beau Trujillo) describes his first homosexual experience is textbook quality — worthy of being taped and shown to Acting 101 classes.
Everyone at 722 Toulouse St. is pretty much doomed, except Writer. Trujillo's portrayal opens a window of hope, along with growing confidence and backbone, as when his character occasionally stands up to his bullying landlady, Mrs. Wire (overplayed to the drawling hilt by Cindy Beall).
Writer does not, however, provide any hope for Jane, the well-bred Yankee girl living with a coarse strip show barker. Kelly Rykema's sexy-but-sad portrait is tinged with desperation. And Shelby Davenport offers a vivid sketch of her lover.
There is a lot of shrieking and keening from the boarding house occupants. Thankfully, there also is dry and welcome humor from Phillis Cicero as the long-suffering housekeeper.
Director Jeffrey Schmidt also designed the set, which is dominated by a
semi-Expressionist view of the house's exterior. Lighting designer Tristan
Decker has his way with the structure late in the play.
Piledrive them, Hamlet
Popular characters from Shakespeare square off in Shakespearean Death Match, a new show that opens Friday at Dallas Hub Theater. Winners will vary each weekend in choreographed battles (makes me think WWE). Could Kate whup Beatrice? Guess you have to go to find out.
The wild thing is that the people involved in this strange-sounding show have major credits in and out of Dallas. Tristan Decker is one of our best designers of lighting (and sometimes sets) and has tried his hand at directing -- but I don't remember him acting, let alone fighting, before.Posted by: Lawson at July 25, 2006 03:41 PM
Nothing loose about this 'Screw'
The Dallas Morning News, December 20, 2005
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
First-class theatrical design came to Dallas the night Adrian Hall began his regime at the Dallas Theater Center. That was in the early 1980s, when Eugene Lee painted the walls of the Kalita Humphreys Theater a dark green and scribbled mathematical formulas all over them for Brecht's Galileo.
Under artistic director Richard Hamburger the last dozen years, the Theater Center has kept on setting new national standards in fabulous design.
Amazingly, the whole Dallas theater scene is now catching up with its flagship company.
Walking into Far East at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas last February felt like a similarly epochal event. Randel Wright's looming but delicate set - a Japanese temple with sliding screens depicting Mount Fuji - combined ambition and taste. Astoundingly beautiful, it also served the play perfectly and was head and shoulders above the design for the New York production at Lincoln Center.
I doubt that any city in the country has so many smaller theaters with such high standards of design.
Wade J. Giampa is similarly consistent; his high point this year was a brilliantly simple environment for the four remarkable little premieres in Lyric Stage's The Living End. Architect-turned-designer Clare Floyd Devries has also been working all over town, turning out such original concepts as WaterTower Theatre's Enchanted April.
Longtime presences on the scene such as Rodney Dobbs have also surprised us with some brilliantly fresh work. Theatre Three's in-the-round setting is hard to dress up, but Jac Alder's stunning designs for several recent shows, including Metamorphoses, have raised the bar there, as well.
We've always had brilliant costumers, but we see their best more consistently these days. Giva Taylor's royal duds for Shakespeare Dallas' Richard III are a case in point. Lighting designers, of course, have the ability to make or break their colleagues' work. They just keep getting better, too - notably Tristan Q. Decker, all over town.
Of course, the most gorgeous designs go for naught if the performers who
inhabit them don't bring them alive. But often a great look gives actors that
extra spark of inspiration to take a show to the next level. A period show
such as Echo Theatre's Sailing to Byzantium, especially, can only work when
the clothing and furniture help take the cast back 100 years and transform
themselves into the glittering poets and patrons the script requires them to
Stage artists spread their talents around in Dallas
THEATER: Lively give and take benefits local productions
The Dallas morning News, December 17, 2005
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
Dallas is becoming one giant playground for theater artists - and the kids are learning to have fun together.The fluid interchange of talent between one company and another, while not entirely new, has become surprisingly frequent in a city where each theater company used to develop its own regulars and often felt like a secret society. The current mix feels much healthier.
It enables individual directors, performers and designers to grow, and it enriches the work seen on each stage.
Here's a quick summary of who's who in this fertile en- tanglement.
All over town
Rene Moreno directed productions for nine different theaters last season and seems determined to tie or beat that record this year.
If it's a set in a Dallas theater, Wade J. Giampa, Clare Floyd Devries or Randel Wright probably designed it.
Mr. Wright recently broke the local-designer barrier at the Dallas Theater Center with Crowns.
Jack Birdwell has played juicy roles at seven different theaters here in barely more than two years - including Undermain Theatre's just-concluded Margo Veil and two different stints as the first title character in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Mark Oristano gets his share of acting work, but most Dallas companies call for him as company photographer even if they can't give him a role.
Tristan Q. Decker does a lot of work at the University of Dallas, but his freelance lighting now brightens up lots of stages. His sparkling design for Theatre Three's Metamorphoses, which required rented hardware, inspired the company to apply for grants to put in a new lighting system.
Moving up in the world
Theater Center managing director Mark Hadley started out as a Theatre Three intern years ago.
After the demise of Plano Repertory Theatre, which he managed from both the business and artistic side, Ryan J. Pointer landed on his feet as marketing director for the Theater Center.
M. Denise Lee started out in tiny roles, then acquired diva status at Uptown Players and WaterTower Theatre. She moved on up in a big way, however, stealing the show in the Theater Center's Crowns.
You scratch my back
In early November, Matthew Gray directed Second Thought Theatre company member Steven Walters in Second Thought's Humpty Dumpty.
Now Mr. Walters acts in The Gift of the Magi for Classical Acting Company, directed by Classical co-founder Mr. Gray.
Mr. Walters stars in playwright Lee Trull's Magi; last spring, actor Trull starred in playwright Walters' Apathy and Angst in Amsterdam.
Elizabeth Van Winkle came into Theatre Quorum's Honour at the last minute because of an emergency call from TQ artistic director Carl Savering; Mr. Savering will direct The Turn of the Screw, the first show by Ms. Van Winkle's new Theater Fusion, in February.
The Project X Web site looks like a class reunion for Undermain Theatre exes, such as Raphael Parry, Kateri Cale and Robert McVay.
In addition, Project X overlaps heavily with Shakespeare Dallas, since Shakespeare's artistic director (Mr. Parry) and managing director (Sandra Greenway) are both Project X producers.
One of Theatre Quorum managing director Angela Wilson's day jobs is director of development at Kitchen Dog Theater.
Second Thought Theatre council member Barbara Bouman was company manager of the Dallas Theater Center until last year.
WaterTower Theatre's Terry Martin teaches a class in Meisner acting technique that has alums working all over town - and many of them seem much the better for the experience.
Sue Loncar founded Contemporary Theatre of Dallas largely to provide work for middle-aged actresses.
But she has also discovered a covey of younger actresses (Elizabeth Van Winkle, Stephanie Young, Elise Reynard) who have done stellar work all over town.
Uptown Players producers Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch used to be onstage stalwarts at theaters all over.
Now they're helping directors such as Bruce Coleman and Doug Miller fulfill their visions.
Cheryl Denson, a staple first at the Theater Center and then at Theatre Three, came out of semi-retirement to become Lyric Stage's house director. Now she's the house favorite at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas as well and just made her debut directing WaterTower's The Winter Wonderettes.
Contemporary's other most frequent hire as director, Susan Sargeant, divides her time about equally between that establishment and WingSpan Theatre Company. Ms. Sargeant and Ms. Denson go way back, for that matter; Ms. Denson directed Ms. Sargeant in one of WingSpan's first shows.
Stage West founder Jerry Russell retired, then resumed most of his former responsibilities when the company went through difficulties. He's still acting all over (Lyric Stage, Dallas Theater Center and in Contemporary's just-concluded Waiting for Mr. Green).
Robin Armstrong essentially serves as house director for both Theatre
Britain and Act I Productions - and has a new gig in charge of Pegasus
Theatre's return to the stage with Mind Over Murder next month.
Boy were those Roman gods egotistical, fickle, and quite demanding! From high
These gods also loved to float down to earth and mingle with their subjects in disguise. Many times they also made love to them. Zeus did this a lot. You could say he was the first "player." The man had a pick-up line or fancy trick up his toga sleeve for the right situation in any of his conquests.
Now, lace on Hermes's sandals and let's race through time to 2002, where Mary Zimmerman has taken a translation by David R. Slavitt from Ovid's Greek myths and applied her own vision and interpretation. Metamorphoses opened in March 2002 at Circle in the Square on Broadway. The production swam through 400 performances and was nominated for three Tony Awards, winning one for Zimmerman as Best Director.
Metamorphoses is now being given a spectacular local premiere by Theatre Three. T.J. Walsh's direction and staging is bewitching, exhilarating, and marvelous. Nothing is left out of this director's vision; everything is staged with soothing flow, like the waters within the pool that is built right in the middle of the stage. The pool and water are used to underscore emotion, to create scenery, even to change an old woman into a young girl. Water symbolizes creation, cleansing, and the womb, which Walsh uses to satisfying results. He uses subtle staging or movements to deliver character subtext and emotion. The pace never slacks or seems soporific. The actors devour the piece like a seven-course meal, with the director wisely knowing when to really savor the moments, scenes, and emotions which come forth from Zimmerman's writing and the characters. Walsh's direction here is pure perfection.
Jac Alder's scenic design is sublime, with its large pool bordered by honey-colored wood. This gives the central set piece an aura of a large body of water surrounded by sand and earth. Upstage and at an angle are Roman doors that are painted in lush hues. The upper wall is colored with clouds and sky. Hanging above the pool is an elegant crystal chandelier that is used for numerous visions, everything from stars to the moon. Alder's scenic design is amazing and fits perfectly with Walsh's vision.
The lighting designed by Tristan Decker is stunning and immensely picturesque. The use of color here is profuse, elegant, and calming. But there is also a preponderance of emotional lighting; for example, to symbolize hunger, he has the actress bathed in lime green light, which wonderfully follows her all around the stage and water. He bathes the gods in purples, lavenders, and fuchsias. When Pandora opens the box, there is a flash of dazzling color that vividly brings home the horrors which Pandora has released into the world due to her curiosity. Ice cold blues, blinding whites, and strobes are used to illustrate a horrifying sea storm created by an angry god. Decker's lighting is magical to say the least.
Has Michael Robinson become the official costume designer for the entire metroplex? In the past two months I've seen him use every available sequin for Joseph at Garland Summer Musicals, and create flashy, vulgar, and dripping-in-sex costuming for Watertower's Cabaret. Here he has designed soft, innocent costumes, all made of shimmery silks and satins or soft cottons and linens. All of the fabrics are soft whites, pastels, or glittery golds and silvers. The design for Poseidon is a dark tunic top with a dusting of sequins that catch the light beautifully. My personal favorite is the sun god costume: a a white cloak beaded in silver, with a dark, soft skirt and a gold trimmed breastplate, all topped off with a headdress of leaves dipped in gold glitter. Robinson also adds a modern piece here and there, such as leather jackets for the people of Hades. The costumes here are both romantic and sexy.
Quite frankly, this is one of the finest ensembles I've seen in a play this season. Their performances never ring false. What makes the production greatly entertaining is that each actor is given a solid character to show off their talent, and they do so in abundance. The talented cast members not only portray major roles, but they also play a plethora of others - including gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, and lovers. This company is phenomenal.
Jeffrey Schmidt gives a hilarious performance as Midas, the king who turns everything into gold. Schmidt apparently looked for some wicked subtext and found it here. For this character the actor uses a Texan drawl that sounds very much like George W. Bush. Thus, the opening monologue takes on new meaning that achieves loud laughter. Schmidt uses Bush's tripping of the tongue delivery like a comic pro. He also brings Poseidon, the god of water, to majestic life. The actor has some mirthful fun with a character that has an array of fast costume changes to impress an airhead maiden. His final scene as Midas wraps the play and is deeply moving. Schmidt uses his body to fully display the sorrow and pain that his heart carries for his egotistical actions. Watch his face show love and the acceptance of forgiveness as he tightly holds his child. With this ingenious performance Schmidt proves once again that he is one of the best actors in the area.
Also smashing is Joel McDonald, who provides the funniest performance of the evening. First he is a drunken follower of the god of wine, Bacchus. The actor uses the pool and his body like a vaudevillian master. Later he is Phaeton, the son of the Sun god. This gifted thespian portrays him like a rich, spoiled, Ivy League brat who lies in the pool bored out of his empty head. McDonald's comedic delivery and pace is down right hilarious. Later, he portrays Eros, wearing only a set of pristine white-feathered wings. He shows dignity and guts as the only actor in the cast to go the full monty. McDonald's dedication to all of his characters is top notch.
Two characters within this mythology play set in liquid are doomed lovers, and both are played poignantly by Cameron McElyea. Poseidon drowns one in fury; the other is Orpheus, who makes a deal with Hades not to turn around as his deceased bride follows him back to earth. McElyea has a wonderful face that conveys sincere loss, pain, and agony. Also within his assortment of characters is a sweet old man who, along with his wife, opens their home to two gods. His attention to characterization is razor sharp and rich.
Rounding out the cast of men are David Fluitt and Sachin Patel. Fluitt is outstanding as the father who is tricked into loving someone by blindfolding his eyes. Fluitt's horrific, cold and demonic reactions to this trickery are riveting to watch on stage. He is a tall, handsome man who commands the stage the second he steps into the light. The actor also has another intense characterization as a man who cannot stop being hungry. Sachin Patel's comedic timing, pace, and facial expressions add spark and pizzazz to his characterizations. His Hermes is a fickle teenager, right down to the leather jacket. As Bacchus, Patel is quite witty as he grants Midas' wish.
The ladies of the company also provide an array of glowing talent. Jennifer Engler is heartwarming as the Nurse to Myrrha, who creates the plan that causes only disaster. Also, kudos to Engler for the lovely choreography that is used in several scenes. This talented thespian also portrays an old woman who is sold off to pay for her son's never-ending hunger. But the god Poseidon feels for her and transforms her into a young girl right there in the ocean. This is a gorgeous scene of stagecraft, water, and Engler's acting. Her transformation is so believable that you honestly think there were two women in the water.
Summer Hagen (a sexy blonde) provides some loud laughs as the goddess of love, Aphrodite. She uses a voice that sounds a little like Megan Mullally's Karen from Will & Grace. But this lovely girl also provides a heartwarming portrayal as Psyche, the girl with whom Eros has fallen in love.
Also in the company of gals is Mandy Nguyen as Eurydice, the doomed lover to Orpheus. This character may not have much to say, but Nguyen's beautiful face conveys the emptiness of Eurydice's heart and soul now that she is in the underworld. Nguyen also has a farcical scene as the tiny daughter to Midas who irritates her dad by bouncing a ball or jumping rope. It is the emotional connection between Nguyen and Schmidt at the end of the play that makes this theater piece shine so bright.
The two actresses who really stand out are Trisha Miller Smith and Dana Schultes. Smith portrays Alcyone, who in grief over the death of her husband Ceyx threw herself into the sea and was changed into a halcyon, a bird believed to have had the power to calm the wind and the waves. This actress uses her body and voice to convey the screaming in her heart over the loss of her husband. Her face is like a canvas, while her emotions and acting craft are the intense colors she paints on for us to observe. Watch her face as she waves goodbye to the ship that carries her love, then the horror of finding his body floating back to her from these it waters. It is a haunting, wonderful performance. Schultes anchors the evening with a riveting, intense, and mesmerizing performance as Myrrha, a mortal who is put under a spell by Aphrodite to fall in love with her father (Fluitt). Schultes bravely exposes the confusion, anger, and anxiety within her soul for feeling this way. You can honestly sense her trepidation. The blocking and staging for the confrontation between Schultes and Fluitt is powerful. This actress holds firmly to the subtext that both the scene and her character require to make it work. She uses the pool and the water as a second skin to convey Myrrha's heart. This scene stayed with me way after the curtain call. Later, Schultes provides warmth and humor as the elderly lady who welcomes the gods into her home. With her glittery stage presence, elegant features, and attention grabbing acting, she is superb.
Theatre Three's Metamorphoses is the must see production of the summer! Out of all the current productions that are currently being offered, this is the one that has to be at the top of your list and here's why: This is a theater piece that works like magic. Theater is about opening your minds and imagination, and this production is just that. It will feed you on so many levels. It has stage craft that is much more entertaining than those ear-shattering, exploding movies that are bombing this summer at the box office. The acting, direction, and production values are all extraordinary. This production brings all the elements of what theater is all about to provide one of the best productions this year.
Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman (DFW Area Premiere) runs through August 13, 2005 at Theatre Three. Regular Performances: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm.; ticket Prices: $10 - $35. Additional special performances: Miser's Night Out: Sunday, August 7 at 7:30 p.m.; all tickets $10. The Hooky Matinee: Thursday, August 11 at 2:00 p.m.; all tickets $10. Tickets may be purchased by calling T3's box office at 214-871-3300, option #1 or online at www.theatre3dallas.com.
Nursemaid and others……….......Jennifer Engler
Theatre Three's 'Metamorphoses' turns myths into magic
The Dallas Morning News, July 12, 2005
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
A myth is a public dream and a dream is a private myth, according to Mary Zimmerman. She has fused the two in Metamorphoses.
The Chicago-based winner of one of those MacArthur Foundation "genius" awards created this piece, loosely based on Ovid's 2,000-year-old Latin epic, for her own group of actors. They took it all over the country, but it received its most glowing reception in New York right after the terrorist attacks of 2001. Other companies have taken over the script since the end of its Broadway run. Theatre Three gave it its area premiere on Monday.
Ms. Zimmerman has woven together more than a dozen ancient tales - a few of them told through pantomime in less than a minute, some of them developed into piercing or hilarious mini-dramas. As a narrator remarks near the end, the stories tend to end unhappily - unless you count the magical transformation of a fallen hero or heroine into a bird or a tree.
It's thus difficult to explain why Metamorphoses offers so much hope and exhilaration. The play insists that love, with enough perseverance, will eventually win out.
Jac Alder's set, Michael Robinson's costumes and Tristan Decker's lighting together give the show a very different feel from the original production. Metamorphoses requires a large onstage swimming pool. The in-the-round Theatre Three format makes the play of color and light on the pool all the more effective as it sprays and ripples, and the palette is brighter and more varied, to excellent effect.
Director T.J. Walsh has chosen a young cast that catches the play's every mood swing, from whimsical to majestic, from tragic back to satirical. Jeffrey Schmidt rivets the attention immediately in the first extended story. This Midas' love of gold makes him resemble every North Dallas dad too caught up in making money.
Dana Schultes shocks her way through the most thoroughly doomed of the characters, Myrrha, a daughter caught up in forbidden passion. Some of the myths get a lighter, more contemporary treatment, such as the story of Phaeton's desire to drive the chariot of the sun usually manned by his father, Apollo. As Phaeton, Joel McDonald floats on the pond talking to his therapist about his parental hang-ups.
By the time Eros walks onstage toward the end - nude except for a fluffy
pair of wings - for his rendezvous with Psyche, you are caught up in one of
the most magical experiences in contemporary American theater.
In troupe's hands, fairy tale soars
'Winter's Tale' signals new maturity for Shakespeare Festival
The Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2005
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
Miracles are happening at Samuell-Grand Park.
The Winter's Tale is Shakespeare's play crammed most thoroughly with uncanny events - oracles, prophetic dreams, resurrections and reconciliations. The Shakespeare Festival of Dallas production that opened at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre on Saturday brings them all to life with a vividness that is positively preternatural.
The Winter's Tale, one of Shakespeare's final fairy-tale works generally called romances, falls into halves separated by 16 years. In the court of Sicilia, King Leontes (Richard Zavaglia) asks his queen, Hermione (Dana Tanner), to persuade his friend Polixenes (Vince McGill) to extend his visit. Her success raises suspicions in the king, who eventually goes mad with jealousy and wreaks havoc on all their lives.
After intermission, we are in a different world. Instead of the grim Sicilian court, the bucolic Bohemian countryside provides the setting for a romance between the offspring of the previous generation. Eventually everything is mended, and time heals all.
Director Raphael Parry has created what may be the festival's most fulfilling production since it moved to its present home more than a decade ago.
Design is all-important in The Winter's Tale, and this team has turned in exquisite work. Giva Taylor's lush costumes - curiously wedding late Byzantine fashions with Gustav Klimt - shimmer and sparkle under Tristan Q. Decker's lights.
Scott Osborne's set also shifts colors and moods in chameleon fashion with the lighting, and even Karen Bower Robinson's dances avoid the curse of silliness that usually falls on Shakespearean choreography.
The cast almost infallibly lives up to the play's daunting challenges. The nobles are beautifully spoken, led by Ms. Tanner's eloquent speech of self-defense.
The play's greatest and most mysterious character, however, is the courtier Paulina. Emily Banks attacks her epic speech condemning the king at the end of the first half with a glorious boldness. Its power is enhanced by some special effects by Mr. Decker that are pretty bold themselves.
The cheerier second half bounces merrily along thanks to the pranks of the naughty thief Autolycus (Anthony L. Ramirez), the aging shepherd (Jacob D. Thomas) and his clownish son (John Forkner).
Companies often avoid The Winter's Tale, even though it's one of the
greatest plays Shakespeare ever wrote, because they worry they can't do it
justice or make it work. The Shakespeare Festival of Dallas' version signals a
maturity in this institution - after many years of ups and downs - that some
of us feared it might never achieve.
The Dallas Morning News, April 5, 2005
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
Pundits will tell you that Moliere is the second-greatest playwright (after Shakespeare, of course) of his century and several of the surrounding ones. Watching a lot of productions, you'd never know why.
Where many professionals tread unwarily and come a-cropper, a stage full of students at the University of Dallas walk in and offer revelation. They opened one of Moliere's greatest masterpieces, Tartuffe, on Wednesday in the Margaret Jonsson Theater.
Tartuffe offers plenty of rope with which directors who like to update the classics can hang themselves. The title character is a pious sort who doesn't practice what he preaches. Although not a clergyman, he speaks always in the name of religion. No doubt the playwright had dour Jansenists and the wilier sort of Jesuits in mind, but modern audiences can easily recognize the type if they have ever turned on a radio or TV on Sunday.
Interpreters greedy for contemporary relevance, reluctant to rely on their patrons' imaginations, frequently triple-underline that connection. UD's head of drama, Patrick Kelly, would never be so gauche. He presents the play in the light of the original period.
Set designer Tristan Q. Decker works his usual less-is-more magic. Costume designer Mary Mc- Clung outdoes herself.
A number of the students really capture their characters; several are
perfect. In the title role, Justin Lemieux leers and glowers, he points toward
heaven with a primly upturned hand, he projects an unkempt sexuality that is
truly menacing. He is Tartuffe.
Reviving 'Three Sisters'
University of Dallas superbly stages Chekhov tragicomedy
Dallas Morning News, October 29, 2004
Author: TOM SIME; Staff Critic
Though we've seen full-out stagings of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard since the late '80s, there hasn't been a professional production of The Three Sisters in the area for many years. So the one at the University of Dallas must suffice; and it does, despite the occasional shortcomings of a student cast.
The staging, directed by Patrick Kelly, boasts a strong set and lighting design by Tristan Q. Decker, who puts the action in a sort of jewel case cozily nestled in the intimate Margaret Jonsson Theater, where the play opened Wednesday.
The sweetly sad comedy- drama, set around the end of the 19th century, takes place in a provincial Russian town. Andrey (Luke Mutschler) and his sisters Olga (Diana Gonzalez) and Irina (Margaret Abbott) share the house they came to from Moscow 11 years before when their father, a general, was transferred. Now the general has been dead for a year, and Olga and Irina hope to return to Moscow. Stuck fast in the little town, however, is Masha (Rose White), the third sister, who is married to a buffoonish high school teacher, Kulygin (Charles Lane Cowen). Also sharing the house are several boarders, all army officers. Then Andrey marries local girl Natasha (Aline Elasmar), who moves in and takes over.
Olga, a teacher, becomes headmistress of her school over the course of the play's five-year span, but the biggest changes come to Irina. Early on, she's an ingénue, enamored of the idea of going to work in a world full of bright prospects. But over the years she becomes disillusioned with the drudgery she finds working at a telegraph office and other tedious jobs. It's deeply touching to watch her world fold up around her.
The performances are mostly fine, though the players don't always succeed at making the dialogue sound natural. The sisters are all good, with Ms. White's Masha especially vivid. Mr. Cowen is hilarious as the ridiculously unflappable Kulygin. Ms. Elasmar stands out as Natasha, the outsider who ends up dominating the family. Her unusual costumes are among Mary McClung's best.
While the sisters long for a better life in Moscow, other characters debate the idea of delayed gratification: Is it built into the larger scheme of things? "Happiness is reserved for our descendants," says one, insisting the people of the future will benefit from our misery today. But another maintains that life doesn't ever change. The continuing relevance of Three Sisters would seem to bolster the latter case.
The Three Sisters, presented in the Margaret Jonsson Theater, University of Dallas, 1845 E. Northgate Drive, Irving, through Nov. 6. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Additional show Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $5, with discounts for students and seniors. Runs 165 min. Call 972-721-5314.
The actors in Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes or The Green Pill, now playing at The MAC, are made up to look like human marionettes. They move with deliberate, jerky gestures, as if their limbs are manipulated by invisible strings. Their faces are painted chalky white, cheeks circled with bright red rouge. The play is a beautiful live-action puppet show that unfolds against a surreal setting of deep blue and red Art Nouveau swoops and swirls.
Our Endeavors Theater Collective's Southwest premiere of the absurdist work by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, translated by Daniel Gerould, is a riot of color, sound, light, music and movement. Within the production are elements of Cirque du Soleil, Nosferatu, Cabaret, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Eyes Wide Shut and Pee-Wee's Playhouse. The two-hour show has been meticulously choreographed by director Scott Osborne and movement director Gary Minyard, and designed to the nth degree by scenic artist Russell Parkman, costumer Patrick Johnson, lighting designer Tristan Decker and hair and makeup designer Ryan Matthieu Smith.
It all looks perfectly delicious. Then they start talking. Dainty Shapes, written in the early 1900s, would be a fascinating script if only there weren't so many words in it. "Everything that more or less is known is now over, and yet it seems to me I have discovered something totally new. Something that can only be tested by the two of us,'' says Pandeus Clavercourse (played by Jeffrey Schmidt), one of three main characters. "Pandi" declares himself "the incarnation of willpower" and then launches into a speech about "Einstein's two possible worlds." He seems to be in a triangular battle of souls and wills with two other primary characters, the younger man, Tarquinius Flirtius-Umbilicus (Matthew Hutchens), and a riding-crop-carrying dominatrix, Sophia Kremlinska of the Abencerages (Lydia Mackay).
Laced into red spike-heeled boots, fishnets, ruffled red hot pants and outrageous combinations of leather, feathers, monkey fur, sequins and lace, Sophia is the embodiment of all temptation. She keeps trying to lure young Tarquinius up to the "sloth room," while Pandi works to convince the young man to let him "penetrate him with knowledge."
Or something like that. The dialogue in Dainty Shapes can be nearly impenetrable, going beyond absurdism into the oblique and obtuse. At times the characters speak in French. And they say things like "My ganglions are bursting with inexpressible thought."
Best just to plug up the ear holes and watch the spectacle as if it were some artsy foreign film without subtitles. And there's plenty to watch. There is no more luscious actress than Mackay strutting any Dallas stage right now. From her wildly comic entrance, surrounded by "Mandelbaums," a troupe of 10 human-sized puppets with mouths in a permanent "oh," Mackay is a fetishist's dream. Schmidt, with whatever nonsense his character is babbling, manages to combine physical elements of Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin and The Producers' Dick Shawn (doing Springtime for Hitler) into his very funny performance.
On some lofty philosophical level, Dainty Shapes blasts away at the decadence of the bourgeoisie. That must be what all the talking is about. Better not to think about it too hard, however. Don't want any bursting ganglions.
Author: TOM SIME; Staff Critic
Our Endeavors Theater Collective made its debut in 1997 with Richard Foreman's My Head Was a Sledgehammer. It has taken the company all the intervening years to find a play as weird as that one, but the search ended Thursday night with the opening of Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes, or The Green Pill.
Meanwhile, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz waited even longer - 82 years - to make his Dallas debut. Dainty Shapes was written in 1922 and never performed during the lifetime of the playwright, a Polish avant-garde renaissance man who died in 1939.
But while watching this mad, gorgeous extravaganza, it's easy to imagine that the man known as "Witkacy" would have considered the wait worth it. As directed by Scott Osborne, Dainty Shapes is acted with both precision and utter abandon by an extravagantly large and gifted cast further swollen by a corps of life-size puppets.
Matthew Hutchens plays Tarquinius Flirtius-Umbilicus, an impressionable young man who must choose between two seducers. His philosophical mentor, Pandeus Clavercourse (Jeffrey Schmidt), promises pure friendship. On the night the play takes place, Pandeus has vowed to introduce Tarquinius to "the ultimate mysteries of the highest understanding of life" through "the absolute unity of male souls." Wink, wink.
Just in time to stop him comes Pandeus' ex-lover, Sophia Kremlinska (Lydia Mackay), a sort of cosmic dominatrix who arrives with a huge entourage including a kaiser, a cardinal, a couple of tycoons and a crowd of puppet "Mandelbaums" representative of the faceless masses.
Sophia embodies the lure of the herd, in opposition to Pandeus' "principle of intrinsic individual identity." But both want to use their "principles" to warp and devour Tarquinius. It all culminates in a superb, comic fencing match; we won't reveal who crosses swords with whom, but it's one sexy duel.
The whole thing is played at an inspired fever pitch, co-opting the baroque excesses of silent movies and melodrama on a lavishly strange set of cobalt-blue "glass" designed by Russell Parkman and lighted with an ever-shifting palette by Tristan Decker. Patrick Johnson's costumes are no less intoxicating, especially as capped by Ryan Mathieu Smith's hair and makeup, all chalky pallor and brutal rouge.
But pretty as it all is, there's no escaping Witkacy's cruel forked road.
We do indeed have choice in life, he seems to say; but only between being a
"solitary beast" or absorption by "the human anthill."
On October 2, 2003, Our Endeavors Theater Collective opened a near-perfect
production of Charles Ludlam's mid-1980s comedic suspense thriller, The
Artificial Jungle. It is set in a family owned-and-operated pet shop on the
Lower East Side of Manhattan, the kind where the owners live behind the shop, a
hodge-podge of paraphernalia featuring a prominent screen which doubles as an
aquarium when it is backlit.
Yielding to animal instincts
murderous plot crafted sublimely in 'Artificial Jungle'
The Dallas Morning News, October 3, 2003
Author: TOM SIME; Staff Critic
The Artificial Jungle provides a feast for the eyes, for the ears and for certain malevolent species of tropical fish. Our Endeavors Theater Collective outdoes itself with this loving, hilarious and macabre revival of Charles Ludlam's final comedy, a calculatedly demented homage to film-noir melodrama that opened at Bath House Cultural Center on Thursday.
Jungle blends the precedents of Macbeth, Therese Raquin and The Postman Always Rings Twice, and of course the late Ludlam's own grotesquely funny catalog (Bluebeard, The Mystery of Irma Vep, Camille).
It's Christina Vela's directing debut, but you'd never guess it from the precision of her vision in presenting Ludlam's sleazy tale as a nightmarish ballet. She gleefully sculpts the actors' every movement. And though it's intensely parodistic, it's ravishing, too, as we watch absurdity morph into sublimity.
Design is deliriously good all around, from Lainie Simonton's arching brows as the anti-heroine to Scott Osborne's amazing forced-perspective tubular-steel pet-shop set, to actor Patrick Johnson's spectacularly overscaled domestic drag - petticoats, polka dots, XXL aprons - to Tristan Decker's lighting, which switches from normal to illicit settings whenever clandestine lovers steal another sordid kiss. Kristine Koury's costumes and John Flores' sound design are just as potent.
Ms. Simonton anchors the dazzling show as Roxanne, a hellcat trapped in a loveless marriage to Chester (Andy Long), a pet-shop owner who's a schnook as well as a crook, not to mention a mama's boy. Though he's petted and indulged by Mother Nurdiger (Mr. Johnson), Chester is hated by Roxanne, who hires a mysterious flophouse stud, Zach (David Goodwin), as shop assistant, then beds him and enlists him in her scheme to kill Chester. If you know Therese Raquin, you know what murder will do to even a pair of snakes' love life.
The acting is strong throughout, but extra praise must go to Ms. Simonton, who's riveting from start to finish. She's both monstrous and graceful as the quintessential femme fatale who discovers her conscience too late.
Everything's on the surface in Ludlam, who made superficiality grand with a
vision that's a fever-dream of TV saturation, childhood memory and high art.
His legacy is proof that junk and high culture merge in some ineffable realm.
To paraphrase a Jungle character - waxing poetic in his death throes - in his
very senselessness, Ludlam was in harmony with the entire universe.
UD's 'Henry IV' regal Production stays true to Shakespeare, but remembers to entertain
The Dallas Morning News, November 8, 2002
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
Americans have trouble making Shakespeare's noblemen aristocratic. Heck, it's not even fashionable to do so in England, where rough and ready is the order of the day. So how do college students in Irving, Texas, manage it so well?The University of Dallas' theater department is ambitiously rotating the two parts of Henry IV on alternate evenings. The first part opened Tuesday, the second on Wednesday.
Director Patrick Kelly offers his audiences an approach that is increasingly difficult to find. He enters into the Elizabethan age with the same kind of attention to the spirit of that time that the authentic-performance movement brings to renaissance music. Miraculously, he finds drama and humor as he does so - not just some academic exercise.
Of course, Mr. Kelly has recruited some of the most consistently inventive designers in town to his staff. Tristan Decker's set, deceptively simple in appearance, evokes the Gothic style appropriate to the era in which the play is set.
Mary McClung's costumes are less fanciful than her previous work at the university, but gorgeous and beautifully thought out. She, or whoever supervised the wigs and makeup, has enabled this mostly undergraduate cast to portray the many old and middle-aged roles vividly. She and Mr. Kelly have borrowed the standard character types from traditional comedy and make them breathe onstage. Ross Olsaver as Justice Shallow and Joseph Bissex as Pistol turn in wonderful cameos, thanks to this approach.
Only one actor - Justin Lemieux as Prince Hal - could walk from these shows straight into a professional production. But that's largely a function of the prevailing discrepancy in ages between roles and actors. Sean Lewis makes a regal King Henry, and Terence Swiney cuts a far more elegant figure than most Sir John Falstaffs. (He is a knight, after all.) Mr. Lemieux's scenes with Mr. Swiney are hilarious, with Mr. Swiney touching.
The one major disappointment comes at the climactic ending of Part 2, the
famous scene where the former prince, now en route to his coronation, forsakes
his old drinking buddy, Falstaff. The actors didn't seem quite to know what
attitude to take to the moment. Until then, we sympathized with Hal's reform
and his reconciliation with his father. Are we still supposed to approve of
him when he turns away his bad companion, or be horrified when he turns on his
UD adds depth to deception
Role-changing actors lend further intricacy to 'Great God Brown'
The Dallas Morning News, April 12, 2002
Author: LAWSON TAITTE; Theater Critic
Eugene O'Neill's early plays, once the epitome of the American avant-garde, have gone way out of fashion. They're hardly something you'd expect director Patrick Kelly to take an interest in.
But Mr. Kelly opened one of O'Neill's most opaque dramas, The Great God Brown, at the University of Dallas on Wednesday. He attends to some complexities that the original 1926 production neglected - and, astoundingly, adds some of his own. You can't say that Mr. Kelly makes the playwright's turgid ideas any clearer. But he does make them more powerful.
The Great God Brown follows the lives of two childhood friends, Dion Anthony and Billy Brown. Dion, an artist, is a barrel of laughs. Billy, the stodgy one, studies architecture and adds some class to his father's construction business.
Both young men love Margaret, but she has eyes only for Dion. The gimmick here is that O'Neill has the characters putting on and taking off masks constantly. Through this device, we learn that Margaret doesn't love - can't even see - the real Dion. He begins to despair - and forms a relationship with Cybel, a prostitute who is also Billy's mistress.
Eventually, Billy causes the increasingly feeble Dion to die. Billy then assumes a double identity, simply by wearing Dion's mask when he goes home to Margaret.
Mr. Kelly's designers take up the challenge of creating new masks for every stage of the plot. That's what O'Neill wanted, though the first production kept the same masks throughout.
But the director also uses up to three different actors to play a single role at different stages of the plot. The actors also shift from one role to another as easily as Billy assumes Dion's identity.
The audience always knows what's going on in the story, but the fluidity of the characters can be unsettling in the extreme. It's especially strange because the actors who play the leads through most of their maturity, Ross Olsaver and Terence Swiney, look so much alike.
It's difficult to single out individual performers in such a situation, but Aline Elasmar's take on Cybel is especially impressive. She breathes life into O'Neill's inflatedly lyrical prose.
All this takes place on Tristan Decker's awe-inspiring set -
a temple to a huge god with feet of clay. People haul out any set pieces
necessary to play a scene, and some of these, like a drawing table lit from
within, add a lot to the atmosphere as well.
Author: Tom Sime; Staff Critic
Take three gifted actors and stuff them into meaty roles. Pop into a black box and simmer in superb sound and lighting design. Baste with suspense and sensuality, and you get the recipe behind the unsettling Eighteen.
Texas native Allison Moore's drama is the one director Dan Day chose from a pile of 350 submissions to be the main attraction at Kitchen Dog Theater's third annual New Play Festival. It was easy to see why at Thursday's world premiere.
A temporary family is formed when a childless Dallas couple take in their niece, whose mother recently died and whose father is in South America. Christine, played with grave vulnerability by Jill Matelan, is a high school senior a few weeks shy of 18. She appears to have inherited her love of science and mathematics from her Uncle Dan (Max Hartman), her mother's brother.
Dan is a computer entrepreneur who's on the verge of selling his advances in computer fingerprint recognition to the FBI. We see how much is riding on the deal when we watch him practice his pitch, an exercise that reduces him to tears of frustration despite his eloquence: "The technology comes from the same place as the crime. ... When we can accept the vastness of our American desires, then we can begin to protect ourselves."
Dan's wife, Marie (Tina Parker), a nurse by trade but a gifted cook by nature, has a way with a recipe as both a blueprint for a meal and a poem in itself. In one amazing scene, Dan coaxes her to describe how she made a dish as he and Christine close their eyes and chew. It's like phone sex for the starving. Throughout the play, strong writing and clever staging conspire to place us smack in the middle of such intimate encounters.
All the senses get to revel in this handsome production, which grabs hold and doesn't let go despite two intermissions in its brief running time. Tristan Decker's set and lighting cloak everything in alternating deep shadow and saturated color, while Sam Wagster's sound envelops us in slicing, chewing, creaking, breathing and gorging on food and sex. These vivid effects come to parallel the unbidden desires that invade all three characters.
Mr. Day's direction is masterful throughout, and Ms. Parker and Mr. Hartman
have never seemed so inspired. Everyone rises to the peak of their game, just
as surely as Ms. Moore's script made its way to the top of the heap.
The Dallas Morning News, March 29, 2001
Author: Tom Sime; Staff Critic
Imagine John Gay writing The Beggar's Opera with Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope looking over his shoulder, and it's easier to understand the boundless delights of this play by an otherwise obscure author. The two elder masters tossed many a tidbit into their protégé's witty stew, a 1728 musical satire that saw the light of night again Wednesday at the University of Dallas.
Director Patrick Kelly, musical director Marilyn Walker, and designers Tristan Decker (set and lighting) and Mary McClung (costumes) serve up a feast that allows every sense to gorge. The play packs in dozens of fragmented popular and folk tunes of the time, to which Mr. Gay gave new lyrics. Sean Baugh's electronic harpsichord adds a tone of mocking gentility.
The concept is of a troupe of beggars putting on the show in an abandoned warehouse. Their costumes are fashioned from refuse shaped to resemble the garb of the aristocracy. Ms. McClung has cribbed together bustles from bathmats and duct tape, greatcoats from tin cans and towels, wigs from wire and sphagnum moss. The actors sport rotting teeth, sores and bruises as they ape the graces and wiles of the bourgeoisie.
The plot is similar to that of The Threepenny Opera, which copied Mr. Gay's idea 200 years later. "Captain" Macheath (Shawn Martin), leader of a gang of thieves, has married Polly Peachum (Meg Schneider) even as his child grows in the indignant belly of Lucy Lockit (Kate Medaille). So Polly's parents, the fence Peachum (Jerry Urbik) and his wife (Jamie Bennett), along with Lucy's father (Joshua Franklin), the warden of Newgate prison, conspire to have Macheath hanged and seize his property.
The script is full of witheringly cynical bon mots. "We must punctually pay our spies, or we shall have no information at all," declares Peachum. "You cannot have the man and the money too," goes the aspiring widow's creed. The battle of the sexes was never so amusingly bitter, and the men's insults are especially catchy: "Out of my sight, wanton strumpet!" "Away, screech owl, and hang yourself in your own garters!"
The cast is strong all around, but some players truly stand out. Ms. Medaille is excellent as Lucy, whose catty soprano duel with Polly is a highlight. And Ms. Schneider, though a freshman with no bio to speak of, shows star quality and great technical proficiency as Polly. The acting talent, vocal power and control are all in place. And she even gets to keep her pretty teeth. PERFORMANCE INFORMATION
The Beggar's Opera, presented in the Margaret Jonsson Theater, University of Dallas, 1845 E. Northgate Drive, Irving, through April 7. Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $5, $4 for students and seniors. Call 972-721-5314.
A few years back, when Edward Albee spoke at the Dallas Museum of Art, he set aside a very special few minutes to heap vitriol on the profession of theater criticism and those wannabe artists who flail away with ink-stained claws at the accomplishments of others. His sentiments were hardly novel for a playwright-director (and I've read colleagues whose barely contained, bilious envy justified Albee's bitterness, albeit not toward the whole pack of us). My standard line of defense is--that unlike film and TV, theater flares up and out, never to be viewed again with that special combination of actors, directors, designers and "the moment" where their efforts unite to stun audiences. The columns and reviews some stage artists despise are often the only existing record of the artistic glory (and folly) they've achieved. For good and ill, we're their historians, the only witnesses who can tell one version of the tale in a public forum that will be read by the many, many others who didn't catch that burst of dying light. That vast archive known as the Internet now virtually assures that differing impressions of shows, seasons, companies and entire regions can be recorded for lovers and scholars alike.
It's a relationship that, by design, will swing between mutual love and hate, but the internationally produced young Irish playwright Conor McPherson has delivered a slap that stings with an odd sweetness in St. Nicholas, currently staged as a somberly thrilling co-production between Undermain Theatre and Theatre Quorum. The nameless protagonist in his one-man show is a hard-drinking Irish theater scribe who hates everything--himself, his job, the plays he covers, his wife--except his daughter and a dancer of questionable talents named Helen whom he clumsily pursues. That McPherson takes critics seriously enough to transform one into a wretched figure who (maybe) achieves something like redemption strikes me as a backhanded compliment. (Not so for others in the biz; on opening night, the steely silence of disapproval wafted from one local critic's direction.) Under the direction of Theatre Quorum co-founder Carl Savering, Undermain stalwart Bruce DuBose assumes the role with an exquisite, soft-voiced mix of self-effacement, sad-eyed melancholy and vulpine humor that guarantees the humanity, not the hatred, is emphasized here.
As has been reported, DuBose and his wife, Undermain co-founder Katherine Owens, have established a New York presence via work with the Ohio Theatre. They've pledged to continue producing plays in both cities, although many people have been wondering what's up with their quixotic "schedule" of late-announced shows. Among the curious, apparently, are some longtime Undermain Theatre collaborators, whose standing with Owens and DuBose remains somewhat disputed. (A Dallas actor-director who was with the company from its start 16 years ago recently listed in a program bio for another show that her membership ended in 2000; the program for St. Nicholas includes her among the Undermain's current members.) I'm happy to report, though, that other ensemble members return in a design function for St. Nicholas. Kateri Cale created its marvelously gloomy, ornate-rugged drawing room of candles and claret glasses, and Happy Yancey chipped in with DuBose's silk-seedy evening robe. Together with light-meister Tristan Decker, they forge an environment of long shadows and dusty surfaces that suggests Noel Coward has sublet a room in Shirley Jackson's Hill House.
Director Carl Savering is himself no neophyte when it comes to the Undermain. He trod the concrete floor of its basement space on several occasions in the early '90s, twice under the direction of DuBose. They've switched stage sides now, and Savering has nudged DuBose to play the critic as more sympathetic, wounded rather than wounding, than McPherson's lengthy, circuitous monologue suggests. Otherwise, we couldn't spend two acts being regaled with so many resentments and disappointments, and we wouldn't be so eager to accompany DuBose into his dubious tales of debauchery with a house full of London vampires, who flatter his warped literary ego in exchange for his services as a pimp--he procures virgin blood for their feasts. The St. Nicholas script contains allusions to comical undead arcana that DuBose takes masterful advantage of. He recounts spilling a jar of rice to escape, because Anglo bloodsuckers by nature must stop to count every grain before they can continue. DuBose's rolling eyes assess vampire lore, and the audience howled.
Undermain's creepy, lovely current collaboration with Theatre Quorum--itself recently experiencing an unpredictable "season" full of cancellations and replacements--does suggest Owens and DuBose are keeping a Dallas lookout from their New York digs for small, younger companies of proven ability, area troupes that will benefit from their experience as career soldiers in the very difficult world of nontraditional theater. I hope the divided attentions of the Undermain heads will develop into a two-way street between an unsung theater town and an overhyped stage Mecca.
UD finds treasure in 'Road'
Large, appealing cast glimmers in 1792 hit
The Dallas Morning News, March 30, 2000
Author: Tom Sime; Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News
The Road to Ruin at the University of Dallas is diverting, but won't take one's mind off tax time. The student--acted production, directed by theater department chairman Patrick Kelly, is rife with monetary intrigue and all manner of jargon - guineas, half crowns, bank drafts, earnest money, deeds - is bandied about in a tale of dissipation redeemed.
British playwright Thomas Holcroft's 1792 comedy was enormously popular for a century but has since fallen out of favor. Part of the problem is the large cast it demands, though that made it a perfect vehicle for Mr. Kelly's troupe of eager, gifted students at Wednesday's opening.
The London banker Old Dornton (Sean Lewis), "first man of the first commercial city on Earth," is furious with his son, Harry (Ross Olsaver), who's racking up gambling and shopping debts at an alarming rate. But every time Dornton threatens to disown him, the "fashionably ruined" Harry charms his way back into Dad's favor. The well-played relationship is one of both manipulation and genuine affection.
At last it appears that Harry has truly bankrupted his father, however, and in a desperate attempt to improve their cash flow, Harry agrees to marry the Widow Warren (Amy Pacheco), to the chagrin of her daughter, Sophia (Megan Pitsios), who is Harry's true love.
The widow is wealthy at the expense of Harry's friend Jack (Phillip Herrington), her husband's illegitimate son. It's all to do with a missing will and an evil loan shark, Silky (Jeremy Schwab), and perhaps was a bit easier to follow 200 years ago.
Luckily, the tale is packed with appealing performances, and Tristan
Decker's clever set keeps teasing the eye with new tricks. Its devices
are nearly as charming as the playwright's, which include a prologue and
epilogue. The opening speech by Vincent Giardina as Sulky, bank partner to
Dornton - yes, there's both a Silky and a Sulky - was written by UD alumnus
Alex Alderman and sets up the tale handsomely. But the closer by Holcroft
himself is truly delightful as delivered by Ms. Pacheco. "To own the
truth, I don't half like my part," she confesses, speaking as the actress
portraying the widow. But "We, who paint human characters, must show
them/Such as they are, or nobody would know them." It's an elegant
apologia and leaves a glow like a well-sung tune.
University of Dallas students fit roles nicely in 'The Insect Play'
The Dallas Morning News, October 27, 2000
Author: Lawson Taitte; Theater Critic of The Dallas Morning News
IRVING - Trust Patrick Kelly to do things right.
Dallas' most elegant and erudite stage director can do anything from homespun American comedies to avant-garde enigmas. But he's at his best when dealing with a world classic. These days he's pretty much confining himself to working at his home base, the University of Dallas, which opened his production of The Insect Play on Wednesday.
We should all be wondering indignantly why this man is no longer directing at our local professional theaters. Still, we can be thankful that he has the skills to coax from his student actors performances as good as those in The Insect Play.
Karel and Josef Capek wrote this play in Prague shortly after World War I. A wounded soldier walks around in a delirium in which he sees all kinds of bugs. Each creature satirizes some societal foible. The butterflies are the idle rich, the dung beetles economically acquisitive plodders, an ichneumon fly a cheerful sort who provides for his child by unreflective predation.
The play takes a couple of sharp turns in the second act, shaking off any didactic sleepiness that might have settled in. When the soldier sits on an ant pile, he discovers a crass and militaristic utopia probably modeled on the newly formed Soviet Union. Then the action grows poetic in a moving denouement in which flights of moths symbolize the beauty and fragility of life.
To make all this come alive, Mr. Kelly has had plenty of help from his designers. Tristan Decker constructed a Piet Mondrian playground for the actors. Mary McClung, newly arrived at the university with sterling credentials, invented some startlingly original and historically suggestive costumes and puppets.
Finally, of course, it's the actors who carry the burden of any show. Mr. Kelly's students do him proud. Shawn Martin gives the soldier sonorous tones without ever growing too formal. He strikes a fine balance between technique and the inner life of the character.
Ross Olsaver impresses as three nasty species - a mordant quipster of a butterfly, a soul-chilling parasite and a hectoring emperor of the ants. All the women are splendid, particularly Kate Kemp as a sophisticated social butterfly and Kate Farrington as a chrysalis who blossoms into an all-too-short but wondrous maturity.
You couldn't expect to fill a commercial Broadway theater with material as
fragile as The Insect Play. But in this tiny academic setting it's an
unforgettable and probably never-to-be-repeated experience.
Author: Julie Breaux
Odessa American, April 12, 1999
The one-act play now in production at the Permian Playhouse, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," is called a "new comedy" by Steve Martin.
In other words, don't go to the theater expecting a staged version of "The Jerk."
The small cast of characters does not take the stage dressed in King Tut getups. Instead, they appear in colorful turn-of-the-century costumes and talk about such weighty subjects as love, the price of wine and destiny.
Ocie Roberston, who has returned to the Playhouse after a 20-year absence to guest-direct the play, said Martin's play borders on farce.
"It's a fictitious meeting between Pablo Picasso (Victor Lopez) and Albert Einstein (Tristan Decker)."
The setting is a Paris bistro, 1904, with both men poised to take their place as two of the most influential people in history.
"Einstein's theory of relativity was not published until 1905," Robertson said. "The play is set in what's called Picasso's Blue Period.' It precedes his Rose Period' and cubism, which is what the majority of people know him for."
Once on stage together, the passionate artist and fiery physicist match wits, with much comedic effect, for the affection of Suzanne (Jessica Worland), who comes to the bar in hopes of finding Picasso-- again. In her PG-13-rated monologue, Suzanne tells the audience about her first meeting with Picasso, "which is pretty funny," Roberston said.
As the verbal sparring heats up, Picasso and Einstein attempt to discount the significance of the other's work.
"They make comparisons between Picasso's drawings and Einstein's formulas. There's a discussion about, Well, your field is numbers and yours is line. My work moves men and yours doesn't.' "
Later on, in a flash of light and smoke, a visitor (John Paul Stevenson) from the future appears on stage to put it all in perspective.
"The person is considered to be a genius in the music field, but I don't want to give away any more than that," he said.
The Visitor's role is to show Picasso the future, Robertson said.
"He gives him a vision about a painting (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon') to let him know where he's going. In a certain respect, the play is about destiny."
The set design for the production is impressive and unlike anything else ever built at the Playhouse.
To create more intimacy between the audience and the 11 cast members, Robertson and Decker built a false proscenium arch, framing it, literally, with an irregularly shaped gilded frame.
"It looks like a piece of artwork come to life (the play). And that's what we're really trying to achieve," Roberston said.
Roberston had nothing but praise for the cast, who he said met the challenge of performing live comedy, one of the most difficult things to do in theater.
"The whole package, from the acting to the set to the lights, is really quite good. I think the audiences will have a good time. They'll be real pleased. It's a total experience."
Laurel Hoitsma, a company member of Undermain Theatre and actress about town, called a couple weeks ago to make a request unusual to these ears: "Please don't review the new show I'm in."
Had I finally bored a Dallas actor to the breaking point? After being reassured that this disinvitation had nothing to do with the length of my sentences, I was informed that Dionysus and Apollo, the brand-spanking-new theater company that was debuting with Canadian playwright John Mighton's Possible Worlds, would love me to see the show, but they were sensitive about their maiden voyage passing through the military checkpoints of critical attention.
Plus, the Undermain is kindly sharing its space, not to mention Kelly Cotten's cool Orwellian back-porch set, with the currently running Erik Ehn adaptation of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. They were concerned about confusion between Undermain and the fledgling Dionysus & Apollo, formed by husband-and-wife classical theater lovers Fred Alsup and Linda Gardner. D&A spent $600 and two weeks in rehearsal.
I assumed $600 was a princely sum compared to what a lot of the small theater companies in Dallas possess; yet these are folks who manage nonetheless to scrape under the couch cushions and between the car seats to finance compelling, occasionally inspired theater. Since so many of these smaller companies rely on the kindness of their more established theatrical siblings, I would have figured the scene had accepted having its individual efforts mixed into a fine paste by Dallas newspaper readers.
A second, last-minute voice-mail message by Hoitsma revealed that the production had conducted a pow wow, and the consensus was: What the hell, tie our hands behind our backs, blindfold us, and don't forget to light the cigarette before you aim.
And so, Possible Worlds borrows Undermain resources, although it's not an Undermain show. It's the debut performance by a company that's testing the low tide of Dallas theatrical hospitality, but it has confident, expressive actors and a buoyant but thoughtful pace provided by director David Kennedy.
The light, nimble energy this show radiates suggests actors who've not been given enough time to think too hard about their characters. That's intended as a compliment, because Possible Worlds is above all else a comedy, and a frequently funny one. But the serious philosophical conundrums it constructs might easily have led a company with more time and money to mount a truly pretentious show. John Mighton's script is intelligently crafted and even complex, but it's also a big, sticky meringue: The brainy pleasures consume all your attention during the show, but the flavor fades fairly fast from your mind's palate.
Playwright John Mighton has been compared to Tom Stoppard, mostly because Mighton is happy to bend logic and natural laws that govern time and space in order to score a zinger about eternally foolish human nature. Plus, much like Mighton's multi-character, extra-temporal story, Stoppard's Arcadia, recently staged here by Theatre Three, unfolds as an investigation being conducted by two individuals on the causes of a mysterious incident that happened a long time ago.
Time and identity play deceptively important roles in Possible Worlds, whose philosophical engine runs on this conceit: Everything you imagine actually occurs in some parallel universe. This includes not only being a different person, but being the same person in a different situation, or with different colored hair, etc. The "possible worlds" the title refers to mingle in the green rooms of the brain: memory and imagination.
Two of the characters central to the play are neurologists conducting experiments on a rat brain named Louise that's been separated from its body, reactivated, and wired to trigger memories and desires. The comic presence of Louise, who's carried around onstage like a mascot, is the first clue to a plot that intertwines three seemingly separate stories. There's neurology student Jocelyn (Laurel Hoitsma) and risk analyst George (Mark Farr), who meet in a cafe and begin a tentative relationship spurred by George's charmingly straightforward romantic sense. And then there's a second Jocelyn and George (also Hoitsma and Farr), who meet in a singles bar and form a rockier alliance after their one-night stand.
While the predictably tortured fumblings of these parallel romances play out, a series of murders has confounded two police investigators (Robert Erwin and Tristan Q. Decker): Someone has killed 11 people and surgically removed their brains. In every case, all the doors of the murder site were locked from the inside when police got there. It's clear that the killer possesses an ability to transcend barriers both spatial and temporal and an agenda to expand the human experience to the very limits of consciousness.
Possible Worlds may sound like recycled William Gibson, but Dionysus & Apollo thankfully never loses sight of the laughs in Mighton's goof on the trap of hope. A less focused cast would've had problems oscillating between the romantic comedy, the philosophical fantasy, and the dark poignancy in the script, but starting at the top with Hoitsma and Farr, everyone seems perfectly in command of Mighton's restless changes of tone.
I'd only seen Mark Farr in a small role in the Undermain's previous production, The Comedy of Errors. He looked overstarched and not altogether comfortable playing a Shakespearean military leader, but as the hapless Everyneurotic George, he springs with agility and intelligence through every tilt and shift in the play. He carries on his able shoulders a marvelous dream sequence during which George envisions a world of facially deformed humans who've reduced the scope of communication down to three English words: "block," "slab," and "hilarious." He makes the scene delightful.
Laurel Hoitsma, a technically proficient actress who can sometimes seem chilly onstage, draws an impressive line between Jocelyn the sweet-natured neurologist and Jocelyn the emotionally guarded stock trader--and in one scene even throws in a hysterically smarmy third variation, Jocelyn the brunette motivational speaker for "The Consciousness Revolution."
The program for Possible Worlds states that Dionysus & Apollo "plans to present" a pair of one-acts this fall as its follow-up production. Artists don't do theater in Dallas to make money, but I hope the reception for this latest show encourages Fred Alsup, Linda Gardner, and company to follow through with another. The sturdy whimsy of their debut presentation sets your brain buzzing with the possibility of more.
`HOUSE' OF PAIN
Atreus' starkly presents verities of sex, revenge
The Dallas morning News, October 27, 1994
Author: Jerome Weeks; Theater Critic of The Dallas Morning News
Reading about that new University of Chicago sex survey, you can believe that people honestly spoke with strangers about their happy married lives - and didn't lie about, oh, sex with hookers, closeted gay encounters or rape.
You can believe that or you can look at one of the blood-soaked foundation stones of Western literature and law, Aeschylus' The Oresteia. For the University of Dallas' Greek Week (not a frat bash but a lecture series), the college drama program is reviving The House of Atreus, John Lewin's 1967 landmark adaptation of Aeschylus' trilogy.
Directed by Patrick Kelly, the UD House of Atreus is a stark, simple and striking-looking staging, one of the stronger Greek dramas that the area has seen lately. A simple enough feat because Greek tragedies are rarely done locally.
It's easy to see why. Atreus recounts the post-Trojan War fallout when Agamemnon comes home with his trophy "slut," as his wife, Clytemnestra, calls Cassandra. Of course, Clytemnestra has a lover, too, and together they butcher Agamnenon - only to be pursued by her son, Orestes.
It's rarely been so apparent, as in Mr. Lewin's superlative adaptation, what a sex war The Oresteia is - and what a sexist war. Clytemnestra is derided as "man-hearted," and her rages as the scorned wife fuel much of the drama. One line sums her up: When faced with her vengeful son, she cries, "Somebody give me an ax!"
What a mom. It's characteristic that Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter and his sex with Cassandra are never seriously held against him - just as Clytemnestra's infidelity and murder of her husband are horrors. In fact, the trilogy ends with the sunny (and always unconvincing) invention of the Athenian courts to settle such disputes. Much of Western civilization comes down to Apollo's legal brief arguing that a man's death counts for more than a woman's - and to Athena's buying off the Furies, those ancient, female monsters of blood guilt.
The use of traditional masks, which Atreus helped revive, aids the student performers immeasurably, disguising that too-young quality that often mars college productions. The characters become mythic, epic, otherworldly puppets (Star Treklike, as one theatergoer noted). The weakness here is a lack of brutal forcefulness - you want something to break through the fastidious artifice.
Nevertheless, Susanna Morrow's Clytemnestra and Kyle Lemieux' smug lover are creepy, and for the tiny UD space, Mr. Kelly and his designers (Garry Lennon and Tristan Decker) have wisely kept things stark and dark. Unlike the Chicago study, Aeschylus' grim view of infidelity and revenge is all too convincing.