Dream on

Posted on 06 Oct 2009 at 12:02am
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

DTC’s ‘Midsummer’ is as wily as its venue’s name; Upstart turns on ‘Radio’

ON THE BOARDS
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ The Wyly Theatre,
2400 Flora St. Through Nov. 22.
Tuesdays–Sundays. 214-522-8499. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

‘Talk Radio,’ The Green Zone, 161 Riveredge Drive.
Through Nov. 22. Thursdays–Saturdays. 877-238-5596.


FAIRY TALES | The sprite Puck (Cedric Neal, left) regales King Oberon (Matthew Stephen Tompkins) in DTC’s updating of Shakespeare’s funniest romantic comedy.

In hindsight, the Dallas Theater Center kinda-hadda open its 51st season — its first in the boxy new Wyly Theatre in the Arts District — with a play, and a production, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like a kid on Christmas morning overwhelmed by the embarrassment of toys in front of him, DTC’s artistic director Kevin Moriarty had to — had to — find a way to put to use as many gizmos as he could.

So, when he has Puck (Cedric Neal) clambering up and down the metal ladders throughout the performance space two dozen times; or when he sends the actors into the audience with water pistols and chalk to decorate, ad hoc, the stage and the patrons; or when he invites all those assembled onto the massive stage for an impromptu (but choreographed!) dance party featuring the Black Eyed Peas as a coda for the evening … well, that’s just what kids do with toys. They play with them.

But maybe a better metaphor than Christmas is Halloween, or even Thanksgiving: This Midsummer engorges itself on the sweet nectar of candified poetry and honey-dipped theatrical conceits. Shakespeare has been updated and modernized for generations, and Midsummer — perhaps the Bard’s best play, certainly his funniest and most lively — is the perfect vehicle for going overboard, with overactive fairies, desperate lovers and a troupe of Rude Mechanicals who inject laughs faster than you can say "swine flu vaccine." It’s enough to rot your teeth.

And I mean that in a good way. If Moriarty has overdone it somewhat, with his graffitied set splashed with Keith Haring imagery and garish, gaudy costumes, he’s also given his actors free rein to ham it up with comic abandon.

Chamblee Ferguson plays Bottom, a talentless but self-important amateur actor, with masterful comedic precision. He’s dangerously physical, sliding and convulsing across the stage, never letting a joke die if he can resuscitate it for more laughs.

Abbey Siegworth, all sharp knees and elbows as the clingy lover Helena, nearly matches Ferguson for brazenly deft slapstick. Marcus M. Mauldin, a lumbering stump of manflesh, gets howls by donning a dress.

Much of the show’s forward momentum rests with the fairies, a hippie-like cult of taggers led by Puck, Oberon (sexy Matthew Stephen Tompkins) and Titania (Liz Mikel, who puts the "tit" in her character’s name). You could get whiplash following all the action entrusted to them.

The production sometimes feels more like High School Musical than Elizabethan, but that’s Moriarty again, as is the sly visual jest of having the new leader of Athens, Theseus, played by a black man (a painfully stiff Bryan Pitts) and casting his antagonist, Egeus (Robin Flatt), as a woman in a pantsuit: It’s Obama vs. Hillary all over again. (Any guesses who wins that conflict?)

The Wyly itself, with its awkward entryways and small concessions/ticket booth, fares less well than the play, but that’s another issue; for now, life is but a Dream.

The world of Talk Radio is more nightmare than reverie. Based on real-life shock-jock Alan Berg, who was murdered in 1984, it’s a real-time glimpse into an important night on a radio show. Barry Champlain (Elias Taylorson), who has been nettling his listeners in Cleveland for nearly a decade, is on the brink of going nationwide … as long as investors like tonight’s show.

But Barry, fueled by his slow decent into drunkenness, is beset by a crisis: Is he a profane prophet or a prisoner of his own success, the one sane man in the asylum?
The production rests on Taylorson’s shoulders, and he holds it aloft like Atlas.

Dressed in black head to toe with a thick mane of dark, thinning hair, he looks like a beefier version of Superman’s General Zod, and in some ways is equally lethal. By the end — soused, defeated, furiously railing against the madness around him — he approaches Willy Loman in his tragedy. It’s perhaps the most effortlessly intense and naturalist performance of the year.

Director Regan Adair modulates the productions expertly, from the simple but impressive set to the sound design (including ’80s-era radio ads) to the cast of the many callers. This is arrestingly good theater.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 06, 2009.

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