Seven days. Eight plays. It’s insane, I know. But when you have a surfeit of theater as North Texas does this summer — and there’s more to come, with Lyric Stage opening South Pacific Friday and Uptown Players premiering the regional debut of The Nance a week after, plus the upcoming Festival of Independent Theatres and national touring shows — you don’t complain … especially when what’s out there is so consistently good right now. Here, then, is my rundown of what to see this month. Good luck squeezing it all in, but you really can’t go wrong.
Dallas Solo Festival. The most concentrated collection of theater right now is at Fair Park, where the second annual Dallas Solo Festival — a fortnight of one-performer shows produced by Audacity Theatre Lab — is settling in for its second weekend at the Margo Jones Theater. A total of eight plays — three of which ran only one weekend — premiere here. The best of them is Mo[u]rnin’. After by Brigham Mosley. A memory piece about Mosley’s upbringing in rural Oklahoma where being a gay kid was nearly impossible, and his complex relationship with his grandfather (a man’s man whose death devastated Mosley), Mo[u]rnin’ incorporates a love of musical theater and glitter with a boundless energy that is both thrilling and exhausting to watch — Mosley really puts the “buoyant” in “flamboyant” … and the “flame” as well. (I’d never seen a man who could talk over himself until this.) It’s the must-see show of the fest. (Performs again tonight at 10:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9 p.m.)
Van Quattro tells a vastly different but no less introspective tale with Standing Eight Count, which recounts his stint, 40 years ago, as an up-and-coming professional boxer. (He was good, but didn’t have the heart to be a champion — the killer instinct. That’s a boon for theatergoers if not sports addicts.) Quattro’s life was a hard one, filled with juvie and drugs and family violence until a sunny, devoted gym manager got him on a path with promise. Boxing is known as “the sweet science,” and Quattro’s language has a hard-edged poetry to it that mirrors the grace and brutality of the best boxing matches. He might not have made it as a boxer, but Standing Eight Count packs a punch. (Performs again Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.)
The final recurrent show with a personal history theme is Jeff Swearingen’s An American Asshole in France, in which the local theater impresario relates a disastrous visit to the south of France that defined the term “ugly American.” Swearingen admits in the opening that he’s uncomfortable addressing audiences as himself without the mask of a character to hide behind; that nervousness was apparent in the rambling storytelling that didn’t let the show hold up to its provocative title. (Apparently he was an asshole, but he’s never clear why.) The performance needs structure and editing and a strong through-line, but if anyone can hone it into something worthwhile, it’s Swearingen. (Performs again Friday at 103:30 p.m.)
(Two other shows — ’33: A kabarett and Lord of the Flies — premiere tonight and continue through Sunday.)
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Across the parking lot from the Margo Jones, in the Fair Park Music Hall, is a show whose costume budget alone probably exceeds the production cost of everything at the Solo Fest. Cinderella is the new Broadway updating of the R&H made-for-TV classic (remade several times, including once with Whitney Houston), but it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. That’s because Douglas Carter Beane has brought his queerly snarky sensibility to the fairy tale (which moviegoers have seen imagined twice in the last six months, with Into the Woods and Disney’s Cinderella), giving it a modern, campy humor the skewers contemporary society (digs at one percenters, throwing shade and musical comedy stereotypes). Paige Faure and Andy Huntington Jones make a beautiful couple and sing the famous songs (“In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible,” “Ten Minutes Ago”) liltingly. But the true stars of this production are William Ivey Long’s Tony Award-winning costumes, which magically transform before your eyes from rags to gowns. It’s stage magic that everyone from kid to grandparent can enjoy.
Old Time Music Hall. There’s a different kind of Music Hall up in Plano, as Theatre Britain revives its annual tribute to the English version of Vaudeville, a series of musical numbers, dances, corny jokes and gently ribald humor. It breezes by in under two hours with sing-alongs and laughs, a diverting, family-friendly exercise in Anglophilia.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. It was just a year ago that Uptown Players produced the regional premiere of this Tony-winning comedy from Christopher Durang, but the production in Fort Worth at Stage West — which features an all new cast save Wendy Welch as Sonia — feels just as fresh, and offers new insights, as well. The plot — culled sometimes subtly and sometimes not from the essence of Chekhov’s country-living slice-of-life dramas — pits the tensions between three middle-aged siblings (Welch, Steven Pounders, Shannon J. McGrann) whose lives have taken different paths and whose idylls are interrupted when Masha brings her 20something boy-toy Spike (Haulston Mann, ripped as a all get-out) to the family manse for a weekend. Durang’s richly detailed plot contains lovely phrases (“He’s so attractive — except for his personality, of course,” one character observes about Spike) delivered by a great set of actors (especially McGrann, who looks like Nigella Lawson and eats up the stage as a self-obsessed fading movie star). There are new insights to be learned, even if you saw it last year.
Precious Little. Echo Theatre returns to the Bath House Cultural Center for the second time with a Gay Pride Month presentation, the extraordinary drama Precious Little (by lesbian playwright Madeleine George). At first, it appears to be a series of unrelated set-pieces: A gorilla (Lisa Fairchild) in a zoo is being gawked at by annoying teenagers; a prickly lesbian linguist (Sherry Jo Ward) visits a fertility counselor (Molly Welch) for an amniocentesis to test for abnormalities with her late-in-life pregnancy; the same linguist carries on an affair with her teaching assistant (Welch again) and records an elderly European woman (Fairchild again) who speaks a nearly extinct language. Ultimately, what all the scenes have in common is a sense for how we communicate … and how we don’t. Levels of cognition — from mental retardation to dementia to language barriers to primate “vocabularies” — may seen an unlikely subject for theater, but here they all converge in a heartbreaking and humane way, driven by Ward’s arresting performance.
Manicures & Monuments. They don’t make many plays like this one anymore, but Texas seems to do them better than most. Local playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood wrote this seldom-revived play — about a manicurist who works in a retirement home, and the developments in their lives over the course of two years or so — in a tone that echoes Dallas playwright Preston Jones’ Texas Trilogy. (It also recalls shows like Same Time, Next Year and The Gin Game.) WaterTower Theatre‘s production seems oddly oversized for the subject matter (the stage is massive, though the vibe is intimate), and oddly, no manicures are every performed in the course of the show (pedicures only, people!), but Cheatwood’s observations about ageing, death, elder abuse and the ruts most people live their lives on are universal.