WaterTower Pride mixer at S4 postponed

WaterTower Theatre’s launch party for its upcoming Pride series of plays, set for Thursday at Station 4, has been postponed “due to circumstances beyond our control,” according to Greg Patterson, the director of development and marketing for the company. The event will be rescheduled for September and will include live performances of scenes from the upcoming musical Spring Awakening.

The Addison theater has a reputation for high-quality productions, often with serious themes (including gay issues) in regional premieres like Take Me Out and the upcoming August: Osage County, as well as the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival every spring.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower’s 2011-12 season

WaterTower Theatre tonight announced several premieres or locally produced Tony Award winning shows, including Spring Awakening and August:Osage County. Here’s the schedule:

Spring Awakening, the 8-time Tony winning musical with a score by Duncan Sheik, opens the season on Sept. 30. The play about sexual repression in the 19th century was choreographed by Bill T. Jones.

Rockin’ Christmas Party returns Nov. 26. The jukebox musical features rock versions of Christmas carols returns after an absence of a few years (pictured is the 2007 edition).

The Diary of Anne Frank opens 2012, starting Jan. 6. It tells the story of a Jewish girl and her family hiding out in an Amsterdam attic during World War II.

August: Osage County, Terry Letts’ remarkable panoramic play about an Oklahoma family, opens March 30. Rene Moreno, who direcyed a version of it last year out of state, will direct WaterTower’s version. The play won the Tony for best play and the Pulitzer Prize.

Boeing Boeing, Marc Camoletti’s sex farce about a man dating three flight attendants, opens May 25.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe, another jukebox musical featuring the songs of Leiber and Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Woman”) closes the season with a July 20 opening.

Also returning is the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, running March 1–11.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Nest of vipers: ‘Dividing the Estate,’ DTC’s foray in Foote, gets Gothic Southern comedy just righ

LITTLE FOXES | Mama (June Squibb, standing right) refuses to give sway to her money-hungry daughter Mary Jo (Nance Williamson, left) in ‘Dividing the Estate.’ (Photo courtesy Brandon Thibodeaux)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

“They were lazy and no good but they came from lovely families,” declares Mama (June Squibb), matriarch of the Gordon family of tiny Harrison, Texas. It’s a line that really sets the bar for your appreciation of Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate: You either get the joke (and the fact it’s not really a joke at all) or you don’t. This is a play that targets a Southern audience and assumes everyone else will just sleep in the weeds for two hours. And it’s OK with that.

I am, too. There’s a proud, fine tradition of Gothic Southern theater that runs a gamut from campy hoots (Del Shores, the Tuna guys) to strained melodrama (Tennessee Williams, especially his later stuff). There’s been a renaissance of it lately, with Broadway productions of Tracy Letts’ awesome epic August: Osage County and Dividing the Estate, both of which tweak and (dare I say) improve upon their source material: King Lear and The Little Foxes, classics about crotchety old folks who use money to control their families and expect the world to conform to their will. I’ve known women like Mama; I called one Grandma.

The Dallas Theater Center’s current production at the Wyly, directed with astonishing sure-footedness by Joel Ferrell, is a crackerjack comedy filled with death, lung-emptying sibling in-fighting and money-grubbing, and if that doesn’t sound like the stuff of comedy to you, you might be a Yankee.

Set in the mid 1980s, it captures the fashions and Reagan Era social climbing with uneasy accuracy. Mama’s three kids — Lucille (Gail Cronauer), Lewis (Kurt Rhoads) and Mary Jo (Nance Williamson) — are all in need of money, and debate whether they should divide the estate now or wait for Mama to die. None has ever worked a day in their lives, so they see the farmland, largely fallow, as some magical money machine. Mama will have none of it, but her resistance really just causes more problems.

John Arnone’s quasi-expressionistic set conjures the end of gracious living: A moldering plantation manor in need of a paint job, a faded memory of a once-glorious monument to glamour… much like the Gordon family itself. But the performances are what really sell the play. Williamson’s blowsy Houston wannabe socialite is a testament to superficiality. Rolling her eyes and hissing her lines, Williamson gives Mary Jo a swagger out of proportion to her own abilities. Her uncontrolled avarice is a study is slapstick. She contrasts beautifully to Lynn Blackburn’s Pollyanna centeredness as an outsider about to marry into the family. Akin Babatunde seems to have a rhythm all his own, a sing-songy cadence as the 92-year-old servant who engenders more respect than any of the children.

But at the heart is Squibb: Lips pursed, jaw set like a shovel in the ground, eyed focused so narrowly, Mama cannot see the big picture. You sympathize with her even as you know the mistakes she’s making — just like your family, probably — certainly mine. Dividing the Estate resolves nothing; it merely reminds us that that’s how it always is.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Stage: Year In Review 2010

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

1-GE6_81212010 proved to be an oddly uninvolving season at the theater.

The tours, even the good ones, were often retreads of past shows (I love Avenue Q and Wicked, but have seen them already — a lot) or dreadfully overproduced, crap (the unwatchable Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the appalling Shrek).

Local companies tried to be creative, with mixed results. There were high points — and when they were high, they were spectacular — but mostly it was middle-of-the-road stuff and disappointing, unfulfilled promise. And when things were bad, as they were with the disastrously under-realized reinvention of It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman! at the Dallas Theater Center, they almost made me red-faced with rage. But there was still enough to warrant a “best of” list, and here they are.

10. August: Osage County and 9. Spring Awakening (Lexus Broadway Series). The two best tours of the year were both part of the new series at the Winspear. Neither was quite as good as the New York productions, but August, with its epic take on the family dynamic, and Awakening, with its frank, modern spin on sexual yearning, made the hassles of going to the Arts District worth the effort.

2-GE1_9612
WINNER’S CIRCLE | Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre managed two of the best shows of the year: ‘Opus,,’ left, and ‘Bach at Leipzig,’ both of which made classical music exciting.

8. The Beauty Plays (Dallas Theater Center). Give credit to the DTC for tackling three Neil LaBute plays often relegated to more “alternative” theater companies by putting them in rep in the 99-seat Wyly black box. These are uncomfortable plays to watch, with the versions of Fat Pig and Reasons to Be Pretty outlapping The Shape of Things, but the series itself was a welcome bit of daring programming.

7. SubUrbia (Upstart Productions). Taking on its second Eric Bogosian play in a year, and on the heels of This Is Our Youth, Upstart showed an admirable facility with modern plays about aimlessness.

6. Boom and 5. Charm (Kitchen Dog Theater). Two vastly different comedies — Boom, a futurist tale about a gay guy wanting to repopulate the world, and Charm, a period piece about a feminist icon — turned basically unfunny ideas into beautiful, almost surrealist bits of whimsy.

4. Our Town (WaterTower Theatre). After a few disappointing seasons, WaterTower got back on track with this American classic. Defying conventional wisdom that it’s an “easy” piece of sentimental tripe, director Terry Martin fathomed its iconic, homespun realism. It’s a more peculiar piece than it gets credit for, and the realization here was exquisite.

5-Charm-PR-George-&-Margaret-copy
FEMINISM GONE WILD! | Tina Parker, right, played an independent woman in 19th century America in Kitchen Dog’s aptly named ‘Charm.’

3. My Fair Lady (Lyric Stage). The best musical on the list was Lyric Stage’s gussied-up, NEA-granted, original orchestrated mounting of one of theaterdom’s crowning glories. (It’s probably the best book of a musical ever written … which you can attribute to Shaw.) Magnificently costumed and designed, and directed with panache by Cheryl Denson, it was like a time machine to 1954, and proved why Steven Jones is North Texas’ finest theater producer.

2. Bach at Leipzig and 1. Opus (Circle Theatre). Fort Worth had it all over Dallas (and Irving!) with the two best shows on the year. In Bach, playwright Itamar Moses conceived of his play — a comedy about Baroque composers — as a theatrical fugue, and director Robin Armstrong made it happen with gorgeous sets and a cast that understands that farce is more than pie-throwing, but the melding of wordplay and swordplay in equal doses. But Circle Theatre also claimed the best show of the year, also about music, with Opus, in which a gay couple’s breakup nearly ruins a famed string quartet. If all classical music were this enchanting, Mozart will still be on the pop charts.

…………………………………….

ACTOR OF THE YEAR

The stage — especially local theater — is a great medium for actors to stretch themselves. There were some strong ensembles this year, in both of the top plays, Bach at Leipzig (especially Steven Pounders and Andy Baldwin — and excluding the actor who played Bach himself, who missed his only cue) and Opus, as well as the three leads in the No. 3 show, J. Brent Alford, Kimberley Whalen and Sonny Franks in My Fair Lady. Terry Martin made a good Stage Manager in Our Town, but it was the performances he elicited as the director from Joey Folsom, Maxey Whitehead and Ted Wold that stood out most. Folsom was strong, too, in SubUrbia. Tina Parker led a great cast in Charm with her patented wide-eyed energy.

DTC_031010_FATPIG_dress_078Sometimes what most impresses you, though, is someone good in a show that doesn’t deserve it. Morgana Shaw made Closer to Heaven a hoot (despite a deeply problematic script), and Gregory Lush’s flamboyant turn in Sherlock Holmes in the Crucifer of Blood gave the show a jolt. Wendy Welch transformed the likeable revue Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits into the comic highlight of the fall. And the up-and-down revision of Henry IV was made hilarious with the return to the DTC of Randy Moore. R Bruce Elliot’s interpretation of Beethoven in 33 Variations almost saved that rambling show. Almost.

But the actor who I will judge 2010 by will always be Regan Adair. He took on two roles in DTC’s Beauty Plays  — Fat Pig, where he played a conflicted yuppie (pictured above with Christina Vela), and Reasons to Be Pretty, as a working class lech — so vastly different you could hardly recognize him from show to show. His way with Shakespearean dialogue in Henry IV and his harried but touching take on Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol showed how effortlessly he can assault a variety of genres.

Adair is moving away from Dallas in 2011 — a terrible loss to our artistic community; he’s been a frequent finalist on my year-end list. But even if he weren’t leaving, he deserves to be recognized as the actor of the year.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas