2011 Year in Review: Stage

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KIT KAT KLUBBERS | Wade McCollum, center, almost dominated DTC’s ‘Cabaret’ as the sleazy Master of Ceremonies, but everyone was at the top of their game in this production, directed by Joel Ferrell.

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

Dallas theaters done good in 2011, with many exciting, funny, touching and/or energetic productions to choose from. Here, from No. 10 to the top:

10. Ovo (Cirque du Soleil tour). We’ve come to expect excellence from Cirque du Soleil, but their latest show is probably the best touring production to come to North Texas. Nearly a year later, it lingers for its beauty, derring-do and even storytelling, as it portrays romance in the bug world.

9. In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (Kitchen Dog Theater). Sarah Rule can be an acquired taste, but I acquired it with Kitchen Dog’s outrageous comedy of manners about how science adapted Victorian culture’s sexual repression to treat female “hysterics” with bizarre blindfolds over what they were doing. It took Freud and Jung to release us from these constraints.

8. The New Century and Beautiful Thing (Uptown Players’ Pride Festival). Uptown’s debut festival had some definite misses (the mainstage production of Crazy, Just Like Me was unwatchable), but I’ll walk away from the festival remembering the touching domestic drama Beautiful Thing and the camptastic Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century, which also managed to make audiences cry.

7. Arsenic and Old Lace (Dallas Theater Center). This crusty old comedy from the 1930s seemed like an unlikely source of some of the top laughs of 2011, but the Scott Schwartz-directed production, including a magnificent revolving set and a fresh, pixieish energy from Tovah Feldshuh and her co-star, Betty Buckley, was a real hoot — a chestnut roasting into a nutcake.

6. How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (ICT MainStage). Max Swarner found his niche in 2011 as the breezy light musical comedian — and How to Succeed was the perfect vehicle to showcase it. Looking big and expensive on a community theater budget, director Michael Serrecchia made this very-‘60s-era comedy feel as modern as The Colbert Report.

5. Dividing the Estate (DTC). The first entry in the city-wide Foote Festival was also the best, due in large part to director Joel Ferrell’s brisk pacing of a Gothic Southern (or in this case, Texas) saga about family sniping and intrigue. Any Southerner will recognize characters from his or her own background in the most sweeping portrait of blood dynamics since August: Osage County.

4. The Hand (Broken Gears Project Theater). Poor Broken Gears seemed to implode because of this show — a quickie little two-hander about men in a bathroom — one of whom is missing a hand… and wants one back. Snappy, gruesome and thoughtful, with a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism, it was guerrilla theater at its best.

3. Red Light Winter (Second Thought Theater). Adam Rapp’s drama about alpha-males and sexual politics marked the temporary return to Dallas of actor-director Regan Adair, and it was a fitting swan song for him as he tenderly parsed the most poignant of love stories with a dark, vicious side. The three actors were exceptional handling the explicit sexual content.

2. Next to Normal (Uptown Players). Uptown Players scored a coup in nabbing this Pulitzer-winning musical, basically an opera about mental illness. Beautifully sung (especially by the emotionally connected stars, Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd), it was the second major hit from director Michael Serrecchia.

1. Cabaret (DTC). It’s tempting to single out Wade McCollum, as the seductive Master of Ceremonies, with a large share of the success of this reinvention of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece, but it was not just him but Julie Johnson, David Coffee and especially director-choreographer Joel Ferrell — who turned the Wyly Theater into a seedy Weimar night club — plus everyone involved with making Cabaret the not-to-miss production of this, or any, season.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Coffee talk

Fort Worth actor David Coffee gets in touch with his feminine side as Edna Turnblad in the local debut of ‘Hairspray’

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HAIR APPARENT | Playing drag as Edna Turnblad is a first for David Coffee, but that didn’t keep him from wearing pumps during his entire interview. (Photo courtesy Robert Hart Studio)

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
mark@theaterjones.com

From a young age, it was clear to everyone around David Coffee what he’d be when he grew up. In second grade in Fort Worth, he had to perform “some sort of talent” for his music class, so he lip-synched all the parts to the entire The Wizard of Oz soundtrack. Later, when visiting his grandparents at an old folks’ home in Oak Cliff, he’d act out the TV shows as the residents watched them on the tube.

He told everyone he wanted to be a doctor. But his second grade teacher and a double amputee at the home set him straight: Acting was clearly the path for him.

Remarkably, the 53-year-old Coffee says that he’s lucky that he’s been able to make a living as an actor, most of it in Fort Worth. Aside from brief teenage stints as a shoe salesman at an Arlington department store and a mail boy at his father’s business, Coffee has consistently worked onstage, beginning his professional career in The Wind in the Willows at what was then called Casa Mañana Children’s Playhouse, in 1968.

“Since that time, I’ve either been playing a show, learning a show or forgetting a show,” he says in his dressing room, where he’s playing Edna Turnblad in Casa’s locally-produced premiere of Hairspray, which opens Saturday.

Coffee spent years touring the country in non-Equity shows in small towns (he’s now an Equity member), 20 years of returning to the Granbury Opera House, and of course, plenty of time at Casa. He has starred with such leading ladies as Cyd Charisse, Betty Buckley and Sandy Duncan. So far in 2011, his work has included Touchstone in As You Like It at Fort Worth’s Trinity Shakespeare Festival (it was his third year of making himself a standout as a Shakespeare clown at TSF); and as Herr Schultz in Dallas Theater Center’s revival-for-the-ages of Cabaret. In December, he’ll play Ebenezer Scrooge for the 19th time at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass.

But the panties role of Edna — played by Harvey Fierstein in 2003 Broadway debut and by Divine in John Waters’ 1988 source film — is historic for him: It marks his 75th show at Casa.

It’s no wonder he’s been able to make it. Character actors typically get more consistent work, and Coffee has been playing roles much older than him since he was a teenager. With a round face and bald head ringed by brown hair, he resembles the image of the wind, that man in the clouds blowing in the sky. When he started as Scrooge at North Shore, he was in his 30s — a part he says has only changed slightly as he has gotten older.

“I clicked into him even as a child,” Coffee says. “I never felt an affinity to Tiny Tim as a child, it was an affinity to Scrooge.”

All of the experience goes into Edna, a comedy role perfect for an actor who has become synonymous with comic relief, who knows how to be hammy without overdoing the pork. It’s the first time the straight actor has played a woman, although he understudied the role at North Shore in 2010. The actor playing Edna gave the advice to make sure that the fat suit has a zipper in the vaginal area, so he can relieve himself without taking off the entire suit.

“I’ve seen people play it soft and feminine, and I don’t do that,” Coffee says about the challenge of playing Edna. He seems to be in touch with his inner woman, though: He sat through the entire interview wearing a pair of pumps that we’ve requested for the photo shoot after the interview. “I don’t pull any big bones about it. The femininity will come through the physicalization, but I don’t do with it the voice. You just play what’s there and you’re OK. You don’t ignore the fact that it’s a guy in drag, because there are a couple of places in the show where they play it up; but other than that, you don’t worry about it.”

That’s just one thing Coffee doesn’t have to worry about, along with having to rely on a day job like almost every local stage actor. Now that’s some sort of talent.

Mark Lowry is a Dallas-based writer and co-founder and editor of TheaterJones.com, where you can read the full Q&A with Coffee.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Stage Reviews: DTC’s ‘Arsenic & Old Lace,’ Uptown Players’ ‘Thank You for Being a Friend’

THINGS TO DO WITH A BANANA | Coarse but funny, ‘Thank You for Being a Friend’ forces its humor down your throat. There are worse things it could force down your throat.

Broad comedy

Pick your poison: Camp in sitcomland or two B’way pros hamming it up. Either way, you win

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

There are two sets of Golden Girls trodding the boards this week — though of very different ilks.

In one corner, Dallas Theater Center’s star-powered Arsenic & Old Lace (with Broadway vets Tovah Feldshuh and Betty Buckley) turns the chestnut-roasted Depression-Era dark comedy into a hilariously overplayed farce. At the same time, Uptown Players, the usual Kalita residents, have hightailed it into the Rose Room for Thank You for Being a Friend, another of their drag-based parodies, this time skewering The Golden Girls.

On the surface, the two shows have little in common. For one, Arsenic is actually well-written. Joseph Kesselring’s play has become such an institution, it’s easy to forget how subversive and smart it can be even as it revels in a gimmick: That two sweet ol’ ladies are actually well-intentioned serial killers of lonely widowers. (Dexter owes it a huge debt.) Thank You is nowhere close to that in its construction. Its vulgarity can be acute even for the most adult tastes. (Bea, Rue and Estelle are probably rolling over in their graves; it might send Betty to hers.)

But they do share a lot, to wit: Masterful comic timing and the ability to take the material — about post-menopausal broads — into fun recesses of your humor cortex.

Feldshuh and Buckley play off each other nicely as sisters Abby and Martha, who slip poison into the elderberry wine of pensioners who have no family. Their nephew Mortimer (Lee Trull, rubbery and perpetually astonished) discovers their, umm, “personal business” and tries to work out a way to stop them and keep them from the gas chamber.

Feldshuh, responsible for more mugging than Central Park on New Year’s Eve, has a pixieish energy that’s impossible not to get caught up in, and Buckley’s dotty cluelessness is a hoot. They are matched for comic clarity by Nehal Joshi as a quack doctor and the impressively imposing Jason Douglas as a Karloff-like villain.

But as much as the cast, the real star is Anna Louizos’ magnificent set, a rotating behemoth of Addams Family formidability that is practically its own character. That makes three grandes dames who deserve a bow.

There are four ladies vying for attention in Thank You; we’ll call that one a draw as well. Riffing on Golden Girls — renamed Dorothea (a basso profundo Lon D. Barrera, who still doesn’t sound butch enough … kidding), Roz (Chris Robinson), Blanchet (Michael D. Moore) and Sophie (John de los Santos) — it’s a trifle sitcom plot about a “girls vs. the gays” talent competition against Lance Bass (Drew Kelly), crammed full of more sex jokes than you could shake a stick at. (There’s one they can use.)

Crass? Most definitely. But also surprisingly hilarious. It helps that the production is staged inside a gay bar, where the audience seems primed to have a camptastic time. But honestly, it’s the cast that elevates the material with fearless performances (how do they keep referring to their singing group, Vaginal Discharge, without cracking up?) and loads of stage business that overcomes the script’s many weaknesses.

Director B.J. Cleveland gives the parody elements (showtunes, Beyonce videos, Joan Crawford) their due and let’s everyone have fun with it. High art? Only if you toke one up beforehand. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, but it’s not necessary. The laughs here are golden, girl.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright