DTC’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ tonight at the Wyly

Masterpiece theater

There’s much to like about Dallas Theater Center’s current production of this stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. (It’s a co-production with Casa Manana; its version closed last month, and while this one has almost the same cast and crew, it’s strikingly different.) Act 2 is the money, with an unparalleled courtroom scene and a profound coda about the mysterious Boo Radley.

Several of the performances are indelible as well. Anastasia Munoz, as a clucking society lady but mostly as the white girl who accuses a hapless black man of rape, quakes with such nervous ferocity, you fear she’ll shake loose a light fixture. Akron Watson as the victim of her prejudice and James Dybas as her racist father are equally good, and solid work comes from Bob Hess, Denise Lee and Morgan Richards as the precious tomboy Scout. But the production is all but stolen by Aiden Langford as the moppet Dill, a charming kid who could spread diabetes with his sweetness.

—  Rich Lopez

From Broadway to broadcast: London staging of musical ‘Fela!’ comes to Angelika screens tonight

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor

When Stephen Hendel first approached out choreographer Bill T. Jones about directing Fela!, Hendel’s hoped-for musical about the life and work of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, Jones had absolutely no experience on Broadway.

But that was OK — neither did Hendel.

“I’d never produced a musical — not any theater show — before. And this was the first time [my wife] Ruth and I had lead-produced before, though Ruthie is a Tony voter. And the show was out of left field from the mainstream fare on Broadway,” Hendel says by telephone from New York.

This week, the culmination of their efforts will be seen by the largest audience ever, as Fela! airs as part of the National Theatre Live series of stage productions filmed for moviehouses opens at the Angelika, starting tonight.

The path was one of mutual enthusiasm by relative novices. Hendel was put in touch with Jones through a mutual acquaintance. Hendel had already spent several years trying to generate interest in his idea for a non-narrative musical overloaded with dance and tribal rhythms. And Jones was very interested.

“I could see he was really, really brilliant and that many of the themes — of an artist in society, of being a political artist and being a black man — were all issues will had spend him career exploring and living. We agreed when and if I got the rights [to the music and story], Bill would direct and choreograph the show.”

It took nearly a year for that to happen. In the interim, Jones got an agent who secured him choreography duties on an off-Broadway play called Seven. One of the hopefuls was not cast, but Jones loved his energy. He would eventually originate the role of Fela on Broadway.
Jones, for his part, made an impact as well, winning an Tony Award for choreographing Spring Awakening and becoming a hot property in the theater community. And Hindel got him started. (Hendel himself has continued his theater work, co-producing American Idiot, another outside-the-box, Tony-nominated musical from last season.)

The journey from New York stage to London stage to, this week, movie screens across the world, was a surprisingly natural progression.
“We opened on Broadway and got amazing reviews, and the National Theatre [in England] came to see it. Nick Hytner, their artistic director, called me to talk about bringing it to the Olivier Stage in London, so we created a production for the National,” Hendel says. He then learned that the National was beginning its second season of broadcasting stage works from its and other London stages to movie theaters across the world.

Hendel was in. The version airing this week at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano was shot with nine cameras at the London shortly before Fela! closed its original Broadway run earlier this month. That means the broadcast is the only way an American can see the show for the time being.

“It’s like having the best seat in the house every minute, only you get things you can’t see sitting in a Broadway house,” Hendel says. And it is just one more way people in the U.S. can experience a musician Hendel has long loved but most people have never heard of.

“People thought we were crazy [doing the show] — who’s ever heard about Fela Kuti and would want to see a show about a Nigerian they’d never heard of?” he says. “It has been a big challenge making audiences aware of what it’s about and why it’s so entertaining and important. We want people all over the world the see the show and why we’ve spent eight or nine years working on it. It’s been a total joy and a total thrill.”

Still, Hendel says the cinema version does not replace seeing it live, which he hopes will happen; he is planning to announce soon a U.S. and international tour to start mid-2011.

Until then, though, the Angelika’s the place to be.

Fela! airs at the Angelika Mockingbird Station Jan. 19 and 20, and at the Angelika Plano Jan. 22 and 23, at 7 p.m. Visit AngelikaFilmCenter.com for details.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Texas hops on the Crazy Train again

Leo Berman

Hardy Haberman |  Dungeon Diary

Just when you think sanity might have been restored, the delightful Texas State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has introduced a “birther” bill in the Texas Legislature. Berman is the same representative who was famously quoted as saying, “Barack Obama is God’s punishment on us.”

Now easy as it would be to just paint this guy with the broad brush and call him “frigging nuts,” he represents a real problem in this state and pretty much most of the U.S. For a long time the Democratic Party has believed that reason and facts would win the day. If there were ever an argument against that, the last election cycle would be it. That little debacle for the Dems was won not by reason but by emotion. Mostly it was fear and bigotry. Fear stoked by the economic situation many American’s find themselves in and bigotry disguised as the “Tea Party.” The whole “take America back” thing is about having a black man in the White House. Every other argument is predicated on that unspoken premise and a closer examination of their rhetoric will reveal it.

So, meanwhile the Dems keep relying on reason. How has that worked so far? Not at all.

The whole birther thing is a racially charged non-issue anyway, but don’t let reason get in the way of some good old fashioned fear. Even though the Obama birth certificate has been widely circulated and there is more than ample proof of his citizenship, the birthers persist. Why, because it is a good excuse to scare people and to tap into that old bigorty thing again.

So while I could just call Rep. Berman wacko, I will instead call him what he is, a politician who knows how to whip up his constituents with the most powerful tools in the GOP arsenal.

—  admin

Making hay out of hate

Journalists, politicians generate fear for personal gain over plans for mosque near site of 9/11 attack

I recently saw a video clip that sent chills down my spine of a supposedly “grassroots” rally outside a closed Burlington Coat Factory in New York City where protesters were chanting against building a mosque on the site. They were chanting words this publication wouldn’t print.

The hatred was so great that, at one point, a carpenter working on the new building that will replace the World Trade Center passed through the crowd and was verbally and physically attacked. Apparently the hate-filled crowd thought he was a Muslim. He was simply a black man with a skullcap. The level of vitriol was hard to watch: So much anger — and at what?

The truth is not nearly as sensational as the people at Fox News would have you believe. Cordoba Center, the building that is proposed, is not just an Islamic Cultural Center, it will also contain interfaith spaces for Christian and Jewish worship and meditation. Of course you have not heard that story in the news, because it is easier and more sensational to call it the Ground Zero Mosque and show pictures of scary guys in turbans for ratings.

The fundamentalists and right wing have grabbed onto this issue like a chew toy and are shaking it for all the fear and hatred it is worth.

That is what bothers me the most. Fear and hatred are two tools that have been used to galvanize people against us for centuries, and I suspect we are uniquely attuned to recognize them.

It is easy to see where all this is coming from as well. It is a great deal the fault of the right-wing media, like Fox News with their demagogues Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. But it also has become a cause célèbre for politicians seeking a little extra boost. It would be easy to look at these videos and events and see a “clash of cultures” building. But that is not the reality of the situation.

What we are seeing is a carefully orchestrated fear mongering narrative guided by some pretty cynical folks. Just think back a few years ago when candidates were using the fear of homosexuals to rile up their base.

Fake research groups like the Family Research Council published papers claiming that “35 percent of pedophiles are homosexuals and a child molester is 17 times more likely to be homosexual than heterosexual.” Both these figures are intentional misinterpretations of the actual studies done by real researchers.

The point is, both these “issues” are really no more than jingoistic talking points that rally people into a frenzy. These kinds of false controversies only feed on the underlying real issues of racism, homophobia and xenophobia and blur the picture.

That leaves the question of why? Why would anyone want to stir up this kind of anger? Again, I look to the cynical folks causing it.

For fundamentalist preachers and organizations it is an “easy sell.” Every tent revivalist knows you can get a much fuller collection basket when the congregation is riled up.

The same holds true for the organizations like American Family Association. Fear fills their coffers. For politicians, the answer is obvious. As Sarah Palin says, “mama grizzlies,” once angered, are hard to stop. A populace who is scared will vote for whoever offered them “security.”

Just look to the previous administration and how they successfully manipulated a manufactured war to win re-election. For the “news” organizations like Fox, fear sells. Why spend money on real reporting when you can create events?

As a sidenote, it is further proof of the cynical nature of right-wing media that Al-Walid bin Talal, a Saudi financier, owns a big chunk of Fox News and is also funding the “Ground Zero Mosque” through his charitable contributions. You’ll never hear in the fear narrative being pushed by Fox.

We LGBT Americans know just how powerful fear and hatred can be. We need to look past the sound bites and bumper stickers and see the real issues behind this whole ruckus. It’s about the right to be different. That is a founding principal of our country: Freedom to build a place of worship, a community center, an AIDS clinic or whatever should not be hindered by baseless fears. If we fall prey to the media spotlight beating the drums to “stop the mosque,” we should not be surprised the next time that spotlight falls on us.

It isn’t easy to see past the glare of this craziness. Like the lyrics to the song from the musical Chicago say, “… how can they see with sequins in their eyes … Razzle dazzle ‘em. And they’ll never catch wise!”

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas