Highlights from UP’s Pride Festival

From an audience standpoint, Uptown Players’ inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival has been a hit, with a wide range of shows at the Kalita, including rare mid-week performances.

The best of the lot: The New Century, easily Paul Rudnick’s funniest play. Basically a series of three monologues or short scenes capped by a reunion of all the characters, it’s a near-formless series of vignettes performed by a crackerjack cast: Marisa Diotalevi plays the world’s most accepting (and put-upon) PFLAG mom; Paul J. Williams is Mr. Charles, a cable-access host known as the gayest man alive; and Lulu Ward is a Midwestern housewife and crafter whose recollections of her gay son are hilarious, poignant and beautiful. They are all fantastic, but Ward — modulating between absurdist shtick and repressed sorrow that squeaks out of the corners of her eyes — gives the best performance I’ve seen on a stage in Dallas this year. She’ll leave a lump in your throat. Final performance: Saturday at 4 p.m.

The 1980 lesbian melodrama Last Summer at Bluefish Cove is something of a time-capsule, with references to David Susskind and Donahue and when feminism was still controversial in society, and not just on FoxNews. Coming as it does about the mid-point between The Boys in the Band and Love! Valour! Compassion!, it bridges those elements and changes the characters to women: A straight newcomer falls into a nest of sniping friends over a summer by the beach. While it’s a bit hokey — cancer, romance, turning a straight girl gay — makes it feel occasionally formulaic, it’s a fascinating piece well-acted by a cast led by Diane Box, Beth Albright and Mary-Margaret Pyett. (Although called a “staged reading,” it is basically a full-on production with sets, lights, costumes and staging.) Final performance: Today at 8 p.m.

The mainstage show Beautiful Thing, based on the British film, it’s a tender story of working class boys coming of age. It’s a finely detailed piece full of heavy accents, specific imagery and a realistic, tentative relationship between young men coming into their sexuality. The tight cast especially the boys, Parker Fitzgerald and Sam Swenson, load it with charm. Final performance: Saturday at 2 p.m.

Not every show is worth recommending. Indeed, the centerpiece production, Crazy, Just Like Me, is a tortured bit of pop musical pabulum. Drew Gasparini wrote the score and co-wrote the book, and neither have a speck of creativity. Simon has been best friend and roommate of Mike for 23 years, but no one seems to have noticed that Simon is gay except Mike’s new girlfriend Jessica. Simon, in a series of banal and redundant therapy sessions, finally comes to terms with his homosexuality but still manages to screw everything up. The indistinguishable tuneless songs are Jonathan Larson wannabes — call it Low-Rent — and the actors seem awkward delivering the cumbersome lines. You’d be crazy to like this one. Final performance: Today at 7:30 p.m.

UptownPlayers.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pride Performing Arts Fest wraps up

Uptown Players’ inaugural performing arts festival, timed to coincide with Dallas Pride, was a risky venture, if only in training theatergoers to seek out new plays mid-week and in repertory. But the experiment has paid off so far; co-producer Craig Lynch reported that most of the performances in the upstairs Frank’s Place space were complete or near sell-outs last weekend. Good for them, but even better for audiences, getting to see Paul Rudnick’s hilarious New Century, where Lulu Ward gives the best performances I’ve seen on a stage this year, and a fully-dressed staged reading of the lesbian melodrama Last Summer at Bluefish Cove — both of which you can still see one more time (New Century on Saturday at 4 p.m., Bluefish on Friday at 8 p.m.). The whole event wraps up Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., with a cabaret performance RSVP Vacations vets by Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen, pictured.

— A.W.J.

All performances at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Sept. 17. UptownPlayers.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens