This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

DSC_0133

It’s a theaterific week in Dallas, and don’t think the community doesn’t know it.

There are, of course, the usual opening and continuing runs, but if it seems like there’s more than most early Junes, that’s because the Theater Communications Group is holding its national conference in Dallas (with the DTC hosting) starting next week. That means the Festival of Independent Theatres moved up its start date by a month to give attendees a choice of new work to see. Meanwhile, over at Kitchen Dog they are mounting their own 15th annual New Works Festival, of which Se Llama Cristina is the mainstage production.

Up in Addison, WaterTower Theatre is about to open its new show, Black Tie, a family comedy directed by Rene Moreno, while in Fort Worth, Jubilee Theatre’s Knock Me a Kiss addresses the controversial story of an outing that scandalized the African-American community in 1920s Harlem. That’s pretty gay, but not as gay as Sister Act, which continued Dallas Summer Musicals‘ season.

And in Fort Worth, native son Guy Stroman — one of the original cast members and creators of the musical Forever Plaid, pictured — returns to direct and choreography Casa Manana’s latest production, to coincide with the company’s gala.

For fun in a theater that doesn’t have any actual plays, see Public Radio icon Ira Glass at the Winspear on Saturday with his presentation Reinventing Radio. And Cowtown’s quadrennial presentation of the 14th Cliburn International Piano Competition is already under way. And over at Victory Park, Clint Mordecai opens an exhibit of his new artwork at the Cirque Apartments as a benefit for DIFFA Friday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GIVEAWAY: Tix to opening night of “Rent”

Time to plan that date night as we have tickets to giveaway for the opening of Rent in Fort Worth. The Casa Manana team is offering Dallas Voice readers a chance to win tickets to the March 3 performance. We just need to know how much you like the show. Email us with Pay my Rent! in the subject line and include name, phone number (only to notify winners), and your absolute fave song from the musical.

This one’s my favorite because I kill it in the car every time. Just sayin’.

Rent plays at Casa Mañana Theatre, 3101 West Lancaster Ave. in Fort Worth and runs through March 11.

—  Rich Lopez

A-ti-cus! A-ti-cus!

DTC ‘Mockingbird’ scores with acting, Lee’s words, but direction wavers

KA2_0078

TRYING TIMES | Akron Watson, Anastasia Munoz and Bob Hess deliver stellar performances in this ‘Mockingbird.’ (Photo by Karen Almond)

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

If you’re like any normal person, you kinda wanna hate Harper Lee. She wrote, with efficient, clear, evocative prose, perhaps the perfect Southern novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1960, and save the occasional letter to the editor, nothing since. More remarkable still, that slender volume’s structure, characters, plot and emotional arcs resonate as vividly today as they ever did. Yes, armed with the ammunition of her words, you’ve got a kill-shot in the making, almost no matter what.

Almost. 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.) Acts 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.

That’s the good news. But the director, Wendy Dann, makes puzzling choices and misses many opportunities to give the production more weight. The set, with its multitude of unnecessary layers, is overly complex, and the staging can be confusing. The voice-over narration is abrupt and awkwardly handled, as is Dann’s easy resort to mood lighting and ominous music whenever anyone talks about Boo Radley. (This is theater, not film — don’t resort to melodramatic clichés. I kept expecting Tori Spelling to come out and begin a scene from a Lifetime movie.)

I begrudge no actor the burden of succeeding Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the greatest single dad ever, so it’s fair to cut Jeremy Webb some slack in taking it on. But Webb is at least a decade too young for the part, and makes up for it by slouching and aw-shucksing his shoulders to affect a home-spun likeability. It almost works, but the heavy touch upstages much else.

For devotees of the novel (or the movie), the familiarity of the story is still a delight; for others, this Mockingbird simply doesn’t fly.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas