DTC announces 2014-15 season

DTC-DTE Kurt Rhoads and June Squibb - by Brandon Thibodeaux

Oscar nominee June Squibb, last seen at the DTC in Horton Foote’s ‘Surviving the Estate,’ will return to play the lead in ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’

Dracula won’t be swooping into the Wyly Theatre any time soon, but Bruce Wood will make his debut with the Dallas Theater Center, and a recent Oscar nominee will make her return along with a Speedo-clad muscle man, the company’s artistic director, Kevin Moriarty, revealed this morning. The formal announcement will take place later today.

To kick off the season, audiences will get a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania taking a jump to the left in the season opening, The Rocky Horror Show. Joel Ferrell will direct the gender-bending musical at the Wyly.

Ferrell steps immediately into the next production, which will take over the Kalita Humphreys space. Driving Miss Daisy will star June Squibb — who was just nominated for an Oscar for Nebraska — as a prickly Southern lady and her relationship with her African-American chauffeur.

Bruce Wood, the choreographer and occasional stage director, will make his DTC debut with Colossal, a world premiere play-with-dancing about football. It continues the DTC’s preoccupation with sports onstage (baseball with Back Back Back, basketball with Give It Up aka Lysistra Jones, pro wrestling with The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity).

“Consistent with [DTC’s mission of producing shows that reflect the community], this show is about people with disabilities — the man character is in a wheelchair,” Moriarty says. “The play will feature full-contact drills, with music provided by a drumline.” And the Wyly will be transformed into a football stadium, complete with bleachers and popcorn.

The musical Stagger Lee, written by DTC writer-in-residence Will Power and developed at DTC for several years, will have its main-stage debut.

“My first year here, I was approached by SMU, who wanted to present the Meadows Prize to a theater artist,” Moriarty says. “I gave them a list of about 10 names to discuss, and [when we decided on Will Power], SMU commissioned him to write a play as part of DTC’s season. The play is a mythical investigation of the African-American experience in the 20th century.

Also scheduled in a regional premiere, The Book Club Play, a romantic comedy about, naturally, a book club.

“Christie Vela runs the perfect book club, but then a documentary film crew comes to shoot it just as a new member joins, and mayhem ensues,” Moriarty says. It will be directed by Meredith McDonough — one of three women directing shows at the DTC this season.

rsDTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty_Photo by Tadd Myers

Kevin Moriarty

There are several significant developments this season. In addition to producing a record nine shows (the current season was only seven shows), Moriarty is launching a five-year “classical theater” initiative, which will mount at least two plays each season written before 1900. The two presented this year couldn’t be more different — at least on the surface: The 17th century farce School for Wives and the ancient Greek tragedy Medea. But Moriarty sees a theme.

“Both are plays about women denied power or justice, who eventually are victorious,” Moriarty says. The plays will be presented in repertory at the Kalita, with the Moliere comedy performed upstairs and Euripides’ masterpiece in the long-overlooked basement space, once known as Down Center Stage. Sally Vahle will play Medea, but will also take a role in School.

“It will be true rep — we’ll rehearse eight hours a day, the first four of one show, then lunch, then the next four with the other,”says Moriarty, who will direct both.

A Christmas Carol — this season performed at the Wyly for the first time, and included as part of the regular season subscription — becomes a bonus show again. The version performed this past December, written and directed by Moriarty, will be revived, though Lee Trull will direct and Jeremy Dumont will serve as choreographer.

Another development is that the traditional family-friendly summer won’t take place — or rather, hasn’t been programmed yet. The final show of the season will be a stage version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. But that production will conclude before Memorial Day of 2015, meaning the summer of 2015 may still have a musical in it … but it’ll be part of the 2015-16 season instead.

The Dracula Cycle,  set to open last year, was delayed when the playwright, gay scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, become entrenched in commitments in theater (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), television (Glee) and film (the Carrie remake). It was expected to return next season but has officially be taken off the books.

Here’s the complete schedule of shows and production dates:

The Rocky Horror Show at the Wyly, Sept. 11–Oct. 19.

Driving Miss Daisy at the Kalita, Oct. 16–Nov. 16.

A Christmas Carol at the Wyly, Nov. 25–Dec. 27.

The Book Club Play at the Kalita, Jan. 1, 2015 –Feb. 1.

Stagger Lee at the Wyly, Jan. 21–Feb. 15.

School for Wives and Medea at the Kalita, Feb. 19–March 29

Collosal at Wyly, April 2–May 3.

Sense and Sensibility at the Kalita, April 23–May 24.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

It’s not easy being ‘Green’

First-time filmmaker Steve Williford teams with the Verizon Guy (seriously!) for ‘The Green,’ a movie about homophobia and suspicion

IDYLLS OF THE QUEENS | A quiet couple (Dallas theater veteran Jason Butler Harner and ‘30 Rock’s’ Cheyenne Jackson) becomes immersed in controversy when one is accused of an affair with a teen in the USA Film Festival entry ‘The Green.’

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor

Although Steve Williford never felt any homophobia directed at him when he lived in southwestern Indiana, his perception of what others thought of him as a gay man was something that stuck with him for many years. At dinner parties and social events, his sexuality was a subject that came up often, usually as a result of others’ curiosity.

“Months went by and I started to wonder if I was the poster boy for gay,” he says. “I always wondered what would happen if something in my life happened that brought my sexuality to the forefront, like if I was at a party and kissed my partner.”

That question would eventually lead him to his first feature film as a director, The Green, currently on the festival circuit and screening at USA Film Festival Saturday. The screenplay is written by Paul Marcarelli, best known as Verizon’s “can you hear me now?” guy, who recently came out publicly.

The story they ended up with concerns a high school teacher, played by Jason Butler Harner, who is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. It causes tension with the teacher’s partner, played by out Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson (also known for his recurring roles on 30 Rock and Glee), and in the community.

Williford directed nearly 150 episodes of the recently axed soap opera All My Children from 2004 to 2011, but his background is in theater (he directed a production of Driving Miss Daisy in the early 1990s at Dallas’ Park Cities Playhouse, back when it was called the Plaza Theatre). So it’s not surprising that his cast is filled with actors who come from the theater world, too — not just Jackson, but Harner, who played Hamlet at the Dallas Theater Center in 2003. That may explain why Williford’s film has something in common with several plays, notably Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.27.05 PM“We’re a proud cousin of all of those works,” Williford says. “We are trying to examine a situation that can illustrate to us how slippery truth and clarity really is and how quickly it can slip away from us.”

“Paul and I are both big lovers of ambiguity to a certain degree,” he adds. “I had always modeled this story in my heart and mind on what I love about the Chekhov short stories: We leave certain things open and free to be interpreted. For the bulk of the story, you’re really not sure if he has done what he’s being accused of, but there are some significant issues that do get resolved, quite clearly I think.”

And of course, he knows the audience won’t trust if they don’t believe in the relationship as portrayed by Harner and Jackson, and takes a dramatic turn from the comic roles he has done on TV.

“I completely believe in Jason and Cheyenne as a couple. That’s one of my complaints when I see LGBT couples represented in film: I feel like there’s a link missing a little bit. I don’t feel that way about them, in the work environment or what has come together for the film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Pas de don’t

Movie about TBT director Sir Ben Stevenson mixes ballet with cliche

STEVE WARREN  | Contributing Writer thinhead@mindspring.com

Mao’s Last Dancer
EN POINTE | Bruce Greenwood, left, plays Ben Stevenson, now the artistic director of the Texas Ballet Theater, who turns a poor Chinese dancer into a sensation in the schmaltzy ‘Mao’s Last Dancer.’

2.5 out of 5 stars
Bruce Greenwood, Chi Cao, Kyle MacLachlan. Rated PG. 115 mins.
Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

A great story and some amazing dancing are, unfortunately, sacrificed on the altar of cheesy melodrama in Mao’s Last Dancer. It’s hard to believe the great Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy) could have watched this, let alone directed it. And no one who even typed the scripts for Shine and The Notebook could have been responsible for this screenplay, let alone the person who wrote or adapted them (Jan Sardi).

This is the true-ish story of Li Cunxin (Chi Cao), who was invited to spend the summer of 1981 with the Houston Ballet and decided to stay in America. In a throwback to movies of several decades ago, Bruce Greenwood plays the ballet’s artistic director, Ben Stevenson — now the artistic director of the Texas Ballet Theater — as an obviously gay man who lives alone and has absolutely no life outside of his work.

Li, by contrast, is obviously straight, because even as a boy, every time he partners a female on stage there is another female in the audience looking jealous.

Nine years prior Li, one of seven sons of a peasant couple, was plucked from his humble village to be trained at the Beijing Arts Academy, along with 39 other Chinese children. They’re given a standard indoctrination in Communism, including being taught that China has “the highest standard of living in the world,” and capitalist nations the lowest.

When he arrives in oil-rich Texas at the height of the boom, Li is overwhelmed, having never seen such luxury, even in Beijing; he can hardly believe Ben has such a house to himself. But the Chinese consul has counseled him not to trust anyone, “especially women — they’ll lead you astray.”

The early part of the film toggles between Houston and Li’s early years in China, where he is unhappy until an old-school teacher, later prosecuted for his teachings, makes him appreciate dance and his own skills.

When the Houston delegation visits Beijing in 1980, they’re disappointed to see the students, except for Li, are more like athletes than dancers. In Houston Li gets a break but has only three hours to learn the pas de deux from Don Quixote.

Li meets aspiring dancer Elizabeth Mackey (Amanda Schull), who, in this screenplay, is more a device than a person. Afraid of what will happen to his family in China if he defects, Li learns he can stay in the U.S. if he marries a citizen. (Ben pitches a hissy fit.)

Unable to contact his parents, Li worries about them constantly. Years later, Ben arranges for them to surprise him by showing up in the audience for a performance. It must have taken months to arrange and could have taken a lot of stress off Li if he’d known it was in the works, but the surprise makes for a more upbeat (and corny) climax.

That may be the stupidest thing in the movie but there are countless smaller things, like people working in a Washington office in what must be the middle of the night. Even original twists are presented in such a way as to look clichéd.

The ballet sequences, choreographed by Graeme Murphy, are the saving grace of Mao’s Last Dancer — if only we got a two-hour recital instead of the story. Not to be shortchanged is the principal dancer, Chi Cao, who is also a decent actor as far as the script allows. He’d be a natural for a new film biography of Bruce Lee — I’d pay to see Chi replicate Lee’s fight choreography.

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

—  Kevin Thomas