REVIEW: First look at Festival of Independent Theatres

StageThe fun of any theater festival is discovering new works and new voices and energetic approaches to storytelling. Of course, the risk is not all those voices are harmonious, not all of those works have merit.

The excitement, then, in realizing that The Show About Men (which I previewed here) — now at the Festival of Independent Theatres — is better and more surprising that I could have imagined, is palpable. The premise — a straight woman and her cast of men (a mix of gay/straight) brainstorm about the essence of manhood, and turn it into a show that’s part dance, part barroom sing-along, part standup and more — doesn’t do justice to this whimsical and insightful performance piece.

It starts as you might expect something experimental and self-consciously “edgy” to be: In darkened silhouette, six men line up on a stage, only in boxers, talking directly in epigrammatic observations. Then the music starts (all of the songs are original), and the catchy lyrics and engaging melodies draw you in, especially with a ribald sense of comedy: Dick… and balls / Hanging from my gut / Right between my thighs and adjacent to my butt …. And you get it: This show will be as diverse and crass and funny and sensitive and reflective as the male animal himself. The show is simply a hoot, and a true departure for FIT with its use so movement, song, jokes and real-life confessional stories.

The cast is uniformly good, though the standout is surely Colby Calhoun, whose insights into being a effeminate man in the modern world are stingingly funny and insightful. But all the stories — kind of grown-up versions of Free to Be You and Me — paint a hopeful yet complex picture of mahood.

The only bad thing about The Show About Men? For the other two performance this weekend (Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m.) it’s paired with Dangerous Things On Dark Nights by 2013 Booker T. grad Naomi Cohen. It’s logline — “It was written by a teen millennial … about teen millennials” misses the point that neither youth nor an in-person perspective are evidence of quality. It’s as if Cohen read For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, watched iCarly and listened to pop ballads from the ’70s and decided a mashup would be a good idea. It is not.

The play is a mess: Three largely uninteractive (but related) monologues by three teen girls and the petulant, misdirected actions that get them into trouble. They smoke and resist authority figures; they go out drinking and driving; they are embarrassed by their parents. Perhaps these are supposed to be insights, instead of the tritest of teenaged cliches; it’s hard to tell, since there isn’t an original idea bouncing around this slow, very poorly acted show. Duck out at intermission after seeing The Show About the Men, or catch it at one of its three other performances at FIT through Aug 1.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn

The big news in entertainment this weekend is the 14th quadrennial appearance of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition — the first without its gay founder (Cliburn died in February of cancer). The six finalists will compete until the winner is revealed on Sunday.  Miss it, you and you’ll have to wait another four years for the next one.

Razzle Dazzle weekend is in full swing, with Thelma Houston headlining the MetroBall at Station 4 Friday night, then the big downtown party coming to Main Street Gardens Saturday night. It’s family-friendly and there are buses running from the event to locales in the gayborhood.

Sister Act, written by gay scribe Douglas Carter Beane, continues at Fair Park Music Hall for more than a week, before moving over to Bass Hall in Fort Worth. Meanwhile, the new cirque-ish show Traces opens at the Winspear on Tuesday. And the Festival of Independent Theatres — and Kitchen Dog Theater‘s New Works Festival — continue through June 22.

To get a little skin in the game, check out Adam and Eve in the Garden of Delights at the Stone Cottage Theatre in Addison, or move inside to the WaterTower Theatre mainstage for the light comedy Black Tie starring out actor Stan Graner.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones


wingspan press 3The Festival of Independent Theatres kicked off last week (a month earlier than usual) at the Bath House Cultural Center with several shows — more open this week — and, as we’ve come to expect, they push boundaries and expose audiences to unique points of view.

One of those is John Michael’s one-man monologue Like Me. As with his prior shows, John Michael starts from a rough outline rather than a script, roaming around the stage while expounding on everything from gay sex (and how his father wishes there was less of it in his work) to communing in a graveyard to Facebook culture.

It;s the latter that forms the crux of Like Me … or at least, I think it does. John Michael bobs around about his best friend, coming onto girls in high school and “orgasms of grief” without much rhyme or reason, a stream-of-consciousness rant with more detours than a Dallas street map. (“I don’t want to shove something down your throats,” he explains, “it’s not that kind of Bath House.”)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Get lost in ‘Wonderland’ at the Festival of Independent Theatres

Alice is looking a little FIT lately

The Festival of Independent Theatres is back, featuring eight local theaters and a slew of new plays. We’re curious to see how company White Rock Pollution will convey its retelling of Alice in Wonderland that looks to be a whole lot darker than the original, and in real-life 3-D, unlike that Johnny Depp movie.

DEETS: Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Aug. 7. $12–$16.

—  Rich Lopez