REVIEWS: What to see at FIT

The Festival of Independent Theatres got off to an auspicious start last weekend (see below), and continues for a few more. Tonight, Lanford Wilson’s The Madness of Lady Bright, pictured — sometimes called the first major work of gay theater — follows an aging drag queen as she puts on her makeup, perhaps for the last time. It shows at 8 p.m., and also Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Also tonight at 8 is a double bill from WingSpan: Tennessee Williams’ A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot and John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year. It also plays Saturday at 5 p.m.

But some very good shows have already opened. Upstart Productions launched it with WASP, an absurdist comedy from Steve Martin (yes, that one) about the Protestant nuclear family: Disaffected dad (Ted Wold), neurotic wife (Diane Casey Box), confused son (Christopher Eastland) and airhead daughter (Nicole Stewart). The style — flat, crazed, silly, disturbing — fits perfects the nonsense, such as the voices mom hears because her husband can’t be bothered to look at her. Jell-O mold desserts, sexual frustration, 1950s-ish ignorance and a host of other stereotypes of American suburban culture are deliciously skewered. (Also plays Saturday at 5 p.m., July 28 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 6 at 8 p.m.)

Very different — but in many ways more compelling — is Second Thought Theatre’s Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self, a world premiere from local playwright Eric Steele (he runs the Kessler as well) as the second play directed by Lee Trull (he premiered as a director earlier this year with Dying City). One-armed local celeb Bob Birdnow gives a motivational speech to a Midwestern sales convention recounting how, in fact, he lost his limb. For 50 minutes, actor Barry Nash holds your attention transfixed in this captivating monologue, full of drama and tension and beautiful imagery, all with limited movement. It’s a tour-de-force performance. (Also plays Saturday at 2 p.m., July 29 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 4 at 8 p.m.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Grapevine’s Ohlook Performing Arts Center announces Adult Late Night Summer series

Grapevine’s Ohlook Performing Arts Center has definitely caught our attention of late with a smattering of very gay theater. Who knew Grapevine had such a hankering?And it gets better.

Ohlook’s PR guy John Davenport just announced their Adult Late Night Summer series which is maybe not as gay, but a whole lot of fun. If you’re having a hard time deciding on which to see, why not try all three of them at Ohlook’s package rate?

Find the line up of shows after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

Applause • That’s so gay

Queer connections infiltrate lots of the upcoming season of arts

Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot
Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot, above, is a coup for the Dallas Opera; Pink Martini, below, gets the Meyerson jumping as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s guest next week.

When you have a gay theater company (as Dallas does in Uptown Players) and another troupe dedicated to bringing Broadway musicals to town (as Dallas Summer Musicals does), you can be pretty confident in finding gay appeal in the lively arts.

But cast your gaze — and your gays — outside the usual focus, and there a lot more to discover across the arts in North Texas this season.

Chief among the highlights: The Dallas Opera’s coup in snagging dreamy gay baritone Paulo Szot, who won a much-deserved Tony for the revival of South Pacific, in the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Oct. 22). Director Stephen Lawless returns to helm Anna Bolena (Oct. 29). DallasOpera.org.

Of course, Uptown Players and DSM are getting into the action with their upcoming shows as well. UP’s final production of their 2010 season is the American premiere of Closer to Heaven, written to the songs of the Pet Shop Boys. The musical drama opens Oct. 1 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. The group will announce its 2011 season on Tuesday. UptownPlayers.org. And DSM’s national tour of Shrek is the State Fair Musical this year, opening Sept. 28. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

Next week, Theatre Three produces the local premiere of Songs from an Unmade Bed, a song cycle about a gay man working his way through a relationship. In previews from Sept. 3 in the Theatre Too space. Also in Theatre Too: Bruce R. Coleman’s latest play, the puppet show Tales from Mount Olympus, and spring welcomes Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang. Next up on the main stage is Laramie Project creator Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, followed in December by the local premiere of The Drowsy Chaperone. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas continues its presentation of Ed Graczyk’s world premiere Texas-set comedy-drama with a gay twist, Blue Moon Dancing, which runs through Sept. 12. Its 2010–11 season kicks off in October, and includes plays directed by Rene Moreno (The Trip to Bountiful) and Michael Serrecchia (Cheaters), plus a play by gay playwright Alan Ball (Five Women Wearing the Same Dress). ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com.

The Dallas Theater Center launches its new season next month with the company’s gay artistic director Kevin Moriarty’s adaptation of Henry IV (opens Sept. 11).  The season ends with the musicals Cabaret and The Wiz. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

WaterTower Theatre begins its season with its artistic director, Terry Martin, directing and starring in Our Town (previewing on Sept. 24), and closes the season with Howard Ashman’s camptastic Little Shop of Horrors in July. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

Pink Martini
Pink Martini

Bass Hall brings in Spring Awakening on Nov. 9–10, followed by Mamma Mia, A Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast and 9 to 5 later in the season. BassHall.org. In Dallas, the Lexus Broadway Series includes Young Frankenstein (Jan. 4) and Billy Elliot (June 8), while TITAS starts with MOMIX (Sept. 10) and the return of Complexions Contemporary Ballet (May 11). ATTPAC.org. The Dallas Black Dance Theatre stages a dance by local legend Bruce Wood in the spring as well (see story Page S6).

It’s not just opera and theater that goes gay, either: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra welcomes queer-led bank Pink Martini on Sept. 3, and The Music of Michael Jackson starts Sept. 1. DallasSymphony.org.

Arnold Wayne Jones

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

—  Kevin Thomas

SUPERMAN Comes Out! (sort of)

Gay playwright and comic book author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa puts a queer twist on comicdom’s straightest superhero with his adaptation of the ’60s musical ‘It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman’

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

TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa transforms from mild-mannered comic book author to rockin’ musical playwright atop the Wyly Theatre as his ‘Superman’ adaptation enters previews this week. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)


IT’S A BIRD… SUPERMAN
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Through June 18­–July 25 in previews through June 24).
$15–$78. ATTPAC.org.





Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, like most gay men, knows something about having a secret identity. Although he grew up with worldly parents who had an appreciation for musical theater (he would listen to their cast recordings of Hair and Man of La Mancha), Aguirre-Sacasa tried to hide from them his own favorite showtunes from the first album he ever bought: The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack.

“It felt sometimes like when ‘Sweet Transvestite’ and ‘Toucha-a Touch-a, Touch Me’ were playing, that’s when my parents would come into the room,” he now confesses.

But while his alter ego (gay theater queen) was finally revealed, it all worked out for the best: Aguirre-Sacasa became a respected playwright and TV writer (Big Love), as well as comic book author of one of the Spider-Man imprints. And now he’s combining those passions, adapting the 1960s musical It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman for the Dallas Theater Center.

While he’s best known for his work on Marvel Comics, it’s difficult not to see the physical similarities between Aguirre-Sacasa and the fictional DC superhero’s own alter ego. He’s tall and seems born to wear the mantle “mild-mannered;” he even sports the same boxy black rim eyeglasses as Clark Kent. Could he be hiding something under that button-down?

Nah.

“I did not pick the glasses because they were Clark Kent’s, but I definitely was aware that they were Clark Kent glasses,” he says. “It’s more that I’m hard to satisfy.”

Despite closeted gay kids finding solace in parallels between superhero comics and their own dual identities, Aguirre-Sacasa resists pop psychologizing about his motivations and how — if at all — his personality winds its way into his comic book work … or his stage adaptation of a cartoon ubermensch.

“I get that, absolutely, but for me it’s hard to reconcile,” he says. “I feel Superman is the straightest of superheroes; and I first worked on the Fantastic Four, also the straightest in the Marvel universe” — despite the fact, he acknowledges, that one of the Four’s signature phrase is “Flame on!” “But I don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m attracted to the comic books because they allow me to play out subtextual symbolism.’ I do know I have gay fans — I’ve met both of them,” he jokes. “But it’s not something I am conscious of in my work.”

Nevertheless, he has brought an undeniable gay sensibility to this Superman adaptation, with lesbian characters and a *sigh* factor to the hunky Man of Steel, played by Matt Cavenaugh.

And he was definitely conscious of turning Superman into an old-fashioned musical comedy, the kind that will make people say, “They don’t do ’em like that anymore.”
“I do feel superpowers are larger than life — a quite natural fit to musical theater,” says Aguirre-Sacasa.

Still, fitting the very ‘60s-era musical into a post-modern world familiar with decades of superhero culture was daunting. Aguirre-Sacasa grew up listening to (and enjoying) the original Broadway cast recording, but the songs were all he heard; he hadn’t read the script until he saw a staged reading a few years ago.

“It was very jokey — just skits strung together. That was the driving impulse. Character was sacrificed at the expense of the material. Who Superman was — honest, patriotic — was a joke. It was very tonally different from the first two Superman movies; more like the third one,” he says.

Aguirre-Sacasa — and for that matter Kevin Moriarty, the artistic director of the DTC and a superhero-obsessed overgrown kid — wanted something that would fit within the contemporary construct. The original authors (including Waxahachie-bred co-author Robert Benton) gave their blessing for a re-imagining of the book.

Aguirre-Sacasa streamlined the multitude of romantic subplots in the original and let them fall in expected ways (Superman with Lois Lane, for instance) and gave more stage time to editor Perry White. Among the biggest challenges: A more legitimate opponent for Superman.

“One of the tricky things was to have a worthy villain,” he says. “Max Menken and Dr. Segdwick [the bad guys in the original script] didn’t really work together until the second half of Act 2. Our Max is more like the industrialist in Iron Man, like Al Capone.”

But, he admits, still no Lex Luthor. What gives?

A couple of things prevented that, mostly the idea that “Lex Luthor just wouldn’t sing. And making Max formidable was real attractive to me.”

Shoe-horning the existing songs into his new script was another feat.
“There was not a lot of Superman singing, and not a lot specific to Superman” in the original score, Aguirre-Sacasa notes.

The songs did get restructured, and there has been additional tweaking and reshuffling, including commissioning four original composers Charles Strouse and Lee Adams to write four new songs. But in his original draft, Aguirre-Sacasa “pretty much followed the score structure, though I didn’t think they had to be sung by the same characters.” That meant in one instance swapping the lyrics in a duet, so Clark gets to sing the woman’s part.

That made me wonder: Just how gay will this production be? I mean, other than being a musical with a hot guy in tights?

Well, that’s what’s called a cliffhanger. Tune in to find out.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice