REVIEWS: ‘The Hand,’ ‘Pippin,’ ‘Abe Lincoln,’ ‘Sexy Romp’

Mano a mano: The Hand

Two men — one showering naked — share an uncomfortable silence during their morning rituals in the bathroom. “When are you leaving?” one asks. Maybe it’s a trick gone bad.

But the other man — the poorer one — has no intention of leaving. Not without the rich man’s hand.

The Hand, a world premiere translation from Broken Gears Project Theatre, is a juicy, rather simple, short (45 minutes!) allegorical play, though what exactly it is an allegory for I’m still not quite sure: The poor man is missing his hand, having sold it to the rich man’s doctor three years ago for a transplant. Only now he wants it back. Class warfare? Obamacare? The idea of men touching each other with the same mitt but not being gay?

Actually, there’s an undeniable homoeroticism to the show as the men spend all the time wearing towels in bathroom. It’s especially apparent when Joey Folsom plays the rich man with a fey, continental air. (He and co-star Jeff Swearingen swap roles for each performance; during the final week, they will actually mount the show as a twofer: Act 1 with one cast, then followed by Act 2 with the roles reversed.) When Swearingen says to him, “I’ve come to ask for your hand,” you wonder if they’re living in Massachusetts.

(During the recent Horton Foote festival, Folsom appeared in a one-act playing a man who lost his arm to a thresher and demands justice from his employer. This is a weird companion piece to that.)

This is absurdist theater with a sickly twisted sense of humor: Waiting for Godot as directed by Quentin Tarantino. (Director Andy Baldwin even kicks it off with Tarantino-esque mariachi music.) It’s a deliciously evil mindfuck of a play, part Sleuth, part Bunuel film, where the concept of “a pound of flesh” takes on an odd meaning. It’s a great capstone to Broken Gears’ second season, where they have continued to reconfigure their space for a diverse slate of plays.

The three men involved here — Folsom, Swearingen and Baldwin — invest tremendous energy in this one-act, which gives it a momentum that is shocking and refreshing, like plunging your face in ice water. Give these guys a hand.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

3819 Fairmont. Through June 25. Folsom plays the rich man June 11, 14, 16 and 18; Swearingen play the rich man June 10 and 17; they will do two performances a night with each cast June 22, 23, 24 and 25. $15. BrokeanGears.weebly.com.

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Cirque du so lame: Pippin

The opening number of Pippin is called “Magic to Do.” Here’s thing: If it’s not magical, you’ve lost the audience for the rest of the show. (“Come and spend an hour or two,” is one of the lyrics; opening night got close to three hours. And still no magic.) It needs to wow you. But the circus-inspired production now at Theatre Three is played as if the entire cast had Epstein-Barre syndrome and had just decided to show up for a rehearsal. It’s on quarter-power at best. And with all the garish costumes and paste-white face paint, it feels more like the slo-mo feverdream on a mind-addled opium addict than a play.

It never recovers from the false start. Pippin is a part of a genre of musicals, popular in the early 1970s, that tried to take classical or historic stories from antiquity and gussy them up with Hair-like pop-culture relevance and a rockish score: Cyrano, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Candide, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar. They were all fine in their day, but once Chicago opened and turned a modern eye on the circus-atmosphere of the past, they immediately seemed dated, like a watching silent film in 1945 or making one in black and white today. With the possible exception of Candide, none are true classics (the latter two have staying power beyond their warrant). Despite a few passable songs (“Corner of the Sky, Just No Time at All,” “Spread a Little Sunshine”), Pippin really isn’t in need of a revival as much as a wake.

It feels like it is getting that. N. Wilson King, in the gender-bending role of Leading Player, is vocally unsuited for the part. She has a rich, gospelly voice, but not the Broadway-pop range to get the crowd going, as if Marlon Brando were playing a high school cheerleader. As Pippin, Max Swarner acts out every lyric with broad gestures, as if appearing in a children’s theater production of Green Eggs and Ham. It’s not his fault; director Bruce Coleman should have reigned in such limp choices, just as he should have tapped into King’s sense of fun.

Lee Jamison perks up Act 2; she has a strong comic sense that fits into the presentational style of the show. Bradley Campbell is fine as Charlemagne, and LisaAnne Haram gives a kicky rendition of a dotty grandma, but these are islands of competence floating in a sea of wrongheadedness.

A few weeks ago, Dallas Theater Center mounted a revival of Cabaret, creating a shabby, gaudy memory of a culture in decline that burrowed under your skin. There’s nothing intentionally unnerving about this version of Pippin — it’s just ugly and dull.

— AWJ

Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through July 2. Threatre3Dallas.com.

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Planet of the Abes: Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party

Four score and seven years may be the most famous lapse-of-time reference in history, but two hours and forty minutes seems like a close second. That’s the running time (not including two intermissions) of Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party from Level Ground Arts. This is one really, really long comedy. But you know what? It’s filled with so many pleasures and moments of delicious subversiveness that, other than a severe case of numb-butt, it’s not a bad trade.

This is a bare-bones production, with set pieces made of foam core. That’s not a jab — these days, some people don’t feel like it’s real theater unless a chandelier comes crashing over their heads or Spider-Man stunt doubles go spiraling toward near-death. Sometimes less is more.

The show is enhanced by a skilled young cast. It’s all about solid performances, a daring, sometimes-moving script and some old fashioned experimentation. The plot is surprisingly intricate. It all starts with a children’s holiday pageant about Santa Claus getting a presidential pardon. When one of the children (apparently played as special-needs, which is completely unnecessary) spouts off about Abraham Lincoln’s love of another man, the teacher is vilified by the conservative Illinois town and put on trial for indecency.

What follows the setup is far more interesting. Big Gay Dance Party presents the same story from three characters’ perspectives. Through the democratic process (natch) an audience member is chosen to select which character’s version we see first. So, theoretically there are six different ways the plot can unfold. It’s fascinating. The entire third act, I found myself wondering what the show would’ve been like had that one been first, or even second. All in all, it’s an enjoyable mechanism that fills in plot mysteries like pieces fitting snuggly into a puzzle.

Between scenes, during set changes, and just about any time they feel like it, the cast busts a move—sometimes with elaborate choreography and matching stovepipe hats and beards. This is a big gay dance party, after all. Glow sticks, sadly, are not included.

— Steven Lindsey

KD Studio Theatre, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway. Through June 25. Fridays–Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. $20. LevelGroundArts.com

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Logo, your next sitcom is ready: Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp

Alejandro de la Costa’s Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp, MBS Productions’ latest show, could well be a pilot pitch for a TV sitcom. They could approach Logo with Two Gays and a Girl, or maybe Our Fairy Dragmother … but as a play … well, it’s complicated.

De la Costa wrote a semi-complex farce about relationships for a cast of four. He pits male couple Casey (Andrew Bryan) and Keith (Philip Gage) into an emotional whirlwind of a night. Drag queen friend Lovely Uranus (Sonna) is moving in temporarily, and happens to have hitched a ride with Casey’s ex-girlfriend, Lara (Emily Murphy). Yes, girlfriend. Upon Lara’s arrival, Keith is confused by his attraction and constant hard-on when she’s around. Could he be straight? Bi? Do we care?

Well, yes and no.

Set in the couple’s apartment, we’re introduced to the boys waking up to coffee and some potential morning sex. It doesn’t happen as Lovely is early with her belongings and Lara. Sure the coincidence is unlikely, but easy to ignore as merely plot device. Other things weren’t.

For whatever reason, the cast was clearly off this night. They flubbed several lines or ad-libbed to maybe cover up some forgotten ones. These nights happen, I get that, but a week into the run, you expect more mojo.

The chemistry of the male couple never coalesces. Even that Bryan and Gage come off wooden, they were at least awkwardly convincing as an item in the first half, albeit minus any nuances. Those charms somehow devolve completely in the second act. In the blowout after Casey and Lovely discover Keith and Lara having sex, arguments ensued that played like an acting workshop rather than a fighting couple. The closed lip kisses and strange hugs didn’t help, either.

Lovely Uranus is not the most glamorous of drag queens, but Sonna made the most out of facial gestures, lots of makeup and some really short lingerie. It didn’t make complete sense that he’d be in drag while moving, but it wasn’t a distraction.

Lovely is the loud conscience of the show, but not always successfully. Sonna’s big monologue veers into a somber, dramatic moment, but he nails it with delicacy that doesn’t stray too far from Lovely’s outlandish persona.

Two things really kept the play afloat for me. Despite the flubs, de la Costa’s clever script is conceivably ready for prime time. The wit is there, as is substance. He wrote a play that ultimately isn’t just about a gay guy having sex with a girl and the shenanigans around it. He brilliantly weaved a story that looked at how relationships are defined and the fluidity that goes with them (or maybe needs to go with them). He fit in discussions on open relationships, gay/straight labels, single versus partnered and even the sex appeal of drag without stuffing it in. One political jab disturbed the flow, but otherwise, de la Costa created a gem.

The second was the luminous Emily Murphy, a stunning actress with a body to die for. She’s part sexual predator, part bitch, but she puts it behind a smile. Lara has ulterior motives but also doesn’t confuse sex with feelings. Murphy delivers on all fronts in commanding fashion.

Romp unexpectedly had something to say. While some of the acting didn’t make strong impressions, I couldn’t get a lot of what de la Costa had written out of my mind. And that made it worthwhile.

— Rich Lopez

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road. Through June 18. $18¬–$22. MBSProductions.net.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

3 for the road: Kitchen Dog’s entry in the Foote Festival is a trio of sweet short stories

THREE-PEAT | Five actors play all the parts in Kitchen Dog’s three one-acts.

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

One thing I have learned from sitting through most of the entries in the Foote Festival is this: Horton Foote is a better storyteller than playwright. He sharply observes the way people talk and the atmosphere of Texas (rural life especially), with good dialogue that evokes bygone eras. What he doesn’t do well is action.

That ends up benefiting Kitchen Dog Theater for 3 Foote, its collection of three one-act plays by the author. More like staged versions of short stories, they are brief and varied enough that for the most part they don’t grow stale or stodgy despite the supreme absence of things going on.

The first, Blind Date, is probably the best. A sour girl (Lisa Marie Gonzalez), living with her aunt and uncle (Shelley Tharp-Payton, Chris Hury), scowls so much she’s deemed unmarriagable, despite auntie’s best efforts to teach her social graces. A set-up with the town dullard (Joey Folsom) proves to be a last-ditch attempt destined to go astray. Only maybe not.

Tharp-Payton chews up the scenery with hilarious enthusiasm as the fading socialite, but it’s really Folsom — jaw locked in a Skoal-dipping underbite, eyes as vacant as church on Tuesday — who steals the show. He’s effortlessly hysterical.

Tharp-Payton is even better in the third act, The Man Who Climbed Pecan Trees, although the play itself is the weakest of the three. Her transformation between acts is perhaps most startling.

Between them, the 15-minute The One-Armed Man is a tour-de-force for Hury, who plays a self-made businessman whose cavalier dismissal of a man injured on the job (Folsom again) leads to unexpected consequences. The play itself is a masterful rondo that divides your emotional loyalties — a bit of Poe in Texas.

—  John Wright

Foote Fetish: ‘Trip,’ ‘Roads’

Characters in Horton Foote plays tend to talk. And talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. It takes a savvy director to turn such static exposition into real theater, so it’s a boon that the last two new productions in the Metroplex’s Foote Festival have top-notch men showing us how to do it.

Rene Moreno has always specialized in drawing out great performances with little over action, a skill that reaps tremendous benefits in Contemporary Theatre of Dallas’ The Trip to Bountiful. Despite the word “trip,” the play is a static affair: Set in a cramped apartment, then a cramped bus, then a tiny, moldering house. But in the small moments, Moreno teases out a profound, small tale of old age.

Carrie (Elly Lindsay) has lived with her son (the terrifically hang-dog Tom Lenaghen) and his selfish wife Jessie Mae (Sue Loncar) in Houston for years, sharing her pension check to help them through, but she longs to see her home in Bountiful, Texas, one final time.

There’s no real mystery, here: We know you can’t go home again, and Carrie does too. But Lindsay captures, especially in Act 2, her need to connect with her roots one final time. She’s not dotty, she’s simply old, and as anyone who has ever talked to their grandmother knows, old age ain’t for sissies.

The tragedy in The Roads to Home at Theatre Three (pictured) doesn’t befall the elderly, but the young. In 1920s Houston, Annie (Renee Kelly), a flapper-era housewife, has been traumatized by the murder of her father, her own post-partem depression and the staggering loneliness of her life and has started to unravel. She drops in on her neighbor, who is from her same small town but doesn’t know quite what to make of her, forgetting the names of her own children. It’s what they used to call a “nervous condition,” but what we know better as bi-polar.

Three one-acts that fit together as a single play, The Roads to Home has plenty of humor, but also a more profound and deeply sad edge than any of the other plays in the Foote Festival. There are no happy endings here, despite all the laughter.

Other than Kelly, who delicately captures the otherworldliness of Annie, there are two stars of the show. One is director Terry Dobson, whose insertion of evocative stage business (making a pie, folding laundry, a masterful touch with a brandy snifter) keeps the show from being seized in a fit of words. The other is Pam Daugherty, whose comic timing and verbal dexterity turn chattering gossip into high comedy.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Visit ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com and Theatre3Dallas.com for tickets.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘Bent’ at El Centro this weekend

A break from the Foote

Is the Horton Foote Festival getting a little much but you still want to head out to the theater? The El Centro College Actor’s Workshop presents Martin Sherman’s Bent about gay men in the Holocaust. Yes, some pretty heavy stuff, but the story is both tough and tender.

Bent follows the life of Max, a promiscuous gay man in 1930′s Berlin. When a one night stand goes terribly wrong, Max finds himself running from the S.S. and eventually imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp.”

The production is directed by Daniel Scott Cates.

DEETS: El Centro College Arena Theatre,801 Main St. Through Sunday. Free.

—  Rich Lopez

Some things a-Foote: Festival of Texas writer’s work continues with hits (Uptown), misses (WTT)

FAMILY SECRETS | Mom (Lucia Welch, standing center) and dad (T.A. Taylor, seated) don’t discuss the nature of their late son’s ‘roommate’ in an engaging ‘Young Man from Atlanta.’ (Photo by Mike Morgan)

As the Horton Foote Festival progresses among the local theater community, Dallas is privy to some of the Texas-born writer’s other works that might get eclipsed by his more famous works, the films The Trip to Bountiful and Tender Mercies. Despite not much that’s gay in the Foote oeuvre, Uptown Players digs out the one show with that certain touch with the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Young Man from Atlanta.

An older Houston couple has some issues to iron out when the title fella comes to visit. Will Kidder (T.A. Taylor), the patriarch of a well-to-do family in 1950s Houston, is talking to his like-a-son-associate Tom (Kevin Moore) about the death of his son Bill, who drowned. The gist of the play happens when we’ve already glimpsed the title character reaching out to the family. The Kidders first meet Bill’s “friend,” Randy Carter, at his funeral, where his constant contact unnerves Will but touches his wife, Lily Dale (Lucia A. Welch). Lily Dale even loans the man a large sum of money from her Christmas allowance, which Will later needs access to.

We’re supposed to get the impression that this young man was more than a roommate to Bill and that the Kidders just aren’t going to speak that-which-must-not-be-named. But as Lily Dale talks about the money she’s given him for his mother’s operation and sister in dire straits, we can’t pinpoint if Carter is a scammer or something more important.

Young Man gets off to a weak start with talky exposition, but we get drawn into the Kidders’ emotional evolution through Willi’s layoff and their mourning. Will has more insight to why his son would walk into a lake until the water was over his head without liking to swim; Lily Dale is in more denial. And while they have lived the high-life for such a long time, the Kidders discover they may actually have to live a life without facades.

What sounds like heavy drama is punctuated by nice bits of humor and lightheartedness, so they play is never weighed down like it could be.

The play pretty much belongs to Taylor, though the supporting cast is strong. Welch behaves with appropriate Southern housewifery, mostly smiling through the pain of their late son, who drowned. When she’s not around her husband, she longs with graceful sadness around her housekeeper Clara (an excellent Yolanda Williams).

As her stepfather Pete, Gordon Fox strikes the right balance of crotchety and tender.

Moore’s performance is a bit too much, with the overdone facial gestures and deep-voiced acting. On the opposite end, Stan Graner’s work in a brief scene as Kidder’s boss is nuanced to perfection. With subtle posturing and inflection, he delivers authority, friendliness and discomfort in having to fire Kidder. Tippi Hunter and Amanda Denton enter the show briefly as the Kidders’ former housekeeper and Will’s secretary, respectively. It felt as though Hunter’s appearance was supposed to have more meaning, but we never quite see how that scene moved much forward. Blake Blair as Pete’s nephew is a tall drink of yum and charms with lanky fashion.

We may never quite know much about The Young Man From Atlanta, but Uptown Players made a dramatic gem in helping us trying to figure him out and giving us a bit more insight into Horton Foote’s works.

— Rich Lopez


JUST STAY PUT | A young mother (Misty Vinters, left) discovers her husband is a jerk in the tedious Foote entry ‘The Traveling Lady.’ (Photo by Mark Oristano)

The actors in The Traveling Lady all suffer from a bad case of Foote-in-mouth disease: The tendency of all Southern accents to bleed together. There are Texas twangs and Tennessee drawls and a whol’ passel’uh cornpone variations in between, but wouldn’t it be nice if a cast of characters from the same small town sounded like, you know, each other?

That’s perhaps a minor point, but the pacing of this entry in the Foote Fest, courtesy of WaterTower Theatre, doesn’t leave much else to think about as it dries on stage like oil-based matte paint: slowly, and with a dull finish.

Foote’s style has been described as Chekhov-meets-Faulkner; personally, I prefer my Chekhov fighting Klingons — even when it’s bad, at least something happens. Nothing much happens in Traveling Lady, a fact emphasized by Marion Castleberry’s sluggish direction. He seems to know more about the text of the play than the texture of theater — there’s a lugubrious, academic tone to this trite 1954 story about the awkward reunion of a wife and her husband, who’s been in prison. (The demonization of alcohol makes it feel like a PSA for the Temperance League.)

As storytelling, it’s OK; as a play, it’s old-fashioned and stodgy, with too much standing around, not enough moving around (where’s the traveling promised, even if it’s just across the stage?). Why don’t the characters do anything, even if it’s just drying dishes? Clare Floyd Devries’ marvelous set is much more interesting than anything the actors are doing.

It probably wouldn’t matter much if they did bother acting. Other than Dorothy Deavers as a dotty old woman, there’s almost no comedy in this lazy stroll down Tobacco Road. The lady can travel if she wants; I’m staying put.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Weekly Best Bets

Friday 03.18

Footes won’t fail you now
Honoring the Texas playwright, the theater community unites for the first Horton Foote Festival. The fest kicks off with DTC’s Dividing the Estate. but even a touch of gay can be found with The Young Man from Atlanta, which Uptown Players will perform in April.
DEETS:
Various theaters and venues. Through May 1. Visit HortonFooteFestival.com for details.

Friday 03.18

When wine strolls attack
Savor Dallas is upon us again, filling the weekend with food, wine and fabulosity. The event starts off with an Arts District Wine Stroll within the museums and venues. Just don’t get tipsy and spill the wine on the art. That’s a whole lot of bad karma. And look for local celebrichefs like Stephan Pyles and Blythe Beck. Bon appetit!
DEETS:
Various venues. 5 p.m. $35. Through Saturday. Visit SavorDallas.com for schedule.

Saturday 03.19

Hey, why don’t you go take a walk
Designer Anthony Chisom took issues into his own hands starting the Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation and creating the inaugural South Dallas AIDS Walk. Seeing the impact of AIDS beyond the gayborhood, Chisom’s foundation strives to expand the city’s vision of where AIDS impacts. After all, it is the same fight for the cure.
DEETS: South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 8 a.m. SouthDallasAIDSWalk.org.

—  John Wright

Uptown Players announces its 2011 season

On Tuesday night, Uptown Players hosted a nice turnout at the Kalita Humphreys Theater where they announced the roster for their 2011 season. They held off on announcing one production due to contractual reasons, but if it fits in with the rest, it should make quite a season — especially for the LGBT community. Joining Players producers Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch onstage was the cast of the upcoming show Closer to Heaven, the Pet Shop Boys musical which opens Oct. 1.

• Uptown Players will start the season with Thank You For Being a Friend, The Musical, a Golden Girls parody by Nick Brennan. Expect camp overdrive as the “women” aren’t too thrilled about a certain gay celebrity moving in next door. Who knew Lance Bass could be such a problem? The show runs Feb. 4–27 at the Rose Room inside Station 4.

• As part of the upcoming Foote Festival celebrating playwright Horton Foote, Uptown Players joins in with the regional premiere of his Pulitzer prize winning play, Young Man from Atlanta. The show runs April 1–17 at the Kalita.

• UP brings back Broadway Our Way in which local actors switch-hit showtunes. Men sing the women’s parts, vice versa and it’s a gay ol’ time. BOW runs May 6–15.

• The Twilight Zone theme played when they didn‘t announce their next show, which will run June 10–July 2. We know it’s a musical at least, but the official announcement will be made Feb.1.

• Victor/Victoria, the musical based on the Julie Andrews/James Garner 1982 film, will run July 29–Aug. 2.

• Personally, I thought their announcement of the Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival was the most exciting. The fest will feature cabaret sets, performances and plays with the musical Crazy, Just Like Me by Louis Sacco and Drew Gasparini as the centerpiece. The fest coincides with Dallas Pride and runs Sep. 9–17. The full schedule will also be announced Feb. 1.

• Finishing off the season will be The Temperamentals, a new play by Jon Marans which opened this year off-Broadway. The site notes that the play “‘tells the story of two men – the communist Harry Hay and the Viennese refugee and designer Rudi Gernreich — as they fall in love while building the first gay rights organization in the pre-Stonewall United States.”

—  Rich Lopez