This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

The Thai lesbian film "Yes or No" screens Monday at AFFD.

The Asian Film Festival of Dallas launched last night at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre, and it continues through next week. Among the offerings are two gay films screening Monday: The Thai lesbian feature Yes or No, screening at 7:30 p.m., and the horror thriller I Am a Ghost from queer director H.P. Mendoza, screening at 9:45. There will even be a LGBT mixer (Mendoza in attendance) between both screenings on Monday night, at Malai Kitchen in the West Village. (We are giving away tickets to both show and the mixer, so stay tuned!)

Uptown Players is back in the Kalita after a long pause while the Dallas Theater Center used the space with Coy Covington again taking on one of Charles Busch’s drag roles in The Divine Sister. Two other outright farces are also continuing this weekend. Stage West is putting on the rarely-performed Joe Orton sex farce What the Butler Saw and Second Thought Theatre is just across the parking lot from Uptown with The Bomb-itty of Errors at Bryant Hall on the Kalita campus. Live The Divine Sister, both have tons of cross-dressing. That’s also true of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which continues until August, and Avenue Q at Theatre Three. Both are terrific summer shows with huge gay appeal.

Friday through Sunday is Taste of Dallas at Fair Park, with tons of vendors from La Madeleine to Tiff’s Treats to Pho Colonial, plus chef demos, beer and wine tastings and more. Once that’s over, Perry’s Steakhouse has a welcome way of celebrating the 4th of July all month — it’s called the 4 for 4 after 4 deal. Basically, there are four menu items that cover the waterfront: the Perry-tini lemon drop cocktail, a polish sausage app, an 8 oz. pork chop and a dessert … and each cost only $4 after 4 p.m., Mondays—Wednesdays. I mean, any time you can get something for four bucks at a restaurant, it’s a good deal, but Perry’s is a pretty high-end place with excellent food.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘The Temperamentals’ tonight at Uptown Players

Keep it hush-hush
Uptown Players regional premiere of The Temperamentals closes out the season on a high note. If you were “temperamental” in the ’50s, that was code for gay. Jon Marans play touches on the alternatve vocabulary used by gay men to communicate in a more conservative time.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. 8 p.m. Through Oct. 23. $25–$35. UptownPlayers.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Highlights from UP’s Pride Festival

From an audience standpoint, Uptown Players’ inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival has been a hit, with a wide range of shows at the Kalita, including rare mid-week performances.

The best of the lot: The New Century, easily Paul Rudnick’s funniest play. Basically a series of three monologues or short scenes capped by a reunion of all the characters, it’s a near-formless series of vignettes performed by a crackerjack cast: Marisa Diotalevi plays the world’s most accepting (and put-upon) PFLAG mom; Paul J. Williams is Mr. Charles, a cable-access host known as the gayest man alive; and Lulu Ward is a Midwestern housewife and crafter whose recollections of her gay son are hilarious, poignant and beautiful. They are all fantastic, but Ward — modulating between absurdist shtick and repressed sorrow that squeaks out of the corners of her eyes — gives the best performance I’ve seen on a stage in Dallas this year. She’ll leave a lump in your throat. Final performance: Saturday at 4 p.m.

The 1980 lesbian melodrama Last Summer at Bluefish Cove is something of a time-capsule, with references to David Susskind and Donahue and when feminism was still controversial in society, and not just on FoxNews. Coming as it does about the mid-point between The Boys in the Band and Love! Valour! Compassion!, it bridges those elements and changes the characters to women: A straight newcomer falls into a nest of sniping friends over a summer by the beach. While it’s a bit hokey — cancer, romance, turning a straight girl gay — makes it feel occasionally formulaic, it’s a fascinating piece well-acted by a cast led by Diane Box, Beth Albright and Mary-Margaret Pyett. (Although called a “staged reading,” it is basically a full-on production with sets, lights, costumes and staging.) Final performance: Today at 8 p.m.

The mainstage show Beautiful Thing, based on the British film, it’s a tender story of working class boys coming of age. It’s a finely detailed piece full of heavy accents, specific imagery and a realistic, tentative relationship between young men coming into their sexuality. The tight cast especially the boys, Parker Fitzgerald and Sam Swenson, load it with charm. Final performance: Saturday at 2 p.m.

Not every show is worth recommending. Indeed, the centerpiece production, Crazy, Just Like Me, is a tortured bit of pop musical pabulum. Drew Gasparini wrote the score and co-wrote the book, and neither have a speck of creativity. Simon has been best friend and roommate of Mike for 23 years, but no one seems to have noticed that Simon is gay except Mike’s new girlfriend Jessica. Simon, in a series of banal and redundant therapy sessions, finally comes to terms with his homosexuality but still manages to screw everything up. The indistinguishable tuneless songs are Jonathan Larson wannabes — call it Low-Rent — and the actors seem awkward delivering the cumbersome lines. You’d be crazy to like this one. Final performance: Today at 7:30 p.m.

UptownPlayers.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Applause: Joel Ferrell is the hardest working man at the DTC (Sorry, Kevin!)

Over a 30 year career, Joel Ferrell has gone from journeyman actor and dancer to one of the driving creative forces at the Dallas Theater Center

IMG_0183
Joel Ferrell gets a brief respite from his busy schedule with the Theater Center, and gets to sit where the audience does for a change: In the lime green seats of the Wyly Theatre

CLICK HERE FOR MORE STORIES FROM APPLAUSE: THE DALLAS VOICE VISUAL & PERFORMING ARTS GUIDE 2011

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Applause Editor

Joel Ferrell is the first one to admit that he “[doesn’t] do well in giant windowless buildings,” so when Kevin Moriarty tapped him to join the Dallas Theater Center staff as an “associate artist” —basically the No. 2 on the artistic side of the venerated troupe, tasked with directing about a third of the shows there and helping to produce others — he might have balked. Ferrell, like a lot of theaterfolk, has a gypsy’s nature: He likes to move around, trying new things, exploring different theaters and companies and stages. It’s how he’s made his living for 30 years.

But the call from Moriarty came with more than the promise of a steady paycheck and a corporate title. It came with the opportunity to help reinvent how theater could be done. And though he would surely dispute it, almost as much as Moriarty, Ferrell has been instrumental in testing the limits of the Wyly Theatre and bringing the DTC to national prominence.

Ferrell could fairly be called the hardest working man at the DTC, if not in all North Texas theater.

“I don’t know about that — Kevin works much harder,” he says demurely.

But look at the facts: This past season alone, Ferrell produced the acclaimed sell-out comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at the Kalita, and directed the DTC’s best shows back-to-back: The Horton Foote comedy Dividing the Estate, immediately followed by his staggeringly complex and affecting revision of the musical Cabaret, which he also choreographed. He’s also the man responsible for conceiving (and directing and choreographing most productions) of DTC’s holiday staple A Christmas Carol, a task he returns to this winter in addition to helming the regional premiere of God of Carnage.

In some ways, this is a cakewalk compared to the pace Ferrell maintained in his five seasons with Fort Worth’s Casa Manana, where he directed and/or choreographed more than three dozen musicals. It was great experience, Ferrell concedes, but not a fulfilling one.

“I was always a square peg in a round hole there,” he says. “What we did was in essence summer stock, with me playing producer, directing the designers, deciding whether to rent costumes. I was fighting to make Casa an arts organization that did art from the ground up. After years of poking my finger in that bear I gave up. It was invaluable and energizing and I wouldn’t trade it at all, but I’m so glad I’m not doing it now.”

What he wanted was what all artists crave: Freedom to experiment with the limits of their imagination, and “this place has done that for me, with me, to me … in spades,” he says.

By “this place,” Ferrell is referring both to the Theater Center itself and its new home in the Wyly Theatre. The building has not been without its critics: An overly steep entrance, uncomfortable chairs (recently, and expensively, updated last year), confusing and crowded accessways … and that’s just from the audience’s perspective.

“There’s no typical backstage where a director can stand and pace when you’re watching the opening of your new show,” Ferrell notes about the configuration. But he’s adjusting.

“It took significant getting used to because it is unlike any theater building I have been in,” he says. “There have been hiccups, but I have to say — having bopped around the country working at a number of theaters — lot of things are fantastic. But probably the luckiest thing is that Kevin Moriarty was the first artistic director to move into the building.”

Ferrell credits Moriarty with encouraging his creative team to make inventive use of the stage. “This is not a place for directors who want a proscenium,” Ferrell cautions. “I really like working in the theater that is so flexible and with very few limitations about how you can create your space.”

For his part, the depth of that creativity came with Ferrell’s radical staging of Cabaret earlier this spring: Working with his set designer, he turned part of the Wyly stage into the floor of the Kit Kat Klub in the 1930s, complete with café tables, tea lights and beverage service. It was a far more complicated undertaking than merely coming up with an idea.

“You had to be aware of where it would be coherent to have tables, what the number of seats to be sold could be, the safety, ADA compliance. The decision just where to put the service tables for the waiters was a big one. I worked a supper club theater in New York years ago and it was a lot of work. Very quickly it became understood it took a lot of departments working together to make it work. It is a great collaborative process here working with an evolving building.”

Ferrell is quick to share the credit with all the people who help make a show come together.

“I have been lucky to have such astonishing designers working with me — there’s no need for me to lead them by the nose. During tech week on Dividing the Estate someone told me she was in awe of the process, mesmerized by the speed at which the [artists] work. Someone said to me, ‘I don’t know when you sleep!’ During tech week, I don’t sleep.”

His generosity of spirit probably comes from starting out as an actor (he became a member of Actors Equity 30 years ago, he crows) before moving into choreography and eventually directing. He first worked at the DTC when Richard Hamburger, the former artistic director, hired him for a new production of A Christmas Carol in 1991.

“Then about eight years ago, Hamburger hired me to choreograph My Fair Lady — the last show performed at the old Arts District Theater. That was the most collaborative I have even been with Richard,” he says.

Ferrell decided to take a breather when in 2008 he received a call from Moriarty, who had only recently been appointed the new A.D.

“He asked, would I choreograph The Who’s Tommy. It became very apparent he was testing the waters with me, to see if it made sense for me to be connected with the Theater Center. Even still, coming on staff? I did not see that coming.”

Ferrell thinks Moriarty has been instrumental in “making the Theater Center more relevant to Dallas than it had been in a long time, arguing that it should be doing innovate stuff and regain a national footprint. It feels like we’ve made some great progress in that way,” he says.

As for Ferrell himself, he’s still excited about his new role in shaping the North Texas theater scene, and has found a sense of serenity.

“There was a time when I thought the amount of shows I did was the barometer of my success,” Ferrell admits.

Not so much anymore. He’ll take quality over quantity any day. If only he could just slow down.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

B.J. Cleveland: Tragedy to triumph in 24 hours

If you ever wondered whether the theatrical cliche “the show must go on!” was anything more than that — a cliche — you’d know for sure it isn’t if you were at the Kalita Humphreys on Sunday. Our friends at TheaterJones post this amazing story about B.J. Cleveland stepping in for an injured actor in Uptown Players’ production of Victor/Victoria (which I reviewed in this week’s edition). You can also read about it from Elaine Liner at the Dallas Observer blog. Facebook was flooded with comments and admiration for Cleveland, one of North Texas’ most notable and popular entertainers for more than 20 years.

I texted B.J. Sunday night to offer my condolences and congratulate him on his triumph just a few hours after his curtain call. He was in the middle of writing his father’s obituary.

That’s one dedicated theater queen, I’ll tell ya.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players announces 2012 season

Uptown Players has announced its full 2012 season, which includes a bonus show at the Rose Room and the annual Broadway Our Way fundraiser. And the mainstage season will be at the Kalita Humphreys for a third year.

The line-up:

Take Me Out, Feb,. 3–19.

Broadway Our Way, March 16–25.

The Silence of the Clams, April 27–May 20 (at the Rose Room)

The Divine Sister, starring Coy Covington, pictured, July 13–29

The Producers, Aug. 24–Sep. 16

Hello Again, Oct. 5–21.

Read the full coverage in this week’s edition of Dallas Voice.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players’ ‘Broadway Our Way’ is underway

A theater queen’s heaven

Uptown Players is begging for money again, but that’s good news because it means the return of Broadway Our Way. A star-studded night of local theater peeps combine their talents to bring an evening of fab showtunes, but with some major twists. Because we all know Uptown Players isn’t gonna play it straight — and that’s a good thing.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through May 15. $40. UptownPlayers.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Stage Reviews: DTC’s ‘Arsenic & Old Lace,’ Uptown Players’ ‘Thank You for Being a Friend’

THINGS TO DO WITH A BANANA | Coarse but funny, ‘Thank You for Being a Friend’ forces its humor down your throat. There are worse things it could force down your throat.

Broad comedy

Pick your poison: Camp in sitcomland or two B’way pros hamming it up. Either way, you win

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

There are two sets of Golden Girls trodding the boards this week — though of very different ilks.

In one corner, Dallas Theater Center’s star-powered Arsenic & Old Lace (with Broadway vets Tovah Feldshuh and Betty Buckley) turns the chestnut-roasted Depression-Era dark comedy into a hilariously overplayed farce. At the same time, Uptown Players, the usual Kalita residents, have hightailed it into the Rose Room for Thank You for Being a Friend, another of their drag-based parodies, this time skewering The Golden Girls.

On the surface, the two shows have little in common. For one, Arsenic is actually well-written. Joseph Kesselring’s play has become such an institution, it’s easy to forget how subversive and smart it can be even as it revels in a gimmick: That two sweet ol’ ladies are actually well-intentioned serial killers of lonely widowers. (Dexter owes it a huge debt.) Thank You is nowhere close to that in its construction. Its vulgarity can be acute even for the most adult tastes. (Bea, Rue and Estelle are probably rolling over in their graves; it might send Betty to hers.)

But they do share a lot, to wit: Masterful comic timing and the ability to take the material — about post-menopausal broads — into fun recesses of your humor cortex.

Feldshuh and Buckley play off each other nicely as sisters Abby and Martha, who slip poison into the elderberry wine of pensioners who have no family. Their nephew Mortimer (Lee Trull, rubbery and perpetually astonished) discovers their, umm, “personal business” and tries to work out a way to stop them and keep them from the gas chamber.

Feldshuh, responsible for more mugging than Central Park on New Year’s Eve, has a pixieish energy that’s impossible not to get caught up in, and Buckley’s dotty cluelessness is a hoot. They are matched for comic clarity by Nehal Joshi as a quack doctor and the impressively imposing Jason Douglas as a Karloff-like villain.

But as much as the cast, the real star is Anna Louizos’ magnificent set, a rotating behemoth of Addams Family formidability that is practically its own character. That makes three grandes dames who deserve a bow.

There are four ladies vying for attention in Thank You; we’ll call that one a draw as well. Riffing on Golden Girls — renamed Dorothea (a basso profundo Lon D. Barrera, who still doesn’t sound butch enough … kidding), Roz (Chris Robinson), Blanchet (Michael D. Moore) and Sophie (John de los Santos) — it’s a trifle sitcom plot about a “girls vs. the gays” talent competition against Lance Bass (Drew Kelly), crammed full of more sex jokes than you could shake a stick at. (There’s one they can use.)

Crass? Most definitely. But also surprisingly hilarious. It helps that the production is staged inside a gay bar, where the audience seems primed to have a camptastic time. But honestly, it’s the cast that elevates the material with fearless performances (how do they keep referring to their singing group, Vaginal Discharge, without cracking up?) and loads of stage business that overcomes the script’s many weaknesses.

Director B.J. Cleveland gives the parody elements (showtunes, Beyonce videos, Joan Crawford) their due and let’s everyone have fun with it. High art? Only if you toke one up beforehand. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, but it’s not necessary. The laughs here are golden, girl.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright