Theater Critics Forum bestows honors

The DFW Theater Critics Forum met last week over friend chicken and sweet tea to bestow its annual awards for local theater excellence, as as usual, the gay community was well-represented.

Of the eight best director winners, five locals were gay: Regan Adair for Red Light Winter, Rene Moreno for three shows (The Trip to Bountiful, No Child… and Creditors), Michael Serrecchia for two shows (Uptown Players’ Next to Normal and ICT MainStage’s How to Succeed…), Joel Ferrell for two shows at DTC (Cabaret and Dividing the Estate), and Len Pfluger for My Fair Lady at Lyric Stage. Pfluger’s partner, Jay Dias, was also singled out for his season of music direction with Lyric.

Larry Randolph, as a tragic drag queen in One-Thirdy Productions’ FIT entry, The Madness of Lady Bright, was a popular choose for acting, as were two New York actors who sizzled at the Wyly (and whom we interviewed): Wade McCollum as the M.C. in Cabaret, pictured, and Sydney James Harcourt as the Tin Man in The Wiz. Whitney Hennen, the ditzy blonde in Uptown’s Victor/Victoria, was also singled out.

Justin Locklear received the second Emerging Artist Award for his acting and costume work this season with Balanced Almond, which actually won him two other individual awards.

In addition to yours truly, participating critics in Martha Heimberg (Turtle Creek News); Elaine Liner (Dallas Observer); Mark Lowry (TheaterJones and Fort Worth Star-Telegram); M. Lance Lusk (D Magazine); David Novinski (TheaterJones); Punch Shaw (Fort Worth Star-Telegram); Perry Stewart (TheaterJones); Lawson Taitte (Dallas Morning News); and Lindsey Wilson (D Magazine).

Full list below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What to see at FIT: ‘Lady Bright,’ Tennessee

The offerings at this year’s Festival of Independent Theatres are making it one of the best yet.

The fest opened with the double bill of Upstart’s Wasp and Second Thought’s Bob Birdnow, the former an absurdist charmer and the latter a one-man tour-de-force from actor Barry Nash.  Two more plays this weekend have similar credentials.

WingSpan mounts a double bill of short-short plays. One, Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot by Tennessee Williams, is like Streeetcar Lite: Two ageing Southern ladies (Nancy Sherrard and Cindee Mayfield, pictured) who dress like they were trained in fashion at RuPaul’s Drag U, troll the bars of Chicago looking for conventioneers they can bed. In typically Williams style, they mask their lack of morals behind a veneer of moral indignation and ethical relativism, bathed in film of self-delusion and exaggerated gentility. It’s a bitter, catty pas-de-deux with laughs — more laughs, at least, than its companion piece, John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year. A sort of romantic take on Albee’s Zoo Story, it follows a couple who meet in a park under less-than-ideal circumstances and come to a halting understanding about their relationship. There’s not much there there, as you might say — neither funny nor poignant, but just quirky.

So goes the absurdism; the one performance that rival’s Nash’s is surely Larry Randolph’s in ONe Thirty Productions’  The Madness of Lady Bright. Randolph plays an ageing drag queen, surrounded by the memories of his once-glorious romances and catalogue of friends. Now old and alone, he’s dressing up like Bernadette in Priscilla: Haggard, defeated, still craving affection.

This early play in the gay culture movement is a prickly, tender and sad, but also phenomenally realistic and well-realized portrait of growing old and alone, whether gay or straight. And Randolph’s resourceful, exquisitely wrought performance, full of tarnished dignity, sells it. This is a show — a performance — not to be missed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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

Weekly Best Bets • 07.15.11

Friday 07.15

FIT for a queen
The Festival of Independent Theaters (FIT) returns with an inspired schedule of shows including works by Steve Martin and David Mamet. We’re curious though about The Madness of Lady Bright with Larry Randolph, about an aging drag queen’s descent into madness.

DEETS: Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Aug. 6. $12–$16.
BathhouseCultural.com.

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Sunday 07.17

Walk this way
Not often do we get to see both men and women compete in drag pageants together, but Miss LifeWalk is different that way. Everyone can make a run for the tiara, but the goal is to raise funds for AIDS LifeWalk and the amazing things they do. But for real, these contestants are still gonna do all they can to snag the crown.

DEETS: Round-Up Saloon, 3912 Cedar Springs Road. 6 p.m.
AIDSLifeWalk.org/Miss-LifeWalk.

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Thursday 07.21

Givin’ up the Love
We don’t have to rely on Chelsea Lately or America’s Dumbest Criminals to get some Loni Love up in here. The comedian brings the laughs with her signature sass and we’re all the better for it.

DEETS: The Improv, 309 Curtis May Way, Arlington. Through July 24. $17–$20.
Improv.com.

—  Kevin Thomas