Sex & a single girl

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LOVE ACTUALLY | A prostitute (Natalie Young) toys with two men (Alex Organ, Drew Wall).

Love triangles and dark turns in ‘Red Light Winter’

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

I wouldn’t call Red Light Winter the most enjoyable 2-1/2 hours I’ve spent at the theater recently, but it certainly ranks among the most memorable. I mean both in the best sense: This is serious theater full of ideas and deep emotion and handled with a power and sensitivity that can be arresting. It’s also a brutal mindfuck that feels borne of genuine ache.

Matt (Drew Wall) is a tortured playwright vacationing with his best friend Davis (Alex Organ) in Amsterdam. During the wordless opening sequence, we see Matt seized with such pain he makes a lame, failed attempt at suicide. Then Davis arrives with Christina (Natalie Young), a prostitute from the city’s famed red light district, who agrees to sleep with Matt to get him out of his doldrums.

What is intended by all parties as a meaningless shag, though, escalates into a complex love triangle, as Matt becomes smitten with Christina (by Act 2, it has reached the point of obsession) and Christina finds she holds undeniable feelings for Davis, who is himself married to Matt’s ex-fiancee. All that’s missing is Jerry Springer.

On paper, Red Light Winter might sound like a Hollywood romantic comedy, but despite a strong thread of humor, it’s a dark, fatalistic view of love.

The greatest weakness of the play is one of its essential conceits: The relationship between Matt and Davis. Davis is such a amazing prick, so effortlessly evil and self-involved, you cannot imagine the circumstances that would have led him to befriend Matt in the first place. We all have youthful friends we have outgrown, and have seen those types who bully their ways into the lives of weaker men, but those relationships, however dysfunctional, need to feel rooted in a shared past, a symbiosis where each feeds an emptiness in the other. It’s basically the only relationship Neil LaBute can write.

But there’s no hint of that here; when Matt describes Davis as “like a brother to me,” it rings hollow — family you’re born with, but why hang out with abusive assholes? Why does he keep Davis close him? And if they truly are so close, why is Davis surprised by Matt’s fixation on Christina?

The play’s own self-referentiality doesn’t help. This is a play about a guy writing a play about the events of the play. It’s difficult not to read a degree of autobiography into Adam Rapp’s script, which basically presents us as an audience with the dilemma of the unreliable narrator: Could the real Davis be this bad? Or the real Christina this self-destructive? Or the real Matt this fragile and victimized?

As fundamental as these shortcomings are, ultimately they do not detract significantly from the skillful handling of the rest of the material. Organ is infuriatingly effective, using his insincere, Palin-esque demagoguery to emotionally rape those around him. He uses coarseness and promiscuity as badges of honor, degrading people with his insulting, reductionist language. It’s a testament to Organ’s performance that more than once, you wanna step out of your seat, walk on stage and kick him in the nuts.

But the heavy lifting of the play is borne on the backs of Wall and Young. Wall’s always felt like a tightly-wound spring on stage, his nervous energy burning off all fat until he’s left with a lean, translucent frame from which his id is ready to burst. This is his most sophisticated role, and he’s excellent. Young, who resembles Maggie Gyllenhaal, has an amazing stage presence, her sadness drawing you in. Together they share a stark, naked (literally) intimacy that includes the most frank, explicit onstage sex since Avenue Q.

Regan Adair’s direction is unrushed and visceral, letting the action build and play out silently but with a stinging sense of desperation. Red Light Winter isn’t easy to watch, but you can’t look away.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Labor Day play with ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’ at Theatre Three

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

DEETS: Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Bed time story

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

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

THREE’S COMPANY | Gary Floyd, center, straddles the fence between his two lovers played by Patty Breckenridge and Christopher Wagley. (Photo by Ken Birdsell)

UNMADE BED
Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

………………………………

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

Dobson employed an informal audition process, seeking out people he wanted to work with who would combine musically and emotionally in sync with his conception of the show. And in a weird instance of art imitating life, the cast of three includes two old friends and a newcomer, all of whom are gay.

Dobson jokes that several local actors who lobbied for the plum role of the bisexual will be gunning for Gary Floyd, but few would argue with the wisdom of his casting. Floyd was already a popular and admired singer and recording artist for decades before he tackled his first acting role in 2003’s Pump Boys and Dinettes, and he fast became a go-to guy for musical roles.

Floyd met Patty Breckenridge in 2006 in what became her breakout role in Aida at Uptown Players. The next fall, they teamed up again for City of Angels at the Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre, but this is the first onstage pairing since then for the close friends.

“It’s about time!” Floyd laughs.

“I kinda dropped out of theater for a while, just enjoying married life,” says Breckenridge, who married her wife Carrie Anne last year (the couple are currently expecting a baby in the spring). “But I was getting that itch to go back onstage. Then Terry called me and said, ‘I want to head in a different direction with this.’”

Breckenridge was onboard.

If there was an intimidation factor being odd-man out, Christopher Wagley doesn’t show it — or at least, he can use it to get into his character. Stepping into the chummy twosome has been easy for the newcomer to Dallas in his first show here.

Wagley spent 12 years in New York, acting and waiting tables early on (“I loved being an actor but hated being a waiter” he says), before moving to Dallas last year. Within a month, he was singing with the Turtle Creek Chorale’s Encore! group, which Dobson leads.

“There has been no issue at all,” Wagley says. “The fact we blend together so well musically is a byproduct of getting along together so well.”

Musically, they all related to the show, written by lyricist Mark Campbell with a score contributed by 18 different composers, including Jake Heggie, the gay musician who wrote the world premiere adaptation of Moby-Dick for the Dallas Opera this year.

“The lyrics are so universal, it could be a straight woman or a gay man or a bisexual,” Floyd says. Wagley agrees.

“The lyrics are so smart and absolutely universal, yet so incredibly specific to a gay man’s experience, whether it’s body issues or casual sex,” he says. Although Dobson had assigned all the songs to the cast, many tweaks have occurred during the rehearsal period.

“The other day, Terry asked me to sing one of the songs about not having a great body to myself [in a mirror] instead of to Gary — wow! It makes it so much more personal. We all have those moments.”

“I had heard of the musical from [my best friend, actor] Donald Fowler but hadn’t listened to any of the songs,” says Breckenridge. But she immediately became enchanted by it. “I have a couple of favorite songs. Everyone in the audience is going to relate to ‘Oh, To Be Stupid Again.’ I know I’ve been there. And ‘To Sing’ is why I became a performer.”

A lot happens in a quick one-hour show performed without intermission. “There are lots of poignant moments,” says Wagley.

None more poignant for the two old friends than one scene where Floyd has to simulate oral stimulation of Breckenridge.

“There’s no other woman in Dallas I would do that for!” Floyd avers.

“And there is no other man in town I’d do this with!” quips Breckenridge.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens