Uptown Players face possible protests over ‘Most Fabulous Story’

Uptown Fabulous Story 087KOThis year, Uptown Players got to do something they haven’t done since their first season: Open a late-autumn production. Since it was close to the Christmas holiday, they chose a (kinda) religious-themed play to inaugurate their new time-slot: Paul Rudnick’s sassy The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. A riff on the right-winger mantra of “The Bible speaks about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” Rudnick goes ahead and makes it about Adam and Steve (and their lesbian counterparts, Jane and Mabel … instead of Cain and Abel). Adam and Steve are mostly naked for the first 15 minutes or so.

Let’s face it: This is provocative stuff for the Bible Belt. Co-founder Craig Lynch even acknowledged that some gay theatergoers may not appreciate a satire of the Old Testament. Then again, isn’t pushing boundaries what theater is supposed to do sometimes?

Apparently, not everyone agrees. Lynch informs me that as of the start of this week, the company had already received 800 protest emails, though he attributed the vast majority of them to a robo-email program sponsored by a right wing religious organization. One patron even called and offered to buy out every seat for the entire run with the intent not to use the seats, to prevent any audience for the gay-themed play.

Similar protests have been logged in Oklahoma City and Austin, with varying degrees of success. One Catholic group has even called for a “Rosary of Reparation” on Sunday, to protest the show at the Kalita Humphreys.

Call me naive, but inviting hundreds of your followers to show up at a theater is a great way to give a troupe free publicity — which, I admit, is what I’m doing as well.

Of course, peaceful protests and disagreements are one thing; intimidation, violence and threats are another. So far, The Most Fabulous Story Even Told — which opens tonight, and runs until Dec. 15 — seems to have avoided any scary-level protests. I expect it will stay that way. After all, doesn’t the Bible say something about turning the other cheek? A good Christian should know about that.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

2011 Year in Review: Stage

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KIT KAT KLUBBERS | Wade McCollum, center, almost dominated DTC’s ‘Cabaret’ as the sleazy Master of Ceremonies, but everyone was at the top of their game in this production, directed by Joel Ferrell.

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

Dallas theaters done good in 2011, with many exciting, funny, touching and/or energetic productions to choose from. Here, from No. 10 to the top:

10. Ovo (Cirque du Soleil tour). We’ve come to expect excellence from Cirque du Soleil, but their latest show is probably the best touring production to come to North Texas. Nearly a year later, it lingers for its beauty, derring-do and even storytelling, as it portrays romance in the bug world.

9. In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (Kitchen Dog Theater). Sarah Rule can be an acquired taste, but I acquired it with Kitchen Dog’s outrageous comedy of manners about how science adapted Victorian culture’s sexual repression to treat female “hysterics” with bizarre blindfolds over what they were doing. It took Freud and Jung to release us from these constraints.

8. The New Century and Beautiful Thing (Uptown Players’ Pride Festival). Uptown’s debut festival had some definite misses (the mainstage production of Crazy, Just Like Me was unwatchable), but I’ll walk away from the festival remembering the touching domestic drama Beautiful Thing and the camptastic Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century, which also managed to make audiences cry.

7. Arsenic and Old Lace (Dallas Theater Center). This crusty old comedy from the 1930s seemed like an unlikely source of some of the top laughs of 2011, but the Scott Schwartz-directed production, including a magnificent revolving set and a fresh, pixieish energy from Tovah Feldshuh and her co-star, Betty Buckley, was a real hoot — a chestnut roasting into a nutcake.

6. How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (ICT MainStage). Max Swarner found his niche in 2011 as the breezy light musical comedian — and How to Succeed was the perfect vehicle to showcase it. Looking big and expensive on a community theater budget, director Michael Serrecchia made this very-‘60s-era comedy feel as modern as The Colbert Report.

5. Dividing the Estate (DTC). The first entry in the city-wide Foote Festival was also the best, due in large part to director Joel Ferrell’s brisk pacing of a Gothic Southern (or in this case, Texas) saga about family sniping and intrigue. Any Southerner will recognize characters from his or her own background in the most sweeping portrait of blood dynamics since August: Osage County.

4. The Hand (Broken Gears Project Theater). Poor Broken Gears seemed to implode because of this show — a quickie little two-hander about men in a bathroom — one of whom is missing a hand… and wants one back. Snappy, gruesome and thoughtful, with a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism, it was guerrilla theater at its best.

3. Red Light Winter (Second Thought Theater). Adam Rapp’s drama about alpha-males and sexual politics marked the temporary return to Dallas of actor-director Regan Adair, and it was a fitting swan song for him as he tenderly parsed the most poignant of love stories with a dark, vicious side. The three actors were exceptional handling the explicit sexual content.

2. Next to Normal (Uptown Players). Uptown Players scored a coup in nabbing this Pulitzer-winning musical, basically an opera about mental illness. Beautifully sung (especially by the emotionally connected stars, Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd), it was the second major hit from director Michael Serrecchia.

1. Cabaret (DTC). It’s tempting to single out Wade McCollum, as the seductive Master of Ceremonies, with a large share of the success of this reinvention of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece, but it was not just him but Julie Johnson, David Coffee and especially director-choreographer Joel Ferrell — who turned the Wyly Theater into a seedy Weimar night club — plus everyone involved with making Cabaret the not-to-miss production of this, or any, season.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

Pride Performing Arts Fest wraps up

Uptown Players’ inaugural performing arts festival, timed to coincide with Dallas Pride, was a risky venture, if only in training theatergoers to seek out new plays mid-week and in repertory. But the experiment has paid off so far; co-producer Craig Lynch reported that most of the performances in the upstairs Frank’s Place space were complete or near sell-outs last weekend. Good for them, but even better for audiences, getting to see Paul Rudnick’s hilarious New Century, where Lulu Ward gives the best performances I’ve seen on a stage this year, and a fully-dressed staged reading of the lesbian melodrama Last Summer at Bluefish Cove — both of which you can still see one more time (New Century on Saturday at 4 p.m., Bluefish on Friday at 8 p.m.). The whole event wraps up Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., with a cabaret performance RSVP Vacations vets by Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen, pictured.

— A.W.J.

All performances at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Sept. 17. UptownPlayers.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Gays on strike!

No ‘Regrets’ for Rudnick farce

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

WEDDED BLISS | A gay man (B.J. Cleveland) takes a stand against his flighty friend (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) in Uptown’s sophisticated fizz. (Photo by Mike Morgan)

REGRETS ONLY
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Through June 27.
UptownPlayers.org



The world inhabited by Hank Hadley and the McCullough family is one of cocktail parties, witty repartee and comforting superficiality. The first real issue anyone has had to deal with is the loss to cancer, after 28 years together, of Hank’s (B.J. Cleveland) partner. Even that sad news is softened when then McCullough’s daughter Spencer (Melissa Farmer) announces her engagement. She wants Hank, a famous fashion designer, to make her wedding dress.

But Hank is having second thoughts. Spencer and her father Jack (Dennis Canright), both lawyers, have agreed to draft a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Hank and Jack’s wife Tibby (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) are apolitical, but this issue hits close to home. Maybe Hank — maybe all gay people — should go on strike.

In Regrets Only, Paul Rudnick turns a hot-button issue like gay marriage into the stuff of frothy fun, full of delicious zingers (“If you wanna kill sincerity, add crab cakes and God” one person observes of weddings) even while tackling serious matters. When’s the last time you heard a cogent discussion of gay marriage between opposite camps that didn’t become loud, angry and hectoring diatribes?

Because for me, it was last week at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.

Although there’s no music (other than director Coy Covington’s whimsical insertion of incidental tunes at the act breaks), in terms of its old-fashioned appeal with an updated outlook, it calls to mind the musical The Drowsy Chaperone: A fantasy with concrete ideas and sentimentality that completely avoids mawkishness.

Indeed, this is throwback entertainment in the best sense. Despite its contemporary issues, Regrets Only most resembles Dinner at Eight and other bubbly, smart, ’30s-era comedies: The perfectly appointed drawing room, the banter as sparkling as a magnum of champagne, the lovely costumes. This production has all that, especially an elegant and expensive looking set by Andy Redmon (nothing’s more disappointing that when a Park Avenue penthouse looks like a Park Slope coldwater flat; this one doesn’t).

The cast is flawless, with Cleveland uncharacteristically demure — he’s easily upstaged by Cynthia Matthews as a saucy maid (her riff on fashion is brilliant) and works effortlessly with Pyeatt on creating an authentic friendship.

Rudnick can be a bit too inside baseball, with obscure but hysterical theater jokes (David Mamet and Neil LaBute? Risky), but even potentially dour moments are buoyed like helium, and the second act farce is winningly executed.

Like the best cocktail, Covington has delivered delightful brew that goes to your head for 90 minutes and leaves you happy and refreshed. I’ll drink to that.

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

—  Dallasvoice