Plan your weekend: Two plays worth seeing

There was no room in the print edition this week or last to review all the shows I saw over the past few weeks, so I wanted to give a shout-out to two that deserves to be seen during this, their closing weekends: True West at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and Creditors at Broken Gears Theatre Project.

True West, Sam Shapard’s modern reinterpretation of the Cain and Abel myth, pits Austin (Mike Schrader), a dour, responsible, by-the-rules screenwriter, against Lee (Gregory Lush), his manipulative numbskull petty crook brother. Lee considers himself an average American, which doesn’t speak very well of our culture. Austin, though, it just as deluded, with lofty, high-brow ideas for a script he’s pitching to an independent producer (T.A. Taylor). Lee perceived Hollywood as no better than he — a hustle is a hustle. Slowly, the brothers’ roles shift, creating tension and ample amounts of comedy.

Lee is a perfectly awful character, the unbridled id with access to a car. He uses his own version of logic illogically (think all those “deep” conversations lorded over by the preachy morons on reality TV) and you feel for Austin’s plight. Lush handles that dichotomy of amiable and infuriating expertly, and brings an aggressive physicality to the part (he really destroys that typewriter with a golf club — I hate to see a classic so brutalized). If Schrader’s desperation is less engaging, it’s not due to him, but to Austin’s self-destructiveness.

Shepard isn’t performed as often as he deserves to be. His plays don’t fit in easy pigeonholes of comedy, drama, romance. He’s all things, and True West is a superior achievement.

Creditors is a  very different play in many way — 90 years older than True West — but no less relevant. This taut three-character drama is a shockingly contemporary and breathlessly intimate psychological thriller. Although it pre-dates Freud, Strindberg’s dissection of the human will is unnervingly accurate.

A frail artist (Evan Fuller) recovers at a resort with the support of a fellow traveler (Elias Taylorson), who probes the man about his unfulfilling relationship with his wife (Meredith Morton). With laser accuracy, he dissects the dynamics of their relationship and devises a ploy for making him see the pointlessness of his marriage. But things aren’t what they full appear to be.

Broken Gears, located in a rustic 30-seat theater across from the Grapevine Bar, is the perfect setting for this claustrophobic investigation into revenge and suspicion. The characters rarely talk above a hushed conversation, which creates unnerving closeness not just to the actors, but to the emotions. Director Rene Moreno keeps it clean and unfussy, with minimal movement that seems not stiff but still.

All the actors are exceptional, with Fuller seeming to undergo actual asthmatic attacks and Taylorson’s professorial demeanor wholly convincing. SO intense is the action that at a recent performance, a sudden crashing noise offstage (intentional) caused the entirety of the audience to startle. It grabs you by the short hairs. Catch it before it’s gone.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Egg-cellent

GRAVITY BE DAMNED | The slack-wire act, left, and the spider contortionist are some of the feats of physical skill in ‘Ovo,’ a thrilling big-top circus extravaganza.

Ovo, Cirque du Soleil’s new insect-themed cavalcade of jaw-dropping wonders, is reason to drive to Frisco

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

The opening of Ovo, the new Cirque du Soleil touring production, sounds like an attack of locusts, which is sort of the point. The concept of the show is A Bug’s Life, set to abstract music and eye-popping feats of physicality.

As a concept, it works terrifically. Cirque shows traditionally have themes that establish the look, but don’t really tell a story. None of it matters — it’s just a pretext for the juggling and high-wire acts. But here, there really is a romance between a ladybug and a housefly, played out with clownish bravado. And even better, the acts seem to tie into their characters.

That’s due in large, large part to the gorgeous costumes, which are as colorful and varied as the microcosmos of the insect world itself. (And, let’s say it, sexy.) The design mirrors what the acts are supposed to do: Crickets with extended haunches bounce off walks faster than a meadow on a warm summer night; a spider — the slack-wire gymnast, all of 95 pounds, clad in a skin-tight exoskeleton — scurries across a strand of his web, doing handstands and rolling on a unicycle; fleas flick their bodies nimbly through the air as if the dog show just got to town.

All in all, there are about 10 acts in the two-and-a-half hour production under la grand chapiteau in the parking lot of the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. It’s been a long time since Cirque came to North Texas; it’s worth the drive to check it out.

The awesomeness is difficult to describe — or to put in context. After the parade of characters, the main event kicks off with a small display: A firefly who contorts while balanced on his h

and. It sounds simple, even ordinary, but the skill involved astonishes you. Then out come a crew of waif Asian girls who juggle — balls, ottomans, each other — on their feet, passing human bodies around as effortlessly as a salt shaker at the family dinner. It takes the spool juggler — basically, a yo-yo artist extraordinaire — to drop a few to realize these are, in fact, humans who make mistakes. The illusion is that effective.

There’s something for almost every taste, from the elegant aerial ribbon flight of the butterflies to the oh-my muscularity of the trapeze-swinging beetles to the silly, wild dancing of the inchworm. I don’t remember the circus being this fun — or this sexy — when I was a kid. Here’s to progress.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.


—  John Wright