REVIEW: ‘Angels Fall’ at CTD

Angels 3When Angels Fall opened on Broadway in 1983, it wasn’t meant be a period piece, but in the 30 years since, that’s sort of what it has become: Nuclear energy, Native American rights, religion, mental illness — all were buzzworthy topics back then.

Wait a minute … aren’t they still?

That’s sometimes the magic of theater: A story that seems rooted in its time continues to resonate for decades later, even when the iconography seems different: Athletes wearing socks up to the knee, people using pay phones, hairdos that haven’t been fashionable since the Reagan Administration. The playwright, Lanford Wilson, speaks about the human condition so simply and honestly, the look matters less than the feeling.

There’s plenty of feeling in this production at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, directed forthrightly by Rene Moreno. Six folks — college prof Niles (James Crawford) and his young wife Vita (Allison Pistorius), art collector Marion (Sue Loncar) and her boy-toy tennis pro Zappy (Jake Buchanan), and squirrelly genius Don (Ivan Jasso) and his foster parent, Father Doherty (H. Francis Fuselier) — spend an afternoon together in a remote New Mexico mission. The roads are impassable due to a problem at the nearby nuclear reactor. Are these the end times? Or just a reminded that we’re always on the brink?

Angels Fall is the old-school “comedy-drama” in the best sense. Interpersonal relationships fuel the exposition, not vice-versa: We learn about Niles’ mental breakdown and Don’s ambivalence about his future organically, without contrivance or melodrama. (The most theatrical bit is the coincidence that brings them all to church, a completely forgivable conceit.) There’s a richness and authenticity undergirding the lives of these people.

A lot of that is Moreno’s legendary skills at storytelling, but much rests with the cast. The strained marriage between Niles and Vita is brittly parsed by Crawford and Pistorius, and Buchanan gets in man comic riffs; his May-December romance with Loncar feels real. And Fuselier’s whimsical, leprechaunish befuddlement scores over and over.

Rodney Dobbs’ set is amazing, too, but it’s what’s inside that works. Wilson was a prolific playwright who’s seldom talked about in reverential tones; with productions like this (and the recent The Madness of Lady Bright), he may receive the critical reevaluation he deserves.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Kelsey Ervi: The sorcerers’ apprentice

Kelsey Ervi picKelsey Ervi hasn’t been out of school for even two years, and already she’s stomping out a vintage with her young career in theater.

The Waco native moved to Dallas in 2011 after graduating from Baylor. Obviously, she just couldn’t get enough Waco. Yeah, right.

“I grew up there, which is scary for someone who is gay,” Ervi says. “I was like, ‘I gotta get out of here.’”

But despite the Texas town’s conservative rep, Ervi says she got a great education in the theater department there, which was very open-minded. It also taught her how to do almost anything in theater — in front of the footlights and behind.

“The theater department was so wonderful,” she coos. “I acted, directed, wrote.”

Ervi continues to work as a jack-of-all-trades: Her first play produced, Waking Up, debuted at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival last year. Set in a bedroom, with 11 characters, it explored pillow talk in the modern age. The success of that show landed Ervi a permanent job in Dallas, as assistant to Terry Martin, the producing artistic director at WTT.

Moving to Dallas has given Ervi renewed energy about the potential of doing good work in the theater. Martin, one of the most respected directors in town, asked Ervi to assistant direct WTT’s current show, The Grapes of Wrath.

“My education at Baylor was great, but the tactile experience [working here] is a whole world of knowledge,” she says. “Grapes of Wrath is such a massive show. Terry has worked with the [Joad family cast members] and I’m working with the ensemble.”

Grapes just adds to her resume. Not only has she worked with Martin, but her career already includes several stints with the dean of North Texas’ theater directors, Rene Moreno, as both assistant director or stage manager on August: Osage County, Twelfth Night and The Lucky Chance.

“It’s such a learning experience,” Ervi says. “Rene is a wonderful teacher; he’ll [do something] then whisper to me, ‘This is why I’m doing this.’”

Ervi is continuing to write (she’s working right now on a three-woman show about the trials and tribulations of love and sex; she hopes to finish it over the summer), and she’s open to auditioning to act in a show “if I feel like I’m right for it.” But mostly she’s just happy to be pursuing her passion professionally.

“I love Dallas — it’s such a booming theater community,” she says. “Classmates talk about moving to New York, and I say, ‘Come to Dallas! It’s great here.’”

The Grapes of Wrath runs through April 28.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DFW Theater Critics Forum bestows annual honors

B.J. Cleveland, center, won a best actor award from the DFW Theater Critics Forum, along with its director, Michael Serrecchia.

It was a banner year for Theatre 3 at the annual Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum luncheon, with three shows — The Farnsworth Invention, Superior Donuts and Avenue Q, which is still running — collectively garnering 10 awards, the most for any company. The star of Donuts, Van Quattro, also received the Emerging Artist Award.

It was a love fest for love, too, as partners Michael Serrecchia and Michael Robinson were both recognized for Avenue Q — Serrecchia for directing, and Robinson for designing the puppets.

Terry Vandivort, a staple at Theatre 3 for decades, received an award for his performance at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas in its The Night of the Iguana, alongside co-winner Ashley Wood. The show was also recognized for Rene Moreno’s direction. Moreno was additionally cited for directing August: Osage County at WaterTower and Coriolanus at Shakespeare Dallas.

Uptown Players received several nods as well: For B.J. Cleveland’s leading role in The Producers, wrapping up its run this week (as well as Serrecchia’s direction), and for Lulu Ward’s performance in last year’s Pride Performing Arts Festival for The New Century. (I declared her 2011′s Actor of the Year for the role.)

The gay-penned surprise hit musical Bring It On was the clear favorite among national tours.

In total, 30 shows were recognized and 41 awards given by the participating critics: Arnold Wayne Jones, Dallas Voice; Elaine Liner, Dallas Observer; Mark Lowry, Perry Stewart and Martha Heimberg, TheaterJones; Lawson Taitte, Dallas Morning News; Lance Lusk, Lindsey Wilson and Liz Jonhstone, FrontRow/D Magazine; Alexandra Bonifield, CriticalRant; and Punch Shaw, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Here’s the complete list:

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players announces lineup for second Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival

Last year, Uptown Players launched its first-ever Pride Performing Arts Festival to coincide with the Dallas Pride celebration. It was a hit, and the festival is coming back for a 10-day series of gay plays and performances.

Already announced will be the regional premiere of 8, the play by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black based on the actual transcript of the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 law, banning same-sex marriage. Rene Moreno will direct the staged reading in the Kalita Humphreys main stage. (Sept. 6.)

Also on the main stage will be Songs for a New World, a song cycle by composer Jason Robert Brown, directed by Bruce Coleman and music directed by Kevin Gunther. (Sept. 9, 11 and 15.) [EDITOR'S NOTE: Uptown Players has announced that Songs for a New World has been removed from the schedule.]

The remaining shows will all be performed in Frank’s Place, the upstairs venue at the Kalita. Among the lineup:

Speech & Debate, about three teenaged misfits united by a town sex scandal. (Sept. 7, 8 and 10.)

The Madness of Lady Bright, starring Larry Randolph as a drag queen slowly going insane; it played last year at the Festival of Independent Theatres, winning Randolph awards for his performance. (Sept. 8, 9 and 15.)

Still Consummate, in which master comedienne Marisa Diotalevi, pictured, revisits her award-winning one-person show The Consummate Woman. It will be on a double bill with Paul J. Williams’ standup act Triple Crown Queen, about growing up gay. (Sept. 8, 11 and 14.)

A-GAYS, Stillwater, Oklahoma. Young performance artist John Michael Colgin reprises his one-man show about being gay at OSU, and the ptifalls of finding a boyfriend. (Sept. 8, 9 and 15.)

Why Am I Not Gay. Straight guy Jason Kane loves musical theater and looks like a bear on the prowl at a Hidden Door beer bush, but — gasp! — prefers girls. He pokes fun at the stereotypes of gay folks, and being on the other side of them. (Sept. 9, 12 and 15.)

I Google Myself, which played a few years back at WaterTower’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, will return. This comedy is about a man who finds he shares the same name with a porn star. Kookiness ensures. (Sept. 9, 13 and 15.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

STAGE BRIEFS

stage-2-1
The Night of the Iguana. As if we need further evidence that Rene Moreno is Dallas’ best director, we have this remarkable production as Exhibit A, pictured right. Tennessee Williams’ last great play is set in tropical Acapulco, so most productions emphasize its steam sexuality. But Moreno — at least in Act 1 — discovers Williams’ biting humor, staging the action with the pacing of a farce. He saves the sultry stuff for Act 2, allowing the melodrama to sneak up on it.

Set at a run-down motel in the off-season, it features a hurricane, a failed clergyman (Ashley Wood, appropriately manic) tied to a hammock, a slutty proprietress (Cindee Mayfield, who could unleash a whole new career as a bad girl) and an underaged nymphomaniac. Hey, it is Williams.

It clicks along so spritely, with the cast (including Elizabeth Van Winkle, and Terry Vandivort delivering his best performance in years) capturing the exaggerated Southern melody or Tennessee’s over-wrought dialogue, you get easily lost. Imbuing a classic with fresh energy is one fine feat.
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Through Mar. 4.

Pluck the Day. It’s been almost 10 years since Second Thought Theatre produced Pluck the Day, a comedy about quirky Texans set entirely on a ramshackled porch littered with beer cans and forgotten dreams. The original was a longish two-acter about lost 20somethings.

The revisions by STT’s co-artistic director, Steven Walters, of his rambling play tighten a lot of the action, but the major accomplishment is one that the calendar gets the most credit for: The maturing of the characters. Now they are in their 30s, when the malaise of realizing your best years were more than a decade back really sets in.

The men at the center are an unusual trio, despite their similar upbringings. Duck (Clay Yokum) is a dumb, married redneck and proud of it; Fred (Mike Shrader) is his bachelor counterpart, about to pop the question; and Bill (Chris LaBove) the smart gay one who has hung around this one-stoplight town for far too long. But just how gay is Bill?

The plot revolved around a did-they-or-didn’t-they plot you might have caught on Three’s Company, but there’s a sweetness to it all and a full share of laughs, especially when Duck — who wouldn’t know a metrosexual if he gay-bashed him — wonders why Bill isn’t attracted to him. Been there.
Second Thought Theatre. Through Feb. 26.

stage-2-2Bring It On: The Musical. Talk about the power of the pyramid: Cheerleading onstage kicks ass. Oh, say what you will about it being a cheesy faux-sport practiced by mean girls (there’s a lot of that here, no question) — when you see a man in a tank-top and shorts do a running back-flip across the stage, it’s hard not to fall in love.

Or at least in serious, serious like, which is the reaction you’ll have to Bring It On, pictured left. While based on the teen rom-com, the touring production now at Fair Park creates its own story about Campbell (Taylor Louderman), a flighty senior cheer goddess and team captain gerrymandered into an inner city school district. In predictable fashion, she rallies the hip-hop girls (including one sassy black trans, given an overdose of spunk by Gregory Haney) into turning their dance crew into a cheer squad.

Like Legally Blonde, or even Hairspray, it’s a sunny, silly story about the redemption of a teen queen through the power of (fill in the blank: Law, cheerleading, dancing). But like Wicked, it’s also underhandedly smart, with a catchy, contemporary score and clever lyrics.

The tour hasn’t made it to Broadway; it probably doesn’t need to go there. New York audiences probably imagine themselves too sophisticated to appreciate a musical about cheering; here in the hinterlands, we’re not ashamed to stand up and rah-rah at impressive displays of athleticism that come with singing as well. Go, team!
Dallas Summer Musicals. Through Feb. 26.

The Secret Life of Girls. Thank God I don’t have kids — and am not one anymore. Dallas Children’s Theater tackles teen bullying in its studio production, but not in a way you might expect. There are no hate crimes here, nor even an obvious hero or villain, just continually readjusting cliques among teen girls. It’s the darker side of Bring It On, where sniping doesn’t warrant a “snap!” but leads to cutting and bulimia. Though gay issues are not directly addressed, it’s an instructive and shockingly timely show (followed by a therapist-led talk-back) that all families can walk away from with new insights into how hard it can be to grow up.
Dallas Children’s Theater. Through Feb. 26. Suitable for teens and adults.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

WaterTower’s 2011-12 season

WaterTower Theatre tonight announced several premieres or locally produced Tony Award winning shows, including Spring Awakening and August:Osage County. Here’s the schedule:

Spring Awakening, the 8-time Tony winning musical with a score by Duncan Sheik, opens the season on Sept. 30. The play about sexual repression in the 19th century was choreographed by Bill T. Jones.

Rockin’ Christmas Party returns Nov. 26. The jukebox musical features rock versions of Christmas carols returns after an absence of a few years (pictured is the 2007 edition).

The Diary of Anne Frank opens 2012, starting Jan. 6. It tells the story of a Jewish girl and her family hiding out in an Amsterdam attic during World War II.

August: Osage County, Terry Letts’ remarkable panoramic play about an Oklahoma family, opens March 30. Rene Moreno, who direcyed a version of it last year out of state, will direct WaterTower’s version. The play won the Tony for best play and the Pulitzer Prize.

Boeing Boeing, Marc Camoletti’s sex farce about a man dating three flight attendants, opens May 25.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe, another jukebox musical featuring the songs of Leiber and Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Woman”) closes the season with a July 20 opening.

Also returning is the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, running March 1–11.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Trip to Bountiful’ extends by 3 performances

The success of Contemporary Theatre’s The Trip to Bountiful, directed by Rene Moreno, has led the company to extend the run by a week. Three additional performances — 8 p.m. shows on Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, May 8 — have been added.

The play is part of the Metroplex-wide Foote Festival. The extension makes final performance of Bountiful the last entry in the Festival. I reviewed it here. My final review of a Foote Festival entry — Kitchen Dog Theater’s collection of one acts called 3 Foote — runs in the Voice this coming Friday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

More entries for your Foote fetish

We review two of the entries in the Foote Festival in the Voice this week — Uptown Players’ The Young Man from Atlanta and WaterTower Theatre’s The Traveling Lady, as well as a review several weeks back of Dallas Theater Center’s Dividing the Estate — but the fest continues with a number of productions coming soon. Some today!

WingSpan Theatre Co. and One Thirty Productions are doing four performances of their staged reading of The Carpetbagger’s Children today and Saturday, with two shows each: 1:30 p.m. matinees and 8 p.m. evening perfofoamnces. Performances take place at the Bath House Cultural Center.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas opens The Trip to Bountiful, directed by Rene Moreno, tonight at the Greenville Center for the Arts off Lower Greenville Avenue.

Theatre 3 is in previews of its production of The Roads Home, a collection of one-acts. Official opening night is Monday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Weekly Best Bets

Friday 02.04

She’ll give you ‘Hot Pleasure’
With five number one dance hits, Erika Jayne is nicely establishing herself as a singer to be reckoned with. She’s even knocked off big hitters like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga from the top spot of Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play charts. Her most recent single “One Hot Pleasure” is her fifth consecutive hit. Yeah, she’s pretty much bringing it.

DEETS: Rose Room, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Midnight. $7. PartyAtTheBlock.com.

Saturday 02.05

As gay as the Super Bowl can get
Are you ready for some football? OK, what about a big Cedar Springs Super Street Party? Showing that the LGBT community has an affinity for both, the Cedar Springs Merchants Association put together what may be the first gay Super Bowl celebration ever. Live music, DJs, food, beer and an appearance by gay athlete of the year Michael Holtz round out the shebang.

DEETS: Cedar Springs and Throckmorton roads. 7 p.m. Free. ShopCedarSprings.com.

Wednesday 02.09

Payback really is a bitch
New company Broken Gears Project Theatre presents August Strindberg’s Creditors about three people who play diabolical and manipulative games with each other.And it all sounds delicious, especially when Rene Moreno is directing.

DEETS: 3819 Fairmount St. 8 p.m. Through Feb. 26. $10-$15. BrokenGearsTheatre.com

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

—  John Wright