Best Bets • 06.24.16

Tuesday 06.28 — Sunday 07.10

Caitlin-Ehlinger-as-Peggy-Sawyer-and-Matthew-J.-Taylor-as-Julian-Marsh-by-Chris-Bennion

Making it big on Broadway

Caitlin Ehlinger leads the cast in Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth’s production of 42nd Street, the comedy classic that tells the story of starry-eyed Peggy Sawyer who leaves her home in Allentown, Penn., to make it big on Broadway.

DEETS:
Music Hall at Fair Park
901 First Ave.
DallasSummerMusicals.org

Wednesday 06.29 — Saturday 07.23

STTs-A-Kid-Like-Jake---Christie-Vela,-Ian-Ferguson,-Jenny-Ledel---by-Karen-Almond

A different kind of boy

Second Thought Theatre winds up its 2016 season with A Kid Like Jake, directed by Matthew Gray and starring Christie Vela, Ian Ferguson and Jenny Ledel. Daniel Pearle’s play about a couple trying to get their son — who likes to dress up as Cinderella — into an exclusive preschool runs June 29-July 23 at Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys Campus.

DEETS:
Bryant Hall
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
SecondThoughtTheatre.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 24, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Bull’

Alex Ross, Jeremy Schwartz with Natalie Young, Ian Ferguson (Photo by Karen Almond)

Alex Ross, Jeremy Schwartz with Natalie Young, Ian Ferguson (Photo by Karen Almond)

Thomas (Ian Ferguson), a schlubby British salesman, fidgets nervously in a stark room. Across from him, Isobel (Natalie Young) sits coolly, dressed elegantly and moving with the stealth of a panther. “Why didn’t you wear your good suit?” she asks Thomas. He thought this was his good suit. Maybe she’s screwing with him. Then Tony (Alex Ross) walks in. “Why didn’t you wear your good suit?” he asks. And from there, the dominoes fall.

Bull, a play by Cock playwright Mike Bartlett, takes its name in equal measure from the bullshit that yuppie business types toss around each other and the bullying that takes place of Thomas, unrelentingly, for an hour. These aren’t playground taunts and gimme-your-milk-money strong-arm tactics; they are acts of outright warfare where words are weapons and victory requires scorching the earth of your adversary. It’s medieval, primal … and completely contemporary.

It’s also gimmicky, though not necessarily in a bad way. It’s easy to make people squirm uncomfortably while watching someone, if not self-destruct, then at least contribute to his own demise through poor decision-making. Just have the characters be unrelenting, the protagonist (? — Thomas is hardly a hero) do the exact wrong thing at each moment. It’s patent audience manipulation, but it does serve a purpose: Just how far will human nature take us? Does compassion ever kick in?

But an even better point raised by this production, directed by Christie Vela and performed through the weekend at the Wyly courtesy Second Thought Theatre, is whether Thomas deserves our sympathies. Awful as it is to say, Thomas projects his weaknesses and allows himself to be victimized by them. You wanna slap him and yell, “Stop being a doormat!” But maybe he can’t help it — maybe he is destined to be forever walked upon. After a while, his whiny lack of survival techniques begins to make you see the point advanced Isobel, Tony and later their bloviating boss Carter (Jeremy Schwartz): If you can’t swim with the sharks, you’d better get out of the water or relent to a life as chum.

Of course, as much of a weakling as Thomas is, the cruel mindgames Tony and Isobel relentlessly inflict upon him — from a homoerotic exercise calculated to emasculate him to bitchy snipes that burrow under his skin — take them to the point where they reject their own humanity. You begin to see this as some elaborate twist on the TV show The Apprentice (Bartlett even mentions the show, which, I wouldn’t be surprised, was his inspiration for writing the play). What they do becomes a form of torture. They are cold-blooded.

Still, the play is better than Mamet’s equally divisive and outrageous Oleanna, in part because the issues seem more present. And the fact the cast delivers all the animus with such steely-eyed makes it all the more shocking. It’s not the kind on play to see on a date, but do it. What, are you afraid you little pussy? Huh … punk?!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theater critics bestow awards

Liz Mikel, left, and Tiffany Hobbs, right, were singled out for their performances in ‘Raisin in the Sun,’ directed by Tre Garrett. (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

The Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum met as usual the first Saturday after Labor Day to hash out our awards for the best of North Texas theater over the preceding 12 months, and the Dallas Theater Center ended up the big winner, with five of its shows receiving citations. Les Miserables, Fortress of Solitude, Oedipus el Rey and its in-repertory pair of Raisin in the Sun and Clybourne Park (Raisin‘s quasi-sequel) all took home major awards, including direction for the first four. Cast members from many were also recognized, including Liz Mikel and Tiffany Hobbs from Raisin, Allison Pistorious from Clybourne and Steven Walters from Les Miz. Uptown Players, coming off one of its best seasons, also won accolades for two of its shows: The gay comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (for direction and its ensemble) and for The Boy from Oz for its three stars and for its wig and makeup by Coy Covington. My own Actor of the Year winner for 2013, Tina Parker, won note for her performance in Detroit — one of nods to Kitchen Dog Theater, which also produced best new play winner Barbecue Apocalypse by Matt Lyle. WaterTower also fared well, especially for its recent musical Dogfight. The winners — which are voted on by a panel of 12 local theater critics, including me — are hashed out over a luncheon. There are between four and nine winners in each category this year.

The complete list is below.

Direction: Daniel Aukin, Fortress of Solitude (Dallas Theater Center); B.J. Cleveland, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Uptown Players); David Denson, Year of the Rooster (Upstart Productions); Tre Garrett, A Raisin in the Sun (Dallas Theater Center) and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Jubilee Theatre); Tim Johnson, Detroit (Kitchen Dog Theater); Terry Martin, Dogfight (WaterTower Theatre); Kevin Moriarty, Oedipus el Rey (Dallas Theater Center); Susan Sargeant, The Diaries of Adam and Eve and Happy Days (WingSpan Theatre Co.); Liesl Tommy, Les Miserables (Dallas Theater Center).

Vanya-Show

The cast of ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ was recognized as best ensemble, as was its director, B.J. Cleveland.

Actor: Adam A. Anderson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Jubilee Theatre); Jaxon Beeson, Stiff (Fun House Theatre and Film); Joey Folsom, Year of the Rooster (Upstart Productions) and Hank Williams: Lost Highway (WaterTower Theatre); Alex Ross, The Boy from Oz (Uptown Players); Garret Storms, for his season of performances; Drew Wall, Nocturne (Second Thought Theatre); Steven Walters, Les Miserables (Dallas Theater Center).

Actress: Tiffany Hobbs, Raisin in the Sun (Dallas Theater Center) and Spunk (WaterTower Theatre); Janelle Lutz, The Boy from Oz (Uptown Players); Liz Mikel, Raisin in the Sun (Dallas Theater Center); Tina Parker, Detroit (Kitchen Dog Theater); Allison Pistorius, Venus in Fur (Circle Theatre) and Clybourne Park (Dallas Theater Center); Sarah Elizabeth Smith, The Boy from Oz (Uptown Players); Juliette Talley, Dogfight (WaterTower Theatre); Ashley Wilkerson, The Mountaintop (Jubilee Theatre).

Ensemble: Barbecue Apocalypse (Kitchen Dog Theater); Heroes (Stage West); The Echo Room Presents: Her Song (Echo Theatre); Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Uptown Players).

Creative Contribution: Coy Covington for his wig and makeup design for The Boy from Oz (Uptown Players) and wig designs for Pageant (Uptown Players); Clare Floyd DeVries for her set design, Detroit (Kitchen Dog Theater); Jay Dias for his music direction, Nine and Titanic (Lyric Stage); Jeffrey Colangelo and Katy Tye for their movement design, Galatea (Prism Co.); the design team with Trinity Shakespeare Festival, for their season.

New Play or Musical: Barbecue Apocalypse by Matt Lyle (Kitchen Dog Theater); Booth by Steven Walters (Second Thought Theatre); Fortress of Solitude by Itamar Moses and Michael Friedman (Dallas Theater Center); mania/gift by Shelby-Allison Hibbs (Echo Theatre); Stiff by Jeff Swearingen (Fun House Theatre and Film).

Touring Production: Evita (Dallas Summer Musicals); The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess (ATTPAC); Peter and the Starcatcher (ATTPAC); Trick Boxing (Sossy Mechanics).

Special Citations: To Matt Tomlanovich, for reviving the Margo Jones as a busy performance space, opening it to fledgling companies at a reasonable price, and making it available to small festivals, poetry slams, readings and dance groups; and to Lawson Taitte, for his distinguished career in arts criticism.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘A Behanding in Spokane’

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh wrote his series of violent, dark comedies — The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lonesome West, A Skull in Connemara, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Pillowman in a fit of inspiration mostly in 1996 and ’97, and bleeding into 2003. Since then, he’s concentrated on film work, winning an Oscar for live action short (Six Shooter), a nomination for writing In Bruges and his putting out his latest, 7 Psychopaths.

Notice a pattern, there?

His latest entree into the theater world is also his only American-set play: A Behanding in Spokane, currently at the Bryant Hall space in the Kalita Humphreys complex, courtesy of Second Thought Theatre. In its tense, brooding, hilariously strange 85 minutes, he uses the “N” word as if he thinks he’s Tarantino, sprays the audience with severed body parts and chains a nubile young woman and a black man up as if this was some barely-legal, racist snuff film.

It’s great.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

STAGE REVIEWS: Magnum farce —”Bomb-itty of Errors,” “What the Butler Saw”

Dana Schultes and Garret Storms in "What the Butler Saw" at Stage West.

There are a lot of men in dresses lately, and I’m not even talking about the guys at the Rose Room or the cast of The Divine Sister at the Kalita. No, for some reason, it’s farce month at North Texas theaters, and a farce just isn’t complete without a little cross-dressing.

At Stage West in Fort Worth, at least some of the gender confusion is sexy, as a twinky bellhop (Garret Storms) strips down to his tightie-whities (well, really tightie-reddies) before slipping on a Carnaby Street mod-mini and pumps to swing his hips. The play is What the Butler Saw, the last of gay British playwright Joe Orton’s handful of full-length stage plays (it was first staged two years after Orton’s lover murdered him). There are no butlers in it, nor is there any butling. It isn’t even a mystery, as the name might suggest. All of which makes it exactly what it’s meant to be: a nonsensical knockabout set in a mental home, where the inmates might as well be running the asylum.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GIVEAWAY: Tickets to “Pluck the Day”

The cast of Second Thought's 'Pluck the Day'

The peeps at Second Thought Theatre offered Dallas Voice readers a a pair of tickets to their new play, Pluck the Day now playing at the Kalita Humphreys Theater in the Bryant Hall space.

So what’s the show about? Read 2TT’s write-up on their show.

THE STORY:  It’s kinda like therapy, only with guns and booze.  Duck’s drunk.  Fred’s been eatin’ peyote again.  And Bill might not be as gay as they originally thought he was.  Three guys sittin’ on a porch in West Texas lookin’ for somethin’:  Enter April.   

We have two tickets for the show (one pair) and can be redeemed on any performance in the show’s last weekend. Pluck the Day runs through Feb. 26. All you have to do is comment on this posting when it links to our Dallas Voice Facebook page, but we’re gonna look for creative ways you use the word “pluck.”

Watch for our review of the show in Friday’s issue.

—  Rich Lopez

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

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

‘Red Light Winter’ extends by 4 performances

Red Light Winter, which I reviewed last week, is adding almost a week of shows. There will be performances May 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m., and an additional Friday night show May 13 at 8 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones