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

Fat girls aren’t easy: ‘Charm’ works its magic

The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through Dec. 11. KitchenDogTheater.com.

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Margaret Fuller (Tina Parker) was a real person who seemed unreal to the society of her day. She was educated, opinionated, frank and kinda ugly — she hated corsets and the sexual repression of women. By the time she died, at age 40, she had had a child (probably out of wedlock), dated (probably gay) author Henry David Thoreau (Michael Federic0), and dabbled (probably) with lesbianism, all while breaking into the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club of the mid-19th century Transcendentalist Movement.

At least that what Kathleen Cahill suggests in her new play Charm, getting its Texas premiere from Kitchen Dog Theater. The title is ironic, as Margaret, despite her many talents, was totally lacking in charm. She dared challenge Ralph Waldo Emerson (Jeffrey Schmidt, a dead-ringer) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Brian Witkowicz, hilarious), and irked a traditionalist like Orestes Brownson (John M. Flores). She was a woman outside her time.

KDT’s production — a fun, witty 90 minutes — captures the fairy-tale-like silliness of some very serious matters, especially feminism and sexual liberation of other kinds. Like Circle Theatre’s recent Bach at Leipzig, it tells historical facts with the freedom to turn  into a comedy. Hawthorne is a rabbity weirdo; Thoreau a bug-loving sickly nerd — a repressed closet case who moved to Walden Pond as a way of sublimating his sexual anxiety; Margaret lusts after a boyhood crush by the lake — a vast, blue parachute of rippling water. And the idioms are mostly modern, at once taking us out of its time and reinforcing how contemporary the ideas are (Margaret high-fives one of her friends).

The set, by Chase Floyd Devries, could have been designed for children’s theater: A serious of steps that resemble the books written by the literati that populate the play, in bright, colorful pastels. Just as interesting, though, is Parker as Margaret. Like her performance in Mr. Marmalade, Parker takes a childlike petulance and turns it into high tragedy. Things appear so simple to her — why can’t they really be that way? As with Dawn Weiner in Welcome to the Dollhouse, you sympathize with her even as you want to shake her. She may not have had any charm, byt the play has loads.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones