Best Bets • 02.17.12

Friday 02.17Vera-Pearl-3qtr

Time to get funked up
While the late Whitney Houston recharged one of Chaka Khan’s biggest hits, there’s no denying the funk queen’s own style. Khan comes to Dallas for a night of some legendary R&B with The O’Jays, Jeffrey Osborne, The Mary Jane Girls and Ohio Players as part of the Love Train show. What’s better — that’s not even the entire roster.

DEETS:
American Airlines Center
2500 Victory Ave.
6 p.m.

$24.50–$79.50.
Ticketmaster.com.

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Sunday 02.19

Knight in shining armor
The Dallas Opera gets all soap opera like in their production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Sparks fly between a princess and a knight, but her husband isn’t too thrilled. He also happens to be the king. The tale is a classic and doomed love story, but the show gets a refreshed touch with this modern production.

DEETS:
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
2 p.m. Through Feb.
25. $25–$275
ATTPAC.org.

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Tuesday 02.21

No helper needed for this Tuna
Joe Sears and Jaston Williams reprise our favorite roles for Tuna’s Greatest Hits: 30 Years of Laughter. Vera, Bertha, Petey and the rest all get a bit older, but only get better as they remind us why we can’t get enough of some Tuna.

DEETS:
Eisemann Center
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
8 p.m. Through Mar. 4.
$44–$55.
EisemannCenter.com.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

It’s not easy being ‘Green’

First-time filmmaker Steve Williford teams with the Verizon Guy (seriously!) for ‘The Green,’ a movie about homophobia and suspicion

Jason_Butler_Harner_and_Cheyenne_Jackson
IDYLLS OF THE QUEENS | A quiet couple (Dallas theater veteran Jason Butler Harner and ‘30 Rock’s’ Cheyenne Jackson) becomes immersed in controversy when one is accused of an affair with a teen in the USA Film Festival entry ‘The Green.’

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
marklowry@theaterjones.com

Although Steve Williford never felt any homophobia directed at him when he lived in southwestern Indiana, his perception of what others thought of him as a gay man was something that stuck with him for many years. At dinner parties and social events, his sexuality was a subject that came up often, usually as a result of others’ curiosity.

“Months went by and I started to wonder if I was the poster boy for gay,” he says. “I always wondered what would happen if something in my life happened that brought my sexuality to the forefront, like if I was at a party and kissed my partner.”

That question would eventually lead him to his first feature film as a director, The Green, currently on the festival circuit and screening at USA Film Festival Saturday. The screenplay is written by Paul Marcarelli, best known as Verizon’s “can you hear me now?” guy, who recently came out publicly.

The story they ended up with concerns a high school teacher, played by Jason Butler Harner, who is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. It causes tension with the teacher’s partner, played by out Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson (also known for his recurring roles on 30 Rock and Glee), and in the community.

Williford directed nearly 150 episodes of the recently axed soap opera All My Children from 2004 to 2011, but his background is in theater (he directed a production of Driving Miss Daisy in the early 1990s at Dallas’ Park Cities Playhouse, back when it was called the Plaza Theatre). So it’s not surprising that his cast is filled with actors who come from the theater world, too — not just Jackson, but Harner, who played Hamlet at the Dallas Theater Center in 2003. That may explain why Williford’s film has something in common with several plays, notably Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.27.05 PM“We’re a proud cousin of all of those works,” Williford says. “We are trying to examine a situation that can illustrate to us how slippery truth and clarity really is and how quickly it can slip away from us.”

“Paul and I are both big lovers of ambiguity to a certain degree,” he adds. “I had always modeled this story in my heart and mind on what I love about the Chekhov short stories: We leave certain things open and free to be interpreted. For the bulk of the story, you’re really not sure if he has done what he’s being accused of, but there are some significant issues that do get resolved, quite clearly I think.”

And of course, he knows the audience won’t trust if they don’t believe in the relationship as portrayed by Harner and Jackson, and takes a dramatic turn from the comic roles he has done on TV.

“I completely believe in Jason and Cheyenne as a couple. That’s one of my complaints when I see LGBT couples represented in film: I feel like there’s a link missing a little bit. I don’t feel that way about them, in the work environment or what has come together for the film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The puppet master

Bruce Coleman wields power over the gods, turning Greek myths into Day-Glo puppets for his family-friendly world premiere ‘Mount Olympus’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

BUNRAKU? I HARDLY KNOW U!  |  The actors in Bruce Coleman’s newest play are hidden in shadow while their alter egos are vividly colored Bunraku puppets from Greek mythology. (Photo courtesy Ken Birdsell)
BUNRAKU? I HARDLY KNOW U! | The actors in Bruce Coleman’s newest play are hidden in shadow while their alter egos are vividly colored Bunraku puppets from Greek mythology. (Photo courtesy Ken Birdsell)

MOUNT OLYMPUS
Theatre Three
2800 Routh St., Suite 168. Oct 29– Nov. 28. $20–$30.  214-871-3300.
Theatre3Dallas. com.

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Greek gods, with their muscular bodies and tendency to wear skimpy garb, may be the fantasies of gay men. But to kids, the mythology behind Zeus, Hercules, Hera is more like the perfect combination of a comic book and a soap opera. Superpowers intertwined with high drama held many youngsters’ attentions, even for li’l Brucey Coleman.

Now that he’s director-designer-playwright Bruce Coleman, that fascination has stuck around. He comes full circle to his elementary school days with his newest play, Tales from Mount Olympus, which gets its world premiere this week at Theatre Three’s downstairs stage, Theatre Too. Keeping a childlike sense of wonder alive, he’s turned his gods into puppets.

“When I was a fourth grader, I remembered this book on Greek myths which I checked out so many times from the library,” he says. “I loved the order and sense of those stories and the gods, not that my own life was chaotic. They had their domains. That order appealed to me and maybe even made sense for why I came into theater — everyone in theater has their [sensibility].”

In Mount Olympus, Coleman has reimagined four tales from classic Greek mythology performed by a cast of puppets. But he doesn’t go all Avenue Q on the audience with R-rated language and adult situations. Instead, as he pitched the idea of the play to Theatre Three founder and executive producer Jac Alder, this is a family-friendly play that appeals to adults and kids. In fact, he hopes people will bring their children out — even if there is some puppet nudity.

“Well, we all know Aphrodite wasn’t born in a track suit,” he laughs. “But I had suggested that we hadn’t done any family programming and I wanted to push this as something adults and their kids could come to. Jac got really excited about that.”

During Coleman’s stint as a high school drama teacher, part of his curriculum was to do a children’s show every year. Staying away from the usual Three Pigs/Cinderella plays, he directed shows based on mythology. Not only did the students get into it, so did other teachers. He knew he was on to something.

But entertaining third and fourth graders is one thing; will professional theater audiences buy into it? Coleman isn’t worried. He holds his young cast in high esteem and the design of the show is electrifying. Glowing puppets, blizzards, rising moons — Coleman knows his audience will fall into the magic of it all.

KING OF THE SEA  |  Poseidon is actually the god of hotness — for a puppet, at least — in the world premiere ‘Tales from Mount Olympus.’
KING OF THE SEA | Poseidon is actually the god of hotness — for a puppet, at least — in the world premiere ‘Tales from Mount Olympus.’

“We use Bunraku puppets where the puppeteer is clad in all black,” he says. “Julie Taymor called this the double event, where the audience is aware of both, but there is this moment when you cross over into seeing the puppets only. It’s really kind of thrilling.”

Still, he credits the puppeteers with really acting their parts, and doesn’t want audiences to forget that. With no formal puppet training among them, everyone started at a level playing field. Coleman rallied them into thinking of it as one major acting exercise.

“The cast is young and strong and help bring this to life and keep pushing it,” he says. “There is a moment when Hades’ discovery brings him down. Lee Wadley and Ryan Martin did these simple movements and made it heartbreaking. There is lots of teamwork and they worked really hard to create emotions.”

With eight actors playing more than 100 characters — including pillars, butterflies and other background — Coleman is ready to move on from rehearsals to show time. Actors came into the show with enthusiasm and no preconceived notions about their work. And Coleman says every rehearsal has brought some new surprise to the show.

“I’m anxious to get this in front of an audience,” he says. “And with the actors, the puppets have taken steps in their evolution. One of my main goals is to get that imagination ignited again. We have a blizzard at the end of Act 1. Who does that?”

With adult hindsight, Coleman now sees the importance of these stories and the meanings behind them for young people. The moral tales and life lessons come much clearer with life experience. But he also knows that the gods and goddesses have their own subtexts that speak directly to LGBT audiences. The characters are already inherently interesting, but it sounds like they have some major fab cred behind them.

“Well, yes! I mean Artemis is the goddess of all lesbians. She made Zeus promise her that she’d never have to marry a man,” he laughs.

“Goddess of the hunt? OK, go on, girl. And everyone knows Dionysus [the god of wine] is our patron saint.”

But one puppet god might end up catching some eyes ogling a little more intently.

“Someone had looked at my Poseidon and said he is not the god of the ocean,” Coleman chuckles, ”he’s the god of hotness!”

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Spooky theater

Just in time for Halloween, some plays are opening with a sense of the macabre.

Over at SMU, James Crawford has directed a play by the oddly named Five Lesbian Brothers called The Secretaries. The brutal, satiric play about feminism and female bonding is set in a logging town where once a month something nasty happens. The student production gets its final performance Friday at 8 p.m.the Margo Jones Theatre on campus. Call 214-768-2787 for tickets.

Elias Taylorson recently joined Broken Gears Project Theatre as co-artistic director just in time for their newest show, The Pitchfork Disney. A sexually changed surreal play about indulgent young people, it plays in the heart of Oak Lawn in a new 40-seat theater at 3819 Fairmount, across from the Grapevine Bar. For tickets, call 917-415-9482.

Perhaps even creepier than all this, of course, is heterosexual romance. Eeek! Don’t be too afraid (a little, not too) of Neil Simon’s early classic about newlyweds in New York, Barefoot in the Park, pictured. It’s actually a charming situation comedy with lot of signature Simon one-liners. Contemporary Theatre of Dallas opens the show Friday. For tickets, call 214-828-0094

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas