Stage reviews: A week of theater

Photo Credit - Andy Jones & Paige Faure in the National Tour of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo © Carol Rosegg

‘Cinderella’ at Fair Park.

Seven days. Eight plays. It’s insane, I know. But when you have a surfeit of theater as North Texas does this summer — and there’s more to come, with Lyric Stage opening South Pacific Friday and Uptown Players premiering the regional debut of The Nance a week after, plus the upcoming Festival of Independent Theatres and national touring shows — you don’t complain … especially when what’s out there is so consistently good right now. Here, then, is my rundown of what to see this month. Good luck squeezing it all in, but you really can’t go wrong.

Dallas Solo Festival. The most concentrated collection of theater right now is at Fair Park, where the second annual Dallas Solo Festival — a fortnight of one-performer shows produced by Audacity Theatre Lab — is settling in for its second weekend at the Margo Jones Theater. A total of eight plays — three of which ran only one weekend — premiere here. The best of them is Mo[u]rnin’. After by Brigham Mosley. A memory piece about Mosley’s upbringing in rural Oklahoma where being a gay kid was nearly impossible, and his complex relationship with his grandfather (a man’s man whose death devastated Mosley), Mo[u]rnin’ incorporates a love of musical theater and glitter with a boundless energy that is both thrilling and exhausting to watch — Mosley really puts the “buoyant” in “flamboyant” … and the “flame” as well. (I’d never seen a man who could talk over himself until this.) It’s the must-see show of the fest. (Performs again tonight at 10:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9 p.m.)

Van Quattro tells a vastly different but no less introspective tale with Standing Eight Count, which recounts his stint, 40 years ago, as an up-and-coming professional boxer. (He was good, but didn’t have the heart to be a champion — the killer instinct. That’s a boon for theatergoers if not sports addicts.) Quattro’s life was a hard one, filled with juvie and drugs and family violence until a sunny, devoted gym manager got him on a path with promise. Boxing is known as “the sweet science,” and Quattro’s language has a hard-edged poetry to it that mirrors the grace and brutality of the best boxing matches. He might not have made it as a boxer, but Standing Eight Count packs a punch. (Performs again Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.)

The final recurrent show with a personal history theme is Jeff Swearingen’s An American Asshole in France, in which the local theater impresario relates a disastrous visit to the south of France that defined the term “ugly American.” Swearingen admits in the opening that he’s uncomfortable addressing audiences as himself without the mask of a character to hide behind; that nervousness was apparent in the rambling storytelling that didn’t let the show hold up to its provocative title. (Apparently he was an asshole, but he’s never clear why.) The performance needs structure and editing and a strong through-line, but if anyone can hone it into something worthwhile, it’s Swearingen. (Performs again Friday at 103:30 p.m.)

(Two other shows — ’33: A kabarett and Lord of the Flies — premiere tonight and continue through Sunday.)

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Across the parking lot from the Margo Jones, in the Fair Park Music Hall, is a show whose costume budget alone probably exceeds the production cost of everything at the Solo Fest. Cinderella is the new Broadway updating of the R&H made-for-TV classic (remade several times, including once with Whitney Houston), but it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. That’s because Douglas Carter Beane has brought his queerly snarky sensibility to the fairy tale (which moviegoers have seen imagined twice in the last six months, with Into the Woods and Disney’s Cinderella), giving it a modern, campy humor the skewers contemporary society (digs at one percenters, throwing shade and musical comedy stereotypes). Paige Faure and Andy Huntington Jones make a beautiful couple and sing the famous songs (“In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible,” “Ten Minutes Ago”) liltingly. But the true stars of this production are William Ivey Long’s Tony Award-winning costumes, which magically transform before your eyes from rags to gowns. It’s stage magic that everyone from kid to grandparent can enjoy.


‘Vanya’ at Stage West

Old Time Music Hall. There’s a different kind of Music Hall up in Plano, as Theatre Britain revives its annual tribute to the English version of Vaudeville, a series of musical numbers, dances, corny jokes and gently ribald humor. It breezes by in under two hours with sing-alongs and laughs, a diverting, family-friendly exercise in Anglophilia.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. It was just a year ago that Uptown Players produced the regional premiere of this Tony-winning comedy from Christopher Durang, but the production in Fort Worth at Stage West — which features an all new cast save Wendy Welch as Sonia — feels just as fresh, and offers new insights, as well. The plot — culled sometimes subtly and sometimes not from the essence of Chekhov’s country-living slice-of-life dramas — pits the tensions between three middle-aged siblings (Welch, Steven Pounders, Shannon J. McGrann) whose lives have taken different paths and whose idylls are interrupted when Masha brings her 20something boy-toy Spike (Haulston Mann, ripped as a all get-out) to the family manse for a weekend. Durang’s richly detailed plot contains lovely phrases (“He’s so attractive — except for his personality, of course,” one character observes about Spike) delivered by a great set of actors (especially McGrann, who looks like Nigella Lawson and eats up the stage as a self-obsessed fading movie star). There are new insights to be learned, even if you saw it last year.

Precious Little. Echo Theatre returns to the Bath House Cultural Center for the second time with a Gay Pride Month presentation, the extraordinary drama Precious Little (by lesbian playwright Madeleine George). At first, it appears to be a series of unrelated set-pieces: A gorilla (Lisa Fairchild) in a zoo is being gawked at by annoying teenagers; a prickly lesbian linguist (Sherry Jo Ward) visits a fertility counselor (Molly Welch) for an amniocentesis to test for abnormalities with her late-in-life pregnancy; the same linguist carries on an affair with her teaching assistant (Welch again) and records an elderly European woman (Fairchild again) who speaks a nearly extinct language. Ultimately, what all the scenes have in common is a sense for how we communicate … and how we don’t. Levels of cognition — from mental retardation to dementia to language barriers to primate “vocabularies” — may seen an unlikely subject for theater, but here they all converge in a heartbreaking and humane way, driven by Ward’s arresting performance.

Manicures & Monuments. They don’t make many plays like this one anymore, but Texas seems to do them better than most. Local playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood wrote this seldom-revived play — about a manicurist who works in a retirement home, and the developments in their lives over the course of two years or so — in a tone that echoes Dallas playwright Preston Jones’ Texas Trilogy. (It also recalls shows like Same Time, Next Year and The Gin Game.) WaterTower Theatre‘s production seems oddly oversized for the subject matter (the stage is massive, though the vibe is intimate), and oddly, no manicures are every performed in the course of the show (pedicures only, people!), but Cheatwood’s observations about ageing, death, elder abuse and the ruts most people live their lives on are universal.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stage West founder Jerry Russell, father of state Sen. Wendy Davis, dies

JerrRussellJerry Russell, an accomplished local actor and founder of Fort Worth’s Stage West theater, died peacefully in his sleep overnight. He was surrounded by family including his daughter, state Sen. Wendy Davis. He was 77.

Sen. Davis, D-Fort Worth, recently postponed an announcement about whether she plans to run for governor in 2014 due to her father’s illness.

Russell entered the hospital for a surgical procedure last week, but developed complications following a bout of pneumonia.

Russell founded Stage West, one of Fort Worth’s most acclaimed theater companies, in 1979 out of his European-style sandwich shop. It grew exponentially over the years, doubling its audience with each show in its first year alone, eventually becoming a go-to place for edgy modern productions. Along with regulars including Jim Covault and Dana Schultes, Russell also was one of the regular performers the Stage West, turning in many memorable performances while also directing many of the shows, but it wasn’t just there that he found success. Russell performed in many area theaters, often at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas (memorably in On Golden Pond and Visiting Mr. Green).

He passed away leaving a legacy of memorable performances and tremendous artistic integrity. Funeral arrangements will be forthcoming.

—  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

Stage West’s ‘The 39 Steps’ is both thriller and comedy

These ‘Steps’ are a killer
In Patrick Barlow’s stage version of The 39 Steps, not only did he adapt a Hitchcock movie (and John Buchan novel) into a hilarious whodunit, but he also reduced the cast to four playing a magnitude of parts. We’re already out of breath.

DEETS: Stage West, 821 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth. Through Sept. 26. $24–$28.

—  Rich Lopez

Best bets • 09.03.10

Saturday 09.04

Where’s the party? Um, we know
When there is a tour called MadonnaRama and the pop icon doesn’t even have to show up, well, that’s some kind of fame. DJ and remixer Ed Bailey brings the premiere theme tour to Dallas with Madge music going all night long. But will he take requests? Because we’d also love a slow dance to “Rain.”

DEETS: The Brick, 2525 Wycliff  Ave., Suite 124. 9 p.m. $20.

Sunday 09.05

These ‘Steps’ are a killer
In Patrick Barlow’s stage version of The 39 Steps, not only did he adapt a Hitchcock movie (and John Buchan novel) into a hilarious whodunit, but he also reduced the cast to four playing a magnitude of parts. We’re already out of breath.

DEETS: Stage West, 821 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth. Through Sept. 26. $24–$28.

Thursday 09.09

Getting down to business
If mixers are awkward and networking is intimidating, just think of it as socializing with finesse. Proprietors and professionals mix at the North Texas GLBT Chamber Business Connections Mixer this week. That means, this is your chance.

DEETS: Warwick Melrose Hotel, 3105 Oak Lawn Ave. 5:30 p.m. $5.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens