STAGE BRIEFS

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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

MBS Productions begins 7 Plays in 7 Days theater festival tonight at Stone Cottage in Addison

Mark-Brian Sonna will be undergoing an ambitious theater project in, oh, about five hours. Tonight begins the first of a week’s worth of new plays and staged readings for the inaugural 7 Plays in 7 Days festival. Each weeknight at 8, MBS Productions will put on a new show or reading, but if school nights are too tough to make it, all the new shows will play throughout Saturday and Sunday.

All productions will be at the Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison.

Here is the official word from MBS:

7 World premieres will be presented from Monday, Sept. 19 through Sunday Sept. 25.  Every night, Monday– Sunday at 8 p.m., a new play will be presented.  On Saturday and Sunday, throughout the day the plays will be presented on a rotation basis should audience members wish to see several of the plays within one day.

The plays will be either fully mounted productions, or fully rehearsed staged readings.

Tickets for the event will be $14 per performance or $50 fora festival pass which will give you full access to all the plays.  To purchase tickets or a festival pass go to www.MBSProductions.net.

MBS Productions 2010/11 or 2011/12 Season Pass holders can use their punch card to attend any of the performances or if they may simply present the card and purchase the tickets at half off!

Below is the full schedule.

—  Rich Lopez

What to see at FIT: ‘Lady Bright,’ Tennessee

The offerings at this year’s Festival of Independent Theatres are making it one of the best yet.

The fest opened with the double bill of Upstart’s Wasp and Second Thought’s Bob Birdnow, the former an absurdist charmer and the latter a one-man tour-de-force from actor Barry Nash.  Two more plays this weekend have similar credentials.

WingSpan mounts a double bill of short-short plays. One, Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot by Tennessee Williams, is like Streeetcar Lite: Two ageing Southern ladies (Nancy Sherrard and Cindee Mayfield, pictured) who dress like they were trained in fashion at RuPaul’s Drag U, troll the bars of Chicago looking for conventioneers they can bed. In typically Williams style, they mask their lack of morals behind a veneer of moral indignation and ethical relativism, bathed in film of self-delusion and exaggerated gentility. It’s a bitter, catty pas-de-deux with laughs — more laughs, at least, than its companion piece, John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year. A sort of romantic take on Albee’s Zoo Story, it follows a couple who meet in a park under less-than-ideal circumstances and come to a halting understanding about their relationship. There’s not much there there, as you might say — neither funny nor poignant, but just quirky.

So goes the absurdism; the one performance that rival’s Nash’s is surely Larry Randolph’s in ONe Thirty Productions’  The Madness of Lady Bright. Randolph plays an ageing drag queen, surrounded by the memories of his once-glorious romances and catalogue of friends. Now old and alone, he’s dressing up like Bernadette in Priscilla: Haggard, defeated, still craving affection.

This early play in the gay culture movement is a prickly, tender and sad, but also phenomenally realistic and well-realized portrait of growing old and alone, whether gay or straight. And Randolph’s resourceful, exquisitely wrought performance, full of tarnished dignity, sells it. This is a show — a performance — not to be missed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Mama rising

A Southern mom becomes a PFLAG pimp in gay sitcom ‘You Should Meet My Son!’

ANTI MOM | A bigoted mom has a change of heart when she realizes her son is gay, and starts recruiting men for him (including a stripper, Steve Snyder, right) in the DVD release ‘You Should Meet My Son!’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

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2.5 out of 5 stars
YOU SHOULD MEET MY SON!
Joanne McGee, Stewart Carrico, Steve Snyder. 85 mins.
Now available on DVD.

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A Southern mom, Mae (Joanne McGee) — more over-the-top than anything Tennessee Williams would have conceived (her Pigeon Forge accent makes Dolly Parton sound like Kate Middleton) — clucks over her single son Brian (Stewart Carrico). Every week for Sunday dinner, she invites him over, trying to set him up with the “right girl.”

But Mom doesn’t seem to notice Brian has a “roommate” who’s as well dressed as he with gelled hair and lots of naked statuary around their restored Victorian house filled with antiques. At least until the roomie “moves out” and Brian becomes inexplicably despondent.

It’s a familiar premise in the traditional gay comedy: The anti-gay parent slowly realizing their son is a poofter, then going through the process of coming to terms with it. There’s the visit to the gay reparative therapist (a Texas redneck who sounds suspiciously like George W.), and the struggles with the Old Testament.

Only in You Should Meet My Son! (which screened earlier this year at OutTakes Dallas), those scenes are over 20 minutes in (a good thing, too — they are weak and clichéd, and played for dumb laughs that never come). Mom, despite her limp-wristed Tinkerbell slurs against “those kind” when talking about her hairdresser, suddenly becomes Sharon Gless from Queer as Folk once she finally figures it out: If her son’s gonna be a sodomite, dammit, she’s gonna find him a man who satisfies him sexually.

Mom becomes her gay son’s pimp.

Writer-director Keith Hartman’s script has a frustrating tendency to veer uncontrollably between farcical camp (think But I’m a Cheerleader or Another Gay Movie) and witty banter (a scene with Brian and one of his mom’s female set-ups has a sassy repartee). When it’s good, it’s a lot of fun.

And it’s good often, especially once Mae and her sister Rose (Carol Goans) go cruising a gay bar on the hunt for Mr. Right, and end up recruiting an ensemble of drag queens, leather daddies and twinks (including a potential love interest played by Steve Snyder). In a twist on The Bird Cage, Mae hosts dinner parties designed to out her family and frighten away the closet cases and homophobes. Think Auntie Mame with male strippers.

Those moments trump the intrusively annoying perky bossa nova-like score — all Austin Powers retro horns and go-go boot silliness — and the inconsistencies in the script, not the least of which is Mae’s magically fluid gaydar. (She couldn’t pick up on obvious clues about her son for 30 years, but eventually, the second she sees a muscle twink in a tank top she instantly pegs him as a bossy bottom and sets about Yenta-izing with the unrelenting determination of Megatron. Mae might seem like a Southern Baptist, but she’s really a Jewish mom.)

The supporting cast does a lot of the heavy lifting, combining beefcake with saucy flamboyance and ease on camera. But even though McGee overplays at first, Mae ultimately endears herself to us, allowing her love for her son to guide her, not her prejudices. It’s a surprisingly heartfelt way to end a silly comedy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

 

—  Michael Stephens

Nest of vipers: ‘Dividing the Estate,’ DTC’s foray in Foote, gets Gothic Southern comedy just righ

LITTLE FOXES | Mama (June Squibb, standing right) refuses to give sway to her money-hungry daughter Mary Jo (Nance Williamson, left) in ‘Dividing the Estate.’ (Photo courtesy Brandon Thibodeaux)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

“They were lazy and no good but they came from lovely families,” declares Mama (June Squibb), matriarch of the Gordon family of tiny Harrison, Texas. It’s a line that really sets the bar for your appreciation of Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate: You either get the joke (and the fact it’s not really a joke at all) or you don’t. This is a play that targets a Southern audience and assumes everyone else will just sleep in the weeds for two hours. And it’s OK with that.

I am, too. There’s a proud, fine tradition of Gothic Southern theater that runs a gamut from campy hoots (Del Shores, the Tuna guys) to strained melodrama (Tennessee Williams, especially his later stuff). There’s been a renaissance of it lately, with Broadway productions of Tracy Letts’ awesome epic August: Osage County and Dividing the Estate, both of which tweak and (dare I say) improve upon their source material: King Lear and The Little Foxes, classics about crotchety old folks who use money to control their families and expect the world to conform to their will. I’ve known women like Mama; I called one Grandma.

The Dallas Theater Center’s current production at the Wyly, directed with astonishing sure-footedness by Joel Ferrell, is a crackerjack comedy filled with death, lung-emptying sibling in-fighting and money-grubbing, and if that doesn’t sound like the stuff of comedy to you, you might be a Yankee.

Set in the mid 1980s, it captures the fashions and Reagan Era social climbing with uneasy accuracy. Mama’s three kids — Lucille (Gail Cronauer), Lewis (Kurt Rhoads) and Mary Jo (Nance Williamson) — are all in need of money, and debate whether they should divide the estate now or wait for Mama to die. None has ever worked a day in their lives, so they see the farmland, largely fallow, as some magical money machine. Mama will have none of it, but her resistance really just causes more problems.

John Arnone’s quasi-expressionistic set conjures the end of gracious living: A moldering plantation manor in need of a paint job, a faded memory of a once-glorious monument to glamour… much like the Gordon family itself. But the performances are what really sell the play. Williamson’s blowsy Houston wannabe socialite is a testament to superficiality. Rolling her eyes and hissing her lines, Williamson gives Mary Jo a swagger out of proportion to her own abilities. Her uncontrolled avarice is a study is slapstick. She contrasts beautifully to Lynn Blackburn’s Pollyanna centeredness as an outsider about to marry into the family. Akin Babatunde seems to have a rhythm all his own, a sing-songy cadence as the 92-year-old servant who engenders more respect than any of the children.

But at the heart is Squibb: Lips pursed, jaw set like a shovel in the ground, eyed focused so narrowly, Mama cannot see the big picture. You sympathize with her even as you know the mistakes she’s making — just like your family, probably — certainly mine. Dividing the Estate resolves nothing; it merely reminds us that that’s how it always is.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Well, Albee

Two absurdist one-acts delve into the American pysche with humor and sex appeal

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

YOGA?BEARABLE  |  A young man (Austin Tindle) performs yoga while an old lady (Elly?Lindsay) is left to die in ‘The Sandbox,’ one of two absurdist romps. (Photo Lowell Sargeant)
YOGA BEARABLE | A young man (Austin Tindle) performs yoga while an old lady (Elly?Lindsay) is left to die in ‘The Sandbox,’ one of two absurdist romps. (Photo Lowell Sargeant)

ALBEE: TWO ON THE AISLE
Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Oct. 23. Thursdays–Saturdays at 8 p.m., select 2 p.m. matinees. $17–$20. WingSpanTheatre.com

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Most comedies — especially those written nowadays, for stage, film and TV — don’t really make much sense. Characters do stupid things because stupid leads to funny consequences. They rely on their audiences not paying too much attention. (I can’t count how many times I have been accused of “over-thinking” a comedy by people happy to be lost in the inanity of it all.)

It’s refreshing, then, to encounter a comedy that tries not to make sense … but does so smartly — so smartly, that you cease paying attention at your peril. That is the world of absurdism.

Considering that Edward Albee’s rep is based largely on his hyper-realistic masterpiece Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it’s easy to forget he’s also America’s foremost absurdist, especially in his one-acts like The American Dream and The Sandbox, which are being revived right now by WingSpan Theatre.

WingSpan does absurdism well — Albee especially. His Marriage Play, The Play About the Baby and Tennessee Williams’ The Gnadiges Fraulein were highlights of recent theater seasons. This duet isn’t quite as strong as those, but deliciously entertaining nonsense.

Only they’re not nonsense. Albee — gay, adopted, bitter — has issues. Both plays feature basically nameless characters: Mommy (Lulu Ward), Daddy (Barry Nash), Grandma (Elly Lindsay), Young Man (Austin Tindle). This is a view of the nuclear family in meltdown.

Rhythms more than plot (plot?) provide the fodder for a couple’s obsession with materialism (their house is a hodgepodge of American flag colors, deconstructed and turned subversively critical). With annoyingly inconsequential small talk, they chatter away about the color of a hat and the content of mysterious boxes and what to do with the old lady. As with David Lynch, the logic, if any, is dreamlike — or, more accurately, nightmarish, with laughs.

Ward is ideal at conveying genteel villainy: Behind a smile cracking with anger, she exudes threatening volatility. Nash, perfectly impassive, represents a dire view of manhood.

Tindle, in contrast, captures the hearty beauty of the male form. With placid sex appeal — especially in The Sandbox, where he spends 15 minutes performing yoga in tight-fitting ‘50s-era swim trunks — he’s unattainable desire incarnate.

At least I think so. Part of the attraction of absurdism is the attraction of poetry: You can read into it what resonates with you. Director Susan Sargeant lets her solid cast loose on the material, toying with it and the audience. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it all. If it doesn’t make you laugh, it may scare the hell out of you. And feel free to over-think it. That’s what art is supposed to be about.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas