STAGE REVIEWS: It’s just a fantasy — ‘All My Sons,’ ‘Mildred Wild’

Terry Martin in 'All My Sons' (Photo by Karen Almond)

To contemporary audiences, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons feels like a first draft for his more famous Death of a Salesman. The plots are different, but the themes are eerily similar: An ageing patriarch with two sons lives in a kind of fantasy world of self-denial, aided by his doting but unstable wife; when his transgressions are revealed and one son loses faith in the father’s character, the older man cannot live with the consequences. That describes Willy, Linda and Biff Loman as well as Joe, Katie and Chris Keller. It makes you wonder exactly what Miller’s hangup was with parental figures.

Although All My Sons was eclipsed by Salesman, which came out two years later, it did win the first-ever Tony Award for best play, and has been revived several times on Broadway as well as regional theaters, of which WaterTower Theatre is the latest. While Miller was one of our primary exponents of American realism in drama as filtered through the abstractions of memory, his go-to often ended up being melodrama. That’s a problem inherent in the play, from the brooding Act 2 appearance of the chief antagonist, George, to the ways characters’ convictions seem to hinge on just a word or two. The Keller family has built an emotional house of cards that gets blown over by the storm that opens the show — heavy-handed, self-important and metaphor-laden, in case you needed to be reminded.

That hand-holding is something that has always irked me about Miller’s plays, though a good production can usually grant you permission to you overlook them (or think less about them), and WTT’s production is a good one, especially with Terry Martin in the leading role of Joe. Martin is one of North Texas’ most popular acting coaches, and he proves why every time he gets onstage. He lives inside the moment of the show, never overplaying but not afraid to explore the emotional edges of his characters. Joe is a surprisingly reckless chap, courting conflict with a kingly sense of entitlement and untouchability, and, Lear-like, discovers too late the cracks in the veneer.

Katie, played by Diana Sheehan, is a familiar type from mid-20th-century American theater: The emotional wreck trying to maintain the semblance of family, and inadvertently undermining it. We see it in Linda Loman, but also Amanda Wingfield (Glass Menagerie) and Mary Tyrone (Long Day’s Journey) and others. It’s a prickly thing to do, teetering on the brink of madness, and Sheehan does a good job. The more problematic performance is Joey Folsom as George. Folsom is a talented actor, but he seems to be appearing in an entirely different production. Gloomy as an undertaker and stalking the stage more than moving across it, he feels like Bogart with his brusque, hard-nosed delivery and squinting scowl. It’s as if he were plopped right out of 1946, which isn’t bad, except than most of the other actors don’t go there, so it’s a jarring disconnect from the world director David Denson has created.

All My Sons never fully comes together as a play; it feels almost too ambitious, as if Miller couldn’t resist moralizing about money, law, lust, family and guilt in one great epic, in case he never wrote another play again. He did, of course, which bloats the stage exactly when he needs to pull back. It’s almost in spite of itself that it still makes good points amid all the sanctimony.

Mildred Will (Marcia Carroll) is another character living in a fantasy world. She’s a woman disappointed by life who has retreated her inner life of movie magazines and TV, frittering away her existence in 1970s-era New York. When she wins a contest that promises to give her a new start, she allows herself a brief window of hope … only to have it yanked out from under her.

Doesn’t sound much like a comedy, does it? And in fact, The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild, now at the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, isn’t really meant to be all that funny. It has a darkness to it, sandwiched by some one-liners. Think Kiss of the Spider Woman more than You Can’t Take It With You.

Neil Simon, of course, was the master of the “comedy” that ultimately proved to be quite sad, and Paul Zindel is no Neil Simon. (His two best-known plays, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, are more definitively dramas.) There should be a bright-line that divides her depressing reality from her idealized dream world, which simply doesn’t happen under director Frank Latson. For instance, Mildred’s husband, played by Scott Latham, is sad-sack with a bad toupee, while the actor also is supposed to be the romantic lead in Mildred’s reimagined movies (she’s always the heroine, trying gamely to cast her spouse in the heroic role he doesn’t play in her day-to-day life). But Latham seems just as dull and awkward whether he’s being Fred Astaire or Clark Gable as he is a lonely candy store salesman.

Many of the problems with the play, though, lay in Zindel’s script, which — like All My Sons — tries to do too much at once. All the action takes place over the course of about 48 hours, even though there’s no reason to pile on except to create a sense of urgency. But it feels false, and the reality of Mildred’s plight comes off as theatrical and resolvable, if anyone simply put in some effort. Her home is about to be destroyed by a wrecking ball, but she hasn’t packed a single valise, nor does anyone seem concerned about that. It’s hard to care about characters when the playwright doesn’t, either.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower Theatre announces 2014-15 season

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Terry Martin

Addison’s WaterTower Theatre extends its affiliation with Fort Worth’s Stage West with another co-production, and offers two regional premieres as well as a piece by local playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood in its upcoming season.

The season — the 15th for WTT’s artistic director, Terry Martin — opens with a musical biography with Dallas roots: Bonnie & Clyde (Oct. 10–Nov. 2), which had a brief run on Broadway two seasons ago.  That’s followed by a new holiday show built around a familiar group. The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical (Dec. 5–Jan. 4, 2015) follows the antics of the popular Great American Trailer Park Musical, which WTT has produced in the past to much acclaim.

The Explorers Club, co-produced with Stage West, runs Jan. 16–Feb. 8, 2015, followed by Arthur Miller’s Tony Award-winning drama All My Sons (April 17–May 10). Cheatwood’s new play Manicures & Monuments settles in for a summer run (June 5–28), and the musical Sweet Charity closes out the season (July 14–Aug. 16).

The Out of the Loop Fringe Festival returns for its 14th incarnation, March 5–15.

For more information or season tickets, visit WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: WaterTower Theatre announces 2013-14 season

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Terry Martin

Terry Martin, the producing artistic director for WaterTower Theatre, announced his theater’s upcoming season tonight, which includes the return of the (often very gay) Out of the Loop Fringe Festival as well as five mainstage productions.

Among the shows are a musical about a country music pioneer, a screwball comedy and several regional premieres, some by gay playwrights.

WTT’s next production, Black Tie (directed by Rene Moreno), opens May 31; the final show of the company’s 2012-13 season will be Xanadu.

Here’s the full lineup for 2013-14:

Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Oct. 11–Nov.3). This jukebox musical features the songs of the C&W legend, who died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29.

The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) (Dec. 13–Jan. 5, 2014). Ken Ludwig, the Tony-nominated author of Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You, wrote this regional premiere, a farce about actor William Gillette — famed for his performances as Sherliock Holmes — solving a real crime.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Jan. 24–Feb. 12, 2014). Another regional premiere, adapted from Mark Twain’s classic novel about the mischievous teenager involved in murder and intrigue.

Out of the Loop Fringe Festival (Mar. 6–16, 2014). The return of the annual celebration of unique theater. No lineup will be announced until next year, but the content usually runs toward racier, edgy productions.

Spunk (Apr. 11–May 4, 2014). Gay director and author George C. Wolfe — probably best known for mounting the original Broadway production of Angels in America, as well as the recent revival of The Normal Heart — wrote this play, adapted from short stories by celebrated African-American author Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God).

Good People (June 6–29, 2014). Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) wrote this comic and insightful character study about old friends and new lives.

Dogfight: A New Musical (July 25–Aug. 17, 2014). Based on the 1991 film, this regional premiere musical, co-written by openly gay composer/lyricist Benj Pasek, is set on the eve of the Kennedy assassination, where a man tries to win a contest by bringing the ugliest girl to a party.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: WaterTower’s (very gay) new season

Addison’s WaterTower Theatre released the schedule for its 2012-2013 season, and the line-up is among the gayest for the company in recent memory.

• The season begins in September with The Mystery of Irma Vep, experimental gay playwright Charles Ludlam’s hilarious send-up of melodramas revolving around the strange goings-on at a spooky estate. (Sept. 28–Oct. 21.)

• The holiday show will be It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. This is a new concept for WTT, which typically stages a musical comedy or revue with a Christmas  theme. This production will transport the beloved film to the studio of a 1940s-era radio station for an authentic recreation of the old-school radio play. (Nov. 24–Dec. 16.)

• The season picks up again in January with Putting It Together, a musical revue featuring the music of gay composer extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim. Diana Sheehan, who played Big Edie in WTT’s Grey Gardens, stars. (Jan. 11–Feb. 3.)

• This past year, WTT’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival was super-gay — it often is. Next year’s line-up won’t be announced until early next year, but you can always count on odd and engaging new works. (March 7–17.)

• WTT’s gay artistic director Terry Martin, who recently starred in the Dallas Theater Center’s production of Next Fall, pictured (Martin’s on the right), will direct Frank Galati’s award-winning adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath, about the Joad family’s journey from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to the fields of California in the 1930s. (April 5–28.)

• Prolific playwright A.R. Gurney, who mined the field of WASP culture in plays like Love Letters, tackles the formal wedding toast in Black Tie, a comedy about a father trying to maintain some dignity at his son’s upcoming nuptials, only to have his own late father appear as a ghost, offering advice. (May 31–June 23.)

• The season ends next summer with one of the gayest musicals ever conceived: Xanadu. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s hysterically campy adaptation of the godawful 1980s movie musical, released in the waning days of disco, inserts pop music into a revised plot about the establishment of a roller disco. (July 26–Aug. 18.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

James Lemons leaving WaterTower Theatre

James Paul Lemons, the artistic associate at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, is leaving the theater.

In a statement issued by producing artistic director Terry Martin, James is leaving to “pursue other career opportunities.” James told me the career part may be on hold a bit — he’s actually going back to school to work on his master’s degree.

In addition to his duties dealing with critics, he directed shows at WTT and elsewhere; he was, in fact, the first theater interview I ever did at the Voice, when he was directing When Pigs Fly, the second show ever produced by Uptown Players, in 2002.

James tells me he’s taking a break for awhile but could be convinced to return to the directing for the right show. Best of luck, James!анализ плотности ключевых слов

—  Arnold Wayne Jones