Enter, stage left

After a decade, Uptown Players, Dallas’ gaylicious theater troupe, finally gets its Pride on with Performing Arts Fest

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GAY PLAY BUFFET | Uptown Players’ inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival features musicals, plays, staged readings, comedy and cabarets, including, ‘Beautiful Thing,’ left, ‘Last Sunday in June,’ below and ‘Crazy Like Me,’ above.

Seeing how Uptown Players always gives Dallas theatergoers a big gay outlet, it would only seem natural that as the city celebrates Pride in September, the troupe would be in the thick of things, presenting some of their gaycentric shows while the rainbow flags are unfurling.

But that has rarely been the case, and the big hold-up was always limited space. Now that Uptown calls the Kalita Humphreys Theater home, the company finally can go all out, as it will with its inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival.

“It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” says producer Craig Lynch. “I’m excited to do two weeks of shows that really celebrate the community and to have the opportunity to see it all come together.

With 11 different performances spread across two weekends, Uptown will be able to showcase shows in both the main stage and the upstairs black box theater, Frank’s Place. Juggling drama, comedy and even cabaret, Lynch feels that Uptown, even after a decade, will put the company on the map with a larger audience.

“I’m excited to get some people in here that may not have been here,” he says. “I think people will be able to say, ‘There’s a great theater company here and we need to come back.’ And it’s another way to bring the community together and sort of remember our roots.”

Lynch also thinks it’s a nice alternative to the usual night out.

“Hey, you’ve seen one shirtless twink, you seen ‘em all,” he says.

So true.
— Rich Lopez

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MAIN STAGE

Crazy Just Like Me directed by Coy Covington. Simon, Mike and Lauren find that the love of their lives may not be who they thought it would be in this musical. Stars Alex Ross, Kayla Carlyle, Angel Velasco, Corey Cleary-Stoner and Ryan Roach. Sept. 9, 11, 14 and 16 at 7:30 p.m.

lead-2Beautiful Thing directed by B.J. Cleveland. The story of two teenage boys who discover their love for each other and the optimism that goes with it. Based on the popular indie film, the production benefits Youth First Texas. Sept. 10 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept 17 at 2 p.m.

Pride Cabaret Concert: From Chopin to Show-tunes featuring Kevin Gunter and Adam C. Wright. This musical cabaret takes a whirlwind look at theater music. Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen close the festival with their brand of music and comedy. Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

FRANK’S PLACE

The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode directed by Andi Allen. The 2009 cast, including Paul J. Williams as Mrs. Garrett, reunites for this spoof of the 1980s sitcom. Sept. 9 and 14 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 10 at 9:30 p.m.

The New Century directed by Andi Allen. Allen teams up again with Williams alongside Marisa Diotalevi for this new Paul Rudnick short play of tales of gay men and the women who love them. Sept. 10 at 3 p.m., Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 4 p.m.

A Taste of Beauty staged reading is a workshop of a brand new musical by Jeff Kinman, John de los Santos and Adam C. Wright. Audience feedback is encouraged. (Staged reading.) Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.  and Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.

Asher, TX ’82 written and directed by Bruce Coleman. This world premiere by Coleman finds four youths in Texas confronted with violence and how it affects their lives forever. Max Swarner (Equus) and Drew Kelly (Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits) are among the cast. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.

Click/A Midsummer Night’s Conversation directed by Kevin Moore. These two shorts by Austin playwright Allan Baker are presented in conjunction with Asher. In Click, two guys try to hook up online but for different reasons. In Midsummer, a same-sex couple finds its time to get real honest with each other. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.

Last Summer at Bluefish Cove directed by Cheryl Denson. A key work to lesbian literature, this play by Jane Chambers tells the story of an unhappy married woman discovering a newlead-3 world with a fresh set of friends who all happen to be lesbian. (Staged reading.) Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.

Last Sunday in June directed by Rick Espaillat. This Jonathan Tolins play follows the perfect gay couple on a not-so-perfect gay Pride day. The cast includes Chris Edwards, Jonathan Greer, Lon Barrera, Rick Starkweather, Robert L. Camina, Jerry Crow and Lee Jamison. Sept. 13 and 15 at 8 p.m.

—  Kevin Thomas

From light to darkness

‘B’way Our Way’ takes it up a notch; ‘Language of Angels’ best left unheard

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

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PUTTIN’ ON THE GLITZ | Coy Covington and Drew Kelly display some sassy showmanship in Uptown Players’ annual fundraiser, ‘Broadway Our Way: Divas Rising.’

I kind of miss the old Broadway Our Way, Uptown Players’ annual comedy-musical showcase that served as a season-kickoff and fundraiser for the gaycentric theater troupe. When the company performed at the Trinity River Arts Center in a 120-seat auditorium, there was intimacy and love as local actors, musicians and directors volunteered their time with limited sets and costumes to put on a show the old-fashioned way.

Now that the show (like all Uptown shows) is performed at the historic Kalita Humphreys Theater, there’s more gravitas and less camaraderie. It’s not just a fundraiser; it’s An Event.

When you walk into the latest incarnation, Divas Rising, you can’t help but be impressed by the monster set, the use of the giant lazy susan stage, the many costumes and two-dozen performers. It’s a true production.

We can lament the all-in-this-together quality falling by the wayside, but we have to acknowledge how important it is for Uptown, in its 10th season, to have come so far so fast. This is slick theater — and still mounted, as a labor of love, by the talent onstage and behind the scenes — as usual, Andi Allen wrote and directed, with hip parodies of Glee and a swishy camp sensibility that plays well with the mixed audience.

Among the performers are some of Dallas’ best, who sing songs originally written for members of the opposite sex. That allows Wendy Welch to soar on the (now-lesbified) love ballad “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd and Rick Starkweather to jerk unexpected tears from my eyes on “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked. It gives Natalie King a perfect-fit 11 o’clock number in “Memphis Lives in Me” and host Paul J. Williams free rein to vamp with the audience as Sister Helen Holy.

This year’s version of BOW is perky in Act 1, downbeat in Act 2, but then, like Glee, it ends with “Don’t Stop Believin’.” We believe guys;
we still believe.
If BOW keeps it light and gay, Language of Angels, in the appropriately cavernous space at Theatre Too, is dark as night.

The premise is intriguing: While out with friends, a teenaged girl disappears in the labyrinth of caves in the North Carolina mountains. Was she killed? Did she slip? Or did something else entirely happen to her? And why?

These kinds of mysteries are perfect grist for drama, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the new AMC series The Killing to Peter Weir’s allegorical film Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s OK for these stories to luxuriate in the unanswerable, to raise existential questions and challenge us to understand.

Language of Angels does none of that, though it tries — oh, how it tries. It’s a muddle of naïve and conflicting ideas told out of time with deep pretension.

Playwright Naomi Iizuka is so fond of her own sense of language, she makes her characters say things they never would. (One beer-swilling mountain boy describes the “fuchsia” accents on his girlfriend’s tattoo; I doubt even the gay boys in Carolina say fuchsia, for crying out loud.) And it all takes place in near darkness. I doubt even the enhanced interrogation techniques usedat Gitmo to squeeze bin Laden’s location out of Taliban loyalists could be more excruciating than the first half hour of this play.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

 


—  Kevin Thomas