2011 Year in Review: Stage

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KIT KAT KLUBBERS | Wade McCollum, center, almost dominated DTC’s ‘Cabaret’ as the sleazy Master of Ceremonies, but everyone was at the top of their game in this production, directed by Joel Ferrell.

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

Dallas theaters done good in 2011, with many exciting, funny, touching and/or energetic productions to choose from. Here, from No. 10 to the top:

10. Ovo (Cirque du Soleil tour). We’ve come to expect excellence from Cirque du Soleil, but their latest show is probably the best touring production to come to North Texas. Nearly a year later, it lingers for its beauty, derring-do and even storytelling, as it portrays romance in the bug world.

9. In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (Kitchen Dog Theater). Sarah Rule can be an acquired taste, but I acquired it with Kitchen Dog’s outrageous comedy of manners about how science adapted Victorian culture’s sexual repression to treat female “hysterics” with bizarre blindfolds over what they were doing. It took Freud and Jung to release us from these constraints.

8. The New Century and Beautiful Thing (Uptown Players’ Pride Festival). Uptown’s debut festival had some definite misses (the mainstage production of Crazy, Just Like Me was unwatchable), but I’ll walk away from the festival remembering the touching domestic drama Beautiful Thing and the camptastic Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century, which also managed to make audiences cry.

7. Arsenic and Old Lace (Dallas Theater Center). This crusty old comedy from the 1930s seemed like an unlikely source of some of the top laughs of 2011, but the Scott Schwartz-directed production, including a magnificent revolving set and a fresh, pixieish energy from Tovah Feldshuh and her co-star, Betty Buckley, was a real hoot — a chestnut roasting into a nutcake.

6. How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (ICT MainStage). Max Swarner found his niche in 2011 as the breezy light musical comedian — and How to Succeed was the perfect vehicle to showcase it. Looking big and expensive on a community theater budget, director Michael Serrecchia made this very-‘60s-era comedy feel as modern as The Colbert Report.

5. Dividing the Estate (DTC). The first entry in the city-wide Foote Festival was also the best, due in large part to director Joel Ferrell’s brisk pacing of a Gothic Southern (or in this case, Texas) saga about family sniping and intrigue. Any Southerner will recognize characters from his or her own background in the most sweeping portrait of blood dynamics since August: Osage County.

4. The Hand (Broken Gears Project Theater). Poor Broken Gears seemed to implode because of this show — a quickie little two-hander about men in a bathroom — one of whom is missing a hand… and wants one back. Snappy, gruesome and thoughtful, with a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism, it was guerrilla theater at its best.

3. Red Light Winter (Second Thought Theater). Adam Rapp’s drama about alpha-males and sexual politics marked the temporary return to Dallas of actor-director Regan Adair, and it was a fitting swan song for him as he tenderly parsed the most poignant of love stories with a dark, vicious side. The three actors were exceptional handling the explicit sexual content.

2. Next to Normal (Uptown Players). Uptown Players scored a coup in nabbing this Pulitzer-winning musical, basically an opera about mental illness. Beautifully sung (especially by the emotionally connected stars, Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd), it was the second major hit from director Michael Serrecchia.

1. Cabaret (DTC). It’s tempting to single out Wade McCollum, as the seductive Master of Ceremonies, with a large share of the success of this reinvention of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece, but it was not just him but Julie Johnson, David Coffee and especially director-choreographer Joel Ferrell — who turned the Wyly Theater into a seedy Weimar night club — plus everyone involved with making Cabaret the not-to-miss production of this, or any, season.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Egg-cellent

GRAVITY BE DAMNED | The slack-wire act, left, and the spider contortionist are some of the feats of physical skill in ‘Ovo,’ a thrilling big-top circus extravaganza.

Ovo, Cirque du Soleil’s new insect-themed cavalcade of jaw-dropping wonders, is reason to drive to Frisco

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

The opening of Ovo, the new Cirque du Soleil touring production, sounds like an attack of locusts, which is sort of the point. The concept of the show is A Bug’s Life, set to abstract music and eye-popping feats of physicality.

As a concept, it works terrifically. Cirque shows traditionally have themes that establish the look, but don’t really tell a story. None of it matters — it’s just a pretext for the juggling and high-wire acts. But here, there really is a romance between a ladybug and a housefly, played out with clownish bravado. And even better, the acts seem to tie into their characters.

That’s due in large, large part to the gorgeous costumes, which are as colorful and varied as the microcosmos of the insect world itself. (And, let’s say it, sexy.) The design mirrors what the acts are supposed to do: Crickets with extended haunches bounce off walks faster than a meadow on a warm summer night; a spider — the slack-wire gymnast, all of 95 pounds, clad in a skin-tight exoskeleton — scurries across a strand of his web, doing handstands and rolling on a unicycle; fleas flick their bodies nimbly through the air as if the dog show just got to town.

All in all, there are about 10 acts in the two-and-a-half hour production under la grand chapiteau in the parking lot of the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. It’s been a long time since Cirque came to North Texas; it’s worth the drive to check it out.

The awesomeness is difficult to describe — or to put in context. After the parade of characters, the main event kicks off with a small display: A firefly who contorts while balanced on his h

and. It sounds simple, even ordinary, but the skill involved astonishes you. Then out come a crew of waif Asian girls who juggle — balls, ottomans, each other — on their feet, passing human bodies around as effortlessly as a salt shaker at the family dinner. It takes the spool juggler — basically, a yo-yo artist extraordinaire — to drop a few to realize these are, in fact, humans who make mistakes. The illusion is that effective.

There’s something for almost every taste, from the elegant aerial ribbon flight of the butterflies to the oh-my muscularity of the trapeze-swinging beetles to the silly, wild dancing of the inchworm. I don’t remember the circus being this fun — or this sexy — when I was a kid. Here’s to progress.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.


—  John Wright