WaterTower announces 2016-17 season lineup…Terry Martin’s last

terrymartin-38Terry Martin, who is stepping down next month as WaterTower Theatre’s producing artistic director, has announced details of the company’s 2016-17 mainstage season — WTT’s 20th and Martin’s last.

“I have had the privilege and honor to call this theatre my artistic home for 17 glorious years,” said Martin. ” My heart is full of pride with all that we have accomplished.  I am thrilled to leave the community with a 20th Anniversary season that I feel is a wonderful representation of what WaterTower Theatre has always been about — true celebration  of the art of theater.”

The season opens with the regional premiere of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash  (Oct . 7 –30), which pays tribute to the legendaryMan in Black and his iconic music. The season continues with another regional premiere, Silent Sky (Jan. 20–Feb. 12, 2017), a new play by Lauren Gunderson, which tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a brilliant and headstrong pioneer at the dawn of modern astronomy. Next will be a third regional premiere, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord (Apr. 14–May 7) by Scott Carter (executive producer of Real Time with Bill Maher). This smart comedy examines what happens when great men of history are forced to repeat it. Up next is a new regional premiere comedy by Karen Zacarías, one of the country’s leading Latina playwrights, called Native Gardens (June 2–25).  The fifth and final production will be the iconic Stephen Sondheim musical, Sunday in the Park with George (July 28–Aug. 20).

Stephen SondheimThe five-show subscription package can be enhanced with the addition of the holiday extra, Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold (Dec. 2–23). Directors for each production will be announced at a later date.  All productions will be staged at the Addison Theatre Centre at 15650 Addison Road, Addison. The five-play season subscriptions range in price from $75 (previews) to $150 (Saturday evening). Audiences can also choose an A or B Sampler Series: A — Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Silent Sky, Native Gardens; B —  The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, Native Gardens, Sunday in the Park with George. There’s also a Design Your Own Series option.

Visit the theater here for more info.


—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Greg Patterson promoted to managing director of WTT

Gregory Patterson photo by Matt Tolbert (2)More shakeup in the arts of North Texas! Only this time it’s good news.

Greg Patterson, who has served as WaterTower Theatre‘s director or marketing and new development for nine years, has been promoted to the role of the company’s managing director by the board of directors. It’s a new position at WTT; Terry Martin, who resigned last week, has been the producing artistic director, meaning he essentially handled the management and artistic sides of the Addison-based theater company. Most companies divide those responsibilities, as WTT has now done.

WaterTower is still looking for someone to replace Martin, who served for 17 years. A search committee will look for a new AD, which will include Patterson, Stan Graner, Rose Colarossi and Paul Shultz.

This is only the latest in changes in the Dallas arts scene this past year; Last year, both company manager Terry Dobson and founding producer Jac Alder of Theatre 3 died; Bruce Coleman was appointed interim artistic director. Earlier this year, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Jaap van Zweden announced his departure from the DSO; and in the last two weeks, Martin left WTT and Michael Jenkins was fired after 20 years as president of the Dallas Summer Musicals. Max Anderson also left the directorship of the Dallas Museum of Art, and Lily Weiss recently took over as CEO of the Dallas Arts District.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Time and tide

‘Show Boat,’ ‘Big Meal,’ ‘Empress’ movingly portray the full landscape of life


Lara Tetter, above right, steals scenes in Dallas Opera’s ‘Show Boat. (Photo by Karen Almond)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Theater is a matter of life and death in North Texas this month — literally.

Screen shot 2016-04-21 at 3.00.58 PMAt WaterTower Theatre, the entire life-cycle is at issue in The Big Meal, a tender, funny, painfully real portrait of a family from courtship to death. It starts with two 20somethings Nicki and Sam (Kia Boyer and Garret Storms), meeting for an awkward first date or two, usually over dinner and drinks. With the chime of a bell, it’s now at least a decade later, with Nicki and Sam now played by Sherry Hopkins and Jakie Cabe. They reignite their relationship, and to the surprise of both, agree to marry … just so long as they don’t have children. A chime later, and two rug-rats (Kennedy Waterman and Alex Duva) come running in — apparently the call of biology was too much to resist.

The play continues on that way, with abrupt changes of setting and time … as well as cast. At first, John S. Davies and Lois Sonnier Hart play Sam’s parents; by they end, they are portraying Sam and Nicki themselves, now great-grandparents of pairs of kids (Cabe and Hopkins), grandkids (Storms and Boyer), etc.

Sound confusing? It’s really not, though it does demand your attention, something you willing give over as you become inextricably rapt by the authenticity of the lives of this family, which include dating, divorce, infidelity, cancer and of course death — the “big meal” in playwright Dan LeFranc’s construct. Each time the stage manager steps onstage with a full plate of food and a napkin-wrap of silverware, it’s someone’s turn to eat … and walk off-stage forever. Dinner becomes a form of Russian roulette.

Initially, the speed of the transitions, and the unmiked voices, force you to strain a bit to catch everything. And then you realize that director Emily Scott Banks is doing that intentionally, making you lean forward and engage. It’s a crafty way to rope you in, and for 100 uninterrupted minutes, she makes you laugh and breaks your heart. By the end, with Sam quaking from Parkinson’s, his mind fading as Nicki feeds him one last time, you’re wrecked. (Damn her montage of couples — gay and straight — and exquisite use of music to pluck at our emotions!)

The cast ably serves Banks’ vision. Storms is a protean actor who, better than anyone on North Texas stages right now, fluidly transforms from one type to another (a scene where he portrays every boyfriend Boyer’s character ever brought home is a subtle tour-de-force). Waterman — barely a teen — wowed audiences in Harbor and Daffodil Girls, and cements her rep as a “kid” actor with mature talent. Of all local theater companies, WaterTower seems the one most consistently occupied with telling the human experience with kitchen-sink verisimilitude. The Big Meal adds to that catalogue, a kind of modern-day Our Town. Come prepared to cry.


Kia Boyer and Garret Storms, above, begin a romance that becomes an entire lifetime in WTT’s ‘Big Meal.’ (Photo by Karen Almond)

You might well cry throughout Show Boat, too — the final production of the Dallas Opera’s current season and the first time the company has produced an American-style musical, not a traditional opera (though it’s actually more of an operetta). The songs — “Ol’ Man River,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “Bill” — are firmly ensconced as charter entrants in the Great American Songbook, and as delivered here, wrenching arias as well-honed as Mozart’s “Porgi amor” or Offenbach’s “Barcarolle.” Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II may not have reputations as “opera composers,” but their work stands with some of the greats.

It helps that the Dallas Opera has assembled a cast that not only sings with the strength of opera, but can act up a storm.
The story revolves around Magnolia Hawks (soprano Andriana Chuchman), a young girl touring with her parents about the Cotton Blossom, a moving river boat that wanders the Mississippi at the turn of the last century, performing overwrought melodramas for residents of the port towns. She meets the gambler Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Michael Todd Simpson), a tall and impressive dandy who sweeps her off her feet, giving her and their daughter a good life until his losses pile up, and Magnolia is forced to work for a living, becoming a celebrated singer.

Chuchman and Simpson have real chemistry, which you feel during their duet “Make Believe.” But it’s soprano Alyson Cambridge as the tragic Miss Julie LaVerne, a half-black actress “passing” for white in the segregated south, who delivers the show’s major knockout punch. “Bill” sounds like a novelty song — a sweet, goofy ballad about a woman infatuated by her seemingly average boyfriend — but Cambridge turns it in a breathtaking torch song of an alcoholic has-been, giving her all at the end of her career. And basso-profundo Morris Robinson brings it for his (and the show’s) signature song, “Ol’ Man River.”

As is often the case, the comic role of Cap’n Andy is a scene-stealer, and the limber dancer Lara Teeter commits grand theft. It’s a joyously upbeat performance in a show filled with as many dour moments as colorful bustles — the prototype for the modern musical, conducted with brio by Emmanuel Villaume.

Music is essential to another downbeat story about life and death. It’s Oct. 4, 1970, and Janis Joplin (Marisa Diotalevi) is drowning her sorrows in an L.A. hotel room when her idol — the late blues great Bessie Smith (M. Denise Lee) — seems to step out of the album she’s listening to and enters Janis’ world. Janis has died of a drug overdose and is just beginning to realize it; Bessie apparently is there to ease her transition into the afterlife.

The meeting of these musical greats, both cut down at the peak of their skills (Joplin at age 27, Smith at 43), forms the crux of Dianne Tucker’s reverie on American Music The Empress and the Pearl, now at Theatre 3’s downstairs space. Through songs (mostly Smith’s), conversation and some theatrical exposition, Tucker delineates the similarities between the performers, but also their differences as people and artists.

It’s not a balanced portrait. Joplin comes off as the more ungrateful and self-destructive of the two, a self-indulgent narcissist who ruined her raspy voice by burning out her soulfulness too recklessly, as well as ill-conceived romances with men and women. That’s something she shared with Smith, a sexually voracious singer who truly lived the blues.

Neither Lee nor Diotalevi look or sound much like their avatars, but it hardly matters; Lee in particular has the rich vocal chops to turn the small underground space into a Depression-era speakeasy. You can practically smell the gin in this cabaret.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 22, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stage review: Keeping up with ‘The Joneses’


Edward Albee’s seminal drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? pits two couples — one older and embattled, the other young and corruptible — in a game of psychological and sexual oneupmanship, contained in the rarefied world of intellectual academia. Will Eno’s play The Realistic Joneses — one of the Discovery Series productions in WaterTower Theatre’s black box studio — is like the prosaic, middle-class companion piece to Albee’s masterpiece. While Woolf steers toward allegory, Joneses (no relation — I hope) bends toward dark absurdist comedy, a realm Albee himself would explore more directly in his career. It’s funny and strange.

Eno builds not just on Albee’s foundation, but on a subgenre of theaterworks set in suburban backyards that delve into the cookout culture of human rivalries (you often see them at Kitchen Dog, in shows like Barbecue Apocalypse and Detroit). Bob and Jennifer Jones (James Crawford and Diana Sheehan, pictured) are settled, but going through hard times as Bob has been riddled with health issues and takes out his frustration on everyone around him. They meet comparative newlyweds John and Pony (Justin Locklear and Martha Harms), younger but odd in their own way. John has had a few medical issues of his own, and his affect — non sequitur responses to inane chit-chat, a perversely unnerving bubbliness — suggest something mysterious. It’s a clash of generations, where both sides learn from the other but only in the most halting, desperate way. There’s a sadness and gloom to their lives amid all the silly humor, reality between the Dadaist moments.

Tight four-actor shows like this depend greatly on the ensemble, and these are some of the best in town at what they do. Locklear is North Texas’ most emotionally available young actor: Handsome but not intimidatingly so, with a lively energy. And this is easily Sheehan’s best performance to date. She bridges the divide between pulling of light-footed comedy and carrying the emotional heft of the show. Among all the quirkiness, she brings the most realism to these Joneses.

Arnold Wayne Jones

At the Addison Theatre Centre through April 10. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 02.19.16

Thursday 02.25— Sunday 03.06


WaterTower Theatre opens 14th Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, dedicated to alt-theater

There’s a lot more going on in the world of theater than what Broadway, off-Broadway and even well-funded regional companies are producing. That’s why a fringe fest is an excellent opportunity for discovery, as WaterTower has demonstrated over more than a decade. Out of the Loop is back with a crowded lineup of performances (music, comic, dance, dramatic) over 11 days, including work from queer artists like Ebony Stewart to WTT’s first-ever 24 HR Play Fest, a quasi competition where playwrights, directors and actors write, rehearse and mount all-new works on a common theme with only one day’s prep. Get a season pass and discover what’s really going on in theater.

Addison Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road
Visit WaterTowerTheatre.org for a full schedule.

Friday 02.26


Lesbian rockers Hunter Valentine bids (sort of) adieu with So Long for Now Tour appearance at Trees

The queer all-girl rock group Hunter Valentine has been touring and recording (and making appearances on programs like Showtime’s The Real L Word) for more than a decade; just last Sunday, the group released its latest EP (on, appropriately enough, Valentine’s Day). But all good things must come to an end … or at least go on hiatus. The members are coming to Trees Feb. 26 as part of their So Long for Now Tour, so this could be your last chance (at least for a while) to catch them. (Also appearing on the bill are Faded Grace, Hush Money and Cruella.)

Trees, 2709 Elm St.
Doors at 7 p.m.
Show at 8 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WTT announces new Discovery Series for spring, with gay content

IMG_7710In this week’s edition, we have a story about the peripatetic Kelsey Leigh Ervi, who in the past three years has been something of a dynamo in North Texas theater. Well, she’s going stronger than ever, performing — not directing — in Bright Half Life, a romantic drama centered on a lesbian relationship. That will be one of two shows presented as part of WaterTower Theatre‘s new Discovery Series, which will take place this spring in the company’s Studio Theatre.

Garret Storms (currently also acting in Martyr) will direct Bright Half Life, which runs May 21–June 12. The other play, Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses, will co-star favorites Jim Crawford, Diana Sheehan, Justin Locklear and Martha Harms. It runs March 21–April 10.

Tickets go on sale Feb. 9 here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Scene stealer

In just 3 years, Kelsey Ervi has established a reputation as one of North Texas’ most peripatetic theater professionals. And she’s just getting started


Ervi on the set of WaterTower Theatre’s current production of ‘Lord of the Flies,’ her biggest project yet as a director. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Executive Editor

When last we caught up with Kelsey Leigh Ervi, she was a relative newcomer to the North Texas theater scene — working as an assistant to Terry Martin, the producing artistic director at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, while writing plays in her spare time and assistant-directing shows. We called that story “The sorcerers’ apprentice.”

How time flies. That was less than three years ago; today, the apprentice has become the master.

“Three years ago I was just starting out in Dallas, still trying to find my footing as a director,” she admits. Now she’s become a go-to talent in a variety of disciplines.

Not only has she continued to write (she had a play in WaterTower’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival last year), she performs — notably in a universally-acclaimed production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play at Stage West last summer — and has directed more and more, including a one-act at the Bath House Cultural Center last June for women-centric Echo Theatre, Precious Little, that was the consensus standout at the Festival of Independent Theatres. This week, she opened her biggest show to date, WTT’s production of Lord of the Flies, which runs through Feb. 14.

Oh, and she’s producing and doing photography and podcasting and even does sound design on occasion. But we’ll get to some of that later.

The short truth is, at just 26, Ervi has become one of the most promising talents in North Texas.

“Kelsey’s passion for the art of theater has been apparent since I met her,” gushes Terry Martin. “She has proven to be an artist of great taste and vision, and the DFW theater community is lucky to have her voice among us.”

Ervi accepts the praise humbly — her enthusiasm for her colleagues is as sincere as theirs for her. “I’m very fortunate to be in the community, working with the talent level we have here, which is pretty remarkable.” Precious Little’s, she insists, “was a very good show, but it just kind of happened. It became something I didn’t really expect it to be. We actually created this moving piece of theater, which has a lot to do with my lead actress, Sherry Ward, who was so amazing.”

Screen shot 2016-01-27 at 2.56.55 PMNone of it “just happened,” though. Even by her own account, Ervi has been “go-go-go” for the last three years. “In 2013, I did nine shows [as a writer/director/performer], in 2014 I did 10 and this last year was six, and a lot were really special. It was a professionally a very successful year for me. I get to work with people I want to work with and people who want to work with me. And WaterTower has afforded me a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things and come up with ideas that are creative.”

Which is why she jumped at the chance to direct Lord of the Flies. A stage adaptation of William Golding’s Nobel Prize-winning allegory about British schoolboys stranded on a desert island who create their own militaristic, tribal society might not be the kind of property you’d immediately association with a Texas girl in her mid-twenties.
Which is exactly the point.

“As a female, as a young person, as a lesbian, I don’t want to do just ‘gay material’ or ‘female material;’ I want to find work that is challenging and engaging and creates a dialogue,” Ervi says. Martin concurs.

“I knew that Kelsey was ready for a larger challenge and was thrilled to give her the opportunity [to direct Lord of the Flies],” he says. “This play was something I felt should would excel at.”

“This is my biggest thing as a director — definitely the biggest budget,” she says. “It was ambitious, no doubt. There are definitely more moving parts [than most smaller shows I’ve worked on].”

Her concept shows a depth that goes beyond her years. “What happens on that island isn’t because they are on the island. They can’t escape it — it’s society,” she says. “This play is about subject matter that is in our everyday lives. It’s totally relevant issues of gun violence in this country, as well as issues going on overseas.”

Social consciousness is as much a part of her aesthetic as anything else. Erv and two colleagues — Jeremy Dumont and Kathryn Taylor Rose — just recently launched the Little Big Scene Podcast, which discusses the state of theater in North Texas, including interviews with local practitioners. (The sixth episode dropped just this week.)

“We’re having a lot of fun, though I’m surprised sometimes we have the time to do it,” Ervi grins. “We had been wanting to have a podcast about Dallas-Fort Worth theater [because] we heard all these conversations in various cliques of the theater community, issues about space and money and casting and diversity and inclusion and women in theater — hot-button issues. We wanted to create a platform that was accessible to everyone so that we can realize we’re all one big community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 29, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower Theatre announces lineup for 2016 Out of the Loop Fringe Fest

Ebony Stewart

WaterTower Theatre’s Terry Martin announced today the full lineup for the 2016 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, which will take place Feb. 25—March 6, at the Addison Theatre Centre. The slate, which features six world premieres, includes two female-led cabarets, four dance works, one circus act, three solo performances, one musical reading, one play reading,  nine play productions, a spoken word performance, a 24-hour play festival, and “interdisciplinary piece” and several returning acts.

Among the world premieres are: Innovation Through Tradition; The Theatrical Piano; Diana Sheehan Sings: The Jerome Kern Songbook; With My Eyes Shut; I Love You Honey Bunny; and Prospect High: Brooklyn.

Single tickets ($10) go on sale Feb. 9 here. Festival-wide passes cost $65 and are on sale now. The full lineup is below.

Innovation Through Tradition is an evening of live music and innovative dance. Feb. 26 and 28.

Oh Jesus or An Actor, A Cynic and A Savior Walk into a Bar is a dark comedy that explores the battle between our angels and our demons.  Feb. 26; March 2 and 5.

Le Train Bleu — originally premiered on June 20, 1924 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées for gay impresario Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with a libretto by Jean Cocteau — will be restaged here. Feb. 25 and 27.

Solo: Women Dancing Women. An evening of solo dances created by and for women. Feb. 25 and 27.

Diana Sheehan Sings The Jerome Kern Songbook. The chanteuse performs the queer composer’s best songs. Feb. 26 and 27; March 5.

Hunger. A solo performance by spoken word performer and poet Ebony Stewart, pictured. Feb. 27 and 28.

Down That Road. A “vulnerable” cabaret. Feb. 27; March 4 and 6.

The Missionary Position: Pleasure Journeys for the Intrepid Lady Explorer is a comedic faux lecture series packed with physical comedy with a feminist bent. Feb. 25, 27 and 28.

With My Eyes Shut. Two people on the autism spectrum find themselves stuck in clown school to learn social skills. Feb. 28, March 1 and 5.

Prospect High: Brooklyn was created with the intent of offering a new collection of serious, true‐to‐life material for teenage actors. Feb. 28.

Ian Ferguson, Guitarist. Feb. 27; March 6.

Ian Mead Moore, Guitarist. Feb. 28; March 5.

Pun: A Play on Words is an energetic, meta-theatrical comedy following the desperate final rehearsal of a new play’s staged reading in the minutes before its only public performance. March 4 and 6.

The Theatrical Piano. Pianist Jeff Lankov performs his solo program. Feb. 27; March 3

The Transformation Project provides a glimpse of what challenges exist within our teen communities and family ecosystems. March 4 and 6.

And Then I Woke UpVampires! Demons! Sex! Billy Idol! Kris Noteboom performs his anecdotes about dreams. Feb. 28; March 5 and 6.

Le Petit Lone Star Circus. A Texas twist on the classic circus. March 2 and 6.

One Word RevolutionA new musical, presented as a staged reading. March 1.

I Love You Honey BunnyIf you can afford couples therapy, then that doesn’t automatically assume you can have a “date night” once a week or go on a long weekend each quarter, but if your marriage is important enough then you’ve got to make some sacrifices. Feb. 25; March 2 and 5.

The King’s Face is loosely based on the true story of a wounded warrior, circa 1403. Presented by Shakespeare Dallas. Feb. 27; March 3 and 6.

Jane and Mabel is a play about two homeless women and the funny, deep and interdependent nature of their friendship. Feb. 27; March 3 and 5.

Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been? A play about the Communist Witch Hunts of the 1950s. Feb. 29.

24-Hour Play Festival. Playwrights, directors and actors will come together to create four brand new plays in one day. Four playwrights will be chosen via submission, after which they will be assigned a director and a group of actors who will then inspire them to write a 15-minute play. The 24-Hour Play Festival will culminate in a one-time only performance on March 5.


—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Holiday Gift Idea: The gift of theater

Networks--Elf-(Boise)-----107-copyThere really are gifts that keep on giving, and a season subscription to a theater company is a real way to have something new for your sweetheart all year long (and provides you both something to do together). North Texas is full of theaters to support, but we recommend Dallas Summer Musicals (you can still get tickets for the first show of the season, Elf, reviewed this week), or get someone in Cowtown a similar lineup from Performing Arts Fort Worth; Uptown Players (which next month kicks off with a bonus show with the Turtle Creek Chorale), WaterTower Theatre, the Dallas Theater Center (which has a gay-themed show running right now) and many more. Support the arts and those on your gift lift.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Local actress, partner are first to get license in Denton County

W and SDenton County finally began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the first pair to get theirs were Whitney Hennen and Sara Bollinger. If Hennen looks familiar to you, there’s a reason. She’s a talented actress in North Texas, who won a Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum Award in 2011 for her intoxicating ditzy blonde role in Uptown Players’ Victor/Victoria. And she’ll next be seen trodding the boards next month in WaterTower Theatre’s production of Sweet Charity. She and her partner of six years, Sara Bollinger, were previously married outside of Texas.

We already had a story in the works about Bollinger and Hennen, so there’s more to come!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones