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

IMG_7710

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)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

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

WaterTower Theatre announces 2015-16 season

Cara Serber Peter Dicesare CREEPWaterTower Theatre officially set its 2015-16 season, which includes an already-revealed original musical, the return of a hit from this season and two recent Broadway successes, WTT’s producing artistic director, Terry Martin, announced.

The season opens with the world premiere of the musical Creep (Oct. 2–25), pictured, written by out Dallas writer/composer Donald Fowler. A moody investigation into the Jack the Ripper legend, it has been in the works for many years. That will be followed by the mainstage production of  Sexy Laundry (Nov. 20–Dec. 13) which played a limited run in the studio space earlier this season with Wendy Welch and Bob Hess. For the first time in a long while, WTT won’t have a holiday show.

2016 begins with an adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Jan. 22–Feb. 14, 2016), about what happens to young boys when removed from organized society. That will be followed by the 15th annual Out of the Loop Fringe Festival (Feb. 25–March 6). The next single show is a regional premiere, Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal (April 15–May 8), followed by the regional premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar (June 3–26), to be directed by Rene Moreno. The final production of the season will be the Richard Bean’s comedy One Man, Two Guvnors (Aug. 5–28).

All productions will be staged at the Addison Theatre Centre at 15650 Addison Road. The six-play season subscriptions range in price from $90–$180. The renewal deadline for current subscribers to keep their same seats is July 1. Subscribers who renew by June 19 will have the normal handling fee of $7 waived.

See more, and make purchases, at WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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

Donald Fowler’s long-brewing Jack the Ripper musical, ‘Creep,’ will bow in Oct.

Fowler CreepIt’s been almost exactly five years since out Dallas actor Donald Fowler went behind the scenes to share a passion of his with audiences: Creating an original musical. In March 2010, Fowler debuted an in-the-works musical, Creep, at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. I thought it showed great promise at the time, and over the years, I’ve asked Donald if there are any developments I can report. “Soon… hopefully” was his most frequent response.

Well, I don’t think five years is “soon,” but better late than never. Just as this year’s OOTL fest ended yesterday, came word that a revamped version of Creep  — a fantasia about Jack the Ripper, full of foggy Victorian London streets and introspective ballads (the subtitle is The Very , Very Sad and Unfortunately True and Completely Fabricated Tale of Jack the Ripper) — would be fully produced … the season opener, in fact, of WaterTower Theatre’s 2015-16 season. I was at an announcement party Sunday night where Fowler’s team performed two of the new numbers for the show. And given the arc — Fowler wrote the book, music and lyrics starting more than 10 years ago — it’s truly been borne of blood … and expect plenty of blood when it debuts Oct. 5, following a gala preview on Oct. 4. Until then, a fundraising group, called the 2015 Producers’ Circle, has been established to raise a minimum of $75,000 to supplement the cost of mounting a new production. Already about $25,000 has been raised.

WTT will announce its complete season on May 26.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower announces lineup for Out of the Loop Fringe Festival

dodd headshotWaterTower Theatre’s 14th annual Out of the Loop Fringe Festival begins its 11-day run one month from today, and WTT artistic director has announced the lineup, which includes seven world premieres: You Need Go Search; iMy Sweet Bat-Cinera!; Melanchomedy: Funny Scenes about Sad Folks (pictured); Eating Pavement; Standing 8 Count; Nomad Americana; and The Spark, which is produced by the folks at WTT.

There is some specific gay content this season (as most seasons). QLive! — the live performance arm of Q Cinema — will return to the fest with the musical Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story. And Blaque to Blaque: A Trilogy of Short Plays features one about a gay man coming out to his two dads. The festival will also include dance, visual arts and standup comedy.

Single tickets ($10) go on sale Feb. 24, but festival passes ($55–$65) are available now, and reservations for passholders can begin on Feb. 11. You can see the entire schedule there.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower announces lineup for Discovery Series

A gay Macy’s elf, an artist who seems to paint vaginas and a married couple on the rocks are featured in the three shows making up WaterTower Theatre‘s upcoming Discovery Series, which debuts in December.

Garret Storms reprises his role as a Christmastime employe Crumpet in the stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ amusing The Santaland Diaries. This is the sixth time the show has been performed at WTT, and the second with Storms.

That will be followed in January with Sexy Laundry, directed by WTT’s artistic director, Terry Martin. It’s an adult comedy about a couple who seek to spice up their stale marriage.

The final show of the series will be O’Keeffe, a one-woman show about Georgia O’Keeffe, whose flowery painting have made her a favorite artist in the LGBT community for decades, owing to their suggestive, erotic nature. The show features local actress Carolyn Wickwire, who has traveled extensively with the show in recent years. It opens in April.

Tickets for all the shows will be on sale by Dec. 9.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones