Man and Manolos

A Texas transplant’s love life fuels comedy in ‘Bad Dates’

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IMELDA OF THE WEST SIDE | Haley (Shannon J. McGrann) has a shoe fetish that doesn’t help her with me in the one-woman comedy ‘Bad Dates.’ (Photo courtesy George Wada)

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

The sly trick of Bad Dates is that its leading (heck, its only) character — Haley (Shannon J. McGrann), a Texas transplant who unexpectedly “makes it” in the Big Apple, and is only of late re-entering the dating world — is such a likeable, genuinely try-hard kinda gal, you are firmly on her side … before you realize she’s not exactly the perfect mom. As with Pyscho, where Hitchcock got you to sympathize with Norman Bates, playwright Theresa Rebeck has you rooting for Haley, sometimes against your better judgment. It’s the power of the unreliable narrator put starkly to work.

It helps that men and women, gay and straight, will see something familiar in Haley, who spends two hours as the only voice in this one-woman show, talking about relationships, family (especially her gay brother), dating and career. She dates gay guys, who are priggish. She dates bug experts, who are weird. She dates a great guy who… well, there’s always something wrong with a great guy. Trust me.

You can’t over-estimate the skills it takes to do a character monologue that has to be funny and poignant and not drone on. For two hours. This isn’t standup comedy; it’s comedy standing up, lying down, changing clothes and occasional slapstick. That’s a lot of baggage resting on McGrann’s narrow shoulders, but she carries it like a Sherpa. Bad Dates rises and falls on the strength of the actress playing Haley — approaching middle age with a cynic’s experiences but still determined to stay cautiously upbeat, she’s an underdog with an Imelda-sized shoe collection. Does that make her insufferable or needy? Or both?

Screen shot 2011-10-27 at 1.14.55 PMNeither with McGrann, who maintains a twinkle that is crucial to making the role work. (“Twinkle” is an undervalued asset in theater.) She modulates Haley’s self-doubt, over-confidence and general good nature in digestible bits. Whether it’s her or Rebeck who deserves the most credit for steering the tone away from maudlin is difficult to say. But for a comedy that takes a sudden turn into drama, Bad Dates never feels manipulative or melodramatic.

Robin Armstrong directed in a manner similar to how she designed the copious costumes: With generosity. There’s a light touch at work here that allows McGrann the freedom to work the stage, interacting with the audience with the gossipy joy of a coffee klatch. Unlike Haley’s Jimmy Choos — or her date with the gay guy — it’s a good fit.

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‘LUCIA’ IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS

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The Dallas Opera scaled back its season for budgetary reasons, but that wasn’t obvious at the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor, which powerfully conveyed the beauty and depth of Donizetti’s finest piece in a flamboyantly intoxicating performance.

The story — about a bride gone mad when the man she loves is kept from her — boasts one of the great coloratura roles for any soprano, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone besting Elena Mosuc (pictured, in her DO debut), for beauty and control as well as dramatic commitment. It’s not merely her technique during “Il dolce suono,” but her passion that makes this Lucia shine.

There won’t be another full mainstage production until April. This teaser has certainly whetted the appetite for what’s to come.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St.
Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 6 matinee at 2 p.m.
DallasOpera.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Postcards from the edge

Screen legend Shirley MacLaine talks about everything under the sun …. and a few things beyond it

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‘EVENING’ STAR | Shirley MacLaine, left, gives audiences the dish on her films in her one-woman show at Bass Hall Saturday. She’ll also talk up her life, possibly her past lives and anything the audience asks.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Shirley MacLaine is onto something with all her talk of otherworldly topics. When I asked the screen legend about her iconic status in the gay community — due to appearances in such films as Steel Magnolias, The Children’s Hour and even Postcards from the Edge — her phone cuts out. She doesn’t skip a beat on the return call.

“See how it went dead when you said the word ‘iconic?’ That’s a sign!” she says with a true guffaw.

At 77, MacLaine is still a spitfire who can quickly turn a question back on the interviewer. She’s a veteran at talking about her work and life, but admits that there are some things she doesn’t know about herself.

“I don’t know why the gays might think of me that way. What do you think?” she asks. The humor for one thing, I say — and how gays can’t resist a good, strong-willed woman.

“I’m curious what strikes me and what doesn’t,” she says. “Oh, and I think Madame Sousatzka is also popular. It’s the humor and that’s what I loved about those parts. There’s nothing more sophisticated than the gays’ sense of humor.”

So true — especially when it comes to Broadway. MacLaine raves enthusiastically over The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker and the musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Both show an irreverence as well as artistic merit, which MacLaine thinks is just what art needs right now.

“I just got back from New York and the audiences were so receptive,” she says. “Mormon is quite astonishing. You’ve just got to see it. You know, the world is in such bad trouble that [artists] don’t give a shit anymore. The feeling is, ‘We’ll make humor out of it.’ And Priscilla was moving and well done and over the top. It was such an exercise in imaginative clothing and shoes and humor. I had no idea.”

She has less to say about Promises, Promises, the musical revival based on her famed film, The Apartment. “Everyone keeps asking me that, but I just haven’t seen it,” she says.

MacLaine is onstage in North Texas with her show An Evening with Shirley MacLaine, which stops at Bass Hall Saturday. Despite her musical theater cred (she was Sweet Charity, after all), don’t expect singing and dancing —  she’s over all that. Instead, the Oscar winner will talk about her movies, her life and her loves.

She’s been doing that a lot lately. She’s been making the media rounds lately for her 13th book, I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions, including a spot on Oprah. But the show isn’t necessarily the live version of her latest autobio.

“The show is really fun and just a retrospective of my life — I tell stories about my films and Broadway, television, travels, love affairs,” she says. “It’s just me and a remote control up there.”

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.36.00 PMHopefully that will includes anecdotes about another screen legend, her late friend Elizabeth Taylor. MacLaine was part of the Golden Age that introduced the world to the likes of Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon and Taylor. But Liz’s passing (from this world, at least) struck MacLaine the hardest.

“That affected me more than I thought it would, to tell you the truth,” she says. “I met her when I was 20. I knew how she was feeling and I knew this would happen. I’ve been calling her and am talking to her still, but I don’t like to think of a world without her in it.”

Umm, still talking to Taylor? Well, MacLaine is almost as famous for her new age beliefs as for her acting prowess. She has written books that cover topics such as reincarnation, spiritual exploration and transcendentalism. So when she says she’s talking with Elizabeth Taylor … well, who can doubt her? A headline in a British tabloid recently labeled her “kooky,” but that’s nothing new to her. For years, she’s been mocked about her beliefs, but she uses the same thick skin needed for her acting career and she never let the media get to her.

Even having reached living legend status, MacLaine says that there is one thing she still hopes to accomplish in this lifetime.

“I’d like to go into space,” she says. “But not with an astronaut — an extraterrestrial spacecraft. I know a lot of people who’ve been taken aboard one. I haven’t done that yet in this lifetime.”

Of course, there’s always the next one.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Flying solo

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STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Hilarious actress-playwright Lauren Weedman brings her one-woman show to Out of the Loop

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OUT OF THE LOOP

NO…YOU SHUT UP
at Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Circle.
Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
WaterTowerTheatre.org

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Get this straight: Lauren Weedman is not a standup comedian; she’s an actress who just happens to be insanely funny. There’s a big difference. Even as a straight woman and new mother, the Los Angelena often portrays lesbians in plays she writes. It’s all in a day’s work for a woman making a career channeling multiple characters in a single show with a precision and nuance that’s a joy to behold. This weekend, local audiences have an opportunity to witness her in action in her newest play, No… You Shut Up, part of the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival.

Weedman officially got her big break as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a regular contributor on an NPR radio show, but her career began long before that.
“I started doing on-camera professional stuff when I was living in Seattle around 1995 when I was on a local TV show called Almost Live,” she says. ”But if you call Indianapolis community theater ‘the entertainment industry’ — and I don’t know if you should — it’s since third grade. I’m show-folk. Or circus-folk. Or a dirty artist-hippy — whatever you want to call it.”

The Daily Show, she admits, was an incredible coup, “even though nobody ever remembers me. And I wasn’t on that much during the year I worked there. And I was fired. Otherwise, wow! What a job.”

Weedman spent five years in Amsterdam studying, writing and performing. Before that trip, she thought she was the shocking one among her friends; but once there, she turned into a Puritan, “mostly about the overall passion for nudity all the Dutch people seemed to have,” she says. “I mean, if I was a seven-foot-tall skinny Dutch lady with uncomplicated nipples, I’d be naked all the time, too. But you just could not keep clothes on those people.”

Her varied life experiences show up in some form or fashion in many of her shows. No… You Shut Up comes to Addison via, of all places, Boise, Idaho, where a theater commissioned a play focusing on motherhood — even two-mommie households.

“Well, it’s a play. That starts to get annoying to hear, at least that’s what my friends always say because I’m always saying it whenever someone refers to it as ‘my act.’ As in ‘Lauren, you should meet my sister. You’d love her and you’d want to put her in your act,’” Weedman says. “I’ve done standup, but it’s not what solo theater is to me. The last two shows I’ve been focused on trying to make a narrative — plot-driven, character-driven, semi-autobiographical, fast-paced dark comedies.”

The rapid-fire switching of characters takes a lot of skill. And Red Bull.

“It’s like a dance, so I don’t have to think about it, or grab a hat and spend 14 minutes changing costumes to become another character. I get bored easily — I like to keep it moving.”

As a strong, funny woman, she naturally attracts her share of gay admirers.

“I think that my solo shows have continued to evolve and get better and better instead of sliding into delusion. All thanks to my very bossy, judgy gay friends, who come and see all my shows and let me know everything that they think. I’m a guest on a Sirius Radio show on Out Q with Frank DeCaro and Doria Biddle and they always make me feel like I’m this gigantic star who is just so underappreciated. So I love those gays. I always say the gays keep me on top because they yell at me and they monitor my weight. So they are like family. They are my family.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Finally, a chance to win Joel Burns’ underwear

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns has sat with Ellen, and if you play it right, he’ll sit with you. Burns, whose anti-bullying video became an Internet sensation, is himself the prize at the Thursday performance of Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions’ presentation of No Child… . The play, written by Nilaja Sun and directed by Rene Moreno, is a one-woman show about a teacher trying to make a difference in an inner-city school. The Nov. 11 performance of the play is devoted to the Trevor Project, which seeks to help at-risk LGBT youth. Twenty percent of that evening’s box office will go to the Trevor Project, and those in attendance that night can enter to win the “Lunch with the Hon. Joel Burns” raffle. He’ll also offer a pair of Ellen Show boxer shorts he autographed for auction.

You can find out more at AmphbianProductions.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones