Love gone wrong

5womenGen12

Relationships are screwed up in ‘Dying City,’ ‘5 Women,’ ‘Cyrano’

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

All of the female characters in Alan Ball’s comedy Five Women Wearing the Same Dress fit cozily into “types:” Cynical young rebel Meredith (Catherine DuBord); perky, Bible-quoting Frances (Heather Sims); saucy beauty queen Trisha (Emily Scott Banks); emotionally volatile Georgeanne (Barrett Nash); blowsy lesbian Mindy (Catherine Wall). You can practically hear a pitch meeting where he tried to get a network to option it as a sitcom.

But there’s nothing wrong with situational comedy, especially when it’s presented with such frothy fun. The danger is when the jokes and set-ups never move beyond what’s expected. Familiarity truly can breed contempt.

IMG_2431That doesn’t happen here, though it could. When Meredith enters — cig drooping from her lips, her sunglasses and leather biker jacket barely hiding a bridesmaid dress that looks like a hideous explosion of Pepto-Bismol, taffeta and bows — it seems like a shorthand to establish her character as “the bad girl.” But DuBord goes further, as Ball’s script allows her, finding depth between all the one-liners.

She and the other four ladies are all attendants at her sister’s wedding, though none of them seem to like the bride very much. They reconnect with each other, bonding over their hatred for the sickening frosting-colored gowns, the sleazy guests … and sometimes each others’ prejudices. (Frances is appalled that the groom has a lesbian sister “and everyone knows it!? They look just like real women!”)

The cast is superb, with the standouts a sassy, beautiful Banks (whose authoritative entrance pegs her instantly as the character to watch) and Wall (who delivers the punchy lines with brio). Ball is clearly out-magnoling Steel Magnolias, with dishy dialogue as well as zingers about the Christian right and thoughtful observations about AIDS and child abuse, but he never lets those aspects weigh down its confectionary tone. If there’s only one June wedding you attend this year, make it this one.

Dying City isn’t the most upbeat title for a play that itself is sometimes swallowed by sadness, but Second Thought’s regional premiere of this play about a gay man (Rhett Henckel) who visits the widow (Grace Heid) of his twin brother (also Henckel) a year after his apparent suicide in Iraq has much to recommend it, notably its two actors.

As the gay brother, Henckel is marvelously superficial playing an actor who’s a bit too full of himself and whose attempts to connect with his sister-in-law fall infuriatingly short. Heid is less accessible emotionally (she spends too much time with her arms crossed across her slender frame), but she modulates the scene between past and present beautifully.

The play itself is a reverie on Truth and Perception and War and Human Understanding — big themes that are difficult to resolve, or even give sufficient cursory treatment, but if writer Christopher Shinn bites off more than he can chew, he gets props for trying to do something meaningful and contemporary without banging his (or our) head into a wall.

For 40 years, Dallas’ Shakespeare in the Park has been just that: The Bard, and just the Bard, outdoors.

But Bill only wrote 38 plays (and far fewer good ones), so to mix it up this season, Shakespeare Dallas has thrown in Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. It is a somewhat puzzling addition. Rostand wrote it about 300 years after Shakespeare; although written in verse (in French), the translation of this production removes most of the poetry.

And then there’s this little problem: It’s not actually that good of a play. Cyrano’s poetry is purple; the death scene is needlessly prolonged; the characters largely unlikable.

Cyrano-2
SEEING PINK | A gay bridesmaid (Catherine Wall, top left, with Catherine DuBord) looks ‘just like a real woman’ in ‘Five Women;’ Cyrano (Chris Hury, above) turns love into war; a gay actor (Rhett Henckel, top right) visits his brother’s widow in ‘Dying City.’

This production clocks in at more than three hours — a long time to sit in the punishing winds and Texas heat of Samuell-Grand Amphitheater. Its famous central conceit — that the big-nosed poet and warrior Cyrano (Chris Hury) writes all the love notes to his beloved Roxane (Lydia Mackay) on behalf of the doltish young hottie Christian (Austin Tindle) — isn’t even introduced into more than an hour in. Until then we spend a lot of time with peripheral characters; after then, we begin to realize what a high-maintenance and superficial bitch Roxane really is. (When Christian doesn’t woo her with good poems, she turns on him like a snake.)

I cannot imagine that the director, Raphael Perry, has ever instructed any actor to “tone it down:” There’s a stentorian, commedia dell’arte flamboyance to the performances he leads, and it’s rarely needed, even in the gustiness of outdoors that often carried the miked voices of the actor into the trees. (At times, the winds blew so hard on the extensively caped cast I thought it might morph into a stage version of Batman; I started looking to see if Julie Taymor was around.) Even the costumes are freakishly overdone, some shoes bedecked with such garish pompoms that it appears the actors are continually kicking Teletubbies.

Nonetheless, the balcony scene (perhaps that’s the Shakespeare connection) is superbly wrought by the central actors, and despite its length (and the overall “eh” reaction I had when it was over) there is a calming, civilized wave that befalls as you sit amid nature, eating cheese and pinot grigio out of a picnic basket while a play rages on before you. It ain’t the Winspear. But neither is it a walk in the park.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. Through July 2. ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com. Dying City. Through July 2. SecondThought Theatre.com. Cyrano de Bergerac (in repertory with As You Like It). Through July 23. Shakespeare Dallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 24, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Break out the circumcision jokes

As the Life+Style editor here, I get a lot of pitches for stories. Lately, people have been really hawking the Bible (“Who was Moses?,” “How can we get kids to read the Bible more?”), but easily the oddest one today was this from the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, which is hosting a one-night-only performance of a comedy — yes, comedy — called Circumcise Me. OK, now the flier itself describes the show as “on the cutting edge” so they at least get the joke, but really? I mean, where can we go with this?

So I throw it out there to you: What are your favorite zingers to describe this kind of show? I’ll get us started: “Might as well bring your friends — after all, the mohel, the merrier”… or how about, “Four stars? I give it foreskins!” … or maybe, “A slice of life story.”

Let’s hear yours.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gays on strike!

No ‘Regrets’ for Rudnick farce

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

WEDDED BLISS | A gay man (B.J. Cleveland) takes a stand against his flighty friend (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) in Uptown’s sophisticated fizz. (Photo by Mike Morgan)

REGRETS ONLY
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Through June 27.
UptownPlayers.org



The world inhabited by Hank Hadley and the McCullough family is one of cocktail parties, witty repartee and comforting superficiality. The first real issue anyone has had to deal with is the loss to cancer, after 28 years together, of Hank’s (B.J. Cleveland) partner. Even that sad news is softened when then McCullough’s daughter Spencer (Melissa Farmer) announces her engagement. She wants Hank, a famous fashion designer, to make her wedding dress.

But Hank is having second thoughts. Spencer and her father Jack (Dennis Canright), both lawyers, have agreed to draft a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Hank and Jack’s wife Tibby (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) are apolitical, but this issue hits close to home. Maybe Hank — maybe all gay people — should go on strike.

In Regrets Only, Paul Rudnick turns a hot-button issue like gay marriage into the stuff of frothy fun, full of delicious zingers (“If you wanna kill sincerity, add crab cakes and God” one person observes of weddings) even while tackling serious matters. When’s the last time you heard a cogent discussion of gay marriage between opposite camps that didn’t become loud, angry and hectoring diatribes?

Because for me, it was last week at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.

Although there’s no music (other than director Coy Covington’s whimsical insertion of incidental tunes at the act breaks), in terms of its old-fashioned appeal with an updated outlook, it calls to mind the musical The Drowsy Chaperone: A fantasy with concrete ideas and sentimentality that completely avoids mawkishness.

Indeed, this is throwback entertainment in the best sense. Despite its contemporary issues, Regrets Only most resembles Dinner at Eight and other bubbly, smart, ’30s-era comedies: The perfectly appointed drawing room, the banter as sparkling as a magnum of champagne, the lovely costumes. This production has all that, especially an elegant and expensive looking set by Andy Redmon (nothing’s more disappointing that when a Park Avenue penthouse looks like a Park Slope coldwater flat; this one doesn’t).

The cast is flawless, with Cleveland uncharacteristically demure — he’s easily upstaged by Cynthia Matthews as a saucy maid (her riff on fashion is brilliant) and works effortlessly with Pyeatt on creating an authentic friendship.

Rudnick can be a bit too inside baseball, with obscure but hysterical theater jokes (David Mamet and Neil LaBute? Risky), but even potentially dour moments are buoyed like helium, and the second act farce is winningly executed.

Like the best cocktail, Covington has delivered delightful brew that goes to your head for 90 minutes and leaves you happy and refreshed. I’ll drink to that.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice