The grand oil opry

Posted on 14 Jan 2009 at 4:30pm
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

‘Qatar’ makes the Middle East funny; ‘Breathe’ gasps along; ‘Sister’ shocks


MUSICALIBAN | ‘Two short Jews’ write an Arab musical comedy in Lyric Stage’s tuneful world premiere.

The title of The Road to Qatar is meant to conjure up those zany Hope-Crosby films where two hapless Americans enjoy foreign adventures. The difference here is, this is a true story about two gay Jews from New York who wind up writing a Broadway-style musical for the Emir of Qatar, and the outrageous characters they really met (from a flamboyant Italian choreographer to a quirky Egyptian producer). "A musical about terrorists" they joke.

That can be funny? Oh, yeah. Offensive, sometimes, yes ("Arabic" here is a string of guttural coughs). But fu. Nny.

Because it’s autobiographical, The Road to Qatar — a world premiere at Lyric Stage — has the immediacy of insane guerrilla theater. Although it’s about a massive boondoggle of a musical extravaganza, the production itself seems cobbled together, with minimal sets (rolling shower curtains make entrances and exits into a shell game), a small cast (five hugely talented folks, led by Brian Gonzales and Lee Zerrett) and a standup comedian’s sense of timing (if one thing doesn’t work, it moved on faster than a Texas thunderstorm). Composer David Krane’s bouncy score and librettist Stephen Cole’s clever lyrics ("Dubai Bye Birdie" — genius) is an effervescent delight. Watching it rattle-and-hummus along is a breezy joy.

Breathe, the season-ending musical by Uptown Players, starts off with almost as much sassy silliness as Qatar, but alas, that momentum ceases before you’ve fully settled into your seat. A series of seven loose musical vignettes with no real connection to each other, Breathe is a revue a la I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change with gay themes that veers so wildly between tone you get whiplash trying to follow along.

In the opening scene, about an uptight gay man finding his inner goddess, Michael Tuck has a ball romping around goofily to catchy tunes. But it’s followed by "Boxed," which could be a parody of off-Broadway anarchic theater of the ’60s and ’70s or just a version of it; ultimately, it’s mostly annoying. There’s a slight uptick with "Having a Baby" which launches Act 2, but "Next" — about a man dying of AIDS — gets quickly mawkish and the closer "In the Park" feels like a Christmas pageant gone wrong.


WAITING TO INHALE | ‘Breathe’ starts off fun, but quickly turns into a mawkish pageant.

The show’s salvation is Scott A. Eckert’s decision to use an onstage string quartet with keyboard for the music. It keeps the score accessible, light and beautiful. If only the script warranted such tender treatment.

There’s very little tender in My Sister in the House at the Bath House. The play tells the true tale of two housemaids (Lea, young, naïve, giddy with hope, and Christine, dutiful and dour) who, in 1930s France, caused a scandal when they murdered their employees. Lea and Christine were sisters but also lovers, making the crime even more salacious.

Wing Span Theatre’s production of Wendy Kesselman’s play is as abstract and stylized as a Scandinavian short story, but boasts a wonderful cinematic quality, with director Marjorie Hayes keeping the action busy on all parts of the stage even when the focus is elsewhere. It has the tightly wound tension of Clouzot’s Diabolique, as the Danzard women, two chattering nabobs who spend their days clucking about inanities (more money than manners my grandmother would say), slowly chip away at the nerves of their servants until it explodes into violence.

The play is as much about the discreet boredom of the bourgeoisie and how social roles constrict people, especially women (especially gay women!) as it is about the plot. It’s as if Poe and Germaine Greer collaborated on a version of Of Mice and Men: Good, but heavy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2009.

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