Molly Ivins lives at WaterTower, secrets rend siblings in a forest ‘Dark & Deep’
Neil LaBute rolls around like a pig in slop in topics most playwrights won’t touch on a dare. He revels in the awfulness of humanity, casting a cynical, jaundiced eye at our motivations and desires. And while he sometimes exaggerates, you can’t really say he gets stuff wrong.
It’s his creepy laser-pointedness that makes plays, including his latest, In a Forest Dark and Deep from Second Thought Theatre, unnervingly brilliant.
College professor Betty (Heather Henry) has invited her estranged brother Bobby (Jeremy Schwartz) to a remote cabin she rents out to grad students. On the surface, the meeting is merely a packing-up party, removing the belongings of a tenant who bailed out on rent. But Bobby suspects darker motives at work. Is he right? Or is it just deep-seeded sibling rivalry rearing itself? And does he, perhaps, have fouler motives for helping out big sis?
This is fertile ground for LaBute, as well as for Regan Adair, who directed, designed and decorated this production. Adair — long one of our best actors — has proven himself an equally adept director, as he did with Red Light Winter two seasons ago: Another stormy, raw tale of perverse interpersonal relations. With two characters (and a boffo rustic set so brilliantly detailed it’s practically a character in itself), Adair teases out the truth in bitter, venomous spasms. It’s as breathlessly suspenseful as a locked-door mystery, made all the more explosive with the actors.
Bobby, like most men in LaBute’s world, is arrogant and confrontational … and often pretty spot-on perceptive. Schwartz gives him a brooding, angry moralism that forces you to respect him even when he’s being a dick.
If men are dicks for LaBute, women are manipulative liars, and the show largely relies on Henry nurturing our ambivalence about Betty. Her complicated, ethically ambiguous Betty moves from superficially carefree to troubled woman to, ultimately, something terrible. It’s a chilling performance, where self-deception and secrets conspire to create a tragedy of classic scale — Albee’s Zoo Story comes to mind. It’s a haunting portrayal, in an equally haunting drama.
There’s less heaviness but no less anger in Red Hot Patriot, a one-woman hootenanny about the most indefatigable, irascible, hilarious tart-tongued Texas tornado, Molly Ivins. Ivins, who died in 2007 of breast cancer, was — along with Ann Richards — the quintessential spirited Western woman: Hard-drinking, hard-living, whip-smart and enviably witty. She’s the woman who saddled George W. with the nickname “Shrub,” the one who, in the pages of countless newspapers, doffed off such scathing rebukes of moronic lawmakers as, “If he loses one more IQ point, we’ll have to water him.”
It’s not overstatement to say Ivins was the last century’s Mark Twain. Republicans bristled at her razor-wire turns-of-phrase. “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be President of the United States, please pay attention” was her I-told-you-so, satire by a thousand cuts approach to politics: An unabashed liberal brainiac among a sea of dumb-asses. (Her ire wasn’t limited to the GOP; she targeted corrupt Democrats as well, and railed about all forms of hypocrisy and ignorance, of which there seemed to be an endless supply in the Texas statehouse.)
With little more than a desk, a stuffed armadillo, an AP wire and a pair of cowboy boots, Georgia Clinton plays Ivins in this 70-minute show, reminding us of her brittle brilliance, the likes of which we will probably never see again. She was a champion of progressive causes in a state that turned redder than a tomato since the late 1960s. “There’s no gay-bashing in Midland,” she quotes one politician as saying, “because no gay will come out of the closet for fear he’ll be thought a Democrat.”
True or not, you can’t help but howl with appreciative, nodding agreement, even though the play, structurally, is a bit scattershot and predictable. But Clinton and director Dana Schultes have looked beyond the play itself, instead choosing to embody the woman and her ideals. By the end, it feels less like a play than a tent-revival, a powerful, emotionally raw lefty rally-cry for sanity and compassion in a world increasingly bereft of both. During the curtain call, I wasn’t sure whether to applaud or raise up my hands and shout, “Amen!”
I wanted to raise my hands a lot during All the Rage, too — well, not “raise” so much as “throw up in frustration.” The Theater on the Edge production, onstage in the Irving Studio space through this weekend, is a convoluted, poorly written piece that seems like horrible, dumb melodrama but I think is trying to be a farcical comedy. The problem is, it takes fully a half-hour before you actually laugh, when Angel Velasco, as the bitchy, mentally unstable boyfriend of a corporate lawyer, actually finds the humor and gets it across. He and Van Quattro are about the only ones who emerge unscathed in this amateurish, poorly directed and technically disastrous show. I’m all for theater on the edge; this one jumps over the cliff early on, and writhes on the jagged rocks below.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 23, 2013.