Kyle McClaran ushers Garland Civic into its 50th year of theater with panache

Kyle McClaran ushers Garland Civic into its 50th year of theater with panache

Mark Lowry  | Special Contributor
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With his tall hefty frame and thick, red whiskers and head of hair, Kyle McClaran, the artistic director Garland Civic Theatre, looks like the walking embodiment of the great Shakespeare character Falstaff. And like that character — which McClaran has played several times in all three of the plays Falstaff appears in — he can be boastful.

“I am a visionary director, I’ve always been,” he says while sitting on the set for Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, which recently opened Garland Civic’s 50th season in the Granville Arts Center’s 220-seat theater. “I know what I want before I start. I was a Brechtian before I knew [about] Brecht … ‘eclectic Brechtian’ is what I would call [my style].”

Also like Falstaff, McClaran won’t give a straight answer to certain questions. His age, for one (“I have never changed my energy and my outlook,” is his answer to that). Given that he was being interviewed for an LGBT publication, he was asked about his sexual orientation.

“’I’m an artist’ is what I say to that.”

Fair enough.

And as for his personal style? He calls it “theatrical” when he dresses up for open nights and events.

Murder BUG

There’s no question that McClaran has been a successful and popular director for longest running community theater in Dallas County. He notes that in his 17 years there, he has staged plays and musicals with harmlessly gay characters, such as Larry Shue’s The Nerd and the musical Legally Blonde. The company, which uses volunteer actors and other artists, is in one of the redder parts of the county. “The only thing I have to be careful about here,” he says, “is that the line seems to be that it bothers people when it becomes too sexual — and it’s that way for heterosexual characters, too.”

Nevertheless, the theater has clearly embraced McClaran’s own sensibilities. “I’ve never been political,” he says, despite his affinity for Brechtian theater. “That’s one of the reasons I don’t answer the question. I want to do entertainment and art at the highest level I can do it, that can be appreciated by everyone. The LGBT crowd that comes here, they love my interpretation, the costumes, the set dressing, the plays.”

“I think Kyle has done a superb job directing Garland Civic Theatre for the past 17 years,” says Patty Granville, the Garland arts maven for whom the center is named. She has been directed by McClaran in Sunset Boulevard and Mary Stuart, and played opposite him in The Lion in Winter. “He has brought back all the Agatha Christie thrillers which the audiences love. He is also an amazing scenic and lighting designer, set dresser, costumer. He is truly a Renaissance man!”

The remainder of Garland Civic Theatre’s historic season is standard fare for community theater, with occasional curve balls thrown in: Paul Zindel’s And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little (Sept. 7–30); Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Dracula the Musical (Oct. 19–Nov. 11); the American premiere of Merlin Ward’s Gothic thriller The Widow (Jan. 18–Feb. 10, 2018); The Savannah Sipping Society by the playwriting trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, who are probably the most-produced contemporary playwrights in community theater, especially in the South (March 1–24); and Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s masterful musical The Fantasticks (April 12–May  15).

“We don’t include the word ‘community’ in our name because the stigma is of small-town, mediocre theater,” he says, “and that’s not what we do here.”

Although born in Marshall, Texas, on the Louisiana border, to an American father and a British mother raised in colonial India, McClaran grew up on the other side of the state in the West Texas town of Breckinridge. He always had a theatrical bent — “I dressed up and directed friends in plays” — and attended what was then called North Texas State University in Denton, graduating in the early 1970s.

In Dallas, he started acting at Theatre 3 and saw everything Dallas Theater Center co-founder Paul Baker created, he says. He toured the country as Richard III in a New York-originated production, and played the Friar in a production of Romeo and Juliet directed by John Houseman. McClaran settled back in Dallas and founded Scavenger Productions in Deep Ellum and then Red Hollywood in Oak Lawn, becoming known for wild stagings, such as his Caligula performed in a nightclub.

He continued acting and directing while serving as artistic director at Richardson Theatre Centre for the six years preceding his post in Garland. Throughout the time, the press has frequently called him “over the top,” which seems befitting of a Falstaffian character.

“I don’t believe there’s such a thing as ‘over-the-top,’ ” McClaran winks. “If one makes the choices they make truthful in compliance with what the play is about and the playwright is trying to do, there isn’t an ‘over the top.’ So if I made very large choices of where I wanted it to go, it was labeled ‘over the top’.”

As for who comes to his theater, he’s ready to entertain them with whatever is on the stage and dazzle them with lavish sets and costumes. Falstaff loved to create drama; McClaran loves nothing more than to create theater that makes people happy.

“When I do work at what I consider at my best,” he says, “I want to be able to appeal to anybody that’s capable of appreciating theater.”          

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 11, 2017.