Monday, March 7, 2011
Theater reviews: Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in Addison
Critics Mary L. Clark and Carol Anne Gordon give their thoughts on the various productions at the festival, which plays through March 13.
Fringe festivals bring out the best, worst and strangest performers and performances, no matter where the festival is held. The second evening at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival being held at WaterTower Theatre in Addison certainly was no different. My evening started by watching two "hobo meets Don Quixote" clowns named Grotesquemos. They silently roamed through the theatre lobby and courtyard. Playing with the waiting audiences, they sword fought, attempted to catch objects thrown in the air, and generally, amused themselves. One tried to curl up and sleep in the outside chair next to me but he was too tall to get comfortable. I was told the clowns sometimes go by the names of Ryan Martin and Justin Locklear but I'm not quite certain. They were both a delight to watch and my only suggestion was to have some information passed out to promote them. Grostesquemos was the perfect addition to this fringe festival and a great start to the night.
Not being a social media devotee, I was unaware that David Lee Nelson's solo play titled Status Update (playing once more on March 8) had anything to do with Facebook or any other social network. Mr. Nelson talked about his change of status dilemma, amongst many other things, in his very personal, very funny recollections and commentary on divorce, acting, drinking, drugs and naps, all while being 32, now sober and a stand-up comedian.
Nelson discussed his life, past and present, as though he were doing a comedy gig – standing before a microphone and drinking water between laughs. During a series of "turned towards himself" videos, he slowly explained why he and his wife separated. As the videos played, he stood to the side and nervously checked his note cards before the next stand-up bit.
Dressed somewhat like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, Nelson's demeanor was all polite uncertainty. He smiled meekly and paused frequently to the extent that you felt nervous for him. But, as his stand-up continued, it being clear he was in total control and it presented itself as reflection within stand-up comedy within a play. Status Update had a spark of that highly quirky, highly imaginative work of the late Andy Kaufmann. To bear your soul and yet remain funny was no small feat and Nelson inventively juggled both in his capable hands.
Believing I was going to watch a comedian doing a often done routine, I walked out, instead, having seen a talented man explain the struggles of turning his life around while remaining a performer, a stand-up. David Lee Nelson's performance was compelling, laugh-filled and a definite must see.
The late-night performance for this evening was The FTP Comedy Troupe and their part sketch comedy, part improve, part video presentation called Inside the Loop. A send-up of life in our fair city and metroplex, seven members of this Nouveau 47 Theatre spin-off, lampooned Dallas' traffic, City Council, the State Fair, late night TV lawyers and so much more. Taking cues from audience suggestions, troupe members played The Dating Game, recreated a suicide attempt off of The High Five (it was funny, really!), and dramatized one audience member's really lousy day to peals of laughter. The final sketch concerned our recent weather and a certain football game and was sung to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" - not a spoiler as it was so inventive, so spot on and hysterical.
The best part about seeing FTP Comedy Troupe and their newest incarnation Inside the Loop is that it won't ever be the same twice – duh ... it's improved! And the troupe players will most likely change each time so there really is no reason not to see FTP again and again. They have two more performances at the festival and I love reading their favorite charity is ACTORS (After College There's Only Restaurant Service). Keep these actors out of those restaurants and into more theatre spaces where they can continue full sail as Dallas' newest comedy troupe, leaving laughter in their wake.
Faye Lane's Beauty Shop Stories -- Reviewed by Carol Anne Gordon
Rhonda Faye Gunnels was the sweet, talented, outrageously optimistic and powerfully positive little girl that you knew in grade school, and envied for how she remained cheerful and confident while the other kids ("who were all evil bastards") teased her mercilessly about being fat. She grew up interacting with her mother's regular clients at the Casa Vale Beauty Salon, right here in Texas, and learned how to be self-assured by listening to their stories and emulating their amazing poise.
Now all grown up, and calling herself Faye Lane (I won't reveal any spoilers by telling you how and why that happened), this Texas wildflower gave a powerhouse one-woman performance that took the audience from laughter to tears and back again. Dressed all in black, and standing all alone on stage for 90 minutes with nothing more than a microphone, a piano, an accompanist and a couple of hilarious props, Faye made you feel the hopes and dreams of a little girl in a little Texas town, a teenager who'd blossomed, and a young woman who took a leap of faith – and "Annette appeared."
Faye's storytelling was smooth and engaging and, a couple of times, even she got misty- eyed while telling a poignant episode from her life. Her story started out just like a lot of ours did – in a small town in the Bible belt, with two hard-working parents and dreams of being a movie star – and then took some startling and marvelous turns. She effortlessly moved among at least four different Southern accents while channeling the beauty shop ladies, and had a beautiful lilting voice in the few original songs that were written especially for this show. Hers was an unbelievably entertaining story. (Final performance played on Sunday, March 6)
The Magdalen Whitewash -- Reviewed by Mary L. Clark
Time and time again it has been shown in history that, when a group of people collectively put their heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge truths around them, untold cruelties occur right in their midst. The Holocaust and the American Indian genocide were atrocities of gargantuan proportion. Though not as encompassing, The Magdalene Asylums of Ireland confined thousands of young girls and women to decades of hard labor and sexual/mental torture.
Set up in the early 19th century, the "Laundries," as they were later referred, were first used to rehabilitate prostitutes, deemed to need a better trade, back into society. Later on, family members (mostly men) would send their unwed pregnant daughters and girlfriends, mentally challenged, and abused girls to these institutions, mainly run by Catholic nuns. When no one vouched for or came back for them, these state-sanctioned institutions became prisons for the women/girls where the nuns encouraged them to remain, as the business of laundering was profitable for the convents. Many of them remained there the remainder of their lives, buried in unmarked graves. The asylums were located not only in Ireland but across Europe, Britain, Canada and the United States. Unbelievably, the last asylum was closed in 1996.
Titling her play most appropriately, Valerie Goodwin wrote The Magdalen Whitewash about one such institution. Goodwin, along with other playwrights, filmmakers, musicians and poets, chronicled the horrors when the public was made "aware" in 1993. Time set in both 1919 and 1934, it focused on eight "Maggies," as the women/girls were labeled, and in particular, on Mary who we saw arrive at age thirteen and then fifteen years later.
Broken Gears Project Theatre condensed the two act play into one, and compacted several locations onto one small playing area. Laundry room, dorm beds, convent parlor, dining hall, outdoor clothes line and small café were all onstage as actors maneuvered through each scene. Director Nathan Autrey projected photographs of some of the real women at their labor with what I guessed was poetry written on the subject. In the beginning, dimly-lit actors moved between several "still vignettes," and it was only later I realized they were images of the girls with family, boyfriends and the "acts" that led to their incarceration.
The roles for the ensemble of eight Maggies were fairly equal with each having a scene or two to enrich their characters. Standout performances came from several. Lauren Morgan, as the older, now institutionalized Mary, made it abundantly clear that Mary knew exactly what had been done to her and her defiance to not leave was from both anger and fear of the outside world she no longer understood. Whitney Holotik, as Bernadette, who had given up her baby ten years before, showed both Bernadette's leader strength and mother vulnerability, willing to grovel at the feet of the priest who held her secret.
Martha, played by Cassie Bann, was all red-haired brass, who continued plotting her release by any means, then exuded desperation with her true fate. Alexandra Valle's grace and gentleness as the soon to be mother, Pauline, was equaled with the heart-breaking realization that she was going to be left behind. The powerful scene with her mother brought several in the audience to tears and sniffles.
In a clear delineation between sides, the sisters of the convent and the pariah priests brought back vivid memories only those who attended parochial school would understand. Sister Ignatia, as played by Sasha McGonnell, was all uptight duty and no fuss as to the business of the laundry as much as to "betterin' the girls". Sadly left out of the program, the actor who played Father O'Connell was nasty and perverse and left no doubt he held his and many a girl's secret and destiny in his slimy hands. Terry Yates was wholesome Father Doyle, always trying to aid the women's plight. He was portrayed as bumbling and ineffectual and I'm not so certain he should have been made humorous.
The Magdalen Whitewash obviously concerns a serious and volatile subject. However, at only 75 minutes, the pace was so heavy, it seemed much longer. An easy to fall into mistake was directing the actors to perform "about the subject" instead of "in the subject". The audience already understood the difficult conditions of these women. Rather than physically plodding around with bent heads and down-cast eyes, we would have been more engaged observing the mental capacity to deal with their individual situations.
Broken Gears Project Theatre's production is a solid piece of theatre. It is timely, coming on the heels of "newly discovered" scandals and atrocities in both political and religious realms. Though only performing two more times at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, they will continue The Magdalen Whitewash at their own theatre through March. A worthy subject matter is always worth the viewing.
Technically Related: Two Variations on Love and Family -- Reviewed by Mary L. Clark
Technically related. Sounds like someone's blog page where family members log in to see the new baby, brother's latest vacation or a niece's wedding photos. Everyone is so close and yet so far – busy lives resort to the odd email, picture, video, or Skype to keep in touch. Because no matter how far families are from each other, no matter what happens between them, they are still related, even if only technically.
Rite of Passage Theatre Company produced two short one act plays as their contribution to the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, continuing through March 13th. Both were world premieres and written by Christina Cigala and Rite of Passage's co-founder and Artistic Director, Clay Wheeler. The plays both dealt with family relationships, for better or worse, and reminded us that through all our differences, the human condition was still the same.
Unit Cohesion by Clay Wheeler centered on a final parent's death and funeral after a long, debilitating illness. We never saw the father but, instead, his two children, one married and one married to her career. Seated at the son's dining table, we also met his wife and the daughter's fiancé. Finishing dinner after the father's funeral, an everyday conversation regressed to the kind of heated argument only siblings would allow from each other. Their familiar words and jabs fueled the flames to come.
Cam, the soldier son, carried some heavy emotional anguish back from his deployment. He was volatile, quick tempered and burdened with guilt on not being home at his mother's passing. Wife, Nina, understandably stressed out by Cam's explosive attacks, still offered gentle healing when he needed it. Michelle, the daughter, had a solid broadcast job and upcoming wedding to Serge, and could not handle her brother's intrusion into her "perfect life" scenario.
Director Christopher Eastland cast four grounded actors for these roles. Each one firmly held his/her space on the stage and never allowed the others to be less than their best. David Jeremiah (Cam) reined in the anger that was already surfacing when the play began. Smart-mouthed and jumpy, Jeremiah simmered in his emotions which made his ultimate blow-up more powerful. Adrian Godinez (Serge) had a smaller role but his Middle European accent was capable.
Ariana Cook (Michelle) played a woman who wanted control over the family situation as she controlled her life. She used verbal banter to see how far she could go with Cam and Cook's power came with both her anger and then willingness to forgive. Having seen Cassie Bann in a completely different role two nights before, I enjoyed her as loving wife, Nina. Her underlying tension and sadness with Cam's outbursts will easy to read on her face and she too held forgiveness with her voice.
Unit Cohesion was a powerful bite of reality plucked out of lives of thousands of families across our country. The need to hold on to what remained in your life when so much around you was gone resonated in this piece as well as the strength it took to love again.
Three of the four actors came back for the second play and we were catapulted from a family who struggled with their love, to a family who clearly didn't love each other and didn't seem to mind.
Hard Candy Christmas by Christina Cigala was set in the lobby of a rehabilitation facility occupied by three siblings who waited for their mother so they could get the Christmas ritual over with. None wanted to be there and used their time to pick on what gift each brought or didn't bring, and anything else to keep from the boredom. Apparently mom had been on drugs and hadn't been much of a parental figure to her sons and daughter. Each was more messed up than the first and made mom look perfectly normal in comparison.
I loved Cassie Bann's smoking, drinking, snorting Jenny, the youngest child who clearly had no desire to be a part of this family. Lulu Ward was humorous as mom Maria as she attempted to stay unstressed with calming affirmations, then gave way to full-on shrieking to be heard over her unruly adult kids.
Another family in crisis – and yet another family who found inclusion in the simplest of things – a Christmas carol or an inside joke – and it was just that moment which rang true in my heart. Through all the dysfunction of every family lay those simple connections that brought them back together, even if only technically. With these two plays and fine casts, Rite of Passage Theatre continued their mission to expose young talent to the professional theatre world.
The Lesson -- Reviewed by Mary L. Clark
What joy it was when I simply sat back and allowed a play to completely captivate me without the pressure to "get it" or make any more sense of it than that it was absurd. As in Theatre of the Absurd and Eugene Ionesco was its god. He was the forward thinking playwright of his time with his early one-acts being the most innovative. Ionesco's continuing premise was in the insignificance of the human existence. He used surreal comic situations and parodied what he referred to as bourgeoisie conventional theatre.
One of his absurdist pieces, The Lesson, mixed surrealism and comedy with an underlying psychological current. A simple lesson between pupil and professor started out routinely, quickly became nonsensical and unnerving then took a violent turn with a jolting social twist at the end.
For six years, Second Thought Theatre had brought, as the playbill states, "fresh, provocative theatre" and, for its seventh year, selected this not-often produced, provocative one act and made it fresh again.
I could imagine the delight Director Mac Lower had working with such talented actors. He wisely condensed the piece to a smart 45 minutes and made an interesting casting selection. As the maid, in what was normally cast as an older, stout woman, Lower used young Abigail Herring whose maid was seductive and more than a bit scary.
Anastasia Munoz was both physically and comically perfect for Pupil. Playing her with a high energy, eager to learn "her lesson", Munoz's physical precision kept you engaged in her every move. Ionesco portrayed his dehumanized world by giving the characters mechanical characteristics and Munoz sustained long, slow floating movements while seated. Her timing was precise with clipped lines and rapid fire dialogue which added to the mechanical rhythm.
I could not think, for the life of me, of a better actor, in our area, to cast as Professor than David Lugo. Part Groucho Marx, part Jerry Lewis, this natural-made comedian had grandeur in his voice, ballet in his movements and the comic timing of the comedy greats. From the moment he peeked around the side partition, Lugo kept the audience mesmerized. Lower understood and conveyed to his actors Ionesco's insistence on repetitive rhythm with his words and the result was ridiculously joyful to hear.
The Lesson was usually performed along with The Bald Soprano as a longer evening of absurdist theatre and it was refreshing to see this shorter version stand so solidly on its own. Second Thought Theatre produced an easy evening of Absurdist theatre and one of the finer performances of the festival and theyear.
Taking Chances - A Cabaret with Marjorie Hayes -- Reviewed by Mary L. Clark
It's early evening, the sun has set as you and other people enter a small dim-lit room and take a seat. In the corner is a piano and a bass leans against the wall. A single microphone and stand waits in the center and the audience is rather quiet. As lights go out, a spotlight hits the mike and a woman dressed in evening gown. The music starts, the woman sings and slowly you imagine yourself back to the days when supper clubs and cabaret was in vogue.
Taking Chances – A Cabaret with Marjorie Hayes has that same dreamy quality of those clubs where people dress up and the singer croons songs straight from their heart. Marjorie Hayes is one of those singers. Her journey back to music is told in her songs, after a life and a long list of credits that has taken her across Europe and the U.S. with theatre, into films and back here again to sing songs from her heart. Her songs tell of her working class beginnings, of her loves and heart-aches but, most of all, of her spirit to always take chances.
Hayes leads the audience through her journey with music written for her as well as some songs from James Taylor, Elton John, and Leonard Cohen. Her rendition of Hallelujah was a welcome fresh take on a now too-often heard piece. While sometimes losing her energy, Hayes was best when the song required some theatricality and she could use her lower vocal range notes.
The music for Taking Chances is beautifully arranged and performed by Hans Grim on keyboards and Peggy Honea on upright acoustic bass. They blended and filled the small Stone Cottage space and never overpowered the singer.
Taking Chances – A Cabaret with Marjorie Hayes finished its run at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival on Sunday, March 6. While you may not get to see her perform there, please be on the lookout for her name as she has acted and directed to acclaim in theatre here and has a lead role in Uncertain, TX, soon to be released. For Ms. Hayes, taking chances is apparently what she is all about.
Dallas Poetry Slam -- Reviewed by Mary L. Clark
Alright now, tell the truth. When you think "poetry," your mind starts to go to sleep, doesn't it. I know you have visions of Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Longfellow and memorizing stuff in school that you didn't even understand. Remember?
Well, WAKE UP `cause Dallas Poetry Slam is here and poetry will never be the same to you again. If you have never been to a poetry slam, put aside all those past notions and get ready to be rocked into reality by some of the most talented, most courageous, most mess with your mind and tear your heart out artists of the spoken word you are ever going to see and hear.
These sometimes in your face poets take all the realms of the human condition and, more specifically, their deepest pains, loves, and hates and lay it all out. Some use a more theatrical approach and some simply stand there but thereis not a shred of doubt these artist speak from their soul.
A poetry slam is competitive performance based and judged in two rounds. Usually, any poet could come up and do their thing but for the evening at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, Slammaster Roderick "Rock Baby" Goudy selected eleven of the better area poets and the five judges came from newbies in the audience. There were lots of first-timers and plenty of fellow poet slammers who made the atmosphere rock with call-outs, funny jabs, and lots of encouragement.
It took so much courage to put yourself on the line to say what needed to be said. This was not a sit back and watch event - we told the judges how we felt, Baby Rock kept the audience hoppin' with shout outs and before you knew it, you were laughing and talking to people all around you and getting totally immersed into the poetry slam experience.
I'm sure typical poetry slams could go on for quite some time but for this evening, the poets were judged in two rounds. Typically there is a cash prize so it was suggested we pass the hat and award the final winner.
Dallas Poetry Slam is home to local/regional, national and international competition World Cup group and individual winners. The list is long of grand champions, first, second and third place winnings. Active in performance poetry for 16 years, Dallas Poetry Slam is competitively the best poetry troupe in the South.
While the slam at OOLFF was a one-nighter, slam competition continues every 1st and 3rd Fridays with special events all the time. Please take my word that, after going to one poetry slam, listening to the words these artists speak, you will forever be changed in what you think poetry really is.
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