Friday, October 31, 2008

Unbeaten, Salvage Vanguard Theatre, October 24 - November 8

American football is already highly stylized theatre.

The fact that the sport has not spread beyond our country, unlike those other great American pastimes baseball and basketball, suggests that the Saturday and Sunday gridiron kabuki says something unique about the American mentality.

A writer in The Economist once called it “the quintessential sport of the United States – a combination of committee work and violence.”

Writer/actor/self-director Shannon McCormick has a keen eye for the characters and the conventions of this national sport, and he shows both understanding and great affection for them. Plus he is energetic and well-toned enough to make the audience believe that he is, in turns, a crotchety coach ready for retirement, a quarterback with a zen imagination, a star self-loving black pass receiver, and a 350-pound Christian defensive lineman. And more.

McCormick’s astounding mimetism is well reinforced by some very spiffy video, graphics and the original music by Graham Reynolds.

McCormick’s promotions for this event, on KUT FM, in the printed press, and on line, stress that no two shows are alike. There is a shuffling of texts and outcomes, appropriately enough, via audible cues, and he adapts in order to move the story ahead. Maybe so; but that random walk was not obvious in last night’s performance, which was smooth, continuous and convincing, even to the detail of the appropriate surge of crowd noises reverberating in the theatre.

You enter the theatre to find video projected onto a chalkboard, with a series of nifty “Did You Know That. . . “ Qs and As, providing spectators with trivia and factoids about the mythical Professional Football League (PFL). The 20 or so items, some of them patently absurd, cycle a couple of times, interrupted by video ads.

If one doesn’t simply tune them out as so much visual noise, they give us the setting: the Omaha Oxen professional football team are playing in the Ultima Bowl. The Van Pie brothers are the quarterbacks, one on either team. There’s a receiver with the Oxen, Coleco Baggins, who styles himself as “the fastest mammal alive, except maybe for a cheetah.” The Oxen are unbeaten.

The intro video (available on the Salvage Vanguard site) plays, the music thunders, and McCormick appears, in the persona of the Oxen’s coach, a vulgar, foul-mouthed football zealot whose obscenity was so strong that it brought yelps of laughter from the Free Night of Theatre crowd.

The coach sets the stage for us with his vindictive, small-minded insistence on redemption through victory. And then McCormick cycles through his other characters, bringing us a very different set of views.

McCormick is an astonishingly versatile actor, particularly in his use of language and accent. Van Pie the quarterback is your vanilla All-American; Coleco Baggins the receiver is a hopped-up, gregarious, flirtatious African American; the team’s kicker is a fatalist from the wilds of Wisconsin with a spot-on “for sure” accent; the football commissioner is the bureaucrat blinding you with bullshit; the gay pass receiver glories in his receptions and mocks testosterone with moves worthy of a cheerleader; the Oxen’s Fan #1 is an exuberant idiot celebrant with no life of his own.

McCormick charms the crowd, interacts with them, responds to them. In one chilling moment, he stops front and center in a spotlight to deliver “the unheard voice between the coach’s ears” with the message that we all lose, eventually, and eventually we all lose everything.

The hypothesis of the show is so happily outrageous. McCormick gives us the Ultima Bowl, quarter by quarter, including a video mess for halftime.

The score rises stratospherically – on Thursday night, in the third quarter it was Oxen 84, opponents 74, and then the opponents pulled ahead. The Oxen got the ball back with a scant minute left to play. . . .

The absurdity of the imaginary world pulls us one way – after all, the football commissioner confesses that cheating brought about many of the outcomes, and the opponents stage the stunt of putting a bear on the field for kickoff defense.

And yet, McCormick pegs these characters so well, with such insight and authenticity that they dominate and overcome the satire.

The Wisconsin kicker tells us dolefully, “After all, when they bring me on, it’s because they failed, they didn’t make the first down or the touchdown. . . .” The offensive lineman speaks with painful sincerity about his Christian faith and his “mandicrafts,” which include needlepoint gifts. The star receiver pumps us up and flatters us and tells about his ambitions for his career after football. And the quarterback, faced with victory over his brother or defeat, remembers Mom, who is watching from the stands.

So that instead of just laughing and sneering at the artificial theatre of the great, uniquely American game, we gain a piercing view into the motivations and vulnerabilities of those who play it.

Review in the Austin Chronicle of November 6 by Wayne Allen Brenner

KUT audio: John Aielli's "Aielli Unleashed" interview with composer Graham Reynolds, October 28

KUT video w. audio: Arts Eclectic, from YouTube

YouTube video promo

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin's interview with one-man performer Shannon McCormick, Stateman's XL supplement of October 24

Audio: Selections from Graham Reynolds' 'Unbeaten' score, from Statesman's Austin 360 website

Upcoming: Gorilla Man, Vestige Group at Creekside Lounge, December 4 - 20

For ALT review, Click HERE!

Received October 31, 2008:

" A Rock musical.. and a great one at that! "
-Curtain Up New York

Come join the Vestige Group as they produce their first ever rock and roll Musical!

Gorilla Man - Book, Music and Lyrics by Kyle Jarrow - opens on Thursday, December 4th, at 7:30 pm at the Creekside Lounge.

Waking one morning to find thick fur growing on the backs of his hands, young Billy discovers the awful truth his mother has been hiding from him for 14 years. Cast from his home, he sets out on a journey to find his father, the legendary Gorilla Man.

Gorilla Man is a darkly comic coming-of-age rock and roll musical that explores issues of violence, identity, and free will against the backdrop of a warped American landscape. Filled with jarring political references, societal prejudices, a lot of fur and lyrics that will make you rock out in the car on the way home from the theatre, Gorilla Man is a must see!

Starring Kathleen Fletcher ( B. Iden Payne Winner), Jen Brown (B. Iden Payne nominee), Bobby Torres, Spencer Driggers, Benjamin Wright and Andrew Varenhorst.

Directed by Susie Gidseg and Jen Brown.

Rock and Roll Band: Brian Purington, Vince Durcan , and led by Henna Chou.

Musical Direction: Benjamin Wright

Full Run Dates
Thursday December 4th- Sat December 20,
Runs Thurs-Sat at 7:30 pm at The Creekside Lounge. 606 East 7th Street.

Performances are $15-25 dollars. Thursday night performances are "pay-as-you wish."
Tickets available at

The Vestige Group is a sponsored project of Austin Circle of Theaters. This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.

Susie Gidseg & Jen Brown
Artistic Directors, the Vestige Group

YouTube Promo #1 for Austin production

YouTube Promo #2 for Austin production

Broadway World review of New York production

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Upcoming: I've Never Been So Happy, staged reading by Rude Mechanicals, Off Center, December 4 - 13

UPDATE: Rude Mechs and UT students workshop, present on 7/13

Found on-line:

a work-in-progress presentation of a new musical transmedia performance party
music and lyrics by Peter Stopschinski book and lyrics by Kirk Lynn curated and directed by Thomas Graves and Lana Lesley scenic design by Leilah Stewart lighting design by Stephen Pruitt silhouette video by Noel Gaulen and Erin Meyer
December 4 - 13, 2008 (Thurs - Sat at 8pm). Tickets will go on sale November 15th.

A transmedia performance party that purposely defies definition, we invite you to experience a sort of western carnival that may include a short documentary film about the Rude Mechs' parents, our patented "Ask the West" booth featuring a real rancher and a mountain lion ready with answers, a margarita and/or salsa competition, a Rube-Goldberg style art-making installation centered on how the West has affected gender identity, the environment, culture... You might go home with a western portrait, shoot a magical bow and arrow which cannot miss its target, and you just might be listened to for the first time in your life!

And at the center of this evening are selections from Rude Mechs' newest musical.
I've Never Been So Happy, with music and lyrics by Austin Experimental Punk Grand Wizard Peter Stopschinski and book and lyrics by Austin Experimental Theatre Mascot Kirk Lynn, is an exploration of the wild frontier of parenthood. A single mother ties her son to the last mountain lion in Texas to toughen him up. A single father tries to keep his daughter from leaving home. Philip Larkin said it best, "They f*** you up, your mum and dad."

All this plus a dachshund race, three jokes about rope, a seven-piece band, eight singers, three video puppeteers, and a dance team to create a wild west wonderland in the Rudes' theatre THE OFF CENTER. (And remember, The Off Center was once a feed store!).

Rude Mechs will present I've Never Been So Happy in a serial workshop format. The father/daughter story, Scenes 2, 4 and 7, will be presented in December. The mother/son story, Scenes 1, 3, and 6, will be presented in April. And then all of the scenes, including the lion's tale and, and culminating in the climactic Scene 9, will be presented at the world premiere in September 2009.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin reports in her Statesman Arts blog that the Rude Mechs will receive a $20,000 grant for this project from the NEA's Distinguished New Play Development Project.

Rude Mechs' press release on NEA grant, October 29

Robert Faires' article in the Austin Chronicle of November 6

Upcoming: The Silent City, Boyd Vance Theatre, October 31 - November 1

Found on-line:

The Silent City
An original play by Jeanette Hill.
Oct 31 - Nov 1 7 pm
Boyd Vance Theatre, Carver Museum,
1165 Angelina Street

Kari Bradford, by all outward appearances, is living life large . She is married to Jameson Bradford III, one of the most influential and popular pastors in the city. However, all is not as it seems, they are living a lie and exposing it will not only ruin the life she now has but will devastate their church community and wreck Jameson’s bid for public office. Her life and her sanity are at stake, does saving one mean she'll lose the other?

Friday, October 31 at 7 p.m. Showtimes for Saturday, November 1st are 1pm and 7pm.
Ticket Prices: $15.00

Purchase Tickets: or at one of these locations:
Mitchie's Gallery 6406 North IH 35 Suite 2800 Austin, TX 78752 512-371-1029 Gay's House of Beauty 3401 Rancier Avenue #110 Killeen, TX 76543-4162 254-699-6935

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lecture: Artaud's Daughters in new Media Culture, November 3, noon

Published on-line, October 29:

“Artaud’s Daughters in New Media Culture”

The Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies presents a talk by Theatre & Dance PhD student Heather Barfield.

Monday, November 3, 12-1pm
E. P. Schoch building – EPS 1.128
University of Texas at Austin

Austin theater company Rubber Repertory is pushing the limits of theater and live performance into the 21st century. In their latest production, The Casket of Passing Fancy, they ardently integrate interactivity without apology. “You must choose,” demands the Duchess who sits at the helm of the parlor. You must take your chances and honor the infinite possibilities of presence and liveness; you decide whether you want a tame or taboo offer; you initiate the transaction by raising your hand. You realize there is a precipice to pass behind those curtains: what will happen to you is a mystery that pumps adrenaline through your excited body. You must shed some fear about human-to-human contact, stranger-to-stranger relations, in order to fully engage the senses and take pleasure (or pain) in the performance made just for you. You are thrust from complacent and passive spectatorship.

This production astutely captures the essence of Antonin Artaud’s manifestos on “cruel theater” practices. Also, because the performances are individual and personal, they are performed only once, aligning with Peggy Phelan’s arguments about the ephemeral nature of performance. Taboos are temporarily suspended for the sake of pleasure and fetishistic notions of experiencing something “new.” This theater offers a radical and unique twist on notions of representation and mimesis in live performance.

Heather Barfield is a PhD Candidate in Theater and Dance with an emphasis on Performance as Public Practice. She has been an active player in Austin theater for over 15 years.

[Click for further info from the ALT listing of The Casket of Passing Fancy]

Auditions: Fences, City Theatre, Nov 12, 15, 19, 22


When: November 12 and 15, 19 and 22
Where: The City Theatre 3823 Airport Blvd. Suite D Austin, TX 78722
Time: Nov. 12 and 19, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and 22, 10 a.m. - noon.
*ten minute slots by appointment.

Show dates: February 26 - March 22

Casting all parts - five men, 2 women, variety of age roles
*If you are not able to make this audition time, please let us know.

August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning tale of a Negro League ballplayer turned trash collector features the painfully fractured family relationships and the best of his trademark dialogue and characters. Co-produced for Black History month.

Bring headshot, resume, and a 1 min. prepared dramatic monologue. Please be familiar with the script as scenes may also be performed. 512-524-2870 or For more show details, go to

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Event & Book: The Necessity of Theatre, Texas Book Festival, November 2

Texas Book Festival
Sunday, November 2

Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

3:00 – 3:45 p.m.
Admission FREE

Paul Woodruff, UT professor of ethics, discusses his newly published book-length essay, The Necessity of Theatre. Moderator: Steve Tomlinson

From review by Leah Hager Cohen in NYT, June 1, 2008:

Theater’s tendency to promote empathy serves as the leitmotif of Paul Woodruff’s book “The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched.” It also lies near the heart of the rather brave claim with which he opens the book: “People need theater.” He acknowledges that the assertion might meet with skepticism but insists he means it literally.

Theater is necessary, he says, for no less than “to secure our bare, naked cultural survival.”
For Woodruff, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, theater is essential to the development not only of healthy individuals but of healthy societies. It is not empathy alone he extols, but the way it fosters ethicality. This deep link, then, between theater and ethics forms the philosophical underpinning of his ambitious, somewhat plodding, occasionally transcendent book.

Woodruff has modeled his text, loosely but explicitly, on Aristotle’s “Poetics.” We know as much because he tells us in his preface: “I have written a kind of poetics of my own.” (You’ve got to hand it to him — when it comes to making brave claims, the man’s no slouch.) . . .

If this book succeeds in any measure as a defense of theater, it will also have succeeded at something much larger. Nowhere is Woodruff more eloquent than in this beautifully stripped-down plea: “We must all listen to each other because we are human, because we see only what we can see from where we stand, because there is more to be seen than any one of us can appreciate alone.”
(Click for full text of review)

The Art of Watching and Being Watched. By Paul Woodruff. 257 pp. Oxford University Press. $27.95. Pub. Date: April 2008 ISBN-13: 9780195332001

Monday, October 27, 2008

2007-2008 B. Iden Payne award winners, Austin Circle of Theatres

Awards made Sunday, October 26, published at ACOT website:


Plays for Youth

Outstanding Production of a Play for Youth
'The Red Balloon’ (Tongue and Groove Theatre)

Outstanding Director of a Play for Youth
Andrea S. Smith ("Wiley and the Hairy Man")

Outstanding Actor in a Play for Youth
Mark Stewart (the Boy, ‘The Red Balloon’)

Outstanding Actress in a Play for Yout
Kristin Bennett (Mammy, ‘Wiley and the Hairy Man’)

Music Theatre

Outstanding Production of Music Theatre
'Troades: The Legend of the Women of Troy’ (VORTEX Repertory Company)

Outstanding Director of Music Theatre
Bonnie Cullum (‘Troades’)

Outstanding Lead Actor in Music Theatre
Cedric Neal (Sportin’ Life, ‘Porgy and Bess’)

Outstanding Lead Actress in Music Theatre
Marva Hicks (Bess, ‘Porgy and Bess’)

Outstanding Featured Actor in Music Theatre
James La Rosa (Abraham, ‘Altar Boyz’))

Outstanding Featured Actress in Music Theater
Janis Stinson (Maria, ‘Porgy and Bess’)


Outstanding Production of a Comedy
'Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead’ (Hyde Park Theatre)

Outstanding Director of a Comedy
Ken Webster (‘Dog Sees God’)

Outstanding Lead Actor in of a Comedy
Matthew Radford (‘Benedick,’ ‘Much Ado About Nothing’)

Outstanding Lead Actress in of a Comedy
Katherine Catmull (Winnie, ‘Happy Days’)

Outstanding Featured Actor in of a Comedy
Ben Wolfe (Michael, ‘Featuring Loretta’)

Outstanding Featured Actress in of a Comedy
Bernadette Nason (Madame Arcati, ‘Blithe Spirit’)

Outstanding Production of a Drama
"Doubt’ (Zachary Scott Theatre Center)

Outstanding Director of a Drama
Shawn Sides (‘The Method Gun’)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama
David Stahl (‘Henry Drummond,’ ‘Inherit the Wind’)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Kathleen Fletcher (Catherine Holly, ‘Suddenly Last Summer’)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Drama
Tyler Jones (Happy, ‘Death of a Salesman’)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Drama
Rachel McGinnis (Zubaida Ula et al., ‘The Laramie Project’)


Outstanding Cast Performance
'The Beauty Queen of Leenan’e (Renaissance Austin Theatre and VORTEX Repertory Company)

Outstanding Ensemble Performance
Content Love Knowles, Betsy McCann, Kira Parra, Emerald Mystiek, Ashley Edwards, Leigh Shaw and Elizabeth Rast (Chorus, ‘Troades’)

Youth Performer
Outstanding Youth Performance
David Bologna (Mickey, ‘Golly Gee Whiz!’)

Technical Achievement Awards

Outstanding Set Design
Arthur Adair (‘The Red Balloon’)

Outstanding Lighting Design :
Jason Amato (‘Troades’)

Outstanding Sound Design:
Jeffrey Alan Jones (‘Death and the King’s Horseman’)

Outstanding Costume Design:
Derek Whitener (‘Porgy and Bess’)

Outstanding Music Director:
Justin Sherburn (‘The Red Balloon’)

Outstanding Choreographer
Robin Lewis (‘Porgy and Bess’)

Outstanding Original Script:
Zell Miller, III (‘Radio Silence’)

Outstanding Original Score:
Justin Sherburn (‘The Red Balloon’)


Austin Circle of Theaters Speical Recognition Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Theatre and Performing Arts:
Jason Amato

ACoT's Rudy Kloptic Award for Outstanding Improvistional Theatre
Given in 2008 to Austin's "Improvisational Dream Team" ( the best reps of improvisational theatre, both on stage and in the community.)
Dave Buckman, Asaf Ronen, Tami Nelson, Chris Trew, Michael, Jastroch, Shana Merlin, Roy Janik, and Justin York

B. Iden Payne Committee's Standing Ovation Certificate:
Outstanding Achievement in Animation to Leah Sharpe for ‘The Red Balloon’

Robert Faires' account of the evening, published in the Austin Chronicle of October 30

Sleuth, Gaslight Baker Theatre, Lockhart, October 23 - November 8

I continue to be impressed by the craft and love of theatre of the Gaslight Baker Theatre, which is “putting the art in Lockhart.”

The broad two-story set installed in the former movie theatre on South Main Street is nothing less than epic, with columns, French doors, a working staircase, a billiard table, meticulous set decoration and furnishings that look authentic and very pricey. The production staff once again mastered that huge expanse of stage and created a world for the actors.

Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth is a witty, malicious cat-and-mouse game. Shaffer pits the urbane, rich amoral Andrew Wyke against Milo Tindle, a much younger first-generation, barely-white-collar Brit who is carrying on an affair with Wyke’s wife.
She never appears. Except for the intrusion of various policemen, this play gives us a lengthy two rounds of games playing and deception, in which Wyke’s effete British sense of property, puzzles, games-playing and “fair play” arouses the Italian sense of vendetta inherited by Tindle from his Italian watchmaker father.

Andrew Wyke appears initially as an amiable host with a courteous, warbling manner, whose avocation is writing Agatha-Christie-type detective stories. Steve Lawson (half visible, right of the chess piece) has an appropriately off-hand, fuzzy manner as he receives the uneasy Tindle at his deserted mansion, from which the servants have been dismissed for the weekend. Andrew puts smoothly into play a lengthy, cruel and elaborate game that lures Milo Tindle with prospects of money and a clear path to romance with Andrew’s wife. Todd Martin (half visible, left of the chess piece) as the hapless Milo moves from unease to companionable conspiracy to resentful anger and fear for his life. Though Andrew has control of the situation, our attention is captivated instead by Todd Martin, who plays his lines with the vigor and desperation of a tarpon hooked on the open seas.

Before Act One ends, a safe is blown with an impressive bang and flash of fire, Milo winds up in a clown costume, and three shots have been fired, the last one as a coup de grâce.

Act Two, set two days later, gives us the investigation of those events, initially by the terse, moralistic Inspector Doppler (Henry Martin). Tables are turned, with a literal vengeance, and we witness the inexorable reduction, in turn, of the smug Andrew Wyke to a lonely and ridiculous man without hope.

This act contains further surprises and about-faces; since Sleuth has twice been produced as a film, audience members may not be as surprised by them as I was. I did see the 1972 version in which Laurence Olivier as Wyke tormented Michael Caine as Milo, but all I remembered, 36 years later, was the sense of duplicity and cunning, not the details of the plot. Lockhart audiences may, on the other hand, have seen Kenneth Branaugh’s filmed version from last year, with screenplay by Harold Pinter, in which Michael Caine played Wyke and Jude Law was Milo.

I followed the action intently and I was appropriately misdirected, surprised, and satisfied by this production. Congratulations to the actors and to the company for taking it on. I will continue to make that 30-mile trek down to Lockhart to see what they are doing in theatre.

Shaffer’s plot remains a sizzler. Time and changes in custom have altered two key aspects of it, however, and these are dimensions that we as Americans probably have never entirely understood.

The confrontation between the two men is fueled by class, and it is relentlessly reinforced by accent.

Class distinctions were real and always present in Britain in 1972. Shaffer parodied Wyke the aristocrat by tying him to the unreal world of mannered whodunnits, and Wyke inevitably dismissed and despised Milo as a penniless, hopeless son of immigrants. In turn, the viciousness of Milo’s reply embodied the deep anger of the working class and of the struggling middle class. Those were pre-Thatcher days; they were, certainly, well previous to the successes of, for example, Sir Richard Branson.

Those deep class differences were telegraphed by accent. The upper-class or “U” accent marked superiority, to the extent that middle class families paid enormous tuition bills to send children to boarding schools where their most striking acquisition was the “U” accent to replace their maternal “non-U” manner of speech. The wonderful variety of expression in the United Kingdom – stemming both from region and from class – was systematically suppressed. For example, not until the late 1980’s did the British Broadcasting Corporation begin to allow “non-U” newscasters or reporters onto the air. Even today, “non-U” accents can be wielded as political clubs in British discourse.

Cockney Michael Caine as Milo Tindle was perfect casting. Caine as Wyke? (Note to self: rent that 2007 version from Netflix!)

Only the best-voice-coached and most adaptive non-British actors can mine those particular fields. We Americans are not classless, but the class differences of Sleuth are fundamentally alien to us. And our accents are mostly regional or ethnic.

Gaslight Baker’s lead actors Steve Lawson and Todd Martin employ sort-of-mid-Atlantic UK accents, but theirs don’t have the meaning or bite of those in a British production.

And in that connection, I was initially appalled by the Irish-leprechan-begorrah accent used by Inspector Doppler (played by Henry Martin). Wilshire, the locale of Sleuth, is closer to London or Bristol or Cardiff than to Dublin or Cork. But a plot twist appeased me on that score.

The good inspector may well have been pulling someone’s leg.

Internet Movie Database on Sleuth (1972) and Sleuth (2007) (note: Spoilers!)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Upcoming: Political Theatre, Bastrop Opera House, October 17 - November 22

Found on-line:

Political Theater

World premiere play by Boston playwright Sorcha Blaine,
Winner of POPS New Play Development Contest
directed by Chester Eitze

Fridays and Saturdays
October 17 - November 22, 2008
No performance on Oct. 31
8 p.m.
(optional dinner at 7 p.m.)

Special Sunday Matinee on Nov. 2 at 2:30 p.m. (no meal)

Backstage in a Boston Theater with John Wilkes Booth and Mary Baker Eddy with commentaries by Abraham Lincoln.

Starring award-winning actor Paul Standefer as Booth, Jennifer Warwick as Eddy, and Danne Absher as Lincoln.

Texas Nonprofit Theatres performances of Political Theater are produced in conjunction with TNT, the playwright, and Bastrop Opera House as part of the 2008 Texas Nonprofit Theatres POPS! New Play Project.

Show only tickets: $10 adults; $8 senior 60+; $7 students.
Show only tickets can be purchased on line or paid for at the door.
Optional dinner service is available, but please note the deadline for paying for your meal on the ticket page. Dinner is one hour before showtime and costs an additional $15. (Show AND Dinner tickets: $25 adults; $23 senior 60+; $22 students)
Make your show ticket and meal purchase on line now.

Dinner Menu
Oct. 17, 18, 24, & 25 Cedar's Mediterranean Grill: Chicken Bellini (grilled chicken breast topped with artichoke hearts, diced tomatoes, and diced potatoes in an olive oil, white wine sauce); a side of mixed beans (wax beans, green beans, and baby carrots); a Greek salad; garlic bread; and an assortment of cheese cakes. Deadline 2 p.m. the day of the show.

Nov. 1-22 Fat Cat Caterers: menu to be announced. Deadline to pay for meal is noon the day before the show.

Make your show ticket and meal purchase on line now. You may also call (512) 303-6283 or (512) 321-6283 or email

Playwright Sorcha Blaine interviewed by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, arts editor of the Austin Statesman, October 30

Click for YouTube slide show of images from performance.

Puppetry in Austin, Austin Statesman of October 25

from Austin Statesman of October 25:


Austin puppeteers are bringing the art form back to its original audience: adults


Connor Hopkins, whose Trouble Puppet Theater Company opens an adaptation of "Frankenstein" on Thursday, is looking forward to a show with "video projection, live music, fire and lots of slime, blood and electricity."

This is the man whose first Austin project was a strip show starring transgender puppets that came back from the dead.
. . .

Over the summer Ricki "Geppetto" Vincent and his Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company performed a puppet burlesque starring a sexy pig named "Miss Mimi." Like many of Vincent's characters, Miss Mimi is a bunraku-style puppet manipulated with rods held by three on-stage puppeteers. Geppetto Dreams is now staging its Halloween show, "Tales from the Nauseous Fairy," a puppet show for adults with Sunday matinees for kids.

Vincent's company has its own theater, quite a feat for the puppeteer who's been in Austin less than two years. Hopkins has planned a full season of puppetry ("mostly about grim moments in history"), and the Austin Puppet Society, which he started, has 40 members who trade ideas online. And First Night Austin, the all-ages New Year's Eve arts event, has become a showcase for enormous puppets that enchant young and old alike.

. . .
for full article, Click here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

World of Horrorcraft, Scare For A Cure at Elks Lodge 201, October 24 - 26, 29-31

Last night I was in one of the first uninformed groups to pass through the haunted house set up by Scare for A Cure at the Elk’s Lodge near the downtown arts venues.

The premise is that the Dunstan Interactive Corporation, flush with its success in video games, has recruited you as a “beta tester.” Their new product is a step forward - - instead of sitting glassy eyed at a monitor with a keyboard or joystick, you put on a metal hood that scans your brain waves and inserts you directly into the game world, armed with the identity and weapons of choice.

Our mixed crew was invited for dress rehearsal evening, so in effect we were the beta testers for the “beta testers.”

We were impressed by the clever scenario and the imagination of the settings and costumes. More than once, we were spooked, surprised, ambushed, amused and haunted. Coordinators told us that the experience has 26 stages. There were costumed characters and zanies galore.

Audience members acting as “beta testers” sign formal releases of liability that are pretty scary in themselves (what’s this about “you may be subjected to flying insects”???). Organizers call them forward in groups of six at five-minute intervals. On the stairs at the south parking lot, the staff go over the rules before bringing participants to the Dunstan corporation front office, delivering them to their testing tasks.

[[The voice of conscience intervenes in the review at this point: Time out! Time out! What’s this about reviewing a Halloween haunted house? Isn’t this space called “Austin Live Theatre”?

- - Yes, exactly. Read the title block. It says, “This is a voyage to discover the underreported Austin theatre scene.”

But a haunted house? Give me a break. Next thing we know, you’ll be writing about the bats flying out of the South Congress Street bridge.

- - No, the bat flights are a spectacle. They’re not theatre. And besides, I think they’ve gone to Mexico for the winter.

But a Halloween scary house! You might as well drop your standards entirely and start hanging out on 6th Street or nosing up to arts sponsors, like the rest of the blogs!

- - Here’s what I do: I go looking for actors who are offering narrative and character to an audience. People who make believe. Most music acts in this town are not in that business, although the White Ghost Shivers come close. If a Central Texas actor or singer or company creates a world for an audience, I’ll go see the performance and write about it. That includes puppet presentations, children’s theatre, community theatre, and some special projects. Like this one – Scare for A Cure’s World of Horrorcraft.

One-man shows?

- - Depends on the show. Unbeaten by Shannon McCormick at the Salvage Vanguard sounds promising. Eddie Izzard back in May was fantastic. But for the most part, I don’t do improv. Oops, that’s poorly expressed. I mean, I don’t seek out improv acts to attend, unless the promise is that there’ll be narrative and character. That Trekkie thing at the Hideout sounds like a possible.

How about The Casket of Passing Fancy, where each member of an audience of thirty is granted an experience by the Duchess?

- - Sounds to me as if the evening begins well but ends badly. Read the reports (they’re not reviews) by Barry Pineo and SaraMarie. I’m not looking for an individualized experience, the equivalent of a lap dance. For me, the essence of theatre is the complicity between the actor and the group of spectators – the roar of the greasepaint and smell of the crowd, as Anthony Newley used to say.

And this World of Horrorcraft meets that standard?

- - Sure does. May I continue, now?


Conscience settles down in a corner, with crossed arms.]]

Each group of “beta testers” is accompanied by a “technical assistance representative” from the company. Our escort, a serious, courteous young man with long hair shepherded us through corridors, nooks, and crawl spaces into an increasingly unpredictable world. Weapons and identities failed to materialize; in our own identities and humble selves we were cast into a game world. We met a seven-foot hornéd beast, a vampire and victim, spooks and dementors. “Something has gone wrong with the main server,” our escort told us with a worried look.

I had just accepted, reluctantly, to be the one to sit in the torture chair when the ferocious palace guard broke character. “This way,” he said, “quickly, before they know you’re here. . . .”

In the hustle and shared apprehension, our group of six quickly formed bonds, both amongst us and with our escort. As the story evolved, we understood that malice was afoot; Dunstan himself contacted us to enlist our help and to warn us of pitfalls. Scenarios both comic and dramatic from other game worlds were torn apart by some hostile intelligence and we rushed onward, pausing only to count noses and to heed warnings from our escort. We progressed up stairs, around corners, through coded doors and down a twisting chute.

Dunstan himself received us in a penultimate scene that ended in chaos and catastrophe; we bore onward our McGuffin to Control Central for a confrontation with the mysterious Alice, played with brio and convincing threat by an uncredited Paige Roberts. Escape and exit were via a confined, bobbing capsule sent across space and time.

The World of Horrorcraft was vivid, coherent, sometimes scary, and fun. It was indeed theatre, with the interesting twist that only our escort and Dunstan provided the continuity. Other actors, all volunteers, met us only briefly to deliver their participation – imagine, then, how often they will play their short scenes between now and the Halloween finale. No wonder the organizers urged us to come back again to experience the further development of character and spectacle.

After emerging from that make-believe world, I was elated, and even a bit disappointed to be back in “normal” reality.

You can share some of that night’s trip, for the Statesman’s “A-List” photographer David Weaver (shown here) was in the same group. He was often trailing behind, caught up in the effort to capture his images. Click HERE for an 18-image slide show on the Stateman's website.

An added attraction that evening was the costumed corps of women dancers from the Austin Police Department. They were preparing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for presentation on Halloween night. I was greatly impressed, and I wouldn’t want to come across them in a dark alley.

Unless, of course, they were cleaned up a bit and in uniform!

Review by High Heeled Speaker on LiveJournal, October 26

Fox 7 video clip featuring the "blood and guts cannon" October 21

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Night of the Living Dead, Weird City T.C. at Hyde Park Theatre, October 22 - November 7

Why do we enjoy this stuff so much?

A brother and sister arrive at an isolated cemetery to leave a wreath on their father’s grave. He scoffs and complains. She reproaches his irreverence. He recalls the childhood fright he gave her, long ago, in this same place, and intones in sepulchral cadence, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”

And by gosh, they are. That figure, tottering across the grass and between the headstones, attacks them. Barbara flees. She takes refuge in an isolated house.

And suddenly the world has gone mad. Barbara goes into near catatonic shock. Others who took refuge in the house tell of other horrible, lurching attackers. Radio, television, and civil defense newscasts inform us that the recently dead are coming back to life, and “the mayors of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Miami are calling out the National Guard.”

Uh, oh. We’ve got a bad feeling about this. . . .

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a 95-minute black and white horror creepy produced in 1968. It cost only $114,000 to produce but made $12 million in the United States and $30 million overseas. It caused a sensation. Pauline Kael of the New York Times called it "one of the most gruesomely terrifying movies ever made — and when you leave the theatre you may wish you could forget the whole horrible experience . . . . The film's grainy, banal seriousness works for it — gives it a crude realism".

The film’s distributor failed to include the frames asserting copyright, and Night of the Living Dead lapsed into public domain. The advantage to you is that now you can watch the whole thing on-line from any of several sources, including Google Video. And the concept, script and characters are available to anyone who wants to – well – revive them.

John Carroll (left) and the Weird City Theatre Company have done just that. I haven’t seen the whole film, but judging from the first ten minutes, viewed on YouTube, much of the adaptation uses the movie lines verbatim.

Carroll applied his ingenuity to shaping the script so that except for the initial cemetery scene it fits mostly into the claustrophobic confines of that ramshackle, deserted frame house. He and the other 15 actors in the cast set up this absurd, unexplained situation, make us believe in it, and scare the crap out of us.

Okay, the script is weak. What do you expect? When the zombies are coming after you, who ya gonna call?

How are you going to keep up the interest of the audience for the one-hour duration of this impossible slide into hell? Phillip Taylor as Ben (left), the focused, organized, compassionate leader of the trapped humans, does everything he rationally can. Identify transportation. Nail boards across the windows and door. Fight ‘em off with weapons and fire – the undead don’t have much muscle tone. Argue with the rest of the trapped team, try to exert some leadership. Figure out where to find help.

But since when has rational behavior overcome the inexplicable forces of Evil?

Action in that house plays out in the semi-darkness that mirrors the state of the world. Weird City uses sound to impressive effect, scoring much of the action to spooky, surging music and winding in radio broadcasts as apocalyptic and threatening as those of Orson Welles in 1938. Zombie attacks are hair-raising, colorful and well choreographed. Ohmigosh, look, there’s one that used to be a nurse! There’s many a shot in the night, especially when John Smith as Chief McClellan leads his vigilantes against the bad ghouls (“Just shoot ‘em in the brain, that’s all you need to do. Then pile ‘em up and burn ‘em.”)

You just know it’s going to end badly. But on the way there, there are some fine moments. Sarah Griffin (right) and her portrayal of Barbara’s hysteria and then her shock; snarling face-offs between Ben (Phillips) and Harry Cooper (Kevin Gouldthorpe, right, above); and the appalling conversion of the delicate, injured young Kevin (Nick Orzech). And, particularly, John Smith’s all-business Chief McClellan as he’s interviewed by field news anchor Nicholas Kier. (Click here for Weird City’s video of that exchange, shot in the much less oppressive out-of-doors).

But back to that question: why do we enjoy this stuff so much?

Night of the Living Dead is a 20th century reprise of one of the oldest of Western dramatic art forms – the medieval mystery play.

These are stock characters. Cynical Johnny mocks Barbara as she prays at their father’s grave; he deserves his violent and horrible comeuppance, both in the opening minutes and again, at the very end. Ben the leader thinks that logic and preparation can overcome furies; his demise, in a vividly cinematic moment, belies that belief. Cold-bloodedly efficient Chief McClellan supposes that he has the Answer but finds out otherwise. And media representatives deliver the News and offer counsel about Security, but they cannot provide Salvation.

Sin begets punishment; ignorance brings death; and arrogance brings terrible retribution.

One could quote the central character of “Le Miracle de Théophile,” written by Rutebeuf in France in 1261:

"Filthy I am; I must go to filth beneath.

In filthiness I’ve lived; God must know –

He lives forever. My dying will be slow,

Poisoned by the bite of devils’ teeth.”

The difference, however, is that back in the thirteenth century Théophile could hope. His humble repentance on the boards attracted the attention of the Blessed Virgin, who vividly trampled the Devil underfoot, certainly to the delight of spectators.

We face, still today, the puzzle of Evil and the fears of Death. We try to exorcise them by entertainments and distractions. Halloween celebrations among them.

This production of Night of the Living Dead doesn’t have to carry such a theological load, of course. We can enjoy it for its own production values and for the healthy scare it gives us.

But at the last moment those zombies do turn around and start for us, don’t they?

Barry Pineo's review in the Austin Chronicle, October 30


Weird City Theatre Company website -- with link to cast bios and link to audio of the scary radio broadcast script (open the "Tickets" page)

Hannah Kenah's pre-production piece with interview of director/producer John Carrol, Austin Chronicle of October 24

Weird City promo on YouTube for NOTLD

First ten minutes of NOTLD film, 1968

1968 trailer on YouTube (1:37)

3 Flickr sets for NOTLD rehearsals and prep, containing
31 images, 80 photos and 8 videos, and 115 photos and 8 videos

Video: NY Times Critics' Picks: A.O. Scott on 1968 NOTLD, published October 28 (2:31)

extensive article on NOTLD on Wikipedia

NOTLD on Internet Movie Database

full streaming video of NOTLD on Google Video, 95 min.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Upcoming: Christmas Belles, City Theatre, December 4 - 21

Received October 21:

City Theatre announces Christmas Belles
Dec 4 – 21


It’s an exciting honor to be premiering a playwright’s first words onstage in Austin. Christmas Belles will open The City Theatre’s Company’s holiday season running December 4 through December 21.

A soon to be classic southern comedy is authored by Texas residents Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, a trio of talented writers.

CTC welcomes the Futrelle sisters and it’s Christmas-time in Fayro, Texas. Frankie, Twink, and Honey Raye are not exactly in a festive mood.

Frankie is overdue with her second set of twins, Twink is bitter about a recent jilting which finds her behind bars, and Honey Raye is trying to keep the Tabernacle of the Lamb’s Christmas Pageant from spiraling out of control. Things are not looking promising: the former director is ruthless in her attempts to take over the show, the celebrity Santa is passing a kidney stone, the cast is dropping like flies to food poisoning from the recent pancake supper and a long-kept family secret is revealed.

And on top of everything, the pageant will be shown live on cable access television for the first time ever.

In true Futrelle fashion, the feuding sisters pull together in order to present a Christmas program the citizens of Fayro will never forget.

Christmas Belles will bring joy to your world!

Christmas Belles
playwrights have impressive backgrounds: Jessie Jones co-authored the play Dearly Departed, as well as its screen adaptation, Kingdom Come; Nicholas Hope won the Texas New Playwrights’ Festival for his first play, A Friend Of The Family and was Director of Casting for ABC Television; and Jamie Wooten has written and produced nearly four hundred episodes of network television, including four seasons of the classic series, The Golden Girls. All three were born and raised in the South and write about the South they know best.

Produced by The City Theatre Company, the comedy will be directed by Daniel Lefave featuring the cast of Sharon Elmore, Nicole Weber, Bobby DiPasquale, Louise Martin, Rae Peterson, Rosemary Holly, Terri Bennett, Jen Coy, Michael Schnick, Daniel Sawtelle, and Shane Cleveland.


December 4 - 21, 2008 Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday 5:30 p.m.

The City Theatre, 3823 Airport Blvd. – east between Manor Road and 38 ½ St.

Reservations 512-524-2870 or

General Seating Tickets $15-20, Guaranteed Reserved Seating $25, Students $12,
Thursdays pay what you can. Website:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Upcoming: Ladies of La Cage, Spaghetti House, November 14 and 21

received by e-mail:

"Ladies of La Cage" is a Celebrity Female Impersonation Review. It will be presented in a Dinner Theatre Format at the Spaghetti Warehouse. It will take place initially for 2 Fridays November 14 & 21 at 8:00 pm. Tickets will be 40 dollars and will include a full 3 course Meal (Salad, Bread, Choice of Entree, Choice of Dessert, and Soft Drinks) and a Cabaret style Revue show lasting approximately 90 minutes, including Impersonation of Legendary Divas like Dolly Parton, Cher, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Liza Minelli and more! From poster: Tickets available now. Telephone (512) 696 2371 or e-mail

Website is

Monday, October 20, 2008

Two donors give $2 million for Zach Theatre project

Monday, October 20, 2008 - 2:54 PM CDT
Two donors give $2 million for Zach Theatre project
Austin Business Journal

Local arts philanthropists James Armstrong and Bill Dickson have donated $1 million each to Zach Theatre—money that will go toward the theater’s capital campaign.

The capital campaign will help realize a remodeled and expanded campus for the 75-year-old theater at Barton Springs Road and Lamar Boulevard, including a completely new theater space that will serve as the main stage beginning in 2011. The campus project is also being partially funded with money from the city’s November 2006 bond election.

Specially designed for live theater productions, the new 500-seat Armstrong Family Auditorium will feature state-of-the-art technology and design elements.

Dickson’s donation will fund Zach’s Binning-Dickson Education Center.

“Zach Theatre is thrilled to have received these generous gifts from two of the city’s committed arts patrons, especially in these uncertain economic times,” says Michael Guerra, the theater’s chief development officer. “The planned addition of the Armstrong Family Auditorium and the increased support of Zach’s recognized education programs will not only help us stand out from other programs in Austin but also put us into a league with other outstanding theater centers around the country.”

The Taming of the Shrew, Baron's Men at the Curtain Theatre, October 17 - 25

This show was a lot of fun.

First, for the setting - - a Sunday afternoon in mild fall weather in Texas, in the park-like setting near the sweep of the river. The Curtain Theatre is a Globe-type construction with an Elizabethan thrust stage and gallery seating. The host, unfortunately, was absent, because he was visiting the international space station. Thanks to Richard Garriott for his generosity to Shakespeare and to Shakespearians!

Producer Pam Martin said that the house had held its full capacity of 130 spectators on Friday’s free night of theatre. We on Sunday afternoon were pleasantly sun-dazzled, but the night productions must be memorable. In the evenings flaming torches posted by the playing space provide illumination, although with some subtle assistance from modern electricity. For example, here are photos by Josh Baker from the company’s production of The Comedy of Errors.

The Baron’s Men pride themselves on sticking close to the Elizabethan tradition, playing the characters in broad and with bawdy. Given that affinity for things Elizabethan and the assertive image on the show poster, I had assumed that this would be completely masculine company, with Kate the shrew acted by a man with football player shoulders.

In fact, the opposite was the case. Gender changes in this show move in the opposite direction, with some very capable women taking men’s parts. The standout of those transformations was musician/singer/actor Jennifer Davis, serving up the musical prologue and entr’acte, as well as delivering a canny performance as Petruccio’s rascally servant Grumio.

In our days, for some the litmus test for The Taming of the Shrew is the decision taken by director and cast for the portrayal of Katherine, “plain Kate,/ And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst.” How malevolent is she? Can we justify the breaking of her spirit, if indeed it is broken? Is Petruccio indeed her unquestioned master?

The Baron’s Men and women under the direction of Jamey Coolie play it for straight comedy, with not too many worries about political correctness.

In that, they have the bounty of the larger-than-life Brian Martin as Petruccio and Katrina O’Keefe as Kate.

Martin with his big voice, confidence and rollicking presence is a capital Petruccio. He is “live” every minute on stage, alert to the action and smiling a crocodile’s grin at the discomfits of the other suitors. Here, we sense, is the man who’ll show the others how it’s done.

From her first spat with sister Bianca, this Katherine, comes across as more put upon and neglected, hungry for attention, than really curs’d. Her father Baptista dismisses her rather than cringing from her.

O’Keefe has the physical presence for a real harpy and she thoroughly intimidates other suitors. Above, she rolls over Hortensio, played by Aaron Niemuth with good diction and flurries of nervous defensive gestures.

Petruccio’s blandishments awaken in her a wonder that the man should pay such attention to her. We readily imagine her falling in love with him.

Her early bonding to Petruccio makes some of his later stunts less comic for us. When he denies her dinner or denounces the tailor for delivering, rather than a dress, “A knack, a toy, a trick, a baby's cap,” Kate’s reaction has more disappointment than flaming anger. Accordingly, there is not much tension in the final “wager” scene. Our amusement there comes more from the contrast between the characters -- the serene, fulfilled Kate, admonishing both the precious, spoiled Bianca and Hortensio’s rich widow/wife, who is a real shrew.

I generally bristle and get dismissive when someone compares a live theatre production to a film adaptation of the play, so let me apologize in advance. My only excuse is that Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 version of this play with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is printed in my brain.

In that adaptation and in many others, Lucentio the as-yet penniless scholar venturing to Padua is played as the romantic hero, a serious young fellow who wins the heart of Baptista's non-curs'd daughter, Bianca. Zeffirelli cast the slim, serious, Oxford-posh Michael York in that role, providing a complete contrast to Burton.

The Baron's Men and women stick instead to their concept of jolly farce and cast Casey Weed as Lucentio and Athena Peters as Bianca -- as happily clownish a pair of lovers as you might ever come across. Just in case you didn't get the message, check out their attire! Hortensio discovers them in the garden making puppy love, with licks included.They play that delicious mad mime, appropriately enough, on the front steps of the thrust stage.

The costumes in this production are gorgeous, replete with ruffles, bows, pleats, colors and flourishes. Petruccio alone has at least three full outfits, and every actor is beautifully kitted out.

For example, here are Michael O'Keefe as Baptista Minola the father and Jess Downs as servant Tranio pretending to be Lucentio.

And one last ghost of the Zeffirelli version: Aaron Niemuth recalls for me the great Victor Spinetti in that film. He doesn't have the glassy motionless panic of Spinetti's Hortensio, but he is consistently foolish and self-fooling, right down to his farcical departure with his untamed widow/wife holding him by the ear.

The Baron's Men recently achieved recognition and affiliation with the Austin Circle of Theatres, which probably brings them additional resources. They may now echo Petruccio,

And I have thrust my selfe into this maze,
Happily to wive and thrive, as best I may:
Crownes in my purse I have, and goods at home,
And so may come abroad to see the world.

So, ye world of Central Texas, the Baron's Men (and women) invite you abroad to their Globe. On their website they include a meticulous map and directions to guide you the Curtain Theatre. It's a short trip and well worth the very modest price of admission.

YouTube: pirated reproduction of Hortensio (Spinetti) persuading Petruccio (Burton) to woo Katherina Minola