Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review: FronteraFest, Long Fringe selections

Ryan E. Johnson reviews several and recommends more in his January 30 piece on

The Drowned World (
"This play represents what fringe theater is all about, showing bold works in bold ways, and never flinching from the dark, cold sides of the human condition.")

The Bird and The Bee
("They are two looks at the world from two very different points of view, but in the end it comes together to make for one great experience, and one you won’t soon forget.")

Cochise ("It takes a certain kind of inner strength to enjoy an entire hour of straight improvisation, so some might not be able to handle it, but if you think you have the willpower, and you’re a fan of improv, or ‘70s cop shows, then this one is a must see.")

Things in Life by Ben Prager ("They may not have the emotional complexity of some of the characters created in the bigger plays of the festival, but Prager is still able to breathe life into these mundane characters for as long as they grace the stage.")


Leela's Wheel and 52 Pick-up

Let's Get Real

Reality Check

A Matter of Taste

Full text of Johnson's piece on

Review: FronterFest Short Fringe, January 27

Jooley Ann published on on January 30 her very favorable impressions of the pieces offered at the Hyde Park Theatre last Tuesday.

Jooley Ann liked:

Our Angle in Heaven by/with Maggie Gallant
Sex, with Benefits by Daniel Huntley Solon
Guns, Hats and a Big Gulp by/with Bernadette Nason, and
Wicker Chairs by/with Kenneth Wayne Bradley

Several were late substitutions; of those, Our Angle in Heaven and Sex, with Benefits were abridged versions of Long Fringe pieces still on view this weekend.

Full text of piece on FronteraFest Short Fringe by Jooley Ann.

Leela's Wheel by Gemma Wilcox, January 27, 29, 31, February 1

Gemma Wilcox is a lively and inventive woman with a serious case of multiple comic personalities. Her two-act show Leela's Wheel runs about an hour and you never know who (or what) she's going to be next.

This piece is dialogue-based, almost never in monologue style. One accepts fairly quickly her theatre convention of transferring instantly from one character to another by shift of position, body English, voice and accent. The impression is a bit like quick-cutting in film. Gemma is so good at this that she can give us a middle-aged woman seducing her crofter husband and make us believe in both partners at the same time. And laugh uneasily at the intense eroticism of it.

The most powerful comedy teeters precariously on the edge of desperation. She does a metaphorical dance on that edge, and sometimes a literal one as well. Gemma embodies both sides of at least four pairs: a young couple living together in the first part and then as young marrieds in the second; the rural aunt and uncle of the girl; the young wife unexpectedly spending an evening of drinking with a boyfriend who dumped her ten years earlier; and the sleek, urbane, mendacious cat with the aristocratic name and the industriously churning little hamster Leela.

Gemma's got a gift for unexpected animations, as well -- illustrated by her metamorphosis into a peacock (a fabulous bit of mime, with exceptional control and timing) and into the flame leaping in the fireplace.

Hers is a precisely written, timed and choreographed comic piece, strongly supported by the unseen tech partner running the lights. I had the impression that she'd worked a long time to mine this story and to get it just right. And she did.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Matter of Taste, FronteraFest Blue Theatre, January 25, 29, 31, February 1

Playwright Bastion Carboni has some good ideas but he gets in their way. There are five ingenious skits in this Long Fringe entertainment but he has the mistaken impression that an audience will be as interested in the creative process as he is.

Carboni has actress Jenny Keto preface the evening with a confused, swaggering but finally non-helpful appearance as "the playwright." And at the end of a pretty enertaining evening he brings on the director(?) and others for an egg-timed 3-minute wrap-up with comments. Most insightful of them: "Andrew (Varenhost) acts too tall!"

Let's call those hiccups of the creative process. More of interest are the five "black-out" pieces:

  • A morose young man, Warren (Varenhorst), would like to commit suicide but who is too inept or clumsy to do so. I shivered when I saw Andrew put that tool up under his chin and get ready to tap it home; but once interrupted by his girfriend Babs (Kira Matica) and then her buddy Bernice (Liz Watts), he eventually gives up and disappears. The heart of the skit is the two women bitching back and forth at one another about flipped-out Warren and why Babs puts up with him.
  • The skit that must have provided the main title, in which a young woman (Kira Matica) finds her nutso friend Larry (Adam Glasseye) standing over a prostrate figure covered by a blanket. Larry is delighted by the prospect of having this dead body for dinner. Larry recruited his dinner with a personal ad, checked him for AIDS, and is ready to go. The bickering between him and Matica shifts gradually from the impossibilities of the concept to the practical details. Since the figure under the blanket was Varenhorst, we in the audience were left confused as to whether this was Scene Two or a completely unrelated sketch. The outrageousness of the concept made it very easy to laugh; once one accepts the idea of casual cannibalism, why shouldn't one quarrel over which baking pans to use and how to prepare the meat? Glasseye was manic and crystal clear; his partner's apparent agitation at his ideas at times overrode her diction, so we missed some of the jokes.
  • An expressionistic piece introduced by another "playwright" intervention brought us Jen Brown vomiting paper flowers and writhing about the stage. Not so funny, but an acceptable exercise in Dada.
  • A piece in which a couple of horny teenagers climb a mountain top for private business and find a prospective suicide (Glasseye) about to throw himself from the cliff. They question him and he patronizes them, showing a calm rationality completely out of keeping with his announced intention. Of the five sketches, the least convincing. If the man is sufficiently stressed to end it all, his behavior with the visitors just didn't ring true -- or funny.
  • A sly little piece in which Varenhorst as Marc and Jen Brown as Sadie are revealed in bed with one another, as Marc's girlfriend returns to the apartment. They spin stories for her, asserting that they're brother and sister and that they love to have sex with one another. Girlfriend reacts with appropriate horror and eventually storms out, and then we (and they) are left to sort out the truth of the relationship. I initially had trouble deciphering the relationships myself and I wonder if the text made their allegations to the girlfriend sufficiently explicit. There's a nasty, delicious little moment at the end when Marc turns down an offer that few rational men would refuse (considering that it comes from Jen Brown).
There's a core here of irreverent, smart alecky writing that delivers a good time on stage. The sketch format doesn't allow much character exposition, so we're provided jagged humor tied to the incongruities of the imagined situations. I'd like to see the playwright go long next time, moving his characters through plot and through change, Why is Marc fixated on escaping commitment? Why is the young woman in his bed willing to play the scene for him? And what happens next?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reviews: FronterFest Long Fringe

Austin Chronicle writers give one-paragraph blurbs on 11 of the 18 shows offered at the FronteraFest Long Fringe, including:

Kill Will, comment by Elizabeth Cobbe
My Bugatti Story, comment by Clayton Maxwell
Dance Carousel, comment by Jonelle Seitz
The Dick Monologues, comment by R.F. (Robert Faires)
Let's Get Real, comment by J.S. (Jonelle Seitz?)
The Drowned World, comment by Avimaan Syam
Drywall, comment by B.P. (Barry Pineo?)
Cochise, comment by A.S. (Avimaan Syam?)
Our Angle in Heaven, comment by E.C. (Elizabeth Cobbe?)
The Science of Suggestion, comment by R.F. (Robert Faires)

Austin Chronicle's portmanteau review of January 30

Dancing at Lughnasa, Austin Playhouse, January 23 - March 1

Ah, sweet Jesu, the Irish! A gifted lot, you know, close to the earth; fine women and, o' course, those charmin' but useless men of theirs. Think back with me, now, to the early days, and by that I mean, say, 1936, when the Mundy sisters had just gotten their radio, which back then they called a "Marconi. . . "

An ensemble piece for five women actors, Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa gives us an Ireland that is now mythic. Inside the memory space of the Playhouse stage and under the influence of the now-grown narrator Michael, played with soothing persuasiveness by Huck Huckaby, the five unmarried Mundy sisters live a simple but rich existence in their rural cottage.

We do not really know why none of these women ever married. The visible male characters cannot match them in character, intelligence or dedication. In the moment of this telling, Michael is just a boy, their indulged young man child. Father Jack, their uncle, has returned, bewildered and mildly heretical after 30 years of missionary work in Uganda, and he wanders through the cottage not always recognizing them. Gerry, the useless twinkling-eyed perpetual suitor to Chrissie, got young Michael upon her six years earlier but has no thought of them in his dreams of traveling salesman success and service in the International Brigade in Spain.

The warm, safe space of cottage and family is threatened and will eventually be destroyed by outside forces, narrator Michael reveals to us. The market for the handicrafts made by youngest sisters Agnes and Rose disappears when a glove factory opens nearby. The school dismisses Kate, the principal breadwinner, on the pretense that the school population is waning, but almost certainly because of the scandal wafting after Father Jack. That useless Gerry disappears, eventually, back to his native Wales, with ne'er a thought for the Mundy sisters.

But within that threatened household, what a vivid, emotional and supportive circle those sisters make! Babs George as Kate (rightmost, below) is the voice of propriety, bastion against the heathen carrying on of the semi-pagan Irish and their dance over bonfires on the ancient rite of Lughnasa. The Marconi fitfully erupts in a fiddle tune that enchants the sisters including Kate into stepping, whirling and jigs, until Kate with effort shuts down that celebration.

Michael's mother Chrissie (Lara Toner, in gray sweater) dotes upon him, as does his brash aunt Maggie (Cyndi Williams, far left). Chrissie's heart remains with gallant, useless Gerry although her conscience resolutely says "no" to his flattering and dancin'; her sister Agnes (Rebecca Robinson, in brown sweater) is plainly pining away for the same man, or any man, or any hope of love. And sister Rose (Margaret Hoard, in checked sweater), perhaps the youngest, certainly the simplest and most headstrong, just will not give up going out in the countryside with that married man.

The grown Michael recounts the fates of each of his aunts -- except, unless memory fails me, that of Aunt Maggie, the liveliest and most solid of them all. Cyndi Williams in this role gives us a woman of good appetite and great humor, with an emblematic moment in which a deep puff on a cigarette transforms her, says she, from sadness to happiness.

This is the melancholy, nostalgic side of the Irish -- not the wake, but the dirge. Director Don Toner and the female principals have created the feel of a continuous rapport among the sisters. The women reveal their vulnerabilities in words, subtle gesture and body language, and in their scrupulous attention to one another onstage. The unselfconscious Father Jack (right) is the sacred fool for this bunch - - Steve Shearer plays him with both openness and restraint, the calm voice of a reason unimaginable and unacceptable in this milieu. Brian Coughlin as Gerry is the bane of Irish womankind -- sunny, plausible and confidently attractive.

Set design by Don Toner, costumes by Buffy Manners, Irish dance choreographed by the impressively Gaelic Eimer Ni Mhaoiledidigh-Donnellan, and lighting by the Gunn brothers -- all contribute strongly to the creation of the protected space of memory.

Toner directed Dancing at Lughnasa at Austin's Live Oak Theatre in 1993 with Babs George as Kate, the same role. There is another point of continuity -- Steve Shearer was the merry Gerry in that production and he has now become Father Jack. Those facts offer the opportunity to speculate about theatre, memory, and transformation, just as the Playhouse is moving into its 2009 campaign in hopes of raising capital for a new home.

Robert Faires' review in the Austin Chronicle of January 29: ". . .Don Toner's staging here . . .did make me appreciate anew Friel's lyrical, stirring script and the preciousness and power of memory."

Upcoming: Wanda's World, Showstoppers Youth Troupe at Zach Theatre, January 31 - February 22

Received January 28:

Wanda's World
Zach's Youth Troupe

The Showstoppers, ZACH's new pre-professional youth performing troupe, produces a fully-staged musical each year, featuring an all youth cast. Students are auditioned annually and study throughout the year, performing around Austin and in the shows at ZACH.

Golly Gee Whiz, directed by ZACH veteran teacher and director Jaclyn Loewenstein, premiered in January, 2008 and featured a cast of 32 local youth ranging in age from 7-15. Wanda's World marks the Showstoppers first full-length musical production as a performing troupe.

Wanda's World

A musical for the "tween" in all of us!

Wanda is the coolest 8th grader ever. She’s beautiful. She’s confident. And she’s the star of her own TV talk show where she gives great advice to troubled tweens. That her fantasies. In real life, Wanda has a problem of her own to face. Will the kids at her new school tease her for being different…or will she finally find a way to fit in? Find out when you ‘tune in’ to the critically acclaimed, Off-Broadway hit, Wanda's World, live on stage beginning January 31. For ages 6 and up.

BETH FALCONE (composer/lyricist) • ERIC H. WEINBERGER (librettist)
Directed by Jaclyn Loewenstein • Choreography by Adam Roberts Musical Direction by Lana Leeds

B. Iden Payne award-winning director and musical theatre teacher Jaclyn Loewenstein, held a workshop based on the play at ZACH this summer. ZACH was fortunate enough to have the show's composer/lyricist Beth Falcone on hand to serve as master teacher for the workshop. was invited to attend a rehearsal of the production, and meet the cast. During a Q&A, several staffers shared their personal experiences and challenges of growing up with prominent birthmarks. Read all about their visit and impressions of the production at

Read more about Wanda's World and its creators at the Wanda's World website.

Performances will take place on ZACH stages, and are open to the public.
Purchase tickets through ZACH's Box Office in person or by phone at (512) 476-0541 ext 1 Monday through Saturday, 12 noon-7pm. Or buy now online.

"A delightful romp of a show. It's a story with universal kid appeal, including the kids who still live inside adults. Jon Sobel, Blogcritics Magazine

"...this feel-good tuner, well played by a cast of adult actors and smartly directed and choreographed by Broadway veteran Lynne Taylor-Corbett, should appeal to audiences of all ages. Dan Bacalzo,

"...a bright and endearing musical comedy."
"Falcone's score is cheerful and inventive, filled with jokes for the tweens and wit for the adults." "...generates cascades of laughter." "Falcone, Weinberger and Taylor-Corbett have loaded the small stage with artistry and good humor. Steven Suskin, Variety

Great seats this weekend for Wanda's World,
the World Premiere Youth Production of the Off-Broadway Hit! Family-friendly tickets are only $12 and $14

Click here for show information. Click here to buy online now!

Robert Faires' article in the Austin Chronicle of January 29: "THE Showstoppers -- A 'World' of difference in 12 months"

Review: Best of FronteraFest Short Fringe, Week 2, Hyde Park Theatre, January 24

Clayton Maxwell's account in the January 29 Austin Chronicle of the previous Saturday's compendium "Best of the Week" show for the FronteraFest Short Fringe.

Appearing on January 24:

Saul Paul (see ALT comments about his original presentation, January 20)
Christopher Lee and Christopher Michael
The Adventurers (improv) by Shannon McCormick and Shana Merlin
Big Poppa E

These five pieces were among twenty presented at the theatre from Tuesday, January 20 to Friday, January 23; they were selected by audience ballots and FronterFest staff. Of them, two will be chosen to go forward to the 10 "Best of Fest" pieces (plus an evening of 5 "wild card" pieces) to be presented during the week of February 10 - 14.

Click for full text of Maxwell's review.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Arts Documentary: KLRU on Trouble Puppet Company, January 29

Upcoming, Warpstar Sexysquad, Yellowtape Construction Company at the Offcenter, February 19 - March 7

Update: Review by Spike Gillespie on, February 24

Update: Review by Avimaan Syam in the Austin Chronicle of March 5

From Yellowtape Construction Company:

Warpstar Sexysquad
Playing February 19 to March 7 at the Off Center, 2211 Hidalgo St., just off 7th Street behind Joe's Bakery, East Austin.

Humanity's fate rests in the hands of the Warpstar Sexysquad-- a superstar squadron of time-travelin' mavericks, committed to defending the Intergalactic Alliance and preserving the sanctity of Unborn Time! But when a rogue crew member breaks ranks and starts attacking the past, can this band of battle-hardened hard asses preserve the timeline and save the future? Or will the universe be horrifically destroyed?

Drawing inspiration from Star Wars to Flash Gordon to Back from the Future and every classic in between, the Yellow Tape crew imagines a world where evil talking cats and Lezzer Beams are no match for maniliness, one-liners and musical theatre!

$5 discount for any patron who arrives dressed in a totally excellent costume.

"Rocketing Through Hard Times" by Elizabeth Cobbe, Austin Chronicle of February 19

Review: FronterFest, Short Fringe, Week 2

Ryan E. Johnson picks his favorites from FronteraFest's week 2 (January 20-23), offering an incisive and perceptive comment on each:

Patchwork by Julianna Fry
Am I Freaking JOB? by Erin Molson
Out of Lines by Christopher Lee and Christopher Michael
A Brilliant Revolution by Fred Jones, Amanda Field and Francisco Rodriguez

Ryan's review on

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Upcoming, FronteraFest: Reality Check at Blue Theatre, January 24, 26, 30 and 31

Received January 27:

Reality Check

by John and Tracy Medberry
The Green Room Theatre

Would you bet it all for $10,000,000? Come watch as one lucky contestant will take that chance and run through the gauntlet of the courts--the most noble of creations, our Justice System--and pass the jury, the vicious judgmental jerks you are. Yes, you are the jury, and one of you…will be the accused. Let’s Play Reality Check!

At the Blue Theater, 916 Springdale Rd. Tickets $10.

Sat. 1/24 6:30pm Mon. 1/26 7:30pm
Fri. 1/30 9:15pm Sat. 1/31 2:15pm

Tickets for Reality Check

Upcoming: Sherlock Holmes, Weird City Theatre Company, February 19 - March 1

Received January 27:

Weird City Theatre Company
to produce a live stage production of
Sherlock Holmes

Weird City Theatre Company will produce a live stage production of SHERLOCK HOLMES, by William Gillette.

Performances run February 19—March 1, 2009.
Performances will take place at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road, in Austin, Thursday through Saturday night at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2:00PM.

Tickets are $15.00 for Adults and $12.00 for Children and Students with ID. Group rates are available. Tickets can be purchased at the website,, or by calling 512.745.2636. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office approximately one hour before curtain.

Weird City Theatre Company was created as a process-oriented company encouraging the growth of the artist through the child-like since of play we all have within.

Weird City Theatre is a sponsored project of Austin Circle of Theatres, a non-profit performing arts service organization.

The Bird and The Bee, Capital T Theatre at the Blue Theatre, January 21, 25, 28, 30

Two worlds converge to dark uncertainty. These linked plays are completely different in style but taken together, they resonate and provide tremendous opportunity for gifted actors.

Matt Hartley wrote The Bee with a satirical pen as broad as a paintbrush. High school sweetie Chloé (Tayler Gill, left, below) is devastated when her older brother Luke dies in a traffic accident. His dramatic end provides a point of excitement and assembly for the rest of his high school class, particularly for bubble headed Hannah (Melissa Recalde, right).

Candlelight vigils, a dedicated website, Hannah's efforts to scoop some of that admiration and kumbaya feeling for herself . . . the focus is not on the dead boy but on his acquaintances' exploitation of his death. Melissa Recalde plays her breathy self-dramatizing character to the outer edges of parody, a director's decision that strengthens our sympathy for the relatively contained and nondescript Chloé.

This being the 21st century, Chloé takes refuge on the Internet, initially at the memorial website for Luke. Unable to talk to family or friends face-to-face, she opens up in on-line chat to someone named "Jacob" (Chase Wooldridge).

We hear only Chloé's side of the dialogue. Wooldridge hovers spook-like, unseen, next to her on stage as, gradually, she imagines an escape from her troubles. She beams as she puts together a suicide package and prepares to meet Jacob in a hidden grotto in the woods.

Lights out.
Chloé's world is extinguished, both literally and symbolically.

Chase Wooldridge immediately opens The Bird by Al Smith, an almost-solo tour de force. The silent "Jacob" reveals himself in a driving Russian-accented monologue to be Jakob Mamontov, a man in his late teens or early twenties. Wooldridge paces with the energy of a caged animal, addressing a figure huddled under a blanket, remembering and recounting his life, driven by stresses that we do not initially understand. He gathers fury gradually and inexorably as he reveals himself and his past. Wooldridge's intensity, modulation and control of this evolution are gripping.

Isolated in an attic as an infant, wrapped with his Russian mother in a hot, lonely embrace over the years, Jacob is completely asocial and untutored. She reluctantly allows him to attend school, dressing him in girl's clothing. Jacob the feral child can't speak English. The other children, in their own social bubbles, ignore him. A teacher's distracted explanation and illustration of geometry strikes Jacob like a thunderbolt. Indifferent and without surprise, the teacher sets him straight, provides him with appropriate clothing and the opportunity to learn.

Growing awareness poisons Jakob. He gradually understands the source of his mother's paranoias, the extent of her sacrifices for him, and the brutality she endures from clients -- hurried, anonymous, and uncaring men who thrust themselves upon her. Melissa Recalde as Jakob's mother Eva Mamontov is a bewildered martyr, mostly silent, except for the sharp moan of pain that escapes her as visitors take their pleasure.

Trying to save Eva, Jacob blackmails a transport official into giving him a job as a cleaner. Meagre wages are not enough to break their slavery. Eva falls ill. Late at night at the traffic authority Jacob begins to meddle with the computers, as revenge for the indifference surrounding them. He finds the high school's website in memory of Luke, contacts and courts the unseen Chloé and eventually, desperate, comes to ask Eva what to do. His world is collapsing.

The glossy program for these pieces includes an interview with playwright Al Smith and background about the stir they caused at the 2008 Edinburgh festival. Smith and Hartley were motivated to undertake the joint project in part by a rash of suicides by young persons in a small county in Wales, a total of 24 deaths in 2007 and 2008 that appear to have been related to social networking sites.

The tacit thesis is that the anonymity of cyber-contact intensifies the anomie of the individual. A well-off schoolgirl is ready to rid herself of the world and an intelligent, emotionally deprived man-child is drawn to feed on her emotions. Horrific things have happened to each of them, and the playwrights leave us only to imagine the outcome of their eventual meeting in the grotto.

The twin plots replicate the nightmares of any parents. The irony is that Chlo
é's parents are so fixated on a dead son that they fail to read the intentions of the daughter who remains, while Eva, with nothing, has sacrificed everything for her son.

The decor is stark -- piles of large cardboard boxes represent the cave in The Bee and the claustrophobic attic in The Bird. The company plays these pieces essentially on a bare stage, and they're all the more powerful for that.

Joey Seiler's review of The Bird and The Bee for the Statesman's Austin360 arts blog, January 26

Emily Macrander's review in the Daily Texan, with comments from director Kelli Bland, January 27

Ryan E. Johnson's review on, January 30

Monday, January 26, 2009

Drywall, Buy the Whey at the Blue Theatre, January 24, 25, 31, February 1

The vividly bald guy in a white t-shirt and carrying tools has just walked onstage, grimaced, and there's a chuckle of appreciative amusement from the speakers. He shrugs, as if annoyed, and there's another rumble from the audience on the speakers. Then he stalks off, to more recorded merriment.

Canned laughter? What's going on here?

Lights go down, then up again on two buddies, Doug and Peter. They're brainstorming ideas for a play, or at least a script. Pirates? Space? Space pirates? The one-liners zip back and forth, the actors strike attitudes appropriate for close-ups, and that damned canned laughter sets the rhythm. As the guys rapidly unfold the plot elements (chuckle), the semi-crazed handyman Roy wanders across the back of the house waving tools, plugged into his Walkman
(anticipatory exclamations)and trips over a toolbox (laughter).

Rotund Peter (Matthew Butterfield) avoids answering insistent phone calls from his recent bride, Allison; lanky Peter (Philip Kreyche), proprietor of the house, recently broke up with a gorgeous girlfriend and is trying to forget by immersing himself in the writing project and in house repairs. He has found this handyman Roy (Mick D'Arcy) who's a bit weird but is really inexpensive. . . .

TV sit-com writing is the emptiest writing I can imagine. Generally, the writing team aims for lowest common-denominator laughter, building quirky characters and bouncing them off one another with quips and posturing. The plots are episodic and no one learns anything but the most obvious lessons: life is consumer-friendly, eternal and holds no problems greater than a misplaced credit card, a misplaced leer or a loony delusion.

This kind of TV is a constant diet of Hostess Twinkies.

That's where Drywall digs in, with sharp fangs.

This one-acter, in development for a longer version, conditions the audience with that all-too-familiar script approach, complete with canned laughter and the broad, broad acting style. Kreyche holds that arch grimace, eyebrow raised high, while Butterfield rattles along like a happy idiot; they trade fine Hollywood stichomythia, ping-ponging insults, suggestions, and dismissals. We even get the ancient old comic sequence I'm hungry! What/where do you want to eat? [10 Austin-specific suggestions are made and dismissed, with commentary, punctuated with canned laughter]

As this happy idiocy unfolds, the audience begins to get a view of a dark story beneath the surface. There's a moment, marked with a sudden shift of lighting, when handyman Roy speaks with real pain to an acutely uncomfortable Peter. How much of this acted TV script is under control? What is going on within this theatre script, which is suggesting to us that we're an audience in a television studio? Are these fictional TV characters going to break down into their identities as fictional TV actors? Are we headed for something that will not, repeat NOT, be acceptable on network TV or even on cable TV?

Given their paucity of imagination, we're not at all surprised when Doug and Peter finally hit upon the idea of writing a play about Roy the deranged handyman.

After all, in this TV script Roy is really, really funny. He's cheap labor but he's only half competent. He thinks he was married to Joanie Mitchell. He raves. He talks about his deceased wife and deceased son. He screws up a repair and gets a tremendous electric shock. He discovers that the boys have been recording him.

When Doug's bride Allison (Delaney Jo Liming) encounters him in the deserted house, Roy gets really earnest with her. She flees.

Sometimes Roy is funny, sometimes he's disconnected, sometimes he really does hurt himself.

David Meyers' direction captures the TV style precisely, and he's got some good actors to work with. Kreyche and Buttefield make a visually comic buddy pair but they play it with the droll control of a young John Cleese and a young Dudley Moore. Mick D'Arcy says in his program blurb that he has done 78 shows and is leaving for New York. If so, Austin is losing a character actor with a manic gleam and enormous stage presence. Delaney Jo Liming as Allison does not have a lot to do in this one-act version but she does it well.

Let's encourage writers (playwrights) David Meyers and Patrick Kniseley to get the full-length script written, polished and produced. I am much more interested in seeing the multilayered Brechtian theatre version than in seeing Drywall on the tube.

Drywall website on WordPress

Review of Drywall by Barry Pineo in Austin Chronicle of January 30

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Our Angle in Heaven by Maggie Gallant, FronteraFest at Salvage Vanguard, January 24, 25, 28, February 1

The title of Maggie Gallant's solo show is an apt under- statement, suggestive of the portraits she offers us.

What angle do we take on heaven and the richness of its offerings for us? And where is that heaven? Who goes there?

That's a lot of message for a simple misspelling.

Maggie gives us eight characters in the twelve monologues she presents in about 45 minutes at the Salvage Vortex. It is perhaps telling that the one who ties the evening together bears the name "Maggie" in the program - - a Maggie called back from France to attend her father's funeral and whom the Eurostar train crew favored with an unscheduled stop near her home. That Maggie tries to make sense of a personal loss and memorial while all of the UK is obsessed by the mythic Diana and the attendant ceremonies. Diana's funeral becomes a tourist event, replacing the temporarily closed wax museum at Madame Tussaud's -- and a family from the north of England leaves the bouquet and poster meant to celebrate "our angel in heaven."

This is a gentle, thoughtful piece, with no notion of self- promotion. Maggie begins as Jane, a simple-minded professional Diana imitator suddenly faced with lots of cancellations; then she offers us Dee, an enterprising souvenir saleslady who cheerfully takes practical advantage of her huge stock of previously unsold Royal Wedding memorabilia.

Later she transforms into Catherine, an early teenager who would really rather be a boy. As unwelcome puberty arrives during the Diana disaster, she is ignored by her family.

The character closest to American-style improv comedy is Barry, hatted and clad in a white rain slicker, lecturing the public at the Speakers Corner at Hyde Park. He provides confident explanations of conspiracies, aliens, and how the royal family gets together in the basements of Balmoral Castle to resume their real alien shapes. Gallant doesn't excessively send Barry up. One has the feeling that Barry's certainty may have been observed rather than simply invented.

My favorite is Mrs. Meena Khan. This Muslim woman of immense dignity unexpectedly finds herself a celebrity because of a photo published in the Daily Mirror. Walking past the mounds of flowers along the fences in central London, she experienced a sudden allergic reaction that brought tears to her eyes. A passerby misread the reaction and planted a kiss on her cheek, just as the Mirror's man hit the shutter. Meena has trenchant, dismissive comments to make about the newspaper, the national frenzy, and Diana herself.

There was a good turnout for this presentation and the audience was receptive. These are rich, intelligent portraits. Maggie Gallant gives them entire respect and welcome humanity. Recommended!

Review by Elizabeth Cobbe in Austin Chronicle of January 30

Kill Will at Blue Theatre, January 20, 24, 29, Februay 1

There's no Shakespeare in it, but it's certainly full of sound and fury. Signifying. . . .?

Think of a crime caper that takes place in the sleazy east London, with a dose of pulp detective attitude, nasty obsession with lowlife violence, guns and Irish prolixity.

Austin Alexander plays the lead in his own creation. Mickey Nichols is a guy in a bad way, roughed up in turn by black-leather gangster William Slate, by American cocaine middleman Sid the Sailor, and by Boris "McBoo," a fixer for the invisible aristocrat from whom Mickey has stolen lots of old stuff, including a diary that a museum curator has authenticated as dating from Shakespeare's time. His not-too-bright buddy Rory Townes (Andrew Butler) tries to carry out instructions but keeps screwing up.

Barman Patty O'Reilly is Mickey's only friend. I kept waiting for Patty to turn up and save the day for our boy Mickey, but co-director Nathan Osborne, who played Patty, was too busy elsewhere in the plot. Osborne had three of the prime roles -- he also played tough guy Sid and the lonely, loquacious security officer at the railroad station who greeted and engaged the bad guys swarming around the empty locker supposed to hold the diary. He differentiated nicely among the characters he played.

One demonstrable disadvantage of playing the lead and directing oneself: in his scenes with barman O'Reilly, Austin Alexander spent a lot of time upstaging himself -- standing turned away from the audience and speaking upstage toward the bar.

Black-hatted Justin Scalise does a nice foul-mouthed snarl as William Slate.

That Russian gangster in sunglasses, Boris, and his lady Nikita (played by Devyn Ray, above) were about as nutty in this plot as their counterparts in the old Rocky and Bulwinkle show. Sesar Sandoval was scary, though. He's credited for the fight choreography, and he had a lot to do. Mickey gets his butt, sides, face and other parts kicked and beaten again and again. Toward the end there's even an improbable sword fight between Mickey and museum curator Ophelia Flinn (played by Kathleen Fletcher). This is pretty impressive stage violence, but the effect is lessened by the ability of these fantasy characters to bounce back from beatings fast enough to fast talk.

Expect lots of gun shots and lots of smoking (watching those blue clouds swirl against the black backdrop at the Blue Theatre, I became keenly aware of the expression "second hand smoke").

The finale? Think Jacobean revenge tragedy. I counted five corpses onstage at the last scene with two more characters rapidly approaching extinction.

The company plays it all with sufficient seriousness for us to go along. If you get a guilty thrill out of Quentin Tarrantino, James Ellroy or Mickey Spillane, here you go!

Review by Joey Seiler on Statesman's Austin360, January 27

Review by Elizabeth Cobbe, Austin Chronicle of January 30

Upcoming: Valentine's with Miss Mimi, Gepetto Dreams at Hot Mama's, February 14

Received January 15 with reminder on January 24:

For those of you looking for something more memorable then the same old candy and flowers for Valentines Day, Austin’s Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company is presenting a special puppet burlesque show “Mimi’s Valentines Show.” New songs, new routines, and a special guest dancer make this show a must-see. This special holiday performance is a benefit for the non-profit theater, which has just received a hundred thousand dollar commitment for the purchase of a permanent space here in Austin , providing they can raise the money for a down payment. All proceeds from this show go towards realizing that dream.

For those who missed last summer’s sold-out run, the performance is a mixture of western rod puppetry and Japanese style bunraku. This crazy cabaret’s 9 wild acts pay homage to the comedy, music, and dance of the old time Burly-Qs, as well as the new style burlesque that has been popularized in clubs from coast to coast. All performed by eight 36-inch anthropomorphic puppets. It’s like the Muppets meet Minsky’s.

Due to the unique nature of the show combined with the resurgence of interest in old time burlesque and vaudeville shows, this performance will appeal to a wide audience from 18 to 80. Mimi's puppeteers are in plain sight, dressed in black. It takes two to three puppeteers to put the dancers through their paces so the audience has the opportunity to see the teamwork and fluid movement it takes to bring each character to life. This style makes the experience not only visually entertaining but enlightening as well.

There will be three performances at 7, 8:30, and 10 pm at Hot Mama’s Espresso, 2401 E. 6th Ave. 78702. There will be three ticket packages available: a basic package for $30 a couple, The Valentine package for $40 a couple which comes with a special Valentine from Miss Mimi, and the I Love Puppets package which comes with champagne (or sparkling cider for the under 21 set) the special Valentine and chocolate truffles for $60 a couple. Tickets go on sale Jan 24th and can be purchased online at through PayPal, in advance at Hot Mama’s, as well as at the door the night of the show. Seating is limited to 20 couples so get yours early.

Miss Mimi's page at (pics and video available at links on bottom of page)

Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company has a small theater/workshop space (seats around 30) on Austin ’s growing Eastside, but despite its size we've done some amazing things in it. We've sold out both adult and children’s shows and held numerous free puppetry workshops. We were responsible for Austin ’s first Puppet Film Festival. Our greatest achievement has been a summer internship program for Austin teens, which culminated in a free show for the entire city at Austin 's Long Center for the Performing Arts. As well as donating 137 artisian puppets for CPS and other Texas children in need last Christmas. For further info on the troupe or the show feel free to visit For interviews or more pictures please contact Geppetto at or at (720) 255-5632 or Hot Mama's at (512) 476-6262.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Upcoming: Almost, Maine, Gaslight-Baker Theatre, January 29 - February 14

Received January 24:

The Gaslight-Baker Theatre, Lockhart, presents
Almost, Maine
by John Cariani
directed by Randy Wachtel
January 30 - February 14

On a cold, clear, moonless night in the middle of winter, all is not quite what it seems in the remote, mythical town of Almost, Maine. As the northern lights hover in the star-filled sky above, Eight different couples residing in Almost find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways. Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend—almost—in this delightful midwinter night's dream.

This is a wonderful, romantic, quirky comedy about love It is perfect for the Valentine Season. It is directed by our artistic director, Randy Wachtel. Actors are: Billy Alexander, Ashley Vogel, Terri Bennett, Steve Lawson, Todd Martin, Christy Smith, Tysha Calhoun, David Young, Gillian Hickman, Stephen Reynolds,Thomas Sandlin, Lydia Kettle, Braden Williams, Lori Cordova & Todd Wheel.

For more information, go to

Play dates: Friday and Saturdays, Jan 30 Feb. 14 at 8 pm,
Pay What You Can preview is on Thursday, Jan 29 at 8 pm
"Wine and Cheese Reception" after the show on 1/30.
Special matinee, Sat. Feb. 7 at 2:00.

Purchase Tickets Here.

On-line tickets only are available for standard $10 ticket...any special promotions, group rates, senior / student prices, etc...will have to be purchased in person at the box office. Please contact us if you have any questions.

Rude Mechs' Live Video TONIGHT Saturday 7:30 CST

From New Play Development Program jointly hosted by Arena Stage Washington DC and the National Endowment for the Arts

Live Broadcasts: NPDP TV!

There will be scheduled times when we are going to provide -- live broadcasts -- of the development milestones of certain projects. Getting you an inside look at the development process like never before. The Rude Mechanicals are first at bat and are allowing us to peek in on what they describe in the Program calendar as a: "Meeting between Directors, Playwright, Composer and Video Designers to assess December work-in-progress showings and to plan further development over the summer as we head toward September 09 work-in-progress showings." The discussion is scheduled for this Saturday evening 1/24 (7:30pm CST). This is a first for everyone, and they reserve the right to turn off the camera if its presence is disturbing their work. So check back here or here on Saturday for the broadcast time and also our Program calendar for future broadcasts.

Upcoming: Cyrano de Bergerac, Mary Moody Northern Theatre, February 12 - 22

Postcard picked up at Austin Playhouse, January 23:

St Edward's Mary Moody Northern Theatre
Cyrano de Bergerac
by Edmond Rostand
Translated by Anthony Burgess
Directed by Michelle S. Polgar

February 12 - 22

Soldier, poet and philosopher of heroic proportions, Cyrano de Bergerac is plagued with an enormous nose and believes he can never win the love of the fair Roxanne. A tale of honor, love and heroism filled with humor, intrigue, swordfights and poetry. Cyrano will warm your heart, delight your senses, and nourish your spirit.

"[A]n immortal. . . entertainment that pushes emotional buttons just as effectively today as it did. . . 110 years ago." -- Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Featuring Equity guest artists Greg Holt, David Long and Marc Pouhé

Friday, January 23, 2009

Upcoming: Social Security, Paradox Players at First Unitarian Universalist Church, February 13 - March 1

Postcard picked up at the Blue Theatre, January 22:

Paradox Players presents
Social Security
A hilarious tango of Sex, Lies & Love
By Andrew Bergman
Directed by Charles R. Hill

Your cantankerous mother-in-law lands on your doorstep. Your niece's sexual appetite runs amuck. Your spouse is on fire with the tango. Your socially secure life may soon be over. Who said a little sexual rebellion is only for the young?

February 13 - March 1
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m.
Howson Hall Theatre
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, 4700 Grover Ave.

$20 Opening Night Feb. 13 and Valentine Gala Feb. 14 (includes a special reception);
$15 all other performances, $10 for seniors

Call (512) 744-1495 or visit


Free childcare Feb. 15 performance at 3 p.m., if reserved at by Feb. 8

(original painting by Kris Hotvedt, post card design by Melinda Barker)

Upcoming: Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart, Salvage Vanguard, February 13 - March 7


Review by KelseyK on, March 5

Received January 23:

SVT's Iphigenia Crash Lands Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (A Rave Fable)

[Feb 13 - March 7]

Greek tragedy spun into a sleek netherworld of sex, drugs, and trance music. Iphigenia is the daughter of a political celebrity. She embraces sensuous excess with a transgendered glam rock star named Achilles in a desperate attempt to flee her seemingly inevitable fate. Featuring Adriene Mishler as Iphigenia and Jude Hickey as Achilles. With music by Graham Reynolds and video design by Lee Webster.

Jooley Ann's advance piece on "Iphigenia. . . " published on, February 13

Upcoming: Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Sam Bass Community Theatre, January 30 - February 21

Received January 23:

Picasso at the Lapin Agile
Written By Steve Martin
Directed By Christina Gardner
Sam Bass Community Theatre

This witty absurdist comedy is about a fictional meeting between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in a bar, the Lapin Agile (which means "the nimble rabbit") in 1904 Paris... it's a bar that Picasso actually frequented and even painted in an early work. As the 20th Century rushed to a close, marked by unbelievable achievements and unimaginable horrors, comedian Steve Martin created a play that wraps up the century. In Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Martin brings together three of the century's most influential figures, namely Picasso, Einstein, and a famous hip-swiveling singer from Memphis. If it sounds a little wild and crazy, that's because it is, as Martin sprinkles a little philosophy between the jokes that fly fast and furious. It's a touch of cynical humor from a playwright who may be a refined intellectual at heart, but is world-famous as that "wild and crazy guy".

Performance Dates & Times: Jan 30 - Feb 21, Thu - Sat 8:00pm, Sun 2:00pm
Prices: $15 general admission, $13 seniors/students/educators
Rating: Adult language and content - Not suitable for children

Reservations can be made at, by calling (512) 244-0440 or by emailing Please include your name, a contact phone number, the number of seats you would like to reserve and the specific show you wish to attend if you call or email. Reservations for groups of 6 or more must be prepaid by sending a check to Sam Bass Community Theatre, P.O. Box 767, Round Rock, TX 78680-0767.

Location: Sam Bass Community Theatre, 600 N. Lee St (in Memorial Park), Round Rock, TX

Thursday, January 22, 2009

FronteraFest Short Fringe, January 20

Blips, illnesses and reschedulings are typical of any extended festival. The random walk at FronteraFest last Tuesday night, January 20, gave the half-full house an unexpected opportunity for comparison and some unscheduled blazing political rhetoric.

The Hyde Park Theatre reached out to Michael Karnes, presenter of the 90-minute Let's Get Real at the Long Fringe, to help cover at the last minute. Karnes gave us an abridged version of his one-man satire of motivational
speakers. He strides the stage as "master teacher Ted Jiles," energetically engaging the audience with questions ("How many of you are really happy? I mean really happy? Let's see your hands!"), anecdotes outlining how he overcame himself and his faults ("I was with my dog, and we were both eating garbage out of a can, and I stopped, and I said to myself, This is not who I want to be!"), and a showy, plausible line of talk that means almost nothing at all. We recognize the up-close-in-your-face confessional style and the upbeat talk, the rhetorical questions and the spins aimed to make us feel good about ourselves, or about something, or somebody. Karnes played it clean-collar, white-bread straight and we enjoyed it, maybe even got a burst of energy. The full show is sure to tease out the idea even more and probably savages that good-vibes speaker with patent irony.

That was the opener. And the closer of the evening, two hours later, was Houston native Adam Neal, under his professional name "SaulPaul" -- a muscular African American who at first appeared nervous, pacing back and forth, eyes flickering around the room, speaking conversationally, without dramatics. Gradually he told us his story -- growing up with no father, not realizing he and his neighborhood were poverty-stricken, raised by his grandmother, getting an academic scholarship to UT, then blowing that so badly that he wound up a convicted felon, serving time. "From Tower to Tower -- from the UT tower to the prison block tower."

SaulPaul took logical measure of his situation, found faith in the Bible and in himself, and after his release managed to get reinstated at the university and to earn a degree in film studies. He sat on a chairback and played his guitar, continued his story, and briefly lectured his audience about rap ("What does 'rap' stand for?" From the back: "Rhythm and blues?" A smile from SaulPaul. "That would be 'rab.' You need a 'p' -- for rhythm and poetry.")

He joked about Ted Jiles and then, to demonstrate his talent, asked the audience for random words. He collected about ten of them, ranging from "redemption" to "lasagna" and not finding any paper, wrote them on his forearm. After checking with his public on the choice of a beat -- we chose 'creative' -- he set the computer going and with syncopated moves, not a single hesitation, wit and rhymes, he improvised a work that included all of those impossible words.

Talk about contrast. Ted Jiles the satire of the smooth con man and SaulPaul the ex-con,straightforward, humble and gifted (see

Second in the playing order that evening was The Choices that We Breath by Kristie Schuh, who plays a young woman who suddenly finds herself in a barren room with a smarmy guy in a white suit. He is fidgeting over the paperwork for admitting her to the afterlife. He acknowledges that he was her guardian angel, but offers the excuse that he was overworked and just didn't get there in time to prevent the accident that killed her. Voice-over from God: "You were watching 'Grey's Anatomy'!" Elsewhere in these cyberpages I commented that this plot device is the second-hoariest in the theatre, and this little production didn't prove me wrong.

Stepping then to the podium vacated by the guardian angel, Ken Webster read to us Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech of December 7, 2005. Pinter delivered it by video because he was too ill with cancer to travel. The video is available at the Nobel committee's website. This is a blistering piece of anti-U.S. rhetoric, a cry from the heart of a writer who had engaged U.S. diplomats concerning U.S. support of the Nicaragua contras and who fiercely opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Pinter's sweeping condemnation of U.S. hypocrisy, exercise of force and influence beyond its own borders is accompanied by a bitter j'accuse against British governments for supporting U.S. policies.

It's a powerful piece of writing. Pinter is particularly withering in his description of a mid-1980s meeting with Raymond Seitz, deputy to the U.S. ambassador in London. If I were still in the diplomatic saddle, with the obligation of defending my country right or wrong, I would have an uphill battle to rebut his contention that the United States has been directly responsible for most of the blood letting in third world conflicts of the last 50 years.

I do not accept that contention, but I did relish the aggressive eloquence of Pinter's call for a change of U.S. policy. And
on the evening following inauguration day 2008 it was a sweet note to hear Ken Webster's echo of Pinter commenting in 2005, "There are those in America opposed to these policies, but they have not had success -- not yet."

After intermission and before the surprise of SaulPaul we watched Patchwork, a moody piece centering on a young woman going through boxes of random personal items packed up after the death of her father. Julianna Fay soliloquized to us in a stunned, reflective manner, and then as she took a phone call, time split. We heard one side of her prickly conversation with her mother. At the same time, remembered scraps of comment from her father resounded in voiceover, accompanied and sometimes overspoken by other remembered conversations. We saw both mother and father moving in silent pantomime about the set, reflecting those scraps of memory. The overlayering was deft and evocative, giving resonance to a situation that was painful but in the last analysis all too banal.

Review by Jonelle Seitz of full-length version of Michael Karnes' Let's Get Real, Austin Chronicle of January 30