Saturday, February 28, 2009

Miss Mimi, Gepetto Dreams at Ruta Maya, March 7

Received February 28:

Austin’s Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company is presenting a special puppet burlesque show “A night at Miss Mimi’s” March 7th at Ruta Maya 3601 South Congress Avenue Austin, Texas 78704. There will be 3 shows at 9:30, 10:45, and midnite. Tickets are just $10 at the door.

New songs, new routines, and a special guest dancer make this show a must-see. Proceeds benefit 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.

Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company opened a small theater/workshop space (seats around 30) a year ago on Austin ’s growing Eastside, but, despite its size, have done some amazing things in it. Sold out both adult and children’s shows, and hosted 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

Friday, February 27, 2009

Upcoming: A Brilliant Revolution, Debutantes and Vagabonds at the Blue Theatre, March 5 - 15

Found on-line:

Debutants and Vagabonds presents


For radio station manager, Cubby Zimmerman, life shouldn't consist of censoring the Head DJ's absurdities and keeping the janitor's violent tendencies to a minimum; but it does. Anything can happen at KOUP Radio, Skarkie, Illinois' smallest radio station. With forces like Linnius, a monument to rant with a furious suspicion of the homeless, and 8-Ball, an upstate parolee fulfilling his community service at the end of a broom, it's no wonder the station is headed into utter destruction. Thank goodness for anger management, Pepto Bismol, and puppets.
K.O.U.P. - Radio That Fights Back! Come see the Debutantes and Vagabonds' up and coming show "A Brilliant Revolution" at the Blue Theatre on Thursday, March 5th through Sunday, March 15th.

= = = = = =
Comment by Ryan E. Johnson,, on the excerpt presented at FronteraFest 2009:

"A Brilliant Revolution
"Welcome to the world of KOUP radio, where nervous radio producers, angry technicians, an off-the-wall foley artist, and a snide, pretentious radio personality (oh, and a dead horse), are waiting to take you on unlikely adventures in comedy. Watching Fred Jones, Amanda Garfield, and Francisco Rodriguez’s A Brilliant Revolution is like watching a sitcom, with plenty of pratfalls, one-liners and characters that seems to be pulled right out of a Marx Brothers movie. All of the characters play their roles to near perfection, but stealing the show every time he gets the stage is Joe Sclotter as the foley artist, whose hilarious commercials and sound effects throughout the piece add a side-splitting hit to the gut, elevating an already hilarious piece to new heights. Hands down the funniest piece I’ve seen so far at FronteraFest."

Tickets at

Improv News: The New Movement Theatre, a new venue

Blogger "That Austin Girl" runs a February 27 post about improv comedians Chris Trew and Tami Nelson, Coldtowne Improv Theatre founders who have left to establish their own venue. The New Movement Theatre is opening for business at 1819 Rosewood Ave, "next to Nubian Queen Lola's."

Trew and Nelson are offering improv classes and will be bringing some out-of-town acts for their bills.

Trew's site offers links and more info, including Trew's acting reel (a 3-minute general purpose audition).

Coverage and February 27 interview by That Austin Girl

Article and interview on The Onion's website The Decider, February 11

Upcoming: Caught in the Net, Way Off Broadway Community Players, Leander, March 6 - 21

Way Off Broadway Community Players continues its 12th season with
the hilarious comedy

Caught in the Net by Ray Cooney, directed by Meredith Connely.

Performances will run Fridays and Saturdays from Marh 6th through 21st at 8 PM. There will be one Sunday performance on March 15th at 3 PM.

The sequel to Ray Cooney's "Run for Your Wife" finds bigamist taxi driver John Smith still keeping his two families happy and blissfully unaware of each other in different parts of London. However, his teenage children -- a girl from one family and a boy from the other -- have met on the Internet and are anxious to meet in person since they have so much in common: surname and taxi-driving dad aged forty-three! Keeping them apart plunges John into a hell-hole of his own making. John's lodger, Stanley, could prove to be his savior, but he is about to go on holiday with his decrepit old father, who turns up thinking he is already at the guest house. The situation spirals out of control as John juggles outrageously with the truth.

The cast includes

Jeff Shaevel as John Smith
Jim Baker as Dad
Gary Hahn as Stanley Gardner
Krista Tyler as Barbara Smith
Stephanie Newton as Mary Smith
Dan Jones as Gavin Smith
Allison Fuller as Vicki Smith

The crew includes

Assistant Director - Barbara Schuler
Technical Director - Dave Bachmann
Lights - Ed Trujillo
Sound - Jeff Duprey
Stage Manager - Kay Baker
Backstage - Kay Baker, Barbara Schuler
Producer - Nona Whittington

Way Off Broadway's theatre is located at 10960 E. Crystal Falls Parkway, Leander (2.2 miles east of Hwy. 183, 1.1 miles east of the new 183-A when you exit at CR 272/Crystal Falls Pkwy, and .4 miles west of Parmer Lane) Tickets are $15, $12 for students (high school and younger) and seniors (60 and older), and $8 for children 6 and under. While tickets will be sold at the door, reservations are encouraged. To reserve tickets, call (512) 259-5878 or visit You may also reply to this note with your reservation request.

This hilarious farce is the fourth show of our exciting twelfth season, and will be followed by "Exit the Body".

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Incantations of August Wilson and "Fences" (City Theatre, February 26 - March 22)

You can find individual plays by August Wilson just about anywhere that dramatic literature is on offer. Half Price Books or Bookpeople, of course; and this combined edition is available at the Austin Public Library (Faulk Central Library). I spent a good deal of time with it over the past few weeks, preparing to review the City Theatre production of Wilson's Fences, which opens tomorrow, February 26, for a four week run (February 26 - March 22).

I didn't know Wilson, in large part because I'd spent a lot of the last three decades outside the United States. The press, the Kennedy Center, Wikipedia, and other sources call him one of the greatest American playwrights.

One account says that as he faced his imminent death from liver cancer at the age of 60, in 2005, Wilson teased his drama colleagues, asking them to make sure that his plays got produced "not just in February. I want them to be produced all year round." February, of course, is Black History Month.

Director Lisa Jordan and the Fences cast just about complied with Wilson's wishes. The scheduling hardly matters, though. Prince Camp, cast as one of two sons of the stolid former pro baseball player Troy Maxson, told me, "I read this play when I was just eighteen. I've always wanted to do it. I'm too young to play Troy and too old to play Cory [the other son]. But that doesn't matter. I would have swept the floor to be involved in this production."

The cast was running a full dress rehearsal this past Tuesday, happy to be at last in possession of the theatre and the set. They had been working since January in one temporary venue after another while North by Northwest Theatre Company had been doing The Shadow Box in the small but well appointed City Theatre. The theatre is tucked in a modest office building behind the Shell Station at Airport Road and 38 1/2 street. I met the cast in the semi-dark of backstage as they readied themselves for the opening scene, and some had the time to talk outside in the parking lot before they went onstage.

McArthur Moore plays Maxson's brother Gabriel, an invalided veteran of World War II, affable but slightly loony as a result of shrapnel wounds. A drama graduate from San Angelo State, Moore grinned when I compared Fences to Miller's Death of A Salesman. "In school I had to write an essay about that. Yes, they are a lot alike -- but there are lots of differences." Both plays center on a deep conflict between a father and a son; in each, the father's infidelity has a devastating effect on the marriage and the family.

In his preface to Three Plays, Wilson says that he was inspired to attempt play writing at the age of twenty when he first heard Bessie Smith sing the blues. Moore commented, "There's a lot of the blues in his plays -- in this one Troy sings about his 'Old Dog Blue.' But what I hear is jazz -- rhythms and changes, like Miles Davis or John Coltrane. And poetry. This is special language. Especially when you listen to the monologues -- some of them are structured like iambic pentameter."

Richard Romeo, who plays Cory, the younger son, agreed. "It's full of surprises, and sudden turns, both in the language and in the plot. And a lot of us can see ourselves in the relationship between Troy and Cory." Troy Maxson, retired baseball player from the Negro League, works on a garbage truck; he fiercely opposes son Corey's opportunity to earn a football scholarship, insisting instead that the boy should learn a trade -- something nobody can take away. "Cory is only 18," said Romeo, who is 21, an alumnus of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and studying drama at Texas State. "He wants to be like his father -- over and over, you see him swinging a bat. But Troy rejects that and finally throws Cory out of the house."

"It's tough love," said Camp (shown here, left, with Robert Pellette, Jr., playing Troy Maxson). "My father was just like that when I was offered a scholarship to study drama. He and my mother had six other kids, and they couldn't understand why I would do that -- even with a full ride." Camp, now 39, works for an Austin high tech company. He has appeared in film and in his own one-man show, presented at the Dougherty Arts Center. He's enrolled in the Dallas Theological Seminary, working on a master's degree in media arts and communications. "Another thing that's exciting is the amount of acting talent that's here in Austin," he said. "We didn't need to bring in anyone from the outside to play these roles. You could have had five times as many actors, and all of them qualified."

As the action continued, they returned to their places backstage. I sat for a while on an old sofa in the dimness, a silent observer. Backstage, one hears the play rather than sees it. Wilson's language is hypnotic, and I listened to Pellette as the dogged, self-confident Maxson teasing his wife Rose (Gina Houston), badgering Corey, and bantering with his brother Gabriel and his friend Jim Bono (Rod Crain).

Chicago actor/producer Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who worked with Wilson, commented for an AP piece on Wilson, ''August's language is the natural rhythm and language of Southern black folk - what I call 'Northern colored people' - people who came from the South to the North but brought all their colored ways and colored style in the beauty, the nuance and the integrity that they always had down South. It's very warm, very vivid, very passionate.'' And Derrick Sanders, who has also directed Wilson's works, was succinct but direct: "Wilson is a lot like Shakespeare."

August Wilson was prolific. He wrote a cycle of ten plays, setting one in each decade of the 20th century, locating them mostly in his own hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He won a long list of awards. Fences, for example, received a Pulitzer prize, the New York Drama Critics Award and the Tony Award for Best Play.
In 2005 the Virginia Theatre on Broadway was renamed the August Wilson Theatre. Last year the Kennedy Center sponsored staged readings of the full ten-cycle series. This year, a revival of Fences will open on Broadway, taking Wilson's work back to where he had his great successes.

NPR interview with August Wilson, with links to extensive additional audio material

"August Wilson" on Wikipedia

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Heroes, Austin Playhouse Larry L. King Theatre, February 13 - March 15

A quiet word in your ear: do not expect too much of this gentle little three-character play. Don't over analyze it, and don't expect to the whip-smart verbal play typical of Tom Stoppard's own work. Author Gérard SIbleyras isn't loading symbolism onto his 2005 creation.

Three ageing French military officers in an old soldiers' home, in 1959. They meet daily, for hours, on a secluded terrace with a view of fields and, in the distance, a hill. The poplar trees move gently in a wind that never reaches them in their shared abode. They complain to one another, recount their very small adventures of the day, gossip about other ancient lodgers and grouse about high-handed treatment from Sister Madeleine, from Arles, who runs the establishment.

Gustave (Don Toner, left) prefers the closed circuit from his room to the terrace and back. Henri (Michael Stuart, right) with the gimpy leg has lived in this setting for 25 years but he is the most adventurous of the lot, taking constitutionals through the village that offer him the pleasure of watching promenading schoolgirls and the young woman who teaches them.

Philippe, the wound-up old geezer with a steel plate and a shrapnel wound to the head played by David Stahl (center), is at times explosive in temperament. But more and more often he is taken by brief, abrupt fainting fits, from which he always awakens crying, "Take them from behind!" Philippe is mildly delusional -- he insists the terrace's stone statue of a dog will move from time to time, and he is convinced that l'Arlesienne manipulates the medicines at will, euthanizing selected old soldiers so that she will never have to celebrate more than one birthday on any given day.

There they sit, in the dimming winter of their lives, dependent on one another, cut off from their glories and their youth, gradually hatching out a scheme to escape. To Indo-China, suggests Philippe, but eventually in murmurs and quibbles they reduce their military objective to that of scaling the impossible height before them in order to picnic beneath those poplar trees. (The French title of the piece is "Le Vent des peupliers" -- "The Wind in the Poplars.")

And that is pretty much it. They do not escape. They do not find their territory invaded by other denizens of the home, even though announced repairs may send those others looking for new spots in the sunlight. They do not confront Sister Madeleine. Their conversation is the somnolent, nearly toothless indignation of old soldiers long forgotten, in a place and time with no anchor in the present.

These characters, living in that time in France, would carry enormous meaning for a French public today. Sibleyras, initially a radio scriptwriter and now a busy author for the theatre, was born in 1961, two years later than the setting for this play, but like the rest of the French public he will have absorbed these stereotypes. Old soldiers, valiant and yet useless, both during the wars and afterwards; a France that was twice defeated despite their heroism and yet survived. In 1959 France was seeing everything slip away again -- the war in Algeria was a disaster, beset by terrorism and soon to end with De Gaulle's summary decision to grant independence to that huge area, administered as a part of metropolitan France. The Indo-China escape existed only in Philippe's dreams, for the French military had suffered catastrophe at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The French remain a passionately defensive-aggressive people -- a great culture that was humiliated in colonial and international politics.

When I first visited France in the 1970s, the seats nearest the doors in the underground Metro in Paris were still "réservée aux mutilés de guerre" -- "reserved for those mutilated in war."

The fact that Sibleyras can now mock those valiant geezers and the first half of France's twentieth century is a sign that, at last, his countrymen are beginning once again to feel at ease in their skins.

That distinctive background may explain in part the puzzlement of reviewers in Britain and in the United States. Even though Heroes was awarded the Olivier Award as best new comedy of 2006, rarely did it get much affection in the press. The Guardian called it "little more than a delicately acted piece of sentimental Gallic whimsy." The U.S. version with Len Cariou, Richard Benjamin and George Segal did worse. Variety's Bob Verini called it "glib and superficial without ever expanding; once we see where the characters are going (i.e.: nowhere), we're stuck there with them. " The L.A. Times published Charles McNulty's review of the same production under the snide title "No Medals for this Troupe of Heroes," including his dismissive comment, "It's tres, tres French in its mix of the philosophical and sentimental and in the way abstraction inevitably crowds out action."

To strike a similar chord of shared memory in the United States,a piece might well have to be written about a trio of ancient Hollywood stars in a retirement home -- say, Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Randolph Scott, just to pull names out of the air.

So wave aside all that and concentrate on the characters as portrayed under the direction of Lara Toner. For example, Gustave,
played by Don Toner, is the upright military hero who cannot face the public but has developed an affection for the stone dog on the terrace. I would have preferred a bit more military bearing in Gustave; what I was seeing much of the time was the familiar, affable master of ceremonies Don Toner putting on something of a scowl. Michael Stuart as the dreamy wanderer Henri has a simple schoolboy mischief to him. The most impressive transformation of the lot is David Stahl. We just saw him in Sylvia as a cheery 40ish urbanite. Here, with thick glasses, a cap pulled low to suggest a bald head, a convincing hunch to his shoulders and shamble to his gait, and a verbal transformation, he easily passes as an irascible 80-year-old.

Once you accept that this trio is not going anywhere, because there is no longer anywhere to go, you can follow them with sympathy and good humor. Their quirks are understandable. As dogged survivors these soldiers show quite a different heroism by facing the tyranny of the everlasting succession of routine. Sibleyras gives them a gorgeous final metaphor as they stand side by side. They evoke the flocks of migrating geese far overhead, where periodically each member, in turn, moves to the front of the formation to lead and shield the others.

Review by Joey Seiler on the Statesman's Arts Blog "Seeing Things," February 24

Review by Elizabeth Cobbe in the Austin Chronicle, March 12

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sherlock Holmes by William Gillette, Weird City Theatre Company, February 19 - March 1

William Gillette introduced a new naturalism to the theatre of the late 19th century, exercising an influence that helped convert the broad, artificial acting styles of the day into something more more natural. With his impressive charisma, he used silent stage business to carry part of the story; as a playwright and director he pioneered the use of fades and blackouts. He was hugely, hugely successful, earning enough to buy himself a river steamer and to build a castle on a hill in New Jersey that cost a million dollars back in 1910.

And Gillette gave us much of the popular image of Sherlock Holmes. After Arthur Conan Doyle had terminated his first series of Holmes stories in 1893, getting rid of the detective via a confrontation with the infamous Dr. Moriarity at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, Conan Doyle attempted to write a play using his famous character. He offered it to Henry Irving and to Beerhom Tree. Irving refused it and Tree wanted it rewritten. Conan Doyle turned to the American Gillette, newly on the London scene.

And there a partnership was born. Gillette rewrote the piece, with Conan Doyle's permission. It was a great success and for the next 30 years Gillette and his collaborators produced it in Britian and the United States. Gillette set for us the catchphrase, "Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow," reformulated by another actor as "Elementary, dear Watson" for the first talking cinema version. Gillette introduced the curved pipe for Holmes and established the deerstalker attire. He even used a syringe onstage to depict Holmes' drug addition.

Gillette performed this play more than 1300 times but he never appeared in the cinema as Sherlock Holmes. A modern day admirer has resurrected in two YouTube slide shows key portions of a 50-minute radio version that Gillette recorded in 1936. The lines are exactly those used by John Carroll as Holmes and Robert Berry as Dr. Watson in Gillette's Sherlock Holmes, playing at the Dougherty Arts Center through March 1

To modern spectators the piece may initially seem as creaky and worn as the shabby Victorian house in which the action opens. A nervous, talky man and woman attended by a butler of lapsed character and a French maid set the plot in motion with some pretty tedious exposition, particularly when they bring in a shady friend to crack a safe. They have held a young woman sequestered for two years because they know that she has documents compromising an unnamed, presumably British young aristocrat. That aristocrat's marriage is approaching and the Larabees (Kevin Goldthorpe and Amy Young) have become frantic to make Alice Faulkner (the delicately desperate Emily Hampton) reveal the whereabouts of the dossier. Director Patti Neff-Tiven gets her actors through lots of jawing back and forth, threats and mistreatment of Miss Alice -- and then the doorbell rings. It is Sherlock Holmes, who has been hired by sleazy nobility to get the dossier!

From that point, with the entrance of John Carroll as Holmes, the play comes alive, just as it must have done with the entrance of Gillette. Carroll is decisive, close to arrogant with the Larabees. He demands to see Alice Faulkner and quickly sees through their attempt to parade Madge Larrabee as that unfortunate girl. By force of personality he obliges them to bring her downstairs for an interview. Holmes succeeds by strategem in obtaining the documents but his gentleman's honor prevents him from taking them. After Holmes takes his leave, warning the Larabees of police action if Miss Alice is mistreated, they are off to the "emperor of crime" Dr. Moriarity to thwart Holmes.

There's no particular use here in a "who hit John?" recital of this ancient and relatively predictable plot -- whether the John in question is John Carroll as Holmes or John Smith as the black-clad, mutely fiendish Dr. Moriarity.

Moriarity, the Larrabees, Moriarity's underling Bassick (Stephen Reynolds) and a small platoon of picturesque thugs scheme to trap Holmes and we know that he will escape from the eventual talky confrontation in the atmospheric abandoned gas works in the second half of the play.

John Carroll is magnificent as Sherlock Holmes. Restless of spirit, articulate with riveting speech and gesture, subject to ennui and spleen, contemptuous of danger, he is most emphatically larger than life.

Robert Berry as Watson is perfectly cast to play as the fussy, friendly foil to Holmes' brilliance.

Gillette went against the canon by creating in this piece a love interest. Holmes falls for Miss Alice, against his will and better judgement. John Carroll plays this with subtle shading of Holmes' emphatic certainties about everything else. We see the unease of his moral conflict -- set to persuade, trick or seduce documents from Alice, he is attracted despite misgivings to her fragility and youth. Equally, he despairs of the difference in their ages, a cavil that in the closing scene Alice sweetly dismisses.

The success of Gillette's play raised the pressure on Conan Doyle to continue the exploits of his unique, brilliant detective, and the author resurrected Holmes from the abyss, revealing that instead of going over the waterfall, Holmes had in fact climbed up and hidden himself. Thus were we granted a most agreeable continuation.

In the crackling dialogue between Holmes and the temporarily subjugated Moriarity Gillette predicts an upcoming face-off between them "on the continent." Weird City's promotional video on YouTube gives us a sepia-toned version of that struggle. It was filmed, charmingly enough, here in Austin at Mount Bonnell.

And they're not finished yet! Weird City Theatre will be doing The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan July 13-26, again at the Dougherty Arts Center.

Review by Ryan E. Johnson on, February 24

Review by Avimaan Syam in the Austin Chronicle, February 26

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shooting Star by Steven Dietz, Zach Scott Theatre, February 12 - April 5

Steven Dietz's latest world premiere is a wistful two-character piece aimed directly at the soft heart of the baby boomer generation.

These two were lovers in their early twenties in Madison, Wisconsin, sometime in the 1970s but they've long been out of touch, getting on with their lives. By chance they find themselves -- and one another -- in a snowed-in airport somewhere in the Midwest (think, maybe, Midway in Chicago).

It's a situation ripe for dramatic exploitation. A wave of the playwright's magic wand and lo! we have characters with a deep knowledge of one another and a sense of their ideals and mutual potential -- thirty years out of date. They have decades of change and adventure to explore, as well as the delicate business of defining just who they are for each other right now, in ignorance of their subsequent histories.

Shooting Star trades on a fascination similar to that mined by What ever happened to. . . .? Do you really, really want to know? Do you want that person to know what has happened to you and how you have changed?

Dietz is upfront about it. His note in the program, also posted in the lobby, reads, in part,

Someone has your secret. Someone from your past. They have your secret because they once had your heart. . . .

We wed the past to humor with good reason. Oh, how we used to dress! -- and our hair! the music we listened to! -- man, what were we thinking? and with any luck, we can usually bundle up our great regrets in this same nostalgic laughter.

Until we see that face from our past. That person who has the goods on us: who knows exactly how close we came to making our life match our plans.

Master craftsman that he is, Dietz sets up the slightly painful comic contrasts. He gives us business traveler Reed McAllister (Jamie Goodwin), something of a wage slave in a suit, a reader of the Wall Street Journal, grown into someone far different from his idealistic twenty-something self, and pairs him with earth momma Elena Carson (Barbara Chisholm), Austinite, veteran groupie and lonely free spirit.

They see one another from afar and apostrophize to the audience their surprise; after some time avoiding an encounter, they meet. Reed is headed from his home in Boston to Austin for a sales pitch he knows will be unsuccessful; Elena is going to Boston to see a friend. Heavy snow delays flights; the airlines cancel departures. We sit in on their careful process of mutual discovery, with the remembered emotional closeness bringing to the surface regrets, memories shared and unshared, and an unexpected wading into the current complexities of their lives.

The minimalist setting in the Whisenhut theatre is a clever recreation of the waiting area at an airport gate, at which spectators become just that many more stranded travelers. Of course, the airport speaks to us and to the characters (in the lovely neutral precision of Lauren Lane's voice). Dietz gets several appreciative chuckles with business reminding us of the new realities of air travel and the newly familiar rules for travelers. In addition, Barbara's banter about Austin and its special character tickles us.

Separate monologues to the audience set up later revelations. Reed confesses to us that he was deeply jealous and hurt by Elena's promiscuity. With the last flight canceled, they retire to the airport bar. Recollection, new revelation, the intrusion of telephone calls from home, desire, laughter, spontaneous counsel and unexpected gifts -- to quote Dietz's note, Reunions are typically built on laughter, banter, remembrance and alcohol. This one is no different.

Neither Reed nor Elena found anyone better. There is no knowing whether, back then, different mutual rules or more truth in the relationship might have kept them together for a completely different experience in life. Plot pieces click neatly into place, we feel the warmth, and Dietz brings them home to the feeling that despite memories and beyond this tiny bubble of time, the most important issue is this generation's love and care for the next.

Jamie Goodwin and Barbara Chisholm are comfortable and convincing in these characters, and Dietz as playwright and director keeps the action continually interesting and surprising. The Wednesday night audience was smack dab in the target demographic. They gave the piece a standing ovation.

Review by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin on the Statesman's Austin360 blog, February 16

Interview of Steven Dietz, Barbara Chisholm and Jamie Goodwin by John Aielli on KUT's "Aielli Unleashed," published March 6 (20 minutes)

Review by Barry Pineo in the Austin Chronicle, March 19

Political Theatre: The Eye and Tooth Project, March 7-8

Eye and Tooth Project
posted by Texas Moratorium Network (opposing capital punishment in Texas)
Friday, February 06, 2009

The Eye & Tooth Project! How can citizens lobby more effectively for abolition of the death penalty in Texas?

People who attend this project could put what they learn into action on Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty on March 24.

The Eye & Tooth Project!

With support from Amnesty International--Houston / Local Group #23

And performance space offered by Rude Mechs and The Off Center

How can citizens lobby more effectively for abolition of the death penalty in Texas?

How can we hone our ability to dialogue with multiple audiences on the injustice of
capital punishment, particularly when others disagree with us?

The Eye & Tooth Project is a Forum Theatre project that invites participants to explore the questions above—and other questions that arise in the process of working toward abolition. We’ll also discuss how we can help build momentum for bills related to the death penalty introduced in the 2009 session of the Texas Legislature.

What is Forum Theatre? Forum Theatre is an interactive theatre form devised by Brazilian artist/activist Augusto Boal for people of all levels of theatre experience (or no theatre experience whatsoever). Facilitators set up a process through which workshop participants create a short play. At the end of the workshop process, participants perform that play for spectators. Audience members are invited to call out “Stop!” at any moment and to step into the action to devise new approaches to the issues at the heart of the play. Audience interventions serve as springboards for dynamic discussion.

We welcome participants with a variety of relationships to this issue, from victims’ families to families of incarcerated persons or individuals on Death Row to lobbying groups and other interested citizens. In short, if you want to be there, we want you there!

Eye & Tooth-Austin has two phases:

Phase 1) An introductory/organizing workshop

Sunday, February 8th, 2009, from 1-5pm in Room 1.148 in the Winship Drama
Building (at the NW corner of 23rd and San Jacinto at the University of Texas at
Austin). We’ll introduce some basics of Forum Theatre and discuss directions for the
play we’ll work together to create during the March 6-8 workshop.

Phase 2) Weekend workshop and Forum Theatre performance, March 7 & 8.

Workshop Times: Saturday, March 7, 2009 from 10 am to 7:00 pm (with lunch break)
Sunday, March 8, 2009, from 12 noon to 6 pm (with snack break--we'll provide snacks!)
Workshop Location: Room 2.180, Winship Drama Building
(on the NW corner of 23rd and San Jacinto at the University of Texas at Austin)

Public Forum Theatre showing and discussion: Sunday, March 8 at 7:30 pm
Location: The Off Center @ 2211-A Hidalgo(Home of the Rude Mechs)

Email to sign up for the workshop, so we can send any additional information as the workshop draws closer. Or if you can't do the workshop, just come
join us for the public performance!

Facilitators: Kathleen Juhl (Southwestern University), Kelly Howe (UT-Austin), and
John Sullivan (UT-Medical Branch).

Necessary skills or experience: None. All you need to bring is your willingness to discuss why you’re invested in the issue of capital punishment. The facilitators will bring the rest.

Questions? Contact Kelly Howe at or 502.558.9745 or Kathleen
Juhl at

Austin's Small Theatres in Hard Times, by Elizabeth Cobbe, Austin Chronicle, February 19

Elizabeth Cobbe combines an advance piece on Warpstar Sexysquad by Yellow Tape Construction Company with comments from others. Ken Webster of Hyde Park Theatre is cautiously optimistic about the fiscal year but uncertain about the calendar year; Ryan Crowder of the new Penfold Theatre is looking to establish a venue in Round Rock.

"Rocketing Through Hard Times" by Elizabeth Cobbe.

Update: Review of "Warpstar Sexysquad" by Spike Gillespie on, February 24

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

Kennedy Center Offers Arts Management Mentoring

On February 3, Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser announced the new initiative "Arts in Crisis," aimed at providing guidance and mentoring to non-profit arts organizations in trouble.

Through its new website the Center invites e-mail inquiries and requests and undertakes to provide written replies or to match non-profits with qualified mentors.

Kaiser's career has been built on arts turnarounds, and he published a 183-page guide, The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations (2008: Brandeis University Press). In an interview published February 19 in the Wall Street Journal, Kaiser commented on the scope of the initiative:

"It'll differ by organization," he says. "Some just have questions -- 'How do I talk to my board about planning?' 'How do I recoup ticket sales for this particular performance?' That's really just a simple conversation between them and my development staff."

Others have more complicated troubles -- "the kind you can't answer in a simple phone call," he says. On-site visits may be necessary.

The initiative is a natural outgrowth of arts management education that the Kennedy Center has been offering in the eight years since Mr. Kaiser's arrival. It's also fundamentally driven by a passion to end a self-defeating phenomenon he has witnessed throughout his career.

"When there are economic challenges, the first things that staffs and boards cut are programming and marketing, and that's the worst thing you can do," he says. "You're guaranteeing yourself you'll have less revenue next year, and that's how sick organizations get really sick. That's why I'm so nervous right now and why I'm doing this."

Within 24 hours of the February 3 announcement of the program, the Kennedy Center had received 110 e-mailed pleas from 31 states, and even one from Iceland.

Arts philanthropists provided $500,000 to support the program. Replies and counseling will come from Kennedy Center staff and from volunteer mentors across the country.

Kennedy Center Arts in Crisis website, access point for program, with video of Kaiser and additional information

Washington Post article of February 3: "he center's president said he is not as concerned about smaller organizations -- which are used to dealing with difficult situations -- as he is about groups that are misdirecting efforts at downsizing. "I'm worried that people are cutting the wrong things first, and that makes it much harder to compete for funding," he said. "Those who cut the programming first wouldn't look as attractive to the funders."

Miami Herald article: Co-funded by Miami philanthropist Adrienne Arsht and Kennedy Center trustee Helen Lee Henderson, the $500,000 program -- Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative -- will offer advice in fundraising, budgeting, marketing, building effective boards of trustees and other facets of running an arts organization during the current economic crisis.

Wall Street Journal interview published February 19 (access may be limited to subscribers only)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Upcoming: Bombs in Your Mouth, Hyde Park Theatre, February 26 - March 28

Review by Austin Live Theatre

UPDATE: Review by Joey Seiler on Statesman's Austin360 blog, March 2

UPDATE 2: Review by Spike Gillespie on, March 3

UPDATE 3: Review by Ryan E. Johnson on, March 4

UPDATE 4: KUT's audio piece on Arts Eclectic, March 18

UPDATE 5: Review by Hannah Kenah in the Austin Chronicle, March 19

Received from Hyde Park Theatre:

Next week at Hyde Park Theatre: "a jewel of a play, laugh-out-loud funny and slyly touching." Just to warm you up:

LILY: Let's have an arm wrestle.
DANNY: What?
LILY: We are about to have an arm wrestle and I call loser gets beer.
DANNY: I'm not going to have an arm wrestle.
LILY: Because you know I'll win an arm wrestle.
DANNY: You're being really stupid. And weird.
LILY: How else are we going to decide who gets the beer?
DANNY: We could flip a coin.
LILY: No. This is the only way. I call.
DANNY: You can't call something like that.
LILY: Well, too bad, I just did.
DANNY: I don't want to have an arm wrestle.
LILY: Come on! Please just have an arm wrestle with me? Dad just died.

Yes: the world premiere of Bombs in Your Mouth by Corey Patrick explodes at HPT next week.

More later, but for now: mark you calendar for next Friday, February 27, when playwright Corey Patrick will fly in, and we'll celebrate with a post-show party 'n' schmooze catered by New World Deli.

Need more reasons to come? Try two of Austin's finest actors: Liz Fisher (Featuring Loretta, The Seagull) and Joey Hood (The Glory of Living, Have You Ever Been Assassinated?)--directed by HPT Artistic Director Ken Webster (ACOT Best Director for The Pillowman and Dog Sees God).

Bombs in Your Mouth runs at 8:00 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, February 26 - March 28, 2009. Tickets are $18 ($16 for students, seniors, and ACOT members) on Fridays and Saturdays. Thursdays are pay-what-you-can. Purchase tickets online or call 479-PLAY for reservations.

Hyde Park Theatre is located at 511 W. 43rd Street. Covered off-street parking for the patrons of HPT is available in the lot at 4315 Guadalupe Street, just north of The Parlor. You can drive through The Parlor's parking lot to reach it. Evening HPT parking also available at Kenneth's Hair Salon, just south of HPT, and at the Hyde Park Church of Christ on the northeast corner of 43rd & Avenue B. We are grateful to them all for their generosity.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cyrano De Bergerac, Mary Moody Northern Theatre at St. Edward's, February 12 -22

Director Michelle Polgar orchestrates a fine, vigorous production of the wonderfully romantic French drama Cyrano de Bergerac, playing through this coming weekend at St Ed's Mary Moody Northern Theatre. Edmond Rostand modeled the lonely, pugnacious cavalier with the big nose on the historical figure of Hector Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, a duelist and dramatist who did, in fact, fight in the Thirty Years' War between the French and the Spanish.

One of my French professors dismissed Rostand's play as clap-trap sentimentality, to my great dismay. My father, a reticent man, had given me a copy of the Modern Libary edition when I was about 15, and in my own lonely hours I had soared with the eloquence of Cyrano, mused at his contempt for death and admired his casual heroism. I suffered with him the colossal irony of his unwanted obligation to support and protect cadet Christian, that young fop who had attracted the admiration of Cyrano's secret belovéd, his own cousin Roxanne.

Anyway, those pompous profs in the French Department were wrapped up in existentialism, Camus and Sartre, those lurching intellectuals at the bleakest extremes of literature and philosophy.

Ah, to live greatly, like Cyrano! He speaks and lives so fully, steadfast to his muse and his friends, defending them selflessly with a flash of the rapier and a swift scribble of the pen. Rostand's play was a great success in Paris in 1897 and his version of Cyrano has been alive with us ever since. José Ferrer won an Oscar as best actor for his 1950 film portayal of Cyrano and the great, inevitable Gérard Depardieu was a memorable Cyrano in his 1990 film (subtitles furnished by Anthony Burgess, translator/adapter of the verse script used in St. Ed's production).

The play's four acts take us to a public theatre, to the pastry shop of the baker Rageneau, to the barracks of the cadets of Gascony, to their hungry existence in the fortress besieged by the Spanish troops, and finally, years later, to a quiet convent garden where the aged Cyrano regularly calls to bring widowed Roxanne his mocking comments about news from court.

Polgar's staging of the opening act uses the theatre's in-the-square configuration to great advantage. As spectators, we in the audience embody the public in that fictional theatre, ranged around the hollow square, awaiting the appearance of the tragedian Montfleury while observing the idle and the aristocratic who are milling about just in front of us. A narrow stage occupies one corner of the square playing space; perched high above us, diagonally across the open area, are the elegant Roxanne, her chaperone and an oily-looking pair of aristocratic suitors. At times the crowd of actors may block sightlines, especially for those spectators in the front rows, but Polgar subtly clears the space for Cyrano's first appearance, his elegantly derisive replies to the challenge of a presumptuous young nobleman, and the fast-moving, fatal duel that follows.

David M. Long is a vivid, quick-witted Cyrano. His friend Le Bret (Greg Holt) frets about Cyrano's delight in insulting the powerful, but Long is airily dismissive of poverty and pains. He quickly wins our sympathy, just as he has won the fascinated loyalty of the corps of cadets.

Roxanne (Julia Trinidad) is the focus of all sentiment in this piece. She is enchanted by the sight of the aristocratic young Christian de Neuvillette, whom she has eyed from afar at the theatre, and Christian responds with silent fascination. Cyrano is deeply enamoured of Roxanne but convinced that she could never love someone with as disfigured a nose as his own. The Count De Guiche (Marc Pouhé), self-assured nephew of Cardinal de Richelieu, schemes to put Roxanne into a marriage of convenience so that he can take her as his mistress. Julia Trinidad must play this as an ingenue throughout. She begs Cyrano to protect Christian as he joins Cyrano's regiment; tongue-tied Christian begs Cyrano to lend his eloquence to woo Roxanne.

Long as Cyrano (left) and Christopher Smith as Christian (right) craft their relationship well. On his first day with the cadets, Christian tosses Cyranoesque gibes at the older man and the cadets are confounded to see that for once, Cyrano does not simply skewer an insulter. Banishing the others, Cyrano dutifully tells Christian of Roxanne's hopes. The mentor-protegé relationship between them is clever, touching and credible. They're particularly comic as doppelgänger suitors, a pair of Romeos falling all over one another in the dark of the garden below Roxanne's window.

So our hero woos and wins Roxanne, but only by proxy. He helps foil the wicked De Guiche. Marc Pouhé as De Guiche is so smooth and well-mannered that we have some trouble imagining him as really evil; he's closer in attitude to Peter Pan's Captain Hook.

The pace is snappy throughout, at times too quick -- for example, in the sequence of Cyrano's witty replies to the lame insult, "Sir, your nose is -- rather large!" Cyrano tells his adversary, "You could have done much better!" and extemporizes a dozen or more -- announcing a style of insult and then delivering a hilarious example. Each is more comic than the preceding, and when the cadence is captured, the full scene builds, to be capped off by Cyrano's extempore sonnet during the duel.

And then there's Cyrano's melancholy, which Long captures fully only in the sublime final scene. For me the divine spark of poetry lights a darkness of disappointment in this man, bravely covered by his jests and commotion. Cyrano at the Mary Moody Northern Theatre is epic and captivating, a hero never daunted. Rarely in this version does he pause to acknowledge or contemplate his disappointment. If we were to glimpse that tragic sense at moments during the play, his final face-off with Death would be even more moving for us.

Elizabeth Cobbe's enthusiastic review for the Austin Chronicle, February 19

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wanda's World, Zach Theatre Youth Production, January 31 - February 22

I attended this production a week ago. I had trouble writing about it, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. These kids are full of energy, and my gosh, there are plenty of them -- in this, the first non-professional production of Wanda's World, there are 29 cast members.

Bless them, they dance and sing their hearts out, and there is a goldmine of talent here. Director Jaclyn Loewenstein, judging by her brief pre-show appearance, is a talented, charismatic motivator who has magicked the very best out of this cast.

The show opens as a phone-in TV show, Wanda's World, in which the perky Wanda answers questions Dear Abby style from middle-schoolers about their uncertainties. I'm new, and why aren't my classmates in my new school nice to me? Wanda dispenses perky advice in easily-scanned memnonics, and the perky dance team behind her (Wanda's Dreamgirls) gyrates, sings and dances, and grins their sparkle grins.

And then with a musical and scenic modulation we realize that this is Wanda's hopeful imagining. She is about to confront the anxieties of a new school. To make things worse, she has a big purple birthmark on most of the right side of her face. You can bet that the other kids are gonna razz her and nickname her ("Blotches!"), while the earnest home room teacher and middle school principal will stand for fair play and friendliness.

Annie Longley (left) was Wanda at the Sunday show I attended and she was terrific. She appears in half the shows, trading off off with Sarah Nicols. Aline Mayagoitia as the wicked Barbie cheerleader delivered a cute, snide, self-important comic figure; this character is double cast, as well, with Sarah Halle for half the shows. Football hero Ty Belvedere is played by 7th grader Dillon Marrs throughout, and he's a competent white-bread hero with a pretty lengthy acting resume. As mischief-maker P.J. Dunbar, 7th grader Matthew Moore is saucy, bouncy, does a heckuva back flip and a pretty good break dance with his buds. Cameron Durden as Spangles the puppy is lovable and droll

I finally decided that scriptwriter Eric Weinberger and the composer/lyricist Beth Falcone were just speaking a language I knew little about. I lived largely outside the United States over the last 30 years and I have never, ever been plugged into television. This piece is a high energy, squeaky clean, simple minded retelling of the Ugly Duckling myth for the young TV generation. The school setting and the cardboard characters reminded me a bit of the Archie comic books.

Wanda's dream is to be accepted. She gets involved in the media program at Cheese Valley Middle School (no kidding), and her adept camera work opens the way to her own school-channel TV show when Popular Cheerleader Bad Girl Jenny Hightower pushes the boundaries just one time too many in her pursuit of Popular Football Hero Ty Dunbar and his candidacy for student council president. The turning point: Ty promises pizza for everybody every Friday, but Wanda clues him that some kids are lactose intolerant, so he should also provide soy-substitutes for the cheese on some of the pizzas.

I liked the two adults in the cast: José Villareal as the slightly gauche, kind-hearted stuttering middle school principal Mr. Lemmings, and Amy Nichols as the Scots-accented Ms. Dinglederry, Spanish teacher and mentor to our dear Wanda. Weinberger and Falcone give Nichols an unexpected hot-blooded Spanish number - - one of the oldest tricks in the musical comedy book and one that still works, especially with a naive audience.

This is an effective hothouse production, giving ambitious youngsters a sharp taste of the joys and victories of performance. Watching them strut their stuff is a pleasure.

Robert Faires' review in the Austin Chronicle of February 12: "
Their tale has a more personal feel [than Disney's High School Musical], as seen in the source of Wanda's self-consciousness and the show's delightfully quirky sense of humor."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

An Ideal Husband, Austin Shakespeare/UT Drama at Rollins Theatre, February 11 - March 1

The conventional staging of Oscar Wilde, within the frame of a proscenium, gives us a bright window into the highly mannered scene of London's Victorian upper classes.

For Austin Shakespeare's An Ideal Husband in the Long Center's Rollins Theatre, the audience surrounds the stage. This staging in-the-square gives us a visual kaleidoscope of witty epigrams, paradoxes, brilliant costumes and exquisitely good manners.

There's a technical challenge here, since at any given moment an actor will be standing with his or her back to a quarter of the audience. Anne Ciccolella's direction keeps the actors moving, in Copernican fashion, and the gifted young cast from the UT Theatre Department subtly adjusts position throughout.

Every spectator has a different view of the play, necessarily missing some portion of facial or corporal expression. But stage business is full, diction and accent are at a high level, and vocal characterizations are rich. No part of the audience is short changed.

Advocates of theatre in the round often assert that it creates a closer community of audience as spectator reactions are exchanged across the playing space. The playing space in the Rollins is broad, however, and I found little of that effect. Concentrating on Wilde's words and characters, one easily loses the spectator background

Beneath the wit and banter of An Ideal Husband, deeply serious outcomes are at risk. Sir Robert Chiltern's political career is in the ascendent. His sister Miss Mabel has set her cap for the brilliant but still noncommittal Lord Goring. Goring's crotchety father Lord Caversham insists upon choosing a spouse for the young man. Into this world comes the amoral, enormously wealthy Mrs. Cheveley of Vienna, threatening the blackmail ruination of one promising aristocrat and the matrimonial ruination of another.

An Ideal Husband is a vivid portrait of a bygone world and age. Wilde, the son of an impoverished Irish aristocrat, an extravagant self-promoter, longed to secure a place in that world. Five years after the 1895 success of this play, he had been disgraced, judged, jailed and was dying at the age of 46, an exile in Paris. The brilliance of the idle life of the British upper classes was largely ended by the Great War of 1914 - 1918.

It's fun to psychoanalyze the piece, seeing it as Wilde's self-promoting joke on that beau monde. For example, the foppish Lord Goring, who is a patent stand-in for Wilde, proves wittier and more effective than any of the other characters. Director Anne Ciccolella recounted another insight in the Q&A after the preview night: much of the tension of the piece is created by the anguish of Sir Robert over a hidden crime in his youth that can alienate the affections of his morally absolutist, adoring wife, Lady Chiltern. Wilde himself had recently married well and was presumably concealing from his wife the homosexuality that would soon ruin him.

The plot is that of a relatively conventional London stage melodrama of the time, with much of the action revolving around letters sent, not destroyed, stolen or misdirected. Sir Robert (Mark Scheibmeir, left) and Lady Chiltern (Sydney Andrews, lead photo above), are a relatively unsurprising married pair, and his exemplary political career seems based more on championing of morality and principal rather than on eloquence.

Lord Caversham (Robert Tolaro, right), constantly annoyed by his son, and the sententious gossip Lady Markby (Janelle Buchanan) are relatively predictable caricatures of the blindly self-important upper class.

Shaun Patrick Tubbs (left) as the Wilde surrogate Lord Goring does not have the bulk or the drawling dismissiveness one might conventionally expect. Instead, he is a lithe, cocky smiling fellow ready to mimic and mock his absurd old Pater but also quick to prove steadfast concern both for his friend Robert and for Robert's lady wife.

Ah, but the villainesse! Verity Branco as the spider lady Mrs. Cheveley (center) is beautiful and coolly efficient. With high cheekbones, perfect diction and a decisiveness betrayed in a measured strut, she is the antithesis of the polite goody-goody world of society. She lives abroad for good reason -- having been expelled from boarding school for stealing, she went on to wed and use up two husbands before lanching into the dubious but highly successful collaboration with a now-deceased European baron. Branco's vigor is captivating and her diction is as precise as a stiletto.

At the opposite end of the female spectrum is the ingenue Miss Mabel. Marlane Barnes bubbles with flirtatious mischief. Her tippy-toeing rushes across the stage manifest a fine sense of physical comedy, all the more comic because of the constraints of society and corsets. Her exquisite nonsense suggests that she does, indeed, share Lord Goring's non-jaded joy for things fine; one can imagine that she will some day become exquisitely scandalous while loving him always to excess . . . a promise of Bloomsbury, a decade or more before those lovely libertines were to flourish.

Wilde has a message -- approximately, "We men adore women for their imperfections but you women will insist on putting your men on a pedestal, obliged to perfection."

Those intent on seeking modern day relevance might force the matter by referring to recent scandals of political life, but I would not take that reading of the tea leaves from this aromatic cup. An Ideal Husband succeeds for what it is -- a witty send-up of conventional melodrama and of the differences between men and women.

"Aielli Unleashed" program on -- February 12 interview with director and cast members, including scenes and Michael McKelvey's incidental music (26 minutes)

Audio piece and photos at

Promotional article on

Review by KelseyK on, February 20

Review by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin on Statesman's Austin360 blog, February 22

Comment posted on van Ryzin's review, February 24:
It is a unique opportunity to bring our performance work off-campus and into the Austin community. The experience for our students is rich and rare as they enjoy a three-week run in a classic play housed in the exquisite Long Center for the Performing Arts. This collaboration seems very right. Hook ‘em! Lucien Douglas, Associate Professor of Theatre & Dance

Review by Laura Clark in the Daily Texan Online, February 24

Review by Barry Pineo in the Austin Chronicle, February 26

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Review: FronteraFest, Week 4

Ryan E. Johnson posted on his picks for the best for week 4 of the FronteraFest Short Fringe:
Almost Entirely Unlike Comedy, Hank Schwemmer
Mr. Schave and His Vaudeville Vignettes, Ben Schave
57 Boyfriends, Stephanie Denson
Dada Space Clown, David Jewell