Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bug by Tracy Letts, Capital T Theatre at Hyde Park Theatre, May 27 - June 26

Tracy Letts is hard to take. Any playwright is something of a god, sitting before that first blank page with the power to create and mold character and situation. Letts gives us the polarization of that Genesis -- evidently fascinated by the dark and the desperate, he crafts characters beaten down by one another, trapped in poverty, deprived of education and understanding, aching for meaning. He endows them with life, vivid relations and back stories

His Killer Joe, done here last year by essentially the same company of actors, was a powerful but despicable work resembling a vicious dogfight among human beings.

Bug is a different voyage from roughly the same origins. Director Mark Pickell and the cast set the rhythms, the characters, the relationships in the first half as if they were knowledgeable deepsea anglers hooking the great fish of the audience. In the second half they play us with determined cruelty and we have no choice but to follow. Bug reveals itself in Act II to be a trip into paranoia, fantasy and psychosis.

Read more and view additional images at . . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grease, EmilyAnn Theatre, Wimberley, May 28 - June 20

The EmilyAnn Theatre in Wimberley is not outside space and time, although from Austin you're going to take a leisurely 45-minute drive through the hill country to get there. And Wimberley may be in ranch land, but it's anything but rural. Witness the presence there of two lively and effective theatre organizations, the EmilyAnn with its outdoor amphitheatre and the Wimberley Players in their snug playhouse on Old Kyle Road.

Rather, it's Grease that stands outside space and time. The 1959 setting portrayed in the original 1971 production in Chicago has remained fixed in the national consciousness, through a lengthy Broadway run, a hugely successful 1978 film with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and even the 1974-1984 TV series Happy Days that worked a similar scene with Henry Winkler as the "Fonz."

Mikayla McIntyre  as Sandy, Braden Williams as Danny ( is nostalgia for a high school experience that most of us never had -- the fictional leads Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski would be 67 years old today, senior to the Baby Boomers and yet too young to have been part of the Greatest Generation.

Grease works so well because it's an energetic distillation of adolescence, featuring the uncertainties, the swaggering, the exploration and the role play inevitable in any closely contained group of 14-to-18-year olds. The Good Girl and the good Bad Boy are just fated to get together, and we root for them all the way, hoping that they'll come to their senses. The music is familiar and fun, and the dances are the exuberant bursting-out that we secretly wish that we had been able to do at that age (or even now!).

Read more at . . .

Sycorax, Weird Sisters Theater Collective, Gemini Theatre, June 17 -24

. . . . Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop? Hast thou forgot her?

The Tempest opens with brief scene of desperation, with sailors and passengers struggling against an overwhelming storm. Following that vivid moment, in Act I, Scene 2 Shakespeare gives us a full measure of background and exposition.

He paints a huge and vivid canvas. Prospero reviews for his daughter Miranda in great detail the plot that expelled them both from Naples, casts a sleeping spell upon Miranda, interrogates Ariel and recalls the black spell cast by "the foul witch Sycorax." Waking Miranda, the magician calls forth the "poisonous slave" Caliban, son of Sycorax. Master and monster engage in snarling dialogue that tells us how Prospero overcame the "hag-seed" Caliban, taking away his dominion of the island, humiliating him and enslaving him as reprisal for lusting after Miranda.

With all those antecedents in place, the action of The Tempest begins as Ariel with enchantment and song drives Ferndinand, son of the King of Naples, onto the stage.

Susan Gayle Todd, a founding member of the six-year-old Weird Sisters Theater Collective, rolled Shakespeare's canvas back, locating a wide, almost blank panel. It was barely touched with the outline of Sycorax, a hint of Ariel's service to the witch, and an unelaborated event in Algiers that resulted in banishment, since "for one thing she did/ They would not take her life." Todd tells the imagined story of Sycorax as a woman healer, an African woman in Arabic Algiers.

Read more at . . .

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ongoing: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, City Theatre, June 10 - July 4

UPDATE: Review by Bastion Carboni at, June 16
UPDATE: Review by Ryan E. Johnson at, June 16

UPDATE: Review by Katherine Kloc for the Daily Texan, June 16

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The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told City Theatre

June 10 – July 4

Thursdays – Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays, 5:30 p.m.

The City Theatre. 3823 Airport Blvd. – east corner of Airport Blvd. and 38 ½ Street.

Reservations 512-524-2870 or

Tickets $15 - $20. Guaranteed Front/2nd Row Reserved $25. Students $12. Group discounts are available. Thursday all seats $10. Visit our website

The City Theatre presents The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Paul Rudnick’s Broadway smash hit about the hilarious retelling of The Old Testament by the original couple – Adam and Steve, as well as their friends Jane and Mabel.

In the beginning, God created the heavens, the Earth and the overture to “Gypsy.”

This is the Old Testament according to Paul – playwright Paul Rudnick that is - who has brought considerable wit and gleeful gay sensibility to a deliriously funny take on the Book of Genesis. The play is Rudnick’s response to the claim “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” So, led by an all-knowing stage manager, the play follows the first couple, who not only have to worry about being expelled from the Garden but their abs as well. We also meet Jane and Mabel and together, the quartet survives the centuries – from the Creation to the first brunch. They endure the Flood, visit Pharaoh’s Egypt, and experience the wonders and pains of modern - day relationships. Reminiscent of medieval Passion plays where popular characters were inserted into Bible stories to entertain while teaching, the lessons here are tolerance and understanding, taught with loads of laughter and fun.

Rudnick, writer of I Hate Hamlet, Jeffrey, In and Out, and Addams Family Values, moves us to consider life and relationships from new perspectives. The New York Times wrote: "Line by line, Mr. Rudnick may be the funniest writer for the stage in the United States today...One-liners, epigrams, withering put-downs and flashing repartee: these are the candles that Mr. Rudnick lights instead of cursing the darkness, although he does a lot of cursing, too ... a testament to the virtues of laughing ... and in laughter, there is something like the memory of Eden." Variety wrote: "Funny it is…consistently, rapaciously, deliriously…easily the funniest play in town." And the NY Daily News: "…there is no one writing for the stage today who is capable of more acid quips or hilarious rejoinders than Rudnick…Even if there's a part of you that will be chagrined by this play's uncertain attitude toward religious beliefs, you will find yourself laughing uncontrollably throughout the evening."

With a young, talented cast led by some surprise Austin veterans and directed by Daniel LeFave (CTC’s Christmas Belles), the show is a delightful mélange of hilarious one-liners, philosophical introspection, and a celebration of the very fabulousness of gay culture (and otherwise) throughout the ages. The production is recommended for mature audiences with strong language, brief nudity and adult content. Talk backs follow each Sunday show, led by local arts and gay and lesbian organizations. Check the website for the talk back schedule.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Upcoming: rePsyche, Secondhand Theater at the Blue Theatre, June 23 - July 18

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rePsyche Secondhand Theatre Blue Theatre AUstin

Second Hand Theater presents


a mythic love story for the google age conceived and written by Director Marie Brown, Playwright Jenny Connell, Actor Tom Truss & the Ensemble.

Directed by Marie Brown, Music by Mother Falcon

Designed by Sonja Raney and Kevin Beltz, Lighting Design by Eric Lara

June 24 - July 18 Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.

Wednesdays June 23 & July 7 "pay what you can night" special fundraiser -- all proceeds go to the BLUE THEATER

TICKETS: sliding scale $10-$20. Reservations 888-666-1257 or buy them online at:

Blue Theater 916 Springdale Road (512) 927-1118

Harrison Butler as Eros in rePsyche

WHY: Because love stories never get old.

re:PSYCHE is a Greek Myth for the Google Age. Cupid packs a gun, deus ex machinas are less than divine, and love is hard work. Listed as one of the “top nine of ’09” by the Austin Chronicle, re:PSYCHE is a play that uses humor, heightened language and spectacle to raise serious questions about vows, desire, the hard work of love and what it takes to leap.

Click to read more and view images. . . .

Fashion, the high-style musical, Sam Bass Community Theatre, May 28 - June 12

Director Frank Benge and the cast of Fashion at the Sam Bass Community Theatre played a happy triple bluff May 29 to June 12. The base text of this staging is Anna Cora Mowatt's play Fashion, or New York Society. First performed in 1845, it did not rise above the standards of the day. It's a boilerplate melodrama complete with a conniving con-man passing himself off as foreign nobility and with an ingénue playing the orphaned serving girl who's really of distinguished parentage. In this drawing room comedy we encounter an affluent city couple Mr. and Mrs. Tiffany, their social circle which includes a gruff retired colonel, and their French maid Milinette.

Anna  Cora Mowatt Fashion the high-society musicalPlaywright Anna Cora Mowatt would be worthy of a biographic drama, all to herself. The ninth child of a prosperous New York merchant of Bordeaux wines, she grew up in France. Not long after the family's return to New York, she eloped at the age of 15. Mowatt undertook to present public dramatic readings, one of which was favorably commented upon by Edgar Allen Poe. Her play Fashion is reportedly the first play by an American woman to receive public performance. To top that, Mowatt herself went on stage in 1845, enjoying a relatively short but successful career in New York and London as the only American actress to have come out of genteel American society. This rich background is not explored in the program or press material.

In 1974 composer Don Pippin and lyricist Steve Brown thought it would be fun to set this white elephant to music. They fashioned a sprightly score with a music hall bounce and an attractive ballad or two. Because they had trouble recruiting male talent, they changed the premise -- theirs was to be a play-within-a-play, in which the all-female Long Island Masque and Wig Society was reviving the period piece under the direction of the sole male in the cast. Wicked trickster "Count Joliamatre" was Richard, a director who had given very intimate tutelage to each of the women in the cast. Our evening's entertainment is the Society's first run-through.

Read more at . . . .

Lysistrata, Chaotic Theatre Company at City Theatre, May 28 - June 6

Lysistrata is a surprise in the compact canon of Greek drama. It's Aristophanes' clever satire of two usually unassociated aspects of manliness -- the male as warrior and the male as lover. Swordsmen in each case, although of quite different aspect.

There's a historical context of great seriousness to it involving wars between Greek city states in B.C. 413. That may partly explain why this text was awarded only third place in the theatrical competition that year. That background has dropped away in the 2500 years since that time, and Lysistrata stands -- erect -- on its own merciless mockery of the awkward aspects of human lust. Let's face it -- an aroused man is a bizarre sight, with his manly pride and attention concentrated in a yearning member, usually hidden. Nothing is more urgent for him that the business immediately at hand -- and if there were only some way to take him firmly near the short and curlies, one could lead him just about anywhere.

The Chaotic Theatre Company, established in 2009, has taken on familiar classics with the evident aim of giving them distinctive interpretations. Their Alice! was a psychotic adventure in the wonderland of an institute for the insane and their Midsummer Night's Dream was an effective although unadorned version of that familiar Shakespeare text, assisted by a guitar band.

Their Lysistrata is an intriguing two-speed interpretation. The thesis -- never really exploited or completely explained -- is that the events we are witnessing take place in some undefined future time. The company combines an anonymous but intact translation of Aristophanes' mocking, often ribald text with monologue commentaries delivered by individual actors. Jenny Lavery, Aja McMillan, Elexia Lowe and Donovan McCallum reflect on our culture's commercialisation of sexual themes, speak of uneasy feelings about sexual self images and seek to define manliness and womanliness. This additional material is credited in the program to them and to director Michael Floyd, whose program notes evoke the same themes.

Read more at . . . .

Seminar: Writing the Impossible, with C. Denby Swanson, Austin Scriptworks at Dougherty Arts Center, June 26

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Austin Script Works Dramatis Personae Series


A workshop with Colin Denby Swanson

Saturday, June 26th from 2-4pm
Dougherty Arts Center , 1110 Barton Springs Rd.

COST: $20 ASW members/ $30 General
INFO/RESERVATIONS: 512.454.9727;

Playwright Jose Rivera encourages us to include at least one impossible thing in each of our plays. In the play that you are writing or even just thinking about, what is your one impossible thing? What *can* it be? We’ll study Rivera’s “36 Assumptions About Playwriting,” and specifically the idea of impossibility. The workshop will also include writing exercises to make room for impossibility in character, dialogue, scene direction and events.

More information at . . . .

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Machinal by Sophie Treadwell, Paper Chairs at Salvage Vanguard Theatre, May 28 - June 13

This production of Machinal by Sophie Treadwell, currently playing at the Salvage Vanguard Theatre, is a memorable staging of a 1928 shocker -- which in 21st century terms means that it is endearingly two dimensional.

Back in the 1920's,most American theatre art was unexciting, conventional or cast in moral platitudes. At the same time, newspaper reporting of crimes were sensationalistic and very big business. In a time when both radio and cinema were still new,big city newspapers' accounts of accounts of murders and of murder trials sold a lot of papers.

Those days have been memorialized in cinema and in theatre since then. For example, Chicago journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins scored a big hit in the theatre with a thinly fictionalized account of the 1924 exploits of two murderesses, both of whom were acquitted. That 1926 play ran for 171 performances and was the basis for Kander and Ebb's 1975 musical Chicago, featuring the oh-so-innocent but oh-so-guilty Roxy Hart -- a musical revived successfully in New York in 1990 and made into an Academy- award-winning film in 2002.

Ruth Snyder execution iconicphotos.wordpress.comJournalist SophieTreadwell scored a similar succès de scandale with Machinal, a poetic, expressionistic imagining based on the crime and execution at Sing Sing prison of Ruth Snyder. Treadwell had covered the 1927 murder trial. The state execution of Snyder in January, 1928 was a huge sensation, both because this was New York's first execution of a woman since 1899 and because the New York Daily News published the next day a photo of the execution, taken with a hidden camera strapped to the ankle of one of its journalists.

Machinal opened in New York in fall, 1928, featuring the relatively unknown actor Clark Gable in the pivotal role of a relaxed seducer whose casual attitude (Quien sabe? Who knows what might happen?) eventually opened the way for the Young Woman to undertake murderous action.

Read more at . . . .

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Arts Reporting: Critics' Table Awards for 2009 - 2010

Posted by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, the results announced June 7 of voting by arts writers at the Austin Statesman, the Austin Chronicle and the Austin-based on-line collaborative arts magazine . . . might be good for the period May, 2009 through April, 2010.

Theatre awards:

Production, Drama
Dionysus in 69, Rude Mechanicals

Production, Comedy
Killer Joe, Capital T Theatre

Production, Musical
john & jen, Penfold Theatre Company

Beth Burns, The Taming of the Shrew
Mark Pickell, Killer Joe

Acting in a Leading Role
Pamela Christian, Mary Stuart
Ryan Crowder, The Taming of the Shrew
Joey Hood, The Atheist
Gabriel Luna, Black Snow/Orestes/Endgame

Acting in a Supporting Role
Michael Amendola, Our Town (Zach Theatre)
Smaranda Ciceu, Black Snow
Sean Martin, Mary Stuart/Three Days of Rain
Jose Villareal, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Ensemble Performance
Black Snow, Tutto Theatre Company
bobrauschenbergamerica, Mary Moody Northen Theatre

David Mark Cohen New Play Award
House of Several Stories, John Boulanger

Music Direction
Lyn Koenning, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field

Madge Darlington/Shawn Sides, Dionysus in 69

Touring Show, Theater
Paved Paradise Redux, Fusebox Festival

Scenic Design

Lisa Laratta, Murder Ballad Murder Mystery/Black Snow

Costume Design
Alison Heryer, The Trojan Women/The Difficulty of Crossing a Field

Lighting Design
Stephen Pruitt, bobrauschenbergamerica/The Trash Project/Ears Wide Open

Sound Design
William Meadows, Impermanence/The Trash Project

Read list of awards for all arts categories. . . .

Friday, June 4, 2010

Becky's New Car by Steven Dietz, Zach Theatre, June 3 - July 11

Zach's post card calls it "A Revved-up Comic Adventure!"

The website is even more breathless, promising

"[a] life-affirming comedy about an eccentric millionaire who offers Becky the keys to a brand new life [in][. . . . ] a fantastically funny exploration about class, wealth and selling out during Becky's wild ride through a clever twist of events. Huge laughs, hairpin plot turns and a story with the pedal to the metal. Buckle up!"

Lauren Lane in Becky's New Car (photo: Kirk R. Tuck) So when we got a last-minute, unexpected chance to attend a dress rehearsal of Becky's New Car at the Zach, we couldn't resist. We even dressed up a bit, only to find ourselves well splashed by the Wednesday night downpour by the time we got to the theatre.

The house was relatively sparse, as you can see in these photos taken that same evening by Kirk R. Tuck. Playwright and Director Steven Dietz welcomed us but cautioned us that in this dress rehearsal they might at any time stop for adjustments or even decide to re-run scenes. That did not happen, but we were aware of Dietz and assistant director Courtney Sale sitting in rear rows and intently making notes.

Just as well. The web-blurb rode the car metaphor too far and promised more than the work-in-progress delivered that evening.

Lauren Lane is warm and endearing in her role as 40-something working mom Becky Foster. Playwright Dietz sets her up to win our hearts by granting her permission to talk directly with audience members. She's gracious and friendly, with a vague, lost air as she moves around the Whisenhut's intimate theatre in the round. When we first see her, she is picking up after her 26-year-old unemployed stay-at-home student son and her husband Joe the roofer. Most of the stage serves as her suburban home, with the desk in the southeast representing her job -- bookkeeper to a car dealership. Dietz gives her apparent command of the lights and staging, so that she can shuttle from one locale to the other at will.

Read more at . . . .

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Austin Playhouse, May 20 - June 27

This is a pleasant and inconsequential little evening of cabaret. Go and listen to the Austin Playhouse staging of Blau and Shuman's 1968 compendium Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. If you concentrate on the words, you may get a pale and distant impression of the genius who was Jacques Brel.

These are the problems of translation. The music stands outside language, but Brel's stories and lyrics are deeply embedded in the time, the culture, the national character and the man himself.

Let's try a visual equivalent, with American painters. Think of Edward Hopper's stark cityscapes or of Andrew Wyeth's haunting painting "Christina's World." Here they are; you can click the images to view larger versions.

Then imagine that you'd never seen the originals. Your only access was via a sketch done in twenty minutes with a blunt charcoal pencil by a 20-year-old art student. The detail disappears, color is gone and the context is lost, because you have no information about the rest of the artists' work.

Read more at . . . .

Upcoming, again: Suitors and Tutors, La Fenice at Ruta Maya, June 4-5, 11-12

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Suitors and Tutors

June 4 - 5, 11 - 12 at 7 p.m.

Arrive early at 6 p.m. to enjoy happy hour with the cast!
Ruta Maya, 3601 South Congress Avenue

Admission: $5 - $15 sliding scale

Adult material

There are 4 more chances to see the premiere production of Suitors and Tutors, presented by La Fenice!

The Austin Commedia Society, known for its enthusiastic and hilarious modern interpretation of the influential style of Commedia dell'Arte, has reformed under the name of La Fenice, Italian for The Phoenix. Suitors and Tutors, directed by Dr. Gian Giacomo Colli of international Commedia dell'Arte fame, is their first new scenario in nearly 7 years, and can be seen Fridays and Saturdays, starting at 7pm, June 4th-12th at Ruta Maya (3601 South Congress Avenue).

Read more at . . . .

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

American Volunteers by Johnny Meyer, Staged Reading at University of Texas, May 24

The hero's aura that trails after the 27-year-old John Meyer looks to be authentic. The man was an Army ranger -- no small accomplishment. Only the toughest and most apt--men only--finish the 60-day training course at Ft. Benning, in the Georgia mountains and in the Florida swamps. They are in constant physical training and in simulated combat operations, often functioning 20 hours a day. The lore is that the stresses age these men prematurely. Candidates commonly lose weight -- between 20 and 40 pounds from already fit bodies. Leadership at the platoon level is a foremost criterion of selection -- and evaluation is both by the trainers and by peers in the squad.

Meyer has been there. He's done that. He served as a ranger in Afghanistan, an experience that provided him with the material for an unpublished novel. He was called back for service under the terms of his Army reserve status, in 2006 while studying at UT for his undergraduate degree. His concept of the novel changed. He says that he had an agent for a brief period -- until he told the agent that he was recasting about half of the text in verse. Meyer attended Shakespeare in Winedale, a formative experience, and last week after the staged reading of American Volunteers for the UT English Department he spoke earnestly about the immediacy of theatre. "You can close a novel and put it down. You can't do that with theatre."

American Volunteers has the feeling of authenticity in the details -- the guy talk, the stress, the confusion of war, and the yearning for home. I just wish it were a better play.

Read more at . . .