Thursday, July 29, 2010

Doubling Your Fun: Two Cats, Two Romeos and Two Juliets

With so many companies and productions busy in Austin and nearby, some duplications are inevitable. The familiar musicals, of course --
Annie seems to come around in some form about every four or five months. The huge and joyful production at the Georgetown Palace ran through the holiday season, Lee Colee's Broadway Bound boot camp in Wimberley did a fine short version, Tex-Arts has just done a junior production, and now SummerStock Austin has settled in -- "for the duration," as they used to say during World War II. Their Annie, free of charge to the public camping on the hillside in Zilker Park, runs almost a month and a half, until August 14.

For Christmastime 2008 one could attend no fewer than four productions of Christmas Belles. I took my spouse to the one in Wimberley and she thought I was nuts to insist on taking in two more. I passed up the version that played at the Harlequin Dinner Theatre in San Antonio.

But sometimes you'll have an unusual opportunity to see versions of a notable piece of theatre, opportunities to glimpse just how great the differences of interpretation and impact can be. Theatre is, after all, a live art. Though texts may be standard or closely aligned, the real life and blood of a piece comes in the staging. Austin, you now have the chance to examine Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare as examples of the powerful transformations of dramatic art.

Click to read more at . . . .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Circle Mirror Transformation, Hyde Park Theatre, July 8 - August 7

The Village Voice gave this Annie Baker comedy its Obie (off-broadway) award this year for best new American play and gave another Obie to the cast for their ensemble work. So you can expect an amusing evening when you stop by the Hyde Park Theatre to see them do their second play this year by the 29-year-old Annie B. They delivered her Body Awareness just this past April.

Annie Baker(image  from

Director Ken Webster and the gang like to play hardball, but this one's a change-up. The familiar and welcome crew of HPT regulars, plus returning company member Rebecca Robinson, are pitching slow softballs and having as much fun with it as kids at a 4th of July picnic.

The set-up is simple. James, the manager of the community center, encourages his wife Marty in her notion of offering a six-week class in creative drama. Three individuals respond. We a watch a succession of short scenes depicting the evolution of Marty’s well-intentioned efforts to help these strangers liberate their creativity.

Circle Mirror Transformation is not, strictly speaking, a comedy. It’s a quiet little drama about needing to make connections and the potential costs of reaching out. Marty is not teaching acting or drama at all; she is dabbling in some very powerful juju. Back in the 1960s and 1970s many folks were attracted to the highs of encounter groups, an approach to group dynamics defined by Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin and pioneered in the United States by the National Training Laboratories. During a lost time in graduate school I participated in three full weekends of assisted but undirected “T-Group sensitivity training,” an experience from which I have probably not yet fully recovered.

Read more at . . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two Rooms, Rapscallions of the Periphery at City Theatre's Summer Acts! festival, July 8 - 17

Maybe I'm the wrong person to review this play.

I did accept the Rapscallions' invitation to see it, and I rearranged my schedule before departing Austin so as to get there for the opening. I empathized immediately with the leads Scot Friedman and Val Frazee as they explored for us the intimate pain for a married couple of his arbitrary abduction in mid-80s Beirut.

That core story is powerful because of its simplicity: abrupt separation, lives torn apart, a forced interiorization of loss and the hallucinatory escape into memories and wishes.

Blessing's framework for that tearing story shows tawdry incomprehension of the realities of the time. He seeks to complement the interior story with an exterior story, a sort of j'accuse, portraying with contempt the imagined actions and attitudes both of the U.S. government and of the U.S. press. He presents us a bloodless State Department official who has been assigned the task of keeping the wife Lainie quiet and compliant, and he presents us with a bloodhound reporter convinced that he can bust this story wide open by befriending and betraying Lainie.

As the action went forward and the auxiliary characters pressed Lainie and lied to her, I felt a growing distaste, almost a nausea, and my systems began to shut down. Because I had been there.

Read more at . . . .

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Spider's Web, Different Stages at the Vortex Repertory, July 2 - 24

You don't see much of Agatha Christie in the United States any more, except perhaps in public libraries and the occasional revival of one of her many plays. Airport newstands will offer you thick paperbacks by Clive Custler or Sue Grafton or any of a number of other contemporary producers of blockbusters.

Different Stages does us a service by providing an accomplished and amusing production of her mid-twentieth-century curio, Spider's Web. Most of Dame Agatha's familiar elements are there: an isolated old manse in the countryside, a collection of proper, well brought up English folk, a murder and some earnest police officers trying to clear it up. There's a mystery to solve -- who assaulted the despicable Oliver Costello with a blunt object in the secret passage? Christie is very sporting with her puzzle, scattering clues along the way like Hansel and Gretel dropping breadcrumbs in the woods.

T.J. Jolley, Tyler Jones, Craig Kanne  (image: Brett Brookshire)Spider's Web is a comedy rather than a thriller. Clarissa, the vivacious young wife of a much older British diplomat, happily plays country hostess as husband Henry, all atwitter, rushes off to deal with Foreign Office business. She teases and charms the three men visiting from London -- her former guardian, who has been knighted; a half-deaf old country duffer; and a young man from London who courts her shamelessly. Mix in a couple of eccentric servants, the wicked dope dealer who gets bashed, and the plods from the local constabulary.

Read more at . . . .

Where in the World is ALT? -- Austin, July 10

In July and August, 2010 I will be traveling, first to Chicago and then to Europe. This is a vacation in the sense that I'm "vacating" my activities as reviewer for made-in-Austin theatre productions during that time. Thanks to digital technology and the birthday gift from K of a new laptop computer, I'll be maintaining the site, including the Austin Live Theatre calendar, notices of upcoming theatre events and arts reporting.

(image: tropic diver at

July 10, Saturday

Chicago is a great theatre town, with well-established, classy and innovative companies such as Steppenwolf and the Goodman in the loop, a generous helping of semi-pro theatres mostly in the north of the town, and a variety of suburb and university theatres.

Both of our children chose to go to Chicago for university, so we've had an intimate but long-distance relationship with that town since 2003. We still do, for our son L, just graduated, is sharing an apartment in Hyde Park, working and thinking about next steps, including graduate school.

First N and then L learned that a visit from dad was probably going to mean an excursion to the theatre. In this Internet age you can pick over the theatre offerings at leisure -- the Chicago Tribune's provided me hours of dreamy trip-planning as we sat in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, on assignment from 2003 through 2007.

On-line entertainment information in Austin

Metromix has pushed into 63 other urban markets. Their beta site for Austin is laughable, by comparison with the meaty buffet available for Chicago. The new Austin start-up focuses on restaurants and bars and mentions a single current stage performance, misnaming it as "The Hat" (and, to boot, the Austin Lyric Opera's "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" was sold out within hours, long ago).

Maybe I should contact them.

Read more at . . . .

Where in the World is ALT? -- Austin, July 8

In July and August, 2010 I will be traveling, first to Chicago and then to Europe. This is a vacation in the sense that I'm "vacating" my activities as reviewer for made-in-Austin theatre productions during that time. Thanks to digital technology and the birthday gift from K of a new laptop computer, I'll be maintaining the site, including the Austin Live Theatre calendar, notices of upcoming theatre events and arts reporting.

(image: tropic diver at

July 8, Thursday

After two years of creation and dedication, It's time for a getaway. I've written and published 79 theatre reviews so far in 2010. In 2009 I published 158 and in the last six months of 2008, while defining
AustinLiveTheatre, I published 57. Wowzers -- 294 essays on Austin artists and productions! That part is the labor of love, involving attending productions, thinking about them, and invoking the mysterious muses with the aim of depicting those events in prose, appreciating the artists and saying something significant about them. Theatre writing isn't quick or easy. The French would call it un travail de longue haleine -- a job that requires endurance and stamina for the long haul (literally, "a job for sustained breathing"). Depending on the complexity and challenge, each essay takes from two to four hours to craft and publish.

Read more at . . . .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Critics: "God Bless Their Picky Hearts" -- Mark Rylance

Via "You've Cott Mail," a daily blog digest by Thomas Cott []:

Quote of the Day: "God love the critics! Bless their picky hearts!"

Posted by Mark Shenton on his blog for The Stage, July 8, 2010

Yesterday the Critics' Circle bade formal farewell to Benedict Nightingale, who retired in May as chief theatre critic of The [London] Times; and last night Benedict -- now a civilian -- was appropriately in the stalls again for the first night of La Bête, where Mark Rylance extravagantly proclaimed (in the rhyming couplets of which the entire play is comprised):

"I'm grateful for a shrewd critique;
It keeps my talent honest, so to speak!
We of the theatre share that common view -
The criticisms of the things we do
Inspire our interest, not our hurt or rage:
We know it's part of 'being on the stage'
To have oneself assessed at every turn,
And thus we show a willingness to learn
From judgements which might wound another man.
I much prefer to any drooling fan
A critic who will SLICE me into parts!
Precisely, and in no uncertain terms,
They halve the apple, showing us our worms."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

re:Psyche, Secondhand Theatre at the Blue Theatre, June 23 - July 18

Secondhand Theatre's re:Psyche, playing at the Blue Theatre until July 18, reminds me of a Swiss circus.

In late spring and summer, medium-sized towns and villages in the Swiss mountains awaken to find a weathered Little Top has appeared on a vacant municipal lot, surrounded by a miscellany of campers and caravans. The troupe rarely numbers more than ten performers, perhaps with three or four musicians. Practised professionals, they are initiates in make-believe, gymnastics and glitter. They stay for a week or ten days, then fold their tent and disappear.

Verity Branco, Harrison Butler re:Psyche  Secondhand TheatreThe seven actors in re:Psyche have the same mysterious resilience and commitment. Five of the actors and three of the tech staff established ties in UT's MFA programs for theatre arts, where Re:Psyche began as "an experiment in movement-based ensemble-created work." Jenny Connell's script with chracters from the legend of Psyche, that mortal woman who involuntarily enchanted Eros (Cupid), became an offering at the Mark Cohen New Play Festival in 2009, voted "Best of Fest." UT sponsored an additional staging in 2009, much appreciated.

Now, with further reworking, cast changes and the addition of eerie, effective music by Austin string minimalists Mother Falcon, the troupe has set up its metaphorical tent as Secondhand Theatre, at the Blue Theatre building, that odd patch behind the Goodwill warehouse at 916 Springdale Road.

I suggest that you get over there and take it in before the group disperses. These folks are serious, comic, and seriously entertaining.

Read more at . . . .

Arts Reporting: Profiles of Ann Ciccolella, Kathy Panoff

Found in giveaway publications on display at Central Market:

A profile of
Ann Ciccolella of Austin Shakespeare in LStyleGStyle, a monthly glossy:

(LStyleGStyle photo by Michael Thad Carter)

"You seem like the type of person who would get things done." Those words launched Ann Ciccolella's career in the arts. Ciccolella, now the artistic director for Austin Shakespeare, was then a student at an all-girls Catholic high school in her native new Jersey, and a nun had approached her about launching performances of Shakespeare at the school.

"So, at 15 years old, I read Julius Caesar and loved it," Ciccolella said. She went on to help put on an outdoor production of the tragedy at the school.

Fast forward to present-day Austin. . . .

Full text available from LStyleGStyle via on-line viewer for the magazine.

- - -

Two profiles of Kathy Panoff, one in the same number of LStyleGStyle and the other in the July edition of the Jewish Outlook monthly.

from LStyleGStyle profile by Christopher Carbone:

(LStyleGStyle photo by Michael Thad Carter)

Kathy Panoff revels in being a multitasker. She's booking modern dance troupe, avant garde theatre group or a crowd-pleasing Broadway show. She's in the midst of employee reviews. She's crafting the syllabus for her arts management class. She's meeting with faculty members to solicit their input. She's managing three production shops. Whether onstage or off, she balances it all and never stops moving.

Panoff, director and associate dean of Texas Performing Arts, is more than just a connoisseur of the arts. Energetic, passionate and a natural relationship builder, she is perfectly suited to her current role. She described her management style as direct, strategic and hands-on. She relishes the wide range of tasks and thrives on the frenetic pace of her professional life. "I love having all of those balls in the air."

Full text available from LStyleGStyle via on-line via viewer

Read more, including JO feature, at . . . .

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Drowsy Chaperone, Zach Theatre, June 24 - August 1

When I got home, still bubbling from Zach's The Drowsy Chaperone, I was ready to write, "Run, don't walk, to the Zach box office to get your first set of tickets for this sparkling evening of music, comedy and light-hearted fooling, a clever reincarnation of Broadway at its wonderful beginnings."

That's hyperbole, of course. Because you don't need to run anywhere. You just tap into your browser, click a couple of times and give them your payment details.

I must have been hearing Walter Winchell or Hedda Hopper in my head, even though I'm far too young ever to have listened to the Broadway gossip on a crystal radio set or on a cabinet-sized Philco in the living room. Though I can remember, just barely, the advent of the first color television broadcasts.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a zinger because Lambert, Morrison, Martin and McKellar lovingly spoof those energetic, naive and amazing beginnings of what became American musical theatre, admired across the world, while giving us a contemporary moderator and chorus -- in the Greek sense. Martin Burke as the anonymous Man in the Chair hosts us for an evening alone in his apartment with LP recordings of that mythical 1928 musical.

Read more at . . . .

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Upcoming: Changing Lives, Theate Action Project at Vortex Repertory, July 10

Found on-line:

Theatre  Action Project


Summer Showcase

The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble
Saturday, July 10, 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
at the Vortex Repertory, 2307 Manor Road (Google map)

Changing Lives Youth Ensemble, Theatre Action Project, AustinThe showcase will feature short scenes and work from ensemble members. Themes include sexism in pop culture, bullying, harassment, and technology’s impact on the social lives of teens. Work will also be featured from the SafePlace program “The Media Project.”

Come join us for an afternoon of theatre as we examine social issues relevant to today’s teens.

Aiming High -- Theatre Education at Colee Studios, Austin Shakespeare and Tex-Arts

ALT profile   storyWaylon and Willie scored a big hit back in 1978 with the ballad "Mommas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, " with the mournful advice, "Make 'em be doctors and lawyers and such."

It's tempting to add, "Don't let 'em grow up to be actors, either," but that would be foolish, because it would go unheeded. There's a huge and ever renewing pool of talent out there, young persons of all ages with stars in their eyes, and we can only be grateful for the opportunities to watch them learn and grow.

Of all those theatre students in the universities, colleges, and high schools in and near Austin, perhaps one in a thousand will eventually be able to work full time in performance. Others will slide into different employment where from time to time they can astound with the assurance and the eloquence from theatre training. Some will choose education, either from the beginning or later on, with the recompense of regular if not spectacular earnings and a coterie of youngsters who want to understand what it's really like "out there."

Young persons in Central Texas have plenty of opportunities for quality theatre education, even outside the familiar paths of schoolwork. This past week I visited three of the best -- Lee Colée Atnip's annual "Broadway Bound" workshops, Austin Theatre's youth production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the reduced-scale Globe replica the Curtain Theatre, and Tex-Arts' three-week intensive academy production of Fame, the Musical.

Read more and view images at . . . .

Upcoming: DA! fundraiser to send Heron and Crane to NY, July 14

Received directly:

DA! Theatre Collective proudly announces…

Heron & Crane’s Great Migration

a DA! Fundraiser to help our original kids' production take flight to FringeNYC

Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 6:30 - 10:30 PM, ONE NIGHT ONLY
at Hyde Park Theatre
511 W. 43rd St.
Austin, TX 78751

Tickets are sliding scale, starting at $8 on-line or $10 at the door. Purchase them on-line at .

DA! Theatre Collective is proud to announce that Heron & Crane, our original Payne-nominated play for youth, has been chosen to participate in the 14th annual New York International Fringe Festival. FringeNYC is the largest festival of its kind in North America and will include the productions of 200 companies this August. Heron & Crane is honored to ONE of only THREE selections this year for FringeJR, the children & families portion of FringeNYC. The show will be performed at the Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre, New York's oldest continuously running Off-Broadway theatre.

We’re excited by this opportunity, but getting two actors, two crew members, and three musicians all the way up to New York for nearly two weeks requires a little help from our friends (or maybe a lot)... SO, this Bastille Day, our generous sponsor, Austin's own HPT, will throw open its doors to help us host DA!-Party-of-DA!-Season!

Read more at . . . .

Ongoing: re:Psyche, Secondhand Theatre at Blue Theatre, June 23 - July 18

UPDATE: Review by Avimaan Syam for the Austin Chronicle, July 1

rePsyche Secondhand Theatre Blue Theatre AUstin

UPDATE: Robert Faires' 2000-word feature in the Austin Chronicle on the origins, ensemble work and prospects for Re-Psyche, with interviews of director Marie Brown and actor Tom Truss,June 24

UPDATE from Lisa Scheps of KOOP-FM on her June 21 program "Off Stage and On the Air": "First up were folks from Re:Pysche playing at the Blue Theatre now through July 18th. Who was there? I'll tell you... we had two cast members, Rudy Ramirez and Verity Branco; we had the director, Marie Brown; we had the producer and co-creator, Tom Truss; and we were also joined by the Stage Manager (my old job), Michael Mussey (who did an awsome job playing the track and not being able to hear!!) They did a scene from the show that was Hill-Air-Re-Us!!!"

Received directly:

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

WHY: Because love stories never get old.

Click for more information, images and video at . . . .

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

Paul Rudnick's play is cleverer and better crafted than you might suspect, given all the no-neck scandal over his playful recasting of biblical stories in goofy, unabashedly gay terms. The company plays the first act hysterically over the top, with flamingly naughty versions of the creation story and of the tale of Moses and the pharaoh, and almost -- almost -- a lesbian immaculate conception.

Austin  Rausch, Marco Bazan City Theatre Fabulous StoryAdam and Eve become Adam and Steve, for example. In the paradise created progressively by that disengaged female stage manager ("Cue third day!"), they find one another dressed only in green jockstraps with fig leaves, and they explore the unexplained deights of the body like a couple of unsupervised kindergartners. The stage manager calls a timely blackout when the boys check out one another's little things, but we do get an eyebrow-raising simulacrum of anal intercourse.

Adam (Austin Rausch) follows his tempted curiosity out of the garden, plunging them all into the harsh world. Two women, firmly attached to one another, turn up -- Jane and Mabel (cf., Cain and Able, though the only close resemblance is in the names).Through their comic trials, flouncing Adam and sweet-natured Mabel (Chrissy Shackleford) intuit something more, something spiritual, but they're never quite able to express it. Neither matter-of-fact Steve (Marco Bazan) nor grumpy Jane (Katie Blacksmith)is buying that idea. Adam catches his breath, stunned with the happiness of the present moment and yearning to celebrate and to express thanks to someone - something. God? "Not in my house," returns Steve, his mouth tight and dismissive.

Click to read more at . . . .