Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Beautiful People by William Saroyan at The Museum of Human Achievement, October 18 - 26, 2013

The Beautiful People William Saroyan University of Texas
AustinLiveTheatre review

by Michael Meigs

Don't let this gem flicker past you. Saroyan's gentle, quizzical one-act from 1941 isn't well known, and you're not likely to get the opportunity to enjoy it ever again. MFA candidate in directing Steven Wilson has magicked forth this evening with some powerful help, and it's a revelation of theatre and acting craft nestled within a revival.

You'll see nothing like it anytime soon . In Austin terms it's as if Norman Blumensaadt's devoted exploration of twentieth century classic writing has been blended with acting talents often seen at the Zach Theatre. With a bit of marketing the Zach Theatre could put this staging into its Whisenhut theatre in the round and run it profitably for a month, without a single change.

Admission is free. It is, after all, Wilson's thesis project, with technical collaboration by University of Texas students including third-year MFA graduate students William Anderson (set design) and Hope Bennett (costume design). The single-page program leaflet lists everyone in democratic alphabetical order in dizzyingly tiny print, including leading Austin actors Janelle Buchanan (an Actor's Equity artist), David R. Jarrott and Rommel Sulit. On opening night UT prof, playwright and Zach collaborator Steven Dietz occupied one of the 40 seats in the audience; Zach star Barbara Chisholm was in another.

With the constraints of academic endeavor and financing by Kickstarter, his edition of The Beautiful People is designed to disappear after only six performances before a maximum audience of about 240 persons.

Wilson and friends are staging it in grandiloquently titled Museum of Human Achievement, a lofty title for a ramshackle space behind what used to be the Goodwill warehouse on Springdale Road and just south of what used to be the Blue Theatre (click for map). Easiest access is via a relatively obscure gate on Lyons Rd. just west of the railroad tracks. Your vehicle noses into a rutted, muddy parking area. Austin's recent rains had left such large expanses of standing water that the company e-mailed ticket holders the day before to warn them to wear rubber boots or similar footwear and even offered to reschedule their seats if desired.

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