Rovers’ Heels Over Head entertaining romance


Winner of Rover Dramawerks’ Second Annual Play Contest, Susan Goodell’s Heels Over Head is a comedy concerning the plight of newlyweds Jake and Luna. They meet while bungee jumping (for the first time) at a workshop for conquering fear. Deciding their starcrossed path is nothing less than kismet, they immediately get married and hole up in a Bed & Breakfast for a few days, ignoring phone calls, emails and texts. They pledge to never, ever fight, lest they mar this marriage made in heaven.

Luna is all sunshine and buttercups while Jake is resolutely (if cautiously) optimistic. When they return to the grid, Luna meets Jake’s roommate, Stan who hates everything that comes out of Luna’s mouth, however innocuous. When Jacob meets Luna’s sister (and roomie) Mari, he learns the true meaning of the term: off the rails. Mari calls herself a psychic, and while this is debatable, it is certainly the least of her problems, being high strung strung and loopier than Rasputin. Thus Luna and Jake wind up bouncing between the two apartments, with no other place to stay.

I have been writing theatre critique for more than eight years, and I continue to be struck by the often quirky chemistry of stage comedy. I have noticed, for instance, that Neil Simon usually succeeds at the dazzling tango between pathos and hilarity. The problem is, he makes it look so easy. It seems that we must feel sympathy for the heroes and no more. While empathy is usually desirable, it can stymie humor because we care too much to create the necessary distance. In many ways The Out of Towners succeeds because we sympathize with George and Gwen’s predicament, but we don’t need to connect with them on a deeper level.

In some ways, Goodell’s plot is ingenious: Stan’s personality completely changes in the presence of an available skirt, Luna’s ex-boyfriend Marvin, while clueless, seems congenial, Jake and Luna reach the understanding that you can love someone and disagree. As we might expect, before the final resolution, the situation eventually digresses to chaos. And dancing. It’s useful to consider that Luna and Mari’s apartment is the very embodiment of his multiple phobias, but we don’t learn this till the second act. We are touched by this revelation (Jake never runs or protests) but the joke is lost. Heels Over Head is a charming, engaging story though the balance is a bit off. The cast gives 200% (this is always true at Rover) and it’s a grand evening of theatre.

Rover Dramawerks proudly presents Heels Over Head playing July 21st– August 13th, 2016. 221 West Parker Road, Suite 580, Plano, Texas 75023. 972-849-0358.

The Good Thief at FIT Festival


Part of The 18th Annual Festival of Independent Theatres, Conor McPherson’s The Good Thief  is alarming, strange, overwhelming and deeply, deeply moving. Produced by L.I.P. Service and directed by Alexandra Bonifield, The Good Thief stars R. Andrew Aguilar, delivering the prolonged, chilling, narrative monologue of an Irish criminal and leg breaker.

Listed in the program only as “The Actor” this amiable thug establishes some background about his girlfriend Greta and his personal quirks, while smoking and nursing his glass of fine Maker’s Mark, neat. His rage is always churning near the surface, and his disaffected (though professional) swagger attitude, makes him repugnant and comical at the same time. He won’t commit to Greta, yet images of her copulating with other men obsess him. Pretty soon he launches into the story of a job he’s eagerly accepted, to mercilessly thrash a guy and put the fear of God into him. While in the midst of completing this grisly, horrific mission, he suspects he’s been set up.

What makes McPherson’s one-man one act so stunning is the intense loathing we feel for the hero, and yet, his agony, his better angels gradually emerge and so does our sympathy. At first jealousy seems ridiculous, but his torture, his excruciation are genuine. His anecdote of the catastrophic, vicious incident turns to an account of sea change. [Though he may not understand this.] It sets off a series of events that (by grace? perverse karma?) give him a long taste of what his career has cost him. McPherson kicks us in the teeth, tickles our ribs, jolts our feeble tickers.

Andrew Aguilar (and Alexandra Bonifield) is no small part of this grubby, electrifying transfiguration. Aguilar’s rough brogue feels authentic (though I’m no expert) and his unnerving level of engagement with the character troubling and uncanny. His investment to channeling this broken, unapologetic, miserable seeker is nothing short of stupendous. He shakes us like an earthquake. He drags us down his path of volcanic anger and relentless penance. Actors are so much braver than most people know, and Aguilar’s fearlessness would terrify a tiger. There is one performance left this coming Thursday, July 28th at 8 PM. It would be a shame to miss it.

L.I. P. Service presents The Good Thief playing Thursday, July 28th, 2016, 8 PM. The Bath House Cultural Center, 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75230. 1-800-617-6904. www.festivalof

It’s Only A Play at Uptown


Terrence McNally’s It’s Only A Play, bears a marked resemblance to Moss Hart’s Light Up The Sky, a comedy released in 1948. This isn’t a disparaging observation, the premise is surprisingly viable: the various artists involved in the premiere of a new play, gather in one room to await the reviews. The lead actors, playwright, producer, director, et al, worry and wait, exposing both their more gracious and obnoxious moments. It’s Only A Play certainly stands by itself. Set in the present day, it’s notably more cynical, and leaves less opportunity for rumination.

It’s Only A Play opens with handsome, aspiring actor Gus (hired on to take coats at a posh party) chatting with James Wicker, close friend of playwright Peter Austin. James has flown to New York, especially for the premiere of Peter’s play. Other guests, all with a stake in the critical response to this new show, climb the stairs to the upstairs bedroom, while celebrities join the festivities below. As they all nervously ruminate, temperaments boil and moods change swiftly. How the characters weather this contained cyclone of emotions comprises substance of McNally’s comedy.

It’s Only A Play has an abundance of snappy, well-realized, clever humor, much of it laugh-out-loud merriment. Lots of good-natured pokes such as a ridiculously long fur coat belonging to Tommy Tune, or the crass behavior of self-absorbed stars. It’s Only A Play is less about narrative then Hart’s Light Up The Sky, and by comparison (Light Up is three acts) less philosophical and introspective. It follows the same strategy of truth revealed in the heat of anger and goes more for the rapid succession of gags. Most of them zippy and pointed. You could write a book about the sketchy chemistry of stage humor, but even with McNally’s masterful jabs, the audience simply needs some breathing room. You can only tickle someone for so long, before they become desensitized. At the end of the day, though, It’s Only A Play is truly a gift of giggles, guffaws and sharp satire. An embarrassment of riches.

Uptown Players presents It’s Only A Play, running from July 15th-31st, 2016. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-219-2718.

Red, White and Tuna at Richardson Theatre Centre


[This piece originally appeared in John Garcia’s The Column]

Third in the notoriously loopy Tuna Trilogy (Tuna, Texas, Tuna, Christmas) written by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard, Red, White and Tuna is a tongue-in-cheek satire on the politics, religion and taboos of Texas, encapsulated in the small town of Tuna. Sometimes oblique and others, over-the-top, Red, White and Tuna is (as you might expect) set on July 4th, when a picnic, wedding, and high school reunion are planned. It opens when a couple of alumni who have changed their names to Star and Amber, are dubiously returning to this Bible Belt province to attend the reunion. They are leery of the reception they will receive, since they have adopted the alternative, vegan-hippie lifestyle. Didi Snavely is prepared to walk down the aisle with Arles Struvie after her husband, R.R. disappeared long ago, possibly kidnapped by aliens. It is a reliable barometer to consider that in any Tuna comedy

improbability rarely figures into the mix, and calamity (or at least the unfortunate) is generally right around the corner.

Mishaps and tribulations abound. Tainted potato salad, eleventh hour cold feet, an upset in the election for Reunion Queen, pregnancy out of wedlock. What otherwise might be treated as the stuff of melodrama is exploited for comic purposes. Howard, Sears and Williams are never cruel, but neither do they prevaicate. Well, not exactly. Joe Bob Lipsey is elected Reunion Queen, and while obviously camp and distasteful to some, nobody’s threatening to lynch him or vandalize his house. The citizens of Tuna may not be the most enlightened, but they draw the line at thuggery. Though the town radio station is WKKK, the uglier implications of those call letters are never pursued.

For those of you who may not be acquainted with the Tuna Trilogy just like The Mystery of Irma Vep, two men play all 22 roles (though I suppose you could cast more) the way the creators, Sears and Williams premiered Tuna, Texas, back in the day. The costume changes are rapid and though they make no pretense at convincing drag, it’s actually much funnier that way. And some of Tammy Partanen’s costumes do look like actual women. Think: wigs, wigs, wigs! The minimalist set (lack wall with a few pieces of furniture) helps to keep things moving. I cannot say whether those who are not native Texans find these Lone Star stereotypes amusing, but for me, their familiarity made them better.

It’s a curious mix, this Red, White and Tuna, a somewhat affectionate, cartoony skewering of the racism, pettiness, military extremist, coldwater Baptist myopia that seems to prevail in Texas. The caricaturing actually seems to work in its favor, so it better when it’s crisp, rather than pensive. This is kind of a touchy time to be raising such issues, but perhaps that could be all to the good. That all being said, co-stars Dan Evers and Nathan Willard tackle this logistical nightmare with grace and aplomb.

It can’t be easy keeping each scene distinct and the pace bouncy. It was much easier to follow the dialogue than I’ve seen in other productions. Evers and Willard communicate the quirky pleasure of text with mastery.

Richardson Theatre Center presents Red, White and Tuna, playing July 15th-31st, 2016. 518 West Arapaho Road, Suite 113, Richardson, Texas 75080. 972-699-1130.

Onstage in Bedford’s beguiling Jekyll & Hyde

jeckyll1Created by a team including: Leslie Bricusse, Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, stage musical Jekyll & Hyde certainly casts a new light on Robert Louis Stevenson’s familiar fable. The brilliant Dr. Henry Jekyll, who, attempting to divorce man’s spiritual from his transgressive nature, accidentally taps into his shadow, manifested as Edward Hyde. It’s not long before Hyde becomes dominant. Like the blackouts that come with alcohol abuse, Jekyll awakes with no recollection of Hyde’s crimes. The idealistic scientist can’t deny the rush and exhilaration he experiences every time he drinks his potion, but the longer he continues, the harder to return from the dark realm.

Successfully bold in numerous ways, perhaps a bit improbable in others, Jekyll and Hyde is nonetheless, captivating and entertaining. After Sondheim premiered Sweeney Todd, the idea of setting such content to music was no longer shocking, and the two are notably comparable. Bricusse (Book and Lyrics) Wildhorn (Music) and Cuden (Adaptation) establish a world (19th Century London) where any appearance of civility is a pretense, merely concealing our petty, vicious impulses from others. This theme is repeated throughout, and Hyde’s atrocities more or less soft-pedaled. His victims are the board members who refused to subsidize his experimentation, and the murders are quick and clean. Hyde is vindicated by punishing hypocrisy. He is able to secure justice in ways unavailable to the altruistic doctor.

Which brings us back to Sondheim Sweeney Todd. The barber Sweeney Todd is horribly wronged by the caste system that enables the privileged class to abuse the dis empowered. When Sweeney shouts his terrible epiphany (wielding a straight-edged razor) “My arm is complete!” we get a chill. He doesn’t use Jekyll’s potion as a device, but like Jekyll, stealth and mayhem are the only remedy for corruption in a corrupt world. Sondheim’s “message” is that surrendering to the id can only end in catastrophe, while Stevenson holds Jekyll unaccountable. Understand, Sondheim makes a compelling case for Todd’s grisly grooming techniques. Strangely though, Sweeney Todd is less ambivalent, but much more subtle.

One of Jekyll and Hyde’s strengths is buffering the ethical questions by putting them in mitigating circumstances. If we follow that path, however, the word “Evil” should never come up, though the point may conceivably be that moral relativism simply doesn’t work. Jekyll & Hyde too often resorts to the cerebral, but in its best moments is exceptionally humane, touching, raucous and introspective. We can all certainly relate to the helpless feeling that comes with sticking to higher ground.

Director Bill Sizemore impressively navigates a piece that is laden with opportunities for cheesiness. It’s not easy to depict subjects like Jekyll’s transformation, prostitution, pubs, and bring something fresh to them. Sizemore uses the limited space well, and the timing is professional and intuitive. Another tricky element here is tone, and Sizemore is genuine and lucid without being didactic. The music is well conceived and executed, the costumes range from striking to outre’. The cast is poised and skilled at sharing their intensity and joviality.

Onstage in Bedford presents Jekyll and Hyde, playing July 8th-31st, 2016. 2819 Forest Ridge Dr. Bedford, TX 76021. (817) 354-6444.

Herbbits, Wizards and Borks – Oh My!



Pocket Sandwich Theatre has again brought us a delightful, ridiculous, wonderfully entertaining, popcorn-tossing spoof. No one exploits the preposterous with such giddy cheer as PST. Playwright and actor Nick Haley has written this silly send-up of The Lord of the Rings, though other references to pop culture fly fast and furious-ly. Harry Potter, Donnie Darko and My Little Pony (not to mention painful puns) just to name a few. If you are unacquainted with the sorcery and satire that is PST, well, more’s the pity, but here’s your opportunity to partake of this inspired evening of merriment and mockery. You should know that there will be much throwing of popcorn, both at the brave souls who occupy the stage, and your fellow audience members. By the time you head for the parking lot, you’ll swear it’s been snowing. Audience participation, whether cheering, booing or romantically sighing, is heartily encouraged.

Fido and his Herbbitt friends: Plucky, Simon and Mummer, have been summoned by Dumbledalf to destroy the Sable Impetus, lest The Dark Lord use its powers of invisibility for wickedness and vile purpose. An evil wizard named Gargamot assists The Dark Lord in his despicable plans. The journey is long and arduous with many perils along the way. Not the least of which is the hazards of romance. Haley doesn’t let any grass grow under their feet, there’s plenty of sturm und drang (of the comic melodrama sort) and, in the fine tradition of Looney Tunes, plenty of blue humor nudges to the adults.

[The kids are too busy flinging jiffy pop anyway.] There are titanic battles between Good and Evil, interesting ‘shroom experiments, and creepy, creepy ginormous creatures with a healthy appetite for do-gooders, In Herbbits, Wizards and Borks – Oh My! Pocket Sandwich once again demonstrates their endless capacity for loopy lunacy and imaginative antics.

Rodney Dobbs uses his considerable skill to create a vivid set that is appropriately low-tech, quaint and pragmatic. Director Dennis G. W. Millegan sets just the right tone for this fatuous farce. The actors know how to keep the energy high but the frenzy controlled. What must the performer’s motivation be when he’s about to be swallowed by some huge, crustaceous golly-wog? When a Scottish villain is caterwauling, how much brogue is too much? Somehow Millegan and this brazen and bubbly cast get the chemistry just right. It’s worth noting that in this when there is so much rage and frustration in the news, when emotions are running high and disappointments come at us without mercy, maybe a clever, ticklish comedy like Herbbits, Wizards and Borks – Oh My! is exactly what we need.

Pocket Sandwich Theatre proudly presents : Herbbits, Wizards and Borks – Oh My!, running July 1st through August 20th, 2016. 5400 E. Mockingbird Lane. Dallas, TX 75206. (214) 821-4643

Old Time Music Hall



Theatre Britain’s Old Time Music Hall has a special kind of appeal. It transports us to the time of World War II, and entertainment that included patriotic songs, gentle ballads, and the pleasant wit of Gilbert and Sullivan. The period costumes and intriguing hair-dos, the gracious, genteel delivery of warbling, crooning and seemingly effortless dance cultivate a charming experience, not unlike hearing a song from the 1960’s that touches us with its innocence and lack of cynicism. In the fine tradition of Theatre Britain pantos, audience participation is encouraged in singalongs, and cringe-worthy gags prevail.

It is remarkable what you can infer from this show, the black suits with tails, the sumptuous dresses (designed by Barbara Cook) the childlike appreciation for the pleasure and wistfulness to be found in the world. Choreographer Jill Lightfoot masterfully manages the carefree and impressive dance numbers. The cast of 12 in this musical revue are nimble and poised, and it’s an advantage, I think, that they never resort to irony or winking at the audience. David Johnson as the host of these understated shenanigans, pounds his gavel and regales us with wonderfully corny puns and double entendres. The song choices are enjoyable. Vivid, warm, starry-eyed, unaffectedly enthusiastic.

Theatre Britain has a grand knack for communicating English culture and attitudes, and perhaps helping us appreciate the lovelier realms of nostalgia. It gives us a taste of how they endured the very real pain, confusion and loss of battle and romance. The way they sing Gilbert and Sullivan classics like “Poor Wandering One” and “I Am A Pirate King” makes wish they’d take on The Mikado or The Prates of Penzance. They want so much to help us have a splendid time, they provide us with song sheets and yes, even flirt with audience. [Of course flirted back] Bradley Gray provided a set that was both posh and welcoming, setting the tone for the entertainment. All in all, Theatre Britain has concocted a revue that is just sophisticated and informal enough to tickle and move us, deeply.

Theatre Britain presents Old Time Music Hall, playing June 24th-July 17th, 2016. Cox Playhouse, 1517 Avenue H, Plano, texas75074. 972-490-4202.

A Kid Like Jake


Alex and Greg have a four-year-old son named Jake. Alex wants to get Jake into an erudite school, so we find her nervously preparing his resume: writing an essay, answering questionnaires, consulting books to improve his chances. Judy is the principal of the kindergarten that Jake currently attends. She and Alex are close friends and this has several advantages. Judy knows and loves Jake, Alex and Greg, so she can coach Alex as she applies Jake to prestigious schools. During a strategy session she essentially recommends that Alex mention Jake’s (for lack of a better term) gender-fluid worldview. This sets a series of incidents in motion.

Alex and Greg are well beyond progressive. They do not mind when Jake likes to dress as a princess, say, like Cinderella. They don’t have meltdowns when Jake identifies with female characters. Alex is a bit leery about following Judy’s advice, but she’s been assured that the current trend towards diversity will work in her favor. It’s only when Jakes wishes to go trick-or-treating in female persona that the situation begins to deteriorate. Greg and Alex do not shame him, but it’s a challenging ordeal. Suddenly Jake is acting out, defiant to authority figures, showing signs of personal crisis.

Playwright Daniel Pearle has created a subtle, sharp, even fanciful at times, exploration of the intense and pervasive impact of gender, and how best to love those dearest to us. Pearle strips away layers from Alex and Greg and their marriage, and the buried, tumultuous issues left unacknowledged. A Kid Like Jake considers how certain events are shaped by the attitudes brought to them. It examines the crucible of wrestling with the expectations and constraints of those around us. Pearle takes a loaded topic (laden with pain) and handles it with grace and precision.

Jenny Ledel (Alex) Ian Ferguson (Greg) Christie Vela (Judy) Kia Boyer (Nurse)

Second Thought Theatre presents A Kid like Jake, playing June 29th-June 23rd, 2016. Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys Campus. 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 752193 1-866-811-4111.

T3’s Psycho Beach Party Crazy Fun


Psycho Beach Party : A camp comedy by Charles Busch

Stuff and nonsense. Goofy gags. Lunacy. “Psycho Beach Party” is Charles Busch’s tribute to famous beach bum surfer and hormone-crazed teen movies of the 1960’s such as Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo and Gidget, with passing homages to Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford and Slasher Films. This is relatively tame material for Busch, whose other plays include: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Die, Mommie, Die! but is nevertheless loopy, manic fun. The seeming effortlessness of flawless comedy comes crashing down when we see shows that lack timing, chemistry, tone and expose how depressing forced humor can be. I am thrilled to say this definitely not the case with Psycho Beach Comedy. Busch has a knack for twisting and infecting insipid pop genres and so does director Bruce Coleman and this acrobatic, fizzy cast. They know how to achieve the perfect balance and harmony of deadpan delivery.

Chicklet feels worse than a frog caught in a cyclone. Nature has not yet delivered her female “assets”, Surfer Guru Kanaka refuses to school her and her pathological mother doesn’t want her to have anything to do with boys. Best friend Berdine feels abandoned by Chicklet, and Star Cat is having romance problems with bleach blonde douche Marvel Ann. Silver screen icon Bettina Barnes is AWOL from the studio that is stifling her creativity, and must find a beach shack to evade the media. Bummer City.

One of the myriad delights of Charles Busch is his uncanny ability to transform cringeworthy burlap to comic gold lame’. [“Are you incognito? No, I’m Presbyterian.”] Busch also excels at celebrating the foolishness of cheesy film culture while exploiting it. Who hasn’t wanted to see a kid kick Joan Crawford’s ass? A tomboy channel Tallulah Bankhead? [Or was it Bette Davis?] A surfer dope go into unbelievably graphic detail about the mysteries of boinking? All this and more await you if you’ll merely surrender to the sublime, ridiculous bliss of Psycho Beach Party. Playing now at Theatre 3 through July 10th, 2016.

Theatre 3 presents Psycho Beach Party playing June 23rd-July 10th, 2013. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh, Street, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300.