Last chance to see gleeful, ghoulish Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder at Winspear Opera

love&murder1First came the novel by Roy Horniman, then the classic comedy film: Kind Hearts and Coronets, starring Alec Guinness. Just recently this tongue-in-cheek, hilariously grim story has been adapted to musical theatre by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak. The result: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, is a marvelous spoof of Agatha Christie’s archetypal paradigm of killing off victims one by one, and a cynical, heartless jab at the vapid British aristocracy.

Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) has just lost his devoted mother, when he is visited by (former nanny?) Miss Shingle, who divulges he is actually an heir to the D’Ysquith fortune, through a previous indiscretion between his mother and a handsome rogue. Only eight other cousins stand between Monty and the staggering sum, and Miss Shingle encourages Monty to pursue this. His initial queries into the matter are met (as you might expect) with arrogance and hostility. Along this twisted odyssey he wrestles with married, life long love, Sibella, and newfound romance with cousin Phoebe. He discovers that while some D’Ysquiths are terribly vile, others, though eccentric, are perfectly charming. He even finds true friendship with one cousin who’s hired him to work at his legal firm. How could poor, conflicted Monty even consider taking this man’s life?

The genius of A Gentleman’s Guide….is chiefly two-fold. First, with songs and sentiments like “I Don’t Understand the Poor” (in the fine tradition of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest) Freedman and Lutvak positively skewer the privileged class, and any sympathy whatsoever for the D’Ysquiths. Despite digression and mitigation. Ezekiel, a minister and the first cousin Monty meets, assumes he is a “climber” without knowing anything else about him, and says as much. Second, fate conspires to make each murder as easy as the next. As if cosmic justice were simply being handed to Monty with a map. Like Lolita’s Humbert Humbert, just when Monty’s sinister plan seems to be in jeopardy, events intervene to save his proverbial bacon.

You might say that A Gentleman’s Guide… is a grand example of nothing succeeding like excess. John Rapson plays all the D’Ysquiths with dexterity and panache. The content is imbued with wry unbuffered ghoulishness, many of the murders accomplished with cartoonish glee. The subtext is clearly on Monty’s side, with the perverse irony that karma is abetting a charming, admirable serial killer. We don’t wince at say, a decapitation because the victims are all crackpots or despotic. We laugh as we witness this succession of executions, so ridiculously easy they are emptied of all gravitas. My one, trivial criticism of this thoroughly pleasurable musical romp is a kind of backpedaling sop to morality just before the final curtain falls. But don’t let that ruin it for you. I certainly didn’t.

ATTPAC Broadway Series presents A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, playing August 16th-28th, 2016 at The Winspear Opera House. 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-880-0202.

WTT’s Two Guvnors saucy, silly rambunctious fun

guvnors1Strange title for a farce: One Man: Two Guvnors. It’s direct, but it doesn’t feel direct. Resourceful servant Frank (Francis) Henshall is working for two different men without either of them knowing, which keeps him (and us) on our toes. Frank maintains a cozy, ongoing aside with the audience, which feels fresh and spontaneous, along with lively musical interludes by four piece band, “The Quid.” It all has a relaxed, congenial demeanor, which serves the pervasive, deadpan silliness well. One never loses the sense of wonder and enigmatic alchemy that makes a particular comedy fizzy and sublime while others, with similar aims, will crash and burn. How can they all be so wildly divergent?

One Man: Two Guvnors (more or less) hangs on the plot, attorney Harry Dangle’s son, perpetually suffering Alan Dangle, cannot Marry Rachel Crabbe, when her previously believed missing fiance inconveniently returns. Frank must come to the rescue, though this happens less by design than fortuitous mishaps. Each character has their own shtick, Frank is the blue collar bloke who takes full advantage of the clueless privileged class, Rachel is optimistically dim, Alfie, the ancient, hobbling waiter who bounces back from countless blows, kicks and nasty falls. When Alan agonizes over the tumultuous injustices he must endure, with great style and vivid bathos, the other characters explain his behavior with three simple words: He’s an actor.

One Man: Two Guvnors is a bit of a mash-up not unlike The Marx Brothers, though without quite as much absurdity. Several different styles: banter, non-sequitur, slapstick, improbable cross-dressing….all blend seamlessly, often broken up by Frank’s conversation with playgoers. A million things, it seems, could go wrong with this chaotic melange, but somehow it doesn’t. There are definitely gags that wouldn’t have flown in less enlightened times, but happily, the ribald and ridiculous, they all come fast and bright and delightfully. Cracker-jack comic actor Brian Gonzales (as Frank) leads a goofy, stalwart and marvelously punchy cast. Go on, then. Treat yourself to a night of giggles and guffaws.

WaterTower Theatre presents: One Man: Two Guvnors, playing August 5th– 28th, 2016. 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. 972-450-6232.

Name your poison : Stage West’s Bootycandy is raw, brilliant satire

bootycandy2Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy, currently playing at Stage West in Fort Worth, is fierce, dark, satire. Like David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, it has very grim undercurrents, disguised as comedy of manners. Making the trek to cowtown exhausts me, but I wince to think I might have missed one of the most powerful, chilling, sardonic shows I have ever experienced, period. It lulls you with the quaint humor of queer sexuality as it’s perceived in Afro-American culture. Yes (just as in white culture) much of the contempt our hero, Sutter, is exposed to, comes from ignorance. And on its face it’s funny. But the longer and harder and closer you look, the more poisonous it feels. As if Sutter, cool, genuine, sophisticated, is being gradually slipped strychnine. O’Hara satiates us with the candy of hilarity, while delivering his rabbit punches with stealth.

Divided into two acts of short episodes, Bootycandy begins with young Sutter asking mama some frank, but earnest questions about sex. Mama promptly freaks out. Later, when an older man (possibly a pedophile) starts following Sutter home, he relates the predicament (not for the first time) to his mother and stepfather. Like many pedophiles, the man senses Sutter’s hunger for warmth and nurturing. Sutter’s parents respond by blaming him (though not in so many words) implying he must have brought this on himself, by his lack of butch pursuits and virile demeanor. It’s laughable, and horribly, horribly sad. In the second act, Sutter and Larry, another gay friend, cruise a blue collar white guy named Clint, who otherwise passes for straight. There is something heartbreaking about Clint, and deliberately, vaguely sinister about Sutter and Larry’s approach to this transaction. O’Hara’s dialogue here is sparse and enigmatic.

At first Sutter’s calm, even temperament feels natural, almost a relief in the context of hysteria that engulfs him. Then you begin to wonder if he’s shut down. At the center of Bootycandy is an atrocity that’s hinted at, then only revealed in subplot involving a group of black playwrights. The result is ambiguity: has Sutter actually done these things, or deep in the midst of his shadows, only reflect on them? In the narrative we are given, can we infer that Sutter was molested as a boy, degraded by other white men he’s slept with? We can only speculate. Though it’s safe to conclude that we are carefully given certain details for a reason, and Sutter’s “pathology” did not grow in a vacuum. Also safe, I think, to wonder if the adults responsible for him (with the exception of Grandma) have ultimately failed him. O’Hara could have titled this play: Elegy for Sutter’s Soul.

Some shows shouldn’t be missed.

Bootycandy plays Stage West from August 11th-September 11th, 2016. 821 West Vickery Blvd, Fort Worth, Texas 76104. 817-784-9378. www.

Beauty and the Beast : T3’s The Novelist

novelist2Theresa Rebeck’s The Novelist is a beguiling and (not unexpectedly?) fairly literary drama. Metaphor overlaps with metaphor, delicate butterflies in shadow boxes, Frank, one son who cannot finish sentences, yet brings statues pregnant with implication, Ethan, the other, cannot tell he is turning into his father. If anything Rebeck spells the subtext out a bit too clearly, but The Novelist is certainly absorbing and wise without ever turning cynical. At least not towards anyone who doesn’t warrant it.

Perhaps it’s no different in other parts of the world, but many Americans heap adulation upon anyone who is very, very successful. Paul, the title character, while not exactly the vox populi, has been vetted by the critics. Like Picasso, Hitchcock and Faulkner he is indulged in his despicable behavior, perhaps because the rest believe he inhabits the realm of immortals. Like Mount Olympus? Paul is not just a cranky, insufferable curmudgeon, he’s a schmuck that enjoys being a schmuck. When Sophie, his new assistant, confronts him on his toxic behavior, the rest of the family rushes to his defense. Though, thankfully, without admonishing Sophie.

If this weren’t bad enough, the evidence that he’s plagiarizing the work of female consorts (including his wife) steadily mounts. (Remember the Jerzy Konsinski controversy?) He comes on to Sophie without being a complete oaf, but it’s obvious he’s so used to getting what he wants from the awestruck and self-effacing, that chutzpah just comes to him naturally. When Sophie breaks the spell at the same time Laurie returns to New York without Ethan, Rebeck’s thematic rhyming becomes even clearer, and the irony that Ethan has unwittingly accepted the torch from his father.

The most salient epiphany of The Novelist is the sad revelation that artists who create the most spiritually compelling work are often not remotely admirable. The risk of this content is lapsing into familial melodrama. Rebeck mostly carries this off, though it’s a perilous endeavor, dancing all around an issue without reaching the audience’s conclusions for them. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t say that The Novelist has much beauty, incision and humanity to recommend it, not the least of which comes from the meticulous cast.

The Novelist plays Theatre 3 from August 4th-28th, 2016. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300.

LCT’s Company a jovial, witty haymaker

company1A somewhat cynical (if good-humored) commentary on the institution of marriage, Company is a sophisticated, sly, subversive musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and George Furth (book) that premiered in 1970 and forever changed the way we think about the genre. With no plot to speak of, and no trackable timeline, it’s more conceptual than narrative, the subject being the predicament of Bobby. We could speculate about the “message.” Perhaps the great quote by Joan Didion, “Anything worth having has it’s price,” or the secret to any mature relationship is compromise, but we have to wonder if the quizzical ending logically follows from what came before, or if it was somehow, fudged. Whatever flaws Company may have, though, are trivial. It continues to be, 46 years later, compelling, breathtaking, sharp and undeniably entertaining. With a subtext lurking like a feisty schnauzer. Many songs have an angry undercurrent, The Ladies Who Lunch is really furious, Barcelona may be one of the saddest songs ever written, and Being Alive is tortured and ambivalent.

Bobby, it might seem, has found the perfect balance. A gathering of spontaneous, frank friendships composed solely of married couples to nurture him, while he juggles three (that we know of) girlfriends. Whether intuitively or by skill, Bobby is the impeccable friend: the soul of tact, emotionally available, discreet and non-judgmental. His social skills are beyond reproach. His quandary is while he may simply be delaying that trip to the altar, his experience of marriage (external though it may be) leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t seem to be working all that well for his friends, so what is there, really, to recommend it? Even if we consider the cultural changes that have occurred since Company’s inception, these questions are still pointed and troubling. Part of Sondheim’s genius is undercutting even peppy songs with deprecating insight. Before the last curtain falls, Bobby concludes that it’s impossible to have depth of intimacy without pain. Not untrue, but, especially considering the ambiguous ending, hardly a remedy for the complexity of this show.

Lakeside Community Theatre and director Benjamin Keegan Arnold, has taken on a considerable project with Company, a demanding, frantic, deceptively emotional piece. One senses that that Arnold is buffering content a bit, but still, he handles it with confidence and aplomb. The cast is ebullient, clever, versatile and poised. Company is grand, exhilarating and unforgettable.

Lakeside Community Theatre presents: Company playing August 5th-September 3rd, 2016. 6303 Main Street, The Colony, Texas, 75056. (214) 801-4869.

L.I.P. Service’s Trainspotting wants to wolf you down. And you’ll love it.

train1Rarely have I seen a show with such bonejolting, abyss swimming, heart shredding velocity as L.I.P. Service’s Trainspotting at the The Rudy Seppy Studio in Irving. Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel by Harry Gibson, it reveals the lives of Mark Renton, et al: disaffected Scottish heroin addicts who kill the pain of despair and seething anger with mindless promiscuity and drug abuse. If not teenagers, they are not much older. This is thwarted eruption and anarchy with maybe the slightest whisper of irony or relief. Sex undercut by the shame of dirty bedsheets is metaphor for Trainspotting: kids who fuck with fierce indifference but worry about ass stains. Mark lives by impulse, but still seems to be the only one amongst his friends (Tommy, Simon, Lizzie, Allison, Franco, and “Mother Superior” a drag nun) not completely numb to their dwindling conscience. When Tommy begs Mark to help him try smack, he really tries to stop him, but Tommy, it seems, is bent on urgent ruin.

No words like degeneracy or decadence seem accurate, as it all feels so dank and pathological. Devoid of pleasure. There’s maybe a tingle of dirty, flagrant shtupping, but it all melts into the chaotic, wretched mural. Mark dives into a nasty loo for a couple of opiate suppositories he lost track of, Allison takes another hit of smack to forget the baby who expired from her neglect in the first place. Welsh and Gibson achieve a dodgy balance in which harrowing, catastrophic events still allow us to peer at the diminishing humanity the kids seem so desperate to suffocate. Like the thieves, beggars and whores of The Threepenny Opera, they are vindictive, poisonous, subversive, their only respite from society’s degradation and apathy. And we do not blame them a single bit.

Trainspotting has the power of the undiluted, the unbuffered, the authentic. The characters are so defiant in their grubby, sardonic soullessness, we can’t help but respect them. They never ask for our pity, or even sympathy, that ship sailed long before the lights went down. This astonishing cast (Dustin Simington, Jason Robert Villareal, Conner Wedgeworth, Caleb J. Pieterse, Lauren Mishoe, Jad Brennon Saxton, Erica Larsen, R. Andrew Aguilar, JL Sunshine, Leslie Boren, Steve Cave) is utterly fearless and submerged in this anatomy of a clusterfuck/trainwreck. They wield dialogue like rusty scalpels. They french kiss you with strychnine. They shoot horse like they are making love to seraphim. Trainspotting is a profoundly unsettling mix of contempt, damage and aching, disconsolate loss. When they deliver a snarling, ferocious finale of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, you can just feel the waves of blind rage throbbing. Trainspotting is glorious, uncompromising, remarkable theatre.

Trainspotting plays August 4th-20th, 2016. The Rudy Seppy Studio, 2333 West Rochelle Road, Irving, Texas, 75062. 817-689-6461.

Beautiful dreamers: Deferred Action at DTC

defer1Javier Mejia was brought to America when still a baby, by his mother who was fleeing the atrocities of war. Now he belongs to the marginalized “Dreamers.” Raised as a law-abiding American and contributing member of society, he is caught between the raging politics that refuses to validate him as a bona fide citizen, or deport him as an illegal alien. A policy defined as “deferred action.” Society benefits from his presence, but he is denied the privileges any other valuable American could take for granted. When Javier accidentally finds himself perceived by the Latino community as a symbol, a figurehead for this grievance and cause, he is faced with a crucial decision. Though it may not necessarily be the one we’re expecting, he is overcome by the leverage he wields.

Other key characters include Javier’s grandmother (Abuela) fiancee (Ximena) and best friend (Robby). Also, Dale Jenkins, the perfect embodiment of the Texas politician: big on charm and long on harm. Deferred Action is a surprisingly subtle blend of humanity and skepticism. The shifting loyalties of political advocacy and manipulation of community, solely for the sake of personal advancement. Though there is clearly more affection for some characters than others, it seems no one is immune from temptation or backpedaling. The end comes so abruptly (though not gratuitously) it takes a few minutes to regain our bearings.

Written by Lee Trull and David Lonzano, Deferred Action is a collaboration between Dallas Theater Center and Cara Mia Theatre Company. Though I have learned to be leery of such endeavors, it is a seamless piece of deeply moving, yet appropriately detached theatre and social commentary. The emotional moments are never excessive and the satire never quite crosses the line into cynicism. It eloquently articulates the predicament of a group being exploited and played in the cause of political expediency. It’s intelligent, funny, angry and pointed, but gratefully never feels didactic.

I regret that this review was posted so ridiculously late. My abject apologies.

Deferred Action played April 20th-May 16th, 2016, in ATTPAC’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. 2400 Flora Street @ Leonard Street, Dallas, Texas. 214-880-0202