Bishop Arts Theatre’s Ruined masterful, brilliant theatre


Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, is a poignant, intelligent, drama that explores the diminishment and degradation of women in the midst of a patriarchy. Set in a Mama Nadi’s brothel, in a small mining town in the Republic of Congo, Ruined opens when Christian (the Poet) sells a couple of girls to Mama Nadi, one of them his niece, Sophie. The other girl, Salima, has run away from her husband. Sophie is “ruined” which (as you might have guessed) means she has lost her virginity. So she is spared the indignity of selling her body, and Mama Nadi finds other things for her to do. Mama Nadi is not without her kindnesses, but she is a business woman, and a survivor. As the story is revealed we see how she and her girls are forced to subsist in the midst of political upheaval and civil war. But mostly they are subject to the whims of the men. Miners and soldiers.

It is sadly no surprise that in unenlightened cultures (maybe not so different from America) that a woman’s value turns on her physical beauty, virginity and ability to use her “market value” to her advantage. The idea that a girl who still has her hymen intact is somehow a special prize is, of course, repugnant but this is the world they inhabit. Women are reduced to what they bring to sexual transactions. The stories the girls share are deeply troubling, horrific. It’s not only that they see themselves as commodities or assets. But Salima has lost the ability to respond to a husband who only wants her back, despite the damage she’s endured. Mama Nadi raises the question, like Bertolt Brecht or the character of Constance in McCabe and Mrs. Miller of whether there is more dignity in being a sex worker (where there is at least some control) rather than the servitude of marriage. Before the final curtain, though, it is Sophie who will have the most profound epiphany.

Lynn Nottage has crafted a subtle, original, savvy exploration of what it means to get by when you are immersed in a sense of perpetual danger. For all the serious rhetoric of soldiers and commanders, we get the distinct impression that their pursuits are vapid and amount to one pissing contest after another. That they subjugate women because it gives them the opportunity play despot. [How appropriate in light of the current presidential race.] Women must take these idiots seriously because they have no choice. There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a fool with power. When Sophie spits on one of their boots, you want to cheer, but you can’t because you’re terrified for her. Like the best playwrights Nottage doesn’t tell us what to believe, she demonstrates the ugly disgraces prevailing in the world, and lets us decide for ourselves. Ruined is splendid, life-changing theatre.

Bishop Arts Theatre Center presents Ruined, playing October 20th-30th, 2016. 215 South Tyler, Dallas, Texas 75208. 214-948-0716.

WaterTower’s Ring of Fire lively, engaging, deeply moving


I guess I should start by saying: 1. I’m not a huge fan of Country Music but I’m not so perverse that I’ll fight a good time at the theatre. 2. I may be bit spoiled by current phenomena like Lost Highway (Hank Williams) and Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons) that take more trouble to create a contextual narrative for the songs we’re hearing. Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, is quite enjoyable, with some anecdotes along the way, though it doesn’t dramatize any events from Cash’s life. The stories we do hear are key, the destitution of of Cash’s family as they manage a farm, the early death of one of Cash’s brothers, the first meeting between Johnny and his “future bride.” To be fair, it works pretty well, the explanations of why he feels for the guys in prison, his struggles with drug abuse, his cockiness while courting, because the actor/musicians have a gift for animation, and we realize the stories come from Cash himself.

I was frankly surprised that I liked Ring of Fire as much as I did, and it gave me a chance to consider the strength of country songs. For some reason, the singers can be very earnest and direct when they talk about God or loneliness or misery or deep wanting. They’re not afraid or ashamed to own their weakness or need or despair, very openly. When Cash sang, “I Walk the Line,” he concedes he’s behaving himself because he can’t lose his honey. Because you’re mine, I walk the line. Iggy Pop might sing, “I Want to be Your Dog.” [Sometimes I know just how he feels.] Country Music can discuss raw pain in ways that we might otherwise think is corny, or just excessive, but the genre seems to make it work. They can talk about being carried to the far bank of the River Jordan, or meeting those they lost to death when they make that last trip themselves. And it’s genuinely moving. You feel ridiculous, but the tears roll and it’s just fine.

The cast/music makers: Spencer Baker (Eddie) Ian Ferguson (Mark) Sonny Franks (David) Katrina Kratzer (Trenna) Brian Mathis (Jason) are jovial and spontaneous. They break up interpretation from song to song and know how to bring that shine, luster and presence to the stage. When the mood becomes somber or regretful they accommodate this with skill and respect. Director B. J. Cleveland Music Director (Sonny Franks) have brought out the most from this material with poise and freshness. The performers instinctively connect with audience, they are lively, relaxed and happy to share their gusto.

WaterTower Theatre presents Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, playing October 7th-30th, 2016. 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. (972) 450-6232.

Terry Vandivort’s fragile, fierce, achingly honest Incident


In his one-man-show, The Incident, Terry Vandivort performs a two hour monologue he wrote himself, recounting what we describe today as a hate crime. It is set in the 1970’s (I believe) and he is lured into a kidnapping while cruising the peep shows at an adult book store. Vandivort’s personal narrative is refreshing for its frankness. Like any great confessional piece he doesn’t conceal anything less than flattering. Otherwise first person feels like vanity. Besides (and I think this is crucial) we get a portrait of what men can be reduced to, when they are marginalized and criminalized and vilified, for their orientation. There is something eerily democratic about the peep shows, whether you are out and proud (extremely rare in the ‘70s) or passing in the world at large. In the dark, trolling for the comfort of other-male sexual connection, we are all the same. Vandivort has the courage and character to include many details, and again, I think its impossible to minimize the role of controlled substances and alcohol. When you live in a culture that has a thousand ways to indoctrinate, and cultivate self-loathing and terror in the hearts and minds of queerfolk, chemistry can help ease the agony.

Vandivort paints a vivid mural in The Incident, taking us along on a horrific odyssey that would have traumatized anyone for a lifetime. We suspect this piece may be his way of exorcising merciless demons. There are many, many surprises, and under the direction of Cameron Cobb, Vandivort’s delivery is well-modulated. Considering the intensity of the subject, it might have been tempting to lapse into overwhelming emotion too often. Vandivort’s relaxed, casual manner is pitch-perfect. As members of the audience, we never want to feel manipulated or exploited by the ease of punching our keys. His honesty about the ordinary pieces of his life, the parties and pizza, and simple joys of seeking love and a satisfying career, create a kind of coziness and connection, that make it possible for us to empathize with his profound woundedness.

I’m sure for certain members of the audience, Vandivort was guiding them through alien territory. His unique ability to discuss what it means to be the survivor of this particular kind of abuse is never wasted. The term “hate crime” has become part of our ongoing discussion, which is good. But few realize that when you belong to a particular group, way, way back in your mind, you always wonder when your turn is coming. Few realize that this ritualized kind of shaming and degradation never happens in a vacuum. It takes an odd kind of courage (I think) to seek out the more dubious channels to experience “love” however fleeting, because society has left you no admirable or respectable choices. What Camille Paglia described as creating “little altars” in whatever secret venues one can find, whether it’s an alley, a park, or a tearoom. The Incident probably goes on a bit longer than necessary, and they might have made more use of screen images. But overall, Cobb and Vandivort have handled this material with grace, warmth, and meticulous tone and execution. Cheers and blessings to Terry Vandivort, Cobb and The Drama Club, for providing this marvelous forum.

The Drama Club presents The Incident, playing October 15th-29th, 2016. Bryant Hall, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75204. 214.337.0004

Drama Club’s Wild, Wicked, Wyrd slips acid in your Ovaltine


The Drama Club’s Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time does justice to the quintessential, unrefined, primitive roots of fairy and folk tales, with a taste for sardonic, grotesque humor and a nonchalance for the extraordinary. We’ve all heard that Grimm’s Fairy Tales have been sanitized, but many of us never knew that the Grimm’s Brothers were basically taking dictation from servants, pub dwellers and other members of the working class. Few, if any, began as stories for children. Many fairy tales find their origins in oral tradition, with truly creepy and disturbing plots. Little Red Riding Hood evolved from a story called The Grandmother’s Tale in which the little girl is tricked into imbibing her own grandmother’s blood and doing a striptease for the wolf, disguised in granny drag. “What shall I do with my dress? Throw it on the fire, child, you won’t be needing it again.” It gets much, much worse, but we’ll leave it at that.

Lighter Than Air, the first fairy tale, involves two sister fishes (mermaids?) Luna and Leah, who spend all their time together, their long hair intertwined. Leah expresses a yearning desire for heaven, or ascension, or spiritual growth, or this sort of thing. A pelican of dubious intent promises to answer Leah’s “prayers.” Though Luna, much wiser and experienced, tries to reason with her, she can’t disabuse Leah of her misguided faith in the pelican. Though simple on its surface, John Flores’ Lighter Than Air considers the finer shades of issues like trust, love, independence and pure motives.

Michael Federico’s Mother Holly again considers two sisters, living with their father, under the shadow of a mother who has passed away. [The absence of a parent is always an unmistakable signal in fairy tales.] Margo, the older sister, tries to help her dad’s variety show by singing, but even though she’s talented, audiences (such as they are) are less than enthusiastic. Heading to the woods in search of food for her desolate family, Margo first encounters The Bread Man (dressed like a down at the heels pimp?) who unlike the Gingerbread Man, welcomes cannibalism, despite the fact it’s not an altogether pleasurable sensation for him. Is this a metaphor for sex? Self-sacrifice? Who can say? He sends Margo to a witch, Mother Holly. She asks for two weeks of housework and a lullaby at bedtime, in exchange for the singing gift that will save her family. The lullaby soothes Mother Holly’s loneliness, and Margo figures it’s a fair exchange. When she returns, she packs the nightclub every night, which makes sister Elisabeth jealous.

Written by Maryam Obaidallah Baig, Jo Chaho Tum, is a fanciful yarn of a princess finding her heart’s desire and knowing when intuition outweighs propriety. It actually begins in the ranch home of a bucolic Texas grandfather, telling his rebellious lesbian granddaughter a story from the Far East. Just Desserts, by John Flores, owes a tremendous debt to Looney Tunes and Grand Guignol. It pits a Bear against a Rabbit, vying for the title of Greatest Chef in the World. Since both their cupboards are bare, they are forced to extreme measures when an a spacey blonde American tourist appears. Exaggerating the traditional cartoon mayhem of wielding axes, cleavers and saws to ridiculous lengths (that would put Itch and Scratchy to shame) the two chefs mutilate themselves in silhouette. We are so utterly overwhelmed by this mix of the grisly and ridiculous we laugh in helpless disbelief.

Wild, Wicked, Wyrd taps into the forgotten, vivid, chilling scaffolding of present-day fairy tales, creating new narratives for the show. I’m guessing the three W’s in the title point to an all-female cast, the man drag adding yet another bizarre layer to the trippy, queasy, intriguing experience. It would be remiss of me to neglect mentioning Amanda West, Korey Kent, John M. Flores, Jim Kuenzer, Jeffrey Schmidt and Steph Garrett whose collaborative efforts created costumes, scenery and numerous awe-inspiring, dazzling and spellbinding effects. There is something unequivocally remarkable in the sorcery this team accomplished without spending lots of coin or using complicated technology. Spangles, sparkles, shadow puppets, masks. It will mess with your mind, and, you know, it’s a beautiful thing.

The Drama Club presents Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time, playing October 15th-29th, 2016. Bryant Hall, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75204. 214.337.0004

Stellar’s Rocky Horror dips you in molten chocolate and makes you dessert


What began as a fringe piece in the attic of a London theater somehow evolved over time to be an enduring musical sex comedy mocking puritanism, hypocrisy and the dreary world of bourgeois morality. Written by Richard O’Brien (in the 1970’s) The Rocky Horror Show somehow struck a nerve with counter-culture, challenging the heterocentrist paradigm, including a wedding between the rapacious, transgendered Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter and his dishy creation, “Rocky”. Currently playing at The Stellar Academy of Fine Arts (closing this weekend!) and directed by Ryan Mattheiu Smith, The Rocky Horror Show is an uproarious, giddy tribute to B-Movie Sci-Fi, a genre where bland, archetypical nuclear family values intersect with fantasy and camp.

Brad Majors and Janet Weiss are still glowing after attending a friend’s wedding and Janet’s acceptance of Brad’s proposal. Stuck with a flat tire, the two must wade through a deluge to seek help at a strange castle. There they are stunned and appalled to discover Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter and his perverse party guests on the occasion of unveiling his triumph over ignorance and mortality. Needless to say, Janet and Brad couldn’t feel worse if they’d been dropped into a live volcano. Or a jello wrestling match. Before the evening is over they will be tainted by the doctor’s raging, polyamorous appetites, and subsequent interpersonal dramas. How could they possibly have imagined their odyssey would take them to a place of interplanetary insanity and honey-thick hedonism?

Ryan Mattheiu Smith seems to ascribe to the Mae West School of Excess i.e. : “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” If there was ever a show that feels perfect for this approach, it’s certainly Rocky Horror, and while it works better sometimes than others, overall it’s an immensely pleasurable and juicy tumble with transgression and degeneracy. Smith certainly capitalizes on gender meltdown, using contradictory casting hither and yon. The entire cast seems energized by a playful mix of anger

and Dionysian abandon. The production is chock full of dishy, boy eyecandy and itchy, bitchy, hilarious “ladies.” Key players Steven Rob Pounds (Brad) Cherish Robinson (Janet) and Dustin Simington (Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter) have gobs of chutspah and moxie. Not only do they have intuitive stage presence but undeniable pipes. They sing with charisma and depth of emotion. The players know how to cut loose and invite us to the party. They break open the windows and welcome us to this opium den masquerading as a candy store.

Stellar Academy of Fine Arts presents The Rocky Horror Show, closing this weekend, October 30th, 2016. 3321 Premier Drive, Plano, TX 75023 (214) 531-4833.

Kitchen Dog explores the sad, ridiculous and fragile in ground-breaking Stain Upon the Silence


Never seen anything quite like Kitchen Dog’s Stain Upon the Silence: Beckett’s Bequest, a montage of introspective monologues reflecting on mortality, weariness, disappointment, upheaval and living on the verge of death. Two pieces by Samuel Beckett and four by other playwrights, each characterized by fragmented perception, mesmerizing repetition, despair, irony, intensity and the pain of a life we can’t control and yet refusing to let go. All six pieces dovetail so smoothly (there’s a masterful mix of ache and laughter) we wonder how this project was conceived and so adeptly executed. If three symbiotic panels are a triptych, what then do we call six? Each monologue enhances what comes after and/or before, yet stands alone.

Rockaby and A Piece of Monologue, both by Samuel Beckett, are chilling and unsettling. In Rockaby, an elderly lady sways to and fro in her rocking chair, sharing broken thoughts, repeating certain words and phrases. In Piece of Monologue we see an elderly gentleman, in a nightshirt, describing a light in the window. A gathering of black umbrellas around a grave. Again, fragmented, repeated pieces of perception, frantic, panicky, subdued yet yearning and resigned. Both the woman and man are bathed in a kind of half-light that puts them on a cusp between the present and encroaching demise. Beckett loves to dwell on our attachment to the disappointing world, and hunger for divine redemption. Instead of looking for God within our own capacity for abundance, we mark time waiting for a lifeboat that never comes.

Tongues (Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin) punctuated by rough, ironic drumming is the story of man coming to terms with aging, the blows we must endure by simply leaving our homes and getting out into the world. Behold the Coach, In a Blazer, Uninsured (Will Eno) explores frustration and hopelessness with satire when the coach concedes a catastrophic year for the high school football team. Pickling (Suzan-Lori Parks) finds an old woman in bed, evidently in the last cycle before death, delivering stream of consciousness recollections, grasping at memories of desire, destitution and regret. Lisa, My Friend (Abe Koogler) is a great way to end the evening. A ditzy, insipid, superficial teenage girl feels betrayed by Lisa, but isn’t sure exactly why this episode torments her. She converses incessantly with an offstage voice: “Are you there? Yeah. Are you there? Yeah. Are you there? (Pause) Yeah.”

Gertrude Stein demonstrated the power of anaphora (strategic, intuitive repeating of words and phrases for hypnotic effect) and made it look easy. The playwrights represented in A Stain make use of that technique with acumen and flexibility. It’s difficult to build an entire show on this without subjecting the audience to temporary lobotomy. Kitchen Dog avoids this, with wit and incision. They drag us into freezing, bleak, deep water without drowning us or completely snuffing our candles. Though it takes us much closer than we might have wished. It’s subversive, cunning theatre. Director Tim Johnson invites the grim reaper to plant a kiss before he grudgingly departs. No mints strong enough (not even Altoids) to prepare us for that. But it works, it’s not sloppy or ghoulish. It’s not a blood baptism. It’s precise and often drifts into the fetching and ridiculous and sometimes the reverie of absurd persistence. It’s beautiful and tragic and basks in the fiasco of life.

Kitchen Dog Theater presents A Stain Upon the Silence: Beckett’s Bequest, playing October 7th-29th, 2016. 2600 North Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180, Dallas, Texas 75207 214-953-1055.

WingSpan’s Breadcrumbs a powerful, oracular odyssey


Alida (Stephanie Dunnam) is a writer and something of a hermit. Beth (Catherine D. DuBord) is a therapeutic assistant working for a psychiatric clinic. When Alida comes in for evaluation, Beth is struck by her poignant skills as a storyteller, and discovers she is actually a famous author, who is forging a new manuscript. She eventually goes from helping her part-time, to being her full time assistant, overcome by a sense of genuine care and desire to see this last book published. Alida, unfortunately, is high-maintenance. She is sharp, but also elderly, so her memory is failing her, which makes her suspicious and thoroughly unpleasant. The memories which Alida must excavate to write her text are painful, and she’s having troubles enough just functioning day to day. Beth, however, is remarkably patient. Though Alida often crosses the line when poking about in Beth’s poor boyfriend choices, she seems determined to help Alida heal emotional wounds.

Playwright Jennifer Haley explores the pervasive, often subtle wisdom of fairytales in Breadcrumbs. So many of us grew up with Little Red Riding Hood, The Frog Prince, Cinderella, that we’re not necessarily inclined to look much further than the plot. As you might imagine, Haley uses the archetypes found in Hansel and Gretel to deepen and illuminate the connection between Beth and Alida. As a child, Alida suffered some excruciating episodes, not because her mother didn’t love her, but because they both were exploited by her mother’s lousy taste in men. Haley makes it clear that Alida’s mother was conscientious and demonstrative, only sadly misguided. As the narrative of Breadcrumbs unwinds, it becomes very clear that you needn’t be a crone to be lonely or absent-minded, and that bad judgment or inappropriate methods needn’t be a stain on one’s character.

Haley skillfully overlaps the roles that Alida and Beth fulfill in each others’ lives. Life has taught Alida you don’t require men to live happily and Beth understands that being reliable for Alida nurtures her, too. Hansel and Gretel make escape one witch only to encounter another, but Gretel finds the strength to save both her brother and herself, even if it means burning down the candy cottage. Under the direction of Susan Sargeant: Dunnam and DuBord exquisitely manifest this raw, human, achingly melancholy drama of the lyricism of need, brokenness and compassion. Haley certainly doesn’t knock us over the head with her echoes of the dynamic between the cunning, isolated sorceress and the terrified, yet resourceful little girl. It comes closer to a kind of diptych. Breadcrumbs is a marvelously intelligent and vastly moving journey.

WingSpan Theatre Company presents Breadcrumbs, playing October 6th-22nd, 2016. Bath House Cultural Center, 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218. 214-675-6573.

T3’s Wedding Singer loopy, peppy bliss


The Wedding Singer a stage musical (based on the movie) by Matt Sklar, Tim Herlihy and Chad Beguelin is a goofy, satirical romp celebrating cheesy American pop culture of the 1980’s. Tim Herlihy, as a matter of fact, wrote the screenplay for the film. Robbie Hart is a congenial, good-hearted singer/songwriter and musician who leads a three man band that plays many small events, including bar mitzvahs, birthdays, anniversaries and (you guessed it) weddings. Robbie is still waiting for his ship to come in, but his delayed success has not made him bitter. The beginning of The Wedding Singer finds him serenading the happy couple, the night before his own wedding to Linda. Julia Sullivan is a waitress at the club that books so many of Robbie’s gigs. Julia is sweet, genuinely caring, and perhaps has a little more on the ball than Robbie. As you might expect, Robbie and Julia are both promised to the wrong people, but don’t worry. It will all come out in the wash.

Inspired by the music of the 80’s, but with an original score, The Wedding Singer is filled with happy surprises. I’m not a huge fan of Adam Sandler (Robbie of the film) but there’s a kind of unvarnished, unapologetic cynicism behind much of the humor, that curiously enough, seems to energize the show. It walks the razors edge of schmaltz, then smacks you off your pins with a nice big dose of misanthropy. Not that Wedding Singer is especially more jaundiced than any other musical satire, say like Avenue Q or A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Sklar, Herlihy, and Beguelin (and/or Bruce Coleman) have taken great pains to cultivate that classy 1980’s milieu, from hair-don’ts and Rubik’s Cubes to Mr. T and the snarling Billy Idol. We’re invited to laugh in the same way we’d view our high school graduation pictures and cringe. Most rewarding I think, is the insistence that there’s more to life than being the coolest guy in the room.

Special props must go to Costume Design by Bruce Coleman and Scenic Design by David Walsh, who have created vivid, jazzy, evocative threads and sets, all the better to set the party throbbing. This cast must be living on a diet of V8 and Red Bull. Poised, resourceful director Bruce Coleman has them hoppin and bobbin and jumping through hoops that should qualify the lot for Cirque D’ Soleil. Numerous and nimble costume and scenery changes are demanded by actors and crew and we never once see any of them miss their marks. Throw taste and caution to the wings and enjoy a daffy, giggly night with The Wedding Singer.

Theatre 3 presents The Wedding Singerweddingsinger1, playing September 22nd -October 16th, 2016. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300.

L.I.P. Service’s Elephant Man exquisite, resonant, unforgettable


One of the hazards of dramatizing the life of Joseph Merrick (in The Elephant Man) is doing justice to his predicament without stumbling into bathos. In 1977, Bernard Pomerance achieved just that. Though intelligent, spiritually avid and articulate, Merrick was burdened with a profoundly disfiguring (and disabling) disease that brought out the worst in others. Far worse than the symptoms of Merrick’s pathology was the abuse heaped upon him; whether he was being put on display as a freak of nature, or beaten by strangers overcome with revulsion. Fortunately for Merrick, he is discovered by Dr. Frederick Treves, who temporarily rescues him for the sake of medical exploration. While Treves is certainly not indifferent to Merrick’s suffering, it is only after Carr Gomm’s (his superior) intervention that he offers Merrick permanent refuge from a life filled with pain and degradation.

Pomerance is positively ingenious in his strategy to avoid pity or exploiting a premise already loaded with excruciation. Merrick has a positively dry, wry wit, that permits him to challenge the best intentions of his benefactors, without seeming ungrateful or petulant. None of the characters seem beatific or lofty, which somehow makes Merrick’s groping for answers and unvarnished humanity all the more touching. Sometimes he seems more like a precocious boy or visitor from Neptune. Treves never comes off as saint or savior, which makes his friendship with Merrick palpable and completely believable. His love for Merrick is utterly convincing because he never once uses the word. Pomerance has composed dialogue that amounts to understated lyricism, a kind of plain, sly poetry that cuts right into you.

L.I.P. Service’s production of The Elephant Man features outstanding performances by Jason Leyva (Joseph Merrick) Pat Watson (Frederick Treves) and Sara Lovett (Mrs. Kendall). One can only imagine the stress of taking on such an emotional drama, though Pomerance provides casual levity to alleviate the dark and sorrowful shadows lurking in the content. It must be very difficult to navigate this narrative with authenticity and clarity while striking the perfect tone. Merrick’s tumultuous struggles were often positively wrenching, so tone here is crucial. Clearly director Shawn Gann was striving to capture this elusive, delicate sparrow, and the results are quite effective and memorable.

L.I.P. Service Productions presents The Elephant Man, playing September 29th -October 15th, 2016. The Firehouse Theatre, 2535 Valley View Lane, Farmer’s Branch, Texas 75234. 817-689-6461.

Cara Mia’s Crystal City 1969 poignant, exhilarating, powerful


Inspiring. Enraging. Heartbreaking. Exhilarating. Cara Mia’s current show: Crystal City 1969 will catch you off-guard. I confess that I was unfamiliar with this incident in Crystal City, Texas (unlike Stonewall, Ferguson, Little Rock) where high school students protested blatant, brazen, unconscionable discrimination from teachers and administrators alike. Not that Texas has ever led the way when it came to issues like civil rights, but even for a school operating in the Bible Belt, in 1969, the transgressions of those in authority were particularly egregious. Students were paddled for speaking Spanish, refused equal participation in school activities (though they outnumbered Anglos) shamed, humiliated and verbally abused in the classroom by teachers, punished for protesting or even signing petitions. Some young men were even sent to the front lines of the Vietnam War, made cannon fodder for the sheer audacity of objecting to unfair treatment.

Somewhat similar to The Laramie Project, Crystal City 1969, shows a myriad of characters and situations. The toxic effect of diminishing and degrading ethnicities and races perceived as “the other,” by those in power. We are privy to the home lives of the students, parents, Latinos, Anglos, no one is demonized or canonized. If anything the commonplace occurrence of unchallenged racism and imperialism is made palpable. None of the white people are made to look like The Grand Dragon or Simon Legree, but the gratuitous hostility, the remarks like, “I thought you were one of the good ones,” illustrate the disgusting way a culture indoctrinates its members to seek comfort and validation by subjugating others. Again and again we see individuals ignored, knocked down or eliminated lest they begin to act on their self-esteem. Even the most reasonable requests for decent humanity is met with arrogance and abuse.

Whenever a play seeks to examine the nature of prejudice, civil rights, the countless ways human beings find to justify beating and lynching and exterminating one another (In White America, Bent, The Diary of Anne Frank) the risk is stacking the deck, on one side or the other. Jason might have treated Medea like drek, but he still gets to tell his side of the story. Playwrights David Lozano and Raul Trevino have avoided this entirely. Crystal City 1969 is not distorted or amplified. It tells the story of Latinos in a small, provincial Texas town, where bigotry is so ingrained in Anglo behavior, that it must be fought, without stooping to their level. Cara Mia Theatre and this wonderful cast (and adroit director David Lozano) have crafted a deeply moving, powerful, stirring narrative of the triumph of humanity and spiritual abundance when we genuinely care for and look out for one another. I think Jesus said something like that, didn’t He?

Cara Mia Theatre presents Crystal City 1969, playing September 24th – October 16th, 2016. Latino Cultural Center. 2600 Live Oak Street, Dallas, Texas 75204. 214-516-0706.