Noveau 47’s Fourth Annual Holiday Play Festival: An Invitation


In my never humble opinion, you really don’t have to be Scrooge or The Grinch to be weary of the usual Christmas fare, that makes the usual theatrical rounds, every year in December. Even the most tender among us might yearn or even ache for a slant on Christmas that would make it fresh, meaningful, and relevant to lives suffused with skepticism and disappointment. And rightfully so. Of course, I reach for my hanky when Tiny Tim buys the farm or the spindly Christmas tree is resuscitated or George Bailey, haggard and despondent, gazes into the abyss of that cold black river. Who wouldn’t?

But is it so wrong, so cynical, so vile to want some way to appreciate Christmas without crawling through the same wasteland of stories we could recite backwards? Of course not. But what can we, as individuals do? Where the FFF can we look? I’m so glad you asked.

For the past three years, Nouveau 47 (champion of the dodgy, edgy, spooky and poetic) has produced a holiday show that explores Christmas, coming at it from many intriguing angles. By turns irreverent, funny, ridiculous, obtuse, scary, somber and yes, gentle. These are short pieces, some work better than others, some feel fierce, some sketchy, some strange. Past plays have included a woman trying to get her family to accept her lesbian partner, two brothers remembering their deceased mother, a comedy in which Santa defeats the cynicism of two cocky suits, and a drunk father on Christmas Eve. Drama is balanced by humor and the cumulative experience is a mixture of reflection, introspection, warmth and elation. Nouveau 47 never settles for the merely different. They always look for originality, strong writing and quality.

Now in its fourth year, the short-play festival tips more in favor of the satirical and amusing. A displaced snow-globe family, soldiers fighting extraterrestrials on Christmas Eve, wealthy relatives squabbling over gifts and a harried doctor searching for the last robot toy for his 4-year old boy. There is a satisfying blend of the dark, comical, somber and absurd. So if you need a break from the customary confection, dripping thickly with scrumptious honey, chock full of mawkish, manipulative, cringe-worthy suffering. Treat yourself to some grown-up, sophisticated takes on a world filled with chaos, candy canes, redemption and the raw power of dogged love.

Nouveau 47 presents A Very Nouveau Holiday 2016, playing December 9th-23rd, 2016. Playwrights include: Justin Locklear, Jim Kuenzer, Erin Burdette, James Burnside, Bill Otstott, Brad McEntire, Greg Silva, Christopher Soden and Chris-James Cognetta. In the historic Margo Jones Theater in the Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park (1121 1st Ave. Dallas, TX). Performances are at 8:15pm on Fridays, 5:00 on Saturdays, 6:30pm on Sunday with pay-what-you-can performances on Mondays at 8:15pm. Tickets are $20 Fri.-Sat. and $15 on Sundays. More details can be found at

Unlike my previous theatre columns, this is a piece encouraging you to attend A Very Nouveau Holiday 2016. You should bear in mind that one of the eight plays included was written by your very own loopy-yet-articulate lunatic. Me. So I can’t (and shouldn’t) critique the show.

Uptown Players’ Angels a quirky, poignant, deeply affecting experience


Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, a two-part series (both parts standing as independent pieces) is puzzling yet satisfying, epic yet personal, enigmatic, yet funny and cogent. Key characters are Mormon, yet it’s not immediately apparent why the Mormon church is vital to content. When Angels premiered they weren’t the only church condemning same-gender sexuality, but somehow the (shall we say?) more fanciful details of their theology seems consistent with the deadpan strangeness of the tone. The characters are not heroic but they seem swept up in the forces of history or zeitgeist or perhaps something greater? The one character who seems aware of his place in the politics and cultural evolution of America is Roy Cohn, a powerful, intelligent, reprehensible attorney who believes in contextual morality.

Louis and Prior are lovers. They are not apparently activists but neither are they in the closet. Prior has just discovered he has sarcoma lesions: the first stages of full blown AIDS. As we all know, such was a terminal diagnosis in the early 1990’s. Joe and Harper are a married Mormon couple. Harper suffers from Clinical Depression (if not other emotional diseases) and has vivid, interactive hallucinations. Joe is a rising attorney and protege to Cohn. Cohn is and Joe is in denial. The two couples (perhaps three?) are shown in parallel to one another, often using a split stage. There are serious problems between Prior and Louis, Harper and Joe, and Roy and Joe, bubbling beneath the surface. As Fate would have it, in each case, AIDS precipitates issues that already exist. And the Angels. There are voices, literal angels, drug-induced apparitions, prophesies and revelations. And Kushner mixes them all in the same cauldron, distinct and yet somehow, similar.

When Angels opened transgender cast doubling was an original way to add depth and complexity to a story. The idea that the inexplicable, mysterious gender we are is the one we just happened to wind up with. In 2016, maybe not so much. Kushner’s cunning is in his ability to personalize the impact of AIDS, as a barometer of an ethically pathological America. Not in the sense that some men were making love to each other, or frantically copulating, but that our hysterically heterocenterist society forced them into hiding. Villified them. Instead of addressing AIDS solely as metaphor or politics, he pulls us into attachments that emotionally involve us too, and walks us through the consequences. By weaving in gobs of often wry humor, he avoids pity, maybe even tragedy. Absurd, comical scenes have somber subtext. Poor Prior isn’t thrilled when a glorious angel appears. He’s terrified. His wrenching pain is treated as a stepping stone to his role in some kind of profound watershed for America’s future. But we won’t find out till part two.

Cheryl Denson has directed a sublime, crisp, infinitely intriguing and enjoyable show. The cast is skillful, agile and resonant with genuine emotion. They have captured a very difficult tone, flippant and grave. Sorrowful and resigned but nonchalant. The stony, monolothic, minimal sets by H. Bart McGeehon are appropriate and powerfully nuanced. Special kudos to Emily Scott Banks who handles her descent with poise and (forgive me) grace.

Uptown Players presents: Angels in America: Part One: Millenium Approaches, playing November 4th-20th, 2016. Kalita Humpreys Theater 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75219.214-214-2718.

MainStage’s Chicago razor-sharp, sardonic musical comedy


John Kander and Fred Ebb have a penchant for humor based on the deterioration of character and morality. Otherwise well-meaning folks gradually complied with Nazi occupation in Cabaret and women who kill unfaithful husbands become the hot celebrity commodity in Chicago. Like Cabaret, Chicago reflects certain cultural truths and captures the allure of transgression almost effectively as an opium den. Roxie Hart murders a paramour before he can leave her, and immediately Velma Kelly launches into “All That Jazz” a celebration of booze, broads and brawling. The ensemble boys and girls, dressed in provocative black, are not at all shy about teasing, touching, caressing and striking tawdry poses for our delectation. Kander and Ebb have a knack for striking a balance between coy naughtiness (ugh!) and full-on degeneracy.

Of course, the sting and punch of any effective satire comes from the touchstones it establishes with the actual, recognizable world. Perhaps real life is an overrated paradigm, but it doesn’t hurt to see the parallels between Velma and Roxie, and say, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson. Whether or not Simpson and Jackson were innocent, public sympathy helped them enormously. The difference in Chicago being, that Roxie and Velma are popular because of their crimes, not in spite of. You can’t accuse Kander and Ebb of stacking the deck. Roxie’s cuckolded husband may be a schlub, and justice an abstraction eclipsed by corruption and arbitrary fate, but nobody comes off well in this grim immorality tale.

The splendid sleight of hand that Fred Ebb and John Kander achieve (despite pervasive, dark undercurrents) is composing a genuinely entertaining, sardonic, witty piece of theatre that rewards our attention with audacious spectacle and sharp comedy. The musical numbers are imaginative, intelligent, grown-up and snappy. Director B.J. Cleveland has met the considerable challenges of the script with confidence, extravagance, and flawless timing. In every stage production I have been privileged to critique, Mr. Cleveland has overwhelmed me with his style, precision and peerless eclat, whether he was performing or orchestrating a demanding show. His seasoned experience and brimming pleasure is manifest in every gesture, cue, inflection, aside and grimace. He can tickle you senseless or bring implacable grief without missing a beat. Don’t miss this remarkable theatrical triumph. Succumb to the siren song of Chicago.

MainStage Irving – Las Colinas presents Chicago, playing November 4th-19th, 2016. Irving Arts Center (Dupree Theatre) 3333 N MacArthur Blvd, Irving, TX 75062. (972) 594-6104.

CTD’s As We Lie Still chilling, enchanting, deeply affecting


Ruth (Monique Abry) visits a séance held at a bookstore by the once-renowned magician, Avi Leiter. She is able to see past the illusions that fool the general public. She has reason for seeking Avi’s attention. Her husband Michael (Kyle Montgomery) injured in a train wreck, has been in a prolonged coma. On the strength of his past reputation, she hopes he might have the skills to reach her husband. Ruth’s earnest and heart-breaking plea triggers many painful memories for Avi (Michael A. Robinson). Soon Ruth (along with Billy) becomes an assistant in Avi’s ongoing “performance” as he weighs this precipitous decision. We cut to Avi when he was a young man (Wyn Delano) struggling for recognition. A young, beautiful, resourceful woman named Josephine applies to help Avi and Billy and add some glamor to the act. It seems Avi has managed to secure a rare book of sorcery that includes a spell to raise the dead. Then one evening after the show, the three of them are robbed. Written by Patrick Emile and Olivia de Guzman Emile, As We Lie Still is a deceptively simple musical.

It doesn’t use an orchestra or band. Upon reflection, the plot isn’t complicated. And yet, it’s enigmatic and haunting. The music strikes a deep nerve, blending a sense of the miraculous with pervasive yearning. We hear the songs and an undeniable sense of loss overcomes us. But also, a flickering chill of hope. As We Lie Still begs the comparison between the stage illusionist and those who can really tap the supernatural. Like any neophyte, Avi hungers for recognition. But his dabbling in cosmic forces for the sake of vanity, can’t lead him anywhere good. What begins as devotion to Josephine (Olivia de Guzman Emile) turns into something nearly perverse. And devastating.

As We Lie Still reflects upon fine distinctions: between spiritualism and enchantment, dedication and obsession, resignation and acceptance. And certainly, the nature of genuine love in the midst of deeply flawed humanity. A master stroke, I think, is the presence of Billy (Jovane Camaano) a somewhat “slow” and utterly loyal helper to Avi, whose unabashed sense of awe mirrors our own, as Avi reveals wonders to the audience. There is something about this show’s strange mixture of chicanery and the metaphysical, the guileless and the cunning, that seems to strike a nearly perfect balance. Like a chart of the planets in their concentric orbits. It sneaks up and gets under your skin, until you feel that little catch in your throat, and that rush of buried feelings.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas presents As We Lie Still, playing October 28th-November 20th, 2016. 5601 Sears Street, Dallas, Texas 75206. 214-828-0094.