Boy Gets Girl stunning, disturbing exploration of dark side

Indoctrination and culture often go hand in glove. We pick up (often subtle) clues from the behavior of others, regarding attitudes towards men and women, boys and girls. Here in the 21st Century, we like to think we’ve evolved past ignorant, outdated assumptions, but sadly many persist. Ideas like male privilege, female helplessness, predatory dynamics, still manage to sift into our consciousness, so taken for granted they go undetected. Such is the case with Rebecca Gilman’s brilliant drama: Boy Gets Girl. Though the title might suggest a number of lighthearted romantic comedies, it also implies the woman has little choice in the matter. Her role is to be pursued and resist as long as she can. It leaves no room for refusal. At the outset, Teresa goes on a blind date with Tony. Their first beer together goes well enough, but the second time (when they meet for dinner) it’s clear to Teresa they’re not a good fit. Tony mistakes her tact for ambivalence, and what might have been played for laughs, gradually becomes more and more disturbing. Before Boy Gets Girl finishes, Tony will subject Teresa to increasingly poisonous behavior, diminishing her life without even being in the same room.

I’m not sure Gilman’s aim is to point the finger towards men, as it might be to explore, and bring attention to our oversights and mistaken ideas. When men get together and compare notes on women their reasoning can lack enlightenment (to be kind) and to be fair, such conversations on the part of either gender can result in an us versus them mentality. It’s to Gilman’s credit that she drops intelligent, if indirect, hints throughout the script. Teresa must interview a cheesy movie maker (based on Russ Meyers?) who’s made a career of films that objectify women. Her male colleagues are unsettled to discover the code on her calendar for keeping track of her period. This polarization, this conflation of the mysterious “other gender” with adversarial chemistry or dehumanization, goes to the core of Boy Gets Girl and cultural permission to take liberties. What happens on the stage, Gilman suggests, only begins to explain the hazardous complications of sexual attachment between men and women.

A collaboration between Resolute Theatre Project, L.I.P. Service and Proper Hijinx Productions, and directed by Jason Leyva, Boy Gets Girl is a skillful, moving, deeply troubling piece. The cast and crew converge to share a narrative with no easy answers, and many traps waiting, even when our motives feel innocuous. They preserve the comic relief without undercutting the gravity. It is a cautionary tale, to be sure, but beyond that, an invitation to reflect on the emotions and frustrations that lurk behind familiar scenarios that we re-enact daily, without a second thought. Don’t miss this quietly stunning, sharp, revealing drama.

Boy Gets Girl plays August 25th-27th, 2017. Amy’s Studio of Performing Arts, 11888 Marsh Lane, Suite 600, Dallas, Texas 75234. 972-484-7900.

Morgana Shaw frank, fierce, intoxicating in All About Bette

Camilla Carr’s All About Bette is a one-woman show that turns on the meticulous, focused, inspired performance of Morgana Shaw. Beginning with Bette Davis in her twilight years, she arrives with silver-white hair, moving a bit slowly, but still as fierce as ever. She starts by mentioning that Edward Albee only granted permission to Warner Brothers for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because he was promised that she and James Mason would play Martha and George. Had this come through, her famous “What a dump.” line would have featured Bette Davis doing Bette Davis. This delicious irony launches Ms. Davis into an avid, detailed, beguiling succession of anecdotes, punched up with juicy gossip and grand moments, such as a few bars from her famous song, “A Letter to Daddy” from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Roughly halfway through the show, there’s a riveting sequence of transformation. She removes the wig to reveal a damp mop of brunette hair, which she brushes out to reverse time by about 30 years.

Ms. Davis shares personal struggles such as the painful ordeal with two of her daughters, one angry and alienated, the other emotionally and cognitively impaired. She discusses sexual and romantic connections with William Wyler, Howard Hughes, Gary Merrill and George Brent among others. She was married five times and was notorious for her frankness and lack of pretension, which makes All About Bette so warm, appealing and infinitely pleasurable. How can we help but admire an actress who’s willing to play the cold, cynical villains from such landmark films as, Of Human Bondage, Jezebel, The Letter and The Little Foxes? She was beautiful, if not glamorous, but she made the most of her talent, and history by fighting a studio system that reduced its stars to commodities. Throughout this intoxicating monologue, we are charmed by her lack of vanity and refusal to to wrap herself in adulation.

When a playwright sets out to forge a bio-drama, it’s hard to avoid ending up with a prolonged valentine and/or tribute that capitalizes exclusively on fan favorites. When Holland Taylor wrote her drama of Ann Richards, the portrait we got was varied and thorough, probably because her personal history was not common knowledge. While All About Bette may not include as many revelations as we might like, we get a strong sense of who Ms. Davis was. Her strengths and tragedies and moments of genuine kindness. It’s easy to embrace her refusal to be mistaken for a saint, and put simply, the desire to be recognized exclusively for her astonishing craft and talent. Morgana Shaw pulls off the daunting, Herculean task of fleshing out a legendary, Titanic star (who brought such depth and delight to us) with confidence and poise. She invites us into a realm of intense joie de vivre and the company of a lady who brought electricity to a world that’s diminished by her passing.

Straight Entertainment presents All About Bette: An Interlude with Bette Davis, playing August 18th-26, 2017. Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. 972-450-6232.

Theatre Britain’s Let It Be Me a poignant, sensitive drama on a delicate subject

Amy Flynt and her brother were raised by her Aunt Sylvia, when they lost their parents. Amy still lives with her Aunt, who’s in her twilight years. She takes care of her, as dementia has begun to set in. In fact, her aunt does not recognize her, routinely asking, “When will Amy be home from school?” Sylvia likes Amy and they have a good connection, but imagine sharing a long-term, caring relationship with someone and watching it gradually evaporate. Amy has a competent, conscientious support system, but for all practical purposes, she is her aunt’s primary caregiver. She must vigilantly watch for triggers, as Sylvia can be fairly high maintenance, and might lash out hysterically from time to time.

Amy meets her love interest, Gregory Roberts, when she finds a book with uncut pages. (Perhaps this is an appropriate metaphor for Sylvia, whose vivid, intriguing contents are rendered inaccessible?) Gregory deals in used books, and a mutual friend sends him Amy’s way, to assess the value of such a rare find. Gregory is almost immediately smitten. Their dating life goes well for awhile, but gradually he gathers that his needs will always take a back seat to Sylvia’s. This is no small incidence. For the first time Amy has someone else looking out for, and cherishing her in that special way.

In Let It Be Me, playwright Carey Jane Hardy has constructed a deeply moving drama on a painful, frustrating, confusing subject. When we realize a loved one is besieged with Alzheimer’s, it can be like watching them stranded on a boat, drifting further and further away. We feel helpless, hurt, angry and yet must learn to cope. Hardy addresses this situation with warmth, intelligence and sensitivity, picking emotional turns with great care. She addresses the question of whether or not those who love the afflicted should roll with their mistaken fantasies or confront them. This question is never really answered, but that being said, Let It Be Me is a triumph of nuanced tone, insight and magnanimous humanity.

I have never had a disappointing experience at Theatre Britain, and Let It Be Me found a good home there. Director Sue Birch always brings a professional, precise and distinctive touch to all the shows produced there. Dizzy comedy, ruminating drama, Murder Mystery or Christmas Panto, Theatre Britain delivers with incomparable quality and exceptionally satisfying entertainment.

Due to health issues I was unable to release my review before Let It Be Me closed.

Theatre Britain: Cox Playhouse: 1517 H Avenue, Plano, Texas 75074. 972-490-4202.

Andrew Aguilar’s visionary Macbeth

The first production I was privileged to see at L.I.P. Service, was David Rabe’s Streamers, a play I don’t think gets staged very often. It’s a difficult show (Rabe can be excruciating) but they grabbed the dragon by the horns and refused to let go. I continue to be impressed by the distinctive work they choose to stage: edgy, eccentric, alienated, profoundly dark shows that drag you to a netherworld of poetic pain and amazement. The Whale, Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Trainspotting, to name a few. There have been problems, but never was I bored, or disappointed by derivative content. L.I.P. Service always strives to engage, intrigue and challenge the audience.

Without getting into a lot of annoying details, I attended L.I.P. Service’s production of Macbeth (conceived and adapted by Andrew Aguilar) when I was still recovering. It closed awhile ago, and I offer my apologies for getting it out so late. Aguilar’s vision of Macbeth was raw, beguiling, trippy, outlandish, and very entertaining. In keeping with the practice of making Shakespeare more accessible, this Macbeth was more contemporary. Certain aspects were at once familiar and strange to 21st Century eyes. Shakespeare’s language was not tampered with, though I got the impression some excisions were made. Much of the scenery seemed minimalized and/or stylized, though the necessarily salient points were made.

There was much to dazzle in Andrew Aguilar’s version of Macbeth (directed by Jason Leyva) bold choices and a scrumptious chill to Ryan Matthieu’s extraterrestial, flamboyant costumes. Macbeth himself had a roaring, robust gusto, and Lady Macbeth a patrician, seductive demeanor that was surprising and alluring. Death symbols abound, in addition to a prevalence of black attire, to remind us that once Macbeth (and his wife) commit the first murder, more will inevitably follow. The music selections were appropriately disturbing and the profusion of smoke and grim, supernatural trappings enhanced the queasy feeling of kindness eclipsed by compulsive ambition. Not all of the risks hit the mark, but the experience, overall, was rich, surprising, fresh, juicy and quite satisfying.

T3’s Minotaur quirky, engaging, poignant

Anna Ziegler’s The Minotaur basks in quirkiness, its sense of the whimsical. Director and Scenic Designer Jeffrey Schmidt has laid out an oversized sandbox and sluices for the river that leads to the Minotaur’s cave. The chorus consists of a lady Rabbi, a Priest and a Lawyer. Much of the story is told with “props” strewn like jetsam on a beach. When the three are not wearing imposing bronze masks to command our attention, they sit around a patio table, drinking wine, playing board games, reading. Anyone who wishes to stage Greek or Roman mythology, and make the content accessible and familiar, has their work cut out for them. Ancient zeitgeist and other cultural assumptions normally unavailable are revealed in Ziegler’s script, along with most of the subtext. The dialogue uses gobs of pop contemporary references (the internet, texting, Craig’s List) presumably to make the speech less rhetorical and story more salient. It’s by turns amusing, poetic, frank, expository, wrenching.

Pasiphae falls in love with a beautiful white bull (and with the help of Daedalus) disguises herself as a cow. She’s impregnated by the sublime beast and subsequently gives birth to the Minotaur, a monster half-bull and half-man. He lives in a pitch black labyrinth, devouring men and impossible to kill. After that Pasiphae gives birth to Ariadne, the Minotaur’s sister. When Theseus arrives to vanquish the monster, Ariadne falls in love with him. She’s torn between her need to help Theseus (who could die) and spare her brother. Theseus is the archetypal hero, Ariadne the incomparable beauty and Minotaur, a metaphor for fierce desire, though no less sympathetic for that.

The Minotaur is a pleasurable, entertaining, surprisingly effective balance of explication, intent and yearning. Ziegler isn’t timid about exposing the scaffolding, or questioning the wisdom of a conqueror who lives for nothing else, however altruistic he may be. She dissects, undercuts, and sometimes debunks what we’d assume to be the overarching values of the original allegory. She does, however, recreate the story with wit, sincerity and panache. The Minotaur is not overly impressed with its own cleverness or reverential to its detriment. It stays true to the spirit of the piece, ruminating on the nature of love, attachment, longing and the value of humanity.

Theatre 3 presents The Minotaur, playing August 3rd-27th, 2014. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Txas

WTT’s Hit the Wall an exhilarating, intriguing take on LGBTQ History

Hit the Wall would seem to be a show whose time has come, depicting a monumental milestone in the history of LGBTQ Rights. Precipitated by the death of Judy Garland, The Stonewall Riots marked a watershed, rallying point for various factions of the queer community (closet cases, twinks, drag queens, dykes, lipsticks, and so forth) who were tired of being rousted, abused and humiliated. Cosmopolitan as The Big Apple might be, The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was not immune to regular raids where customers were degraded, arrested, outed in the newspapers at a time when exposure ruined lives. Until that night when they decided they’d had enough. By some accounts the queens were first to take up the gauntlet, setting in motion a three-day melee that galvanized the Gay Rights Movement on an exponentially larger scale.

Written by Ike Holter, Hit the Wall takes a cross section of gay characters (male, female, trans, younger, older, out and passing) and tells their stories as witnesses to those notorious riots that took place in the sweltering June of 1969. Added to the mix are a couple of straight characters, a homophobic cop and estranged sister who may have softer sides. We assume Holter wants to go beneath the stereotypes to explore complications of identity. He takes great pains to emphasize that the truth is unknowable (as Rashomon taught us) except by processing anecdotal testimony. We get individual incidents in which a world that fosters paranoia and distrust gives way to solidarity and defiance.

The aggregate result of a society that systematically diminishes you cannot be exaggerated, and this phenomenal chain of events that led to groundbreaking anarchy is rich in history and inspiration. And so is Holter’s decision to capture it in theatrical event. Like Brokeback Mountain, it fills a need by giving us the nuts and bolts of same-gender sexuality without disparagement or condescension. The script is peppered with queer lingo. There may have been some struggle in deciding how to do the content justice, beyond a gloss that explains the how, why and cultural implications. Or choreographing a brawl in which queer folk (like us) kick some breeder ass. Hit the Wall may feel a bit unfocused, but it’s a scintillating, exhilarating show, filled with humanity, anger and enlightenment.

WaterTower Theatre presents Hit the Wall, playing July 28th-August 20th, 2017. 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. 972-450-6232.,

19th Annual FIT Includes Topical Political Allegory

The 6 one-acts I attended at this year’s Festival of Independent Theatres  were lively and inventive, though some felt more solid than others. Presumably due to our current governmental debacle three of these (Finding the Sun, The Great Dictator, Tommy Cain, Trace of Arc, The Caveman Play and Fiddler’s Cave) were obviously political allegories, presumably aimed at # 45. The Great Dictator (adapted from Charlie Chaplin’s popular film) showed Der Furhrer groping for women’s genitals, The Caveman Play supplied the asinine, egotistical leader of the tribe with Trumpish dialogue and logic, and Trace of Arc featured an interloping audience member begging two shopgirls to wake up to the necessity of activism in troubled times. If I were to surmise a structural thread, all the pieces I saw seemed to begin humorously, gradually turning a 180 towards the grim and/or despairing.

Adapted by Jaymes Gregory, The Great Dictator gathers most of its spark from our turbulent political climate and the intriguing success of Chaplain’s comic masterpiece as stage event. Steph Garrett is impressive in the dual role as a Jewish Barber and ridiculous despot who are apparently dopplelgangers. Though eminently pleasurable, it might or might not hold up solely on its own merits. The Caveman Play works a lot of traditional gags into a non-traditional context. Who knew that cavemen, thousands of years ago, struggled with temperamental, neurotic spouses, just like we do today? Who would have guessed the hoi polloi of prehistoric times were so gullible? The romantic twist between Ugh and Gorga was sweet and the dig at our “Commander-in-Chief” was most satisfying. Trace of Arc showed some promise as Jackie and Tracy, two young women clerking for a small British store in America, examine the underpinnings of monopolized industry. A character identified as CONSCIENCE in the program subversively ignores the 4th Wall, disambiguating the pretend paradise of subservience from the reality of civil disobedience. Though we might agree with the ideology, the self-righteous interloper who abandons Tracy after converting her, might make this piece hard to swallow.

Fiddler’s Cave was a delightful (mostly comedic) pantomime story, with enchanting illusion, and inspired, clownish antics. Dustin Curry is sublime as the guy who awakens in a cave, and must get his bearings. Curry created this wordless narrative that includes a haunting (if a bit hazy) romance between himself and a waifish lass with a simple chapeau. Susan Sargeant directed Finding the Sun, a short play by Edward Albee with a large cast. Albee’s crisp, droll, ironic humor is intact, as we follow (quite effectively) the impact and reverberations of Benjamin and Daniel, two lovers who go on to marry Abigail and Cordelia, who or less beard for them. Though Albee sometimes takes much longer to make his point, the brevity, gravity and efficacy of Finding the Sun was powerful and touching. Written by Van Quattro and performed by Zachary Leyva, Tommy Cain is an extended monologue by a young man who is waiting to be released from Juvenile Detention, on his last day there. Quattro has set this story in the 60’s, and it’s a poetic blend of warmth, anger, despondency and guilt. Where Zachary Leyva, at his age, has found the chops to bring this level of authenticity to such a wrenching, disturbing, profoundly moving performance, I cannot imagine. Leyva’s delivery is stunning and inconsolably sad.

The Festival of Independent Theatres plays July 13th through August 5th, 2017, at The Bath House Cultural Center. 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218. (800) 617-6904.