Theatre Britain says farewell with sublime Three Musketeers

After many years of bringing great pleasure and delight to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, it saddens me greatly to share that The Three Musketeers will be Theatre Britain’s last production here in the United States. The quality of their productions has always been impeccable, from sets to costumes to wonderful actors. Theatre Britain features exclusively British scripts with drama, mysteries, comedy and of course, their annual Christmas Panto, this year running November 25th-December 30th, 2017.

Panto is a cherished Christmas tradition in England, and while the content itself isn’t about Christmas, these silly, raucous, cheery shows that spoof fairy tales, folklore and children’s stories are the perfect complement to the Holiday Season. There’s something marvelously subversive about classic Panto, with a man impersonating a saucy, flirtatious woman (Dame) and ingenue playing a man’s role (Breeches). There’s a singalong competition between the men and women and kids from 9 to 90 are encouraged to converse with onstage characters and boo the villains. The first time I attended Christmas Panto I had no idea what to expect. It was Dick Whittington and I brought my mother along. We discovered that Panto is much more than souped-up children’s theatre (with lots of nudges to the adults) it’s a state of mind.

This year Jackie Mellor-Guin’s The Three Musketeers is up with beautiful Shay MacDonald playing D’Artagnan, and Ivan Jones as Kate Planchet. There’s lots of swashbuckling and intrigue cooked up by the diabolical Cardinal Richelieu and Madame de Winter. The story is preposterous enough to amuse the grown ups and serious enough to engage the children. The history is there, with songs and slapstick, shtick and double-entendre’s. I need to say, after some years of watching stage comedy, it’s surprising how truly difficult it is to carry off what plays as ridiculous but still actually funny. As the prevailing wisdom goes, the best make it look easy, and director Sue Birch and her bouncy, brash, brilliant cast deliver with a genuinely ticklish and fizzy show, guaranteed to dip you in sunshine.

Don’t miss your last chance to engage in this one-of-a-kind, charming experience.

Theatre Britain presents The Three Musketeers, playing November 25th-December 30th, 2017. Cox Playhouse, 1517 H Avenue, Plano, Texas 75074. 972-490-4202.

The delicate unspoken of Undermain’s John

John, by Annie Baker, lays out a premise, then circles it, tantalizing and beguiling. A young couple, Jenny and Elias, come to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in Pennsylvania, close to Civil War battle sites. There is a suggestion that the place is haunted. Mertis runs the B & B, she’s somewhat elderly, and has a best friend named Genevieve, who is blind and possesses a psychic gift. Elias has a keen interest in Civil War history, hence their decision to stay at Mertis’ resort. Elias is Jewish and Jenny is Asian. The home is filled with souvenirs (the Yiddish word is tchothkes) figurines, snow globes, model train, houses. There is also an American Girl Doll, identical to one Jenny owned as a girl.

It’s a given that any skillful writer makes careful decisions, when disclosing information, and Baker is no exception. In some ways John owes a debt to Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and James’ The Turn of the Screw. Baker gives us strange and purposeful details about the lives of the characters, creating a sort of intimacy. We become close, sometimes learning things we’d rather not know. Jenny cannot join Elias on tours because her period has started. Elias is nearly pathologically insecure. Mertis writes journal entries that take bizarre turns. Genevieve speaks as if her ex-husband has taken over part of her being.

The challenge of exploring the otherworldly in literature rests in the realm of suggestion, of italicizing the familiar without a lot of hocus-pocus. Baker pervasively engages the elements of the supernatural in very subtle ways. By themselves they don’t seem especially unsettling, but cumulatively, they create a realm, a gestalt. If some playwrights lead us to the water trough (and stop there) Baker insists we find the water for ourselves. Mertis keeps mentioning George, a sick husband nobody ever sees. Jenny pushes Elias to lose his temper, and John, a former lover, continues to torment their relationship. The player piano kicks in as if by some trigger, that we can’t quite place. Genevieve sits and listens to the couple fight, without letting them know that she’s there. Eerie anecdotes are shared, but they seem to hinge on the reliability of the teller. We might believe them and we might not.

You might say that John dangles on a cusp between the possible and the plausible. The characters speak casually (by way of friendly conversation) of the ghoulish, the cosmic and the implacable. Baker considers how other entities (human and otherwise) intrude, taint and linger in the mind, memory and perception. Much as we ache for some irrefutable manifestation of paranormal presences, she gives us just enough intellectual (yet raw) matter to place the decision squarely on our shoulders. And it keeps us involved till the final curtain.

Undermain Theatre presents the Dallas Premiere of John by Annie Baker. Playing November 8th – December 10th, 2017. 3200 Main Street, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-747-5515.

Last chance to see Ochre’s powerful, bleak Original Man

It seems to me that Ochre House Theatre : Matthew Posey and his creative team of writers, actors, musicians, technicians and designers have a knack (a gift really) for exploring the lives of the marginalized. The diminished. Original Man is a musical telling the story of Joe, a desperately wounded and lost man, living with his cantankerous dad. The animosity and rage between Joe and Old Joe is at the core of this drama, though each of the characters wrestles with their own misery, and each steps up to the mike to witness, with disaffected panache. Joe’s younger brother is in debt to a gangster, his girlfriends are despondent, too, and shoot smack with him. His dad and he are routinely drunk and spend gobs of time stewing in their own malaise.

Among the many things I love about Mr. Posey and his Altar of Funny, Painful Truth is the way he reveals his protagonists with all their flaws, failures and torments. And yet makes them sympathetic. The tone is suffused with black irony and pervasive disappointment, yet it feels like a strange kind of witty….what? Resignation? Defiance? Apathy? Original Man drags us into the congealed, surreal world of Joe’s metaphysical paralysis, but it’s somehow different than watching Bergman or Fassbinder or Lynch. We don’t just peek in on Joe, we participate. We see the apparition of Ray Charles that visits him, the talking stove that convinces Tilly to attempt suicide. Rather than linear plot, we look progressively deeper and deeper into Joe’s milieu and the spiritually destitute folks that he loves. They may be downtrodden and dejected but they are also unapologetic. Full of piss and vinegar.

There is a reason that Ochre House has its reputation for theatre unlike any you will find elsewhere. They are so assured and fearless and dare greatly, conjuring the abyss with energy and ghoulish humor. The songs of Original Man might be dark ballads or wry confessions or dark blue, savvy jeremiads. Posey leads us through the realm of ferocious dystopia without a blink or shudder. Like a cross between Charlie Manson and Willy Wonka. Yet it’s all so nuanced, hell, it’s downright cozy. As if we’ve been slipped a secret potion that enables us to swim The La Brea Tar Pits without harm. Ironically, the more we drink from Joe’s cup of despair, the more we love him.

Ochre House Theatre Presents Original Man, written and directed by Artistic Director, Matthew Posey. Playing October 28th-November 18th, 2017. 825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-826-6273.

Last chance to see KDT’s phenomenal, profoundly moving Ironbound

Darja is a Polish immigrant working in a factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As Ironbound opens we find her arguing with her husband Tommy at a bus stop. There is a weather-beaten bench, torn posters, rough sand, broken glass, cigarette butts. The entire drama takes place at this desolate milieu, blown out and unforgiving. Darja is middle-aged, persevering, disillusioned. As she negotiates her connection to three different men, we get a sense of where her values lie, what she must do to survive, how she must be open to change. Tommy is unfaithful, another husband, Maks, is charming but violent, and a young man who helps her after she’s been beaten, Vic, is either a male prostitute, drug dealer, or both. Consistently her assumptions are challenged. Consistently she must re-evaluate.

Ironbound is simple in appearance. A gritty narrative depicting the struggles of working-class immigrants whose command of English leaves much to be desired, to subsist and find romantic companionship. But that appearance is deceptive. The longer and closer we watch, the more clearly we see that Darja’s problems are the same as anyone else’s. The disappointments, compromises, exhaustion, abuse. The trade-offs and constant need to navigate ordeals and changing circumstances. Painfully, doggedly rising every time we fall. Accepting help when independence is so crucial. Playwright Martyna Majok’s understated, ironic approach saves this play from melodrama, and ingeniously, explores the failure of The American Dream, from the eyes of those who come here to thrive and know some relief.

Most of the characters speak a kind of broken/pidgin English, and again, Majok surprises us. Though their command of speaking lacks facility and nuance, it actually explicates content. It’s amazing how much we can infer from such sparse conversation. Though we know their diction is unsophisticated, it clarifies the truth of the situation, with lyricism and grace. As the show evolves, the dialogues achieves a kind of poetry. Majok creates virtue and steps that come closer to actual meaning by using less polished English as a tool. There’s something surprisingly poignant happening when Maks sings a nightclub tune with the bravado and optimism of a striver who refuses to forfeit hope. Kitchen Dog Theater continues to find exquisite, daring, beguiling and profoundly touching shows that are quietly overwhelming and subversively resonant.

Kitchen Dog Theater presents Ironbound, playing October 26th-November 12th, 2017. 2600 North Stemmons Fwy #180, Dallas, Texas 75207. (214) 953-1055.