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. www.festivalofindependenttheatres.org

Firehouse’s Pippin scintillating, saucy, splendiferous fun

Based on the life of Charlamagne’s oldest son, the musical Pippin hit the ground running, opening on Broadway in the 1970’s, directed by Bob Fosse and featuring Ben Vereen as the Ringmaster. Using a circus motif, the players converge to tell the story of Pippin, a prince who is hungry to taste everything the world has to offer, after getting high marks and a degree from the university. He explores war, religion, politics, monarchy, agrarian life; he assassinates his father and supplants him on the throne. His conniving step-mother plots to overthrow him for the sake of her son and the younger prince, Lewis. From the beginning the avid, jovial, acrobatic troupe promise a phenomenal, exciting finale that will knock us on our collective tuchas.

Pippin’s structure is odd, if intriguing, advancing the narrative with lots of gags and digressions, using ingenuity and vaudevillian nonsense (as well as juggling and other dazzling hi-jinks) to keep the story bouncing. Pippin is skinny and young, charming, deferential, the least glamorous of the cast. War teaches him how cheaply life can be forfeited, the church about corruption, the monarchy about the difficulties of responsibility. There’s a thread of merriment and whimsy informing this spectacle. Pippin has a conversation with decapitated soldier. His grandmother instructs him in the ways of hedonism, and leads us in a singalong. We are privy to the courtship between Catherine and Pippin, in which she wins him over at least as much by craft as charisma.

The finale is something of a quandary, as the show culminates in Pippin’s choice, but doesn’t really seem to affect our enjoyment. Seems Pippin must choose between a vibrant, breathtaking existence, chock full of daring and celebrity, or a dull life on the farm with Catherine and her young son, Otto. Pippin makes the “right” decision, though you might suggest that even Einstein probably wrestled with ennui and a farmer might find beauty in birthing a foal. That being said, it seems to hold up better upon post-show reflection.

This is my third time to see a musical directed by Derek Whitener, who has a brilliant, intuitive feel for staging joyful, memorable shows. He makes these enterprises seem effortless and electrifying. Pippin is a warm, charming, saucy, experience, with gobs of dash and convivial energy. It’s touching and hilarious, wise and giddy. It sparks a spontaneous joie de vivre that puts any momentary cynicism to shame.

The Firehouse Theatre presents Pippin, directed by Derek Whitener (Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Book by Roger O. Hirson) playing July 19th-August 20th, 2017. 2535 Valley View Lane, Farmers Branch, Texas, TX 75234. (972) 620-3747. www.thefirehousetheatre.com

Joanie Schultz interview – WaterTower Theatre

Joanie Schultz came to WaterTower Theatre in December of 2016. Before WaterTower, Joanie served as Associate Artistic Producer at Victory Gardens Theater, as part of the Leadership U One-on-One Fellowship funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation administered through TCG, the national non-profit regional theatre service organization. She is also a freelance director, with recent productions at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Studio Theatre, The Cleveland Play House, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, and Victory Gardens Theater.  She was a Drama League Fellow, The Goodman Theatre Michael Maggio Director Fellow; the SDSF Denham Fellow; and Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab participant.  She is an ensemble member at Steep Theatre, Artistic Associate at Victory Gardens Theater, and artistic cabinet member at Studio Theatre in Washington, DC.  She is currently on adjunct faculty in directing at Columbia College and University of Chicago.  She received her B.A. in Theatre/Directing at Columbia College and her M.F.A. in Theatre Directing from Northwestern University.

For more information, please visit WaterTower Theatre

WaterTower Theatre also has an excellent Facebook page.

This interview was recorded by Mark David Noble, July 25, 2017 in the offices of WaterTower Theatre.

Intro and exit music was provided by James Vernon, from the James Vernon Trio recording, House of Jazz.

Photo of Joanie Schultz by Joe Mazza

Cast photo by Karen Almond

Uptown’s La Cage sly, intoxicating, enchanting

Albin and Georges have been a couple for a long time, Georges being the emcee and Albin a drag headliner at the gay nightclub: La Cage Aux Folles (The Birdcage?). Jean-Michel was the illegitimate son that resulted from Georges’ fling with a straight woman, and Albin and he have raised and loved him till he was a fine and genuine young man of character. At the outset of La Cage Jean-Michel explains to Georges that he has fallen in love with a beautiful young woman named Anne, and though she has no trouble with Albin (Jean-Michel’s “mom”) her parents are ultra-conservative. Distasteful as it may be, he asks his father if Albin could possibly be elsewhere, while Anne’s parents come for a visit? This premise is but the beginning of their troubles, when they find they must conceal their unorthodox spousal arrangement for the sake of their son and his delightful fiancee’.

Who might have guessed that Broadway would positively go gaga for theatrical adaptations of popular films? Often (unlike cinematic remakes and adaptations) the shows created are better, if not at least as good as the originals. The Producers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Thoroughly Modern Millie come to mind, the weaknesses and anachronisms omitted, the narrative painted and polished, the content more salient and distilled. Such is the case with La Cage, a story that has undergone numerous incarnations since it premiered as a play by Jean Poiret. The French film got by on a great deal of camp humor, which felt like pandering. As if the world needed yet another condescending depiction of the gay community, encouraging straight people to assume we’re all caricatures of bitchy effeminacy. The stage musical (Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, Book by Harvey Fierstein) eliminates much of this, while preserving theatrical drag as entertainment, and respecting those of us who evince a bit more towards anima than animus.

Queer or straight, anyone who’s lived long enough (and smart enough) understands that even the most exotic “lifestyles” aren’t all that strange, if you stop and think. You also learn that whatever your predilections, respect and warmth trump everything else. Uptown Players’ production of La Cage Aux Folles captures some of the subversive, shadowy side of drag with the charm of female impersonation as simultaneous send-up and homage. The tender, ironic romance of Albin and Georges is celebrated with humor and sincerity, and the foibles of our insane, ridiculously gender-polarized world is skewered with finesse and absurd precision. Jean-Michel and Anne are adorable ingenues without the ickiness, and Anne’s parents surprise us just perhaps enough. Director Cheryl Denson has taken a familiar comedy with its good points, and transformed it into something extraordinarily moving, memorable and intoxicating.

Uptown Players presents La Cage Aux Folles, playing Bastille Day through July 30th, 2017. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas, Texas, 75219. 214-219-2718. www.uptownplayers.org

Reckless, raucous, unforgettable Brad Smith as Divine at Margo Jones

From John Waters’ first collection of essays I gather that his band of hostile, disenfranchised, transgressive actors was culled from the delinquent friends he partied with as a teenager. And party they did, breaking into houses and liquor cabinets, committing vandalism and raising hell. In his brilliance at making strychnine from lemonade, Waters engaged these non-actors in a series of beyond low budget, trashy, gleefully disgusting, yet perversely funny films. From the late 60’s to early 70’s he released such debauchery as: Desperate Living, Female Trouble, Mondo Trasho, Multiple Maniacs, beginning an oeuvre as strange, demented and curiously distinctive as say, Bunuel, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, but a different sort of cachet.

From Waters coterie of ridiculously bad and memorable cast members (Edith Massey, Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, David Lochary) emerged Divine (aka Harris Glen Milstead) the notorious, enormous drag queen forever noteworthy for consuming dog feces in the wretchedly classic Pink Flamingos. Over time, the inimitable Divine rose to the station of Counter-cultural Saint, enchanting the hearts and minds of freaks, malcontents, fringe dwellers and shameless sex iconoclasts. God bless her! (And sign me up!)

Local actor Benjamin Lutz has crafted a raucous, raunchy, wistful and hilarious cabaret-style tribute to this dark princess in Divine: Live at the Boom-Boom Room! The small theater at State Fair’s Margo Jones has been transformed into a night club, with a bar and tables with votive candles. The action bounces back between Divine’s volcanic act and her private life, back stage. Interspersed with this thread is the narrative of freelance journalist Michael (Jonathan Barnes) and gender bending numbers by the angry in-house musicians and “Tina Turner.” We see film footage from Pink Flamingos and Divine returns to her shtick throughout, denouncing celebrities and rallying the audience pf the infamous gay disco with greetings like, “Hello Cocksuckers!”

Brad Smith (Divine) Benjamin Lutz (playwright) and Ryan Matthieu Smith (Director and Designer) et al converge to capture the spirit and essence of a performer who was truly phenomenal, creating an improbable yet charismatic persona that soared and delighted, simply because she was fearless and unrepentant. The atmosphere of playful, orgiastic merriment is exponentially boosted by Brad Smith’s channeling of Divine, demonic goddess onstage and jaundiced, frail, petulant actress struggling with disappointment in her dressing room. The supporting cast keeps the atmosphere giddy, lively and just this side of criminal mischief.

It would be a sin and a shame if you missed the remarkable, spectacular Brad Smith as the sinful, shameful, subversive, raunchy Divine in Benjamin Lutz’s Divine: Live at the Boom-Boom Room! Smith’s performance as the legendary queen of depravity, Divine is nothing short of uncanny, doing 200% justice to our Patron Saint of Decadence. Lutz’s script is frantic, juicy, appalling, heart-breaking, anarchistic and abso-fucking-lutely wonderful. Be there or be a Fascist!

Cast and Creators: Brad Smith, Benjamin Lutz, Ryan Matthieu Smith, Kennedy Brooke Styron, Caleb Pieterse, Joey Casoria, Jonathan Barnes and Morgana Shaw.

Divine: Live at the Boom-Boom Room! Playing at The Margo Jones (Magnolia Lounge) at Fair Park, 8 PM, Thursdays-Sundays through July 30th. 1121 First Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75210. www.giantentertainment.org.

STT’s Necessities somber, effulgent, sublime.

I daresay “Diggle’s” set design for Blake Hackler’s The Necessities is a tip-off to the unconventional nature of this rich, deeply affecting exploration of isolation, catastrophe, and the accidental nature of grace. We are in the middle of a forest, with a picnic table center stage. Whether the scenes take place in that spot, or Walmart or a massage studio, we are never out of the woods. In the opening scene Ward, a young man, is looking for pulses of light, at a spot where men usually look for sexual connection. To all appearances, he is timing lightning flashes. So many seconds between crash and burst. An older, nervous man, Peter appears, who may or not be there to quell his libido. Their encounter is awkward and unpleasant.

It is safe to say that all four characters in The Necessities have been damaged in some way, through no fault of their own. Debbie works in a Walmart (her daughter is notorious for her involvement in a suicide pact) she is acerbic and downtrodden. Carly (Ward’s mother) is a massage therapist overwhelmed by a sense of abandonment and her bright, but delinquent son. Peter, Debbie, Ward and Carly are very different, but in one way or another, they are staving off despair. They cross paths (perhaps reminiscent of Insignificance?) and offer redemption. The kind of redemption the broken grant to someone who is also. Somehow Hackler has made this clearing in the midst of a foreboding forest much larger and much smaller than it appears.

Like some of the best plays, The Necessities is easier to process in retrospect, though our immediate experience is enigmatic, compelling, unorthodox and quite raw. The deeper we go into the details of these four, the more excruciating and oddly spiritual it becomes. These four are in pain, though they don’t express it in obvious ways. They almost seem to be stuck at the cusp of some dilemma. The flashes in the forest, these metaphysical glimpses into the healing and possible, weave their way into this narrative quilt, at once familiar and inexplicable. Cozy and odd. Blake Hackler has created a memorable, poignant drama with a subtle, surprising, distinctive voice and the performers: Tex Patrello (Ward) Matthew Gray (Peter) Christie Vela (Debbie) and Allison Pistorius (Carly) put themselves through the wringer for us. Hackler makes hay of the glorious human predicament of suffering, striving, hoping.

Second Thought Theatre presents Blake Hackler’s The Necessities, playing July 5th-29th, 2017. Bryant Hall at Kalita Humphreys Campus, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75219. 1-866-811-4111.                                www. secondthoughtheatre.com

Linda Leonard rocks the house as Ann Richards in Irving Arts’ Ann

It takes a special kind of courage to be a Liberal Progressive Democrat and Governor of Texas, a state known for its preponderance of Bible-Belt, Conservative Republicans, and Ann Richards more than rose to the challenge. Most likely she pole-vaulted. Written by preeminent character actress Holland Taylor, Ann is a one-woman show, depicting the life of the formidable Ann Richards, before and after her election. Similar performances based on historic figures (Truman Capote, Gertrude Stein, Clarence Darrow) run the risk of being primarily anecdotal, which can amount to a one-trick pony and a very long evening. Holland Taylor is savvy enough to treat us to a typical day in Richards’ life as the governor of the Lone Star State. We see Richards at her worst and best, playing referee in a family squabble, laying the groundwork for a stay of execution, buying cowboy boots (on sale) for her staff, and launching into a tirade – all of this over a telephone.

One of the hazards (I would imagine) of writing this piece would be to make Mrs. Richards sympathetic while still making her human enough to feel authentic. Remember we live in a country where it is much easier for a space cadet like Sarah Palin to get traction, than intelligent, tough ladies, like Nancy Pelosi and Hilary Clinton. Being a Texas native it’s easy for me to understand that Richards had to be tough and full of gumption to fight the Texas patriarchy but for Holland Taylor, it couldn’t have been easy. She achieves a very delicate balance of making Richards very strong, but also humble enough to discuss your alcoholism without blinking. She fends off her adversaries with fierce aplomb, but still has time to reassure her granddaughter. All of this without ever stooping to the precious, adorable or icky.

I was bowled over by Linda Kay Leonard’s phenomenal performance last night. Where she found the stamina to deliver Holland Taylor’s brilliant script, filled with moxie, warmth, frankness, rage, hilarity and somber, sobering calls to fight for what’s just, I will never know. But it was a spectacular, delightful, powerful ride. Do not miss this remarkable show.

Stage West Theatre (in cooperation with IAC) presents Ann, playing June 9th-July8th, 2017. Irving Arts Center : 3333 N MacArthur Blvd., Irving, Texas, TX 75062. (972) 252-2787

Last weekend for T3’s intoxicating, brilliant Little Night Music

Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music is a nonchalant, funny, somewhat biting romantic spoof that actually feels quite modern for a period piece. Sondheim always injects a tone of cynicism into his work, and Night Music is no exception. Most of the characters belong to the privileged class, but it soon becomes clear their socializing and connecting is burdened by pretension and lame attempts at civility. Fredrik is married to the much younger Anne, though he is clearly smitten with famous actress Desiree, and she with him. She is having an affair with Carl Magnus, a military man who is married to Charlotte. Charlotte is well aware of her husband’s dalliances, and has become very bitter in the process. Henrik, Fredrik’s son, is a minister, and actually a better match for Anne than his dad. He worries at length about the welfare of his and everybody else’s soul.

A Little Night Music is a curious mix of gentleness, regret, skepticism and warmth, reflecting on the foibles of love, vanity, selfishness, and subterfuge. At the outset Madame Armfeldt tells her grand daughter Fredrika the summer smiles three times. Once at children who know nothing. Once at grown-ups who don’t know enough. And once at the elderly, who know too much. The narrative fulfills this lovely, somber bit of wisdom without ever getting corny or quaint. I think one of the reasons “Send in the Clowns” (splendidly realized by Jennifer Kuenzer and John Kuether) is such a cunning fit for this story is that each character, in their turn, plays that role. If you fall in love, sooner or later, you will look ridiculous. But then, if you’re in love, you don’t care. Theatre at its best reveals the characters in all their flawed glory, but does so without judgment. At least by the time the curtain drops.

The sophistication of a A Little Night Music lies in its layers of meaning. It’s very entertaining, and amusing. But most everything in the script cuts both ways. Seemingly careless remarks includes a wiser subtext. Carl Magnus is a pompous buffoon. But he’s lonely in his marriage. His wife Charlotte has the verbal skills of a cobra. but she’s also angry and hurt. All of these points are made with nuance and a kind of gracious detachment, as opposed to so much of the jackhammer tactics we see in comedy today. No one is sloshed with a barrel of drek, or forced to run naked through a crowd, or engaged in a screaming match at the top of their lungs. I say this not as some kind of witness for taste and propriety (sometimes excess is fine) but suggest it can be enlightening how well a different approach can actually work.

Theatre 3’s production of A Little Night Music is blissful, smart, sublime, filled with rage, somber admission, playfulness and delight. It is an adult musical in the best sense of that word: mature, understanding, poised, experienced and just enough moonlight and wistfulness to lift our miserable, damaged hearts.

Theatre 3 presents A Little Night Music (composed by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler) playing June 8th-July 2nd, 2017. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214 -871-3300. theatre3dallas.com

Last chance to see Kitchen’s Dog’s beguiling premiere: Br’er Cotton


Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s Br’er Cotton is compelling, odd, intriguing and a bit chilling. Not so much a call to revolution as a thoughtful, intelligent demonstration of the racial pressure cooker that seems to be escalating in these United States. Current debacles such as the melee at Ferguson and Trayvon Martin are evoked. As we might infer from the title, Chisholm begins with the imagery of Br’er Rabbit, a series of folktales from the Deep South, often considered an affront to our contemporary, more enlightened sensibilities. We might remember here that that these stories can be tracked all the way back to African stories of the trickster hare, who might use his wits (or even extreme measures) to prevail against slavery. Br’er Cotton begins with what we take to be a slave woman, who describes Br’er Cotton, who (instead of counting his blessings) resents living so close to heaven, when it’s still unreachable. Locked away from bliss, but able to watch others enjoy it.

Nadine (Stormi Demerson) is a middle-aged African American lady who works for a house cleaning franchise like Merry Maids. One of her clients is Officer (Clay Yocum) a friendly cop who gives her moral support. In her private time she studies to improve her lot, while caring for her teenage son Ruffrino, and father-in-law, Matthew. Ruffrino (Kyle Fox Douglas) contentious, unwieldy, and sometimes bearing a resemblance to Huey Newton, is enraged by the growing oppression he sees, all over the United States. He spends a great deal of time caught up in violent video games he plays with Caged Bird (Katie Tye) a teenage girl who writes poetry. Since they are friends in cyberspace, he doesn’t know she is white, and manages multiple sclerosis. Matthew (Dennis Raveneau) is wily and secretive. Like many elderly folks he seems to love poking at Nadine, giving her grief, and acting vaguely superior. None of these characters feel outlandish or implausible, though this family is sometimes visited by a small “chorus” dressed in rags, and planting cotton in the living room. Does the family not see the cotton, or are they too resigned to notice it?

A salient quality that struck me about Chisholm’s fantastical, ominous drama is balance. He carefully lays out the strategy of his narrative. Nadine makes good money cleaning houses, it’s not like her employer or clients degrade her, but its debatable whether she’s caving to a system that makes upward mobility so difficult for her to attain. Many teen boys are full of piss and vinegar, and we can hardly blame Ruffrino for the agitation he feels in the midst of America’s racial upheaval. We cannot ignore however, that he keeps partaking of provocative material, with no good way to process or resolve it. Chisholm adds to this the elements of the metaphoric, poetic and surreal, leading to a very sad and seemingly inevitable conclusion. He mixes a number of volatile and unnerving ingredients to create a cautionary allegory. A philosophical/political quandary. How long will it take before we can finally leave the cotton fields? The plantation?

Kitchen Dog Theater Presents Br’er Cotton, playing June 9th-July 1st, 2017. 2600 North Stemmons Fwy #180, Dallas, Texas 75207. (214) 953-1055. www.kitchendogtheater.org


Brick Road’s Cabaret scintillating, astonishing, powerful


When Cabaret premiered on Broadway in 1966, audiences didn’t quite know what to make of Kander and Ebb’s deceptive condemnation of the genocide, antisemitism and depravity Christopher Isherwood witnessed in 1931 Berlin. The Nazi party was just beginning to gain traction, but the rise of such a vicious, imperialist, ridiculously stolid ideology remains inexplicable to many of us. Isherwood was kicked out of college and moved to Berlin to pursue his vocation as a writer, moving into a squalid flat, and making the acquaintance of the notoriously hedonistic and cavalier chanteuse, Sally Bowles. Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, explore the collapse of erudition, culture and humanity, and provided the inspiration for Kander and Ebb’s skewed, sparse, yet complex musical of solipsism and profound loss of innocence.

Clifford Bradshaw (Isherwood’s stand-in) arrives in Germany, renting a cheap room from the sweet (if cynical) Fraulein Schneider. Not long afterword he visits the notorious Kit Kat Klub, hosted by the leering, campy, somewhat diabolical Emcee, where the songs celebrate debauchery and materialism. He meets the waifish, dolled-up Sally Bowles, who performs at the Kit Kat. She’s all about the glamorous, shameless party life, and she takes Clifford along for the ride. Meanwhile, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz fall in love, Sally gets pregnant, and Nazism begins to take hold. Clifford starts smuggling money to help pay the bills.

You could write volumes about the Sally Bowles, one of the theatre’s most enduring and endearing characters. She’s charming, even when she’s being irresponsible or disingenuous. She’s spivvy, and reckless, utterly devoted to pleasure and joie de vivre, and considering how bleak the world can be, quite sympathetic. Cabaret is virtually soaked in irony, and when she sings the famous title song, it nearly becomes a tirade: “Start by admitting from cradle to tomb, it isn’t that long a stay…” Sally belts it out, declaring that when she dies, she’ll be blissed out on pills, liquor and sex. This is what makes Fred Ebb and John Kander so intoxicating. They mix biting, sardonic wit with a viable version of the truth. They’re bleak but brilliant. It makes complete sense that people would submerge themselves in distraction, especially when civilization is crashing, but the results are horrific. Sally is all of us, just craving a break from the pervasive ugliness of life. We love her because life hasn’t made her ugly, but wonder if her cocoon has ruined her.

Lately productions of Cabaret have run to the heavy-handed, and it’s a shame, considering that the original text handles this volatile, disturbing subject matter with meticulous grace. I’ve seen several versions that don’t seem to trust the script, as if we don’t grasp the insidious, devastating threat of the Nazi Regime and it’s disciples. Cabaret works because it doesn’t amplify the volcanic. It gives us just enough to reach us, and let the overwhelming take over, without pushing.

The Brick Road Theatre production of Cabaret (directed by Jeremy Dumont) is rich, vivid, and exquisite. Dumonts choreography is fresh and poised, sparkling with humor and precision. Amy Poe’s costumes are understated, evocative and effective. Cabaret’s tone of menace and mirth, despondency and optimism comes through beautifully in the performances of this diligent, dedicated cast. This is one of the best productions of Cabaret I’ve seen. Stand outs include Janelle Lutz (Sally Bowles) who beguiles without gobbling the scenery, Sara Shelby-Martin (Fraulein Schneider) whose world-weariness (“So What?”) will leave you inconsolable and heartbroken, and Billy Betsill (Cliff Bradshaw) who undergoes a sea-change as the show’s narrator.

The Brick Road Theatre presents Cabaret (composed by Fred Ebb and Kander, book by Joe Masteroff) playing June 23rd-July 2nd, 2017. Courtyard Theatre, 1509 H Avenue, Plano, Texas 75074. 972-467-7519. www.brickroadtheatre.org