Still time to catch Rover’s rambunctious Move Over, Mrs. Markham

Joanna and Phillip Markham are a happily married, devoted couple. They have been together 14 years, and while passion may have flagged, they still care for one another. Phillip works with his best friend, Henry Lodge, for a children’s book publisher, and Henry’s wife Linda, is Joanna’s best friend. When Move Over, Mrs. Markham, opens, Alistair Spenlow, a posh, trendy, effete interior designer is decorating the Markham’s flat, working hand-in-glove with Joanna. Linda reveals to Joanna she’s ready to have her first affair, after enduring years of Henry’s tomcatting around. Since Phillip and Joanna are attending a charity dinner that night, she wants to know if she (and boyfriend Walter) can borrow their digs for a quick boinkfest. Elsewhere, Henry is also asking Phillip if he and his new bird can do the same, little realizing the “love nest” is already booked. When Joanna and Phillip express disapproval, Linda and Henry scoff at their prudish naivete. Hilarity ensues.

Like numerous other farces based on misunderstanding, deception and adultery, Move Over, Mrs. Markham begins with a simple premise, often like the one described. Several philandering couples show up at the same spot for some extracurricular recreation, foolishly assuming they’ll have the place to themselves. Like a domino train or house of cards, the tiniest nudge can foment a chain reaction. To the credit of playwrights Ray Cooney and John Chapman, the resulting chaos comes from a well established culmination of events. Lately comic writers it seems, have gotten rather sloppy. Logic collapses. Credibility is strained, cows are milked dry. Gags are stacked and pasta flung against the wall. No one can be bothered to anchor humor with a fair bit of actuality, instead they assume we all want to laugh so badly we’ll ignore inane, absurd, utterly preposterous events. Of course I am not referring to Absurdism, or other genres that might engage devices say, like, non-linear logic, or associative wordplay, but scripts with no infrastructure. No core foundation to generate consistent dialogue and believable consequence. Not so with Cooney and Chapman, who bring considerable expertise and patient skill to this splendid, pleasurable comedy.

For some reason, audiences never seem to tire of straight male friends being caught in activity mistaken for gay coupling, but thankfully Move Over, Mrs. Markham doesn’t make too much of this. Under the direction of Paul McKenzie, the players blossom to this narrative, delivering deliciously silly lines with conviction and intuitive wit. You wouldn’t think that comedy, which feels so spontaneous and haphazard requires such delicate chemistry. Such balance and hair-trigger timing and off-kilter pitch. Rover Dramawerk’s production here is sublime. Move Over, Mrs. Markham is a rollicking, raucous, ridiculously funny romp. Smart, clever, loopy merriment for grownups, with a brash and nimble cast. Don’t miss closing weekend.

Rover Dramawerks presents Move Over, Mrs. Markham,playing May 4th-27th, 2017. 221 West Parker Road, Suite 580, Plano, Texas 75023. 972-849-0358.

Chipper, ingenious, comforting Into the Woods at ATTPAC’S Winspear

Into the Woods
Stephanie Umoh
Patrick Mulryan

Into the Woods, the Sondheim and Lapine musical inspired by Bruno Bettelheim’s (eminent child psychologist) The Uses of Enchantment, examines, intertwines, revels in and topples numerous popular fairy tales. Arguably not for kids, it goes to the subtext of favorites such as Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, using the story of a childless Baker and his wife to tie them together. Lapine and Sondheim dig into recurring themes like absent fathers, shrewish mothers, sexual experience versus innocence, and so on, with intelligence and sensitivity. They celebrate risking the dangers of rushing into the woods, where illusions are smashed but life skills are acquired.

The touring Fiasco Theatre version of Into the Woods, playing at ATTPAC’s Winspear Opera House, and is bright and lively. They have borrowed from productions like Peter and the Starcatcher and (going back a long time) Godspell in what I call “theatre attic” shows. There’s ostensibly no set, or minimal set, resembling an attic, where various props are pressed into service. A bell to suggest a cow, a stuffed head for The Big Bad Wolf, big ladies hats for drag. In this instance characters are also musicians, taking up the bassoon, piano, cello, tuba. Perhaps it’s the enormous attic of the mind we share, as if we’re all participating in constructing the narrative together. They do a lot with it. And in some ways it feels sublime. The audience seemed to be enjoying it, and song passages given over to the journeys of particular characters (The Witch, Little Red, Cinderella, Jack, The Baker) are complex and poignant.

When you’ve seen a particular piece a number of times you begin to ridiculously feel that it belongs to you. Part of Into the Wood’s charm and miraculous appeal is that it feels like it shouldn’t work. It couldn’t work. But it does. It’s big and busy and digresses and contradicts itself and goes off on tangents, but like a masterful collage by Rauschenberg or Schwitters it coalesces. It’s powerful nearly to the point of intrusion. When done full on, we can only imagine it’s a logistical nightmare. The pragmatic advantages to Fiasco’s concept with its ladders and rope wigs and squirt bottle and megaphone are obvious.

I’m not interested in being cantankerous or surly here, it worked better than reasonably well. But it felt a bit diminished, and there were excisions of content that were hard to ignore. I got the feeling it was supposed to be more kid-friendly, they certainly cheered when The Giant’s Wife bit the dust. How do you explain to them it was necessary to kill her, but certainly nothing to applaud? Which I believe is the point. What Lapine and Sondheim examined when they wrote Into the Woods was the dark, unseemly, adult ideas lurking behind folklore. The motives that might be unclear to children are exposed because some musicals are for grown-ups. You certainly can’t say that a “family version” is nefarious (can you?) but it feels like a shame.

AT&T Performing Arts Center presents Into the Woods, playing May 16th– 28h, 2017 at The Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-880-0202. www.attpac.org

Pitch perfect, brilliant Aliens at Stage West

Something about Annie Baker’s The Aliens suggests the spartan, arid, washed-out milieus of pieces like Altman’s Three Women, Bergman’s Persona or Rodrigues’ O Fantasma. Or perhaps the dry, taciturn boys of The Last Picture Show. Baker has fixed upon certain aspects of male culture, the sparse verbal exchanges, the intense demand for respect, the absence of extravagant feeling. The setting (N. Ryan McBride) for The Aliens, behind a restaurant where the waiters take their smoke breaks, feels hopeless and crumby: sand, butt buckets, metal chairs, trash, refuse and detritus. As if a haze of resignation has settled over everything. When Evan (a waiter) meets KJ and Jasper, he finds they’re hanging out because a friend (who no longer works there) has told them its OK. When he asks where to find the Fourth of July party, they just tell him it’s there.

Jasper is perhaps the post 21st Century version of the disaffected rebel poet. If anyone’s the alpha, it’s Jasper. KJ is the easy-going, affable stoner, and Evan the nervous nerd, gobsmacked that he’s found favor with the cool kids. When Jasper addresses him as “Little Man,” he’s not being snotty or dominant, he’s just being matter of fact. Like when men nickname the tall guy “Stretch.” Evan may be jittery and famished for belonging, but he has some sense of purpose. He’s intelligent and teaches at Orchestra Camp, even if the jazzy side of life (girls, catching a buzz, breaking laws) has eluded him. Nothing shakes KJ and Jasper, they have no place to be. Their only recourse to act as if they’re goofing and tossing because everything else bores them. What lifts The Aliens from the hungry squalor that engulfs our three buddies is the ease of mutual male affection. Unspoken and barely acknowledged. A man learns pretty early there are two kinds of guys in the world. The ones who want to be your friend and those who to tear you apart. Or at least piss on you. Whatever their reasons Jasper and KJ have nothing to prove, and have no reason to disparage Evan. So they become his friend.

It may be nearly miraculous that Annie Baker has developed an ear for the way fringe-dwelling teenboys talk, and how they must scratch out an existence in a world that expects men to fall somewhere between troglodyte and rocket scientist. If you feel anything sad, if you’re cerebral or passive, you’re weak. There are times when men wanting to connect might as well be trying to build a bridge to the moon. With toothpicks. And somehow. Somehow. Annie Baker has cut through the aching, pervasive despair of these boys who need to be men, and distilled something startling and radiant from it. The awful pointlessness just keeps piling on, but Baker finds a key as fragile as origami (a guitar, a cigarette, a sparkler) and these lonely souls discover something exquisite. Something remarkable.

With the pitch-perfect, visionary direction of Dana Schultes, Joey Folsom, Parker Gray and Jake Buchanan give us performances that are strong, deeply touching and crisp. Folsom has just the right balance of insouciance and gravitas, Buchanan brings an introspective lightness, and Parker the insecurity and fear of exclusion all guys have felt. This script could have crumbled in the wrong hands, but Schultes and this astonishing cast have taken us deep into the thick of Baker’s Dystopian drama. The Aliens is a valentine for guys with no tools to care for anybody, much less one other, or themselves. But somehow it happens.

Stage West Theatre presents The Aliens, playing May 4th-june 4th, 2017. 821 W Vickery Blvd, Fort Worth, TX 76104 (817) 784-9378. www.stagewest.org

Marty Van Kleeck is splendid, poignant in 1:30 Production’s Tea for Three

Currently showing at One Thirty Productions is Tea for Three a delightful one-woman show with monologues by three first ladies, appearing in the order of their husband’s presidencies. First is Lady Bird Johnson, followed by Pat Nixon, and then Betty Ford. As you might expect, each has her own distinctive personality. Ladybird is demure and gracious, Pat is subdued but warm, Betty is boisterous and somewhat eccentric. There is no intermission, though there are brief pauses for costume and set changes. Playwrights Elaine Bromka and Eric H. Weinberger set the plot consecutively, Nixon followed LBJ and Ford replaced Nixon, after his resignation. There is natural overlap, and while each “wife” has her individual demeanor, all are frank, confiding, and forthcoming. Weinberger and Bromka capitalize on the salient qualities that make each of them so charming.

Lady Bird talks about Lyndon inheriting the Vietnam War, Pat discusses the injustice of the press towards Richard, and Betty, what it is was like for Gerald to supplant a President forced to move on. What makes Tea for Three so effective though, is the small details. Lady Bird describing Lyndon’s courtship, his bravado, his insensitivity, his jug ears. We are surprised to discover (or maybe not) that marital devotion does not require blinders or spin. When Pat Nixon does a fine imitation of Dick Nixon, or explains how she deals with evenings alone, these are such surprising, genuinely moving moments that invite us into her actual life experience. Betty Ford is positively shameless, recounting her naked antics as a kid, laughing without holding back. She sways in her cheery, vibrant robe, enjoying a cocktail, while we read between the lines, and thoroughly enjoy her candor.

Marty Van Kleeck is nothing less than astonishing in this touching, authentic, demanding performance. She must shift gears three times, adopting the mannerisms and quirks (not to mention dialects) of three famous, original ladies. Each with their own lovable flaws and strengths. In the time it takes for two fetching young gentlemen in black suits to switch out the portraits and props, Ms. Van Kleeck undergoes a transformation, submerging herself entirely in each character. She brings nuance, meticulous focus and joie de vivre to Lady Bird, Pat and Betty, seemingly without effort. At one point she stepped out of character to make sure an audience member was safe and secure. Then, just as seamlessly, she slipped back in. Not surprising when you consider Ms. Van Kleeck’s abundant skill, dedication and humanity. Treat yourself before Tea for Three closes and let her overwhelm you.

One Thirty Productions presents: Tea for Three: Lady Bird, Pat and Betty, playing May 10th-27th, 2017. Bath House Cultural Center, 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, TX 75218. 214-532.1709

Do not miss Ochre House’s beguiling, brilliant Smile, Smile Again

Ochre House always takes me to unexpected places, and Justin Locklear’s Smile, Smile Again was no exception. Locklear expresses his deep intoxication with melodious, mellifluous language. It is a curiously involved, introspective piece that echoes Beckett and Shakespeare, in tone, content and approach. I am embarrassed to say it has taken me longer than it should have to write my critique, but sometimes you want so badly to do justice to the work, to get it right. Smile, Smile Again is unlike anything I’ve seen. Nuanced, obtuse, beguiling. Dreamlike but clear. The play opens with (as the program says) a Madman taking joy in the astonishing details of the day, though he finds himself on the battleground. Though not in the thick of warfare. He uncovers a hapless, African American Soldier, buried past his hips in the ground, unable to free himself. Their dialogue is a kind of wordplay, but more, an exploration of consciousness and perception. As the Soldier explains his need for extrication, the Madman is evasive, ingenious, glib. Essentially, he would free the Soldier if only he could.

A parade of characters comes along. A Charity Worker, Wice and Warz, a pair of soldiers, a Stranger. When the Charity Worker engages with the Madman, he is contentious and ungrateful. Like the others, his motives are not altogether obvious. Perhaps he is irritated by what this nurse represents, a kind of bourgeois band aid for human suffering. Perhaps he doesn’t want his companion uncovered and freed. Perhaps both or neither. Their sullen banter makes for a refreshing and jovial interlude in the midst of somber irony. Wice and Warz seem to reference the symbiotic connection between Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. Each asserts their existence by refuting the other one’s worldview, without a qualitative sense of self. They identify only by opposition.

Smile, Smile Again emerges from the predicament of the Soldier. I have to assume he is not African-American by random casting. Nor do I believe analogies to a flower, that’s tended and loved but can flourish so much, is likewise arbitrary. Like Godot’s Vladimir and Estragon, he keeps waiting for something to rescue him, to put him on the path to self-actualization, only to be disappointed time and again. The ostensibly good-hearted souls he encounters bear him no ill-will, but explain they are helpless to save him. Does the onus of the Soldier’s captivity fall upon himself, or his would-be saviors? Locklear’s brilliance lies in his refusal to spell out these answers for us, or deal in the unmistakable wickedness of outright racism. By creating characters engulfed in this swirling soup of sad, exquisite insanity, this endless waking dream that seems to resist any cure for the feverish, inconsolable spirit, he takes us to a remarkable realm.

Ochre House Theater presents Smile, Smile Again. Written and directed by Justin Locklear. Playing April 29th-May 20th, 2017. 825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-826-6273. www.ochrehousetheatr.org

Closing weekend for KDT’s comic, deeply moving Trevor

When attending Trevor, it probably doesn’t hurt to know that instances of chimpanzees driving cars are not unusual. That they can speak sign language, and their sentience has been well established. Trevor is a new show by Nick Jones, a comedy intertwined with pathos. Inspired by true events, we are launched into the predicament of Sandy and Trevor, a sweet, responsible woman and her animal companion. Sandy’s husband Jerome purchased Trevor on a whim, when he was still a baby, never anticipating the outcome. By the time Jerome passes away, Trevor has become part of the family, thinking of Sandy and he as his parents. Events have created a deep attachment between Trevor and Sandy. They love each other dearly. From the outset we learn that Trevor has been borrowing the car, an idea that is hilarious, charming and terrifying at the same time.

There is an unfortunate quaintness to the anthropomorphism we impose on animals. Actual animals that get lost between attention they get for performing and not understanding it doesn’t come from genuine warmth. Sandy doesn’t do this of course, she respects and cares for Trevor, but he aches for the validation he got from his acting career. We know this because we can understand everything Trevor says. Even though he and Sandy can only communicate somewhat through ASL. This device serves Nick Jones well, as it illustrates the discrepancy between how Trevor (the chimp) thinks, and how he is perceived. How pervasive the inclination of monkeys and humans to confer personal context upon the behavior of others. When Trevor feels slighted because humans disrespect his virility, talent, eagerness to please, it quickly becomes apparent how universal suffering is among mammals. In his cunning Jones guides us to and through the intersection of palpable love between Trevor and Sandy. And the crushing sadness that it will only take them so far. We can’t blame Sandy for refusing to abandon Trevor, but we can sense the inevitable heartbreak ahead.

Trevor never lacks for strange, amusing invention. Under the direction of Tina Parker, Max Hartman (Trevor) adapts casual ape-like behavior to his performance, sticking feet in the air, grooming, swinging arms in a way that never feels like shtick or grotesque mockery. Jones inserts Oliver, Trevor’s friend and colleague in show business. Oliver is another chimp whose convivial, suave erudition stands in contrast to Trevor’s childlike shenanigans. Oliver appears to Trevor repeatedly, helping him navigate assimilation. Morgan Fairchild is Trevor’s celebrity friend (they shot a commercial together) and her glamorous sex appeal stokes his engine. Trevor daydreams about her, hoping she can get him back to Hollywood.

Beyond the dubious wisdom of living with wild animals (no matter how charismatic) Trevor considers subjugation and unconscious inclination to assume we have the answers for those less “evolved”. At the same time it’s great fun to see Trevor wearing sunglasses or playing guitar, it’s sad to think Sandy doesn’t really understand the impact on his psyche. When he attempts to save a neglected baby, his motives are unclear and havoc erupts. There’s a kind of poetry at work when he says, “All my life I’ve been holding cups with nothing in them.” Trevor has been living too much for the sake of getting love, instead of fulfilling his own need for joy. Trevor could have easily been only a cautionary tale on the hazards of confusing cooperation with empathy, but Nick Jones and Kitchen Dog take it so much further.

Kitchen Dog Theater presents Trevor, playing May 4th-14th, 2017. AT&T Performing Arts Center: Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. 214-953-1055. 2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201. kitchendogtheater.org

T3’s Susan & God sharp, compassionate, sublime, funny

Susan cavorts with a jovial, privileged, somewhat cavalier set of friends. When she returns from a trip to Europe, extolling a spiritual epiphany, her friends roll their eyes. Susan has met a member of the British aristocracy at a party. This woman has started a movement, embracing unconditional love and unblinking honesty. It’s not that Susan’s friends question her sincerity. They perceive her as sweet, impulsive, but a bit eccentric and flighty. When Susan leaps into her crusade of direct (if non-judgmental) frankness, they are perplexed by her disingenuousness. Susan doesn’t seem to understand you just can’t just go around blabbing the truth, with no regard for fallout. Neither does she seem to realize that some secrets simply aren’t hers to tell.

Playwright Rachel Crothers has forged an intriguing, unorthodox, intelligent script that takes awhile to help us find our bearings. Crothers prompts our attention and participation. She gives us just enough information to tantalize, while we process infidelities, quirks, disappointments and barely bandaged wounds that plague Susan and her throng of close friends. Barrie (Susan’s estranged husband and recovering alcoholic) has shown up uninvited, and they take elaborate measures to avoid messy collisions. At first curtain, we see Blossom, Susan and Barrie’s little girl, silently playing with a dollhouse, tiptoeing and listening in on conversations. She’s not underhanded as much as curious and absorbed. Susan and God (also a film with Joan Crawford) was written and set in a time when children were told as little as possible. Even when it was information they needed.

Like any number of shows (The Vibrator Play, Who is Sylvia?, Detroit) Susan and God begins comically, but gradually turns a corner. Crothers explores the nature of acting responsibly while submerged in the realm of tacit duplicity. She contrasts Blossom’s childlike aching for harmony with the grown-up insistence that some situations make it impossible. There is a strong suggestion that Blossom is God, whimsically throwing humans together in untenable situations (thus the dolls). But as we see how wedded adults are to deception and avoidance, these tactics don’t feel quite so haphazard. And while yes. Susan doesn’t understand how wrenching it is to face tawdry, selfish instincts, she does have her excruciating moment. And she owns it.

Under the smooth, keen, meticulous orchestration of Lisa Devine, Susan and God is consistently beguiling, warm, funny and perceptive. The actors have a blissfully natural demeanor, wielding erudition and skepticism with poise and conviviality. Noteworthy performances include: Jovane Caamano (Clyde) Vanessa DeSilvio (Irene) Ashley Wood (Barrie) Catherine DuBord (Susan) and Maya Pearson (Blossom).

Susan and God plays Theatre 3 from April 20th-may 14th, 2017. 2800 Routh Street, The Quadrangle, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300. www.theatre3dallas.com

WTT’s Discord an engaging, incisive dialectic

Discord (The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy) opens on a set with a post-industrial feel, a tilted, granite stage rising from urban construction detritus, chairs strung high above, hanging at crazy angles. (Kudos to Bradley Gray). A hatch opens from the floor, allowing Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy to emerge, each in their turn. They are dressed in the clothes from their culture, out of place with the sparse, utilitarian furniture. We are given to believe this is some version of purgatory. As they become acquainted with one another, their unique personalities become clear. Jefferson is soft-spoken and rational, Dickens, narcissistic and effusive, Tolstoy robust and earthy. As they attempt to ascertain why they’ve been gathered, they discover that each has written their own version of the gospel. This gives rise to avid, often heated, dialectic and debate as they struggle to distill the essence of Jesus’ ministry and what it truly means to embody Christianity.

Playwright Scott Carter avoids predictable pitfalls. These three gentlemen are unlikely to stand in awe of one another, and this intriguing drama reveals details that more or less contradict what we might assume. Tolstoy was a member of the aristocracy, Dickens had trouble managing domestic bliss, and (despite his public denunciation of slavery) Jefferson’s private life was not always consistent with his ideology. In the realm of history and renown, these three may have been titanic, but Carter moves from broad strokes to the personal failings that mocked them in the dark hours. Just like the rest of us, Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy cleaved to a manifesto of morally and spiritually responsible behavior. And just like the rest of us, sometimes the strength of their dedication was tested.

It doesn’t feel like a reach to suggest that (just like in Fellini’s La Strada) Carter has divided humanity into the three elements: Intellect (Jefferson) Emotion (Dickens) and Soul (Tolstoy). There is a great deal of warmth, surprise, amusement and satisfaction to be found in Discord. Carter doesn’t deal in pandering or facile choices. What we get is a richly drawn, intelligent exploration of the discrepancy between what these men stood for, and what they struggled to evince in the process of living. As well as the nature of spirituality, Christianity, and what it means to genuinely care for the other. Carter connects us to these three protagonists by exposing them in all their flawed, aching, miserable humanity. As many of us have already learned, before we can move past our shadow, we must first learn to make friends with him. Like an evening together of drinking, Discord will chuckle with you, poke you, knock you out and buy you another drink.

Director Emily Scott Banks brings a subtle yet purposeful touch this challenging content. She raises the bar by refusing to be merely clever or cloying. She captures the tone of subdued urgency, of restless investigation. Ian Ferguson’s Jefferson is introspective and centered, while Jeremy Schwartz is bellicose, if somewhat self-conflicted, as Tolstoy. His contempt for privilege is undercut by his inability to put that part of his past completely behind him. John-Michael Marrs is shamelessly steeped in self-adoration as Charles Dickens. Somehow he manages to do this without alienating us, his chutzpah is so boyishly genuine (like Peter Pan) we forgive the insufferable.

WaterTower Theatre presents Discord: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy, playing April 14th-May 7th, 2017. 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. 972-450-6232. www.watertowertheatre.org

Undermain’s somber, beguiling Really

A middle-aged woman visits a studio where a pretty, taciturn young lady has invited her to sit for a portrait. Tension is palpable. The older woman does most of the talking, but that’s not surprising. She’s uncomfortable, and the photographer is not doing much to put her at ease. Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury (author of Really) doles out information gradually. The more we gather, the less obvious the motives of these two women. The more complicated the nature of their connection. The younger woman climbs up on crates, chairs, wielding her camera. She poses her subject, asking her to turn, move her feet. You might not imagine that moving to accommodate your photographer could be so exacting. So difficult. Drury exploits the meticulous demands of this situation to heighten the extreme discomfort between the two. Like Pinter or Albee, much of what we ascertain comes from inference.

The lives of these two women intersect at their relationship with another photographer named Calvin. Until I checked the program (afterwards) I supposed it was a mother and daughter-in-law. The beautiful young Asian woman is Calvin’s girlfriend, the other is his mother. Calvin is dead. Far too soon. Drury’s approach to this cunning, subdued, bleak drama asks us to search for clues. The animosity and frustration and despair leaks out before we get explanations. When Calvin appears, it takes a bit to realize we are sharing in the women’s memories, and not consortium with his ghost. We see the mother fidgeting and digging for pills. We see the young woman bringing her water, sometimes barely concealing impatience and anger. There’s a kind of dry, raw, palpable quality to Really. We don’t feel especially compassionate towards these women, but neither does their behavior seem inexplicable or off-putting. We’re caught in this awkward conjunction, too, but we understand.

As we witness past episodes between Calvin and his lover (apprentice?) and his mother, his less appealing traits become salient. The first time he shares a drink with this younger photographer, he’s coy, manipulative, predatory. The episodes of photographing his mother feel like retribution or tantrums. Even for a brilliant photographer his behavior is harsh, controlling, temperamental. Drury

gives us enough to understand that when Calvin gets the leverage to work through childhood sleights, he uses it. It’s not unusual to find creative prodigies indulged (consider Hitchcock, Picasso, Berryman) and Drury demonstrates this in the way Calvin treads upon those we’d imagine dearest to him. Even if he’s offering the gift of authenticity, he seem degrades others. Calvin finds ways of diminishing without seeming aggressive.

Really orchestrates a cluster of elements within the context of photography, and how conflicting perceptions shape our lives. How love can be impure and off-kilter. These two women could easily provide solace, but are submerged in their unresolved issues with Calvin. There’s a pervasive realm of crisp, understated contemplation, but underneath there’s pain and isolation and resentment. A less confident play might have attempted to reconcile these two lost, alienated, overwhelmed protagonists. But even when the younger woman begins to spill deeper ruminations, it ends before anything’s decided. You might find yourself returning to this somber, enervating collision of souls long after the lights have finally been extinguished.

Undermain Theatre presents Really, playing April 12th-May 6th, 2017. 3200 Main street, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-747-5515. www.undermain.org.

Tribute to Bedford’s rambunctious Starcatcher

Onstage in Bedford was gracious enough to let me attend their marvelous production of Peter and the Starcatcher closing weekend. I regret I was unable to write my review until now.

Two days after Christmas 1904, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan premiered in London, starring Nina Boucicault. Barrie had something more than a penchant for casting petite women in the title role. Since then, thousands of audiences have been captivated by the story of an orphaned boysprite, eternally submerged in serious play, fighting pirates and Indians, leading The Lost Boys into avid battle. Accompanied by Tinkerbell, his fairy companion, he appears at the nursery window of Wendy, Michael and John Darling. Peter is all undone because he’s lost his shadow. Wendy sews it back on for him (a not altogether painless procedure) and he sprinkles them with fairydust, so they can fly away with him to Neverland.

It doesn’t take much examination of Barrie’s Peter Pan before we start bumping into all kinds of symbolism. The tradition of casting women in the role, that continues to the present day, results in a kind of androgyny. His shadow is often a boy’s only companion and it also signifies darker urges. Pan also suggests the faun god. The Lost Boys and Peter crave Wendy as a mother, and really no other reason. Tiger Lily is essentially a tomboy. Captain Hook has a distinctively flamboyant, effete demeanor and the audience is invited to resuscitate Tinkerbell by clapping if they “believe in fairies.” None of this is to suggest anything sinister or deprecating. Any exhilarating work of timeless literature has layers, and Barrie’s Peter Pan is an exploration of maleness, whether in boyhood or adulthood, what it means to be exuberant, and to forfeit this for possibly more rewarding relationships. Possibly it’s apples and oranges.

Rick Elice’s recent musical, Peter and the Starcatcher (based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) purports to be a prequel to Peter Pan. Before Peter was transformed into an otherworldly entity, he was a nameless orphan, chilling with his buddies, Prentiss and Ted. Fairly early in Starcatcher, the three are tricked into slavery and set aboard a ship, where they cross paths with Molly.

Molly is a prodigious, precocious schoolgirl and apprentice Starcatcher. Her dad (Lord Leonard) is also a Starcatcher, that is to say, someone who gathers magical, powerful stardust. Stardust can bring great delight or tragedy to the world. Lord Leonard is on a mission to destroy a great cache of Stardust lest it be put to evil purpose. [Comparisons to Tolkien’s notorious ring are noteworthy.] Peter and the Starcatcher takes us on numerous adventures, involving pirates, Island savages, mermaids and brawny sailors. I should also mention Black Stache, a stand in for Captain Hook.

Elice’s Starcatcher is an intriguing melange of good-natured cynicism, goofy humor, flagrant gender-bending, and a need to make Peter more butch. It’s very clear that Peter’s feelings for Molly are more romantic. Starcatcher doesn’t take itself anywhere near as seriously (it must be 80% comedy) yet it considers the same issues as Peter Pan. Like many other instances of contemporary theatre, it seems to be part mockery and part homage. It fudges some of the details, yet it ultimately feels fairly respectful. You might find yourself wishing manly Peter had a bit more panache.

Director Ashley White tames this robust, boisterous, frantic content with mastery and eclat. The enormous cast, the digressions, the witty dance numbers and unexpectedly emotional turns, the demanding costume changes. White brings them off joyously and with the assurance to make them seamless. The cast is nimble, frothy, funny and at the top of their game. Ashley White has concocted a giddy, moving, memorable show, that would have daunted many other directors.

Onstage in Bedford’s Peter and the Starcatcher closed April 9th. 2819 Forest Ridge Drive, Bedford, Texas 76012. (817) 354-6444. info@onstageinbedford.com