Joyce Carol Oates: People often think the timeless canon of American writers is determined by some independent Mount Olympus of all-knowing literary taste, but our favorite writers bob in and out of fashion with the same capriciousness as movie stars and supermodels. Perfect case in point is dramatist-short story writer-novelist Joyce Carol Oates, whose early Faulknerian potential was sounded in the 1960s by critics. Ever since then Oates has produced a prolific body of work which has earned significant applause but never quite managed to keep her on the forefront of fictional exploration. She has experimented with numerous points-of-view, genres, and media, leaving the fan to recall a favorite moment in which she seemed to represent all American writing. Oates is that diverse, and that open to conflicting appraisals of her work. She has spent less time courting the press and more seducing a college readership who secretly yearn to capture the kind of visceral, grotesque,and highly lyrical page-long paragraphs in which Oates specializes. She has always been most interested in the consequences of the horrific, and when Oates reads at 8 pm in the Hughes-Trigg Theater, 3140 Dyer at Airline, she'll be drawing from Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque, a recent collection of short pieces which draw upon her muse. Call 748-4466.
Urban Bush Women: The International Theatrical Arts Society (TITAS) is responsible for the Dallas debut of Urban Bush Women, an all-female troupe of classically trained dancers who've become one of the most talked-about world dance organizations in America and Europe. Founder and artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar wanted a collective of artists with which she could explore the many ways that African rhythm, Negro spirituals, jazz, the blues, and contemporary Euro choreography intersected with one another. In the process, she found her street smarts rising up to inform the work she was doing. Many pieces by Urban Bush Women are defiantly political in the sense that they condemn cultural and personal complacency through wild, angry movements. Even Zollar's humorous performances are marked by an edginess, like her dancers are just about to break rhythm and begin wrestling with invisible demons which are taunting them on stage. This sense of dangerous urgency has sold out theaters all over the U.S. as well as in Germany, France, and Israel. They perform November 11 & 12 at 8 pm in McFarlin Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Tickets are $7-$40. 528-5576.
Stephen Sondheim: American theatrical great Stephen Sondheim writes musicals for people who hate musicals. As a child of blue-collar parents in New York City, he became best friends with the son of Oscar Hammerstein and was in that household while Oklahoma!, The King and I, and South Pacific were being written. Sondheim learned about the musical theater pressing elbows at the piano with one-half of the quintessential American musical theater factory, but Hammerstein managed to avoid infecting the super-serious young student with the same formulaic sentimentalism which has dated the work of himself and Rodgers, and, as a result, most of the major composers who have come after them. Where Rodgers and Hammerstein made their works mega-hits by serving them on a bed of vaudevillian flourish, Sondheim had a classical Greek sense of life, death, and the role which fate plays between them. While his works have made him a very rich and respected American artist, they have caused consternation and even bitter struggle among critics who can't decide whether the often unorthodox subject matter chosen by Sondheim adds to or detracts from his work. His latest musical, Passion, which won numerous Tony Awards this year, is based on a very old, grim European tale about an ugly woman who falls in love with a handsome soldier and must deal with her feelings. Bleak and meditative, the musical didn't dazzle so much as confound. Mr. Sondheim has made a 30-year career of such surprises. He comes to Dallas to receive the Algur H. Meadows Award from the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. Although the ceremony itself is by invitation only, there are three chances for the public to hear Sondheim speak about his work--Nov 9, 8-9:30 pm; Nov 10, 7-9 pm; and Nov 12, 10 am-noon in the Greer Garson Theatre. All events happen at SMU and are free, but seating is limited. Call 768-2880.