Dysfunction junction

11th Street Theater Project revives a Pulitzer play with mixed results

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds runs through July 4. Call 522-PLAY.

So often in theater, form follows function: A director must make decisions about a show based on the size, design, and location of the space that he or she is working in. They must tailor the message to the medium, which is precisely what visiting director Andrew Gaupp did when Fort Worth's Hip Pocket Theatre asked him to stage Georges Feydeau's 1888 sex farce A Frog in His Throat. Gaupp has acted before in a French farce, but never directed one. In adapting Feydeau's chamber comedy to the theater's brightly lit, outdoor Oak Acres Amphitheatre, he had to dig back into his theater memory to broaden the more delicate farcical elements for this open-air performance.

"There are subtleties of French farce that can get lost in such a large venue," says the affable Gaupp, who identifies his hometown as Boe-Muhn (translation: Beaumont), as he's currently working with French farce. "And so I didn't take French farce down the pathway that many directors do. I decided to raise the volume on the eccentricities of the characters."

Gaupp studied under Dallas Theater Center's legendary Paul Baker as both a grad student and a company member for eight years that included the beginning of Adrian Hall's reign. Then he went on to teach and direct in Arkansas and Miami before coming back to area stages. He is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

A Frog in His Throat is only Gaupp's latest foray into productions that require heightened, fantastical, non-naturalistic acting from the performers. He helmed critically acclaimed productions of Dallas Children's Theater's The Yellow Boat, about a child dying from AIDS refracted through the patient's wild imagination and Hip Pocket's The Skin of Our Teeth, in which Gaupp went from very stylized to spare and realistic in guiding Thornton Wilder's metaphorical family from the Ice Age to The Great Flood to The Great War. In A Frog in His Throat, Gaupp opens up a late-19th-century French parlor to reveal the machinations of a wild womanizer (Cole Spivey) who invades the home of a philistine Parisian arts patron (Scott Vaca) and begins to woo every female in sight, while the men look on with confusion and envy.

In explaining his subtle changes of emphasis, Andrew Gaupp untangles vague, subtle words like farce and Burlesque and the 16th-century Italian commedia del'arte.

"In commedia, which is where I tried to steer this, there is nothing left to chance. Many of the characters are stereotypes: the miserly rich man, the young couple in love, the spying servants. Yet there is still a moral lesson to commedia, unlike burlesque, which is very silly and strictly go-for-the-laughs. And in farce, the comedy arises more out of the situations. A stupid man in a farce is revealed to be stupid by his actions, unlike in commedia, where the stupidity is served straight up. The aim of farce is to point up the foibles and hypocrisies of a particular society."

Such minute distinctions sound like a nightmare for any director, especially one who's helming a wild 19th-century sex comedy in an outdoor festival-style production with a mixture of professional and non-professional actors. But this is the standard Hip Pocket recipe that has landed them in their 22nd season. In such a situation, how do you tell which actors are too over-the-top?

"There was one actor who was playing at a higher level than most of the others," Gaupp says. "And actually, that's the level I wanted the whole production to be at. But given the time constraints and the different experience levels of the actors, I couldn't pull the others up to his pitch. So I asked him to tone it down."

A Frog in His Throat runs through June 28. Call (817) 246-9775.

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