By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Thanks to the performances and exquisitely understated direction and design, Stage West's Beast on the Moon goes down as smooth and silky as buttermilk, which is what regular patrons have come to expect from Stage West. But if they're not careful, this company might get a bad reputation among lesser playwrights: Put your mediocre script in their hands, and watch every flaw floodlit by the top-drawer production elements that surround it.
Beast on the Moon runs through July 11. Call (817) STG-WEST.
Claude Albritton, laid-back Dallas rich guy and primary funding force behind the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, is happy to take time off from watching "America get its ass kicked" during World Cup TV to chat. He is open, but suspicious: "I don't mind talking to you, but what do you want to talk about?"
I want to talk about the MAC's plans to add a new 150- to 175-seat theater space to its current facility. But I'm also a journalist, a sub-species of human that hasn't always pleased Albritton since he broke MAC ground in April of 1994. The Dallas Observer wrote a story alleging internal disorganization. ("She was digging for something," says Albritton, "but I'm not sure what she found.") Then The Met printed information about the previous job troubles of a then-staffer at the MAC that was "a shit goddamn dirty trick," he claims. "[The writer] tried to make us look like a den of thieves."
Albritton pauses. "I hate the truth," he says, then melts the frost with laughter.
Albritton is most unusual for a Dallas arts patron; unlike, say, a Stanley Marcus or a Ruth Sharp Altshuler, he appears to care at least as much about local artists as he does about reeling in Impressionist exhibits and international opera stars. His office is filled with visual works by local and Texas artists. The proof is in the MAC itself, which as he correctly points out has hosted "75 percent of the performing artists who, if not local, are at least Texas." And now, the proposed addition of about 2,000 new square feet, most of it for a theater that would be "sort of a blackbox, but with some permanent seating." The new stage would eliminate some office space at the MAC and a little bit of parking, pending permission from city zoners.
"They look the other way on parking issues when you're talking about a restaurant, or anything else that makes money," Albritton notes. "I hope they'll realize that a new MAC space would be a contribution to Dallas arts. But you never know; the people who're in charge of promoting uptown development never tout the MAC as an important presence in the area."
The new theater, which Albritton optimistically projects could be open by next spring, has had a swarm of input from local theater artists, including obvious folks like Kitchen Dog residents Dan Day and Tim Johnson; the Undermain's Raphael Parry; and non-theater folks like the Dallas Video Festival's Bart Weiss and Rick Brettell. Brettell was brought in because of his architectural knowledge, but "this will not be a world-famous architectural triumph. I'm a cheap bastard. We're focusing on functionality here."
The big question is: how much will this venue help alleviate Dallas' theater-space crisis? Hopefully some, but Albritton can't make any promises.
"We don't have plans to put any resident companies there," he says. "Kitchen Dog will have a lot of say about what happens. But we definitely want to include local companies as much as possible. New Theatre is exploring the possibility of staging two shows there in the fall of 1999. Fred Curchack might do some performances there. I've always wanted to give the home team a lift."
Albritton's support of the MAC, which has imported internationally recognized performance artists like Ann Carlson to create some decidedly noncommercial stuff, is commendable precisely because he knows he's not likely to turn a profit with the facility any time soon. Albritton is the leading Dallas patron for smaller, darker, funkier visual and performing arts. Attendance for that style of art is, of course, wildly unpredictable.
"It can get pretty lonely over here sometimes," he admits. "And I'd love to tell you we're expanding because Kitchen Dog is turning 'em away at the gate. They do pretty well, but it's just not the case."
Then again, times are tough all over for the arts. As Albritton notes: "If you pulled all those student groups they walk through the Dallas Museum of Art, how many people would you have left?"