Anatomy of a slacker

The MAC debuts a charming, overly chatty meditation on the terrors of adulthood

The playwright-director was gifted with a very confident cast to aim his script's best face straightforward at the audience. Indeed, Ginsburg's multiple twentysomething tangents would've felt considerably more tangential without the sharp, unruffled efforts of the three central actors. Scott Openshaw, Erik Johnson, and Michael Federico (who, for all the world, looks and sometimes acts like the younger, meaner brother of former Kids in the Hall member Kevin McDonald) were in full command of the talky material's desperate, delirious punchiness. Tara Gibson was thankfully never humiliated as the female manifestation of the men's hopes and wet dreams, but neither was she ever defined: Gibson provided solid support in this microcosmic man's world. Max Hartman was given more focused stereotypes for his brief scenes, and he delivers the goods. He also delivered the show's funniest throwaway monologue as the vengeful employee of a corporate bagel shop.

The biggest problem with Straight Jacket and Tie is that there are too many sitcommy slacker moments that can be crumpled up and thrown away. Some of the expedient exchanges are entertaining, others distracting. When one character begins to initiate a conversation about whether a roommate is a "righty" (uses his right hand) or a "lefty" (uses his left hand) while masturbating, the moment feels like artificial riffing. As most males of my generation who'll even admit to masturbation rarely get into the mechanics of it, Ginsburg has shown us a touchstone that's too unpolished to be recognized by all. Interludes about car commercials, Beatles songs, The Price Is Right, nude centerfolds, and which-celebrity-would-you-sleep-with? ambush your funny bone and cloud your mind's eye, which has developed a cataract by the play's tentative, heartbroken final confrontation. Ginsburg has located an emotional impasse within a middle-class white male heterosexual context--the first baby steps toward building an adult identity for yourself, and the turmoil this causes when close friends start down divergent paths. Many who've lost or discarded friends during this process would rather forget it ever happened. With a leaner, more pointed, more discerning script, Aaron Ginsburg could make an eloquent case for why they should remember.

Straight Jacket and Tie runs through July 18. Call (214) 953-1212.

Dallas-based playwright Molly Louise Shepard doesn't lack for confidence when discussing her own works--close to a dozen completed plays that have all been staged professionally at places such as Off-Broadway's Primary Stage; Southern Repertory, the only equity house in New Orleans; and Big State Productions in Austin as well as Fort Worth's Scott Theatre.

"I'm a good playwright," Shepard says, less arrogantly than pragmatically. "I don't do bulk mailouts, and I don't enter contests. It's on a personality-connection basis; my plays are my children, and I want to have them."

New Theatre Company's Bruce Coleman has agreed to act as babysitter for a two-weekend staged reading of Shepard's new work, Flat Blue Panama. It's the first entry in a season of staged readings by New Theatre's new playwright program, Newerx.

"I have a very light exterior, but a dark interior," Shepard says. "I don't write comedies, although there is some levity in Flat Blue Panama. It's a surrealistic piece about a West Texas family living on a rock formation that looks like a Panama hat."

Shepard says she has been a part of the Dallas theater community for 20 years now, having been associated with various companies in various capacities and having spent a brief time producing shows at the now-defunct Skyy Gallery in Exposition Park, which she operated. She has just formed, along with Angry Girl writer-performer C.J. Critt, a nonprofit that will concentrate on producing and developing female playwrights--especially themselves. Work by both Critt and Shepard will be featured in the upcoming "A Month of Sundays," Natural Blonde's October Sunday staged reading series scheduled at Frank's Place in DTC's Kalita Humphreys.

"I don't think most of the theater community in Dallas would recognize me," Shepard says. "I'm sort of a recluse."

Shepard casually admits that her ultimate goal is to "vault myself nationally. I'm making new friends with each show." But, she says, "I can't picture myself living outside of Texas. All my work has been about different regions of Texas, or in the case of The Interloper, about a Texan transplanted to San Francisco. I'm patriotic for the place. It gives me everything I need."

Flat Blue Panama runs through July 18 at Theatre Too. Call (214) 443-9104.

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