Tainted love

DTC's powerful How I Learned to Drive offers a crash course in taboo relationships

Forget the playwright's confused, overrated AIDS parable The Baltimore Waltz, recently presented in Dallas by Kitchen Dog Theater. This is the kind of right-up-to-the-bone scalpel work that she performed in Desdemona...A Play About a Handkerchief, produced a while back by 11th Street Theatre Project. In that play, Vogel turned Othello's doomed, saintly young wife into a sexually avaricious woman who subs for a prostitute friend when the opportunity arises. Among other things, she asks us to investigate our own methods of distributing approval and disapproval: How would such knowledge of an underwritten Shakespearean character affect our reaction to her brutal murder?

For the Dallas production of How I Learned to Drive, DTC once again liberally mixes area artists with out-of-towners, and I'd wager you'd be hard-pressed, if you didn't read the program, to tell the difference as far as quality of performance. The supporting performers (referred to in the script as "The Greek Choruses") are really acting in a parallel story to the poignant relationship of Li'l Bit and Uncle Peck. They provide almost all of the comic desperation, the roiling sea of absurdity from which the niece must escape as surely as the tossed waters of her infatuation-repulsion with Uncle Peck.

Charlotte Akin, Tara Gibson, and Jeremy Schwartz all play multiple characters who panel the mosaic of Li'l Bit's childhood, adolescence, and adulthood: At the preview, they distinguished these sometimes grotesque characters smartly and vividly and sometimes hilariously. Terry Beaver is the Tony nominee from New York's production of The Last Night of Ballyhoo; he is slyly endearing from the word go, and his predatory instincts are rooted in a desperation that comes from his "fire in the heart." Terri Lam is the narrator of this haunted, tangled memory play. Like Vogel's script, the graceful Lamm plays Li'l Bit as confused in the best and most edifying sense--striving to reconcile love and hate, sorrow and celebration. It's a trial that the exploited and the unexploited alike can recognize.

How I Learned to Drive runs through November 15. Call (214) 522-TIXX.

Banter
Writer-director-designer-actor-Dallasite-who-actually-doesn't-own-a-car Bruce Coleman makes two lofty claims for this "Banter": "I made you like musicals" is the first (I did enjoy two Theatre Three shows: Once On This Island, which Coleman directed, and Into the Woods, whose costumes he designed, but I'm still wary of the genre). The second is "I have become the king of the musical revue." He has extensive proof for that.

"The first show I ever directed was a revue of the music of Harry Chapin for Theatre Three," Coleman says. "Since then I've done revues for Irving Berlin, Jacques Brel, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. I knew I wanted to do a Cole Porter show ever since Artie Olaisen (from the Dallas Children's Theater) gave me a book about Cole Porter and Noel Coward called Genius and Lust. The premise of that book was that the genius of these two men was heavily inspired by their sexuality. He showed how different songs they wrote were influenced by romantic and sexual things that happened in their lives at the time they were writing them."

Coleman evolved this idea into Night and Day, New Theatre Company's Cole Porter revue. Using the songwriter's wondrous tunes and writing a book for the show that encompasses the major events of Porter's life, the director has arranged the show in almost tutorial fashion. The first act recounts the trials and victories of the songwriter "with a few songs for commentary," and the second act is "pure vaudeville."

"The idea is, the first act will introduce a new way to look at the second act, the songs," Coleman says. "We want people to think of the songs in the context of Porter's life."

It all transpires in the fictional Chateau Cigne Noir, a famous Parisian brothel where Porter (Steve Lovett) cavorts with Madame (Susan Reed) and her coterie of hustlers and gigolos. Coleman is collaborating with arranger Scott Ekhardt to bend familiar tunes into new shapes that fit his purposes. In addition, he's using some less frequently performed Porter songs ("I Want to Be Raided By You") and, when possible, the "party lyrics" rather than the "mass consumption" ones. (When's the last time you heard Ella Fitzgerald singing, "You're the arms of Venus / You're King Kong's penis / You're self-abuse"?)

Coleman says there's no way he could write this show without making fun of a famous Cole Porter bio-film that bears the same name as his show--the notorious Cary Grant vehicle in which Porter is portrayed as a sly dog with the chorus girls.

"The rain falling, Cary Grant in a foxhole in the middle of a world war, pining for Alexis Smith and writing Night and Day," Coleman laughs. "I don't think so. Monty Woolley was Porter's best friend, and the two of them would work the docks at night for rough trade. Monty Woolley played himself in the film as a real womanizer. Don't you know they were just screaming with laughter between takes?"

Night and Day opens October 28 and runs through November 14. Call (214) 871-3300.

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