By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Dalton James, Mark Farr, and John Flores, The Ultra-Happy, Super-Sad, Megavariety Revue, Our Endeavors: I always like to review a show as late in its run as possible, because invariably the performers only get better, more focused, more attuned to the emotions running through themselves, each other, and the playwright. Catching Scott Osborne and Patti Kirkpatrick's ultra-ambitious, super-ballsy, mega-original musical revue at Deep Ellum Center for the Arts a second time, with a big and very enthusiastic crowd, made me wish I could rewrite a lukewarm review. Dalton James wrote and performed what may have been the night's showstopper, his rap-fueled take on the old Latin saw vini, vidi, vici--"I came, I saw, I conquered." His "Big Black Boots" brought the house to cheers as easily as the imaginary gay bar into which James stomped (flashing the title footwear) was brought to its knees--or so he thinks. Meanwhile, Mark Farr and John Flores wrote a quieter but equally sensational comic ensemble piece, "The Soil in Which It Grows," where a lowly copyboy (David Goodwin) brings down the wrath of Y2K and Godzilla through his virtual love technology. They called it "comic-book theater," and the original music, lighting design, and stylized performances practically had me seeing the actors' dialogue in giant word balloons.
Cindee Mayfield, Death Defying Acts, Theatre Three: I could watch Cindee Mayfield put on or take off a glove all day long--meticulous yet seemingly unconscious of it, working it finger by finger, concentrating just enough on the process to let you know her character isn't quite comfortable with the deception she's perpetrating. Such were the subtleties I noticed in Mayfield's sparkling comic performance in Woody Allen's Central Park West, the last one-act of Theatre Three's Death Defying Acts. I didn't even like Allen's rattletrap, misanthropic farce, but Mayfield, who's proven she does that aging New York debutante thing so well, was delicious as she came apart at the seams.
Tina Parker, The Glass Menagerie, Kitchen Dog: After my effusive review of this production and the Dallas Theater Critics' and Leon Rabin awards it snagged, some in the theater community who'd seen it thought director Tina Parker's three-ring version of the Wingfield family overrated. Let me continue my unqualified endorsement and say this: Kitchen Dog's Glass Menagerie hooked me more for what it did with the circus myth than for what it did to Williams' script. Theater for theater's sake is a straitjacket I refuse to wear, and Parker and her cast clarified for me my own lingering unease and neurotic fascination with the P.T. Barnum milieu by imposing on it the dysfunctional framework of one of American theater's two or three most famous families. Circus performers have always seemed the quintessential existentialist freaks--humans trapped by an identity they've adopted strictly for show--and this perception fused smoothly with both Tom Wingfield's sad struggle to emerge from family chains and Tennessee Williams' own fascination with magic, illusion, and deception.
Guin Powell, Ontological Proof of My Existence, 11th Street Theatre Project: I hope the reason that Guin Powell doesn't perform on Dallas stages more often is that he has a busy, fulfilling personal life, and not that it's difficult for a black actor in this town to get roles. Powell is a tall guy with penetrating eyes who doesn't have to get all riled up to give audiences the sense that his character contains dark storm clouds of feeling. He did get downright scary when he exploded in Black, Theatre Quorum's production of the Joyce Carol Oates script, but eventually everyone in that show became overextended by Oates' preoccupation with violence. He was an ominous hovercraft of threat in 11th Street's production of a better Oates script, Ontological Proof of My Existence. A daddy figure filtered through a sex abuser's id, he was both nurturer and exploiter of Laurel Whitsett, prostrate in an abandoned building with only the eerie echo of a dripping sink to accompany their twisted harmony. Which leads me to:
Laurel Whitsett, In the Jungle of the Cities, Kitchen Dog: Whitsett made a fine foil for Powell in the 11th Street show, but I wanted to cite her much smaller role in Kitchen Dog's strong production of this overwritten Brecht script. To bastardize Stanislavski's commie acting-company pronouncement: There are no small parts, only actors with talent too small to grab your attention. As the girlfriend of the beleaguered, fatally principled librarian hero, Whitsett was to die for in a small, stock part you forget is difficult to play well--the sloppy drunk. Whitsett slurred and slouched her way into the pantheon of sad-funny, dipsomaniacal greats.