Curiouser and curiouser

Two acts may be one Tale too many in DTC's Alice

The Wonderland first act of DTC's show is cocaine- and caffeine-fueled impressionism, a heart-pounding menagerie of comic sketches that blurs into a kaleidoscope. The Looking Glass second act is turgid Gothic academia that crawls across the stage with self-conscious aristocratic flourish and curls up in a fetal position, aware of nothing but the string-laden dirge that swells in its own fading ears. Depending on your mood and your personality, you may enjoy one act of Alice: Tales of a Curious Girl while not caring a whit for the other. The point is, propping up the mismatched pair of them as theatrical bookends sends a whole shelf full of material tumbling to the floor. I've left the theater lethargic before, and I've certainly left it excited, but the downshift of tones in one evening makes for a lingering soreness that can only be caused by a crash.

Alice: Tales of a Curious Girl runs through March 21. Call (214) 522-8499.

Director Cynthia Hestand has a long history in Dallas theater, having started the small Equity company Open Stage with husband Haskell Hestand. He was former managing director of Stage One, the Southern Methodist University company that operated back when SMU was, in the late '70s, a member of the League of Professional Training Schools along with the likes of the Yale School of Drama. Both Stage One and its heir Open Stage were concerned with premiering new works regionally, which is why the 1976 Lanford Wilson drama Serenading Louie became less of an option every year at scheduling time. Still, Stage One opened and closed its doors with two Wilson scripts (The Fifth of July and Talley's Folly, respectively), and Hestand has been biding her time to present Serenading Louie, her favorite Wilson drama. This will be its area premiere.

"This is tough stuff," Hestand admits. "When people think of Lanford Wilson, they often think of Talley's Folly (his World War II-era study of the relationship between a Southern belle and a Jewish accountant), which is happier and more romantic. Serenading Louie is a modern, epic, domestic tragedy about the dissolution of two marriages. It's his most depressing play, but also his most interesting."

Hestand is getting the chance to test her conviction with Theatre Quorum, Carl Savering and Angela Wilson's company, which is opening its second season with a production of Wilson's script that includes Savering, Angela Wilson, Dennis Millegan, and Cindee Mayfield--certainly a cast for Dallas theater patrons to get excited about. The play concerns two old college buddies (Savering and Millegan) who become alienated from their wives (patrician Mayfield and potsmoker Wilson) at the same time. Hestand had a 45-minute phone conversation with Lanford Wilson from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, and discovered that the Pulitzer Prize winner is excited about Theatre Quorum's show and pretty much anyone who mounts a Wilson play, especially the lesser-known ones.

"He said Serenading Louie contained some of his best writing, but that it would never be his favorite play, because he has never felt like it was finished," Hestand says. "The script was revised and re-produced in 1984, changing lines that the actors spoke directly to the audience into dialogue they spoke to each other. The version we're staging is different again from the '84 published version. Lanford became very passionate when he was on the phone, making vegetable soup and giving suggestions at the same time. He was saying, 'And don't forget to have this character alone on stage for this long before the other character comes on, and here's a good kind of music you might have playing in the background.'"

Hestand found Wilson's detailed input necessary, especially for the second act, which "gets very weird and surrealistic." But though the script detours into experimentalism, she says, it's grounded in some harsh realities. "Serenading Louie is about the important things we discard during our journey to find the meaning of life. Alex and Carl [the two best friends at the play's center] are failed idealists. As in a lot of Lanford's plays, there's a sense of doomed romanticism, of dealing with a yearning that can never be fulfilled."

Serenading Louie opens March 12 and runs through March 27. Call (972) 216-8131.

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