Theater in the ground

Local stage productions excelled in 1999 -- but where are the crowds?

Ensemble, Serenading Louie, Theatre Quorum. Chances are, Theatre Quorum won't revive Lanford Wilson's play about the adulterous disintegration of two prosperous middle-aged married couples as its annual cash cow. Material this depressingly recognizable about the slow death of romance and the even slower, perhaps more excruciating realization of your life's mistakes as you're kicking 40 in the ass wasn't intended to amuse and delight the entire family. Actually, under the direction of veteran Dallas stage artist Cynthia Hestand, Carl Savering, Angela Wilson, Cindee Mayfield, and Dennis Millegan did captivate me with the quietly relentless truthfulness of the discontented professionals they played. Not an altogether pleasant evening, but an enriching one.

Director-designer Scott Osborne and his design team and puppeteer David Goodwin, Gorey Stories, Our Endeavors. Scott Osborne and his partner, Patti Kirkpatrick, just might have spoiled the Deep Ellum Center for the Arts for other theater troupes who perform there, so completely did they transform the cavernous space into a faux-opulent Edwardian drawing room where Edward Gorey's homicidal high jinks transpired with dark comic beauty and musical panache. Special nod should go, of course, to the donations of Too Blue Scenic owner George Miller. And the more I thought about Gorey Stories afterward, the more I realized David Goodwin's shadow puppetry -- a sublime approximation of Gorey's own emaciated, pointy illustrations -- underscored the evening with rambunctious eeriness.

Director Joe Black and actress Dixie Lee Sedgwick, Inside Bonnie Parker, various theaters. Arthur Penn's film Bonnie and Clyde has always bugged me, and it took watching Dixie Lee Sedgwick's one-woman show about Bonnie Parker to crystallize the reason why: Penn may have prophesied celebrity-crime obsession, but Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were so self-conscious about our obsession with their celebrity names, the superficiality flattened two tragic real-life criminals. Sedgwick formulated letters, poems, and interviews with Parker -- who not only had no criminal record prior to her romance with Clyde, but was actually being groomed as a college-bound writer-performer -- into a lucid explanation of how some people fear loneliness so much, they can rationalize away all kinds of outrageous behavior. Almost all of the unseen people Sedgwick, as Parker, spoke to were women, which means the justifications for her romantic fever were fast and furious, which in turn means we glimpsed the terror usurping the intelligent mind of a young woman.

David Stroh was the title character in Cameron Cobb's dizzyingly multi-layered Didymus, which examined the links between illusion, materialism, and spirituality.
David Stroh was the title character in Cameron Cobb's dizzyingly multi-layered Didymus, which examined the links between illusion, materialism, and spirituality.

Director Lisa Cotie and actors Erik Knapp, Tom Eppler, and Hazel Beasley, Bartleby: A True Story, 11th Street Theatre Project. Lisa Cotie, growing ever more mature and subtle as a stage director, helmed one of the best shows I've seen at 11th Street, all the more impressive because it featured almost zero production values and a Dallas playwright. Bartleby: A True Story is Tim Hatcher's retelling of one tortured 19th-century New York law clerk who's finally undone by his own high standards for literature and human behavior. Kevin Keating played Bartleby, but the astute script was carried away by three supporting actors -- Erik Knapp, Tom Eppler, and Hazel Beasley -- who played old mailroom veterans and distrustful prostitutes and beleaguered mothers and ruthless literary agents and brutal asylum guards. The sharply cut details of their multiple characterizations threw Bartleby's plight into poignant relief.

Actress Cecilia Flores, As Bees in Honey Drown, Theatre Three. This comedy annoyed me in many ways, because, frankly, people who are obsessed with being famous really annoy me, no matter how quickly they may be bred in our age of rapid digital imagery transmission. But the gorgeously versatile Cecilia Flores made the insanity tasty and even nutritious as Alexa Vere de Vere, a con artist who preys on star-dazzled gay men with one foolproof weapon -- an extravagant personality composed of the great female movie icons of the 20th century. Cecilia Flores is not a classically beautiful woman, which makes her accomplishment that much more impressive -- she conveyed classical beauty (and the manipulation beneath it) through sheer force of personality.

Ensemble, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Dallas Children's Theatre. With the recent colon cancer diagnosis and subsequent retirement of one of my childhood heroes, Charles M. Schulz, I was reminded of the tears I shed (not a frequent occurrence for me, even at the saddest play) throughout Dallas Children's Theater's stellar version of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. If I could figure out why the song "Happiness" has made me bawl ever since I was a kid, maybe I'd have the key to unlock the peculiar workings of my mind. But it's just one great song in a show that spills over with adult joys, sorrows, and frustrations, and Dallas Children's Theater's cast did them all justice. You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown offers proof positive that adults idealize the shit out of childhood. Charles M. Schulz never did, which may be why he felt like such a close friend to me.

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