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Nine is enough to add up to a grand year in Dallas theater

Jane MacFarlane, Road, Kitchen Dog Theatre: Some of us who participated in this year's Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum were surprised when Jane MacFarlane's name was omitted from the final actress roster. Perhaps it was an oversight, because we thought there'd be consensus over her sadly funny, lovesick professional in Road, desperately trying to make one night magical in an economically depressed North England small town. In that show, MacFarlane also portrayed an elderly woman recalling her youthful beauty in a mirror held with shaking hands, and a cockney virago shaking down her daughter for a few quid. But we remember her vividly in tight skirt and high heels, returning to her flat with a soldier (Thom Penn) who's too drunk to sit up, much less smooch. MacFarlane carried on her amorous preparations with sweet self-imposed obliviousness--on with the sexy music, off with the shoes, a painted finger to tousle his hair and trace the curve of his ear. Not even when Penn slumps over and vomits in his lap is her quest for romance thwarted.

Charles Sanders, 20,000 Babes Beneath the Sea, Pocket Sandwich: In many of Pocket Sandwich's popcorn-throwing melodramas and sci-fi spoofs, the karaoke number has become a staple. The action pauses, someone throws an actor a mike, the glittery ball descends from the ceiling, and a disco or Sinatra tune is wedged incongruously (and, the director and performers pray, hilariously) into the mayhem. In an otherwise workmanlike Steve Lovett script about the all-female, undersea world of Aquitania, Charles Sanders gave an incongruous and hilarious performance as Bucky Fuller, a horny, mush-mouthed lieutenant for whom bravery and stupidity are synonymous. Sanders moved with a stiff-armed, sideways crab gait like the one-dimensional march of some cartoon Mountie hero, and when all of these elements came together for a swingin' nightclub rendition of "20,000 Babes Beneath the Sea," the audience cheered and stomped their feet at his bizarre energy.

Carrie Slaughter, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!, Theatre Three: We're thrilled that Theatre Three has been making money for months on end now by moving their hit musical revue about relationships to the basement, but less pleased at the displacement of companies that were tentatively to use Theatre Too. Nonetheless, I enjoyed its lunatic bits more than anybody who reads my columns would have ever guessed. Possibly the best number involved Carrie Slaughter, a tiny, lovely ingénue with a madcap desire to play against type: She portrays a lonely single parent singing her pitch into the camera of a video dating service. Some people can exaggerate or lie about their love lives with gleeful abandon to sell themselves to a partner; there are those of us who feel even more pathetic doing that than if we told the awful truth. Slaughter is crackerjack at fusing these two types; her flirty confidence deteriorates the more ridiculous she feels, and she begins to list her detriments, her baggage, her past disappointments with weary forthrightness.

Pat Watson, Soundbiting, Pegasus Theatre: We don't mean to insult Pat Watson when we say he reminds us of George W. Bush. He doesn't look like Alfred E. Neuman the way Shrub does, and his closely placed, deep-set eyes (probably the biggest source of the resemblance) radiate a kind of bemused intelligence in place of President Gump's frat-boy smugness. But when you're playing a Southern governor in an election year when a Southern governor is running, audiences will look for topical parallels. In this futuristic political satire where the people communicate strictly via the Internet and constantly shifting poll results flash in the middle of TV debates, causing the candidates to shift their positions constantly, Pat Watson was a marvel as the more ruthless of the two opponents. His direct addresses to the TV audience--which became speeches to the theater audience on a pair of monitors aimed at us--were acting textbook examples of subtle facial expressiveness.

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