Shaw Business

Quaint scandals at Theatre Three; shrieks of horror fill the night at Teatro Dallas

A mother and daughter also dominate Teatro Dallas'WomaNightFear, an hour-long Day of the Dead drama that's the first production onstage at the new Latino Cultural Center near downtown. Adapted by director Cora Cardona from the Japanese Onibaba, the uneven tale unfolds as a mythical pageant about war and death in ancient Mexico.

The production is a disappointing inaugural event for this new space. The acting is wooden and amateurish. Cardona has let the cast indulge in far too much screaming, and between shrieks, the feral characters squat and slurp food in a thoroughly disgusting fashion.

The theater itself is a letdown, too. Dallas is woefully short of performance spaces. New theater companies, and there seems to be another one popping up every month, have been forced to stage works in art galleries, conference rooms and warehouses, anywhere some folding chairs and a few clip lights can create the illusion of theater.

The Latino Cultural Center's theater is a traditional proscenium design, but nobody bothered to work out the acoustics, which are abysmal. With its high vaulted ceiling over the audience, the space bounces voices around like echoes against a canyon wall. Unmiked, the performers in WomaNightFear can't be understood unless they come far downstage and speak right at the audience. Otherwise, their dialogue is swallowed by the echo. I swear I heard one of them ask, "Where is the Roquefort cheese?'' But that can't be right. Doesn't help that the sound designer for this production has imposed an electronic echo effect in some scenes. Enough already-already-already.

Hard to say what this play is about. In a series of brief, disjointed episodes, everyone shouts, acts hysterical and cavorts over the multilevel set like mad Martha Graham dancers. There's a mother and daughter who live in a straw hut. Up the hill lives a bald guy in a white loincloth who looks like Yul Brynner without the six-pack abs. He screams and dances around waving a hatchet. A fat guy painted red appears once or twice but doesn't do much. At least he doesn't scream. A dancer in a skeleton-painted leotard strikes poses over a pit of death that some characters eventually fall or jump into. Bald guy and the girl get naked and engage in some strenuous fake-fornicating in his hut. Mama doffs her top and screams a bunch and tries to mount baldy. Daughter screams. A creepy thing with a death's head mask and hair like Don King stands over the pit and screams. And if this play had gone on one minute longer, I would have screamed, too, and jumped right into that pit.

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