By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
They're naked and wet at Theatre Three, where the in-the-round stage becomes a burbling swimming pool for the production of Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses. Based on myths set down by Ovid in A.D. 1, the play revisits the stories of Phaeton, Halcyon, Poseidon, Orpheus, Midas and other figures invented by the ancients to explain the phenomena of the natural world.
Any time you put a big pool of water on a stage, it's going to add exciting elements of danger and surprise. Especially so here. When the actors get in, you're never sure what you'll see when they get out. Costumes somehow change underwater. Characters fight and splash and kiss. One tries to drown another. And the handsome god of love skinny-dips wearing only a pair of feathery wings.
Surely, this can't be Theatre Three, home of the turgid costume drama and the Agatha Christie potboiler, favorite gathering place of hardy senior theatergoers still daring to drive at night.
Yes, for its 45th season, themed around "the great storytellers," T3 seems to have discovered the fountain of youth with Metamorphoses, a fresh, sexy, lyrical production directed by T.J. Walsh and featuring a cast of talented eye candy drawn from a much younger pool than this theater typically dips into. There are new faces (and other body parts) on view. Word already has gotten out that this is a hot ticket. For the first time in years, this theater sold out on opening night.
At 90 minutes, no intermish, the play is just right in every detail. Zimmerman gives the old myths a contemporary polish without resorting to cheap spoofery, and she retains their poetry and power. Midas, played by Jeffrey Schmidt with just a hint of Dubya's flat twang, opens and closes the play with the tale of the greedy man granted his desire for the golden touch. Moral of the story: Be careful what you wish for.
As Phaeton, son of the sun, Joel McDonald floats on a foam raft as he confesses low self-esteem to his therapist. Lovely Dana Schultes plays the goddess Myrrha, who schemes her way into a doomed romance with her own father. Sachin Patel throws a mean party as Bacchus, god of wine. Summer Hagen wafts in as Aphrodite. Trisha Miller Smith, Mandy Nguyen, Cameron McElyea, David Fluitt and Jennifer Engler appear, as do the others, in numerous roles. All are good.
Maybe it's the water and all the pretty people in it, or maybe it's those ancient myths working their magic all over again, but Metamorphoses is the best show of the summer so far, certainly the best work this theater has done in years.
Croll, a cantor at Dallas' Temple Shalom, displays an obvious affection for his subject, to whom he bears a passing resemblance. The revue begins in the early 20th century, with the young David Daniel Kaminsky (Kaye's real name) discovering the great Yiddish performers of the New York stage. Throughout the two-hour show, Croll not only plays Kaye, but also Kaye's father, some of the Yiddish stars Kaye idolized, Kaye's agent, and theater giants Moss Hart and Richard Rodgers. He makes the transitions with a switch of hats, a change of jackets or the donning of a vest.
Accompanied by pianist Terry Dobson, Croll sings Kaye's familiar songs for kids--"Inch Worm," "The Ugly Duckling," "I'm Five"--plus some tunes Kaye performed in the Broadway hits Lady in the Dark and Two by Two, and in his legendary run at London's Palladium. Included are Cole Porter's "Let's Not Talk About Love," Smith and Burns' "Ballin' the Jack" and Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." Audience sing-alongs are encouraged.
It's too bad younger folk don't seem to know Kaye's work other than his co-starring role in White Christmas. We of a certain age remember his Wednesday night show on CBS in the mid-'60s, which featured the performer in comedy sketches with the likes of Mary Tyler Moore, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. Kaye ended every episode sitting in a big chair, telling a story and singing a gentle song. That's how Croll ends his show, too. Very nice.
Top of the must-see list has to be Caryl Churchill's Far Away, produced by Theatre Quorum. It's an abstract one-act set sometime in the near future, a time when "the cats have come in on the side of the French" and "the elephants went over to the Dutch." Gravity, darkness, weather and noise are still up for grabs.
Joan (Amanda Wright), visiting her aunt (Rhonda Boutte) and unseen uncle, sees something nasty in their woodshed. There are people out there, some of them children. They seem to be prisoners. The uncle beats them with rods. Easily explained, says the aunt. They are traitors, the enemy, they deserve it. "You're part of a movement now to make things better," says the aunt.
Joan gets a job creating surreal hats worn by condemned prisoners on the way to the firing squad. She meets and marries another hat maker (Joey Oglesby) and by the end seems to have joined some sort of resistance movement.
Resistance to what, we never learn. But in this stark, delicately acted production, which incorporates several short original films by the Theatre Quorum company, we get the impression that whatever the troubles are, they're not far away at all.
Another among the current trend of plotless musical 'stravaganzas built around some pop genre, Movin' Out pounds out song after song by the Piano Man (played on opening night by Wade Preston, who looks like the Joel of the worn-out, one-wreck-too-many persona).
Out front, dancers choreographed by Twyla Tharp throw themselves into tizzies all over the stage without benefit of cadence or unison. Tharp, a dance idol of the 1970s, has fallen into predictable patterns of seemingly random steps. As if deaf to the beat, dancers slither, shrug, run, walk, swoop, flick-kick, droop, stumble and grind like kids fighting the symptoms of St. Vitus' Dance. Every number ends with somebody shaking booty and leaping offstage.
By intermission we'd had enough and did some movin' out ourselves, shrugging, swooping, stumbling, slithering and leaping for the door.