By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Terry Dobson's autobiographical musical My Own Private Diva gets a return run at Theatre Too! starting October 5. I reviewed it last year and found great charm in it. Dobson, a Theatre Three veteran, sings, plays the piano and jokes about growing up gay in Slapout, Alabama. But I won't be seeing it again. Here's why.
In mid-August, I descended the 27 steps to Theatre Too!, the space below Theatre Three in the Quadrangle, to see Blind Date by South American playwright Mario Diament. The play, what I saw of it, was pretty awful, but the experience of sitting through its 90-minute first act proved to be a phobic's nightmare.
The underground theater is small and close anyway, comfortably seating only about 80 people. The night Blind Date opened, it was so overcrowded director Jac Alder joked in his pre-show remarks about needing a can opener to pry everyone out.
Not funny. There's only one exit door in Theatre Too! and on this night, a piece of the set was placed in front of it. In a personal emergency, one would have to cross the stage in full view of the actors and audience to get out to that long staircase to freedom. In a real emergency, we'd all be doomed. (The single exit and lack of handicap access keep Dallas' top theater director, René Moreno, who uses a wheelchair, from working down there.)
The show started that night, and the air conditioning went off. This theater does this, upstairs and down, because clanky blowers drown out dialogue. But this was a hot night and within minutes, it was a steam bath in there. The actors, some in three-piece suits, were soaked.
Half an hour in, I heard the splat of vomit from the back row. A sick lady and her friend climbed down and tiptoed across the stage, behind the set and out the exit. Oh, how I wanted to follow.
Another 30 minutes went by and the A/C teased on briefly, then off again. People were fanning themselves with programs. I was sweating from my earlobes.
No air. Heatstroke imminent. Elderly lead actor Hugh Feagin seemed oblivious to the audience's discomfort, though we sat only inches away. He spoke lines so slowly it was like his batteries were running down.
There was no paying attention to anything in this boxcar. I was in fight or flight mode. At long last, intermission came. I was up and out, taking steps three at a time. The 90-plus evening heat hit like a cool breeze.
That's it. An underground theater with one exit, no A/C and an excruciatingly long, bad play spelled the end of my attendance, at least for the foreseeable future, at Theatre Too! My own private diva needs room to breathe.