By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Young's best years musically probably are behind him. Same goes for Undermain's reputation for doing sharp, polished productions of vibrant new pieces. Now winding up its 24th season, this company for too long has been content to put on erratic and unforgivably sloppy work. Their shows don't even look sufficiently rehearsed. The finale of Greendale finds the cast bopping in a disorganized shuffle as the fine musicians get in their last good licks. It's as if choreographer Sara Romersberger gave up and told the cast just to wave their arms and walk in circles. There is a lot of waving and walking, not always to the beat.
Visually, the show resembles a jam session in a cluttered garage. Undermain does little to transform their cold concrete bunker below Deep Ellum. Greendale's scenic designer Robert Winn painted the floor green, slapped a few tattoo-like images on the bare back walls and threw a few chairs and stools onto the stage. With six bulky floor-to-ceiling columns breaking up the space, it must be murder trying to build any set that doesn't obstruct even more of the audience's view, but there are talented set designers in this town who would try. With the lighting, Steve Woods does manage somehow to bring a sunny glow into the gloom.
From the seats, the wear and tear on Undermain's infrastructure is obvious. Large chunks of the low ceiling above the audience are gouged out. The rickety wooden platforms supporting tiered rows of well-worn chairs are creaky and splintered. The lobby and lounge are a mess. And they still have only the one-seat-per-gender restrooms. Upstairs. To get through a show here comfortably, it's necessary to restrict liquids for at least two days.
If it's to continue, Undermain needs to undergo a makeover. Other, newer theater companies have supplanted this once-lauded presenter of the avant-garde. Kitchen Dog Theater, now in its second decade, attracts stronger actors and directors, and does a fuller season of more dangerous material. Even for its weirdest shows, Kitchen Dog has production values that are first-rate, with designers trying some stunningly original things with set, lights and sound. Uptown Players, Contemporary Theater of Dallas and Second Thought consistently achieve an overall level of artistic excellence that Undermain hasn't touched in a decade.
They don't seem to realize this in their basement on Main Street, perhaps because they don't crawl out to see the work of their competitors often enough. Owens and DuBose are stuck in a style that went out of fashion in the 1980s, when the rough-hewn and partially improvised were all the rage in Dallas arts. The audience knows better and demands better now. There are too many good productions going on—three more open this week, including the highly anticipated Richard III at Kitchen Dog starring actor-director René Moreno—to settle for anything as half-baked as Undermain's hippie-dippy rock flop.