By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In Zanna, Don't! every kid has two mommies. Or two daddies. Being gay is the norm, and heteros are closeted in the candy-colored, bully-free, over-the-rainbow world invented by writer-composer-lyricist Tim Acito in his 2003 musical.
At Uptown Players, director Coy Covington has picked a young, attractive eight-member ensemble to create Acito's giddy parallel universe of super-cute all-gay teens. Zanna's Heartsville High reveres the chess champ as the top jock, and it's no prob to bring same-sex squeezes to the prom. "What kind of high school would this be," asks new kid Steve (played by James Chandler), "if the captain of the football team didn't play the lead in the school musical?"
If you're tempted to answer that it's the kind in that inexplicably popular Disney horror, High School Musical, remember that that show's only gay kid is a mincing, lisping, self-hating stereotype.
Zanna, Don't! offers just the opposite in a glitzy fairy tale of acceptance and inclusiveness that gets plenty of mileage out of its gay-is-good gimmick. The young lesbians of Heartsville have a varsity bull-riding club. The boys describe "doing the usual guy stuff" as "making brownies and watching Project Runway."
Playing Cupid among his classmates is Zanna, a plucky, puckish teenager portrayed with wide-eyed exuberance by Ryan Cowles. Zanna waves his magic wand to bring love to lonely kids (while denying his own desire for a boyfriend, at least until the last minutes of the show), and he makes sure every well-meaning wish is granted. With Zanna's help, quarterback Steve not only tosses the winning touchdown but dashes to the end zone to catch it himself.
Then Steve and champion bull-rider Kate (Kayla Carlyle) find themselves attracted to each other. Their taboo romance threatens Heartsville's status quo and puts Zanna's conjuring powers in turmoil. But this being a frothy musical fable, not an after-school special, love conquers all by the end.
It's a clever little musical with two hours of funny lines and bouncy pop tunes that add up to a sweet lesson in tolerance. Uptown's production skips along with sprightly performances by the youthful cast, notably Cowles, who keeps Zanna guileless and goodhearted. Lindsey Holloway, William Dehorney, Melissa Farmer, Steven Guez and Thomas Renner sing and dance endearingly.
Covington, a frequent star of Uptown's cross-dressing comedies, has been designing and directing more shows lately, and his imprint on the increasingly high quality of Uptown's work is undeniable. He's all about the crispness of the details and every element of Zanna is polished, painted, sequined and sparkled to perfection.
Zanna, Don't! makes a dandy Saturday night show—gay date, straight date, bi-curious or by yourself. If you need a big dose of happy, go zee it.————
August may be the wrong month for A Streetcar Named Desire. The primal heat in the Tennessee Williams classic, which just opened at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, feels tepid compared to searing century-mark temperatures outside.
Set in post-war New Orleans, Streetcar should be all sweat and sex under the nervous-making pall of humidity that envelops summer evenings in the Quarter. So why does CTD's production, directed by René Moreno, feel so cool and detached?
Hard to say exactly. Could be partly the fault of the set design by Randel Wright, which reads more drafty Chicago tenement than quaint N'awlins digs. In the Kowalskis' shabby two-room flat, Wright has placed Stanley and Stella's bedroom far upstage behind a diaphanous black drape. The pivotal confrontation and rape scene between Stanley and his sister-in-law Blanche DuBois happens in that room, so keeping the action at a distance lessens its impact. The lighting by Russell K. Dyer also works against the play, never hinting at anything but gloomy, chilly shadows of night even during scenes that happen in daytime.
There's also heat lacking in this production's Stanley Kowalski, Clay Yocum. Adept at playing sexy brutes—as he's done to great effect in plays at WaterTower and Second Thought Theatre—Yocum this time fails to bring enough feral power to one of American drama's most intensely masculine characters. His cries of "Stella!" are loud but not convincing. And in his speech to Stella about the "Napoleonic Code," he's flailing and whiny.
This Streetcar's strength is its women. Lydia Mackay, at 31 about a decade too young for the role of Blanche, nevertheless brings beautiful textures to her portrayal of a desperate woman on the brink of a psychotic break. Sneaking gulps of Southern Comfort when she can—and denying that she ever touches the stuff—this Blanche by the third act is believably drunk, too drunk to fight off Stanley when he turns violent. As she's driven mad by liquor, grief and what looks to be serious bipolar disorder, Mackay's Blanche is stunningly vulnerable.
As Stella, the sister who married down the social order because Stanley was a hot stud, Jessica Wiggers works expertly off Mackay. Their scenes together are quiet studies in how professional actors should listen and react to each other.
Making her CTD acting debut, Marianne Galloway, the founder and main director at Risk Theatre Initiative, plays upstairs neighbor Eunice with a honking voice and a sharp twitch in her hips. Galloway works up some simmering chemistry with Jon Venable as Eunice's dumb-lunk husband Steve—more chemistry than Stella and Stanley generate downstairs.
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