Enter Stage Right

With the curtain falling on its old playhouse,Dallas Theater Center gets its act together with a new leader

"Coming in here, it was like the Romans living on Greek ruins," says Moriarty, glancing at posters from shows staged by previous regimes. "Like there was no knowledge of the civilizations that had been here before."

He was surprised to learn not only that Baker wasn't revered for his stewardship of DTC, but that he was still alive. Baker, now 97, retired from teaching and directing in the 1980s. He lives on a ranch near Waelder, an hour outside Austin, with Kitty, his wife of 72 years.

"When I met Kevin one of the first things he said was that he wanted to meet my father," says Robyn Baker Flatt, an original DTC company member who went on to found the Dallas Children's Theater. "A lot of people say they want to meet my dad but don't follow up, so I didn't think he was serious. But he was. He called later to see if I could arrange it."

Kevin Moriarty is only the fifth artistic director in Dallas Theater Center's 50-year history.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Kevin Moriarty is only the fifth artistic director in Dallas Theater Center's 50-year history.
"Kevin grabs your heart immediately. He seems committed to this community and its actors."
Brandon Thibodeaux
"Kevin grabs your heart immediately. He seems committed to this community and its actors."

She did, accompanying Moriarty to the ranch one day last spring. Baker, who Flatt says "has good days and bad days" health-wise, was eager to meet the young director. They talked for a couple of hours.

"He told me so many stories about the actual work itself... about the acting company, about the audience, about the interaction with the board," Moriarty says. "More than anything, I got a sense of the unbelievable energy and passion he had. Still has."

The meeting left Moriarty inspired and Flatt deeply moved. "That was a very healing moment for a lot of us," she says.

Scene 5: The prince ventures outside castle walls

In his first season at DTC, Moriarty chose not to direct a show here. Instead he went about establishing relationships with the Dallas arts demimonde. He arranged one-on-one, off-the-record coffee dates last fall with the area's arts critics, asking what DTC should be doing better and making it clear he would be open and available to the press. And he started going to other theaters.

"I couldn't believe it," Dallas actor Paul Taylor says. "Backstage someone would say 'Kevin's in the audience again.' I think he saw every show at almost every theater last fall."

Moriarty sat in the audience at Kitchen Dog Theater, Contemporary Theatre, Uptown Players, WaterTower, Theatre Three, Lyric Stage, Dallas Children's Theater and others. He saw plays at SMU and met with theater faculty and students there and at DISD's Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the arts magnet Baker had been instrumental in founding in the mid-1970s. On his six-month "listening tour," as he calls it, Moriarty immersed himself in all things Dallas, going to churches, community centers, museums, bars and restaurants—and everywhere, asking questions about people's theater experiences.

One thing he learned, he says, is that Dallas needs to stop looking out of town for "world-class" talent. After seeing their work in musicals at other companies, Moriarty cast Neal, Mikel and Lush in Tommy along with Joshua Doss as The Lover and SMU student Chad Daniel as Cousin Kevin. "He made a lot of Dallas actors very happy doing that," Neal says. "He has given us a place to aspire to that we couldn't have before."

That doesn't mean imports won't still be hired as needed. For Tommy, Moriarty has brought in Broadway actors Nehal Joshi (Les Miserables and The Threepenny Opera) and Betsy Wolfe (110 in the Shade and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) to play Captain and Mrs. Walker.

In a further commitment to local talent and another nod to Baker, Moriarty held auditions for a new nine-member resident company, something DTC hasn't had in decades. Company members will act in at least two shows per season and do some teaching, but are free to work at other theaters. His first hire was Lee Trull, a 28-year-old actor-playwright who's also in the company at Kitchen Dog. Eight other company members will be named in December. Moriarty also is working to create teaching and training partnerships with SMU and the arts magnet—no head-shaving or nude scene-shifting required.

Moriarty's six choices for the 50th season include no Shakespeare or Rodgers and Hammerstein, though they are his favorites. After Tommy, which continues through September 28, comes the world premiere in October of black playwright Tracey Scott Wilson's civil rights drama The Good Negro, a co-production with New York's Public Theater that will be seen here first and then move there. After the usual holiday run of A Christmas Carol, it's another premiere, In the Beginning, a medieval mystery play co-produced with SMU and directed by Moriarty. Presented in March will be the Southwest premiere of Back Back Back, Itamar Moses' play about cheating in major league baseball. And if the adaptation rights can be worked out, the season will conclude with another premiere, a new musical version of the beloved children's book Sarah, Plain and Tall, a project Moriarty believes has Broadway potential.

From now on, says Moriarty, important new plays and musicals will start at DTC and then tour—not the other way around. He's commissioning playwrights to create scripts for his company. When the Wyly opens next year, the theater world will be watching for DTC to assert itself.

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