The hammy actor (Tyson Rinehart) who yells "The stage is on fire!" steps forward to share a few lines from his other, longer performances, including Hamlet. A cranky patron (Rhianna Mack) in a squeaky seat describes the horror from the stalls. A mother (Angela Parsons) recalls being separated from her children in the melee. A fire-and-brimstone minister (Oscar Contreras) preaches that the fire was God's punishment for sinful entertainment. (A church was later built on the ruins of the playhouse.)

Chapman paints poetic word pictures. A pit musician (Mack again) describes watching the fire "play the notes" as it crackled through the pages of music. Then "the flames snaked inside each woodwind, tunneling through the flues...the horns heated like frying pans on a stove."

Children (Elizabeth Evans, Chris Piper) playing in the lobby speak of their terror as they were trampled to death. A man (Rinehart) who has treated his wife (Parsons) to an evening out for their anniversary keeps repeating the words, "They were the best seats in the house."

A makeover to die for
in Grace and Glorie.
Marty Van Kleeck
A makeover to die for in Grace and Glorie.

Details

Grace and Glorie continues through March 27 at the Bath House Cultural Center. Call 214-532-1709.

Volume of Smoke continues through March 27 at the Bath House Cultural Center. Call 469-236-2726.

In giving voices to ghosts of an event nearly 200 years past, Chapman has created a fascinating little docudrama, and one that's surprisingly lighthearted and un-melodramatic. Audacity's production, directed by Ruth Engel, puts even more emphasis on the words by keeping the tech details simple. The scenery is just a few wooden chairs, a ladder and an old trunk, from which actors pull costume pieces as they change parts.

At the end of Volume of Smoke, the ensemble recites a list of famous theater fires, going back a thousand years. Until the advent of electricity, and the use of "fire curtains" on big stages, theaters were lit with candles, torches and gaslights, so the risk of incineration was high. There's little chance of anyone having to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater now. But after seeing this play, we'll be sure to look for the exit signs before the lights go down.

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