By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
All the world's a stage, Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It. It makes sense, then, to see some plays outside of conventional theaters once in a while. Like under tall trees in a parking lot next to an alley in Uptown. Or inside a converted Art Deco bath house that more than half a century ago was the cool place to gather on hot days for swimming in White Rock Lake. There's even a show opening this week in a converted crack den in West Dallas: Dead White Zombies' latest, T.N.B., stars Dallas fringe theatrical darlings David Jeremiah, Justin Locklear and Rhianna Mack.
There just aren't enough stages to contain all the plays being done around here this month. They're popping up like crabgrass hither and thither. And thath kind of exthiting.
As more than a thousand regional theater professionals and educators gather in Dallas for the annual conference of the Theatre Communications Group, small local companies seem especially eager to be noticed by the visitors. That's why the Festival of Independent Theatres, usually held in July, bumped its schedule up a month at the Bath House Cultural Center, putting it in direct competition with Kitchen Dog's yearly New Works Festival, going on now. FIT has eight hour-long shows running over four weekends in rotating rep (two at a time), including five new plays from Dallas writers. Kitchen Dog has two premieres, Octavio Solis' Se Llama Cristina and Tim Johnson's One: Man.Show., plus staged readings of six other scripts.
Thinking outside the usual black box, a new group called PlaySite Theatre decided to stage its first production outdoors on a small lot behind the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture in Uptown. Their mission statement says they'll be "producing new works in forgotten, overlooked spaces." The spot they've chosen for their debut perfectly suits the setting for the play The Aliens, a moving and funny little 2010 drama by Annie Baker (reviewed at a preview).
Three characters hang out by dirty mops and garbage cans behind a coffeehouse. Jasper (Jason Cockburn, who has a nice Bradley Cooper thing going on) and K.J. (handsome, lanky David Novinski) have been friends since high school and each has reasons for having done nearly nothing before hitting 30. Alcoholic and "on meds," K.J. still lives with his New Age-obsessed mom and stays zonked out on hot tea spiked with magic mushrooms. Jasper fancies himself a songwriter and novelist, but really he's neither. On summer nights they loiter at the old picnic table behind the café to the annoyance of teenage busboy Evan (Johnathan Wilder).
Over a July Fourth weekend, the guys eat brownies, sip peppermint schnapps and swap stories. Jasper and K.J. talk about their late and not-at-all lamented band, The Aliens, named for a Bukowski poem (as is Jasper's unfinished novel, Little Tigers Everywhere). Evan, just 17, is eager to make friends with these hipsters. He has only recently gotten girl action — at Jewish music camp.
The Aliens is a talky play and director Stefan Novinski (actor David's brother) has found good places for the ambient sounds of Uptown — planes, sirens, the chatter of valet parkers, the whir of air conditioners — to complement the conversations. The actors simply acknowledge the interruptions and shut up until the jet drops down to Love Field.
A sad thing happens to one of the characters in the second half of the play. Sitting so close to the actors, you'll be able to see real emotions flash in Novinski's dark eyes. The sun has set by this time. Time for the cicadas and crickets to start up. Right on cue.