Is it Time to Bring the Curtain Down on Festival of Indie Theatres?

Is it Time to Bring the Curtain Down on Festival of Indie Theatres?
Photo courtesy Churchmouse Production
Jared Culpepper and Chad Cline in Churchmouse Productions' The Watch at FIT 2014

Like an old actor no longer able to remember his lines, maybe the Festival of Independent Theatres needs to be led gently out of the spotlight for good. The annual FIT fest, as it's redundantly known, was conceived 16 years ago to give small companies a chance to produce new work. FIT is a low-risk, locals-only festival, requiring bare budgets of as little as a thousand dollars or so to share the Bath House Cultural Center stage with other troupes doing short one-act plays.

In the past, FIT has hosted some extraordinary shows. In 2005 Second Thought Theatre, then a fledgling group of young actors just out of Baylor University, put on a rousing King Ubu using $50 worth of pool noodles and beach balls as props and scenery. The stars were Steven Walters, now a lead company member at Dallas Theater Center and still a busy writer-director for STT (his play Booth recently had a sold-out run), and Allison Tolman, now famous as the Emmy-nominated star of cable TV's Fargo miniseries. Walters and Tolman co-wrote their adaptation of Alfred Jarry's 1896 absurdist comedy Ubu Roi, about a pompous king who leads his country into senseless war.

That production was memorable for its innovative use of cheap materials and for the crazy-hilarious performances of its cast, but also for its timely commentary on the war in Iraq. It was brilliant and it was relevant. Critics and audiences heaped huzzahs on it. Nine years later, I wish I could see it again.

Location Info

Map

Bath House Cultural Center

521 E. Lawther Drive
Dallas, TX 75218-3311

Category: Community Venues

Region: White Rock Lake Area

Details

Festival of Independent Theatres

Continues through August 2 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Tickets, $18-$60 (for two-weekend festival pass), are at 800-617-6904.

Other standouts from a past FIT were two plays in the 2011 lineup. Roberts Askins' romantic comedy Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef, produced by Rite of Passage Theatre Company and directed by Cassie Bann, starred Adrian Churchill as a shy cook in love with a waitress played by Whitney Holotik. On her final shift, the chef proclaims his feelings not with words, but food, sending out lavish dishes that — and here's where the surprises happened — sang love songs. Puppet clams on the half shell, warbling in harmony. Desserts that crooned. A charming, lovely show.

That same summer marked the debut of Eric Steele's one-man play Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self, produced for FIT by Second Thought Theatre and starring longtime Dallas actor Barry Nash. Steele has since taken his play about a one-armed plane crash survivor to the Hollywood Fringe and adapted it into a feature film, also starring Nash, which has won awards at festivals around the country.

These past gems are examples of what FIT was and should be: A carefully chosen collection of plays showcasing the best writing, acting, directing and design by local theater companies working on minuscule budgets. But that was then. What's on now in the 16th annual fest are shows nowhere near the quality of Ubu, Albanian Sous Chef or Bob Birdnow. This summer's theme seems to be "plays designed to make you hate theater."

The two productions reviewed the first weekend of FIT — Jim Kuenzer's Metamorphosis II and Jeffrey Colangelo's Playtime — were patience-testing exercises. In Kuenzer's sequel to Kafka's story, Gregor Samsa wakes up as a man (no longer a cockroach) stuck in a reality TV show and then in a confusing conversation with a "genius" at an Apple store. Playtime featured 45 dialogue-free minutes of violent clowns hitting each other with pillows and balloons, plus intermittent screaming (and not just by the voice in my own head).

The Watch, reviewed on FIT's second weekend, is so awful it makes Playtime seem precious by comparison. Trace Crawford's script, directed by Jordan Willis for Churchmouse Productions, places two men in a room with a bed and a table. Paley (Jared Culpepper) wears grunge, his pot belly spilling over his pants. Dawkins (Chad Cline) is buttoned into a too-small business suit. They carry on with dialogue that sounds like this:

Is that your watch?

What?

That.

What? This?

Yes, that.

My watch?

Yes, your watch.

Is it a watch?

It is.

Is it?

Is it what?

It's like "Who's on First?" turned into a nightmare from which you don't awake for nearly an hour. Of this. This? Yes, this. And then more of this. As you dig your fingernails into your kneecaps.

Echo Theatre's mania/gift, written and directed by Shelby-Allison Hibbs, is a mental health sketch that benefits from earnest acting by Whitney Holotik and Cara L. Reid. A college girl (Reid) manically types a sci-fi story as her psychosis spins out of control, landing her in the hospital. Holotik plays her doctor, her inner dialogue and other characters. Hibbs has her characters explain bipolar illness and its symptoms. This is the stuff of Dr. Phil episodes and daytime dramas. Not really all that compelling on a stage.

At least WingSpan Theatre Company's The Diaries of Adam and Eve has actors Austin Tindle and Catherine D. DuBord speaking the witty words of Mark Twain, adapted from his separately published "diaries." Two new humans approach each other warily in Eden. "'We,'" says Adam. "Where did I get that word?"

DuBord and Tindle, both exceedingly sleek and limber in their flesh-colored bodysuits (by designer Barbara C. Cox), have cute chemistry. Director Susan Sargeant has let them mug too much, but they are funny and pretty, so they get away with it. This piece isn't a big wow; it's just better than the others.

Maybe FIT should consider this year its last bite of the apple. There's nothing tempting here anymore.

 
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3 comments
wr_maxwell
wr_maxwell

It's nice to see The Dallas Observer has maintained it's snarky attitude.  If you want polished, professional theater, go to NYC and see CATS or Les Mis again and again and again, until you are sick of them and want to jump off a bridge.  Then see them again and again etc. because there is nothing else to see.  IF new plays, playwrights and actors are not developed thru small productions at festivals like F.I.T. there will never NEVER be anything new.  I only saw half of this year's offerings.  While the 4 plays were not ALL superb, 2 of them where.  And the other 2 were not so bad that I walked out or fell asleep.  Shame, shame on the Dallas Observer for wanting to euthanize F.I.T. for not getting an A+ in all subjects.  You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

c3po
c3po

When reviewing shows i would encourage "reviewers" to do their homework. I saw several of the shows at The Festival this year and the basic facts in this article are NOT CORRECT. This article also seems to want  The Festival to Cease from being? ABSOLUTELY NOT! 

This Festival brings so much talent together EVERY year. Writers/Actors/Producers/Stage Manager/Audience Member. All working together to bring us Art! THANK YOU ! 


It is also on opportunity to stretch and grow. 


Dont let this article deter you. The shows are worth your time and should be seen if you love the arts.



wtfyolo
wtfyolo

is someone bitter because her stupid sweater "play" didnt make the cut?


 
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