All the world’s a stage, but theaters have the most flattering lighting.
Into the amber-gelled glare aimed down on Dallas stages in 2015 stepped hundreds of productions big and small. This remains a busy and constantly churning theater town. Seasons overlap. New shows open every week. Here’s a look back at some that surprised, impressed and enlightened audiences and critics this year.
The Adventures of Flo and Greg by Briana Pozner was 2015’s most unexpected charmer in its world premiere directed by Terri Ferguson at Echo Theatre at the Bath House. Actors Chandler Ryan and Matt Holmes, both right out of college, pumped refreshingly loose rhythms into this eccentric two-hander about two lonely people who cope with neurosis by pretending to be crime-fighting superheroes. Ryan and Holmes didn’t rush Pozner’s imposed silences, making comedy gold of the wait for a printer slowly to spit out one sheet of paper.
Precious Little, also at Echo Theatre, featured a stunning performance by Sherry Jo Ward as a linguistics professor unable to communicate with the much younger woman she loves (played beautifully by Molly Welch). Lisa Fairchild co-starred as a gentle gorilla, speaking in sign language, in a wise, haunting play by Madeleine George (directed by Kelsey Leigh Ervi).
The Flick, the 2014 Pulitzer winner by Annie Baker, was greeted with love/hate reactions at Undermain Theatre, where it was directed with microscopic precision by Blake Hackler. For three hours, four workers in a small New England cinema swept popcorn, compared annoying seat stains and fell in and out of love. For many minutes, nothing happened. Then something would. Something amazing. Mikaela Krantz, Taylor Harris, Jared Wilson and Alex Organ (especially him) achieved a level of subtlety in their acting so realistic it felt like voyeurism to watch.
The Testament of Mary, also at Undermain, was Irish-born writer Colm Tóibín’s irreverent 75-minute monologue delivered by an angry mother of Jesus. The fire and fury in Shannon Kearns’ performance, directed by Katherine Owens, built to an explosive, emotional climax.
Mississippi Goddamn by Dallas playwright Jonathan Norton was based on the 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. The drama’s world premiere at South Dallas Cultural Center (directed by vickie washington) brought strong work by actors Stormi Demerson (at her most electrifying), Tyrees Allen, Calvin Gabriel, Whitney LaTrice Coulter, Jamal Sterling and Ashley Wilkerson. Norton now is completing a new play commissioned by Dallas Theater Center.
Lady in the Dark, the rarely revived 1940 play-with-music by Moss Hart, Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, was a knockout at Irving’s Lyric Stage in a production partially underwritten by the Weill Foundation. Listening to Janelle Lutz glamour-talk and glamour-sing the leading role of Liza Elliott, with the lush Weill score rising on the strings of conductor Jay Dias’ 30-piece orchestra, made for two and a half hours of penthouse-level sophistication. See Lutz in 2016 playing Judy Garland in Uptown Players’ End of the Rainbow.
Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker wasn’t exactly a musical in its powerful regional premiere directed by Kevin Moriarty at Dallas Theater Center. The “music” was a sideline drum corps providing throbbing beats throughout a play about the toll of physical violence in football. “Halftime” was a brutally muscular stretch of choreography performed by an all-male ensemble of professional dancers (some from the Bruce Wood Dance Project), real athletes and actors. Extra points for spectacle for turning the boxy Wyly Theatre into an indoor stadium.
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The Nance at Uptown Players gave veteran DFW actor B.J. Cleveland his best role yet in Douglas Carter Beane’s play about a closeted gay comic in the last sad days of vaudeville. Bruce R. Coleman directed, with period-inspired original music (for Beane’s lyrics) by local composer Adam C. Wright and fine supporting performances by Bob Hess, Sterling Gafford and Linda Leonard.
More shows and performances that left lasting impressions: Four-person musical Ordinary Days at Our Productions; The Decline of Ballooning starring Michael Federico at Festival of Independent Theatres; Drama Club’s new Faust, adapted by Federico, Jeffrey Schmidt (who directed) and Lydia Mackay (playing Mephistopheles), with a spooky-good Cameron Cobb in the title role; actor Drew Wall as a cabbie in Faust, anarchist in The Totalitarians (Kitchen Dog) and murderer in Belleville (Second Thought); Hassan El-Amin as Martin Luther King Jr., in DTC’s The Mountaintop, and Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; Delilah Muse and husband Antonio Arrebola stomping some steamy flamenco in Buñuel Descending at Ochre House; Matthew Posey as a man in crisis on his 60th birthday in his new play Soft Noodle Map (Ochre House); Terry Vandivort saying, “Remember me in the light” on his exit line as the Old Actor in Theatre Three’s The Fantasticks; 14-year-old Kennedy Waterman’s “attention must be paid” delivery as Linda Loman opposite grown-up Jeff Swearingen, and teens Tex Patrello and Chris Rodenbaugh as Happy and Biff, in Fun House Theatre and Film’s “age-blind” Death of a Salesman; Rodenbaugh’s death scene as Mercutio in Fun House’s all-teen Romeo and Juliet; Swearingen’s death scene as Mercutio at Shakespeare Dallas; Jenny Ledel opposite real-life husband Alex Organ in a rafter-rattling Othello (Second Thought); Justin Locklear’s perspective-challenging puppets in Doom McCoy and the Death Nugget, a student production at UTD; Locklear dancing and singing about testicles with the goofy-handsome chorus dudes of his and Danielle Georgiou’s mini-musical The Show about Men at FIT; Anthony Fortino, David Lugo and Christopher Curtis belting and mugging up a storm in Uptown’s merrily mod Catch Me if You Can.