Embarrassment of Riches
A great moment in theater can be as simple as a beam of light on an interesting face. Or it can come in the spectacle of a stage crowded with dancers whirling as music swells from a full orchestra.
Dallas area stages in 2007 throbbed with memorable moments, large and small. Shows ran the gamut, from the intimate to the intimidating, from wordless to wouldn't-shut-up. More than 60 professional companies put on work during the year, with almost every week offering two, three, sometimes more opening nights.
It may seem downright foolish to tout shows that have come and gone. With critics' picks for movies, music and other media, at least the products are still out there to be discovered and enjoyed. Live theater is a will-o'-the-wisp. Catch it quickly before it disappears.
Reason enough to note which theaters did the best work during the past year. Chances are they'll do something well worth catching in 2008.
If you were lucky, you caught at least one of these memorable productions last year:
1. Glengarry Glen Ross at Dallas Theater Center was a riveting 95-minute lesson in how to act a David Mamet drama in a way that's stylized and jarringly realistic. The jazz rhythms of Mamet's stuttering dialogue were played perfectly by the cast of mostly New York actors, notably Jack Davidson, Apollo Dukakis and Peter Rini as the real estate snakes desperate for "good leads." First scene to last, the all-male ensemble held the audience at DTC in their tightly clenched fists.
2. Carousel is never done anymore the way Irving's Lyric Stage did it in September. Not since the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical opened on Broadway 60 years earlier had any company anywhere done it full out with a 40-piece orchestra and 40 singers and dancers. Directed by Cheryl Denson, conducted by Jay Dias and sung exquisitely by leads Kimberly Whalen and Christopher Pinnella as Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, it was a grand American musical done on operatic scale.
3. End Times at Kitchen Dog Theater's New Works Festival offered audiences the first look at the world premiere of a haunting new Allison Moore drama. Directed by Tina Parker, local actors Sally Nystuen-Vahle, Lee Trull, Barry Nash and Clara Peretz gave deeply moving performances as Dust Bowl Okies fighting nature and personal demons. The story was bleak, but the experience of watching the play was almost sensory overload. When the big storm blew in, sound designer Emily Young made sure the audience felt the fearsome rumble all the way to their toes.
4. Fences marked Dallas Theater Center's first, long overdue production of any work by August Wilson. The play won the Pulitzer 20 years ago, and it stands with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman as a timeless saga of the downfall of a working-class family. DTC's staging featured a fierce performance by Wendell Wright in the lead as Troy Maxson, a 1950s Pittsburgh garbage truck worker who never got over his broken dream of a pro ball career.
5. tick, tick...BOOM! was a tiny show with big voices at Uptown Players. Before Rent, composer Jonathan Larson wrote this sweet autobio-musical about a young composer trying to choose between his struggling career and new romance. Joshua Doss, Courtney Franklin and Cedric Neal sang their hearts out in a no-frills-but-many-thrills production staged by director Bruce R. Coleman and musical director Mark Mullino. This show can be remembered as a fine example of doing the most with very little budget. The set was a couple of bare scaffolds, some wooden cubes and a chair or two. It was up to the cast to make the audience see the Manhattan they were singing about—which they did just fine.
6. The Miracle Worker at Dallas Children's Theater was a vividly acted revival of the William Gibson play about 7-year-old Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. Hockaday student Pam Covington threw herself into the role of blind-deaf Helen with wild-child physical abandon. Equaling her fine work were Trisha Miller Smith as Annie and Jack Birdwell as Helen's resentful stepbrother. The final "wa! wa!" scene at the water pump turned on the audience's waterworks as well.
7. The Boxer, first seen at the Bath House Cultural Center at the Festival of Independent Theaters, then in a restaging at Dallas Children's Theater, was the best new work by a Dallas playwright in 2007. For his Bootstraps Comedy Theater troupe, writer-director Matt Lyle created an homage to silent films with his dialogue-free one-hour comedy about a Depression-era girl pretending to be a guy to train the feisty young boxer she secretly loves. It was knockout physical farce with a wittily rendered live score performed by pianist B. Wolf. Lyle has a big future. Unfortunately, it looks like it won't be in Dallas. He's set to relo to Chicago's Second City company with actress-wife Kim this year.
8. Right Ho, Jeeves at Stage West and then at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas put Dallas actor Regan Adair back in the spotlight in the role of P.G. Wodehouse's upper-class buffoon Bertie Wooster. In a nonstop torrent of hilarious blather, Adair gamboled through two hours of high comedy set among the twits and ninnies of 1920s London society. A delightful evening of escapist theater, the play matched the right actor to a character he appeared to have no end of fun playing.
9. Lawrence & Holloman at Second Thought Theatre was wonderfully strange. Flashbacks of images from director Marianne Galloway's production still hiccup into the cerebral cortex now and then. The absurdist two-character play by Canadian Lawrence Panych depicts the friendship between two co-workers—one a chirpy optimist, the other a bitter loser—that goes upside down when one man begins to steal the life of the other. In Second Thought's version, it unfolded like an episode of The Office written by Samuel Beckett. Dallas actors Ian Leson and Chad Gowan Spear were dandy foils for each other. The final view of a naked Leson in a white bathtub was shocking, creepy and...oh, God, maybe the right prescription will make it go away.
10. Luann Hampton Laverty Oberlander at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas was a nicely pitched revival of one-third of Preston Jones' "Texas Trilogy." Actors Sue Loncar, Nye Cooper, Catherine DuBord, Morgana Shaw, Beau Trujillo, Ashley Wood and Kevin Moore made audiences believe in the fictional West Texas town of Bradleyville. Slumped on a barstool, swigging a beer, Loncar's almost-40 Luann was every jaded small-town beauty who grew up to find heartache instead of fame and glory. Later this year CTD will explore another play in Jones' trilogy with a production of The Oldest Living Graduate featuring some of the same cast as Luann.
11. Shadowlands at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas starred James Crawford as Irish author C.S. Lewis and Diane Worman as his American wife, Joy Gresham. William Nicholson's play wove a special kind of magic as it chronicled Lewis' unlikely late-in-life romance with the dying Joy. Such a tearjerker this was, CTD provided a box of tissue at every seat. This was another directing achievement for Marianne Galloway, who seems to do better work hired out to other companies than she does for her own Risk Theatre Initiative.
12. Driving Miss Daisy, performed only at matinees by the new One Thirty Productions at the Bath House Cultural Center, was an end-of-year surprise. Alfred Uhry's three-hander about the deep friendship between elderly Daisy and Hoke, her black chauffeur—with Miss Daisy's son Boolie onstage as a go-between—spans 20 years across mid-century Atlanta. Could be corny stuff (even the movie goes soft too soon), but it was elegantly performed with a light touch on comedy elements by actors Doris Gramm and Mathew Greer, who first played Daisy and Hoke together at the Granbury Opera House in 1999. Michael Corolla gave just enough bluster to Boolie. One Thirty hopes to revive the play with the same cast in the same space sometime this year.
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