Sitting in the recently opened Deep Ellum Center for the Arts with producer-director-writer Scott Osborne while builders and light engineers help him transform the space's interior is eye-opening for a theater critic. Wow, sets and props and furniture really aren't created by stage elves who wander into the space at night if you leave bowls of milk and fruit and, out of gratitude, design a play for you.
But The Ultra-Happy, Super-Sad, Mega-Variety Revue is not a "play." What Osborne, who is co-artistic director of Our Endeavors with his wife, Patti Kirkpatrick, is mounting here is audacious on several levels. First, it's a cabaret-style musical-comedy-tragedy revue with about 30 separate (though sometimes related) pieces, some of which feature potentially offensive or challenging themes and jarringly different moods. Second, it's a bit of a test drive for how well live theater can co-exist with the open-daily exhibit function of the Deep Ellum Center. And third, it's a definite trial spin for how well live theater can perform in the restaurant-and-club-clogged heart of Deep Ellum.
"The pieces were written and directed by the individuals performing in the show," says Osborne, who notes that every inch of this evening is original. "It got very incestuous. But we had to cut a lot of what we began with. There was a real funeral atmosphere here for a while. And then I came in and overlaid my style on the actors, the playwrights, and the directors. It was difficult, because you had to switch from telling other people what to do to taking directions. Sometimes it got confusing. It's true that there are no ideas that reach the stage unsullied."
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There will be two intermissions for the two-hour show to allow people a breather from the wide variety of sights, sounds, and sensibilities they will experience. How well Osborne and his troupe will coordinate these disparate styles is a mystery to be unveiled on opening night, but some terrific Dallas talent will be onstage. Performance artist Dalton James will present two pieces, one about driving that's a preview of an upcoming one-man show called Autoneurotic. Playwright-actor David Goodwin presents a vignette called "Special Sauce" that Osborne describes as "like the best of Kids in the Hall." Mark Farr offers a piece called "The Soil in Which It Grows" that Osborne describes as "comic book noir" and "pop theater." Teatro Dallas' John Flores wrote a puppet show called "Cocks" that concerns how "in the food chain, there's always someone bigger than you," with puppets created by his wife, actress-designer Christina Vela. In addition, Little Jack Melody (sans his Young Turks) will be offering new songs at the piano, and Earl Harvin, who's in Los Angeles working on Seal's new album, provides original taped music. Wine and beer service (for a donation) will be available throughout.
"We'll have torch singing; severed heads; Godzilla; a monster with his head in his chest; '60s go-go; some really intellectual, apocalyptic stuff; and some burlesque," says Osborne. "We think it's a great Halloween show. We're putting extremes of style--humor and horror--side by side. This company is committed to continually challenging ourselves and the audience. We'll see how long it takes us till we fail." He pauses. "Write that as: 'He said, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.'"
The Ultra-Happy, Super-Sad, Mega-Variety Revue opens October 28. Performances happen Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. through November 14 at the Deep Ellum Center for the Arts, 2808 Commerce. Tickets are $5-$12. Call (972) 355-2879.