Unrequited love, that hard right to the heart, that sharp cut to the gut, has inspired two good new solo shows by local actor-writers Van Quattro and Brad McEntire. Quattro's Standing 8 Count and McEntire's Cyrano A-Go-Go were audience faves on the opening weekend of the 14th annual Out of the Loop theater festival at Addison's WaterTower Theatre.
Quattro's 70-minute autobiographical piece, directed by Clay Wheeler for Rite of Passage Theatre Company, rewinds to the actor's youth and the year he spent training as a boxer in Los Angeles. Aimless, depressed and beat down by an abusive dad, young Van finds hope and purpose under the guidance of a kind and encouraging coach. As a "blue-eyed palooka," he spars with bigger, better fighters and gets his nose pulverized.
No pain hurts as bad as the broken heart he's nursing, however. Booze and drugs don't quell the ache — "If I wasn't high, I was hurting" — but punching a heavy bag and hearing praise in the gym have a healing effect.
Quattro transitioned from boxing to a long career in film and TV in L.A., moving to Fort Worth 15 years ago. He's had starring roles at Dallas Theater Center, Second Thought Theatre and Theatre Three, and you can see him in the new ABC series "American Crime." He wrote Standing 8 Count, he said, because there aren't enough good parts for actors his age (60).
As a playwright, Quattro expresses himself with a jagged elegance. He says his life before boxing felt "like I was born with a bench warrant." Neglected by his father, "song lyrics raised me." The play features snippets of Neil Young, the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel from the '70s. In this first solo work, Quattro, already a contender as an actor, reveals a knockout talent for writing. (This show is performed again at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 15, in the Studio Theatre at WaterTower.)
Cyrano A-Go-Go also uses lost love as a theme, weaving in the history of Edmund Rostand's timeless play about the big-nosed romantic so insecure around women. He speaks his passionate thoughts through a handsome (but dumb) surrogate. McEntire unmasks his own failures as a young actor, romantically and professionally. "Unrequited love was, by default, my love of choice," he says at the top of the one-hour show, presented in casual lecture format.
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McEntire acts some of the loveliest bits of Rostand's original Cyrano, occasionally digressing to discuss other topics. He refers to the "optimal experience" and the "flow" of true happiness, which McEntire says he felt as a high school kid in Carrollton, plucking Cyrano de Bergerac off a library shelf and reading it twice in one afternoon.
"It takes a big-hearted character to play Cyrano," McEntire says in his play. And a man who's felt some heartbreak, too. (This one produced by Audacity Theatre Lab goes on again at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15, in the Stone Cottage at WaterTower.)