Frank's Place, the rehearsal facility at Dallas Theater Center's Kalita Humphreys Theatre that is often rented for performance, was almost tropical last Saturday night, since so many bodies were pressed in such close proximity to watch short productions from Soul Rep's Fifth Annual New Play Festival. Downstairs at the box office, people had to be turned away; one more perspiring patron, and you could've raised poppies in the humid theater.
As it was, imperfect ingenuity and hilarious moments and some rattletrap TV-drama conventions were cultivated, but there was rarely a misstep without a correspondingly agile arabesque. Energy and timing kept us, for the most part, rolling smoothly over the material's rough patches.
A total of six one-acts compose Soul Rep's New Play Festival; Sunday matinees offer a marathon run. I attended two of the three on Saturday, and the first was by far the more solid--Birdy Laughing, by veteran Dallas playwright diannetucker. (Yes, that's how she spells her name.) An abandoned teenager (Ava Wilson) learns some strange but handy lessons about survival from a trio of female relatives (Yvonne Campbell, Michelle Oliver, Guinea Bennett Price). The odd splash of booze in a coffee cup and a manifesto in which laughter is most appropriate at the most inappropriate times can steel you from a cruel outside world--in this case, moralistic, gossipy neighbor Miz Vidalia (Yolanda Davis), who's there to remind the women what miserable circumstances they live in. All five performers, under the direction of Dee Smith, translated the play's bittersweet tone with verve.
The Fifth Annual New Play Festival
Through August 20
(in the Kalita Humphreys Theatre)
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
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A good deal more programmatic was Steven Tribe's Homecoming, also directed by Dee Smith. A college student (Lisa Baker) returns home to find life pretty much as she left it--an eager-to-please neatfreak mother (Anyika McMillan) who ignores the insensitivity of her alcoholic husband (Douglas Carter). The daughter has come back with a new and dreadful experience under her belt, and is not prepared to tolerate what she lived with so long as a child. Tribe's one-act is right on the money when it portrays how the first bruises of young adulthood transform old perceptions of our family, but the litany of tragedies here--addiction, rape, abuse--becomes overwhelming in such a concentrated dose. McMillan, the best director in Soul Rep's stable, turns in nice work as the mother who's always anxious for the phone to ring.Runs through August 20 at Frank's Place in the Kalita Humphreys Theatre, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Call (214) 521-5070.