When Tom Sime quit his job last year as theater critic at The Dallas Morning News, some of his colleagues (including me) thought he was nuts. He took a pay cut to go to work for one of his best friends, Sue Loncar, as general manager of her Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Turns out he's good at running a theater company. And he sure knows how to deal with the press on opening nights, accommodating our many quirks, including knowing which critics (ahem) don't like to sit near certain others.
Now Sime makes another transition: to playwright. Last night his new two-act play, All of the Above, played to a full house in a staged reading at the Bath House Cultural Center. The play already has earned an award from a new-play fest in North Carolina, where it received a full production last month at Catawba College.
It has a compelling premise. The main character, Helene, is deaf, mute and blind from birth. She communicates via self-invented finger-spelling with an assistant who's her only link to the world. Helene operates a do-gooder foundation that helps the handicapped. Their latest project is Edward, whose hands have been surgically removed as punishment for jewel theft (Sime says this all takes place in the near-future in a place like "Texanastan"). Edward and Helene, speaking through the assistant, fall in love. Then Edward is given new hands. They're black and once belonged to a now-dead religious figure. Somehow Edward begins to receive messages from God through the new hands, which really messes him up.
It goes on from there into some pretty strange and fascinating places. Sime's writing is fast and funny. After the transplant, Edward's mother comes to visit. "Look, Ma, hands!" he says. And the sex scene between the Helen Keller figure and the handless guy is kinda hot.
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But Act 2 needs a lot of work. Unexplained plot twists confuse the audience (or so they told Sime at the "talkback" last night).
Sime said his idea for All of the Above has to do with encounters with the divine. "When people connect with each other, God is there," he said.
The reading was better than many full-fledged shows I've sat through recently, and it featured some of my favorite local actors, including Ian Leson as Edward, Emily Scott Banks as the assistant and Shannon Kearns Simmons as Helene. Strange work, however, by Shakespeare Dallas guy Raphael Parry, who played both the mother and a prissy literary agent as if they were Mrs. Slocum and Mr. Humphries from TV's Are You Being Served?
There's another reading of All of the Above tonight at 7:30 at the Bath House Cultural Center. Tickets are sold on a "pay what you can" basis. --Elaine Liner