Altar Egos

Shortly after saying "I do," Jane, the main character in Ground Zero Theater Company's strange, sexy, wonderful new one-act play 10:10, decides she won't after all. At her wedding reception, Jane locks eyes with Randy, the humpy half-brother of her shlumpy new husband, Gregger. In an impulsive move she will regret even into the afterlife, Jane (played ferociously by both Lulu Ward and Kortney Porter) flees with Randy (Halim Jabbour and Tom Heard) in the wedding limo. Newlywed Gregger (Wm. Paul Williams) is left behind, angry and confused but still tragically in love with his runaway bride.

Like Sam Shepard's sick, sad Fool for Love, 10:10, by Dallas playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood, focuses on lovers who are toxic for each other and don't give a damn who gets hurt. Jane and Randy meet and react as violently as forces of nature, willingly diving into a whirling vortex of passion and obsession. Their affair will lead to violence. That's tipped off early on when Dead Jane (Ward) narrates the start of the relationship, saying, "This is all before the fact."

The fact is that she and Randy in a Tux (Jabbour) die at the scene of another wedding, after years of their own on-off coupling. Looking on from beyond the corporeal realm, Dead Jane must rebuild her karma by reliving a series of aborted wedding ceremonies, watching herself in a clingy white gown make that life-altering mistake over and over again. The dead Randy in a Tux, meanwhile, exists in his own special room in purgatory, pacing nervously in a Dallas church as he waits for a bride who will never arrive.

This is a play about animal magnetism and heartbreak, but it's also a smart and original take on ideas of time and eternity. The title, 10:10, the Jane character tells us, refers to the settings of watches in print advertisements and catalogs. With the hands pointed toward the 10s, Jane explains, clock faces just look happier. Imagine those watch hands as human arms and it becomes both the gesture of victory and one of yearning, of reaching desperately to another person the way a child lifts its arms to be held.

Themes of yearning and notions of time stopping and bending into itself are repeated throughout Cheatwood's play. Jane says she is able to make watches stop when she touches them, something to do with an allergy to metal. That's really the playwright underscoring Jane's desire to stop time and start over again, maybe to leave for the honeymoon next time with Gregger, not Randy. Warped time is illustrated on the brilliantly constructed and meticulously painted set by designer Bryan Wofford. On his three-dimensional re-creation of Salvador Dali's familiar "Persistence of Memory," a huge clock melts over a bare tree limb. Upstage, jagged cliffs catch the last rays of sunlight on an endless, but shallow, horizon. It's a gorgeous set that serves the play perfectly and makes fine use of the Bath House Cultural Center's small acting space. It is a work of art on its own.

Time--stopped, bent or moving forward--is not on the side of this play's love-starved characters. The living Jane (Porter) and her lover, Randy Yesterday (Heard), replay their breakups and makeups in a loop of R-rated reruns, each steamy flashback observed and commented on by Dead Jane. She tries to fast-forward the action, but even knowing the awful end of their affair, Dead Jane can't help but get caught up in memories of the heat she shared with Randy. "Little fingertip bruises and the taste of salt," Dead Jane recalls of her illicit trysts with her brother-in-law. "Oh, my heart."

It's a fascinating play and intensely erotic. 10:10 also livens up the now-tiresome gimmick of a narrator speaking to the audience, cueing and editorializing each scene. For this, actress Lulu Ward wisely adopts the ironic, detached tone of an overworked guide leading a tour over the landscape of her battered soul. She's touching and funny as she mocks intrusive voiceovers from the Great Beyond.

From the perspective of the afterlife, Dead Jane finally is able to see everyone she knew as they really were. Dead Jane describes Gregger, a bland high school music teacher, looking as if "he'd been pulled through a nozzle backwards." Thoughts tended to pop out of his mouth "like a gumball," she says. Dead Jane notes that the living version of herself was "a block of American cheese." When she mentions Randy's girlfriend Margeaux, she notes "she was every bit the name." For a play steeped in death and sorrow, 10:10 gets a lot of laughs.

Developed over the past four years, starting with a workshop exercise to write a 10-minute play, 10:10 has emerged as a fine piece of theater. It features a fresh writer's voice from Cheatwood, strong performances from all five actors and precise and elegant direction by Ground Zero's Kimberlyn Crowe.

Among the cast, Lulu Ward is the standout as Dead Jane. Whipping around the stage in a wine-splashed, mis-buttoned white shirt and baggy plaid boxers, Ward is one minute the snarling spitfire and the next a purring kitten. She is one of Dallas' best actors but is too often cast in freakish roles that don't show off her exotic beauty. Even in the saggy boxers, Ward is a sultry minx.

As Ward's alter ego, the living Jane, Kortney Porter looks nothing like Ward, but it doesn't matter. She holds nothing back in her encounters with Tom Heard as Randy Yesterday. Stripped to their underwear, they do some very nifty sheet wrestling. Heard, by the way, bears a strong resemblance to Anthony Edwards, the hot, baldheaded Dr. Green from ER.

Halim Jabbour doesn't have much to do besides pace and sweat in formalwear as Randy in a Tux, but he has some good moments with Dead Jane as they re-enact some of their characters' wilder fights and most sexually charged embraces. For once, actors look like they're really into kissing each other. They're almost too hot to watch in such close quarters.

Leave it to a woman playwright to get the sex right. In 10:10 there's a memorable moment toward the end, when Lulu Ward as Dead Jane buries her face in Jabbour's white tuxedo shirt. As every woman knows, sometimes it's not movie-star good looks, flat abs or expensive cologne that are the biggest turn-ons. The trigger can be something as basic and elemental as the smell of a just-showered man in a clean starched shirt. The expression on Ward's face as she performs this tiny, sensual act with Jabbour is simply sublime.

"Time present and time past are both present in time future. And time future is contained in time past," wrote T.S. Eliot. In 10:10, the playwright takes the time to play with time, to send the Randys and Janes hurtling back and forth over their past, present and future. How Vicki Cheatwood managed to get all this into a 70-minute script is remarkable. In this efficiently told story of a great love affair, there's not a second wasted.

WaterTower Theater in Addison has announced a lively lineup for next season. The first production, opening in October, is the area premiere of Donald Margulies' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Dinner With Friends, a poignant four-hander about the changing dynamics between two married couples. That will be followed by the regional premiere of the bluegrass musical The Spitfire Grill, based on the film about a mysterious woman who rejuvenates a small Wisconsin town when she moves in and takes over the diner.

Also on WaterTower's schedule next season: the old J.B. Priestley mystery An Inspector Calls; Stephen Sondheim's Company, the 1970s Broadway musical hit about love, lust and commitment; Michael Frayn's rollicking three-act backstage comedy Noises Off; the annual Rockin' Christmas Party musical revue; and the one-man show The Santaland Diaries, based on essays by David Sedaris. Season tickets for WTT's 2003-'04 season can be purchased by calling the box office at 972-450-6232.

Kitchen Dog Theater has four diverse titles on its 2003-'04 schedule. First up in September is the area premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the flamboyant gender-bending rock musical by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell (who also starred in the film version). Award-winning actress and director Tina Parker will direct that one. Then in November comes The Danube, a dramatic vision of the future of the world by Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes. Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Samuel Beckett's classic absurdist drama Endgame round out the season. KDT also will host its annual New Works Festival next May. For subscriptions to the five-play season, call 214-953-1055.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner

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