Coriolanus, Twelfth Night Heat Up Under the Stars; Jersey Boys Brings the Cool Again

A flood of flawed heroes! An abundance of bounders and bastards! A cavalcade of troubled characters has arrived on summer's stages.

First up, because he's heavily armed and insists upon't, is Coriolanus. William Shakespeare's lonely Roman warrior is a fierce 5th century B.C. battlebot with nothing but contempt for common people who just want a peek at his war wounds. He's tough as leather armor, a soldier who lives for combat and despises the peasants for whom he fights. Back from conquering Corioli, Caius Martius (later dubbed Coriolanus) is urged to make public appearances to show off his scars to curry the favor of lower-class voters who'll elect him consul. But he hates such displays — "Hang 'em!" he says of the clamoring masses — and refuses to play either rock star or political demagogue.

Shakespeare Dallas and director René Moreno have found the right actor to fit the chest-baring costume for this enormous role in young Alex Organ, a Yale Drama grad and popular Dallas theater leading man. With his powerful voice, long legs and broad shoulders, Organ gives one of the Bard's most difficult, and at times tedious, five-act dramas a thrust of sexy/violent he-man energy. He's brilliant at actually making sense of chunks of dialogue like this from Act I:

Five tribunes to defend their vulgar wisdoms,

Of their own choice: one's Junius Brutus,

Sicinius Velutus, and I know not — 'Sdeath!

The rabble should have first unroof'd the city,

Ere so prevail'd with me: it will in time

Win upon power and throw forth greater themes

For insurrection's arguing.

'Sdeath, indeed. Gird yer lerns for a couple of hours of that kind of talk in the sweltering heat at Samuell-Grand Amphitheater. Iced coffee helps. Bring lots.

Coriolanus may not be one of the Bard's top five hits (no famous soliloquies or comic relief), but by Jove, Shakespeare Dallas' actors, sweating their wigs off, bless 'em, do well with the play's cryptic rhetorical runs. Organ is expert at it, as are co-stars Cindy Beall (as Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia), Kevin Keeling (as sleek-abbed Volscian general Tullus Aufidius) and Christopher Curtis (as Roman Tribune Junius Brutus). Some of the lesser mortals in the large cast, not so much.

Don't bolt at intermission. Good things happen at the top of the second half (it's Act IV of the play, but who's counting?). Banished from Rome for telling bossy tribunes to stuff their politics up their togas, Martius, in disguise, returns to Corioli, scene of his earlier military triumph. (Fight sequences are choreographed for maximum sword-clanging and body heaving by Sara J. Romersberger.)

Martius meets his one-time foe, Aufidius, who has an interesting reaction to seeing his old nemesis out of uniform. "Though hast beat me out 12 several times, and I have nightly since dreamt of encounters 'twixt thyself and me," Aufidius says, gazing at Martius the way Stephen Boyd eye-boffed Charlton Heston in the spear-throwing scene in Ben-Hur. "We have been down together in my sleep, unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat. ..."

Unbuckling and fisting? Really? It takes a while to get to it, but there's suddenly a heaping helping of homoerotic hawtness up in this Coriolanus. And when they fall into each other's arms, all sweaty and muscle-y and such — oh, my, yes.

The gods are not so kind to Twelfth Night, running in rep with Coriolanus. Directed by Raphael Parry with too much slapstick, it lacks the sexy va-va-voom and throbby casting of the other play. This is one of Shakespeare's gentler musical gender benders, with young Viola (Jenny Ledel) pretending to be a boy and then falling in love with a Duke (Max Hartman, who has a perfect voice for this) who is courting Olivia (Allison Pistorius). Viola's long-lost brother Sebastian (Austin Tindle) turns up, looking just like sis in boy-drag, and it's confuso mucho.

Beset with audio problems at Sunday's show, the actors also had to compete with what sounded like a convention of low-riders just down the hill from the park. Car stereo boom-booms, honking horns and screeching tires were unwelcome guests in Shakespeare's Illyria. Things should be more serene at weeknight performances.

If music be the food of love, play on, says the opening line of Twelfth Night. Put those tunes in four-part harmony with a high falsetto in the lead and you have the musical Jersey Boys, the Tony-winning love-banquet whose Broadway tour is at the Winspear Opera House.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is told in four chapters from each guy's point of view. Frankie (Brad Weinstock) starts out harmonizing on street corners with small-time hoods who just happen to have great voices. He gets in hock with a local mob boss but things turn around when Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus), a teenage composing genius with a head for business, joins the group and straightens them out (mostly).

The show is largely about Frankie and Bob's partnership as they hit it big, though we see the struggles of other "Seasons" too. They're played by Brandon Andrus and Colby Foytik, both fine singers who know how to work the quirky comedy beats in the script. Kappus is every bit as good as Book of Mormon star Andrew Rannells, who played Bob Gaudio on tour here in 2008.

Jersey Boys' book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is one of the tightest of any contemporary Broadway show. The back stories are told efficiently, with a little cliffhanger in each section to build momentum. As the men get older, a few scenes feel forced (like the one where Frankie loses a daughter to drugs) but then another song starts up and all is forgiven. "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk like a Man," "Stay," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," "Who Loves You?" You don't know how many you know. But you know them all.

Play on, Jersey Boys, a love letter to American pop music and the best jukebox show ever devised.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas' production of Beth Henley's tired 1981 Southern gothic comedy Crimes of the Heart commits so many directorial felonies, it's hard to know where to start. Bad accents (you're already in Texas, ladies, so just speak normally). Actors arranged like a police lineup. Pacing problems director Cynthia Hestand should've fixed at the second rehearsal.

The play's a lump of lard, repeated on local stages about as often as that other moldy praline, Steel Magnolias. One loony sister (Jenae Yerger-Glanton) shoots her no-good abusive husband. The other two sisters (Marianne Galloway, Diane Casey Box), both nuttier than Stuckey's pecan logs, come to her aid. They sit around a kitchen table for two hours, screeching like magpies about "Old Granddaddy," lemonade, birthday cake and their mama's suicide (she also hanged the family cat).

'Sdeath on a cracker. Every minute of it.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner