Good Buzz For W.A.S.P. And Bob Birdnow At FIT

Theater Caps are bite-sized punch-packing capsule reviews by resident theater critic Elaine Liner. Use them as a reminder -- or a teaser, if you procrastinate -- of her full-length reviews in The Mixmaster's weekly sister.

There's nice sting in Upstart Productions' staging of the surreal Steve Martin one-act W.A.S.P., one of the eight shows rotating on the schedule at the ongoing Festival of Independent Theatres at the Bath House Cultural Center. The lights come up on a family at the dinner table. Stabbing madly at their empty plates, Mom (Diane Casey Box), Sis (Nicole Stewart) and Son (Christopher Eastland) listen attentively as Dad (Ted Wold) announces that heaven is 17 miles above the earth.

But wait, says Son, that would mean heaven is between the earth and the moon, which is about 240,000 miles farther away.

Uh, oh. Nobody can contradict Dad in this send-up of WASP-y nuclear families of the 1950s, like the type sent up in the film Pleasantville. With lots of funny lines that the cast lands with aplomb, W.A.S.P. gets its point across about narrow-minded thinking, hypocrisy and the emptiness of some American ideals. It couldn't be more topical in today's political climate.

Making its debut on FIT's opening weekend was Dallas playwright Eric Steele's gripping one-man play, Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self. Actor Barry Nash, a regular at Kitchen Dog Theater, stars in this Second Thought Theatre production.

Wow, what a performance. Nash is the title character, a mild-mannered corporate motivational speaker in Iowa. With house lights on, and no scenery except for a table and a bottle of Coke, the play draws the audience in with Bob's monologue.

From light and congenial in the opening remarks, Bob's talk goes to some dark places as he unreels a story of a plane crash and how he survived it -- despite losing a limb and some friends in the process.

Bob Birdnow, directed by Dallas Theater Center company member Lee Trull, succeeds through Steele's deft use of language in drawing the listener into the tale. Nash gives a thoroughly riveting performance. He talks nonstop for 50 minutes. You won't look at your watch once.

See W.A.S.P. at 5 p.m., Saturday July 23; 8 p.m., Thursday, July 28; or 8 p.m., Saturday, August 6. See Bob Birdnow at 5 p.m., Saturday, July 23; 8 p.m., Thursday, July 28; or 8 p.m., Saturday, August 6. For tickets, call 800-617-6904 or visit festivalofindependenttheatres.org.

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