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Inaugural Dallas Solo Fest Promises Laughs with Eight New Shows

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Are you ready for some kick-ass theatre? Brad McEntire is ready to give it to you, if you think you can handle it. Opening Thursday and running until May 25, the Dallas Solo Fest, under McEntire's helm, is packed full of entertainment to take you out of your weekend rut.

With an aim to expose Dallas audiences to a variety of solo performances, the Fest is actually helping to establish a new turn of phrase. We can say bye-bye to the old "one-man show" routine. There are no gender specifications here. It's just about the solo act, now. From men, women, and a few sweaters. Coming together at the Margo Jones Theatre inside the Magnolia Lounge inside Fair Park (it's like one of those Russian stacking dolls).

Forgive me for a second while I give a brief geography lesson: It can be a bit difficult to locate the Magnolia Lounge. If you're lost in Fair Park, just look for the balcony draped with twinkling colorful lights. That's the Magnolia Lounge, and thus, the Margo Jones Theatre (also, it's across from the Old Mill Inn).

Now, back to the single, sole, solitary matter at hand: The Dallas Solo Fest. In its inaugural year, McEntire is reaching high. Not only has he curated 3 local artists for the two-week run--crowd favorite John Michael (Crossing Your I's), up-and-coming comedian Danny O'Conner (Bouncing Ugly), and our own Elaine Liner (Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love)--he has reached out to the national community inviting five artists to come in and spend the first part of their summer in Dallas. Those five artists are: Deanna Fleysher (Butt Kapinski), Veronica Russell (A Different Woman), Zeb. L. West (Innocent When You Dream), David Mogolov (Eating My Garbage), and Alexandra Tatasky (Beast of Festive Skin). Collectively, these performers represent a wide variety of solo performance styles from storytelling, puppetry, and improvisational clown pieces, to pieces that defy easy explanation.

"I'm hugely excited about the fest," says McEntire. "As it has moved closer and closer and I have gotten to know the performers more and more and I have grown more excited about the shows...particularly the weirder ones from further afield."

He's right, there are definitely some weird ones in the bunch. Shows that you don't usually get to see in Dallas. I asked McEntire to give me a quick and dirty lowdown on each weekend, and what he was particularly excited about for each offering.

For the first weekend, his selections are Tatarsky's Beast of Festive Skin and Mogolov's Eating My Garbage.

Tatarksy is from New York and had a spat of Internet infamy last year as Andy Kaufman's alleged daughter. She has a background in Russian Literature and a love of Absurdism. With her show, she takes us to an open mic night in Hell.

"She's got all these sorts of failed performers, people who had dreamt big and been forgotten, you know, people who desperately wanted to be something other than they were. They all kind of meet up in the afterlife and are forced to reinvent themselves anew through performance. She seems really interested in the idea of what happens when you have no other option but to create," says McEntire.

It sounds like this show is going to spur those pesky Existential questions, like, "What is life?" "What is pain?" "Am I dead?" "Are you living?" "What happens when you have to face your demons?" Well, luckily, Tatarsky is in the hot seat this time, so she can answer those questions.

Another reason to catch this show: One of her characters is a talking mound of dirt. Beckett is both laughing and crying from his grave right now.

Imagine if Mike Daisey and Spalding Grey had a baby...now that your brain has quietly exploded, that baby would be Mogolov. A Boston-based monologist, his work is inherently autobiographical and confessional. He always directly addresses the audience and keeps his stage bare, but of a few scenic elements such as a chair and a desk. Yet, unlike Daisey's bombastic anger or Gray's rambling introspection, Mogolov has a wry sensibility that blends naive optimism and hardened cynicism. His work is personal, layered, hyper intelligent and relentlessly hilarious. Actually, he reminds McEntire of George Carlin. Winner!

"Eating My Garbage explores the fragmented state of the Union. It kicks off when David receives a phone call from a political pollster who sounds like Laura Linney," McEntire explains. "She asks him, 'Do you believe that the nation is going in the right direction or that we've gotten off on the wrong track?'"

With President Obama is in the midst of his second term, this piece couldn't be more apropos. Then, in the second weekend, the ladies are taking center stage, with Fleysher's Butt Kapinski and Russell's A Different Woman.

"Fleysher is coming in from Los Angeles and overlaps a lot of the worlds I dabble in: improvisation, clowning, and solo work. Her title character is this crazy detective that is a kind of a cross between Elmer Fudd and Sam Spade," says McEntire. "She incorporates the audience in this manic film noir mystery. If I wasn't producing the fest, this might be the show I'd make sure I didn't miss as an audience member."

Russell, who is from New Orleans, takes us back to Texas, with her obsessive compulsive love of Gertrude Beasley, a Texas woman from the early 1890s who grew up in the harshest poverty to become a world-travelling journalist and feminist. Her life is incredible and mysterious, and Russell takes a chunk of Beasley's childhood and adapts a large part of it from the controversial banned book Beasley wrote called My First Thirty Years. The piece, A Different Woman, centers on her growing up in Abilene. It is relentlessly harsh, punctuated with these moments of pitch black humor.

While these are just a selection of what McEntire is hosting, we can't forget about our hometown friends. The local acts are killer, I can attest to that, as I've seen John Michael's previous works and I saw Liner's A Sweater Curse this winter.

There is also Austin performer Zeb West, whose show has our main man trapped in the belly of a whale. A heartbroken castaway swallowed by a beast is driven mad by the only two books the whale has so kindly gifted him to read--Don Quixote and Moby Dick. He acts out the books using puppets and masks fashioned from flotsam (environmental/green theatre is so hot right now) and sings sea shanties to help set the mood.

"Just make reservations and come out to the theatre," says McEntire. You had me at weird and sea shanties, sir.

Single tickets and festival passes are on sale now. Festival passes include one admission to each festival show and are $55. Individual tickets prices for each show are $12. Reservations can be made at the Dallas Solo Fest website or by calling (214) 888-6650. Details about the shows, artists' biographies, the full schedule, and ticket information at: www.DallasSoloFest.com.

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