Standard Transmission

The day after seeing Stanton's Garage at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, I visited an aunt and uncle who are up in years. They'd just been out in 100-degree heat to have their 1994 Toyota Camry inspected, and it had been an ordeal. The car has only 38,000 miles on it. Nobody ever believes this. They just don't burn up a lot of asphalt traveling to Luby's, Tom Thumb and doctors' offices at Presby.

The aunt and uncle had endured a miserable two hours in a filthy, sweltering waiting area at the only inspection station in their North Dallas neighborhood that would look at a car older than a 1996 (something about computers). While they waited, they listened to another customer, a middle-aged surgeon, ranting to everyone within earshot about how long it was taking to get his fancy wheels worked on. "I knew he was a surgeon because he was wearing those green scrubs," said my aunt. "He probably wears them everywhere so people will know he's a doctor."

When the doc's car was finally ready, he panicked on discovering he'd misplaced his wallet. He went into a bit of a tizzy, my aunt said, then he called his wife on his cell and in hushed tones asked her to bring over some money. Right about then another customer noticed a slim black leather billfold tucked into the corner of a chair. Must have slipped out of the back pocket of those flimsy scrubs. Dr. Green Britches slunk out, maybe a teeny bit humbled.

Listening to my aunt unreel the details of this little slice of urban life, I had that déjà-vu-all-over-again feeling. It's pretty much the plot of Stanton's Garage, Joan Ackermann's homespun two-act comedy about a stress-weary city surgeon named Lee (a quieter-than-usual Sue Loncar) and the hours she and her future stepdaughter Frannie (Sara Menix) spend in a rundown garage off a Missouri highway while Lee's Volvo is being repaired.

They sit and wait a day and a night (played out in just more than two hours in the play), Lee growing more frantic as she begs the garage's chief grease-monkey, Silvio (Harry Reinwald), and his star mechanic, Denny (Nye Cooper), to do whatever it takes to get her and Frannie back on the road. But the denizens of Stanton's Garage have other priorities. Denny's worried that he has a brain tumor (he has headaches and keeps falling down). Silvio's the scorekeeper at the big softball game later on, and his estranged wife, the vacant-eyed Audrey (Barbara Bierbrier), keeps locking herself in the garage's only restroom.

Frannie, a poetic waif who's never even kissed a boy, flirts with the garage's cute teenage attendant Harlon (Micah Pediford). And the owner of the place, pixilated Mary (Ouida White), drops in to make egg salad sandwiches and to chat with a box turtle she finds sleeping under the broken gumball machine.

Crowding Lee on the garage's only piece of furniture (an old car seat patched with duct tape) is tense businessman Ron (Tony Martin), on his way to the same wedding as Lee and Frannie (though they don't find that out till late in the play). The bride is his ex, and he's hoping to stop the nuptials even if it means shooting up the church.

Somebody loses a wallet. Somebody gets kissed. And by the next day, everybody's gained a new outlook, particularly Lee, who is driven to unusual lengths to get that Volvo (and her life) running on all cylinders again.

An important play it isn't. Standard sitcom fare in many ways. But this production, thanks to the good cast and the well-oiled direction of Cheryl Denson, clicks along pleasantly, picking up nice momentum in the second act. On designer Randel Wright's gas station set, every detail is perfect: sticky glass on the counter, trash under the candy dispenser, old postcards taped to the front window behind the register.

On close inspection, Stanton's Garage is an OK place to hang out for a couple of hours.

Ignore all those snobs who say Bombay Dreams is bad. It isn't. Like the silly Bollywood movies it spoofs, it's a frothy musical confection whipped up with spicy colors, sugary tunes and pretty dancers with creamy midriffs.

Dallas Summer Musicals have certainly had worse touring companies (did you see Little Women?). This one is High School Musical (the Disney Channel hit) on a senior trip to India with a stopover on Broadway.

Akaash (the stunningly handsome Sachin Bhatt) is a child of Bombay's Paradise Slums. He dreams of starring opposite the glamorous Rani (Sandra Allen) in a Bollywood movie. And so he does in a plot thinner than the pages of a Playbill. Rani tries to seduce the handsome lad, but he's secretly in love with young Priya (Reshma Shetty), a serious filmmaker engaged to another man. One of Paradise's beloved eunuchs, Sweetie (Aneesh Sheth), meets a violent end. And everybody chants "Chaiya Chaiya."

Production numbers just like those in Bollywood's formulaic films--the "wet sari" song, the lovers' duet in the moonlight, the wedding scene--erupt with throbbing drumbeats and the twangs of the sitar, then sort of fritter away without the big ta-DA final note heard in most Broadway scores. It's a rattletrap production too. Throngs of stagehands wander around mopping up behind dancers after a spewing fountain drenches the stage in the sexy "Shakalaka Baby" sequence. But the beautiful chorus kids dance like crazy in their pink and mango costumes. And yes, that is Dallas actor Skie Ocasio playing one of the sari-clad eunuchs (and understudying the lead) in this national tour.

Bombay Dreams gives a big, sloppy, super-sweet wet kiss to one of the world's most popular movie genres.

Critics were all smoochy about Second Thought Theatre, that clever bunch of Baylor drama grads, until the company hit a sophomore slump this year. With Eric Bogosian's apocalyptic drama Humpty Dumpty they got it really right, only to lose their focus with a frenzied failure, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. But they're not giving up and will return for a third comedy-heavy season in a new acting space at Addison Theatre Centre.

On the sked: Glory of Living by Rebecca Gilman, October 5 to 22, about a 15-year-old daughter of a prostitute and the car thief the girl takes off with on a killing spree; Moliére's Scapin, January 18 to February 4, the classic comedy of servants, masters and secret romances; the Southern premiere of the comedy Lawrence and Hollowman by Canadian playwright Morris Panych, April 5 to 22, about the odd friendship between the ultimate optimist and a confirmed nihilist; and Jack and Jill, May 24 to June 10, Jane Martin's two-hander comedy about a married couple with problems.

For info about tickets to Second Thought productions, call 972-450-6232 or visit

After a one-night-only, September 12 concert performance of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Lyric Stage, the Irving-based producer of vocally lavish musicals, uses NEA grant money to present a full run of a restored Cabin in the Sky, October 6 to 21. The 1940 Broadway fable tells of the war between good and evil in the rural South. Lyric's founder, Steven Jones, has worked with heirs of the original composers to re-create the book and score.

Then it's the world premiere of The Winner (February 16 to March 3), a musical telling parallel stories of the love between Lyndon Baines Johnson and wife, Lady Bird, and LBJ's notoriously nasty Senate race in 1948.

Terrence McNally's Master Class, April 13 to 28, isn't technically a musical, but makes good use of its leads' vocal cords in its story of Maria Callas, the opera diva, as she coaches a younger singer and shares lots of dish about the opera world.

Tickets for Lyric Stage are available online at or by calling the box office, 972-252-2787. Performances are at the Irving Arts Center (except for Sweeney Todd).

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner