The birds of a feather flocking together in the Arts District this weekend are members of the Theatre Communications Group, holding their annual conference here. About 1000 regional theater managers, artistic directors, dramaturgs and other arts professionals will be networking and attending seminars following the theme "Learn Do Teach." (Sans commas, apparently.)
Joining conference chiefs Howard Shalwitz, artistic director of Washington, D.C.'s renowned Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Tim Shields, managing director of New Jersey's McCarter Theatre Center, are scheduled speakers Maxwell L. Anderson, Dallas Museum of Art's executive director, and Dallas Theater Center playwright-in-residence Will Power. Among the local attendees are artistic directors from WaterTower Theatre, Dallas Children's Theater, Undermain Theatre, Kitchen Dog Theater and many others. (TCG is an umbrella organization for American theater and a publisher of plays.)
It's a big deal to have so much attention being paid to Dallas theater by people who probably have no idea how much of it we have or how good it is. "I fight this battle of defending Dallas wherever I go," says Tina Parker, co-artistic director at Kitchen Dog. "We're starting to get more momentum and [national] attention to the arts scene here, but more than half the battle is just getting people to Dallas to see it."
Conference-goers have their evenings free to get out and see shows. These five productions, all on view through June 8, show off Dallas' theater community at its best:
Se Llama Cristina at Kitchen Dog Theater at The MAC is the main attraction at this year's New Works Fest. Octavio Solis' time-jumping dramedy finds two strangers, played by Vanessa DeSilvio and Israel Lopez, waking up from a drug binge in a cruddy motel and discovering a crib, empty except for a single fried chicken leg. The rest of the play is a fast-moving game of "Where's the baby?" as the characters fast-forward and rewind through a series of scenes that gradually reveal who they are. Directed by Christina Vela, this is a slick, sexy production that shows off KDT at the top of its game.
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Good Nuts is at Matt Posey's Ochre House, Dallas' finest fringe theater, located in a funky storefront near Fair Park. Company member Kevin Grammer wrote and directed this brand new screwball comedy about a nervous new office worker (Trenton Stephenson) and his first day on the job at a company whose employees include a pedophile, a nympho and a sado-masochist. The boss (Ben Bryant) beams in by video-link, using a different accent each time. It's The Office meets Three Stooges with a soupcon of Pornhub.
The Aliens is a "site-specific" production by the new PlaySite Theatre, performed outside under tall trees in the corner of a parking lot behind the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture in Uptown. Annie Baker's 2010 play finds three guys (David Novinski, Jason Cockburn, Johnathan Wilder, all giving beautifully subtle performances) hanging out by the garbage cans behind a coffee bar, shooting the breeze, getting high and defending their status as losers. Directed by Stefan Novinski, this is an engaging debut by a company whose mission is to stage new works in "forgotten spaces."
Lydie Marland in the Afterlife, by Dallas playwright Isabella Russell-Ides, is part of the impressive line-up at this summer's earlier-than-usual Festival of Independent Theatres at the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake. Based on the real-life rags-to-riches-to-rags story of an Oklahoma governor's wife, the one-act has an elegant, dreamy quality, with Lydie played by fine Dallas actresses Cindee Mayfield Dobbs (as the older incarnation) and Catherine DuBord (as Lydie the younger). They meet in the Great Beyond and try to understand how they got there. Masterfully directed by Susan Sargeant.
Daffodil Girls, inspired by David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross is probably a stretch for TCG-ers, as it requires a trip to Plano. But it's well worth the effort to see Fun House Theatre founder Jeff Swearingen's killingly clever spoof of Mamet, starring actresses age 7 to 16. Instead of real estate, they're a scout troop pumping cookies to unwitting buyers. If only they could get the leads, that is. When the regional rep shows up to give them the sales-boosting pep talk, the brilliant similarities to Glengarry will tickle Mamet fans. The line "Kool-Aid is for closers" brings down the house. Where else in the country is a children's theater sending up David Mamet!