It's the first of its kind here in Dallas and it appears to be off to a smashing start. I'm referring to Uptown Players' Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival that kicked off this past Friday and runs through the September 17.
I had the chance to check out three of the shows this weekend and spent all three evenings laughing my ass off and shedding a tear or two as well. There was a real festival atmosphere at the theater. Everyone seemed so excited to be there and throughout the weekend, the same faces appeared again and again.
The theater community in Dallas is tight-knit, and this weekend at Kalita Humphreys made that abundantly clear. If there was ever any question about whether or not we have the talent and the audiences to support an endeavor like this, the answer is a resounding yes.
On Friday night, I saw Crazy, Just Like Me on the main stage. There was a nice turnout with the entire center section and bits of the sides filled with theater-goers. The show itself is very cute. It's a new twist on the old love triangle theme. Boy loves girl. Girl loves other boy. Other boy also loves boy.
The script is funny, albeit not particularly deep, but a bit poignant too. There were some bizarre timeline issues, which detracted from the reality factor, and the music is a tad simplistic. But the talented cast made up for the sometimes simplistic script and often banal lyrics.
The show addresses the complicated question, "What if you made it to your mid-twenties without knowing you're gay because you didn't go on your first date until you were twenty and were too sheltered to be allowed to figure it out until you were out on your own out in the real world and then discover you're in love with your best friend?"
Kayla Carlyle, the only female character in the show, is incredibly natural on stage and a pleasure to watch, and Alex Ross and Corey Cleary-Stoner were well matched as the star-crossed best friends. Angel Velasco is adorable as Lauren's gay best friend.
On Saturday night, I checked out The Facts of Life, The Lost Episode. Frank's Place, the upstairs performance space at Kalita Humphreys, was packed for the performance, so much so that they added a few extra chairs to accommodate additional audience members waiting to see the show, including several cast members from Crazy, Just Like Me.
This show is 80 minutes of raunchy hilarity. It's based on the classic 1980s sitcom, of course, but this one is seriously R rated. The cast is a hoot. Chris Robinson was almost too good as Natalie. He's got that almost silent laugh down pat. Darius Robinson, as Tootie, even roller skated onstage. And Paul J. Williams makes a stellar Mrs. Garrett, wavering voice and all.The show includes a few tunes, tweaked for the plot, from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas that were a riot.
Some of the scenes may make you flinch, including Natalie eating lube straight from the bottle, but the whole production had the audience laughing from start to finish. There was even a sing-along to classic 80s commercial jingles during the scene changes. It was more like being at a party than a play at some points.
Early Sunday evening I saw The New Century. It's basically three monologues, loosely pulled together in a final scene at the end. The monologues, performed by Marisa Diotalevi as Helene, Paul J. Williams as Mr. Charles and Barbara Ellen as Lulu Ward, were hilarious, and one was a little sad.
The monologues are roughly 20 minutes each and had the completely packed Frank's Place space laughing and shaking their heads. The ending seemed like it was pushing it a bit. The monologues were from a woman with three gay children, a gay man who was kicked out of New York for being "too gay" and a woman who lost her son to AIDS.
The final monologue included some bits about September 11, and the ending paid homage to it as well. It seemed a little forced. The monologues could easily stand by themselves. But the cast handled the script incredibly, and I watched many audience members wiping tears away during the sad bits.
I hope this turns out to be the first of many Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festivals. Although next year I hope Uptown Players will reprise their Golden Girls tribute, Thank You For Being a Friend. Next year I'm going to be sure to be in town for the whole festival because there's so much I still want to see.
The Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival continues through September 17 at Kalita Humphreys Theater. Visit uptownplayers.org for the complete schedule of performance.