Take Two: FITS 2009

Week Two at the Festival of Independent Theatres held annually at White Rock Lake’s Bath House Cultural Center—here are reviews of three of the four remaining shows.

ECHO Theatre’s Overtones

Often taking on controversial political and social issues of the day and producing them with the savagery of a moose cow in heat, ECHO Theatre focuses on presenting the works of female playwrights. This year’s FITS entry, its eleventh, had its original production in 1915 and comes across a little stale now. Not much new or unique here—concept, script or production. Overtones is considered Chicago-based playwright Alice Gerstenberg’s signature piece. According to the FITS stage notes, “it became her most popular and widely produced play…her legacy to American theatre.” Sigmund Freud had just toured the US with his “new ideas” about the power of the unconscious. The play portrays two properly attired, stuffy Victorian matrons, with alter egos (here in black stretch pants and leotards) flitting about like invisible mosquitoes, while they discuss the prospects of one woman’s painter husband. The Victorian ladies exhibit decorum; the black-clad mosquitoes spout non-stop catty commentary. We get the play’s drift in its first three lines. There is no growth, reversal or transformation. The women were teen-aged rivals for the same man, a painter. One married him; the other now wants to lure him back. The alter egos express the women’s inner desires and feelings, in contrast to the excruciatingly sedate, superficial conversation that takes place over tea. Think The View on an average day with uninhibited loud-mouthed devils lurking over each woman’s shoulder. I found the portrayal of the Victorians too sedate, the alter egos too frenzied. At no moment do we wonder if the two women could become friends or allies. This may have broken new theatrical ground in 1915, but. Isn’t its result exactly where the patriarchy has always endeavored to keep women: at odds with each other? Hardly a proto-feminist statement: divide and conquer…Overtones is directed by regional actor and Echo Theatre producing partner Brandi Andrade in her directorial debut. Cast includes—Tracie Foster, Ginger Goldman, Leslie Patrick, Lauren Paige Patterson. I have high expectations of Echo Theatre.

Rating: C- for production, B for historical interest.

Rite of Passage Theatre Company’s Angry Glances

Lots of well-respected local talent pulled together to help Rite of Passage Theatre Company produce the original play Angry Glances by the company’s producer and Plano native Clay Wheeler. Rite of Passage exists to support young “coming of age” theatre artists. This cast includes regional well-known professionals Charles Ryan Roach and Marianne Galloway and is directed by Baylor graduate Christopher Eastland. The other cast members are newcomers Quinten Quintero, a recent SMU graduate, and Baylor graduate Cassie Bann. All four performers create lively, believable characters and are well suited to their roles. Unfortunately, the play is less than excellent work in process. Far too many short scenes necessitating massive furniture and set changes mar the production, almost to the point of becoming comical. The plot wanders; the dialogue fluctuates between flat realism and heightened melodrama; out of place Shakespearean elements pop up every so often. A bizarre, abrupt, unsatisfying ending finally chops off the continuous moving about of set pieces. This small production proves that excellent actors cannot overcome an inadequate script, no matter how hard they try.

Rating: A for community effort, directing and casting, D- for unworkable script.

One Thirty Productions’ Under A Texaco Canopy

Every year at FITS one company steps up to the plate, digs in its ensemble cleats, takes focused aim, swings with all its creative might and hits a metaphorical home run that knocks creative endeavor far out into the universe. This year it’s One Thirty Productions’ turn.

Morgan Justiss, Shane Beeson: Under A Texaco Canopy

Morgan Justiss, Shane Beeson: Under A Texaco Canopy

Known for producing traditionally safe afternoon entertainments geared to more conservative tastes, One Thirty’s production of Ellsworth Schave’s magical surrealist Under A Texaco Canopy triumphs with unexpected zest and freshness under the guidance of seasoned director Larry Randolph. The play opens pleasantly, quietly, at a leisurely pace, lulling the audience with its homespun 1950′s quaintness, then veers off into an edge-of-seat surreal treatment of life and death issues through masterfully drawn characters and sheer plot magic. Stan Graner captures the heartfelt essence of Slim, an average man baffled by and deeply disappointed in life with gritty grace and bone-tired physicality. Relish his mid-play monologue about “looking back” as it soars with spirited revelation while torturing him to contemplate and deliver. Newcomer Donny Avery enlivens Slim’s callow, not-so–bright sidekick in almost syncopated contrast to Slim’s darker personality with casual ease. Regional professional Shane Beeson creates a strange protagonist, equal parts unnerving and sympathetic, always intriguing, in full command of his role and the space. Morgan Justiss’ comely, eerie waitress with a heart of steel is tangibly lovable and not exactly of this world at the same time. This is the one to see, folks. Go back to re-savor its delight-filled transformational arc before the festival ends.

Rating: Script, direction, execution, cast, set, FITS mission — A+ across the board.

FITS runs Thursdays through Sundays through August 2, ends Saturday August 8. Tickets: 214-880-0202

PHOTO: Enrique Fernandez C.

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2 thoughts on “Take Two: FITS 2009

  1. Dear Alexandra,
    Thanks for the witty and thoughtful analysis of the three plays. The review made me want to attend the plays to see if I agreed with your assessment.

  2. Wow, Alexandra! Thank you so much for your delightful review of “Under a Texaco Canopy.” It was great getting to talk to you some in the lobby after Sunday’s show as well!

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