Sci-fi fantasy makes perfect viewing for chill winter nights. Undermain Theatre Company swept into November 2009 with the world premiere of Port Twilight, or A History of Science (A Chronicle of Folly, Wisdom and Madness). Thanks to wide critical acclaim and high audience demand, the company now extends the production through January 30. Penned by Len Jenkin, one of the nation’s most distinguished national playwrights, the show is directed by Lakewood resident and Undermain Theatre’s artistic director Katherine Owens. Owens met Jenkins while touring a production in New York more than a decade ago. In 2006, Undermain’s production of Jenkin’s Margo Veil: an entertainment, also directed by Owens, earned kudos from The Dallas Morning News as the number one pick of the seasons’ top ten productions. In 2009, The Dallas Morning News theatre critic Lawson Taitte hailed Port Twilight as his Number One Production of the year.
Jenkin’s credentials and awards are quite impressive: they include three Obie Awards for directing and playwriting, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Award, a nomination for an Emmy Award, four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a PhD in literature from Columbia University. His stage plays have been produced throughout the United States, as well as in England, Germany, France, Denmark, and Japan. Dallas audiences recognize the entertainment value and literary merit of his work.
A member of a group of New York based writers known as “The Language Playwrights” with pronounced language-based, lyrical focus, Jenkin feels right at home in Undermain’s unique, always magical performing space under Main St. in Deep Ellum, about seven minutes’ drive from Lakewood. Mel Gussow of the New York Times opines, “In his plays, Len Jenkin often takes us on dark midnight rides to mythic environments…he leads us through a stretch of the American landscape tantalizing our senses and creating a haunting world.” He could be describing the fantastical ambience of Undermain Theatre, as well.
In Port Twilight, the landscape plays a defining role. Owens brought in two leading Dallas scenic painters and designers, Linda Noland and Terry Hays, to create a layered landscape effect in the performance space, like public murals. The designers worked furiously for over a month, using the same techniques to create the murals that Michelangelo used in decorating the Sistine Chapel. At completion, over two hundred feet of painted muslin in bright color schemes energizes and encases the whole underground space, including wrapping around the numerous columns that define the performance area.
Owens says working with Jenkin on his plays is inspirational as well as good fun. Jenkin came down from New York (he teaches at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) in October 2009 to sit in on rehearsals. Both director and playwright felt the production was moving along so well, they decided to take time off and play one afternoon at the Texas State Fair. All Undermain designers involved with Port Twilight joined in on the outing. Owens laughs about the excursion: ”Four and a half hours later we got back to the rehearsal space. I was so exhausted keeping up with the merriment, I fell sound asleep for three hours in the theatre, with people working all around me.”
When Port Twilight opened last November, all that imaginative exploration, lyrical writing, hard work painting and good times playing came together. Like magic. And the marvel continues through January.
Alexandra Bonifield’s review of Port Twilight, or A History of Science:
Undermain Theatre’s production of Port Twilight, or A History of Science runs through January 30, 2010, at their Deep Ellum location in the basement of a six-story red brick building at 3200 Main Street, Dallas, TX between Hall St. and Exposition Ave.
Plenty of FREE, well lit, accessible, cordially attended parking.
For tickets, call (214) 747-5515 or go to http://www.undermain.org