Loopy Lite 2011

Where is 2010’s Mike Daisey when we really, really need him? On stage fare at the 2011 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre in Addison leans towards the peculiar, superficial and unfinished as opposed to the substantial, relevant and artistically thought provoking. C’est dommage. Maybe if we reviewers trying to critique the Festival had more information about individual performances/ productions,  along with clear photo jpegs, complete song lists, full cast lists (stapled together, even), it would feel more together.  Pardonnez my voiced frustration. WaterTower’s staff can only pass on what they have been provided. I am uncomfortable reviewing a clearly directed show when the only information I have about its director is the person’s name….Call me a grouch, or worse.

Here’s commentary: some of what I’ve seen so far, some of what my junior reviewer, SMU senior Lauren Smart, has seen. Egads.

The Band Played On and On and On and On and ON:

Debutante Warriors: Girl Power in 3D should be renamed Misery. It was a challenge to endure. I promised I’d sit through it; so give me a gold star. I know other critics, and many less determined people in this past Saturday’s audience, did not. The woman seated next to me (I’d never met her before) asked if I had a blunt instrument in my purse I could hit her with to give her a good excuse to leave at intermission. Now that’s a first.

Debutante Warriors: Girl Power in 3D is a comic book inspired musical based around 80’s pop tunes. Might have been helpful to provide a song list in the program as most of the music fell into a sloppy, off key, unrecognizable category. (I listened and danced to lots of music in the 80’s. LOTS.) Nothing wrong with presenting a workshop. A lot wrong with trying to staging it before it’s “ready.” In this show’s case, ready for what?

The show featured two sorts of performers: 1) highly qualified, experienced, beloved professionals. Someone must have held a gun to their heads to make them stick with this fiasco. I cringed for them, found myself looking away in horror by their second or third entrances 2) enthused children and community theatre folk having a fun ol’ time workin’ at song and dance stuff, y’all. Hard to imagine charging anyone to sit through this. Thank you, Max Swarner, for sharing your lovely singing voice and attempting to present a reasonably plausible character with such quiet dignity. I fled to my car after, where I sat and just screamed for a while. AB

The Great White Way goes belly up….

A campy musical inside of a campy musical? It’s unclear why Cordes & Parr Productions thought this was a smart move for an Out of the Loop Festival entry, but The Great White Way needs more work before it’s mounted again.

This composition is a full-length (nearly two-and-a-half hours) musical about a struggling theater company producing a musical that loosely based on the film “Jaws.”  But the focal plot line is the love story that takes place in the costume shop between washed-up writer John Worth and aspiring singer Estrella Proxima. Both claim to have given up their respective arts until meeting one another, at which moment John decides to write Estrella a ‘good musical.’ Also following the formulaic musical-within-a-musical format, a washed-up ditsy diva named Sunny Meadow is getting divorced; and a ghost of a legendary Broadway writer takes John on as protégé.

Long story short: these actor/ characters are in a bad musical working for a bad musical and attempting to write what we can only guess will be another bad musical.

Pity that not every actor in this show has as much fun as Michael Gasparro does as a Great White Shark. Sad that no one possesses the talent Darius Anthony Robinson exhibits in the role of Tinker Bell, a lovable gay who runs the costume shop. If they did, this campy musical might become some sort of cult classic along the lines of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “The Room.” In spite of itself.

David Parr’s book and lyrics struggle to create solid characters or songs beyond hokey. When Estrella sings about being attacked while hitchhiking, the audience is forced to decipher what she is singing about. Later, the show’s blonde bimbo Sunny Meadow sings an irrelevant song about gnats being heartless.  Rebecca Cordes’ adequate music doesn’t add enough momentum to keep the musical on its feet.

In summary: love interest Estrella declares in the first act that she doesn’t like musicals. By the second act her sentiment begins to feel like the audience’s inner monologue. LS

Turkey Cutlets:

Nouveau 47’s FTP Comedy “Inside the Loop”: Definitely appropriately slotted as “late night”, this spin off from Tom Parr’s Nouveau 47 troupe appears to be modeled somewhat after Saturday Night Live, with skits and commentary mixed in with Second City-styled Improv. One needs to remember that SNL has a large stable of talented union writers pumping out fodder furiously, maybe 10% of which is truly funny. Not an easy to succeed in genre. I saw the FTP group at their inaugural performance months ago and chalked up its heavy reliance on juvenile put-downs and body part and function humor (the sort found at 7th grade Boy Scout camp-outs) to a lack of adequate writing and rehearsal time. Sad to say, nothing much has changed. The audience consisted primarily of friends of actors in the show, and they seemed to quite enjoy laughing at their friends making lame fools of themselves onstage. There are some pretty talented folks in this group, acting-wise. They need to find similarly talented writers, to justify participating in legit performance festivals. And expand their “fan base.” One curious bit: a screen projection ‘tribute’ to Dallas’ recent Ice and Snowstorm with the Super Bowl tragedy, accompanied inexplicably by Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (so I was told). AB

Audacity Theatre Lab’s I Have Angered A Great God

Audacity Theatre Lab produces some outstanding work regionally, so I was curious to see their show. According to the program notes, this is company founding artistic director Brad McEntire’s sixth presentation at Out of the Loop. Although it had a modicum of artistic continuity with respectable acting performances, the short work was less than compelling to watch. The rap-style prologue went on too long (don’t tell me what you’re going to show me, just show me) and its cardboard cutout puppets failed to amuse me or hold my interest. The female puppet lost a leg early in the show, inspiring polite tittering and causing improvised script adjustments. I expected more creative depth from Audacity, felt disappointed by what appeared to be very hastily thrown together. Pay to see this? Really? Acting ensemble: Oscar Contreras, Angela Parsons, Jeff Hernandez, Jeremy Whiteker and Brad McEntire AB

Dallas Poetry Slam: a powerful experience to witness

The Dallas Poetry Slam received one slot at Out of the Loop Festival, a shame because this spoken word competition had energetic performances that inspired strong audience reaction. Performing in a theater space with an audience encouraged to react vociferously was a powerful experience to witness.

This slam takes place the first and third Friday of every month at two different locations in Dallas, where usually anyone in the audience is allowed to sign up to participate beforehand. The slam at Out of the Loop featured a repertoire of local poets chosen beforehand.

Not only was the poetry masterfully constructed, the poets also gave powerful performances pouring from their hearts. Joaquin Zihuatenajo performed his piece “Jon’s Poem,” dedicated to a deaf student he once taught. It included sign language as well as audible verse. Other performers recited their works, covering subjects such as: growing up on the streets, falling in love and commonly experienced life struggles. The winner of this single night’s slam was a female poet named Gemini whose poetry involved song, movement and robust subject matter. She was voted the champion by randomly chosen audience judges, who were given paddles with numbers from one to a perfect ten. LS

To learn more about Dallas Poetry Slam’s bi-monthly events visit dallaspoetryslam.com

Rite of Passage Theatre Company –

Technically Related: Two Variations on Love and Family

Clay Wheeler and Christina Cigala are young artists (under age 30) who contribute positively to our creative community. It was very clear from attending this performance segment how much effort and dedication had gone into the creation of the two playlets, how both writers understand the importance of building an arc into a play’s plot and developing intriguing, believable characters. Someone named Christopher Eastland (no bio provided, sorry) directed both Wheeler’s Unit Cohesion and Cigala’s Hard Candy Christmas and gave them a polish and cohesiveness missing from much else I’ve seen at the festival. The acting ensemble for both included David Jeremiah, Adrian Godinez, and Cassie Bann. Ariana Cook appeared in the former, Lulu Ward in the latter. All are pictured in the above teensy-weensy photo.

Wheeler’s piece, portraying a family meeting between estranged adult siblings and their partners, was the stronger of the two works. The audience had just started to get to know its characters and examine their convoluted relationships when it abruptly ended. Ariana Cook and David Jeremiah worked well together as an edgy brother and sister duo, exhibiting a palpable familial closeness and pent-up hostility in the next breath. I hope Wheeler expands this work; what I saw felt like the “middle” of something bigger, worth finishing. Cigala’s piece was equally well directed and acted but predictably soap opera trite in plot line. Mom’s in drug rehab, and three siblings visit her at Christmas. One son brings her more drugs, the other son announces he’s gay, and the daughter claims she’s pregnant. (Who gets to have cancer?) All snarkiness aside, these are valid works in process. I hope the two young playwrights will learn something from seeing their short works produced, and I look forward to seeing them again after revision and expansion. AB

Stay tuned for Reviews of Dueling Cabarets, Broken Gears Project Theatre’s The Magdalen Whitewash and some dance performance entries….

And about Mike Daisey? Read this:

http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/artist.aspx?id=1c882c75-ad6b-47c3-9734-caad59bd3fd1

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