First Rate Second Thought & The Talented Mr. Walters

Their name may be Second Thought Theatre, but there’s nothing second-class about this creative, dynamic ensemble of youngish Dallas thespians. Their newest production, co-artistic director and playwright Steven Walters’ comedy Pluck the Day, opened on February 3, 2012, inaugurating the company’s new home, Bryant Hall on the north end of Kalita Humphreys Theater’s campus on Turtle Creek Boulevard. A rowdy near capacity crowd swarmed the welcoming, easy-access black box space and embraced the production and first class presentation greeting them there. Second Thought is working hard to be first rate.

Pluck The Day: Mike Schraeder, Greg Schroeder, Clay Yocum, Jenny Ledel, Chris LaBove

The company’s new season reflects their commitment to produce fresh, edgy work. After Pluck the Day’s run, The Midwest Trilogy, an original blend of stage and film art by Texas Theatre’s Eric Steele, opens March 15, followed in June by a hip-hop adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Exuding potential for some entertaining, thought-provoking theatre, STT’s current incarnation is young, hip and provides an appealing high visibility launch pad for regional artists (albeit Anglo and testosterone heavy).

“In theater, art comes less from landing lines than in finding what lies between them.” I concur with Ben Brantley’s wise remark in his 11/2011 NY Times review of Teresa Rebeck’s Seminar. Steven Walters’ Pluck the Day opens as vivid illustration. Two men of indeterminate relationship lounge on stage, indirectly revealing scads about themselves and defining the play’s combative tone as they tussle over a crossword puzzle. It’s one of the best-written opening scenes I’ve witnessed in a regional play in a long time. Then it went downhill.

Do we really, REALLY need another play about blue collar male bonding relationships… laden with crotch fondling, protruding belly scratching, arm wrestling, big dick boast, beer chugging, puking and woman demeaning behavior from its unshaven, disheveled ”Joe the Plumber” style main characters? It’s been done often and much, much better. After the dynamite opening, Pluck The Day reeks with “line-landing” focus, as if each scene were created to please the lowbrow appetites of a frat crowd open mic night. Opening night’s audience, pretty “well-oiled” before the lights came up, howled uproariously as the calculated jokes “landed” time after time. I felt their glee arose more from seeing local favorite leading actors Clay Yocum and Mike Schraeder engage in outrageous troglodyte combat than in the meaning conveyed or character revealed from text. I have total respect for Yocum and Schraeder, each highly skilled, talented artists and intelligent, motivated men. I relish the day when I see both of them display their considerable craft in roles that complement. Best in show? Questionably gay Bill, played with understated reserve by Christopher Labove and token female April with Jenny Ledel, who stole every short scene she skittered briefly into. Matthew Gray directed and designed set and costumes with immaculate attention to detail and full, effective use of the expansive space. Give the man props for making the melee tie together as well he did. It’s an admirable orchestra, playing a mostly predictable tune we’ve all heard before.

Second Thought Theatre: please consider plays like Teresa Rebeck’s Seminar (running through May 2012 in New York) or Nina Raines’ Tribes (opening March 4 in New York) or Bill Cain’s Nine Circles (just finishing at Denver’s Curious Theatre) or UT/Austin Michener Fellow Kevin Kautzman’s If You Start A Fire…( in production now at Ypsilanti in Ann Arbor, Michigan). First class scripts for a first class act, which Second Thought Theatre certainly is. Back to your keyboard, talented Mr. Walters!

Teresa Rebeck’s Seminar, through May 2011 in New York:

Tribes by Nina Raines opening at Barrow Street Theatre in NY March 4, 2012 after a successful 2010 run at London’s Royal Court:

Bill Cain’s Nine Circles, just concluding a run at Denver’s Curious Theatre:

Kevin Kautzman’s If You Start A Fire…runs through March 4 at Ypsilanti in Ann Arbor Michigan:

Kautzman will conduct a play-writing workshop March 10 in Dallas:

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