What just happened on stage, and why are my arms all goose-bumpy? One of the most delightful aspects of Dallas’ Festival of Independent Theatres is recognizing elements of pure risk-taking in certain productions and the artists who create them. Unrelated elements combine in unique ways. Uncomfortable moods sustain, creating prolonged suspense or examining the human condition outside the “normal” bounds of verbal exchange. Some of my most memorable ‘trips’ to FIT over the years have been made experiencing productions that confounded me or pushed me out of my comfort zone. Those productions don’t always end up completely satisfying my needs or tastes as an audience member or critic, but I certainly respect their artistic attempts to walk the performance tightrope without a safety net.
Two productions fit into this category for me in FIT 2012. The first is Churchmouse Productions’ “Dead of Night” by Kurt Kleinmann.Beloved and respected regionally for his yearly Pegasus Theatre Black and White productions, Kleinnman has developed a special niche at FIT where his original perspectives find expression in macabre humor. In previous years, his FIT entry has been the festival’s major hit. This year’s production, directed by Kleinnman and Leslie Patrick, exhibits harrowing suspense sustained smoothly throughout in a chillingly realistic performance by Chad Cline. To discuss the play’s plot here would warrant unfair spoiler status.
Cline’s character endures a nightmare experience with a major plot twist. Much of the play takes place in the dark, with only Cline’s cell phone faintly lighting his face, providing more than ample opportunity for the audience’s imagination to run ‘Freddy Krueger’ wild. Unfortunately, Kleinnman decided to add two shadow characters to select scenes, as illustration. They distract from the horror of the main character’s solitary experience and limit audience perception to a hokey, realistic view. The play would be much better served with just the one character on stage and voice over. I can imagine far worse mayhem than fumbling ‘dancing shadows’ in body stockings can depict. It’s the sort of play that would work splendidly on film; that it succeeds as well as it does on stage speaks well for both text and execution. Remaining performances of “Dead of Night”: July 28, 2pm; August 4, 8pm.
Number 2: Upstart Productions’ “I Met You and I Screamed”, by Justin Locklear. Locklear has earned ‘wunderkind’ status in the region for his amazing stage performances as an actor/singer/musician/puppeteer, mostly in Matthew Posey’s Ochre House Productions. A multi-talented, creative young man, Locklear directed this Upstart FIT entry, too. Ambitious and bold, it’s an admirable endeavor that never quite coalesces into a unified whole. Locklear’s production reflects a powerful Ochre House influence: he adds musical accompaniment as environmental enhancement, creates scenes which flow with novel-like stream of consciousness rather than logical linearity and revels in expressionistic externalization of his characters’ inner lives through dance, hair and costume design elements. Yummy stuff. Matthew Posey, after many years of experimentation and production, has mastered this style of performance, making it look as easy as Michael Phelps’ winning 8 Gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. Not so easy for a novice playwright/ director.
Locklear’s production rushes along unevenly, feels rough-cut, harried. The musical accompaniment seems irrelevant to the action or mood evoked, stuck in “because we can” rather than as necessary element to the production’s overall effect. The plot consists of a daytime soap opera-ish romance with trite dialogue. Cassie Bann generally gives a nuanced acting performance, even with lame dialogue; here she struggles to keep her character lively and interesting when paired with Danielle Georgiou in a love affair. Georgiou is an electrifying dancer (which she occasionally springs into, hurray, even with scant context); yet, she loses energy and focus as an actor. Their scenes, filled with whining recrimination, plod. Cindee Mayfield gives a strong performance as a predictable, stereotyped overbearing mother. The most interesting character in the show, deserving of his own play, is the psychiatrist played with bemused restraint by Ochre House regular Mitchell Parrack. His wry self-analysis monologue is worth sitting through the rest of the play for. Please don’t throw in the towel, Mr. Locklear. Keep after it. But if you’re going to give me soap opera, it better have damn splendid dialogue. You can do much better. “No matter how well you perform there’s always somebody of intelligent opinion who thinks it’s lousy.” Laurence Olivier. Not necessarily claiming an “intelligent opinion”, I just fancy Larry’s quote. “I Met You and I Screamed” runs again: at 8pm, July 26 and 27; at 2pm, July 28 and August 4.