FIT 15: Yang & Yin in Balance

fit logo icon 2013Fifteen seems to be the Year of the Woman at FIT, the Festival of Independent Theatres held annually at the Bath House Cultural Center on the shores of White Rock Lake in Dallas. Not complaining — it balances out other heavily testosterone-laden regional offerings. Five of its eight short productions are penned by women: from novice playwrights to respected regional notables and NEA grant and Tony award-winners. Women direct four of the eight, again breaking with national statistics. Nation-wide, theatre’s leadership employment of women may trend reprehensibly behind the times; Dallas gives the yang and yin fair play at FIT:15.index_logo

Reviews of the first four productions, in order of attendance:

like me, written and performed by John Michael. Gay solo artist John Michael claims the work he performs without traditional scripted format “evolves through a process similar to monologists Spalding Gray and Mike Daisey”.  John Michael’s work isn’t derivative or imitative of anybody’s. Every piece that emerges from his hyper-energized imagination unfolds with more clarity, originality and cohesiveness than the previous one. like me focuses more on identity and communication, less on hooking up for gay sex, than earlier solo shows. john michael smallIt’s tamer than previous offerings, a bit more reflective than experiential. Still, at the Sunday 6/2-matinee performance, he drove away a pair of 20 something men and a trio of grey-haired patrons with his wisecracks and entendres. What would they have thought of his last show, John Michael and the Order of the Penix? Homophobia… there should be a vaccine for that. Donny Covington’s reserved direction keeps John Michael working across a well-defined arc, without too many surprise side excursions. Hope they continue the productive relationship.

Lydie Marland in the Afterlife: Isabella Russell-Ides persists as one of the most expressive, evocative and routinely ignored playwrights in our N. Texas region’s ‘money and prestige’ theater circles. She pens unique, stage-worthy, critically acclaimed entertainments like Leonard’s Car, Coco & Gigi and Cenote that feature fascinating characters, vivid language and imagery and sustainable sustenance for the soul and mind. WingSpan Theatre produces her newest work Lydie Marland in the Afterlife at FIT:15 with attention to detail and artistic focus one might expect to see lavished on a full-length professional production, maybe not on a 50-minute one-act on a rotating double bill at a summer festival. Result? Quite the pay-off. Director and WingSpan’s Producing Artistic Director Susan Sargeant casts the competing roles of Old and Young Lydie with two of the strongest actresses in the region, Cindy Mayfield Dobbs and Catherine D. DuBord, utilizing their comprehensive talents and skills to best advantage. WingspanBoth develop an aura of otherworldly mystery and intrigue while drawing the audience into the tragic overlay of the real life story of this eccentric woman, first the adopted daughter then the indulged, younger wife of wealthy Oklahoma oil tycoon E.W.Marland and, older, as a nearly homeless “bag lady”, floating on the seedy fringes of thrift store existence. Photo projections of the actual Marland Mansion in Ponca City, Oklahoma, flash on an upstage screen, while the recently deceased older Lydie relives her life as she sips Dubonnet from a crystal goblet, haunted by the combative, ethereal, goddess-like younger Lydie. Creepy, but way cool. Costumes by Barbara C. Cox capture the horrifying essence of the dual portrayal with painful contrast. Simple set design by Rodney Dobbs conveys just enough reality to give concrete basis to Russell-Ides’ fantastical construct. Lowell Sargeant photo. Visit www.marlandmansion.com for the whole story.

The Treatment: Eve Ensler’s 2006 one act falls far short of the resonant scope and universal dimension of her Tony award-winning, internationally acclaimed The Vagina Monologues. As a member of a generation of women who found a new level of body awareness and sisterly solidarity through Ensler’s landmark work, it’s hard to watch The Treatment and not feel tremendously let down. Torchy, preachy propaganda: one male and one female character function as little more than melodramatic mouthpieces for stereotypical rhetoric. Echo Theatre produces this short as its FIT:15 entry, bringing in versatile, experienced K. Doug Miller to direct. Character arcs follow predictable, academic pathways with a heavy dose of teeth gnashing and scenery chewing. Yawn? A nude interlude occurs midway to show that Ensler can deal with the male body, too? Jordan Willis and Terri Ferguson give honest performances but can’t overcome the second rate material. Want to read or see a terrific play about the cruel monsters the exploitative military can create out of ordinary men? Check out Bill Cain’s Nine Circles

 Dead Wait: A New Dramatists resident playwright, Carson Kreitzer offers up a very black comedy with extensive pun verbiage about a purgatorial afterlife from the diverse perspectives of three unrelated characters – two waiters and Jayne Mansfield. Cocky, alliterative, macabre and always humorous, the play comes boldly to life (and death) under the guidance of Pegasus Theatre’s Churchmouse Productions, directed by Chad Cline. Versatile regional professionals Andrews Cope and Jared and Isabelle Culpepper leap into their dire portrayals with intensity, gusto and impeccable timing, fretting about or resigned to their fates with the right deadpan combination of sorrow, exasperation or ennui to give this comic short viable tone. Nobody “plays for laughs”, which makes the whole escapade a cock-eyed delight. It’s Churchmouse’s philosophy to employ “the simplest possible use of lighting, set, costumes and special effects that will allow us to effectively present the author’s intent.” In Dead Wait they found the ideal hearse to drive this corpse to its final, fitting place of rest.

FIT:15 runs through June 22, 2013, with four more short plays to open in rotation. www.festivalofindependenttheatres.org

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