Several of this year’s participants in the Festival of Independent Theatres have presented productions of extremely limited worth, in my opinion. These shows, as they exist, lack cohesive artistic merit: in terms of content, in terms of production values, in terms of aesthetic. I have stared at a blank page on my MacBook numerous times since I sat through the second week’s series. I find it difficult to write about them, with one exception, other than to express disappointment. As a critic, I must evaluate content, substance and production value, as it exists, not for its “potential”. I have supported FIT, with wholehearted enthusiasm, since 2006 and will continue to do so.
Reviews of the second week’s “series” at the 2014 Festival of Independent Theatres running through August 2:
1) WingSpan Theatre’s ”The Diaries of Adam and Eve”, edited and adapted from Mark Twain’s work by Susan Sargeant.
This is FIT 2014’s strongest production, in every aspect.
Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) wrote his “Eve’s Diary” and its follow-ups in installments, beginning with a feature in Harper’s Magazine at Christmas-time in 1905. He may have written the multiple book series as a love-letter to his wife Olivia, who died in June 1904. The series opens in the Garden of Eden with newborn Eve and Adam discovering each other and continues until forty years later after the fall and the pair’s expulsion from Eden. It’s endearing, witty and old-fashioned. It brims with Clemens’ love for his wife and a humorous focus on the different communication styles of the genders. Sargeant begins with a short prologue with both actors fully clothed: Austin Tindle as a youngish Samuel Clemens and Catherine D. Dubord as a young mother cooing at her babe in arms. Good thing it’s short as it’s totally unnecessary to establish the play’s setting. Once Eve “launches” into her opening Garden monologue and the pair re-emerges in discretely leaf-adorned flesh-toned leotards, the magic of Twain’s love tale beguiles its audience. Occasionally the actors grow overly earnest in portraying the pair’s growing relationship with each other and the rest of the world, but it’s natural to let their youth, beauty and sincerity sweep you along. There is nothing politically correct about Twain’s book, and Sargeant kept the sexist stereotyping fully evident in her script. It wasn’t Twain’s intention to insult anyone, certainly not in an era before women got the right to vote. The sexist delineation is hard to miss. Yet it doesn’t interfere with the work’s integrity or humanity. By the time Austin Tindle’s Adam finds himself alone on stage under a single spotlight, tenderly expressing Twain’s famous closing line, “Wherever she was, there was Eden”, an abundance of sniffles could be heard around the house. Lowell Sargeant does his usual first class job with sound design, photography and images. The simplicity of the presentation concept allows Twain’s fine literary work to shine. Thank you, WingSpan Theatre, for your professionalism and artistic integrity.
2) Sibling Revelry’s SLEEPWALKER MAN WALK THROUGH WALL: an oddball sequence of enactments of various sleep-walking/ nightmare situations using the medium of dance and lip-synching to older pop tunes (such as Mama Cass’ “Dream A Little Dream of Me”). It appears to be well rehearsed and choreographed in minute detail. After several sequences pass, it becomes numbingly repetitive. It feels like the culminating performance project for an MFA in dance at some regional university. The dancers seem to enjoy themselves.
3) One Thirty Productions’ “Our Breakfast”: written by Ben Schroth and directed by Gene Ray Price, this domestic interlude shows three characters spouting a lot of words but telling and/or showing the audience nada. Two ‘mature’ women go to a Waffle House for breakfast where they dither about unhappily for the play’s duration and have limited interaction with the restaurant’s waitress, a younger woman stressing out over domestic trouble at home (revealed through several phone conversations). The audience learns through the dialogue that the women must be upper class-ish, but they don’t look, act or speak like it. There seems little difference between them and the waitress, but they treat her rudely and dismissively. If this play intends to make some sort of comment about class difference and interaction, I can’t tell what. Its character and relationship development are totally muddied by an excess of superfluous, inefficient dialogue. The waitress seems like she dropped in from some other play, a more dynamic one. The cast consists of Erin Singleton, Mary Lang and Marty Van Kleeck. They do the best they can to inject life into a wordy, static, meandering one act. Dave Tenney’s detailed set design creating a lower class diner is the best part of this production.
4) The McClarey Players’ “Food for Thought” by Cliff McClelland.
Several years ago McClarey Players brought to FIT one of the most repugnant, salacious short pieces of theatre I have seen since I moved to Dallas in 2005. Here they are again, with three sophomoric skits involving some actual people from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as imaginary ones, a humanized iguana and a space alien person. “Charles Darwin and the Mating Habits of the Marine Galapagos Iguana”, to name one skit. Are they supposed to be funny? Are they attempting to make commentary on some aspect of life? Who knows? Who cares? Badly written. Next to no direction. Mediocre acting, at best. Hard to imagine why FIT would welcome this group back. If this is “edgy” theatre “growing” in front of an audience, I would prefer to watch a golf tournament. Directed by Cliff McClelland.
The Festival of Independent Theatres continues at the Bath House Cultural Center through August 2, 2014.