<em>Cyrano</em>&nbsp;at Amphibian Stage Productions

The Year in Theater, Part 6

Jill Sweeney on getting reacquainted with the theater scene, and discovering new finds, in 2018.

published Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Photo: Evan Michael Woods
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again! at Second Thought Theatre


So, a little context for this year-end wrap-up: I’m a Fort Worth native, born and raised. I spent my entire early life here, all the way up to graduating from the University of Dallas, and a good chunk of that life was spent at the theater. Both my parents are avid theatergoers, and since babysitters ain’t cheap, my sisters and I tagged along more often than not. I have fond memories of summer nights at Shakespeare in the Park, munching on cheese and crackers out of our cooler and swatting at mosquitoes while Henry V moved from citronella candle campfire to the next, of sitting through a matinee of a touring production of Les Misérables, watching my dad (not a big crier) with tears streaming down his face during Fantine’s death, of laughing myself silly at Stage West’s productions of (the recently departed and much-lamented) Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and Laughter on the 23rd Floor back in Jerry Russell’s heyday. Only an innate sense of self-preservation—and a desire to eat on the reg—kept me from pursuing it professionally. Instead, I decided on law school and New York City at the same time. Almost nine years later, I moved back to Fort Worth, definitely older and hopefully at least a little wiser, and thanks to TheaterJones, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the theater scene here all over again. To my delight, I’ve reconnected with some old friends, and I’ve even made a few new ones along the way.

In the “old friends” category, I’ve been thrilled to find Stage West (in its 40th season, and in its new-to-me, though not to them, home) is just as good as I remember, or maybe better. Their 2017-18 season was an embarrassment of riches. The regional premiere of Taylor Mac’s Hir blew me away, and Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon was a revelation (Stage West has another of Jacobs-Jenkins’ plays up currently, a production of Everybody, his adaptation of “Everyman”, that’s equally stirring—review to follow). And that’s not even taking into account the shows I’m sorry to say I missed—Like a Billion Likes, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, and this season’s well-received opener, the regional premiere of Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2. Stage West is producing some of the best theater in the region—here’s hoping they keep it up for another 40 years.

Photo: Timothy Long
Stage Kiss at Circle Theatre

Circle Theatre’s another old friend I’ve been glad to reacquaint myself with. I enjoyed last season’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss immensely, and Circle’s raucous production of Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men on Boats reinforced my hope that there’s been a true sea change in the voices that theater is choosing to amplify these days. To my shame I slept on seeing rising star Zak Reynolds in Every Brilliant Thing at Circle, but the critics sure didn’t.

As for new friends, well—I’ve struck up a conversation with a few new folks here and there, and I’d be glad to get to know them better: Kitchen Dog Theater’s original musical Pompeii!! was a hoot, and Second Thought Theatre’s production of Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. was a hell of a night of theater, with a cavalcade of powerful female performers.

But that “talk on the phone for hours about nothing, then go out for coffee and talk some more” friend? Gotta be Amphibian Stage Productions, which is consistently knocking it out of the park on every level and producing the most consistently excellent, exciting theater in the region—I’m in deep like here, people. Last season’s Eye of the Beholder, Amphibian’s latest contemplation of the life of sideshow attraction Julia Pastrana (the so-called “Ugliest Woman in the World”) was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen onstage, and Amphibian should be lauded for the part it’s played in amplifying Julia’s story and bringing her to some sort of peaceful resting place. The rest of the season was one triumph after another—on Amphibian’s main stage, the world premiere of Brenda Withers and Jason O’Connell’s hilarious adaptation of Cyrano, veteran Stephan Wolfert’s affecting one-man show Cry Havoc!, a sleek production of Fernanda Coppel’s soon-to-be-adapted-for-TV King Liz, and an innovative production of Tom Stoppard’s seldom-produced Artist Descending A Staircase. Amphibian also deserves props for its development of new works with its Metamorphosis series, as well as its residencies for comedians you may not know (but should) like Baron Vaughn and Emily Heller. I’m in total agreement with our fearless leader Mark Lowry: “Word is out that Amphibian always delivers.”

So, to wrap up the wrap-up, it’s been a lovely surprise to get to know DFW’s theater scene again, both more formally and in some ways more intimately than I did before. Here’s to a year of old friends and new, and the knowledge that not only can you go home again, but maybe home is a richer, livelier, more exciting place than you could appreciate in your callow youth. And here’s hoping the next year is just as full of surprises.





Friday, December 28

Saturday, December 29

Sunday, December 30

Monday, December 31

Tuesday, January 1

Wednesday, January 2

Thursday, January 3

  • The Year in Performing Arts News by Mark Lowry
  • A challenge for our readers
  • The Year in Theater by Mark Lowry

Friday, January 4

  • Looking ahead to 2019


 Thanks For Reading

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The Year in Theater, Part 6
Jill Sweeney on getting reacquainted with the theater scene, and discovering new finds, in 2018.
by Jill Sweeney

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