I love to party with friends and family anywhere, but my favorite way to celebrate is to set the table with pretty dishes and bright, sweet-scented flowers, whip up a few familiar dishes we can’t resist, and fill our glasses with good wine. Let the talk and laughter flow.
I’ve seen more than 50 shows this year, and that doesn’t come near the enormous number of professional theater performances and first-rate community theater plays I missed in our theater-rich Metroplex.
What’s impressed me so much in the past year is the enormous contribution of female directors to the theater scene. Many of these women are so good and so prolific, we take their sensitive, professional accomplishments for granted. Others are new to me and to many in North Texas. All bring a special skilled and earthy intuitive quality to the plays they direct, a generosity that allows actors to bloom.
Here, in no particular order, are my wished-for guests.
Christie Vela led off the year directing Theatre Three’s production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th century masterpiece. We all have at least one split in our personalities! Christie also directed a no-holds-barred production of Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. at Second Thought Theatre. We leave as fierce, indignant feminist radicals with revolutionary hearts.
Joanie Schultz, in her second year as artistic director at WaterTower Theatre, blew me away with her staging of Robert Askins’ Hand to God, a theater experience made as real as sitting in the rec area at a fundamentalist church while the devil takes the form of a foul-mouthed puppet attached to a teenage boy’s trembling hand. She also directed her own elegant 90-minute adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Tragic for WaterTower that she left at the end of 2018. That’s its own sad drama. Today, she and Christie talk male casting tips.
Marianne Galloway, an actor I can’t take my eyes off (as in Angels in America at Uptown Players), is a superb director, as well. She founded Risk Theater Initiative 15 years ago and has a particular genius for staging the small show with a huge heart. Witness her direction of Jessica Cavanaugh’s Self Injurious Behavior at Theatre Too this past season, a deeply honest view of a parent dealing with one devastating aspect of raising an autistic child. Marianne’s also adept at directing love stories, like the musical version of John Carney’s film Once, at Theatre Three. Audiences were rapt, and critics gushed like they always do when this brilliant woman just walks onto a stage and smiles knowingly. Actually, all the gals at this table command a spotlight, with the certainty and ease of a lion-tamer. Marianne also performed in the acclaimed production of The Revolutionists with Imprint Theatreworks, among other projects in 2018.
Susan Sargeant, artistic director of Wingspan Theatre Company for a couple of decades, wowed me again this year with her expert and haunting direction of Pinter’s Landscape at the Festival of Independent Theatres. Even more fascinating is the way time flies and three stalwart, adventurous women prevail in the deep wilds of the world in Eric Overmeyer’s On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning at the Bath House Cultural Center. Marianne and Susan have worked together so often they can just lift a brow and communicate worlds. Watch that body language workin’!
Carla Parker, a longtime Ochre House Theatre company member, took control of the stage at the theater’s iconic storefront home, and climbed into the attic with Mousey, a play she wrote and directed wherein the toys come to life and question the meaning of their existence, and the intent of the little girl who loves and abandons them.
Cheryl Denson can direct anything, from a musical in drag to a classic tragedy, with pizazz and genuine humor. Maybe the single best production I saw this year was Tony Kushner’s Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika at Uptown Players, directed by Cheryl, with every single cast member returning from her version of Part One. What terrifying, funny, and powerfully physical performances. Oh, and Marianne was there as the deserted wife, beautiful in crazed ironic mode. Not to repeat my rave, but the work, the stage, the ensemble and the director was a sweetly fortuitous meeting that happens sometimes, and you feel lucky to see it. They also serve who only stand and cheer! Ask any actor.
Tiffany Nicole Greene has my gratitude and applause for her moving and newly imagined direction of A Christmas Carol at Dallas Theater Center. The poor hardworking Cratchit family fills the theater with deep love for one another and a wrenching grief at the death of a child. More grit than fantasy, the show was rich and touching and warm and real. Quite an accomplishment for a young director. She was slated to direct shows at Second Thought Theatre, Stage West and WaterTower Theatre, too, but Tiffany’s talent went national. She directed Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy in Boston in 2018, and recently became the resident director of the national touring production of Hamilton.
Katherine Owens co-founded Undermain Theatre in 1983 and remains the theater’s artistic director and guiding light. Having seen literally hundreds of plays she’s directed, from classic modernists to world premieres, I descend the stairs to her basement space confident that true theater will happen. A story unfolds in time and space, the word made flesh. I’m always surprised! This past year, I was totally taken in by her direction of Len Jenkins’ How Is It We Live or Shaky Jake + Alice, a love story with a river and a couple of magical tramps that reminded me of how radiant human love can be.
I can’t even imagine a party of theater women in this town, or anywhere, without Tina Parker, co-artistic director of Kitchen Dog Theater and sideline bossy secretary on TV’s Better Call Saul (and before that, Breaking Bad). Mama Tina and her tight, testy company weathered the storm of a move in 2016 to an interim space as they await the building of a stage all their own, while continuing to produce cutting-edge theater. In 2018, Tina didn’t direct or act at Kitchen Dog but her snarling dogs staged Marco Ramirez’s The Royale, a gut-punch about racism in boxing and Jack Johnson’s career in the ring (directed by Christopher Carlos); Philp Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, a fierce satire on the nightmare of real estate manipulation (directed by Tim Johnson); and the exhilarating musical Pompeii!!, a highly inebriating homebrew concocted by Cameron Cobb, Michael Federico and Max Hartman (directed by Cobb). Next at KDT, Tina will direct Clare Barron’s You Got Older. In addition to being a leader, she's also at the 2018 because of her curtain speeches. “Yeehaw, ya’ll!” as Tina puts it on opening nights, loosening us up for a belly laugh or a shriek.
That’s it. Here’s to a tableful of talented, tough, gorgeous and generous artists that just keep telling the us a story we need to know. I’m taking the tenth chair at the bottom of the table, better to pour the champagne and listen to the talk that might reveal what’s coming up to sate our theater hunger in 2019. Bring it on, ladies.
2018 YEAR IN REVIEW
Friday, December 28
- The Year in Comedy by Chief Comedy Critic Kevin Beane
- Danielle Georgiou's Sixth Position: A Year of Movement
Saturday, December 29
- The Year in Dance by Chief Dance Critic Cheryl Callon
- The Year in New Dance Works by Katie Dravenstott
- The Year in Dance by Emily Sese
Sunday, December 30
- The Year in Music and Opera by Chief Music and Opera Critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
- The Year in Music and Opera by J. Robin Coffelt
- The Year in Music and Opera by Wayne Lee Gay
Monday, December 31
- The Year in Performing Arts Books by Cathy Ritchie
- The Year in Classical Music Recordings by Andrew Anderson
Tuesday, January 1
Wednesday, January 2
- The Year in Theater by Martha Heimberg
- The Year in Theater by Jan Farrington
- The Year in Theater by Janice L. Franklin
- The Year in Theater by Frank Garrett
- The Year in Theater by Jill Sweeney
- The Year in Latinx Theater by Teresa Marrero
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