Dallas — Below are reviews from the first weekend of the Festival of Independent Theatres. For reviews of the other four shows, go here.
A giant box surrounded by toys and balloons seems like a good idea for a piece entitled playtime. Fight choreographer Jeff Colangelo’s wordless musing on fear and freedom goes way back to our shared experience of both: childhood. Dressed in an adult sized onesie he fights the fear of the dark, the constraints of “the box” and even menacing boogey men in his pursuit of the freedom to have fun, companionship and love.
It’s a very ambitious work, filled with material and Colangelo is tirelessly committed to each of the beats, but at present they exist as a series of “good ideas,” like a dancer approaching new choreography. The audience sat in patient silence for the forty-five minutes, but remained mostly unmoved until the final violent moments. Possibly, that is when the ideas became less theoretical and more personal. A good clowning coach would help Colangelo bridge that gap earlier. As it stands, the childhood presented here isn’t very childlike. The proof is in the tense audience.
This is a piece of rich, unrefined theater that is ready for a strong director to come in and lift it to its lofty goals (And give it a little light, so that we can see the opening moments).
playtime repeats in the FIT performance blocks at:
- Week 2: 2 p.m. Saturday, July 19
- Week 3: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 26
- Week 4: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 31
Metamorphosis II is Jim Kuenzer’s sequel to Kafka’s original story of a man who finds himself transformed into a giant bug one morning. In this new iteration the man, Gregor Samsa (Ben Bryant), returns home to find his mother, father and sister are in a sitcom. Unfortunately, the situation required for that comedy relied heavily on his insect condition and now he’s changed back. To make matters worse, they were just getting ready to make the jump to reality television.
Gregor leaves in search of his old job, but not before his cast members distinguish themselves. Lulu Ward works it as the mom trying to navigate between laugh track fodder and reality show confession gold. John Flores embodies the track suited buffoon father and Diana Gonzales makes the most of her Kardashian cameos.
Gregor goes to get his old job back but runs up against Flores and Gonzales as Theresa and Reg, a pair who put the slime back into synergy. Playwright Kuenzer finds his legs in the stomach churning business babble in this scene. It’s everything you’ve heard before in any boardroom scene woven into a bureaucratic beat down for Gregor.
In the final scene, our protagonist is marketed to by an Apple Genius. Flores puts the final nails in our collective consumer coffin by making his products sound enticing despite his elitist attitude. At this point, the show has slowly but surely moved into a more serious message, but may have left the audience behind.
Taking an outlandish premise to its extreme is the blueprint for many of the comedy greats from Nikolai Gogol to Monty Python. The rule is, however, outlandish characters behaving normally or normal characters behaving outlandishly, but never both at the same time. Director Donny Covington hitches our wagon to a main character with an outrageous accent and wobbly mustache. Despite Bryant’s efforts the laughs have an aftertaste of an inside joke when you are on the outside.
Metamorphisis II repeats in the FIT performance blocks at:
- Week 2: 5 p.m. Saturday, July 19
- Week 3: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 24
- Week 4: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2
Cara L. Reid struggles at a typewriter as the audience is finding their seats before mania/Gift by Shelby-Allison Hibbs. The show begins by having Whitney Holotik burst out of a pile of rocks and into a story that Reid is working on/narrating. Their character names aren’t specific because their roles, though they begin as writer and a somewhat reluctant character, remain fluid. Later, they will be students meeting, a doctor and patient, a writer and her inner voice. In this way, playwright Hibbs is going to take us on a moving journey into the bewildering world of the bipolar. Only the poles aren’t just manic/depressive but also extrovert/introvert, creator/created, extraordinary/ordinary.
Director Hibbs does well with playwright Hibbs’ sensitive script. It’s hard to delineate where the inventive writing ends and the inventive directing begins. More important is the great effort that she has elicited from her collaborators, including her cast. The result is confluence of artistic endeavor rare around here.
Terri Ferguson provides a flexible set behind which Shawn Magill can project her beautiful changing collages. When things get really intense, Ms. Magill adds an immersive sound design to her projections that takes us right down the rabbit hole with the characters. It’s almost an immersive performance art piece.
Except that it’s not. It’s a satisfying piece of theater thanks to the actresses. Cara L. Reid passionately embraces the troubled writer role. Whitney Holotik picks up several roles in service to the story and provides invaluable context to Reid’s untethered world. It seems like a good partnership, but don’t take it for granted. When you think you’ve got this play pegged, it’ll change again.
The houselights caught a lot of audience members wiping their tears away.
mania/gift repeats in the FIT performance blocks at:
- Week 2: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 17 ♦ 2 p.m. Saturday, July 20
- Week 3: 8 p.m. Friday, July 25
- Week 4: 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2
In a hotel room, two men wait…and watch. Pretty quickly the obvious scenario of hit men on a job takes on larger existential meanings. Playwright Trace Crawford has combined The Dumbwaiter, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Endgame.
Easily distinguished by their costumes, one suit and one slacker, these two speak in the familiar euphemistic lingo of pop culture gangsters with lots of implying, elision and ellipses. It’s fertile ground for simple things to take on multiple meanings, for example the title: The Watch.
Paley (Chad Cline), the suit wearer, is concerned with figuring out their predicament while Dawkins (Jared Culpepper), the slacker, takes a more laid back approach. For Dawkins, trying to figure it out makes their precarious situation even more dangerous. Paley isn’t dissuaded and provides the driving force behind this Odd Couple trip through Intro to Existentialism.
Often director Jordan Willis allows his actors to adopt a tone of significance without any meaning. It’s like listening to people speak line after line with air quotes. To the show’s credit, Cline creates an urgency to his inquiry. It’s a good antidote to Culpepper’s passive approach and ends up roping us in for the final section.
The Watch repeats in the FIT performance blocks at:
- Week 2: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 17
- Week 3: 2 p.m. Saturday, July 26 ♦ 5 p.m. Sunday, July 27
- Week 4: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1
» In the second weekend of FIT, shows opening are:
- 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18: The Diaries of Adam and Eve from WingSpan Theatre Co.; and Food for Thought from McClarey Players
- 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19: Sleepwalker Man Walk Through Wall from Sibling Revelry and Our Breakfast from One Thirty Productions