Dallas — It's a crying shame that the new Cry Havoc Theater Company's excellent first show, The (out)Siders Project, didn't run longer than three days (Aug. 6-8) at the Latino Cultural Center. The company, the dreamchild of founder/artistic director Mara Richards Bim (who also directed the debut), shows prime potential of becoming one of the most dynamic young companies in town.
And by young, I mean cast as well as longevity. The (out)Siders Project is based on S.E. Hinton's classic novel about teen warfare and its brutal outcomes, but it's really more of an homage than a direct interpretation. The program gives writing credit to both Shelby-Allison Hibbs and the cast, an impressive group of high school actors who seem seasoned beyond their years. Some of this town's professional actors could learn a thing or two from the intensity and passion brought by the mostly male cast, particularly Jonah Goldberg as Mark, the strung-tight-as-a-highwire leader of the Parks group, and Jesus Sena as Bear, the floppy-dreadlock-ponytailed show-off of the Siders group.
Notice the use of the word "group"—a lesson in semantics if ever there was one. I don't think the word "gang" is used even once in this show. Remember when Our Gang was about a rowdy, but nonviolent, group of young kids? Now that word has come to mean blood, violence, shootings, stabbings. You'd find all of that in this show, but the non-use of "gang" just shows how one simple word—even one far less offensive than others you can think of—can have so much meaning attached. Will "group" be the next nasty word to describe the disenfranchised kids who turn to others like them, then inevitably get caught up in the nastiness of territorial conflict? Or "brethren"? Or "gaggle"? Doesn’t matter; same story, different noun.
The theater company takes its name from one of Shakespeare's more famous quotes, "Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war," from Julius Caesar. Literature also features at the beginning of the show's conflict: A new recruit to the Siders, Ben (a poignant Joe Lopez) is caught reading The Great Gatsby—outside! In full view of others in the groups! Oh, no, the horrible influence of classic literature cannot be tolerated. Literally, because Ben might learn something that the other gang…er, group….members would just as soon he didn't realize: There's a life outside this hell. (His reading earns him the nickname “Mr. Half Price Books.”)
The script even manages to work in a good deal of humor, as when Parks newbie Dylan (Evan O’Brien) attempts his initiation, stabbing someone, his knife shaking like a leaf in a storm. Or when Ben asks another member to tell him a bedtime story, as they hide out in an empty downtown Elm Street warehouse. The other kid does: a love story that ends in death. Or when Bear explains why a building is a hideous color of orange: “On our side of town it doesn’t get renovated. It just [eventually] gets torn down.” This, inside the confines of the gloriously orange LCC.
At the Friday night performance, the LCC's auditorium (which seats about 300) was at least two-thirds full, mostly comprising black and Hispanic faces. That's thrilling, because we see far too little diversity both onstage and in the audience in Dallas theaters, but also disheartening, for this is a message that white, Asian, Muslim…all audiences, in fact, need to hear.
Richards Bim clearly directed her cast to "go for it," and they do, ably abetted by acting coach Lisa Cotie. Original music by T. Adam Barnett and sound design by John M. Flores added much to the ambience, as did Scott Guenther's lighting and projection design of street scenes behind the spare staging. Most of the photos projected, I was told, were from Dallas, and I'm not talking about NorthPark or Highland Park or anywhere with the word "Park" in it…ironic, given the name of one of the groups.
Dean Wray gets credit for the fantastic choreography. Some lovely dancelike movement starts the show, but where he really shines is in the realistic fight scenes. Those kids move like jungle animals, ready to strike, and it's a heart-pounding, jarring thing to witness.
This is a world where Ben can say, with a heavy heart burdened by death, "I shouldn't have been reading outside," as if he were confessing to armed robbery. Instagram can become a weapon. A dreadlocked black police officer is just as likely to shoot a black kid. It's the world we live in, whether Ferguson, Chicago or McKinney.
Cry Havoc has started off on a running, fiery note. Let's hope they return soon with more of the same kind of thought-provoking theater, and in doing so, help train the next generation of great Dallas actors.