Denton — Sundown Collaborative Theatre brings off an amazing and emotionally turbulent—from charming to hilarious to downright terrifying—night of theater with its latest “mixtape,” this one called We All Make Mistakes: A Drunken Mixtape. It's billed as the theater's “Fourth Annual(ish) Short Works Festival,” and it contains some of the best short pieces I've seen in years.
There are 12 pieces in all, created, directed, written and performed by a bevy of enormously talented artists. Co-artistic directors Chloe McDowell and Mandy Rausch, one assumes, chose the plays and oversaw the wondrously collaborative effort. Each evening features eight of the 12 entries; if you come back another night to see the four you missed (and maybe some favorites from before), ask for the Side B Special, show your program from last time, and you'll get in for $5.
McDowell also serves as the witty emcee while the minimalistic set changes occur. Her drinking game, with suggestions from the audience, was a big hit. Our crowd ended up drinking, for example, whenever food appeared on stage, if you saw yourself in a character, if you got super-uncomfortable, or if an actor was wearing an outfit you actually own. (I qualified for all of the above.)
The "mistakes" of the overall theme cover everything from romance to possible suicide. Be warned: Some of the pieces, particularly the devastatingly powerful Curtains, a multimedia piece created and performed by Cesar Velasco, contain adult situations and emotionally horrific material. (Some works also have strong language—this fest isn't for anyone at least in their mid-teens.)
I had tears in my eyes before Curtains was even halfway through, and McDowell cautioned beforehand that anyone who just couldn't take it was welcome to slip out. "Sometimes art is hard," she said bluntly. "We make hard art." Don't leave, though: You'll be missing something rare and spectacular.
Other especially strong pieces include the giggle-fest Chivalry in Flux, by Drew Maggs, in which a character named Donatello (the fabulously courtly Bryan Patrick), dressed to the hilt in Renaissance-festival attire, tries to woo a very modern woman (Kerri Peters), who's having none of it.
The ethereally dancelike, silent Clockworks and Consciousness, by Jenna Davis Jones, leaves the interpretation to the audience. To me, it represented the span of lifetimes, from featureless babies in the womb to old age and back to virtual infancy. Others may see something entirely different.
I also especially loved Internal Clock, by Liesl Ehmke, about a distraught woman (Janelle Schroder) who finds herself at the mercy of hers, which appears as a suit-attired gentleman (Cooper Wiseman) who can't help but wake her up every few minutes. As the minutes tick down to an important morning meeting, she becomes more anxious and her internal clock gets more out-of-whack. Haven't we all been there?
"Art is whatever you put your heart into. It's not about money," says a character in Laura King's Tag. That clearly sums up the Sundown philosophy, and this show is well worth the drive to Denton from elsewhere in Dallas-Fort Worth. Get your tickets now for closing weekend: The space is quite small, and it was packed to the brim at the reviewed performance.
With this year’s Mixtape, which kicks off the group’s eighth season, Sundown proves itself a company to be reckoned with.