Dallas — Take the Fair Park exit and drive past the huge parking lots at the 5,000-seat Music Hall to the Margo Jones Theatre, a small black box theater housed in the art deco-style Magnolia Lounge Building. This elegant structure is the home of Nouveau 47 Theatre, currently showing its fifth annual production of short, holiday-themed plays by local playwrights, called A Very Nouveau Holiday. The fifth annual showcase is the work of Executive Producer Erin Singleton and Associate Producer Cain Rodriguez.
Small, swift, well-acted productions are special gifts any time of year, and these minimally produced plays are a happy anecdote to the many big holiday shows, featuring buckets of artificial snow and actors sweating in heavy winter costumes.
Each play here is 10 to 15-minutes long, and the actors bring not only their honed skills but also their props—a couch, a coffee bar, a laptop—to the stage. Some plays work better than others, but the subthemes of holiday joy and sadness are different and all the actors are solid. What’s fun to watch is the necessarily rapid rise to conflict and equally speedy resolution. Ribs show.
First off the ramp is Jim Kuenzer’s Lump of Clay, a satire about Christmas marketing featuring a fist-sized blob of clay and two hard-pitching salesmen promising us they have the product that will take the terror out of Christmas giving because the stuff they’re peddling is “everything to everybody.” I want one if everyone has one, for sure.
Speaking of an objet du moment, two plays star female robotic clones as deceased young women recreating a moment in a man’s life, both plays with very different closures. In Jonathan Kravetz’s Mr. Crispy, a blocked and exhausted playwright hires a clone to enact, over and over, the last moment he had with a real young woman and colleague. In Allison Hibbs’ Downeastern Alexa, a father summons a robotic form of his late daughter in the yuletide season to recall the great adventures they had together, including their last. We’ve seen versions in the movies; on the stage, the mechanical clones are even more touching.
The plays include two holiday situations familiar to all. Greg Silva’s Say Cheese is a funny piece about a family of four with two warring teenagers hissing at each other because long-suffering Mom has brought them and their macho dad to a studio for a family Christmas photo. Poor woman asks so little. This is fun everybody can recognize, and the resolution is sweet, but not cloying.
Radio Flyer, by Christopher Soden, features a department store Santa in therapy, á la David Sedaris’ famous essay on his days as an elf at Macy’s. Here, the poor guy is driven to his shrink’s sofa not because the kids are awful, but because one is totally amazing.
Frank D. Gonzales’ Gift of the Maggies is a sweet riff on the famous O. Henry story of the woman who sells her hair to buy a pocket watch chain for her husband who sells his pocket watch to buy her combs for her beautiful hair. Here, two prisoner roomies in orange overalls create a make-do Christmas that captures the same spirit.
Ben Schroth’s Holiday PSA is a kind of stand-up comic trio featuring the Virgin Mary, Abe Lincoln and Santa Claus, all eager to chat about the pagan roots of the holidays and deliver some clever historical puns in the process, but without much interaction between the three characters.
My favorite play is Brad McIntyre’s Langdon the Seasonal Barista, a surprising and hilarious three-scener about a non-hibernating bear hooked on coffee trying to keep his gig at Starbucks without mauling customers with love hugs and withstanding the ruthlessly upbeat HR woman who comes to the shop for an employee review. Tight, revealing and truly comic!
Directors working in the production include Andra Hunter, Rebecca McDonald, Brad McEntire and David Meglino.
Dallas is lucky to have a deep acting pool, evident in virtually all the shows I see in town. Actors filling multiple roles here are: Monalisa Amidar, J. R. Bradford, Cameron Casey, Emily Faith, Robert Long, Chris Messersmith, Charles Ratcliff II, and Jerome Stein.
Everybody’s good in their shifts of character, but I was totally knocked out by Robert Long, recently seen in Waiting for Lefty at Upstart Productions. He plays a caffeine-deprived bear, a depressive Santa and a goody-good teenager with riveting confidence, but somehow always keeping something of himself in his striking angular face and tense, wiry body. More, please.
Singleton and company invite you to BYOB and a friend, get obnoxiously loud with your laughter, and take all the photos you want.