Dallas — Uptown Players staged its first Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival in October 2011. The hope was that this would become an annual tradition, and it has, more or less (one year was skipped in 2015). This year Uptown presents two productions, in an event that in 2018 was rebranded to honor Gay History Month. Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is a one-person show conceived and written by Drew Droege and performed by Paul J. Williams. It runs in rotating rep with Cooties by Alexandrew Recore, produced by Flexible Grey Theatre Company and is directed by Olivia Grace Murphy. Each production offers a little something unexpected, so we chatted with Williams and Murphy to learn more.
Bright Colors and Bold Patterns happens on the eve of Josh and Brennan’s wedding in Palm Springs. It is told through the perspective of their friend Gerry who arrives a little buzzed, and testy because the wedding invitation had an unusual demand — that he “refrain from wearing bright colors or bold patterns.” Gerry vents to his ex and the ex’s young boyfriend in this bittersweet work.
Flexible Grey Theatre Company and Uptown Players partnered for the 90-minute six-character comedy, Cooties, which is set in a college apartment. Olivia Grace Murphy closed a run at Circle Theatre in A 3-D Adventure just before this project began. She works as an actor and as a director but is transitioning more into directing. For a 28-year old, directing opportunities are not plentiful so she is excited about this project with Uptown Players.
Both plays are performed in Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys Theater campus.
TheaterJones: Paul. you are an actor whose one-person shows are locally beloved. You have a following. What has it been like for you to do someone else’s one-person show?
Paul J. Williams: Every one-man show I’ve ever done has been something I wrote, or it’s all my material. Here, I am actually memorizing someone else’s script, 27 pages of words. This has been a very different and challenging experience for me. The thing that helps the most is that they actually videoed a performance of the play which can be found on Prime. I watched it but I have to make it my own. It was helpful, however, to see how it was staged.
What is your process for making it your own?
There are some elements of seriousness in this piece. I have a direct correlation with a couple of the serious scenes in the show because my life experiences match with that part of the story. When I got to those scenes Marianne Galloway, my director, commented “you’re doing a great job acting that, but I’m seeing Paul telling that story and not the character telling that story.” It is a very fine line.
I can have emotion when relating the sadness, but it has to be within the confines of this character I have established, which is not me.
You have expressed your desire to do more dramatic work. This is a comedic piece with serious moments. Do you think this kind of piece gives you an opportunity to show in an expanded way what you can do?
This opportunity is allowing me to show something on stage I’ve never been able to show before. First, to be funny with someone else’s material with no one else in the show. Secondly, it also gives me an opportunity within the context of that play to show a little bit of range.
One of the first serious roles I did in a play several years ago, the minute I walked on stage the audience started laughing. But it wasn’t a funny scene. That is part of the reason I would love to be able to perform something serious, to prove that I can.
How would you describe the show if someone were to ask you what it is about?
This piece is very much a commentary on where we are as gay men. Going from always being in a minority of sorts and having our own community, to now being in a world where we can have our own families. How are we dealing with that? Are we assimilating? Are we losing our identity? Those are the themes.
It is also a celebration of friendships, and a commentary on how we medicate ourselves in our own unhappiness. My character is drunk and high through most of this play.
When you speak of self-medicating, is this referential to a trope about the gay community or to society in general?
My comment was about my take on the character only. It is not a theme of the play whatsoever. Because of my own life experiences, I can see in this character someone who is masking a lot of sadness and loneliness with substances and humor. There are moments in the show where he starts to let his guard down, then becomes uncomfortable when he realizes people are getting to see that part of him.
What last thing would you to say to the audience?
Be prepared to laugh but be prepared to think too.
TheaterJones: Olivia, there is not much information easily available about the playwright.
Olivia Grace Murphy: Flexible Grey Theatre Company does a monthly new play reading at The Wild Detectives [a bookstore/bar in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District]. We seek to produce works that have not previously been produced in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and which usually have not been published yet. We go to the New Play Exchange to find these works. We really liked the script and selected it for our spring show. When we were invited to do the Uptown festival, this was the script we decided to do.
Interestingly, Alexandrew and I attended the same college, the University of Central Florida, but I didn’t know him when I was there. He is Los Angeles-based now and I am Dallas-based. He and I have chatted quite a bit throughout the process about the play. Since it is a new work revisions are ongoing, making it a living, breathing work. Alexandrew is a relatively new playwright. Which is another reason I love producing this because we’re giving a playwright who doesn’t have a lot of recognition a chance to have their work realized on the stage.
There have definitely been challenges with it. This play has only had one other staged [production]. It’s had several readings, but this is only the second staged version of it. He and I have discussed the things that work better in theory than onstage.
Is he planning to see this production?
Unfortunately not, since he’s not local, but we’ve been in contact and I have been able to send him clips.
What would you want to tell your audiences about this play?
To keep an open mind. The play is a little unusual in that it is set both in real time and with some fantastical elements to it. You’ll get to a scene and all of a sudden, a character will start saying a spoken-word poem. There are two interpretative dances in this show. The actors do a sort of drum circle behind the dancers. Be prepared for anything. Be prepared to laugh. It is a zany comedy.
» See our Proust Offstage video with Paul J. Williams here
» Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is performed at 8 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday; and 8 p.m. Monday (Oct. 25-28)
» Cooties is performed at 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 26-27)