Clockwise from top left: Kathleen Anderson Culebro; Dan Dietz; Kristoffer Diaz; Jaime Castaneda; Tom Sime and Marco Ramirez

Review: Tapas | FireStarter Productions | Circle Theatre

Making a Meal of Little Bites

FireStarer Productions' "Tapas" offers something for every taste.

published Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tapas is name for a collection of seven short plays (each more or less 10 minutes long) "curated" and directed by Jaime Castaneda for his theater company FireStarter Productions. Like any meal consisting of tapas, some of the morsels are more like appetizers, some taste great but are less filling, and others could be an entree. All together, they satisfy.

Castaneda directed each, and his skill with actors and text is evident. His selections, some of them from national writers, shows his love for reading and discovering new scripts, even if they're only a few minutes in length.

It's probably possible to link the plays together by a variety of themes, but for me, the notion of fantasies stood out: Hubris; delusions of superpower; dreams both real and metaphorical; marital fantasies sexual and domestic; the concept of living in a fantasy world until you're not-so-rudely snapped out of it. Something else they have in common, in this production: drummer Tim Cowdin, who provided quick scene-change skins-banging and used various percussion sounds for comic and dramatic effect in the plays.

Here's a quick breakdown of the works:
I Am Not Batman by New York playwright Marco Ramirez: This work won Ramirez the Heideman Award at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2007, where there's a 10-minute play festival each year. Brandon Potter plays a boy who wants to be "mad famous" and rips through a funny and fast monologue in which his fantasy of being the Caped Crusader covers up some of life's real problems.

The Electric Former Feminist Studies Major Bares It All For You
by former Texan Dan Dietz, now a playwriting prof at Florida State. First off: Big points for the title. And luckily, there's substance in the work itself. Not the case here. Nikki Gonzales is centerstage wearing a Las Vegas showgirl headdress and bejeweled panties. Her hands, covered in black satin elbow gloves, are covering her bare breasts. It's a funny and shocking sight, and only becomes more hysterical as the character, Gina, tells of her one-time plans to shake up the world with her ideas and goals. It's nicely written, divulging volumes about a character in a short amount of time and with no movement. Keeping things tense is the stage manager (Ardis Campbell) who pops in every few minutes to remind Gina to get in place on stage. Great lesson in irony (as admitted by Gina) and a smart reaction to anyone who has ever put for the lame argument that strippers are the ultimate feminists. Funny, funny performance by Gonazales.

Sweet Tooth
by Tom Sime, who's well-known around here as the former Dallas Morning News theater critic and then managing director of Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. He's now the writer-in-residence at New York's Bleecker Street Theatre. Through four people in four scenes, each of them with a different pairing of characters, we learn about Diane and Bob's (Jennifer Engler and Paul Jung) marriage that should be dissolving, but probably won't (he's cheating, she knows and really wants to ignore it) and about their friends, spouses Alvin and Ann (David Fluitt and Ardis Campbell), who have a better relationship, but Ann has a confession, too, about her theory on God. Which doesn't really shake up anyone, too much. Another nice, short work that illuminates much about its characters, with terrific, low-key performances. These are all complacent people who might be too emotionally and/or physically tired—and mellowed by bottles of Shiraz—to care.

The Gay Sweater by New York writer Kristoffer Diaz. The weakest of the bunch, and nicely hidden in the middle of this collection. The character is the playwright, who is male, but he's played by a female (Alex Valle). Kristoffer recounts a story from grade school when some meanie called his sweater "gay," and how he grew up thinking that "gay" was bad, until he finally befriended a gay guy in college. It's preachy, and its attempt at theatrical cred with the gender-reversed casting comes off as precious. Valle has good charisma, though. The nice thing about a 10-minute play festival is that the not-so-great ones are over soon.

The Pitch and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Grocery Store by Fort Worth's Kathleen Anderson Culebro, artistic director of Amphibian Stage Productions. The fist play deals with a screenwriter, Douglas (Brandon Potter) who believes his latest script is much better than it is, and when his student Henry (Jason Lovelady) tries to bail from Doug's house, things get weird. A funny commentary on artistic hubris and insanity. It's good, but better is Funny Thing, which is the second work in Tapas that features a topless woman. This time she's played by Jennifer Engler, and she's actually fully naked but mostly hidden behind a shopping cart filled with groceries. She has that common dream of being nude in a public place, but hers is a little different from the typical naked dream. Engler, like Gonzales as the former feminist studies major mentioned above, is fantastic as a character who exposes her neuroses only through facial expression and line interpretation.
Kryptonite by Dan Dietz: Another work dealing with superhero mythology, and a nice bookend to Tapas considering the opening play about Batman. Harris (Jason Lovelady) is trying to dig up the body of his father, who he believes was the Man of Steel. Harris' brother, Todd (Fluitt) knows that his sibling is crazy, which sets off the sparkling conversation, that brings up rivalries, jealousies and frustrations, between two brothers.Lovelady gives a heartfelt performance as a man who refuses let go a past he believes to be entirely special.

  Thanks For Reading

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Making a Meal of Little Bites
FireStarer Productions' "Tapas" offers something for every taste.
by Mark Lowry

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