‘Woman in Black’ offers classic scares for Halloween

“Woman in Black” has quite a pedigree behind it. Stephen Mallatratt’s play, based on the 1983 Gothic horror novella of the same name by writer Susan Hill, has been playing in London since 1987, making it the second longest-running play in West End (London’s version of Broadway) history (only beaten by “The Mousetrap”).

Penfold Theatre is getting spooky for its Halloween season production, the hair-raising ghost story “Woman in Black.”

This Halloween, Penfold Theatre, 7 Towers Theatre and the Austin Scottish Rite Theater have joined forces to bring the spooky story to local audiences.

In Hill’s original novella, the story of “The Woman in Black” is structured around the reminiscences of a London solicitor named Arthur Kipps, who faced both supernatural horror and devastating personal loss as a young man when he was assigned to handle the estate of a reclusive woman in the small town of Crythin Gifford. Mallatratt’s play cleverly creates a theatrical framework around this story by having Kipps enlist the help of an unnamed actor in order to portray on stage the events of his haunted experience. The actor ends up playing Kipps, while the real Kipps assumes every other role. In the process, both men come to discover that sometimes the past doesn’t stay hidden and that stories can be dangerous to both the teller and the listener.

The Scottish Rite Theatre is the perfect venue for this spine-tingler as it allows director Emily Rankin and scenic designer Christopher Conard to play with a cavernously large stage that has an eerie, “Inferno”-sequel mural looming in the background. Lighting designer Patrick Anthony makes fantastic use of this space and manages to create a variety of scenic changes and dramatic effects through lighting alone (something incredibly important for a play that relies on shadows and light as an integral part of the story).

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Stephen Price as Kipps and Kareem Bader as the actor are both solid in their roles, convincingly shifting between multiple character layers throughout the tale’s meta-theatrical unweaving. Bader is particularly good at creating a compelling aura of unease that helps boost the play’s uncanny atmosphere.

“Woman in Black” has had such a successful run in London for a reason: It is a classic piece of entertaining, imaginative theater that has the ability to enthrall audiences when it is at its most potent. Despite a very slow start, the Penfold/7 Towers/Scottish Rite production builds up to that atmosphere, thanks to Price’s and Bader’s performances, Anthony’s innovative lighting and Rankin’s creative staging conceits. It’s not the flashiest or most cutting-edge of shows, but it effectively tells Mallatratt’s and Hill’s eerie story, a perfect fit for the Halloween season.

“WOMAN IN BLACK”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 29, with no performance Oct. 21 and additional performance Oct. 30
Where: Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St.
Cost: $18-$25
Information: penfoldtheatre.org

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Zach Theatre’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ has snazzy special effects but somewhat soggy story

Since its release in 1952, the film “Singin’ in the Rain” has gradually gained cultural prestige as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) movie musicals of all time. Its mid-1980s adaptation to the Broadway stage is slightly less heralded but is also perhaps one of the most obvious and effortless translations of a film into a stage musical. Zach Theatre’s new production of the musical is a fun and frolicsome, if somewhat bland, presentation of the classic story.

Contributed by Kirk Tuck

That story follows the silent film-era screen couple Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont as they face the many challenges of transitioning to the talkies, including Lina’s one-sided love for Don, Don’s desire to be taken more seriously as an actor, and Lina’s painfully pitched voice. Into this mix comes Kathy Selden, a young ingénue whom Don quickly falls for and who dubs in for Lina’s voice, invoking the vengeful starlet’s wrath.

The stage version of “Singin’ in the Rain” skews so closely to the original movie that its book is wholly credited to the original screenwriters, Betty Camden and Adolph Green, and its songs to the film’s composer Nacio Herb Brown and lyricist Arthur Freed. Several scenes that were cut from the final film have been added back in to pad the show for time.

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The problem with this is that “Singin’ in the Rain” works so perfectly on film that it can only lose strength in translation. The 103-minute movie, when stretched into a two-act musical, becomes less compactly charming, and the show has a significantly hard time living up to the iconic screen performances of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.

Sasha Hutchings and Luke Hawkins star in “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre. Contributed by Kirk Tuck

Zach’s production suffers from these unfortunate pitfalls, though not from lack of effort or talent. Luke Hawkins is perfectly charming as Don, and Sasha Hutchings is effervescent as Kathy, but together they don’t quite have the chemistry to make their passion for one another fully believable. Hawkins’ duets with Blake Spellacy, as Don’s best friend and former vaudeville partner Cosmo Brown, have much greater vibrancy.

Fortunately, each of the three leads has their moments to shine. Hutchings’ voice is as gorgeous as her charm is infectious, while Spellacy’s comedic magnetism steals every scene he’s in (and impressively allows him to get big laughs out of jokes that are over a half-century old). Keri Safran, as Lamont, also has some moments of great humor, though she is hobbled by the rather one-note joke of her grating voice. Hawkins, meanwhile, is a prodigiously talented tap dancer, and his performance of the title song is the highlight of the show.

Director Abe Reybold and his design and technical teams create stage magic by making it not only rain on stage but pour down enough to create puddles that choreographer Dominique Kelley has Hawkins play with, in and around. In taking a uniquely filmic moment and translating it to the stage, the team puts together a show-stopping number that closes the first act with a bang (or, as it were, a splash). The complete drying of the stage during intermission is a testament to stage manager Catherine Ann Tucker, assistant stage managers Megan Barrett and Megan Smith, and the rest of the hard-working stage crew.

However, the rest of “Singin’ in the Rain” ends up feeling rather muted compared to this spectacular number. The remainder of the show lacks in excitement even as it remains high in charm and spirit. Though a 65-year-old script holds up well as a classic movie, when translated to the present-day musical stage, it becomes a bit of a drip.

“Singin’ in the Rain”
When: 7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 29
Where: 202 S. Lamar Blvd.
Cost: $30-$150
Information: 512-476-0541, zachtheatre.org

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Here’s how you can get a great deal to see ‘Rent’ in Austin

Broadway hit “Rent” is coming to Bass Concert Hall for a short run Oct. 13-15, and you can score a great ticket for not a lot of dough. Seats in the first two rows of the orchestra section of every performance will be available for $25.

Contributed by Carol Rosegg, 2016

Now, you do have to work a bit to get that deal: Tickets can only be purchased in-person on the day of performance, two hours before each show, at the Bass  ticket office, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive. These sales are cash only, and there’s a limit of two tickets per person. Performances are 8 p.m. Oct. 13-14, 2 p.m. Oct. 14 and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 15.

According to Broadway in Austin: “The tradition of $25 tickets began in 1996 in New York when the show moved to Broadway after a sold-out run in a small downtown theater. The producers of the show are committed to continuing the tradition of offering orchestra seats for $25 in each city the show will play.”

Freelance arts critic Andrew Friedenthal talked with national tour director Evan Ensign about the show for Austin360; here’s a little peek:

Long before people were lining up around the block in hopes of getting a ticket to “Hamilton,” a very different kind of show was praised for reinvigorating Broadway with its appeal to younger, more diverse audiences — Jonathan Larson’s “Rent.”

Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème,” “Rent” tells the story of a group of 20-something New Yorkers living in Manhattan’s Alphabet City neighborhood while dealing with the hassles of adult responsibilities and the deadly specter of the then-rampant AIDS disease. The show was a massive critical and commercial success in its original run, winning multiple Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize (issued posthumously to writer and composer Larson, who died the night before the show’s off-Broadway premiere), and it became one of the first Broadway shows to feature an affordable lottery system for sold-out performances.

With such a distinguished pedigree, you would think that Evan Ensign, the director of the show’s new national tour, might feel some pressure to live up to audience expectations. Ensign, though, is confident in the strength of the material. “I don’t feel that much pressure because I think the show stands up for itself,” he says.

You can read the full interview at mystatesman.com.

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The Vortex’s bloody ‘Vampyress’ is an adults-only Halloween treat

According to Guinness World Records, the most prodigious female serial killer of all time was Countess Erzsebet Bathori, who lived in Hungary in the 15th and 16th centuries, where she is said to have tortured and murdered hundreds of young women. The dark, bloody story of Bathori is hardly fodder for light musical comedy, but it is the inspiration for a different kind of stage musical — writer and composer Chad Salvata’s “Vampyress.”

Melissa Vogt and Hayley Armstrong star in “Vampyress” at the Vortex Theatre. Contributed by Kimberley Mead

Co-produced by Ethos and the Vortex Theater, “Vampyress” is a gothic opera tinged with chords of modern and electronic music that brings an element of dark magic to Bathori’s violent story. The Vortex has mounted the show several times before, to much audience acclaim, and they bring it back now as a dark treat for the Halloween season.

In some ways, “Vampyress” is a departure from the Vortex’s typical fair. The company has become known, and acclaimed, for timely, topical works that speak deeply and directly to contemporary issues of social justice, providing a sorely needed platform for minority voices amid the Austin theatrical scene. Some of that work tends to be relatively bare bones, focusing on actors and ideas over large-scale production values.

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“Vampyress,” on the other hand, is a much more timeless tale of sex, death and passion (in the sense of both passionate sensuality and passionate suffering) presented with extravagant music, lights, costuming, props and special effects. Ann Marie Gordon’s set combines with Jason Amato’s eerie, flickering lighting design and Salvata and Stephanie Dunbar’s ornate, intricate costuming (complimented by Amelia Turner’s makeup design), turning the small theater into an anteroom of hell and physicalizing Salvata’s gothic score.

Special note should be given to stage manager Tamara L. Farley, who keeps an entire show full of complicated lighting, sound and effects cues running smoothly, all to the extremely specific timing of an operatic score.

Directed by the Vortex’s artistic director Bonnie Cullum, “Vampyress” is something of an ode to female empowerment, even when taken to the extremes of brutality practiced by Bathori. As such, the entire cast is female, which surely made for an easier rehearsal process given the copious amounts of nudity present in the show. Though at times excessive, the nudity is never exploitative and in fact comes to have potent meaning in the show’s final moments.

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Although the entire cast is highly talented (a necessity to simply pull off an opera filled with nudity, blood-letting and choreographed torture), Melissa Vogt’s star turn as Bathori is truly a standout, carrying the countess’ story from regal aloofness all the way through to crimson-stained feral breakdown. Hayley Armstrong, as the sorceress Davila, also provides a noteworthy performance, bringing an ethereal, otherworldly sense to the character that gives the opera some of its most frightening moments.

Full of nudity, violence and literally buckets of blood, “Vampyress” is a Halloween treat for adults only, a macabre evening of excess slightly in the vein of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. Amid that cruelty, though, there is a seed of dark and violent beauty, and Salvata’s opera leaves its audience disturbed, aroused and more than a little afraid.

“VAMPYRESS”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 28
Where: The Vortex, 2307 Manor Road
Cost: $15-$35
Information: 512-478-5282, vortexrep.org

Trouble Puppet Theater ties history to today’s politics

On May 4, 1886, a labor protest rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned deadly when somebody threw a bomb at the police officers assembled to disperse the crowd. The resulting Haymarket Square Riot led to the deaths of several people, as well as a railroading of justice that punished activists and speakers at the rally without any evidence directly connecting them to the outbreak of violence.

Trouble Puppet Theater is known for its intricate puppets. Contributed

Trouble Puppet Theater’s new production, “The Bomb in Haymarket Square” retells that story with a contemporary eye that relates it to current events and the present-day fight for social justice and equality. To do so, the company employs a variety of theatrical techniques, from direct address to projections, live music and, of course, puppetry.

“The Bomb in Haymarket Square” is the brainchild of Trouble Puppet founder Connor Hopkins, who also wrote, directed and stars in the show, alongside four other actors/puppeteers — Rob Jacques, Laura Ray, Gricelda Silva and Heath Thompson — and two musicians, Justin Sherburn (who also serves as a delightful musical warm-up act) and Bryan Crowell.

The show tells the story of several of the activists who were held responsible for the bombing, both in the time leading up to the riot and in the days of judicial injustice that followed. Represented by small, intricate yet wholly effective puppets, we get a brief glimpse into the personalities and philosophies of each man, grounded within a larger context of labor unrest and immigrant persecution.

As a piece of agitprop, “The Bomb in Haymarket Square” can be very effective at times. Ironically, it achieves its peak political impact when the text allows the story and the characters to take over in the second half. The first part of the show is dedicated more to revealing the philosophical underpinnings of each activists’ radical labor beliefs, featuring some of their most impassioned arguments. Though these speeches are clearly important to the political project of the show — tying in the history of radical labor in the U.S. with the fight against fascism, corporate overreach, police brutality and a biased justice system in the country today — they lack the dramatic force to be found in the more character-driven scenes of the show’s second half.

Unapologetically political, “The Bomb in Haymarket Square” features some solid performances, beautiful puppetry and a powerful message that speaks to our times through the voice of history.

“THE BOMB IN HAYMARKET SQUARE”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 15
Where: Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road
Cost: $15-$25
Information: troublepuppet.com

Texas State’s ‘A Chorus Line’ is a singular sensation

When it first hit Broadway in 1975, “A Chorus Line” was a critical and commercial sensation. Praised for providing a raw, realistic glimpse into the lives of Broadway chorus dancers, the musical won the Pulitzer Prize for drama as well as multiple Tony Awards, and would go on to become the longest running show in Broadway history at the time.

Texas State University is kicking off a new season of college theater with a production of “A Chorus Line.” Contributed

In part because of its stark simplicity (the setting is a bare theater stage), the show has become a staple of local and regional theater companies, as well as at colleges, community theaters and even high schools. But, does a show that was ultra-contemporary in its time still resonate over 40 years later?

Texas State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance’s new production of “A Chorus Line” reminds us that, yes, this show still has a lot to say about youth, desire, individuality, conformity and, ultimately, the nature of musical theater itself.

Not only does this production reassert the power of the show, but it also puts a huge spotlight on the immense amount of talent that the Department of Theatre and Dance is turning out. And because it is fully sponsored by Legacy Mutual Mortgage, all ticket sales will go towards student scholarships.

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“A Chorus Line” is a true ensemble piece, with no real leading actors or supporting players. Telling the story of a daylong audition for a Broadway musical overseen by a director who wants to probe into the dancers’ psychologies as much as their work histories, the show highlights each auditioner in turn. Conceived (and originally directed and choreographed) by Michael Bennett, with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, part of the point of the show was to explore the stories of the nameless, faceless Broadway chorus line dancers whose individualities are sublimated into a singular performance of perfectly synced motions.

The irony of this process, and the heartbreak of this erasure of individuality, has never been clearer than in Texas State’s production. Director/choreographer Cassie Abate and musical director Greg Bolin put full faith in their talented cast of younger performers, whose athletic dancing skills, powerful vocals and heartbreaking performances fill up the bare stage more than any complex set ever could.

LEARN MORE: Broadway classic “A Chrous Line” connects with Texas State performers

Similarly, the scenic design by Cheri Prough DeVol, lighting design by Ethan Jones and sound design by Jason Taylor work seamlessly to keep the focus on the line of dancers, while Stacey Johnson’s costume design evokes the 1970s setting without falling into cheesy clichés.

The true stars of this production, though, are the student actors making up the line of auditioning dancers (complimented by faculty member Nick Lawson as the director, Zach, creating an age and powerful differential that gives the show its inherent tension). Continuing the ironies at the heart of the show, it would be almost unfair to single out any particular performance because almost all the actors have standout, show-stopping moments. However, Emma Hearn’s manic, desperate dance solo does deserve special mention, as do the heartbreaking earnestness of Anna Uzele’s musical numbers and the acrobatic shenanigans of CK Anderson.

“A Chorus Line” has always been a show that speaks especially to the lovers of musical theater and the bittersweet reality of dedicating your life to it. Texas State’s dynamic, emotional, engaging new production holds true to this tradition, and it’s clear that for the young performers this show was entirely done for love.

“A CHORUS LINE”
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26-30, 2 p.m. Sept. 30-Oct. 1
Where: Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre, 405 Moon St., San Marcos
Cost: $8-$18
Information: theatreanddance.txstate.edu/Productions/Current-Season.html

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Young actor gives star turn as troubled, tempestuous ‘Prodigal Son’

Playwright John Patrick Shanley, despite a long career that includes winning an Academy Award for the screenplay to the 1987 Cher film “Moonstruck,” is perhaps best known these days for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt,” which was also turned into a critically acclaimed movie starring Meryl Streep.

Sam Domino, left, and Kelly Koonce in Jarrott Productions’ “Prodigal Son.” Contributed by Steve Williams

In his more recent play “Prodigal Son,” Shanley returns to many of the themes of “Doubt,” but with a much more personal, semi-autobiographical (and thus very male-centered) lens. Set in a New Hampshire boys prep school in the 1960s, “Prodigal Son” follows Shanley’s avatar Jim Quinn, a troubled boy from the Bronx given a scholarship to the school, as he tries to negotiate education, adolescence and the poetic yearning to find his place in the world.

Jarrott Productions’ new mounting of “Prodigal Son” captures the austerity of the cold New England climate as well as the heated passions of Jim’s youthfulness. As such, the play can be something of a mixed bag, with some scenes, redolent with simmering tension and emotional sensuality, evocative of Tennessee Williams, while others feature philosophical debates about the nature of faith that are more in the vein of George Bernard Shaw.

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Director Bryan Bradford has created a production that seems to deliberately skirt this line, with reserved performances from the cast of adult teachers juxtaposed against young Sam Domino’s nuanced, troubled, tempestuous portrayal of Jim. Though Jim is prone to long philosophical proclamations and dramatic, emotional outbursts, Domino shines in the character’s quieter moments, showing us Jim’s painful loneliness and discomfort with his own body.

As various members of the school’s faculty, David R. Jarrott, Kelly Koonce and Holly Shupp Salas all provide much more dispassionate performances, which works best in scenes where they are set directly against Jim. Though only really given one scene in which to shine, Tucker Martin’s wistful boyishness as Jim’s roommate Austin helps to create the play’s strongest moments of youthful longing and idyll within such a cool, reserved setting.

That setting, itself, is created in large part from Chris Conard’s slightly impressionistic scenery and tightly focused lighting, as well as Glenda Wolfe’s period-perfect costume design.

As a text, “Prodigal Son” is very much in the tradition of the modernist drama of Arthur Miller, and in many ways it feels like a play not just about the 1960s but also from that era. It eschews the formalist theatrics of more contemporary works to focus instead on acute character study. Jarrott Productions’ version of the play intensifies that study through a dynamic performance from a young leading man, one to watch for in the Austin theatrical scene.

“PRODIGAL SON”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 15
Where: Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity St.
Cost: $15-$30
Information: jarrottproductions.com

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Girl power puts ‘The Wolves’ ahead of the pack

In theater, as in film and television, we often find a significant lack of quality roles for female performers. Fortunately, most Austin theater companies are well aware of this imbalance in so many classic dramatic texts, and they work hard to choose works that showcase diversity.

From left, Sydney Huddleston, Annika Lekven, Adrian Collins, Maria Latiolais, Kelsey Buckley, Estrella Saldaña, Kenzie Stewart, and Shonagh Smith in Hyde Park Theatre’s production of “The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe. Contributed by Bret Brookshire.

The venerable Hyde Park Theater, known for its presentation of darkly comedic contemporary dramas, has gone a step further this year, with three tersely-titled plays all written by women — Annie Baker’s “John,” Jen Silverman’s “The Moors,” and now Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves.”

Playing through Oct. 21, “The Wolves” is the perfect show with which to wrap up such a female-centric season. The short, tight, realistic play follows a girls indoor league soccer team (the titular Wolves) through one winter season as they face trials and tragedies both intimate and intense.

DeLappe does a superb job exploring the nine members of the team, who each have a unique personality, outlook and way of speaking. The show begins with a great deal of overlapping conversation, and even overlapping dialogue, as various members of the team simultaneously discuss tampons and the war crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Through many scenes like this one, which mix personal concerns with a wider awareness of the world, we slowly gain insight into the unique foibles and quiet strengths of each girl.

What is perhaps most impressive about “The Wolves” is the way in which it represents a realistic type of girl that we so rarely see on stage or on screen. The members of the soccer team are all high achievers who are legitimately concerned about both their own success and larger world issues. Their dialogue, in a naturalistic style reminiscent of David Mamet, is equally as goofy as it is cutting, ringing true to the way girls their age actually speak. Rather than falling into high school movie tropes, DeLappe shows us the charming, witty, sometimes obnoxious, highly driven girls that we all knew (or were) when we were young.

To that end, director Ken Webster has made two superb high-level choices with “The Wolves” — he has allowed the young cast to express all the messy awkwardness of youth and has taken on assistant director Rosalind Faires to help provide a female voice behind the scenes. With ultra-realistic set design by Mark Pickell, costumes by Cheryl Painter, lights by Don Day and sound by Robert S. Fisher, the audience is placed right on the field with these girls, let into both their tight camaraderie and their squabbling and infighting.

The nine girls who make up “The Wolves” are an acting ensemble in the truest sense of the world. Perhaps thanks to their relatively young age (most of them are recent or current college students), they guilelessly support one another as a full cast, with absolutely no upstaging or scenery chewing. The several scenes in which they flawlessly practice passing the soccer ball serve as a perfect metaphor for the amazing work they do together on stage, completely relying on and trusting one another. Each of them will be somebody to watch for on the Austin stage in the future.

With such a dynamite cast, directed pitch-perfectly in an excellent script, “The Wolves” truly leads the pack of current Austin productions.

‘THE WOLVES’
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 21
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.
Cost: $22-$26
Information: 512-479-7529, hydeparktheatre.com

 

 

 

From nun to genocidal monster: Paper Chairs’ ‘Catalina de Erauso’ looks at history through different lens

We are told early on in Elizabeth Doss’ “Catalina de Erauso” that the titular Catalina and her staged autobiography are a work of historical fiction. As we observe Catalina’s sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing, increasingly outsized misadventures, the complexities and monstrosities of her life take on the shape and force of history, or, more accurately, historical interpretation.

Contributed by Erica Nix

“Catalina de Erauso” is the latest work by Doss, created with Austin’s Paper Chairs theater company, of which she is the co-artistic director and resident playwright. The production, directed by returning Paper Chairs co-founder Dustin Wills, launched the company’s 2017-2018 residency at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a nonprofit sustainable design and architecture firm in East Austin.

The firm’s unique campus — combining a variety of buildings, lean-tos, campers and other structures with wild growths of grass and more than a few mosquitoes (so don’t forget the bug spray) — helps to set the mood for a production that takes its cues from the conventions of traditional traveling theatrical troupes, children’s theater and even, to an extent, Punch and Judy puppet shows.

Alexis Scott plays Catalina, taking her through a picaresque journey from a spunky 14-year-old escaping from a life as a 17th century nun all the way through to becoming a conquering heroine/genocidal monster in the New World. Scott is perfect for the role, presenting the young Catalina with a charming, bouncy, hysterical energy that combines childlike enthusiasm with a much more adult sense of mania.

The rest of the cast take on a variety of roles (both human and animal) but together serve as a kind of Greek chorus of players simultaneously enacting and reacting to Catalina’s story. Their vibrancy and intentionally hyperbolic antics early in the play provide the show with its strongest conceit — using the over-the-top conventions of children’s theater to tell an increasingly dark, adult story.

Unfortunately, the second half of the play takes an extreme turn away from this conceit. In an attempt to infuse the play with both commentary and poetry, Doss and Wills go a bit too far with the metatextual winking that peppers the play, crossing over from self-referential to self-reverential. This is a shame, because Doss is clearly skilled enough to infuse the play with the messages she is trying to get across without having to resort to such heavy-handed techniques.

Though uneven in its second half, “Catalina de Erauso” is certainly an interesting experiment. Fueled by a broadly talented cast and a distinctive performance venue, it raises vital questions how we can relate — and relate to — history through the veils of fiction and theater.

“Catalina de Erauso”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 30
Where: Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, 8604 FM 969
Cost: $15-$25
Information: 512-686-6621, paperchairs.com

 

Bill Murray coming to Austin for Long Center show — just in time for SXSW

We’re always excited to see what the Long Center has in store for the upcoming season, but Thursday’s announcement of its winter/spring 2018 shows had an extra-special surprise.

Bill Murray is coming to the Long Center in 2018. Contributed by Peggy Sirota

That’s right, folks — actor, funnyman and sometimes bartender Bill Murray will be at the Long Center right at the tail end of South by Southwest. His appearance March 18 with cellist Jan Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez is the Austin debut of the show “New Worlds,” which the Long Center describes as “a spirited fusion of spoken word, literary readings, and music.”

But even if you can’t get tickets for that event, you’re very likely to see him around town. He popped up at a Lupe Fiasco show last year at the Belmont, he stopped by Franklin Barbecue  … it’s safe to say our man Murray digs Austin and could make the time to hang around awhile. Pick your watering holes accordingly.

Murray isn’t the only celebrity coming to the Long Center. “Star Trek” alum, LGBTQ activist and social media powerhouse George Takei will appear May 4 to regale us with tales of his life. Oh, myyyyy.

Other Long Center highlights include food writer Michael Pollan, jazz singer Gregory Porter and the Golden Dragon Acrobats.

Tickets for individual performances go on sale at 10 a.m. Sept. 19 at thelongcenter.org, or call 512-474-5664.

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Here’s the complete lineup, courtesy of the Long Center:

 

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, & Friends
New Worlds
Dell Hall, March 18, 7:30 p.m.
Always a curious character, Hollywood mainstay Bill Murray is striking a new creative tone. After meeting German cellist Jan Vogler during his travels, the two became friends and soon had an idea to work together sparked by a curiosity in each other’s artistic worlds. The result is a surprising program of spoken literary classics against a backdrop of musical pieces from all genres – The Adventures of Huckleberry set to Moon River, Hemingway with Ravel. For one night only, Murray and Vogler bring this joint program that showcases the core of American values in literature and music to Austin for the first time, combining classical pieces with spoken word to create a show that communicates the bridges artists have built between America and Europe over the past several centuries. Together with violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez, Murray and Vogler create a quartet of American experience.
__________________________________________
Music

An Evening with Wood & Wire
Rollins Studio Theatre, January 17, 7:30 p.m.
It has been five years since Wood & Wire sprouted out of the rich musical soil of Austin. In that time, they’ve written music, recorded records, and performed at some of the most notable festivals and venues across the country. In the sometimes tightly defined genre of bluegrass music, Wood & Wire’s ‘band style’ ethos are not unheard of, but certainly atypical. As are the elements of song crafting, so often associated with their Texas home. Join us for an intimate evening with Wood & Wire as part of the Long Center’s Concert Club series in the Rollins Theatre.

An Evening with Joseph Keckler
Rollins Studio Theatre, January 23-24, 7:30 p.m.
Vocalist, writer, songwriter and performance artist, Joseph Keckler’s work often combines autobiography, humor, and classical themes. Called a “major vocal talent who shatters the conventional boundaries of classical singing,” by Stephen Holden of The New York Times, Keckler has been featured on BBC America and WNYC Soundcheck and has appeared at Lincoln Center, Art Basel Miami, SXSW, Centre Pompidou, and many other venues. He has received a Creative Capital, NYFA Fellowship, Franklin Furnace grant, and Village Voice Award for “Best Downtown Performance Artist.” In partnership with the Fusebox Festival, the Long Center welcomes Joseph Keckler for the first time for an evening of wild miniature operas about contemporary life, haunted torch songs, and narratives infused with humor and longing.

José González
With Special Guest Bedouine
Dell Hall, February 3, 8 p.m.
Renowned for his mix of autumnal indie pop and intimate acoustics, Swedish singer-songwriter José González quickly gained a loyal following with the 2003 release of his debut album “Veneer.” Garnering critical and commercial acclaim, it featured his trademark sound – solo classical guitar with soft vocal melodies – and went on to sell over 700,000 copies worldwide before going Platinum in the UK. His latest album, “Vestiges & Claws,” marks a sonic shift for the indie folk musician who wanted to continue in the same minimalistic style, but once he started the actual recordings soon realized that most of the songs sounded better with added guitars, a more beat-like percussion, and more backing vocals. The result is an album that is less purist, less strict, with a fuller sound than previous records. It is a collection that coheres perfectly, ensuring González’s position as one of the most important artists of his generation. Opening for José González is the Syrian-born musician Bedouine, touring to promote the release of her 2017 critically acclaimed self-titled debut.


An Evening with Carlos Piñana        
Dell Hall, February 10, 8 p.m.
Coming from a long and impressive line of flamenco artists in Alicante, Spain, Carlos Piñana has lived and breathed flamenco since he was a young child, and is considered a modern-day legend throughout the world. He is the grandson of Antonio Piñana, patriarch of the cantes mineros, and his father is the well-known guitarist Antonio Piñana, a legend in his own right. For this special evening in partnership with Austin Classical Guitar, Piñana and his troupe of authentic flamenco masters journey here from southern Spain to bring us a thrilling display of intense rhythm and soulful song. Pasión!

Black Violin: Classical Boom Tour
Dell Hall, March 7, 7:30 p.m.
This spring the Long Center welcomes revolutionary music group Black Violin back to Austin for their 2018 Classical Boom Tour. Combining a daunting array of musical styles – jazz, hip-hop, funk, and classical – to produce a signature sound that is not quite maestro, not quite emcee, this group of two classically trained violinists and their DJ is redefining the music world-one string at a time. With influences ranging from Shostakovich and Bach to Nas and Jay-Z, Black Violin breaks all the rules, blending the classical with the modern to create something rare-a sound that nobody has ever heard, but that everybody wants to feel. In an age where music is coming to be more and more defined by the labels given to it, Black Violin shows that music does not exist within a box, but rather exists in another space-one as open and unrestrained as the minds that produce it

Noah & the MegaFauna
Rollins Studio Theatre, April 11, 7:30 p.m.
With comparisons to Django Reinhardt, Beirut, and Devotchka, Austin-based band Noah & the MegaFauna has developed a sound that can best be described as a clamorous whiskey filled raucous of sing-a-longs on the eve of destruction. The band’s sophomore album, “The Pale Blue Dot,” builds on the success and aesthetic of his 2012 debut release “Anthems For A Stateless Nation,” but while that album was firmly rooted in big band jazz and older world folk, “The Pale Blue Dot” represents a departure from Charles-Mingus-meets-Tom-Waits vibe of their debut and finds the band flexing their orchestral indie rock chops. Join us for an evening of eclectic sound and fusion with Noah & the MegaFauna as part of the Long Center’s Concert Club series in the Rollins Theatre.

Gregory Porter
“Nat ‘King’ Cole & Me”
Dell Hall, June 20, 7:30 p.m.
An artist whose music is at once timeless yet utterly of its time, Gregory Porter solidified his standing as his generation’s most soulful jazz singer songwriter with “Take Me to the Alley,” winner of the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album, and the much-anticipated follow-up to his sensational 2013 Blue Note debut “Liquid Spirit.” His new work and album celebrates one of his great inspirations, the extraordinary and soulful Nat “King” Cole. For Porter, the influence of Cole in his life and music runs deep, a through-line that reaches back into some of his earliest childhood memories, and culminates in the release of his stunning fifth studio album “Nat ‘King’ Cole & Me,” a heartfelt tribute to the legendary singer, pianist, and Capitol recording artist. Join us for a special evening with Gregory Porter as he shares selections from his impressive oeuvre thus far and his new album. As a special offer for fans attending the show, a digital download of “Nat ‘King’ Cole & Me” (available October 27) is included with every ticket.


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Talking Heads

An Evening with Michael Pollan
One Writer’s Trip – From the Garden to the Plate and the Beyond
Dell Hall, February 2, 8 p.m.
Acclaimed author of New York Times bestsellers The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michael Pollan returns to Austin to share the path his thinking and writing have taken since he first started examining the many fascinating ways that humans and food intersect. For this appearance, Pollan strikes an autobiographical tone, starting from his first Thoreau and Emerson-influenced horticultural disaster to the garden, the farm, the table, and beyond as he describes the give-and-take that is human engagement with the natural world, including how certain plants and fungi can affect our conscious state. The evening will also include brief readings from several of Pollan’s previous books and a work in progress.

An Evening with George Takei
Dell Hall, May 4, 8 p.m.
With an acting career spanning five decades, including more than 40 feature films and hundreds of guest-starring roles, George Takei is known around the world for his founding role in the acclaimed television series Star Trek as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the Starship Enterprise.  But George Takei’s story goes where few stories have gone before. From a childhood spent with his family wrongfully imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp during WWII, to becoming one of the country’s leading figures in the fight for social justice, LGBTQ rights, and marriage equality—Takei remains a powerful voice on issues ranging from politics to pop culture. With 1.7 million Twitter followers, he has become a social media mega power who uses his voice to empower others to beat the odds and make a difference. Join us for this special evening as Takei shares his remarkable and unexpected journey.

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Family Fun

Golden Dragon Acrobats      
Dell Hall, February 11, 3 p.m.
Making their premiere at the Long Center, the Golden Dragon Acrobats represent the best of a time-honored tradition that began more than 25 centuries ago, combining award-winning acrobatics, traditional dance, spectacular costumes, ancient and contemporary music, and theatrical techniques to present a show of breathtaking skill and beauty. The ancient art of acrobatics has developed into one of China’s most popular art forms and has served an important role in the cultural exchange between China and Western nations. Performing feats on chairs stacked 10 stories high and other spellbinding acts, the Golden Dragon Acrobats have toured extensively across the United States and the world, showcasing ancient acrobatic skill and traditional dance. “When the Golden Dragon Acrobats come to town, wonders stack up,” writes The New York Times. “The thrill is escalation. These touring acrobats from China know how to keep topping themselves.”


Cirque Éloize: Saloon
Dell Hall, March 29, 7:30 p.m. & March 30, 2:30 p.m.
America is expanding, the railroad is stretching westward to lands of untold promise, and people are striking out on their own. In the middle of the Wild West, a town comes to life, and within it—the saloon filled with a cast of motley characters each with a tale to tell. In Cirque Éloize’s Saloon the infectious energy of folk music and strains of the fiddle set the tone for an acrobatic comedy that sweeps spectators away in a mad flurry. Storytelling with a contemporary circus flair, Saloon presents a mythical world created by live music, phenomenal physical feats, and the exhilarating pace of spectacular performances. The timeless tunes of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and others set the traditional, epic scene (with a few twists!) for a family-friendly show with no shortage of thrills. Hailing from the Magdalen Islands off the coast of Nova Scotia, Cirque Éloize has taken part in numerous international festivals and captivated both New York’s Broadway and London’s West End. Since 1993, they have presented over 4,000 performances in over 500 cities. Now the company brings their own brand of “heat lightening,” the definition of the Acadian word “eloize” that inspires the energy of these performers, to Austin this spring.