Monologue, memoir and stand-up comedy: One-man show tackles loss and language

Will Eno’s “Title and Deed” (now in a new production from Capital T Theatre, playing through Sept. 16 at Hyde Park Theatre) is a difficult play to describe, and that’s sort of the point.

Jason Phelps stars in “Title and Deed” from Capital T Theatre. Contributed

Featuring only one actor, described simply as “Man,” the short play is a mixture of monologue, memoir and, to a degree, stand-up comedy. The man is a visitor from a strange, faraway land talking directly to the audience in an amorphous space that is both an international airport and the theater itself (the program describes it as “The theatre, a room”). Over the course of the man’s rambling revelations of his own thoughts, observations and personal history, we learn of his dual obsessions with loss and with language, which are inextricably linked in his mind.

The man’s full history — his name, where he comes from, why he’s visiting “here” — is never quite revealed, which is in large part Eno’s ultimate goal, as he explores what it means to be lonely, lost and unable to find the right words to express oneself. Many of our customs are as strange to the man as his are to us, and whenever he begins to feel a real connection, yet another cultural, linguistic or personal difference gets in the way.

Capital T’s production of the play, directed by Mark Pickell and starring Jason Phelps, is a stylistically simple deep dive into the nuances, linguistic play and intentional misunderstandings of Eno’s text. Pickell lets Phelps do all the heavy lifting here, with a very bare set (designed by Pickell) consisting of the theater’s black walls and a stage of wooden planks, and a lighting design by Patrick Anthony that remains deliberately static right up until the final moments of the play.

The spartan nature of the production puts the entire onus on Phelps to create a sympathetic character out of a textual cipher, and fortunately the actor is more than up to the task. At turns witty, whimsical and wandering, Phelps’ portrayal of the man charms us with his blunt naivete, while at the same time moving us with his depths of sorrow.

If you’re looking for a cathartic, satisfying evening of classical theater, “Title and Deed” won’t hit the spot. If, however, you want to see what Beckett or Pinter might be writing in the present day, as presented by an extremely talented performer, then this show will satisfy you like no other.

“TITLE AND DEED”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 16
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.
Cost: $20-$30
Information: capitalt.org/wp

Forget story — TexArts’ ‘Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ is all about musical fun

The 1970s were a high-water mark for “porno chic” in the United States, and the Broadway stage, like the rest of popular culture, was far from immune from its influence (alongside the ongoing impact of the broader sexual revolution). This was perhaps most evident in the 1978 musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” a breezy, titillating comedy inspired by the real-life Texas story of La Grange’s own Chicken Ranch brothel.

TexArts presents “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Contributed by KARLA ENT

Though the play itself is a relic of its time, with a revelry in its own naughtiness that takes the place of a narrative through line, TexArts’ new production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” pushes to the forefront all of the show’s best elements, creating a fun romp that never ceases to entertain.

Larry L. King and Peter Masterson’s book of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (based on a story by King) is something of a mess, with no coherent sense of structure and a first and second act that are incredibly tonally mismatched. Fortunately, the fun, flirty, infectious songs, written by Carol Hall, pick up the slack. Each of the numbers is fully realized and pushes its conceit to the limit, whether its emphasis is on bombast, bawdiness or brooding.

Director Sarah Gay wisely plays into these numbers, pushing each song to either absurdist or emotional extremes. In this sense, “The Best Little Whorehouse” plays out almost as a revue, with a loosely connected storyline. Each song is pushed to the limit by the committed cast, and it is quite enjoyable.

RELATED: Get a jump on the Austin arts season

Gay’s direction is also incredibly smart in the way that it de-emphasizes the overt sexuality of the whorehouse setting and either plays it for laughs or turns it into something whimsically flirtatious (a decision that owes its success, as well, to Kimberly Schafer’s charming-yet-sensual choreography and Colleen McCool-Pierce’s playfully revealing costumes).

TexArts’ “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” focuses on each individual scene and moment as its own unique entity, which requires a talented cast that is able to shift from comedy to pathos without much help from the script.

The somewhat large chorus, each playing multiple roles, get most of the show-stopping, toe-tapping moments, while leads Jarret Mallon (as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd) and Christina Stroup (as Ms. Mona Stangley) have to do some of the hardest work of changing tonality from scene to scene. Corinna Browning (as Doatsy Mae), Joe Falocco (as Melvin P. Thorpe), and especially Roderick Sanford (as Jewel, a part usually played by a woman) each have show-stealing moments of their own, as well.

As far as story structure goes, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” may leave you wanting more, but TexArts’ bouncy, energetic, fully committed production most certainly satisfies.

 

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 3
Where: 2300 Lohman’s Spur, Suite 160
Cost: $40-$50
Information: 512-852-9079, tex-arts.org.

Heidi Marquez Smith is new exec at Texas Cultural Trust

The former head of the Texas Book Festival will now lead the Texas Cultural Trust.

Heidi Marquez Smith takes over as executive director at the statewide arts advocacy group after the departure of Jennifer Ransom Rice. 

Heidi Marquez Smith is the new boss at Texas Cultural Trust. Contributed

“As a long-time, passionate advocate for literacy and the arts, I am thrilled to be part of an organization that promotes the vital role of the arts in education and actively supports our state’s many talented artists and educators,” Marquez Smith says. “I look forward to advancing the work of the Trust to build awareness of the quantifiable impact of art in the classroom and the Texas economy, and the important role of the arts in building a competitive workforce for the future of our state.”

Most recently a consultant with her own firm, Marquez Smith is actively involved in the leadership of the Texas Lyceum, St. David’s FoundationDell Children’s Trust and Texas Book Festival. She also volunteers at Eanes Elementary School, Hill Country Middle School, Eanes Education FoundationPop-Up Birthday, LBJ Presidential Library and the city of Rollingwood.

Perhaps most impressively, she served as Special Assistant to the President for Cabinet Liaison under President George W. Bush.

It takes quite a diplomat to run the Trust, which hands out the Texas Medal of Arts in a grand biennial ceremony; directly promotes arts education; and meanwhile attempts to convince Texas legislators to support dollars for the arts. Recently, that august body reduced funding by 28 percent, which means that soon only $6 million will be spent by the state each year on the arts. By way of contrast, the city of Austin alone spends $12 million.

IN-DEPTH: Legislature cuts Texas arts funding 28 percent.

Zilker Theatre’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is fun for parents and their munchkins

It’s hard to think of a movie musical more classic or family-friendly than 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The movie, based on writer L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” has proven so popular over the decades that it was adapted into a stage production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987.

Andrew Cannata, Hannah Roberts and Jordan Barron perform in “The Wizard of Oz,” the 59th annual Zilker summer musical presented by Zilker Theatre Productions. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The resulting show, with a book by John Kane (adapted from Baum as well as the screenplay by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf), music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, and background music by Herbert Stothart, has since become a standard across the UK and the United States.

PHOTOS: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at Zilker Hillside Theater

Zilker Theatre Productions’ latest free summer musical, running through Aug. 12 at the Zilker Hillside Theater, is a new production of this version of “The Wizard of Oz.” This is the 59th annual Zilker Summer Musical, and the most expensive show to date, with a great deal of that money clearly going toward creating the magic of Oz as experienced by naïve young Dorothy Gale, a Kansas farm girl transported to the other-dimensional realm via a convenient tornado. Through liberal doses of both theatrical innovation and beautiful carpentry and design, director J. Robert Moore and scenic designer Paul Davis effectively evoke both the plainness of Kansas (pun intended) and the splendor of Oz.

Much like the movie it is based on, Bilker’s “The Wizard of Oz” is long on broad, entertaining character types and short on actual character development. However, the zany antics of Dorothy and her companions (the “brainless” Scarecrow, “heartless” Tin Man, and “courageless” Cowardly Lion) play well in the open-air atmosphere of the Zilker Hillside Theater, with its huge, all-ages audience.

The main cast of the show all give big, broad performances that would be over-the-top in a small theater, but work nicely in this context. Andrew Cannata, Jordan Barron and Kirk Kelso, as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, respectively, are vaudevillian in their physical comedy and banter, while Emily Perzan’s Wicked Witch delights more in being comedic than overtly scary.

MORE PHOTOS: The Zilker Summer Musical through the years

The production’s Dorothy, Hannah Roberts, is a star on the rise. She embodies the character’s youth and naivety in a charming, guileless manner, a complete turn-around from her delightfully dour portrayal of Wednesday Addams in last year’s Summer Stock Austin production of “The Addams Family.” She only manages to get upstaged by the exuberant full-cast numbers, which inventively feature children as the Munchkins of Oz performing the whimsical choreography of Adam Roberts (who is also the show’s musical director).

Zilker’s production of “The Wizard of Oz goes” beyond the show, itself, in order to create a full night of family entertainment. There are booths and amusements for kids to enjoy before the show, as well as refreshments that can be purchased both ahead of time and at intermission. Remember to bring a blanket and pillows along with some bug spray, and be sure to arrive early to pick out a good spot on the hillside.

MORE SUMMER FUN:

Where to get frozen drinks in Austin

5 hotel pools with passes for free hours for locals

Summer music: All the sounds under the sun, through September

 

 

Artists and audiences prepare now for the coming Austin arts season

The Austin arts season is upon us.

Wait, you say, it’s just July.

Right.

Jeff Lofton plays the Long Center on Oct. 25.

With some exceptions, arts and other cultural groups — we include major literary and historical outlets — don’t return to full form until September.

Yet now’s the time for all arts groups to confirm their seasonal slates and for all readers to consider purchasing season tickets.

In fact, for some high-demand groups, if you haven’t secured your 2017-2018 subscriptions already, you’re stuck with angling for single slots.

For instance, galvanized by the chance to secure tickets for the matchless musical, “Hamilton,” in the 2018-2019 season, more than 3,000 new subscribers have signed on for Broadway in Austin’s 2017-2018 offerings.

RELATED: Broadway smash “Hamilton” coming to Austin in 2018-2019 season.

Now, some groups don’t operate on the traditional season system, rolling out one show at a time. Others split up their seasons. For instance, the Long Center for the Performing Arts won’t announce its Winter/Spring slate until September.

We respect that. What will follow soon in these pages is a list of shows that we could discover with relative ease in July. We’ll add others to digital extensions on the Austin Arts blog when they arrive.

NEA dispatches almost $500,000 to Austin arts

The National Endowment for the Arts today announced almost $83 million in grants nationwide.

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The NEA has awarded $20,000 to Collide Arts to remount “Traffic Jam.” Contributed

Of that, $2.5 million went to Texas. Almost $1 million of that was given to the Texas Commission on the Arts to pass along to artists and arts groups statewide. In fact, of the $83 million that the NEA handed out today, almost $51 million went to its state partners like the Commission.

RELATED: Legislature cuts Texas arts funding 28 percent

Austin’s share of the NEA grants is distorted by the fact that the Texas Commission is located in the city but benefits artists statewide. Some of that will be spent here, but we don’t know yet how much.

Interestingly, the $100,000 that Austin’s Creative Action garnered was for a partnershiip with Six Square, a group that seeks to preserve and promote the historical and cultural legacy of African-American in East Austin. Six Square is a designated Texas Cultural Arts District, but the state legislature declined to fund $5 million for the more than 30 such districts statewide.

Unless I’m missing something, these are the Austin beneficiaries:

Forklift Danceworks: $40,000 (in two grants)

Austin Chamber Music Center: $20,000

Austin Classical Guitar: $55,000

Austin School District: $100,000

Big Medium: $20,000

KLRU: $10,000

Austin Cultural Arts Division: $50,000

Collide: $20,000

Conspirare: $30,000

Creative Action: $100,000

Texas Folklife: $35,000*

*UPDATE: Texas Folklife received an additional $38,000 grant for its statewide work.

Scope out UT’s fabulous ‘Collections’ as it goes free and digital

One of the most beautiful and compelling books to come out of Austin in many a year is “The Collections,” an encyclopedic account of the 170 million artifacts preserved by the University of Texas.

It’s a big one. The doorstop, released in January 2016, comes in at 720 oversized pages. I’ve browsed through it incessantly and have cooked up some tasty stories from its contents, derived from more than 80 collections of art and artifacts over a wide range of subjects.

Wonder of wonders: It’s now available for free digitally.

UT-Collections-cover2-e1458147024827

If you prefer the hard copy, the list price is $125.

RELATED: ‘Collections’ highlights unusual and historic objets held at UT.

“This is the first time a publication of this kind has been produced by a public university,” said Andrée Bober, the book’s editor and director of the university’s public art program, Landmarks. “By making it available for free and online, we are putting the collection before a greater public. It’s our hope that this digital edition will increase awareness of these materials and inspire other universities to make their collections known.”

Bober conceived this survey and organized more than 350 individuals to lend their expertise. She’s an enormous asset to the university, to say the least.

The warm, loving, slightly boozy embrace of the Austin Critics Table Awards

The Austin Critics Table Awards ceremony was long. Very long. A record four hours at Cap City Comedy Club.

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Yet the 25th anniversary celebration of all things arts might have been the best one ever. Because every minute was a warm, loving, slightly boozy embrace between artists and the writers who cover them.

I loved every tribute from the critics and (almost) every enthusiastic and authentic acceptance speech. (Why do some people choose a moment of honor to be mean?) Bonus: a witty proclamation from Austin Mayor Steve Adler for the occasion

RELATED: Behold: The Austin Critics Table Awards nominees

Some people — well, a lot of people — left early. But then they missed the best acceptance speech of the evening, given by Christine Hoang, who shared the David Mark Cohen New Play Award with Lisa Thompson, and who talked about how each word from her reviews reduced her “imposter anxiety,” and whose bilingual play, “A Girl Named Sue,” represented a social and cultural leap for the descendants of Vietnamese refugees and their families.

The big news, however, was the expansion of the Critics Table to 20 members including web-based writers, a move I’ve strongly supported for years. The Table began with just five of us newspapermen, sole survivor Robert Faires reminded us — I no longer vote — and over the years has included more than 50 writers.

AUSTIN CRITCS TABLE AWARDS 2016-2017

W.H. “Deacon” Crain Award for Student Work: Madison Williams, Emily Ott

Lighting Design: Jason Amato (“Atlantis: A Puppet Opera”), Patrick Anthony (“A Perfect Robot,” “Old Times”)

Group Gallery Exhibition: “The First Horizons of Juno: Christina Coleman, Jane Hugentober, Candice Lin, Karen Lofgren, Christine Rebet, Alice Wang and Chantal Wnuk,” Mass Gallery

Museum Exhibition: “Nina Katchadourian: Curiouser,” Blanton Museum of Art

Singer: Donnie Ray Albert (“The Manchurian Candidate,” “I Too: The Voices of Langston Hughes”), Liz Cass (“Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance”), David Adam Moore (“The Manchurian Candidate”), Paul Sanchez (“Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance,” “A Christmas Carol”)

Chamber Performance: “I, Too: The Voices of Langston Hughes,” Living Paper Song Project

Original Composition/Score: “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance,” Graham Reynolds & Lagartijas Tirades al Sol

Scenic Design: Chris Conard (“Totalitarians,” “The Drowning Girls”), Desiderio Roybal (“Clybourn Park,” “The Price,” “The Herd”)

Short Work, Dance: “Camille: A Story of Art and Love,” Jennifer Hart

Solo Gallery Exhibition: “Tammie Rubin: Before I Knew You, I Missed You,” De Stijl Podium for Art

Artist: Deborah Roberts

Costume Design: Susan Branch Towne (“One Man, Two Guv’nors,” “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”)

Dancer: Alexa Caparedo (“Tikling(bird),” “Loose Gravel”), Amy Morrow (“Hiraeth,” “We’ve Been Here Before”)

Ensemble Dance: Dance Repertory Theatre (“Momentum”)

Gallery, Body of Work: “Museum of Human Achievement”

Independent Project: “Workout with Erica Nix,” Erica Nix

Ensemble, Classical: Schumann Chamber Players

Classical Concert/Opera: “The Manchurian Candidate,” Austin Opera

Sound Design: Lowell Bartholomee, “Clybourne Park,” “Fahrenheit 451”

Direction: Jenny Lavery (“The Drowning Girls”), Lily Wolff (“Lungs”)

Dance Concert: “Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees,” Sharon Marroquin, produced by Latino Art Residency Project, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center

Choreographer: Lisa Nicks, “Dear Johnny, in Response to Your Last Letter”

Digital Design: Greg Emetaz, “The Manchurian Candidate”

David Mark Cohen New Play Award: “A Girl Named Sue” (Christine Hoang), “Underground” (Lisa Thompson)

Ensemble, Theater: “Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe,” Doctuh Mistah Productions

Actor: Liz Beckham (“Lungs,” Neva,” “Clybourne Park), Chase Brewer (“Hand to God”), Michael Joplin (“Lungs”), Amber Quick (“One Man, Two Guv’nors,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Herd”)

Production, Theater: Clybourne Park (Penfold Theatre), “The Drowning Girls” (Theatre en Bloc), “The Great Society (Zach Theatre)

Special Citations: Luis Armando Ortiz Gutierrez, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Andrea Ariel, Babs George, “Rambunctious,” Jennifer Sherburn for “11:11,” Theatre Synesthesia, Sandy Yamamoto, Thr3e Zisters,” Amy Downing.

Austin Arts Hall of Fame: Katherine Brimberry and Mark L. Smith, Zell Miller III, Kate Warren

UPDATE: Thanks to Robert Faires for correcting some embarrassing typos in names banged out quickly this morning.

Austin Playhouse’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ is a living cartoon, and that’s a good thing

Contributed by Austin Playhouse

Capping off an eclectic season of classic works, regional premieres and whimsical farces, Austin Playhouse’s new production of “Guys and Dolls” brings the stage musical to life with energy and color.

Based on the short stories of Damon Runyan, “Guys and Dolls” tells the story of two gamblers, Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson, and the women they fall for, Miss Adelaide and Sarah Brown, among a New York filled with colorful criminals, driven missionaries and chorus girls. With a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, it’s a light-hearted romantic comedy in the classic Broadway vein.

Austin Playhouse’s production, directed by Don Toner with musical direction by Susan Finnigan, emphasizes the good-natured humanity underneath the wise guy patter by turning “Guys and Dolls” into something of a living cartoon. With colorful, vibrant costumes designed by Diana Huckaby — from loud, ill-fitting suits to burlesque chorus girl outfits — the large cast comes to bouncy life on the busy streets, and sewers, of a nostalgic New York City that never quite actually existed.

Adding to this cartoonish nature, the cast gleefully ham up the broad strokes of their characters, with outrageous physicality and delightful vocalizations. Boni Hester’s Adelaide fits particularly well within this outsized, chaotic world, her mixture of ditziness and rage melding to form a delightful comedic foil to Steve Shearer’s hectic and harried Nathan Detroit. Jarret Million as Sky Masterson and Sarah Fleming Walker’s Sarah Brown, on the other hand, give the show a more grounded, romantic center that prevents the production from teetering over completely into farce.

However, it is in the more farcical moments that this production is at its strongest. Scott Shipman brings down the house as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, especially when it comes to “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat,” the show’s big 11 o’clock number. Paired with Kyle G. Stephens’ Benny Southstreet, the two tall, gangly actors bring a vaudevillian flair to their scenes that engenders some of the biggest laughs.

In 2017, “Guys and Dolls” doesn’t particularly have anything pointed to say about our contemporary world, and the show’s outdated gender and relationship politics can get in the way of its universal emotional truths. However, as Toner and the rest of the Austin Playhouse crew realize, that can be the show’s strength, by creating a fun, frantic and frolicsome romp that provides some much-needed escapism into a time gone by (that perhaps never actually was).

‘GUYS AND DOLLS’
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through June 25
Where: Austin Playhouse, 6001 Airport Blvd.
Cost: $42-$46
Information: 512-476-0084, austinplayhouse.com.

Giving City toasts Austin Critics Table Awards

If you missed the short history of the Austin Critics Table Awards written by Monica Maldonado Williams of Giving City and published in Sunday’s American-Statesman, below find a snippet. The free awards ceremony returns 7 p.m. June 5 at Cap City Comedy Club.

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The Austin Critics Table in in 1995. L-R: John Bustin, Barry Pineo, Michael Barnes, Jamie Smith Cantara, Belinda Acosta, David Mark Cohen, Jerry Conn and Robert Faires. (Bustin and Cohen are deceased.) Mark Fort/American-Statesman

FULL STORY:  At 25 years old, an arts awards event learns to adapt.

“While almost all Austin arts organizations operate as nonprofits, the caliber of the art has become more professional and innovative, said co-founder Robert Faires. To reflect the range of art, this year’s Critics Table judges have adjusted the categories to make them less theater-heavy.

“There’s more diversity among the artists and the art forms in Austin, but this is not just a participation award,” said David Wyatt, a long-time volunteer for the event and the owner of a public relations agency that specializes in the art organizations. “Artists have to wait years to the point where they’ve developed their craft and matured as an artists to get recognized. It’s very meaningful.”

RELATED: See this year’s nominees for the Austin Critics Table Awards.

“In addition to adjusting the categories, Faires has had to adjust the roster of judges. As the last of the founders participating, he realized that the awards should include the new breed of art writers, especially those who publish primarily online. This year’s judges include writers from websites and blogs like Broadway World Austin, Austin Entertainment Weekly, Arts & Culture Texas, and Conflict of Interest TX.”

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Monica Maldonado Williams. Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

BACKGROUND: Monica Maldonado Williams cracks the charity code.