Bilingual play offers inclusive message for Austin children

The Kindness Campaign is an Austin-area nonprofit organization that, according to its mission statement, aims to “inspire a new generation of kind leaders. Through classroom initiatives, interactive experiences and community involvement, TKC empowers students to recognize the transformative power of kindness.”

“Las Aventuras de Enoughie (The Adventures of Enoughie).” Contributed by Kirk Tuck

One of those initiatives was the creation of the character Enoughie, a big blue puffball with antennae that help him understand his own emotions. Enoughie’s name is intended to remind children that they are enough just as they are, and he serves as the Kindness Campaign’s official mascot.

Now, Enoughie in puppet form stars along with two puppet children, Hector and Esme, in a new play for children called “Las Aventuras de Enoughie (The Adventures of Enoughie),” playing through Feb. 25 at the Mexican American Cultural Center. As the title suggests, this play is bilingual, as are all three characters, in order to reach out to the Hispanic community that is often underserved by Austin theater. However, the show is entirely accessible to audience members who don’t speak a word of Spanish.

“Las Aventuras de Enoughie” is a simple show, following the magical adventures of Enoughie and his pals after Hector steals Esme’s doll. Along the way, all three learn a variety of lessons about kindness, dealing with loss, sharing feelings and appreciating yourself (with a dash of politics thrown in that will likely go over the youngest audience members’ heads).

Created by Teatro Vivo and Glass Half Full Theatre, in partnership with Zach Theatre and the Kindness Campaign, the show is the brainchild of writer, director and set/puppet designer Caroline Reck, who has crafted a production that really does resonate with the kids in the audience. In addition, the three puppeteers who portray Enoughie, Esme, and Hector — Adam Martínez, Marina De Yoe-Pedraza, and Mario Ramirez, respectively — are equally adept as performers as they are at interacting with the children in a talkback following the show.

With its combination of whimsy, clear-cut lessons, fun puppetry and the occasional joke for parents, “Las Aventuras de Enoughie” is reminiscent of “Sesame Street,” focusing on creating an accessible, kid-friendly story that imparts inclusive moral values. Although the show’s appeal is mainly to kids, rather than to the adults bringing them, there are still plenty of fun moments to keep it interesting. On the whole, it is a charming show for children with an extremely important message for anyone growing up in America today.

“Las Aventuras de Enoughie (The Adventures of Enoughie)”
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25
Where: Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St.
Cost: $14-$16
Information: zachtheatre.org

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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Glam rock meets the Bard in Hidden Room’s ‘Henry IV’

When one reads Shakespeare’s history plays, the soundtrack that comes to mind usually isn’t David Bowie. Yet in the Hidden Room’s new production of “Henry IV,” playing through Oct. 1 at the York Rite Masonic Hall, glam rock seems as natural to the play as the traditional corsets and doublets. Director Beth Burns and costume designer Aaron Flynn eschew those classic Shakespearean garments in favor of a ’70s glam rock aesthetic, complete with makeup to match (styled by Amelia Turner) and live music from Todd Kassens of the band Shoulders.

“Henry IV” continues at the Hidden Room through Oct. 1. Contributed by Errich Petersen

All this is done to draw parallels between the delinquency of the young Prince Hal (aka Henry, Prince of Wales, and son to the titular King Henry IV) and the party-hard decadence of rock stars in the “Me Decade,” a conceit that works remarkably well, bringing new life to the oft-performed Shakespeare classic.

Despite the play’s title, the protagonist of “Henry IV” is Prince Hal, who over the course of the production goes from being a wastrel to a warrior, proving his worth as successor to the throne. Though only together in a few scenes, Rommel Sulit, as Henry, and Brock England, as Prince Hal, solidly create the father-son tension that is at the heart of Hal’s growth.

Contributed by Errich Petersen

As with many productions of the play, though, the scene-stealing comes from Sir John Falstaff, an aging, portly, drunken knight who is constantly scheming how to obtain wine, women and wealth. Played with great sympathy by Robert Matney, Falstaff never oversteps the boundary between being charmingly corrupt and obnoxiously base, which can be a hard line to straddle for many actors taking on the role.

Also of note in this production are Judd Farris, as Henry Percy, the attractively and demoniacally desperate leader of a group of rebels against the throne (all ingeniously clad in death-metal black leather); Kassens, melding his live music with a hilarious burnt-out hippie intonation as Falstaff’s compatriot Bardolph; and Isto Barton as both the feral Scots rebel Archibald, Earl of Douglas, and Hal’s friend and co-schemer, Poins. Barton, in particular, has a great facility in bringing a modern cadence to the classical text.

Many (and perhaps even most) attempts to modernize Shakespeare fall flat, either by merely providing scenic trappings that ultimately have no bearing on the tone of the production or by going too far in the alternate direction and completely eschewing the lyricism of the text. The Hidden Room’s “Henry IV” is that rare production that gets the balance just right, providing an accessible entry into one of Shakespeare’s most popular history plays for English majors and laymen alike.

“HENRY IV”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 1.
Where: York Rite Masonic Hall, 311 W. Seventh St.
Cost: $15-$30
Information: hiddenroomtheatre.com

Austin Playhouse’s ‘This Random World’ reveals the hidden ties that bind us

Austin Playhouse has started its new season with, fittingly, a new work by playwright Steven Dietz. “This Random World” receives its local premiere at the venerable company under the direction of producing artistic director Don Toner, with a cast of some of Austin Playhouse’s best actors.

J. Ben Wolfe and Molly Karrasch are two of the actors in Austin Playhouse’s local premiere of Steven Dietz’s “This Random World.” Contributed

After producing Dietz’s lyrical, intimately focused “Bloomsday” last season, is is interesting to see Toner take on such a tonally different work from the playwright. A true ensemble piece, “This Random World” loosely revolves around the Ward family (mother Scottie, daughter Beth and son Tim), a morbid but jovial trio who face down a familial obsession with death both humorously and secretively.

“This Random World” is not bleak in its outlook, and despite moments of devastating sadness (undercut a bit by an unfortunately timed intermission) it is ultimately, like “Bloomsday,” wistfully optimistic. Along with mortality, it tackles topics as diverse as travel, breakups, mental health, and even how to write a proper obituary. Dietz takes on each of these subjects with a unique blend of humor and pathos, borne out by a talented cast.

Austin Playhouse mainstays Babs George, as Scottie, and Molly Karrasch, as Beth, are each uniquely quirky and soulful, and it is a delight to see Joey Banks, as Tim, given room to show his talents after a series of smaller roles in shows last season. Jacqui Cross and Carla Nickerson join them as sisters Bernadette and Rhonda, who are unfortunately given somewhat short shrift by the text but play their more stereotyped roles to the best extent possible. Finally, Jess Hughes and J. Ben Wolfe round out the cast as Claire and Gary (a couple in the midst of a breakup who each have, or end up having, ties to the Wards), imbuing their roles with depth and nuance.

“This Random World” is a complex text in terms of the interconnected relationships it keeps simmering just below the surface, revealed to the audience with a heaping of dramatic irony while the characters themselves remain unaware. However, it is relatively straightforward in its execution, with a series of simple scenes that continually mix and match the characters.

Toner follows this simple style in his direction, avoiding cluttering the stage with business outside of the actors’ interactions. Set designer Mike Toner keeps the trappings to a minimum, with each setting created through a few simple, iconic objects, allowing lighting designers Don Day and Chris Conard, along with sound designer Joel Mercado-See, to set the ambience and mood.

Taking a cue from such films as “Short Cuts” and “Magnolia” (and, more classically, the interconnectivity of plot and character in Shakespeare and Dickens), “This Random World” is a charming, funny, accessible play about the connections that we all miss amid our own self-obsessions.

“THIS RANDOM WORLD”
When: 8 p.m Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 1
Where: 6001 Airport Blvd.
Cost: $16-$36
Information: 512-476-0084, austinplayhouse.ticketleap.com/this-random-world/.

‘Storm Still’ explores family dynamics through one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies

As one of Shakespeare’s most popular — and most performed — plays,  the tragedy “King Lear” is familiar to many theater patrons, at least the broad outlines. An elderly king asks his daughters how much each of them loves him, banishes the only daughter to speak truthfully and is destroyed by the power-grabbing machinations of the other two daughters and their husbands. To summarize the theme of the play in one sentence, plucked from Lear’s own dialogue, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”

“Storm Still” gives a different take on “King Lear.” Contributed by Errich Petersen

Just who the thankless child is, and how sharp she can be, is explored in Gabrielle Reisman’s “Storm Still,” playing through Sept. 24 at the Vortex Theatre.

When Lear makes his claim, early in the play, he is referring to Cordelia, the one daughter to refuse to flatter him and state that she can’t compare her love for him to anything else. As the text unfolds, though, we come to view the other two daughters — Goneril and Regan — as the truly thankless children. In “Storm Still,” though, we are given a reinvented “King Lear” that asks us to see the story through the eyes of Goneril and Regan.

Three sisters, in the aftermath of their father’s slow senility and death, are cleaning up his backyard while, at the same time, playing out an abridged, modernized version of “King Lear,” something they used to do with their father before he became ill. We come to learn that the sisters are, themselves, named Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, and their lives hold an eerie resonance to the play.

As we discover more of the sisters’ history with each other and with their father, their play-acting of “Lear” gains greater resonance. This forces us to reconsider who should receive our pity — the daughter who fled from an abusive father or the two who remained behind to care for him the best they could, even as he grew increasingly difficult to handle.

Director Rudy Ramirez has mounted the Vortex’ production of “Storm Still” in the venue’s Outdoor Stage, creating the sensibility of an actual backyard. Though this doesn’t do wonders for the show’s sound quality, it allows scenic designer Ann Marie Gordon and prop/costume designer Indigo Rael to go wild with creativity, creating an immersive outdoor environment that deliberately blends the line between on-stage and off.

The three talented actresses at the heart of the production — Andreá Smith as Goneril, Jennifer Coy Jennings as Regan and Amelia Turner as Cordelia — revel in the opportunities this environment creates, utilizing small changes of space, props and costume to contort themselves into the entire cast of “King Lear.” What is most impressive, though, is how, even while in Shakespearean character (speaking in modernized dialogue), they remain true to the core of the sister they portray, creating layers of performative nuance that further blur the distinction between reality and fantasy.

This blurring of lines lies at the heart of “Storm Still,” as the three sisters find the boundary of their lives and those of Shakespeare’s characters to be a porous one. What bleeds through, they discover, is the thankless love that ultimately binds them together.

“STORM STILL”
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through Sept. 24
Where: 2307 Manor Road
Cost: $15-$35
Information: 512-478-5282, vortexrep.org.

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

Trinity Adams wows as Annie Oakley for Summer Stock Austin

Only two Austin theatrical performances this year have sent me into the streets singing, nay, shouting the praises of a performer. Both are relative newcomers to the scene, but if there’s any justice, they won’t ever become strangers.

The first was Chanel‘s profoundly inspired take on Billie Holiday in Zach Theatre‘s “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill.” How many times I’ve turned over in my memory her point-on patter, unvarnished vulnerability, ravishing voice and total embrace of the audience.

The second was Trinity Adams as Annie Oakley in Summer Stuck Austin‘s “Annie Get Your Gun,” currently running at the Long Center. Just 17, Adams is an award-winning actor who recently graduated from Dripping Springs High School.

Hey, Dripping, do you know what ya got in this gal?

The minute Adams bounded onto the stage at the Rollins Studio Theatre, the room just expanded exponentially to take in her radiance. Not that everything she did in the Irving Berlin classic was big and grand, no, she electrified the audience with slightest grin or aside.

As my theater companion, Suzie Harriman, pointed out, she’s like Broadway star Sutton Foster. No matter where she is in director Scott Thompson‘s stage-filling production — you won’t believe how well these kids dance! — your eyes are drawn to Adams.

She was capably complemented by Max Corney and a host of other troupers. Almost all of them also appear in “Spamalot,” a wonderfully cute Summer Stock musical directed by Ginger Morris. In that show, I was particularly taken with Lydia Kam, Ben Roberts, Michael Morran, Coy Branscum and Matthew Kennedy.

But why kid? All the the Summer Stock players are talented. Adams, however, at this precious theatrical moment, shines like the brightest stars in the heavens.

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.

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Which Tony-nominated shows would you like to see in Austin?

By Samantha Reichstein, special to the American-Statesman

While some may think award show season has come and gone, on Tuesday morning Jane Krakowski and Christopher Jackson announced the nominations for every theater lover’s favorite event: the 2017 Tony Awards, airing live on June 11 on CBS with host Kevin Spacey.

Of course, the Broadway hit “Hamilton” is coming to Bass Concert Hall in the 2018-2019 season, but what other productions would Austinites love to see? Here are five Tony-nominated shows that we think would have Austin audiences giving a standing ovation.

A scene from, “Groundhog Day the Musical.” Contributed

“Dear Evan Hansen”

Sharing the same lyricists as the 2016 box-office hit “La La Land,” “Dear Evan Hansen” takes the Tonys by storm with nine nominations, including best musical. Starring Ben Platt, the actor known for his role in “Pitch Perfect,” the show’s plot focuses on an internet-infused story that spins out of control, complete with an emotional soundtrack full of belting ballads. This musical that puts social media (and its consequences) at the forefront would be a must-see for a startup city like Austin.

“Groundhog Day the Musical”

Movies turned musicals don’t always succeed, but “Groundhog Day the Musical,” which earned seven nominations on Tuesday, stands in a rare category along with Broadway favorites “Hairspray,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “Kinky Boots.” Nominated for eight Laurence Oliver Awards, the show won best actor in a musical (Andy Karl) and best new musical at that ceremony last month. Looking for a show you can enjoy again and again (…and again?) — the search is over.

“Come From Away”

In today’s political climate, with immigration and refugee issues being divisive subjects, Canadian-born production “Come From Away” presents the aftermath of 9/11 in both an honorable and sentimental way. The play takes place in Gander, Newfoundland, the week after Sept. 11, 2001, and the characters portrayed on stage are based on real-life locals and tourists stranded in the small town after 38 planes were forced to land unexpectedly. Written by a husband and wife duo, Broadway’s emotional, uplifting and refreshing take on this horrific moment in history picked up seven nominations, including best musical.

RELATED: How you can get tickets to see “Hamilton” in Austin

“Hello, Dolly!”

Stage veteran Bette Midler stars in Broadway’s revival of the classic “Hello Dolly!,” which earned 10 nominations, including best revival of a musical. Aside from its leading lady, the show has many other elements audiences (and Tony voters) admire, including the ensemble, scenic design, orchestration and direction. Based on recent reviews, “Hello, Dolly!” is a shoe-in for a phenomenal national tour.

“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812”

Sweeping the scene this year is “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” which leads the Tonys with 12 nominations, including best actor (Josh Groban,) best actress (Denee Benton), best original score and best musical. The show first gained traction when pre-“Hamilton” actress Phillipa Soo (now starring in “Amelie”) starred in its off-Broadway production in 2012. Set in Moscow in 1812, the musical is based off a small section of Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel “War and Peace.” With the most nominations of any show this season, it just bumped itself to the top of everyone’s “must-see” list.

 

RELATED: Select list of nominees for the 2017 Tony Awards

 

How you can get tickets to see ‘Hamilton’ in Austin

Yes, it’s really happening: The smash Broadway hit about our nation’s founders is coming to Austin during the 2018-2019 Broadway in Austin season.

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in "Hamilton: An American Musical." CONTRIBUTED
Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos and Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Hamilton: An American Musical.” CONTRIBUTED

You can’t buy those tickets yet — and when they do go on sale, they’re sure to sell out. But there is a way you can act now to get your shot at seats: Subscribe to the 2017-18 season. Subscriptions go on sale at 11 a.m. today, starting at $135, and subscribers get to be first in line for the 2018-19 season.

The 2017-2018 season of Broadway in Austin presented by Texas Performing Arts features “School of Rock,” “The King and I,” “Finding Neverland,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and “An American in Paris,” plus “Rent” and “The Book of Mormon” as special subscriber options.

The national touring show of “Hamilton” will also be making stops in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. 

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