Sunday, November 29, 2009

Crushing Grain; Living Strong

DISCLAIMER, BLAH BLAH BLAH: This is not an official review, nor was it solicited by any news outlet or anyone associated with the production.

Dallas, Texas is famous for many reasons: its football team (and said team's cheerleaders), killer barbecue, an excellent local music scene...heck, there was even a television show named for it. However, one of the most important events that helped put "Big D" on the map happened 46 years ago this month: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

This historic event and the man held responsible for it, Lee Harvey Oswald, have been the subject of conspiracy theories, books written, movies and television shows name it. It also appears to be the main plot line in the play Crushing Grain, written, directed and produced by Level Ground Arts founder Bill Fountain. The production is currently playing at the Dallas Hub Theatre in Deep Ellum, a mere stone's throw away from the location of the events of that horrible day in 1963.

As the audience seats itself in the Hub's small, intimate black box setting, a man in white pajamas is laying facedown on the stage. This man might be Lee Harvey Oswald, and he might be Alec Hidell. He may be in a psychiatric hospital in Russia or he may be in a movie theatre in Oak Cliff. The doctors, the other patients, all others he encounters...they may be real or they may be all in his head. The audience must watch as Oswald/Hidell struggles to desperately uncover the past (or is it the future?) and answer the questions that those in power are trying to torture out of him — or is he just torturing himself?

But wait. Is this play really about Oswald or the Kennedy assassination at all? Why are the actors suddenly breaking the fourth wall to talk about watching a husband, a father, a brother...dying of cancer? Because the truth is, that's really what this play is about. It is about the suspension of reality by those dealing with cancer in their personal lives, whether directly or indirectly. The monologues are heartbreakingly real. As the granddaughter of a wonderful man lost to cancer and the niece of a brave woman losing to cancer, I found these moments in the play almost unbearable.

In a recent interview with Elaine Liner of Theater Jones, playwright Fountain is quoted as saying, "[the play is] about what was happening to my life as my dad started to slip away from me." The Oswald/Hidell storyline really appears to function as a vehicle through which a cancer patient attempts to make his own stamp on history before leaving this earth. Historical reality becomes obsolete as personal validation and the desperate need to have mattered somehow gives way to surreality.

Admittedly, this may not be as obvious or clear to those lucky enough to have never been affected by the evil "c-word." Perhaps director's notes in the program may have helped those in the audience who came in to see a play about Oswald, lone gunman/conspiracy theories, and the infamous event that put our fair city in the public eye on that fateful day.

Either way, the play is wonderfully written and earnestly performed by a group of dedicated actors led by Nick Jones as Oswald/Hidell. Jones, who eerily resembles Lee Harvey Oswald, carries the show on his fully capable shoulders. He conveys the arrogance of Oswald but his frustration as Hidell is palpable as he desperately claws his way towards the answers his torturers/doctors demand. He borders on shrill at times, which makes his lines a bit difficult to understand, but he never relaxes for one second. It is both thrilling and exhausting to watch.

Ken Long as The General and one of Hidell's "roomates" has an incredible presence onstage, and one can't help but be drawn to him and hang upon his every word. Daylon Walton gets awkward laughs (the good kind) as The Soldier, and Robert G. Shores as The Leader is compelling, even as an "audience member" to the action onstage. The spot-on accent he uses provides an ominous foreshadowing of what will happen to his character, and it's hard not to keep him in the corner of your eye at all times. Fountain himself makes a cameo as The Agent, and provides the stuff of nightmares during the waterboard torture scene.

The rest of the cast is equally talented; there are no weak links. Even actors who never say a word create very strong presences as silent torturers, special agents, et al.

There are only two opportunties left to see this play (December 4th and 5th), so do yourself a favor and reserve your tickets. It's not often enough that original works are performed and heavily publicized, so take this opportunity to witness something that is real and that meant (and still means) something to someone. Seize the chance to be a part of something new being premiered. Support the local playwrights that pour their hearts out and bare their souls to the public in such a way. If nothing else, attend just to see how such a cataclysmic event in our city and our nation's history can be used as the basis for something surreal and outside its usual box. You won't be sorry.

REMAINING SHOW TIMES: Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th at 8pm

PLACE: Dallas Hub Theatre 2809 Canton St. (Deep Ellum) Dallas, TX 75226

COST: $15 - $20 General Seating, doors open half-hour prior to performance

TELEPHONE: 214-749- 7010 or 877-238-5596 for reservations

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmastime is Here. It is. It is, It is.

Pictured: Justin Harmon (L) and Buster Maloney (R). Photo by Eagleton Photography

Meet Charlene and Bertha Bumiller, mother and daughter residents of Tuna, Texas!

I have the pleasure of working backstage for Denton Community Theatre's upcoming holiday production of A Tuna Christmas with some very good friends and two extremely funny and talented actors (pictured above).

I'll be working backstage as an Assistant Stage Manager and probably more often than not moving Christmas trees and helping one of these men in and out of different shoes, wigs and dresses as they each play 11 different characters.

I attended a rehearsal recently just to familiarize myself with the show and get to know some of the very interesting residents of Tuna, Texas, and boy I tell you what....this show is going to have people in stitches! I laughed so hard I cried more than once.

Don't find yourself in an overheated, downhill wreck because the shows sold out -- Get your tickets now to see this show!

I'll Drink to That

Remember in this post when I talked about how I was brainstorming with friends about how to start up a cabaret for singers in Denton?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you One for Mahler, the latest and greatest thing to hit the North Texas (or at least Denton) music scene!

Our first performance will be on Wednesday, December 16th from 9pm—11pm at Art Six Coffee House, located at 424 Bryan St. in Denton, Texas.

Here is the awesome lineup of singers, including myself, Stephanie Felton, Tyler Donahue, Shane Strawbridge, and Aaron White!

Come on out and start off your holiday season with a bang!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Evil Dead the Musical - My Thoughts

Photo by Daylon Walton. Originally Uploaded to

DISCLAIMER TO KEEP PANTIES OUT OF WADS: This is not an official review, nor was it solicited by any news outlet or anyone associated with the production. This is just your everyday blog post containing my thoughts about a show I saw this past weekend. However, I did type out all my thoughts and I'd be happy to share if you'll just email me.

What do you get when you mix all the campy greatness of cheesy slasher flicks with doo-wop music, horrible one-liners, and rocking band of the undead? The answer: Level Ground Arts' recent production of Evil Dead the Musical.

Boy, was I glad when I found out that this production was extended into the first weekend of November! Due to a RIDICULOUS October schedule that I have already mentioned, I was incredibly bummed out to think that I might miss this gory, zombie-riffic production that received rave reviews from Elaine Liner of the Dallas Observer and, Mark Lowry of and Christopher Soden of the Dallas Examiner. But, thankfully the stars aligned and I was able to catch the penultimate performance!

I had one very good friend in the production, one Stephanie Felton, playing the role of Cheryl. I've known Stephanie for a very long time and I felt like a proud Mama watching her -- or at least a proud aunt or cousin, since her actual Mama was in the audience, bravely seated in the Splatter Zone! She belted her sassy behind off, and I was floored by the way she went balls-to-the-wall in her vocal performance, both in singing and in gravelly zombie-speak! It would be very easy to just throw caution to the wind in a show like this, and the result would be vocal chords shredded to ribbons after a six week run. However, Stephanie once again impressed me with her level of professionalism as a singer and an actress/comedienne!

Several other performers have been my "Facebook friends" for months now, and this show provided an opportunity for me to see them perform and meet them "in real life" for the first time. I was not disappointed on either front. Shane Strawbridge as Jake had us all (especially our friend Justin) in stitches with his hillbilly accent, awkward hip thrusting and, most memorably, a particular string of profanities as he walked offstage that still makes me laugh whenever I think about it. Liz Woodcock as girlfriend Linda was especially funny with her high-pitched giggle and headless antics, and Clayton Younkin made a big impression -- even though his character, Ed, could barely get a word in edgewise, I couldn't help but be drawn to him every time he was onstage.

The "Band of the Dead," lead by M. Shane Hurst, was flawless, if not a bit loud at times. The guitar solo by Alex Atchley towards the end of the second act was actually one of my favorite moments of the entire evening!

So, despite a few minor frustrations and distractions such as the inability to decipher lines/lyrics at times and the fact that, on this particular night, the show was being filmed and one of the videographers and cameramen kept walking in front of our seats and blocking our view, I highly enjoyed this production and I give a standing ovation to Bill Fountain and Level Ground Arts and the immensely talented production team, cast and crew of Evil Dead the Musical. Should this show ever come 'round again, I will be first in line to audition and/or buy tickets!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Now what?

Each of those posters, which are lining the wall above the top shelf in my office, represents a show with which I have been involved in 2009. There is just the perfect amount of space left for just one more, which I intend to fill with a poster for A Tuna Christmas in just a few short weeks. Thankfully, I will be working backstage for that one (with perhaps the most amazing backstage crew the Campus Theatre has ever seen, I might add) rather than onstage, but it will still be a rocking good time and an amazing show, starring two men I have already worked with in separate shows this year: Buster Maloney (Harry in Company) and Justin Harmon (Bobby Child in Crazy for You). You definitely will not want to miss this one!

So, yes, Talking of Michelangelo closed on Sunday. We had a FANTASTIC weekend of shows with some great audiences (minus the lack of an audience on Thursday, which we won't count because the rest of the run went off so successfully) and some even better cast parties. Wow...this cast certainly knows how to have a party! Two nights in a row of getting home after 3:30am took its toll on this old fart, though, and I was pretty exhausted come Monday morning! I miss everyone already, though, and am looking forward to a get-together soon for karaoke at Mable Peabody's! :)

In other theatre news (no, the theatre world as it pertains to my life still doesn't slow down even when I'm not actually in rehearsals for a show...what can I say? I can't sit still), I have a few other things coming down the pipe that I am very excited about:

* On Friday night I will be going, along with my husband Michael and our good friend Justin to see the critically acclaimed Evil Dead: The Musical produced by Level Ground Arts and directed by the one and only Bill Fountain. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill when he came to see Chicago with my dear friend (and Zombie-convert Cheryl in Evil Dead for that matter) Stephanie Felton. Some other online-only-via-Facebook-and/or-Twitter friends are in the cast, and I can't wait to meet them IRL* as well.

(*IRL = in real life)

* I hope to get back to reviewing shows for The Column VERY soon. I miss going to see theatre and writing the reviews! Since the last review and the feedback from it left a rather, well, bad taste in my mouth, I'm looking forward to seeing more local theatre and putting my Critic hat back on.

* Forever Plaid opens at Denton Community Theatre in a couple of weeks, and I am quite excited to see this one. It's a wonderful, feel-good musical, and I'm looking forward to seeing it also just out of sheer curiosity. This may be the first show I've seen in a while with a cast containing not one single person that I know or, at the very least, know of. I don't even know the director! It will be refreshing to see some of the new(er) talent that Denton has to offer in such a great musical....which is a nice segue into telling you about my newest project I'm trying to get off the ground....

* For those of you who are Facebook friends with me, you will have likely already gotten an invitation to join the group Denton "Cabaret" Brainstorm. No, this is not a brainstorm on how to produce the Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret. Instead, it is something I've been thinking about for a while. Denton boasts so many talented people of all ages, but there is not always a venue in which to showcase the different facets of the talented community. So, I am trying to create a musical showcase that will occur (hopefully) weekly in order to feature the myriad talented singers in our fair city and in the surrounding areas. I'm currently working on securing a venue for at least one show before 2009 ends, coming up with a name and writing a mission statement, so stay tuned for exciting news regarding the cabaret! If you have any ideas or just want to stay informed of what we're doing, PLEASE join our Facebook group or comment here and join the discussion!

That's it for today! Now that I will have evenings free and a bit more of a relaxed schedule, I hope to be a bit more attentive to this site. Thanks, as always, for reading.