Timely play about Trump Era makes it to UT

A 90-minute drama about America after an envisioned President Donald Trump impeachment opens at the University of Texas on Wednesday. A public conversation follows on Sept. 7.

SEE FULL STORY HERE.

David Sitler plays Rick and Franchelle Stewart Dorn plays Gloria in “Building the Wall.” Contributed by Lawrence Peart

Here’s a peek at my story about Robert Schenkkan‘s “Building the Wall.” —

As timely as the latest political scandal, “Building the Wall” issued like a blaze of lighting from the mind of Robert Schenkkan, the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who grew up in Austin.

The 90-minute, two-person drama about America after an envisioned impeachment of President Donald Trump has its regional premiere at the University of Texas on Thursday and runs through Sept. 10. A public conversation will take place on Sept. 7 at the Brockett Theatre.

Not that long ago, “Building the Wall” was barely a sketch of an idea in Schenkkan’s mental notebook. Yet possessed by the play’s force, he wrote it expeditiously in October, just before the presidential election.

Multiple theaters picked it up immediately, and it reached New York on May 24, which in theatrical terms is like an overnight turnaround. That run was short-lived, but a Los Angeles version was extended several times, and other productions have opened or are in rehearsals around the world.

“I felt the moment was urgent,” Schenkkan says. “It was good to see that as an artist I could respond quickly and that my community would join me. I met so many different artists at different theaters all over the country, institutions I didn’t know, or only knew by reputation, and everybody who participated in this did so with tremendous enthusiasm and excitement because they, too, felt the urgency of the moment and the need to do something, to respond to this extraordinary political crisis.”

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.

Austin dancer Kele Roberson heads to the Royal Ballet

Kele Roberson, who studied at Austin’s Dance Institute and the  Austin School for the Performing and Visual Arts, deferred a $25,000 scholarship to the Juilliard School in order to join the Royal Ballet School in London. This program funnels some dancers into one of the top ballet companies in the world and is quite an opportunity for Roberson, who gave an interview on the subject to Jennifer Stahl for Dance Magazine.

Austin’s Kele Roberson. Contributed by Dance Magazine

“I only had to watch a deep plié before writing down a 10 out of 10 on his score sheet and scribbling a giant star next to his name,” Stahl says of Roberson’s audition for the New York City Dance Alliance‘s college scholarship program. “Before he even had a chance to show off his incredible lines, I was mesmerized by his nuanced grace in even the simplest of movements.”

Roberson, who started studying ballet at age 11 and completed a summer program with the Royal Ballet, still might attend Juilliard later.

“As of right now, that’s the plan. Juilliard’s always been a dream,” he told Stahl “I graduated a year ahead (I’m still 17) so I decided to take this year at The Royal to perfect what I can in terms of technique, and hope to audition for Juilliard next year…”

News of his coup spread quickly on social media.

“What a phenomenal artist already!” says dancer Andrea Williams. “I’m going to miss seeing him dance everyday but I’m so glad he’s going to the Royal Ballet!”

Big art news from Texas Biennial, Pop Austin and UT Landmarks

In this case, important arts news comes in threes.

The Texas Biennial comes Sept. 30-Nov. 11. Contributed by Martha Hughes.

Big Medium, which produces EAST and WEST, has confirmed the dates and other details for the next Texas Biennial. The group survey exhibition, which features artists living and working in the state, will appear at 211 E. Alpine Road in Austin, Sept. 30-Nov. 11. The final list of artists selected by curator and artistic director Leslie Moody Castro will be announced Aug. 30

The work of Aaron de la Cruz appears at Pop Austin in November. Contributed

Pop Austin, which stages annual exhibitons of art one might not normally see in Austin, announces that this year the monumental event will take place Nov. 9-12 at Fair Market. It kicks off with an opening party Nov. 9. General admission will take place Nov. 10-12. Among the artists featured will be Aaron de la CruzJon One and Yang Na. Tickets go on sale Aug. 30. The show is also a part of Big Medium’s EAST.

A detail of the promised José Parlá mural at UT. Contributed

The Landmarks program, which provides the high-quality public art for the University of Texas, let us know about a big new mural in the works. The 4,000 square-foot-piece — hey, that’s on third the size of our South Austin house! — by José Parlá will grace Rowling Hall, the new home of the McCombs School of Business graduate program. The unveiling will take place at a big bash in January 2018.

Rude Mechs to jolt Yale and Guthrie theaters

The Rude Mechs have lined up long residencies at two of the nation’s biggest and best regional theaters, Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Conn. and Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Adored in Austin and looking for a new performance home base here, the 22-year-old group is actually among the few American companies to make much of their art away from home. (Fun fact: the Rudes now rehearse in the American-Statesman building.)

Their presence abroad really took off with their 1999 hit “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century.” Since then, theaters, universities and art centers have clamored to be a part of their heady fun.

At Yale, the Rudes will present the world premiere of “Field Guide,” a fast and furious take on Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamozov.” The work, commissioned by Yale Rep, runs Jan. 26–Feb. 17, 2018.

In July 2018, the Rudes will further develop “Not Every Mountain,” written by Kirk Lynn and directed by Thomas Graves with music by Peter Stopschinski, at the three-venue Guthrie Theater. According to the theater’s spokesman, it is “a beguiling meditation on change and permanence.”

We recently visited the Guthrie for the first time since it moved into its new-ish digs on the Mississippi River. Pretty spectacular if hulking space with a loyal audience and, no small thing, the best pre-show, in-theater dining we’ve ever experienced.

Science fiction tale deliver powerful real-life messages about race

In the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist rally and the subsequent attack on peaceful counterprotesters, the firm belief that black lives matter is perhaps more important than it has ever been. As such, the long-term work being done at the Vortex Theatre to bring diversity to the Austin stage, and to provide a voice and a venue to artists of color, is more important than ever.

Contributed by by Errich Petersen.

The latest show at the Vortex, produced by Gale Theatre Co., is Tyler English-Beckwith’s new play “Twentyeight.” Though ostensibly an Afrofuturist science fiction story about six black people forced to build the very spaceship that will take them to their promised utopia of the Liberian Space Station, “Twentyeight” is also a trenchant commentary about contemporary state and racial violence against the black community.

Set in either a dystopian near-future or an alternate present, “Twentyeight” embodies the struggle for survival and freedom faced by black Americans in the form of forced labor to build a new starship. In exchange for this labor — which is overseen by mysterious “Enforcers” who make themselves known in the form of loud klaxon alarms — the individuals building the starship will be allowed to board it when it launches for the space station.

The bulk of the play portrays the struggles faced by the six characters as they work on the spaceship, arguing among themselves about the roles of freedom, yearning and expectation. The talented ensemble — consisting of Kenah Benefield, Jeremy Rashad Brown, Mae Rose Hill, Delanté Keys, Taji Senior-Gipson and Oktavea Williams — embody the various sides of debates about whether it is necessary for minorities to crouch before they are allowed to fly, and the well-realized desires and beliefs of each character keep that from ever becoming simply intellectual.

Though the ideas (and ideology) of “Twentyeight” are part of the show’s great strength, some of the science fiction concepts are a bit muddled and confusing, perhaps intentionally so. Nevertheless, the staging of the action by co-directors English-Beckwith and Matrix Kilgore (aided by the work of lighting designer Rachel Atkinson, sound designer Alyssa Dillard and scenic designer Ann Marie Gordon) grounds each scene in a physical reality that expresses the emotional truth of the characters, even if the precise location of the action is unclear.

“Twentyeight,” like much of the work at the Vortex, is a necessary show for our contemporary moment, giving voice to ideas that need to be heard by more people if our society is ever to find its way to the stars.

“Twentyeight”
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 16-19
Where: The Vortex, 2307 Manor Road
Cost: $15-$35
Information: 512-478-5282, vortexrep.org.

Studio 54klift party for Forklift Danceworks rescheduled for Sept. 22

Ready for a Studio 54-inspired dance party?

Forklift Danceworks is hosting a Studio 54-inspired dance party fundraiser on August 26. Contributed by Forklift Danceworks

Forklift Danceworks, which recently finished the first round of its “My Park, My Pool, My City” performances at Bartholomew Pool, is hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 22, at Gather, 5540 N. Lamar Blvd., that is inspired by the famed NYC club, Studio 54. (Note, this event was postponed in August due to Harvey but now has a new date — Sept. 22.)

RELATED: Listen to Forklift Danceworks’ founder Allison Orr on the “I Love You So Much” podcast

Attendees at last year’s Studio 54klift. Contributed by Forklift Danceworks

Studio 54klift dance party takes place from 8 p.m. to midnight, and it starts with a VIP hour with music by DJ Triple C, appetizers and signature cocktails by Steven Robbins of Half Step.

At 9 p.m., the general admission party starts with MC Tigre Liu, music by DJ Mahaelani, a silent auction and raffle and an open bar with late night snacks. VIP tickets cost $100, and general admission costs $75, and all the money goes to supporting Forklift’s programs, which are free and open to the public. You can buy tickets and find out more here.

A note: The organizers still need a few volunteers for the event, which you can sign up for here.

 

Elvis, Johnny Cash and more come to life in Zach’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

On Dec. 4, 1956, the tiny Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, was the site of a seminal moment in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: the recording of a jam session between rockabilly superstars Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. This recording session became known as the “Million Dollar Quartet,” catching all four artists at a crucial time when rock music was just starting to take America by storm.

Zach Theatre has taken on the Tony Award-winning musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” about famous faces Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Contributed by Charles Quinn

In 2006, a fictionalized version of that remarkable moment was turned into a jukebox musical by writer/director Floyd Mutrux, along with co-writer Colin Escott. Combining the music of the four artists, along with covers of a few other rock hits and some of the gospel music that was actually recorded that day, “Million Dollar Quartet” is as much a musical revue as it is a play.

The show’s music is almost entirely diegetic, coming from the performers on stage re-creating the recording session, and thus all four actors portraying the famous musicians need to be able to embody the roles sonically as well as physically. Fortunately, Zach Theatre’s new production features four leading men who are more than up to the task.

Rockabilly songwriter and recording artist Cole (who goes by just one name) is spot-on as a young, suave, top-of-his-career Elvis, whose bombastic physicality while performing is nicely offset by Cole’s subtle evocation of the King’s nervous stutter in conversation. Gavin Rohrer is a ball of manic energy as Lewis, riding the line between “bad boy” and “snot-nosed punk” while remaining just on the right side of likable. Corbin Mayer’s deep bass voice and quiet brooding, paired with a razor-sharp performing style, evoke the darker tones of Cash. Finally, the young Billy Cohen takes on Perkins’ cool stability and mean rhythm and blues guitar licks with a soulful energy that pairs well with the extravagant, impressive bass-playing of Adam Egizi as Brother Jay, Perkins’ brother and musical partner.

The cast is rounded out by Zachary Yanez as drummer Fluke, Emily Farr as Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne (replacing his real-life girlfriend of the time, Marilyn Evans), and Jeff Jeffers as Sam Phillips, Sun Records’ owner and the producer of early recordings by all four men. Farr is buoyant and sexy in the few numbers given to her to sing, though she is somewhat hobbled by a text that mostly seems to have use for her as a plot contrivance for the sake of exposition.

Jeffers, however, has far more to work with, as Phillips is arguably the protagonist of the show’s sparse storyline. Given several moments to shine, he quietly serves as the play’s backbone, with a reserved performance that brings some heart to what would otherwise be a disconnected collection of songs. Director Dave Steakley wisely keeps him at the center of the action in order to hold the story together, even though his role is far less showy than that of the four rock superstars.

As a text, “Million Dollar Quartet” is very flawed. It has sparse narrative momentum and even less structure, and in its celebration of these four particular musicians it pays extremely short shrift to the role of African-American musicians in the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. However, Zach’s production of the show uses Jeffers’ willfully modest performance to tie together a series of knockout impersonations, high-energy performances and dynamite rockabilly songs to create a fun evening of toe-tapping, hand-clapping entertainment.

“Million Dollar Quartet”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 3
Where: Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar Blvd.
Cost: $29-$81
Information: 512-476-0541, zachtheatre.org

RELATED:
Get a jump on the Austin arts season with our guide to upcoming shows

Summer Stock Austin’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ brings young stars to stage

Every year, Summer Stock Austin presents repertory productions of several musicals, classic and new, starring and crewed by the best and brightest of Texas’ young performers from throughout the state’s high schools and colleges. This summer, the series includes “Annie Get Your Gun,” a charming production that introduces a bright new star to the Austin stage, running through Aug. 12 at the Long Center.

“Annie Get Your Gun” is loosely based on the true story of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling show in the late 1800s alongside her husband, fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler. Oakley and Butler first met when she defeated him in a traveling-show shooting match, and this meeting becomes the inciting incident in the musical, as created in the 1940s by Dorothy and Herbert Fields, who wrote the book, and songwriting legend Irving Berlin, who wrote the music and lyrics.

The Summer Stock Austin production of “Annie Get Your Gun” wisely uses some of the revisions created by Peter Stone for the 1999 Broadway revival of the show, which eliminates some of the most insensitive and racist caricatures of American Indians that were originally part of the show (though a few wince-worthy moments do remain).

As with most of Summer Stock Austin’s fair, the production most potently serves as a performance vehicle for Texas’ rising musical theater stars, and director/choreographer Scott Thompson puts his vibrant, talented cast center stage with few frills to get in the way of their direct, energetic engagement with the audience. The entire ensemble helps to create a dynamic performance that moves at a rapid pace, with some notable standouts.

Ben Roberts, as Charlie Davenport, is pitch-perfect and hilarious in a thankless role that switches hastily between exposition and sarcasm. David Peña treats the role of Chief Sitting Bull with enough respect, dignity and good-heartedness that he manages to overcome some of the outdated humor. Brian Corkum and Kate Brimmer, meanwhile, as the young lovers Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate, shine with innocence, charm and great chemistry as both scene and dance partners.

The standout of the show, though, is its leading lady, Trinity Adams, as Annie Oakley. With a vocal acuity that covers both the comedic and romantic sides of the Berlin score and a remarkably expressive face that is able to simultaneously connote comedy and elegance, Adams is a dynamo of musical theater talent, and hopefully we haven’t seen the last of her in Austin. She is aided and abetted in her talent by her leading man, Max Carney, as Frank Butler, whose smooth charm keeps the character likable despite the play’s skewed and sometimes troubling gender dynamics.

RELATED: Trinity Adams wows as Annie Oakley for Summer Stock Austin

Though a classic of the American musical theater, aspects of “Annie Get Your Gun” may not have aged very well. Fortunately, the prodigious strength of its young cast helps Summer Stock Austin’s production overcome this hurdle and create a fun, quick-moving, family-friendly show with a leading lady whose name we should expect to someday see in lights.

‘Annie, Get Your Gun’
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
Cost: $20-$47
Information: 512-474-5664, thelongcenter.org

 

The miracle of artist Micky Hoogendijk

She stands in the middle of the gallery, her posture grounded, her hair braided around her head in a no-nonsense manner, her eyes open with emotional wisdom. Given her long white tunic and delicate sandals, she looks in this late afternoon light as if she stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Micky Hoogendijk at Women & Their Work Gallery. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Photographer Micky Hoogendijk is like no other visual artist. And today she gives an interview that’s a breath of fresh air on a hot day. No dry theories. No tedious explanations of process. No jargon meant to impress a dozen or so like-minded artists.

“All my art came out in Austin,” she says. “I was living up on Panorama Drive, surrounded by nature. And as soon as I started working with Austin models, there was an openness about them that I haven’t found anywhere else.”

Since her first show at the Davis Gallery just three years ago, the Dutch-born Hoogendijk has expanded her visual vocabulary enormously. She started with layered portraits of mostly Austinites, some masked by various means, many of them androgynous, all of them full of feeling, haunted by a touch of vulnerability.

MORE: Photographer Micky Hoogendijk sees in dreams.

Now for “Pure Imagination” at Women & Their Work Gallery through Sept. 7 — also in her new book, “Through the Eyes of Others I See Me” — Hoogendijk plays with historical costuming, underwater dancing, paired, seated nudes, moody interiors and variant looks at mysterious objects.

“I work from my dreams,” she says. “I can’t do anything different.”

She also spends time looking into eyes.

“We’d do that in rehearsal,” she recalls of her acting career. “While looking steadily into someone’s eyes, you get nervous, distracted, you touch your nose or giggle. Eventually you end up crying. We don’t do that in life, even when we are married, looking for so long into another’s eyes.”

The current show is spare, only 12 pieces, giving each image its own space and story, but the book rewards anyone curious to see more of her unfettered imagination.

Now based in Los Angeles, Hoogendijk has spent the past three years following her artistic career from prominent show to prominent show across three continents. She continues to experiment with printing methods, including some ghostly images parlayed on metal (“Metal has a depth to it.”).

She also thinks of putting down roots again in the Netherlands.

“I’ve created a whole new life,” she says. “But I’ve been living out of a suitcase. For the artist in me, I need calm. I want to be on my own and maybe fall in love again.”