All singin’, all dancin’ for Zach Theatre’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

For our money, there’s never too much singing and dancing in a stage musical. So we rejoiced at the chance to interview dance maker Dominique Kelley (“Sophisticated Ladies,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and Austin newcomer Luke Hawkins, who plays Don Lockwood in Zach Theatre’s staging of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

READ FULL STORY HERE

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

Here’s some catnip:

“Tap dancing will always be with us. It’s a quintessential American dance form.

And Austin, with its nationally respected Tapestry Dance Company, is a tap hub of sorts.

Yet tap dancing doesn’t play a huge role in the contemporary Broadway theater. Especially given the numerous jukebox musicals derived from postwar pop or rock music, or equal number of hits based on animated movies, which might include a smattering of rhythm dancing, but nothing on the scale of, say, “Singin’ in the Rain,” which can be seen at Zach Theatre starting Sept. 27.

“There certainly are tap elements in current shows,” says Dominique Kelley, who made the dances for this “Singin’ in the Rain.” “A friend of mine always includes it. He doesn’t always use tap shoes, or it’s in the way back, but there’s always tap. Some say that tap is dying, but you can find people who can do it, like you can find krumping, flamenco or break dancing. I can find good people to do it, but do they fit the type? Can they actually sing and act, too? When you whittle it away, you don’t necessarily get the best tappers.”

Combing through Zach auditions held in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Kelley and director Abe Reybold came up blank for a leading man who could do all these things as Don Lockwood in this stage show based on the revered 1952 Gene Kelly movie.

“Then someone said: Do you know Luke Hawkins?” Kelley remembers. “Just hire him.”

Hawkins, who grew up in his mother’s dance studio outside Sacramento, Calif., has been a go-to guy for a type of tap dancing that requires more than mere rhythm.

“In my 20s, my agent sent me out for a lot of tap shows,” he says with a heart-melting smile. “But it was for the ensemble. I am a soloist tap dancer. Because I’ve devoted so much time and practice to falling in love with tapping, where it’s been and where it’s heading, being an ensemble member was too easy in shows I didn’t love. I didn’t feel challenged.”

Suffice it to day that “Singin’ in the Rain,” which costars Sasha Hutchings as Kathy Seldon, presents a challenge even for Hawkins.

“This pretty much utilizes everything,” he says. “Singing, acting, ballet-ish dance, tap dance. Because of Dom, I’m allowed to improvise, too, and that’s so rare. Most other choreographers don’t allow it.”

Making ‘A Chorus Line’ come alive at Texas State

The Broadway mega-hit “A Chorus Line” opens at the Texas State University Performing Arts Center in San Marcos on Sept. 26.

SEE FULL STORY HERE.

Liliana Rose, Jacob Burns, Emma Hearn and Ben Toomer play characters auditioning for a Broadway show in “A Chorus Line.” Contributed

We visited a run-through rehearsal and interview director/choreographer Cassie Abate to prep you for the show. Here’s a peek:

“What would you encounter if you dropped by a run-through rehearsal of “A Chorus Line” 2 1/2 weeks before it opened at Texas State University?

Actually, something very close to a fully consummated version of the hit 1975 show about performers auditioning to appear on a Broadway chorus line, meanwhile revealing their personal histories.

White light illuminates a few pieces of scenery. Young performers line up in studio togs. The late Marvin Hamlisch’s genius score, though rehearsed this night without orchestra or microphones, shines through.

Because these performers are part of the San Marcos school’s nationally ranked musical theater program, not only is the singing and dancing already top-notch, the original anecdotes that grew out of a singular play development process — it somewhat resembled group therapy for working chorus members — are deeply felt and communicated.”

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

 

Hurricane Harvey inspires a Broadway response in Houston

Just returned from Houston. My large family’s experience with Hurricane Harvey mirrored the wide range felt by other Houstonians. Some weathered heavy damage; others helped out those in need.

Contributed by UPI

You probably have already seen this video, but at least two of my siblings’ neighborhoods looked a lot like this. Or worse. But how clever of someone to see piles of debris and think of the barricades in “Les Miserables.” This sync is rough, touching, big-hearted and a little fun.

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

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.

RELATED: Get ready for the fall arts season in Austin

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.
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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.

 

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/.

Help build a cool Patrick Dougherty sculpture in Pease Park

What a rush: Pease Park Conservancy has put out a call for volunteers to help build a major sculpture in the park in January 2018.

Patrick Dougherty’s “Easy Rider” (2010). Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. Contributed by Andy Lynch

Designed by renowned artist Patrick Dougherty, this will be the latest Stickwork, a series of over 275 distinct sculptures around the world. (Here’s a few examples.)

According to a Pease Park communiqué, it will take about three weeks to build the site-specific piece – comprised entirely of locally harvested saplings – which is intentionally built for the community by the community.

“Volunteers are needed for single day shifts, although if the project really gels with the right person they are welcome to help out for longer,” says spokesman Mason Kerwick. “Since Patrick will be on site every day guiding the shape of the piece, this is the perfect opportunity for anyone curious to learn more about the artistic process of an internationally renowned artist – while also spending time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and nature in one of Austin’s oldest park.

Once complete, the sculpture will remain on display in Pease Park for a few years.

 

Frisky new Austin theater company Filigree debuts

The Filigree Theatre is the latest addition to Austin’s mushrooming arts community. Led by Elizabeth V. Newman and Stephanie Moore, it will hit the ground right away with a gala fundraiser on Thursday, Sept. 14 at Springdale Station.

Back in the 1990s, Austin launched a new arts group every other week. Despite the difficulties with finding suitable and affordable space to play, that trend seems to have returned.

This particular company hopes to bridge the arts communities in Los Angeles and Austin. While in its gestation, Filigree presented a well-received version of Daniel Arnold and  Medina Hahn‘s “Any Night” in both cities.

Filigree’s first season starts off officially with Harold Pinter‘s reverse-action “Betrayal,” starring David MoxhamEmily Rankin and J. Kevin Smith. It runs Sept. 28-Oct. 8 at the Santa Cruz Center.

The season continues with Anna Ziegler‘s “A Delicate Ship” (Feb. 15-25) and Stephanie Moore‘s “Trio” (April 26-May 6).