Paul Michael Bloodgood is a prince. He’s a family man. He’s a superb dancer.
And he’s dancing his last Romeo with Ballet Austin on Sept. 15 and Sept 17. This “Romeo and Juliet” is propelled by the kinetic music of Sergei Prokofiev played by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, of course with choreography by Stephen Mills.
Despite all the excellent talent onstage, for two of the three nights, all eyes will be on Bloodgood, who has long been a standout for the company.
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.
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
Could it be true that this season the Austin Symphony will perform 15 works it has never before played? After all, the ensemble goes back to 1911. That is a lot of concerts, almost all of them consisting of at least three or four musical pieces. Surely, the major works of the classical repertoire have been performed here at least once?
“It’s part luck that so many pieces this season are firsts for the Austin Symphony,” music director Peter Bay says. “I try to include works that are well-known to everyone as well as works that aren’t. Sometimes, the selection of the soloist triggers ideas for the rest of the program, such as (pianist) Anton Nel’s interest in playing Mozart as well as something on harpsichord for our first concert.”
Just how would the symphony staff know what has been played during the past 106 years? Turns out, hundreds of printed programs have been preserved and are stored, high and dry, in a narrow storage room just off the entrance of the symphony’s offices on Red River Street. New public relations expert Rachel Santorelli, who comes to Austin from the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, gave us access to the trove, which includes reproductions of the inaugural program from April 25, 1911.
About the size of a Catholic holy card and printed on gray stock, it announces that the Austin Symphony Society will be led by Dr. Hans Harthan at the Hancock Opera House, a grand venue formerly located at West Sixth Street and Congress Avenue. The second page lists the new society’s “patronesses,” which include some Old Austin surnames, such as Pennybaker, Ramsey, Hancock, Brush, Bremond and Bickler. The list of musicians includes, even then, four women. The group’s first piece ever? W.A. Mozart’s Symphonie in C No. 28.
Taken as a whole, these preserved programs provide a rare look at Austin’s cultural, economic and creative evolution.
This is totally last minute, but singer Gabrielle Stravelli stops by the Sterling Center to perform for Austin Cabaret Theatre on Thursday.
I’ve been listening to Stravelli’s CD “Dream Ago” obsessively for the past couple of days. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a jazz or cabaret voice as distinctive as hers. The special beauty of this album is that it shows off her wide range of modes through mostly original music for which she contributed the lyrics.
Yet her treatment of standards such as “It Might As Well Be Spring” is fresh, fun and musically sophisticated.
While we are on the subject, we’re delighted to learn that Austin Cabaret Theatre is still a thing. In fact Stuart Moulton‘s long-distance project — he if firmly based in New York these days — has announced an Austin season on Facebook that includes Jesse Luttrell, Barb Jungr, Crystal Stark, Sam Harris, Ann Hampton Calloway, Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman.
Add that to the Texas Performing Arts line-up that features Storm Large & Le Bonheur, Seth Rudetsky, Ute Lemper and more, and you’ve got a full plate of imported cabaret this season. Ah, for the days when Austin produced its own cabaret stars!
Shermakaye Bass is one of the best journalists in Austin. A sometime student of Indian culture, she did a swell job breaking down the big Blanton Museum of Art exhibit, “Epic Tales From Ancient India: Paintings From the San Diego Museum of Art,” which runs through Oct. 1.
Below, we share a tempting morsel from her story, which ran Aug. 24.
All great cultures have their epics and sacred texts — rife with heroes and villains, gods and demons and magical beings that manifest in the twinkling of an eye. India is no exception. The South Asian subcontinent possesses one of the most fantastical and intricate canons in the world, and right now Austin is allowed a rare glimpse into it via the multidisciplinary installation “Epic Tales From Ancient India: Paintings From the San Diego Museum of Art,” which runs at the Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas campus through Oct. 1.
“Epic Tales” takes visitors on a journey through some of India’s greatest works — the “Ramayana,” “Bhagavata Purana,” “Ragamala” and “Shahnama,” or Persian “Book of Kings.” It features 90 miniature watercolors from San Diego’s renowned collection (most from manuscripts dating from the 16th to 19th centuries), as well as ancient bronzes, video installations, a delightful reading section and a series of dance and storytelling performances. For many, this rich installation is an introduction to the story of India and the Hindu religion.
“I wanted this exhibition to be a multisensory experience,” curator Ray Williams says. “The paintings are all about story, and I wanted story to be a big part of the show. And while the stories can be entertaining and fun, they also have strong religious meaning, and I wanted to underscore that — that it’s all intertwined.”
Williams, who has studied in India and is director of education and academic affairs at the Blanton, designed the exhibit to be fun while also shining a spotlight on “an amazing culture and an amazing set of stories. We’re saying, ‘You’ve heard of Krishna, you’ve heard of Rama? Well, here’s the bigger story!’”
The organized arts and humanities generally don’t save lives directly during emergency situations. Yet they save our culture — our shared memory — over the long run. Here are some ways the state and national communities are responding to Harvey and where the help will be most needed.
The National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Texas Commission on the Arts to assess the situation. NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu: “As the current situation stabilizes, the NEA is prepared to direct additional funds to these state arts agencies for re-granting to affected organizations, as we have done in the past.”
The Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working to coordinate a response for the affected library community.
While some smaller arts facilities have been devastated on the coast (see image from Rockport), the massive Houston Theatre District has sustained enormous damage, as it has in previous storms (much of it was built underground not far from Buffalo Bayou).
At the Alley Theatre, the small Neuhaus Theatre and its lobby were flooded. The same spaces were severely beat up during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.
The Wortham Theatre Center, where Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet perform, took water on the Brown Theatre stage and out front of the house. The basement with its costume and prop storage, however, was totally flooded.
On the other hand, the Hobby Center and Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, came off relatively unscathed, although the parking garages were inundated.
Playwright Robert Schenkkan has been having a great couple of years. America, on the other hand, has not. Those two circumstances converge in Schenkkan’s taught, timely, must-see new play, “Building the Wall,” an excoriating critique of the virulent rhetoric — and actions — in contemporary American politics. The show’s regional premiere is playing through Sept. 10 at the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre on the campus of the University of Texas, presented by the Department of Theatre and Dance.
Schenkkan is perhaps best-known most recently for his two plays about President Lyndon B. Johnson — “All The Way,” which won the Tony Award for best play and was adapted into a film starring Bryan Cranston for HBO, and its follow-up “The Great Society,” produced earlier this year at Zach Theatre — and for co-writing the film “Hacksaw Ridge.” In “Building the Wall,” Schenkkan turns his nuanced view of American society and larger-than-life, boisterous presidents to our contemporary political reality.
A tight, one-scene play with only two characters, “Building the Wall” meshes a subtle character study with an exploration of political rhetoric taken to its extreme. As Schenkkan himself describes the play, “I have imagined a time not so far from now, in which the current president’s incendiary rhetoric on immigration and border security has found its full, even logical, expression.” That expression, which is slowly revealed over the course of the play, is truly chilling in its plausibility and the almost casual nature with which it comes to be.
This, though, is entirely Schenkkan’s point: The greatest horrors perpetrated by mankind were aided, abetted and carried out by average, ordinary citizens who viewed themselves as patriots. Such is the case with Rick, an imprisoned white man whose life is examined in “Building the Wall” by Gloria, a black professor of history. Gloria is visiting Rick in prison in order to understand why he committed the heinous deeds that landed him there, and her systematic interrogation of his life story provides the show with its narrative drive.
There are no bells nor whistles to “Building the Wall,” and director Brant Pope rightly puts full faith in his actors to give life to this dramatic, disturbing text, complemented by a realistic yet slightly representational set designed by Bruno-Pierre Houle and stark, subtly textured lighting designed by Aaron Curry. Franchelle Stewart Dorn, as Gloria, and David Sitler, as Rick, bring their years of acting experience to this troubling text, and their adversarial chemistry prevents the play from ever becoming stagnant or didactic. Sitler, particularly, does a remarkable job of portraying Rick with a level of sympathy that makes the revelation of his actions all the more horrific.
If “Building the Wall” were simply an anti-Trump agitprop screed, it would likely not resonate as a text. Instead, in this play Schenkkan wisely looks beyond Donald Trump’s authoritarian posturing toward the ordinary men and women willing to succumb to strongman leadership because of their own fears and resentments. What we should really fear, the playwright warns, is not Trump, but the average Americans willing to follow him.