Austin Shakespeare takes on a different type of classic: a moody story of art and love from Chekhov

As the city’s premiere classical repertory theater company, Austin Shakespeare is no stranger to presenting time-tested texts to contemporary audiences. But this season they’re expanding into what is, for them, new territory — Chekhov.

Contributed by Errich Petersen

“The Seagull” playing through Feb. 25 in the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center, is Austin Shakespeare’s first foray into the work of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, one of the fathers of theatrical realism. Though Chekhov only produced four major plays, all of those have become classics of the stage. The first of these was “The Seagull,” an ensemble drama that explores the relationships of four artists and the people around them on a country estate.

Director Ann Ciccolella’s own adaptation of Chekhov’s text emphasizes the subtle shades of the playwright’s characterizations and dialogue, bristling with subtext and nuance. Amid the various declarations of love and passion, character motivations are couched in lyrical metaphors that call for the performers to express volumes with a single word or longing glance. As the cast of “The Seagull” is well up to this task, Ciccolella is right to have placed her faith in them.

Andrew Matthews, as the symbolist writer Konstantin, is a tangle of neuroses that can be both comedic and tragic, with Matthews sometimes hitting both notes simultaneously. As his mother, the actress Irina, Tyler Layton is viciously cunning and brutally honest in her appraisals, yet still manages to underlay it all with a shade of maternal concern. Her lover, the acclaimed writer Trigorin, is played with an initially reserved specificity by Matthew Radford Davies, which allows him to showcase Trigorin’s monstrous selfishness as the plot unravels. Finally, Corrina Browning is heartbreaking as Nina, a young, aspiring actress whose affections move from Konstantin to Trigorin with tragic repercussions for all involved.

The rest of the large cast is equally as adept in exploring their troubled, complex characters, particularly Helen Merino as the mournful servant, Masha, and Chuck Winkler as the wistful doctor, Dorn.

Ciccolella, along with her cast and design team, highlight the moodiness as well as the poetry of Chekhov’s text. Fittingly, a bright, constructed moon shines above the proceedings to emphasize the timelessness of the emotional interplay between art and love in these all too human relationships. If the company’s first exploration of Chekhov is any indication, Austin Shakespeare will find great success in mining yet another rich vein of theatrical history in the coming years.

“THE SEAGULL”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
Cost: $18-$35
Information: 512-474-5664, thelongcenter.org

Strong performances, dynamic visuals boost Zach Theatre’s ‘Curious Incident’

Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was something of a phenomenon when it was first published. Both a critical success and a best-seller, it was released in separate editions for adult and young adult readers, and it generated acclaim from mental health experts for its realistic depiction of its main character’s autism.

Contributed by Kirk Tuck

In 2012, playwright Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of the novel premiered at the National Theatre in London and ran both in the West End and on Broadway. Now, the play comes to Austin in a production from Zach Theatre, directed by the company’s producing artistic director, Dave Steakley.

Zach’s production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is both stylish and stylized. It follows the story of Christopher Boone, an autistic teenage boy investigating the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. The kinetic, mobile, multimedia nature of the production allows Steakley to accomplish two difficult tasks at once — re-create the novelistic style of the script, which jumps around in time, and represent what it’s like to experience the world through the lens of Christopher’s autism.

REVIEW: Bilingual play offers inclusive message for Austin children

The deliberately stylish production (which owes much to scenic/projection designer Stephanie Busing, lighting designer Rachel Atkinson and sound designer Craig Brock) overcomes some of the text’s bigger problems. The achronological approach, taken from the novel, is at times confusing when adapted to the stage, and attempts at humorous meta-commentary on the nature of theater in the second act seem to go nowhere. However, the fast-moving pace of the production more than makes up for these flaws.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” features a top-tier cast of both local and out-of-town talent, including nuanced, emotional performances by Nick Stevenson as Christopher’s father and Meredith McCall as his departed mother. The heart and soul of the production, though, is young actor Preston Straus as Christopher, who gives a deeply moving and believable portrayal of the boy’s many quirks and neuroses. Straus doesn’t just play Christopher’s autism as a surface-level affectation, but rather plumbs the depths of the character’s psyche to create a realistic teenage boy whose life happens to be structured around his autism.

With an engaging, dynamic visual dimension layered on top of a poignant coming-of-age drama with some fantastic performances, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a very strong addition to Zach Theatre’s mainstage season.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through March 4
Where: Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar Blvd.
Cost: $25-$133
Information: 512-476-0541, zachtheatre.org

 

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

Richard Buckley fired as artistic director of Austin Opera for alleged inappropriate behavior

Austin Opera has terminated the contract of artistic director and principal conductor Richard Buckley, effective immediately.

Austin Lyric Opera artistic director Richard Buckley (left) in 2014.

Buckley, who conducts on the international operatic circuit, had held that position since 2004.

In a short statement, the opera said an investigation conducted with outside counsel determined that “inappropriate behavior in violation of the company’s policy on harassment had occurred that was not consistent with the values and standards of Austin Opera.”

In respect for those affected by his conduct, Austin Opera trustees said “staff will not disclose further details about the incidents that occurred.”

Buckley, the son of a famous conductor, was known for conducting symphonies and operas far afield and had been part of at least 40 Austin Opera productions.

As recently as March of last year, Buckley’s conducting earned a $1 million commitment  from backers Ernest and Sarah Butler, namesakes for the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas, to support the position of artistic director.

Performances of Austin Opera’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” will continue today and Feb. 4 with conductor Robert Mollicone.

Read the full story on our premium website, Mystatesman.com