The real and surreal blend as ‘Trio’ makes its world premiere in Austin

Much of playwright Sheila Cowley’s recent work has been an exploration of theatrical forms that combine traditional, dialogue-based drama with dance and movement. The first play she began this process with, “Trio,” has finally received its world premiere here in Austin, after a seven-year development process.

“Trio,” from Filigree Theatre, runs through May 6 at the Santa Cruz Theatre. Contributed

The play, which is the concluding production of the Filigree Theatre’s inaugural season of work, is about two actors, Leslie and Tim, who are developing a new play for children about slaying monsters. As the story unfolds, we learn that Leslie’s personal monster is the specter of her hospitalized mother’s potential death, while Tim’s is his own inability to face reality. Their already strained dynamic is put further on edge when Tim’s old college roommate (and possibly former lover) Fletcher arrives to help fix the lighting in the old garage where they are rehearsing.

The heart of “Trio” is the conflict between Leslie’s grounding in the extreme reality of her mother’s illness and Tim’s refusal to accept any form of reality, even the nature of their own relationship. Fletcher seems to flit back and forth between both worlds, creating a love triangle that is based less on personal attraction and more on shared worldview.

As this love triangle develops, another trinity remains constantly on stage — a group of silent performers who move, dance, clown, react and sometimes even summon major changes in lighting, mood and tone.

It is unclear whether the trio of silent performers is actually a part of  Leslie, Tim and Fletcher’s world or just a subconscious manifestation of their desires, but “Trio” fully leans into these confusions and contradictions to explore an emotional reality more than a naturalist one.

RELATED: Planning, artistic vision guide Filigree Theatre through first season

Director Elizabeth V. Newman’s previous work for Filigree Theatre has been more realistic in nature, whereas “Trio” veers much more into the realm of the surreal and utilizes a variety of tried-and-true theatrical magic tricks to turn masks, wooden swords and ordinary pieces of fabric into conduits of wild creative energy. It is easily the most kinetic and visually impressive production of Filigree’s season, serving as a welcome display of the diverse types of works that the fledgling company is prepared to produce.

Just as Tim and Leslie provide the core conflict in the play, in this production Ben Gibson (as Tim) and Chelsea Beth (as Leslie) serve as the show’s heart. Gibson’s manic performance deliberately jumps between moods from beat to beat, creating a man-child obsessed with make-believe and joy who would rather escape into a world of monsters than face the scarier truths of the real world. He is perfectly counterbalanced by Beth’s neurotic portrayal of Leslie as somebody trying desperately to escape from that real world but constantly pulled back into it.

The production doesn’t ultimately quite strike the balance between the real and the surreal that the play demands and that could truly make it soar — there’s a little too much logic applied to dreamlike situations at some points, as well as some confusing tonal shifts that lead to nagging questions rather than suspension of disbelief. But it serves as an excellent proof of concept for both Cowley’s exploration of form and Filigree’s expansion of the types of works they want to produce. Austin audiences should look forward to more from both parties in the future.

‘TRIO’
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through May 6
Where: Santa Cruz Studio Theatre, 1805 E. Seventh St.
Cost: $20-$30
Information: 512-496-5208, artful.ly/store/events/14703

 

David Bowie tribute and a concert of freedom songs among shows coming up

You already know which Broadway musicals are coming to Austin’s Bass Concert Hall next season — yes, including “Hamilton” — but unless you attended the onstage party last night, you don’t know about the rest of the Texas Performing Arts season.

Related: Broadway smash”Hamilton” part of 2018-2019 season.

‘Amarillo’ from Teatro Linea de Sombra. Contributed by Sophie Garcia

The University of Texas presenting group’s director, Kathy Panoff, who reports that subscriptions for the Broadway in Austin series are unsurprisingly strong, cheerfully introduced the dance, classical, world and other Essential Series selections to several dozen fans. Then she introduced Stephanie Rothenberg, a member of the Broadway cast of “Anastasia,” who sang two numbers from the show. Reminder: Among the name producers for this stage version of the animated movie are local backers Marc and Carolyn Seriff.

(I wondered if the Austin group flew in talented Rothenberg and indeed they had, just for two songs. She’s a “swing” member of the New York cast, which means she can take over several parts, including the title role, but also could fly away for the night.)

Without any further delay …

2018-2019 Texas Performing Arts Season

Voca People. Contributed by Trambarin Yan

Sept. 12: Voca People. An a cappella group from Israel completely reconfigures popular hits.

Sept. 14: Reduced Shakespeare Company. The original creators of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)” bring back the hilarious work that made them famous.

Sept. 21: Fred Hersch Trio. Ten-time Grammy nominated pianist brings the real jazz deal.

Sept. 28: Taylor Mac. Extravagant drag performer messes with the audiences during “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (Abridged).”

Oct. 5: Yekwon Sunwoo. UT likes to book the top talent from the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and this is the 2017 winner.

Ragamala Dance Company performs “Written in Water.” Contributed by Bruce Palmer

Oct. 18: Ragamala Dance Company. It’s hard to believe this is the first major Indian dance troupe to play Bass, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Panoff said. They’ll perform “Written in Water.”

Nov. 1: “Blackstar: An Orchestral Tribute to David Bowie.” Lots of excitement about this take on the great man.

Nov. 8: Jordi Savall. Early music promoter returns to Austin, this time with a global vision in “The Routes of Slavery.”

Nov. 9: Pavel Urkiza and Congri Ensemble. The Cuban guitarist and composer interprets classic Cuban songs in “The Root of the Root.”

Drag performer Taylor Mac digs into the history of music. Contributed

Nov. 13: Circa. Australian contemporary circus troupe presents “Humans.”

Nov. 14-Dec. 2. “The Merchant of Venice.” There’s usually one or two selections from UT’s department of theater and dance in the bill; this season it’s a take on Shakespeare.

Nov. 16: “Private Peaceful.” Verdant Productions and Pemberley produced this staging of Michael Morpurgo’s book on World War I, directed and adapted for the stage by Simon Reade.

Jan. 30: Michelle Dorrance Dance. Trust UT to bring in the best of the dance world; this tap troupe introduces “ETM: Double Down.”

Feb. 5: Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. This sliver of the storied orchestra was founded in 1988.

Terence Blanchard collaborates with Rennie Harris Puremovement Dance Company. Contributed by Henry Adebonojo

Feb. 8: “Songs of Freedom.” Drummer Ulysses Owns, Jr. leads a group interpreting Joni Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone as part of the center’s series on protest arts.

March 27: “A Thousand Thoughts.” The Kronos Quartet team with Oscar-nominaed filmmaker Sam Green for this live documentary.

April 11: “Caravan: A Revolution on the Road.” A collaboration between Terence Blanchard E-Collective and Rennie Harris Puremovement Dance Company with projections and installations by Andrew Scott.

April 13: UT Jazz Orchestra with Joe Lovano. American saxophonist joins the college ensemble as part of the Butler School of Music’s Longhorn Jazz Festival.

April 11: Trey McLaughlin and Sounds of Zamar. They saved the blessing for last with this Georgia-based gospel group.

Meet the 2018 Austin Arts Hall of Fame inductees

The Austin Critics Table recently announced the latest group to be inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.

The five honored Austinites have contributed to the city’s cultural scene over the course of many years. They will be inducted 7 p.m. June 4 at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research Blvd. The event is free. Following the inductions, the arts critics will give out awards for the 2017-2018 season. Lots of awards.

RELATED: Giving City toasts Austin Critics Table Awards

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Anuradha Niampally. Contributed by Austin Dance India

The honored are (with the informal journalism group’s identifiers):

Norman Blumensaadt (Different Stages) – company founder, artistic director, director, actor

Kathy Dunn Hamrick (Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company, Cafe Dance) – company founder, artistic director, choreographer, dancer, educator

Michael and Jeanne Klein (Blanton Museum of Art, The Contemporary Austin, Ransom Center, et al.) – patrons, board members, civic leaders, arts advocates

Anuradha Naimpally (Austin Dance India, Cafe Dance) – company founder, artistic director, dancer, choreographer, educator

Austin’s Armstrong Community Music School founder Margaret Perry dies

Margaret Perry, founder of Austin’s Armstrong Community Music School, died Thursday morning of pancreatic cancer at age 66.

Margaret Perry with students at the Armstrong Community Music School. Contributed

“A phenomenal loss,” said Austin philanthropy leader Mary Herr Tally. “This one hurts.”

Perry stepped down as director of the school, formerly associated with Austin Opera and named for humanitarian James Armstrong, who died last year, in October after learning of her diagnosis.

RELATED: Benefactor James James Armstrong has died.

“Margaret was an amazing person who took the school to heights James and I never imagined,” said Larry Connelly, Armstrong’s surviving husband. “James was always so proud to have his name associated with such a great organization.”

“Her imprint will be forever on the Armstrong Community Music School, the staff that followed her vision wholeheartedly, and the faculty that shared her mission of service and excellence,” said Rachel McInturff, the director of the school’s finance and administration. “Her wisdom guided many. Her laughter uplifted all. She will be deeply missed.”

Perry originally trained as a harpsichordist and played with various baroque music groups. She served for several years as pianist for Houston Ballet. Although she taught piano privately for decades, she was know to the larger arts community as lecturer and arts educator.

Perry served on numerous boards of directors before and after the founding of the Armstrong School in 2000. At the time, it was the only American community music school established by an opera company. She one numerous honors and was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jeff and Gail Kodosky, Laura Walterman, Austin Gleeson and other benefactors have established the Margaret Perry Endowment Fund which has already attracted $200,000 and is managed by the Austin Community Foundation.

A memorial concert at a time to be determined will feature music only, no speeches or photos, followed by a reception.

This is a developing story. Check back for more details.

Your input needed for Texas Medal of Arts Awards

Since 2001, the Texas Cultural Trust, an advocacy group, has been honoring our state’s luminaries through the Texas Medal of Arts. The laurels are bestowed every other year at one of the most glamorous galas in Texas. The most recent one in 2017 at Bass Concert Hall was a blow-out.

John Paul and Eloise DeJoria win a 2017 Texas Medal of Arts Award for their corporate philanthropy with Patron and Paul Mitchell. Contributed.

RELATED: What the arts mean to great Texas artists and patrons.

Now the Trust wants your input.

Send your nominations in by April 5, 2018 for the February 2019 edition of the honors. Categories include architecture, arts education, arts patron (corporate, foundation or individual), dance, design, film, lifetime achievement, literary arts, media/multimedia, music, television, theater and visual arts.

RELATED: Soaking up the glamour of Texas Medal of Arts.

For a complete list of past honorees, go here. The 2017 winners included Eloise and John Paul DeJoria with Paul Mitchell/Patron, Kris Kristofferson, Lynn Wyatt, Lauren Anderson, Yolanda Adams, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Tobin Endowmen, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Leo Villareal, Frank Welch, John Phillip Santos, Scott Pelley and Kenny Rogers.

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

Texas Performing Arts picks up half million from Mellon Foundation

The Andrew Mellon Foundation has graced Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas with a $500,000 grant to back “The Power of Protest: Arts and Civil Disobedience,” a proposed series of lectures, performances and other public events for a three-year period ending in 2021.

This brings the foundation’s gifts to the UT group to $1.35 million since 2011.

Bass Concert Hall at UT. Contributed by Auerbach Pollock Friedlander

Performing and visual arts will be encouraged on the subjects of  “world-wide protests for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental protection, the guarantee of racial equality, and the current national controversy regarding the continued display or removal of monuments honoring Confederate generals across the U.S,” according to a release from UT.

“(It) allows us to explore how work in the performing and visual arts has the ability to become, in and of itself, an act of civil disobedience with the capacity to drive social and political change,” says Kathy Panoff, director of Texas Performing Arts and associate dean of the College of Fine Arts. “The proposed programming is informed by the inherent power of the arts to provide a safe space to explore the most contentious social issues of our time.”

No specific works or events have been announced.

 

H-E-B names popular Long Center City Terrace

It’s one of the most charismatic spots in the city — the Long Center City Terrace.

Bubblepalooza is among the countless events staged at what will be the H-E-B Terrace at the Long Center. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

From the day that the performing arts center opened in 2008 — that’s right, almost 10 years ago — the semi-circular procession of columns left over from the old Palmer Auditorium made a powerful people magnet.

The view of the downtown skyline is priceless, even after the addition of some south shore buildings that cut off the view to the east. Instantly, everyone needed portraits on that terrace. Festivals and concerts followed. Pre-show, intermission and after-show crowds lingered there above a grassy hill.

At certain points, the whole area around it has been transformed into the Statesman Skyline Theater.

RELATED: Long Center’s new outdoor venue will be named Statesman Skyline Theater

So a naming opportunity for the terrace, right? H-E-B, one of the most munificent corporate citizens in Texas, has stepped up to the plate with five-year naming agreement for an undisclosed amount of money. Say hello to the H-E-B Terrace.

The name change will be made official at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 24, to be followed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  by a free holiday event dubbed “Santa on the Terrace.”

“Our collaboration with  H-E-B has been very valuable to the Long Center and the city of Austin,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the center. “Their dedication to the community and to providing access to the arts is something we both feel passionately about.”

The H-E-B Terrace comes with an arc of columns, a broad plaza, a grassy hill and unbeatable views of downtown Austin. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

“We are thrilled to be able to strengthen our partnership with the Long Center as we share in the belief that arts are an integral part of building a strong community, understanding our diversity, preserving our history, and building our future,” says Jeff Thomas, H-E-B senior vice-president and general manager for the Central Texas region. “The H-E-B Terrace is the ideal community gathering place for these beliefs to intersect – it is the heart of the Austin arts district and welcomes everyone to experience art in a public way.”

(This post has been updated to correct a date.)

 

Secrets, lies and revelations in new theater company’s first production

Austin is home to many theater companies but a dwindling number of performance spaces. That’s why, though it’s always exciting to see a new group arise from the city’s artistic stew, one approaches them a bit cautiously. Many are the first productions of brand new companies; fewer are the second productions.

From left, Emily Rankin, David Moxham and J. Kevin Smith star in “Betrayal,” the first production from Filigree Theatre, Austin’s newest women-led theater company co-founded by Elizabeth V. Newman and Stephanie Moore. Contributed by Joshua Scott

With a solid production of a classic play, a clear mission statement and a fully planned out inaugural season, the Filigree Theatre looks to be a company that will buck that trend.

Headed by artistic director Elizabeth V. Newman and managing director Stephanie Moore, Filigree has as its inaugural production Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” playing through Oct. 8 at the Santa Cruz Theatre. The show, directed by Newman and produced by Moore, was written in 1978 and tells the story of an extramarital affair by jumping chronologically backwards in time, revealing layers of secrets and adding more layers of mystery as it goes. Filigree’s production, thanks to its talented cast, cuts to the heart of these secrets with an intriguing, close-vested, nuanced version of the play.

The secret to the success of this production of “Betrayal” is its three main cast members — David Moxham, Emily Rankin and J. Kevin Smith (Felix Alonzo rounds out the cast in a charmingly comedic bit part). In the first scene, we learn about the seven-year affair between Moxham’s Jerry and Rankin’s Emma, just after Emma’s marriage to her husband, Robert (played by Smith), has fallen apart. As the play progresses, it goes backwards toward the start of the affair, playing with the audience’s consciousness of the tale’s tragic (or, perhaps more accurately, pathetic) ending alongside the continued revelations of new facts and misremembered events.

RELATED: New Austin women-led theater company makes spirited debut

To play these deliciously layered levels of text and subtext requires extremely nuanced performances, and all three actors are more than up to the task. The subtle gestures, facial tics and posture changes of the characters speak volumes amid the famous “Pinter pauses” that litter the text, revealing as much through what remains unsaid as is told in the dialogue. Each character is constantly at odds, hiding secrets from the others as well as from themselves.

The simmering sexuality of the scenes between Jerry and Emma is matched by the quiet resentments of Emma’s relationship with Robert, and Robert’s dual jealousy and deep love of Jerry. Each relationship in this love triangle has its own tragic implications and secret possibilities.

Many of the play’s mysteries remain unresolved at the end, and it is quite possible that audience members — and the actors themselves — may come away with different beliefs about what they saw depending on the particular evening. For a set text to retain that level of spontaneity and individuality is quite a feat, but “Betrayal” pulls it off handily.

With such an accomplished first production under its belt, we can only hope to see continued work of such quality and excitement as Filigree Theatre continues to make itself known throughout Austin.

“BETRAYAL”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 8
Where: Santa Cruz Studio Theatre, 1805 E. Seventh St.
Cost: $30
Information: 512-496-5208, filigreetheatre.com

 

 

Monologue, memoir and stand-up comedy: One-man show tackles loss and language

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.

Jason Phelps stars in “Title and Deed” from Capital T Theatre. Contributed

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