Review: “FoxFire” at Theatre Three

Review:  “FoxFire” at Theatre Three

We all give lip service to slowing the pace of life to craft a more genuine “smell the roses” experience. In the meantime, we robotically consume over-caffeinated, over-priced, lattes, complain about gridlock traffic and politics while ingesting never-ending streams of social media, sitcoms and talking heads. Does the pace and focus of modern life enhance its meaning, or are most of us missing out on something more authentic?

Theatre Three’s production of “FoxFire” delivered a genuine and inspired performance exploring this time-honored debate of “tradition” versus “innovation” with quiet sophistication and grace. Audiences here found a comfortable, welcoming space for an introspective journey examining where we’ve come from and where we’re heading.

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Review: “The Manufactured Myth of Eveline Flynn” at Theatre Three

Review:  “The Manufactured Myth of Eveline Flynn” at Theatre Three

“The Manufactured Myth of Eveline Flynn” at Theatre Three took the audience on an emotionally-charged, whirlwind journey through the shifting life, and mind, of self-described daydreamer, Eveline Flynn, played by the vibrant Lauren LeBlanc. This production not only traverses some uncharted waters, but it also does so with a unique flair and fresh perspective which breathes life into its characters in an accessible way.

Created by talented Dallasites Michael Federico and Ian Ferguson, “The Manufactured Myth of Eveline Flynn” places the audience inside the imaginative mind of a woman searching for meaning and connection while slipping in and out of a turbulent inner world. At first, we believe she’s an eccentric escapist but quickly come to discover that there’s much more to her story.

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Review: 'Fix Me, Jesus' at Theatre Three

Charlie Bowles

What is the price of having extremist political opinions on the children of a family? If children are what they see and hear growing up, can they be faulted for the outcomes in their own lives?

It was the beginning of a recession in Dallas, which had flowered for decades with oil and real estate booms, but by the mid-80s big oil moved to Houston and real estate dried up. Ronald Regan’s presidency caused a political sea change from a strong democratic stronghold in Dallas to the solid red state conservatism that rules today. For those who were in the money and part of the Dallas political machine, the recession hit hard, financially and emotionally, and the political winds of change came as a shock.

Fix Me, Jesus is a comic look at this time of Dallas history through the eyes of author, Helen Sneed. Her own life in Texas politics gave her a unique inside view of the families who were caught up in this turmoil. Fix Me, Jesus, which premiered in late 2013 opened its Southwestern Premier at Theatre Three in the Quadrangle tonight, which is a bit surprising since the action takes place in Neiman Marcus at Northpark mall in 1986. It’s been a long time coming home.

Annabell Armstrong is trying to find independence from her family and some political power in her beloved Democratic Party. Yet in a moment of existential crisis in the women’s dressing room, she finds her political career, love life, finances, and family are failing. And in the process, she discovers a cast of uninvited and largely unwanted memories who remind her of why she’s in this situation. The lessons are comical, shocking and touching.

Emily Scott Banks directed Fix Me, Jesus. Her choices for designers and production crew created a great setting, the Neiman Marcus dressing room where Annabell spent much of her childhood. Bruce R. Coleman, as scenic designer, and his crew of builders and painters filled the stage floor with a believable dressing room. I know this because I went in some of those in my younger days in the 80s. With pink and gray checkerboard tile flooring, gray leather seating benches and urn like sculptures next to silvered floor-length mirrors, the look set an immediate tone for high decadence and consumerism that was the style of Dallas then. Is it all that different today? This setting was then filled by Jennifer Woodward, Props Master, with various design items and props that showed visually the accoutrements of Annabell’s life.

Carl Munoz’s lighting made this set very bright and brought out its subtle colors. He also created a see-through mirror in a dressing room doorway to allow characters from the past entry to the set. Andi Allen’s sound design included music of the 80s and sound effects from the mall, especially store announcements from Neiman Marcus. I don’t know who the recorded announcer was, but he was believable and his announcements provided important time and context for the story.

Ryan Matthieu Smith designed costumes with the challenge that this was Neiman Marcus, the mecca for elegant dress in Dallas, and these people used the ritzy super store like most people use Target or Walmart today. Annabell wanted to find a dress for an evening gala, and there were a lot to try on. Party dresses, luxury dresses, elegant evening gowns, fur coats, with many colors and styles, they were always coming and going and Annabell was not finding any. There was a mother, who wore various types of rich looking dresses, especially her purple silk gown with gaudy diamond necklace, and a grandmother who most always wore black, though very rich black. Annabell as a child wore numerous little pieces that told us Annabell was used to fancy clothing from the beginning.

Emily Scott Banks also cast a group of actors who could take on the personalities of these flawed characters and provide shocking revelations all the while making us laugh about them. Only Annabell and Mrs. Craig were real during the time of this play. The rest of the characters were flash-backs to as early as 1963 or as late as a few days before the night in Neiman Marcus. The director had to integrate these memory characters into the action that was happening on this night, and this mostly happened by suspending the adult Annabell, though there were times when characters played out scenes from an earlier time or even interacted with her in the current time. But the time shifting all worked, as I never lost touch with what was current and what was in a previous time.

Mother, that is Annabell’s mother, played by Sherry Hopkins, was caught up in the political machine of her own family and had to scratch for independence while living in the lap of luxury. Hopkins did a good job of giving Mother a lot of unstated resentments against her husband and her daughter, along with a rash of effects from growing up with her own mother, called Grandmother in this story. With a steady diet of criticism about weight and looks aimed at Annabell from an early age, Hopkins showed us the origin of some of the challenges in Annabell’s life, one that reared its ugly head in the dressing room in Neiman Marcus. In time, Hopkins revealed Mother’s own inner crisis and the origins of her deepest fears about her husband, as she first confides in her own mother, with disastrous results and then as she provides advice to her own daughter, again with disastrous results. But through Hopkins’ emotional range we could see her quietly seething about her life under her tough exterior.

Shane Beeson played Doctor Maxwell Feld, a New Yorker who came to Texas to put his own form of psychological therapy into practice. Feld was experiencing his own family and professional crises and those affected Annabell. Beeson played Feld as a low-key doctor-type with calm voice and minimal movement, but his therapy with Annabell changed him too and Beeson showed this self-delusion and subsequent turmoil in the doctor’s feelings for Annabell, his patient.

Young Annabell was played by Sydney Noelle Pitts, a beautiful, precocious 5th grader with a real sense and comfort for the stage. While characterization of Young Annabell was mostly as recipient of vitriol by her Mother or Grandmother, Pitts seemed to have a presence on-stage that allowed us to fully accept her real and imagined appearances. I particularly liked how she handled timeline shifts as she sometimes came in during an earlier time and sometime during that night in the dressing room. In some ways, the memory of Young Annabell was a comfort and advisor to adult Annabell.

Brandi Andrade played Mrs. Craig, the Neiman Marcus sales lady who had worked with Annabell and her family for decades and knew the soul of Annabell more than anyone. Andrade gave Mrs. Craig just the right amount of deference to Annabell and her family as customers and cultural superiors, but showed an equal amount of love and care, and a bit of tough love, for Annabell. Mrs. Craig was Annabell’s mentor and maybe the only one who loved her for who she was. In time we learned of Mrs. Craig’s own crisis of conscience, but we identified with her completely because Andrade infused her with the spirit of a spiritual guide, albeit one who deals in $3,000 dresses.

I think the most difficult role was played by Gene Raye Price. Grandmother was the grand dame of the family, a political powerhouse in the community. She wielded an enormous weight with Annabell as the child grew and we began to see the origin of both Mother’s and Annabell’s emotional turmoil. Grandmother was everything Archie Bunker aspired to, but was much more expansive in her prejudice against everyone. Her bible and sole example of virtuous living was “Gone With the Wind,” the true description of Southern living. Price had the challenge of saying the vitriol all of us swear we never would think in a way that was believable. I applaud her success. Grandmother’s constant stream of judgements against every group or class of people who were known in the 80s was very uncomfortable in the audience, yet there was just enough humor included in Sneed’s text that we could laugh about it a bit while squirming. I’d like to think that if you were alive in this audience, you were insulted by something she said. And Price sold it. I don’t think there was a moment of shock that I thought was a put-on by Grandmother. It all seemed to be part of her persona, and an explanation of why Mother and Annabell had such emotional scars to overcome.

Brett Warner was Annabell, the child of this dysfunctional family. The crisis of the evening was about choosing a dress, something we could laugh off if we hadn’t seen it so often in shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Hot Wives of (insert name of town here). But we learned in time that the issues were much bigger than a dress. Warner showed us the actions of a nervous and self-loathing, but up and coming, powerhouse in Dallas democratic politics. Her father, who never appears, is none-the-less a powerful motivator for Annabell’s life and actions. He’s the one she most needs to love her, though there’s a tryst with the therapist to substitute for Father. I’m not sure who was the more anti-hero, Grandmother or the unseen Father. Neither author Sneed nor Warner, in her character choices, made this clear, so we were left to decide on our own who was the biggest threat against her. But Warner played out Annabell’s meltdown, which neared death, with great passion. Annabell’s self-deprecating and painfully funny pronouncements to Mrs. Craig both revealed her underlying hurt, while making us laugh at the situation.

Perhaps a motivation of showing this play right now was the political climate we’re experiencing. For Annabelle, who is steeped in democratic politics, the major crisis came after an election in which her get-out-the-vote efforts embarrassed the family and especially her father. And yet, it was the political speech Warner gave as Annabell before a large black church that thrilled me, and maybe Warner’s shining moment. Her political speech reminded me that I wish more of our candidates talked like that. Her moment of deepest despair with a gun in her hand was also poignant, viscerally scary, and powerful as a possible outcome of any existential crisis we may experience. I think Brett Warner may have been the perfect actor to play this part. 

This story started out to be a bit fluffy, a cute little story about a funny night in Neiman Marcus. It set me back when the story turned both sad and a little dangerous. Fix Me, Jesus, was not fluffy and it wasn’t about Jesus. It was about the human side of prejudice, the dysfunction of families and the devastating effects on children. It was about political discourse and how even reasonable people can disagree violently with people they love. And it was also a funny look at a time in Dallas that wasn’t that long ago, but seems so distant now.

I don’t know how anyone else will react to this story and I think it’s open to different interpretations. But I do think anyone who sees it will walk away thinking of their own lives or those of people they know. It will cause them to think, long after it’s over. Make a date to see Fix Me, Jesus at Theatre Three.

Review: 'The Glass Menagerie' at Theatre Three

Genevieve Croft

Written by one of the greatest playwrights of the American Theatre, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie opens the 54th season at Theatre Three with success. With a story and characters that mimic Williams own life, Williams put a bit of his own life into the story’s protagonist, Tom. Since its premiere, audiences have been drawn into the story of the Wingfield family. A favorite among educational and professional theatre companies, there have also been several film adaptations of The Glass Menagerie, with the most recognizable being in 1950 with Jane Wyman as Laura, and Kirk Douglas as the Gentleman Caller, Jim. No matter what the medium, The Glass Menagerie continues to entertain, and William’s work lives on in the theatre-no matter how big or small.

Set in the 1940’s, and told mostly as memory play-Tom Wingfield recalls and shares memories of his mother, Amanda, and his older sister, Laura. The three share a small, dingy apartment in St. Louis as Amanda longs for the comforts and admirations she remembers from her days as a fêted debutante. She worries about the future of her daughter, Laura, a young woman with a limp (after a bout of pleurisy [pronounced as pleurosis in the play]) and a tremendous amount of insecurity and shyness about the outside world. Tom does the best to support the family, while he is faced with the boredom and banality of everyday life. Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura (or as she puts it- a “gentleman caller”), and pressures Tom to find a suitor for Laura. Tom invites home an acquaintance from work for dinner, much to the delight of his mother.

Set Designer Bruce Richard Coleman nicely transformed Theatre Three’s Norma Young Arena Stage into the small apartment of the Wingfield family. I was impressed with his attention to detail, using wonderful period props to dress the set while also creating a very intimate space for audiences. I was also impressed with Coleman’s overall vision and design. One of the gems was the use of levels that Mr. Coleman incorporated into his scenic design, allowing the audience to experience the different areas of the Wingfield home. I loved how something so simple could really draw the audience into the play. These playing areas provided effective stage pictures of a simplistic life when families joined together for dinner at the table, read the newspaper and listened to phonographs on the record player. It was an excellent way to transform the remaining space into the time period.

Lighting was designed by Lisa Miller. There are few things a lighting designer can implement in such a straightforward play to represent day and night. However, I felt the mood was established and consistent throughout the course of the play. There were some lovely silhouettes that were established giving the allusion of a dark inner personality of each of these characters. I especially enjoyed seeing a very tender scene between Laura and Jim, in a darkened room (lit by low warm candlelight-in the midst of a loss of electricity in the plot). At times, I feel that lighting can be an afterthought in such a straight production; however, Ms. Miller really brought some nice details (window lighting, and transition lighting to demonstrate a pause in Tom’s memory as he recalls the events for the audience). 

Assisting the lighting and set, sound designer Rich Frohlich carried through with his selection of music throughout the play. I especially appreciated his vast selection of songs. I believe music can make or break a play, allowing the audience to experience the setting, mood and theme of a production. It was nice to hear the quintessential sounds of the Big Band Era, allowing audiences to travel back to the 1940’s, when Benny Goodman ruled the radio. As an audiophile, I was greatly satisfied by the library of songs Frohlich selected and chose to take audiences back to 1940’s. The instrumental underscoring of each scene was also a nice touch to enhance the emotion to each scene. 

In addition to direction and scenic design, Coleman also designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. I especially enjoyed the dress that Amanda wore in the second act-a wonderful example of her days as the belle of Southern charm. In contrast to her mother’s dress, Laura was dressed in a lovely more modern 1940’s dress with blue flowers-an allusion to her nickname that is mentioned throughout the story. Costumes were visually appealing, and were well executed.

Allison Pistorius was very remarkable in the role of Laura Wingfield. Through facial expressions, voice, and a youthful appearance, Pistorius convincingly portrayed the twenty-something, painfully shy young girl with the innocence of a child, lost in the world of her glass animal collection. Ms. Pistorius had some wonderful and complex moments with her gentleman caller, Jim (played wonderfully by Sterling Gafford) in the penultimate scene of the play, giving her character more depth and dimension.

Another standout performance was Connie Coit in the role of Amanda, a faded Southern Belle seeking to regain her glory days, and to marry off her daughter. Ms. Coit was very powerful as the matriarch of the Wingfield family, with incredible chemistry with Tom (played impressively by Blake Blair). Not only did Coit come across as the domineering mother figure, but also provided the appropriate dose of comedy to many of the most intense and dramatic scenes.

Theatre Three’s production of The Glass Menagerie is definitely worth seeing. The meticulous care for detail is evident in all aspects of the production, and makes for a wonderful experience. This is a classic of the American Theatre, and Theatre Three’s production does not disappoint. The Glass Menagerie has entertained audiences for generations, and launched Tennessee Williams’ career as one of the great American playwrights.


THE GLASS MENAGERIE
Theatre Three
2800 Routh Street Suite 168 (in the Quadrangle), Dallas, Texas 75201
Through August 23

Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30pm
Hooky Matinee-Wednesday, August 12th at 2:00 pm
Saturday Matinee-August 22nd at 2:30 pm
(Note: Only one Saturday Matinee per show)

Tickets prices are $35.00 and $32.00 for seniors 65+. Student tickets are $17.50. For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theatre3dallas.com or call their box office at 214-871-3300.

Review: 'The Liar' at Theatre Three

 Scott W. Davis  

Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The seventeenth century brought us a ton of talent. It started with Shakespeare and moved on to Moliere, both my favorite Renaissance playwrights. Shakespeare took England by storm while Moliere was one of three of the best French writers, joining with Racine, and yes Corneille. Pierre Corneille was born in 1606 in Rouen, France. At eighteen he actually studied to be a lawyer but proved extremely unsuccessful. He then turned to writing. His first show, “Mélite”, was performed by a traveling group that immediately added it to their repertoire. The show became a huge hit in Paris and Corneille was off as a writer. 

The Liar, or Le Menteur, opened for the first time in Paris in 1644. It ran for ages without any changes, but in the 1800’s an un-credited English adaptation surfaced that was used for years. David Ives took on translating the original piece in the late 2000’s and premiered his work in 2010 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. under the direction of Michael Kahn. This was the birth of the Liar as now performed. 

The time is 1634 and the show opens with Doronte, a professional liar, meeting two women at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. Unfortunately, Doronte gets the women’s names mixed up, one fair maiden becomes betrothed to another man, and the mix up creates all kinds of craziness. Does Doronte prevail and win the hand of the right women in the end? 

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the acting area was the minimalistic set. There were a couple of benches and a pedestal center stage, and a scene setting up above one of the entrances, but that was it. Jac Alder went extremely stark on the set pieces. The set was painted in a very unrealistic way so as to add to the comedic value. Everything was painted in a base white but then glazed over with color to tint it ever so slightly. 

Theatre Three

Theatre Three

The true brilliance of B.J. Cleveland was seen from the beginning. Clinton, Doronte’s butler, enters and proceeds to give the curtain speech the way a 17th century French butler would. It was written in verse, as close to Alexandrine as possible. Mr. Cleveland’s direction of this classic play was flawless. He stays true to the story as written. Yes, there were little things here and there that reminded we weren’t in the Renaissance era. 

While his directing was great, the work of his design team matched his effort one hundred percent. Lighting, sound, and costumes supported the beauty of the show. 

Amanda West’s lighting design transported the audience back in time with some interesting color mixing. While there was the normal warm and cool general wash to illuminate the acting area, it was the down lights’ saturated color that really made the scenes. Day or night, you could always tell the timeline throughout the play. The use of templates really helped enhance and give depth to the acting area. Another thing I loved was her use of isolation during the show. There were probably four to five entrances I never noticed because of it. 

The sound design definitely helped keep things moving. Rich Frohlich added touches of underscoring music between scenes to keep things fresh. I was a little scared during preshow when I heard music that reminded me of a bad interpretation of the old band “Yaz”, but the minute the show started the music was well chosen and blended with each scene. 

I have saved the best design for last. Bruce R. Coleman’s costumes amazed me. Each piece started out as white satin, muslin or corduroy. Mr. Coleman then created different color palettes for each character - purple, red and yellow, green, blue, etc. - by hand coloring them with paint or dye. Not only was I impressed by the craftsmanship that went into making them, the costumes looked incredible. You had to get up close to really see they intricacy in the costumes manufacturing. I was constantly looking at the amount of detail put into each costume. It’s been a long time since I was enamored by costumes like I was with these. 

Another area where Mr. Cleveland’s direction shone was in his blocking. He kept the actors moving just enough to give the audience a 360 degree view of each scene, a pivotal task when doing plays in the round. And the casting was equally on target, every character being completely believable. 

Clinton, portrayed by Michael Kreitzinger, is the first character to enter. Through the play he had the best facial expressions. I think I counted at least six exaggerated jaw drops in the first act alone, and each time I laughed. Mr. Kreitzinger played Clinton more on the masculine side, where his counterpart played a little more feminine, so that both played off each other well.

Kreitzinger’s counterpart, Doronte, is portrayed by Zak Reynolds. You believe in this character from the first moment you see him onstage. Mr. Reynolds glided across the stage like he was in the chorus of a musical. He was on stage almost the entire time. Reynolds never failed in his lines, and his flowing limbs accentuated the flow of his body as he flowed across the stage. I had a blast watching him.

Theatre Three

Theatre Three

Jenna Anderson plays Clarice, the girl Doronte mistakes for Lucrece, and hers is another performance worth applauding. Ms. Anderson was the best as far as projection went. She over-emphasized the part perfectly, making her character slightly annoying but hilarious at the same time. Liz Millea plays Lucrece, friend to Clarice. Wow, Ms. Millea’s made her presence known each time she hit the stage. What I loved about her performance was her ability to interact with every character on stage. With her height and beauty she was hard to miss, but it was her line delivery that impressed me the most. Impeccable. You rarely saw Clarice and Lucrece apart and that was a good thing. These two played so well off of each other it looked like they had known each other for years.

Isabelle and Sabine are both played by Suzanna Catherine Cox, and hers was another incredible performance. Mr. Coleman’s costume change for the two characters was a subtle removal of a lace piece over her bosom. The transformation had to be done by the actress herself and Ms. Cox was brilliant with it. She played Sabine as staunch, straight, and stern, each entrance almost a military march to her mark. Oppositely, Isabelle was loose and frolicked around the stage. What a wonderful job in contrasting these two parts. 

Geronte is Doronte’s father and is portrayed by Bradley Campbell. The first thing I said to the person next to me was, “He’d be a great Charlemagne in Pippin”. A great, fabulously deep commanding voice came out of this actor. His spritely movements around the stage made the character seem a bit young for the part, but every time that thought came into my head his booming voice would come and change that. 

Alcippe and Philiste are the last two in this interwoven comedy, portrayed by Dustin Curry and by David Goodwin respectively. These two play completely opposite characters. Alcippe is over the top in everything he does and Mr. Curry took the character to the edge and dangled him. Everything to Alcippe is the end of the world and Mr. Curry was brilliant in achieving that. In almost every entrance had him running in, and his ability to contort his face while others were talking to him had me rolling with laughter. Philiste, on the other hand, is a little more down to earth. I liked Mr. Goodwin’s performance equally, and he played extremely well off of Mr. Curry. Mr. Goodwin did a fabulous job playing a character that is more subtle and reserved, a performance sometimes more difficult than being the lead. 

The Liar is a brilliantly written classic which one doesn’t get a lot of chances to see anymore. I have been a theatre history buff ever since college (a long time ago) and truly believe these plays need to be produced more so that the art form never dies. Theatre Three’s production is professional, funny, and extremely well done. The Liar is a wonderful piece of history brought back to life in the 21st century. Whether you are a theatre student, an actor, or a theatre lover, this should be a must on your list.