The Austin Chronicle Guide to SXSW 2017

This Feather House

An award-winning new script is staged with passion, but the show doesn't quite come together


This Feather House

Casa De Luz, 1706 Toomey
Through Sept. 22
Running Time: 2 hr., 20 min.

As any theatre practitioner knows, mounting a play sometimes feels like slicing open a down pillow and trying to catch all the feathers before they hit the ground. It's a deluge of different components in free fall: rehearsals, lighting, costumes, ticket sales, sleepless nights, and so on. And when you're producing the world premiere of an award-winning script, you add a few more pillows' contents to the flurry. In the first full production of local playwright Linda Ramsey's This Feather House, Dys Theatre and Lucky Chaos Theater Project are, alas, able to master only some of these moving parts.

This Feather House received national notice in 2007 as the first recipient of the Wasserstein Prize, an award named for the Pulitzer winner that honors an up-and-coming female playwright. There is indeed much to appreciate about the play, an alternately poetic and paralyzingly awkward dramatization of the relationship between Yoshiko, a cheerful aura therapist who judges men based on their birthday and whether they have a foreskin, and her easily embarrassed daughter Jackie, trying to climb the corporate ladder and edging uncertainly toward her 30s. It's refreshing to see Asian-Americans onstage without pretense or stereotype, a testament to Ramsey's Japanese heritage. As Yoshiko, Leng Wong brims with funny, honest energy, and Ramsey, as Jackie, exudes the mousy tension of being caught between two cultures.

Sincere though this mother-daughter relationship is, it's not quite enough to sustain This Feather House. Despite supertitles at the onset of each scene, a confusing chronology makes the story difficult to follow, especially where Jackie's intermittent love interest Elliot (a goofy Steven Alford) is concerned. The play might work on paper, but onstage here, the basic dramatic arc is unclear. I was never sure where we were going or for whom I was rooting, crucial components that were just out of reach.

This Feather House is hit and miss in the design department, too. Co-directors Michael Ferstenfeld and Lindsay McKenna succeed in turning a small classroom at Casa De Luz into an intimate performance space, and a smooth soundtrack and the clever use of overhead projectors to display local artist Todd Mein's cute live doodles almost drown out the time-consuming scene changes. Unfortunately, the nontraditional space creates a lighting challenge that designer Steve Shirey can't fix: Harsh stage lights create distracting, unflattering shadows that often obscure the actors' faces.

The production certainly has passion behind it, but when everything settles, This Feather House has missed something.

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This Feather House, Linda Ramsey, Dys Theatre, Lucky Chaos Theater Project, Michael Ferstenfeld, Lindsay McKenna, Leng Wong, Todd Mein

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