Wolf at the Door
Language is a liquid that defines an object by surrounding its outline with words. Like the classic optical illusion with the faces and the vase, you can choose to see the words or the object, but both are not visible simultaneously. And you can get stuck in the words and not be able to see the shape of the thing they border.
Andi Teran, of Wolf at the Door
photograph by Robert Pandya
Rich, beautiful words in unusual juxtapositions and eloquent phrases simply drip from every available surface in Erik Ehn's Wolf at the Door, currently being produced by the Theatre & Dance Department on the UT campus. The story that the words tell is straightforward: Mel wants the world to give her a perfect day, a day with no mistakes, a day which will culminate in a Martha Stewart meal, full of eloquent conversation and fine food. But her reasons for wanting this meal is the object that the language defines, the concept that can only be described in the spaces where the words aren't.
Shared meals and theatre are both rituals. The act of dining or the act of creating theatre must go beyond the individual elements presented during the ceremony. In your standard holiday meal, each dish means more than the mere cranberries or stuffing it contains. When you can afford to swap a capon for a turkey, you don't. That would be forgetting the leaner times that have come before and the struggle some still have to go through to put just one berry on the table. These are foods that have been served for generations, each somehow representative of the energy, love, and thought that the cook put into it. Each food touches the holidays that have come before.
Wolf at the Door epitomizes this idea. Each action represents something much larger than can be signified tangibly and literally. We need the ritual of performance to give us a glimpse of the vase hidden between the faces because we can't look at it directly while the language is occurring. This underlying meaning is what nourishes us and enhances our belief in community.
But to get this ritual's benefits, the participants must believe in the meal, must trust that it will become more than artful food and take them to the place that they need to go. Everyone involved must surrender to the food given to them by the playwright and trust that the words are strong enough to support the production's weight while still delivering its message. And everyone must be willing to give up their advantages to make the ritual work.
The power of a shared meal is dissipated when you know you have extra, when, unlike Mel and her family, you have not had to scrounge for scraps. When you live with Martha Stewart, you become used to poached salmon on fine china and it becomes meaningless. It ceases to have value beyond the spectacle; the ritual has evaporated.
And when you are able to solve the challenges presented in Ehn's ritual with fairly significant resources and not forced to search for the non-literal meaning lurking behind the language, the result is a spectacular surface -- full of intense performances, stunning designs, and visual poetry -- but the shape underneath the words is cheapened, particularly when the shape is trying to show you, in part, what it means to be deprived. (Adrienne Martini) FINAL WEEKEND! Through Mar 2, Thu-Sat, 8pm, Sun, 2pm, in the Theatre Room, Winship Drama Bldg, on the UT campus. Tickets: $9 ($7 w/UT ID). Running time: 1 hr, 45 min. 471-1444.
For Americans, the war in Vietnam conjures images that range from patriotic fervor to rank disgust. Then there is the wall. The black gash in the earth in Washington, D.C. that serves as a telling reminder of the horror, and honor, felt by all who were affected by the war. Name upon name is etched in the stone; men and women listed in the order in which they died. Charles LaBorde wrote Memorial to coincide with the first anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the play reflects the stories of the participants in that modern catastrophe. The full title of the play, Memorial, an Oral and Theatrical History of Americans in Vietnam, provides a clue to the nature of this challenging script: the play is an anecdotal, episodic retelling of the experiences of six men, but the words could come from so many, living and dead.
Beginning in 1959 (the first year of record on the wall) and spanning the better part of two decades of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Memorial pieces together moments from home with moments from Vietnam, tracing the lives of the six men through their adolescence, their entry into the army (voluntary or conscripted), their tours of duty, and their post-war re-entry into "normal" American life. Augmenting the harrowing and humorous tales of the men are period photographs, the many songs of the era, and reflections of those who did not fight, or could not fight, or would not fight.
For this Austin Community College Drama & Dance Department production, director Evangelous Voutsinas has assembled a young and committed company of nine performers who clearly feel the strength of the script. They tell stories and recount anecdotes with passion and economy, and create rounded characters out of the sparest material. As the young cast describes surviving boot camp, or being dispatched to the war, or a tense battle scene, or the return home, or the pride of serving ("Would I do it all again?" they ask, responding "yes" or "no" with honesty and feeling), they provide a moving commentary of the war and its effects on those who survived it.
The play is epic in proportions and, though predominantly culled from the memories of six men, not truly plot driven. Repetitiveness and an alienating formality in Voutsinas' blocking make some of the first half here rather stale, and the young cast cannot do justice to the melodies of the period. But they make up for it with an evident desire to do justice to the memories of the men, to their loved ones, and to all who have been touched by Vietnam. (Robi Polgar) FINAL WEEKEND! Feb 28 & Mar 1, Fri & Sat, 8pm, in the Gallery Theatre, ACC Rio Grande campus, 1212 Rio Grande. Suggested donation: $5. Running time: 1 hr. 50 min. 223-3245.
MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! takes us to the heart of South Africa under apartheid. Athol Fugard's drama takes a white girl of the middle class and a black boy of the Cookhouse ghetto on a journey from ignorance to knowledge with the help of a teacher, Mr. M. ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY! Feb 28, Fri, 7:30pm, in Evans Auditorium, SWTSU campus, San Marcos. Tickets: $5 ($3 students). 512/245-2308.
FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF is a classic evocation of the experiences of African-American women in modern America. Pro Arts Collective revives Ntosake Shange's rich and dramatic choreopoem with Nicole Eutsey, Marla Fulgham, Andi Galloway, Leslie Mitchell, Trina Walker, Stephanie White, and Kimberly Willis. Boyd Vance directs. THREE PERFORMANCES ONLY! Feb 27-Mar 1, Thu-Sat, 8pm, at Synergy Studio, 1501 W. Fifth St. 454-TIXS.
AFTERLIVES, a play by Deborah Hamilton-Lynne, will be given a salon reading to benefit the Austin Circle of Theatres. The event will take place in the home of artist Lee Cunningham, with hors d`oeuvres and drinks by Happy Foods before the reading and desserts from Chez Zee following it. Norma Alford directs. ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY! Mar 2, Sun, 5:30pm, at the home of Lee Cunningham. Tickets: $20. 454-TIXS.
LIFE IS A DREAM but how does a young prince, unfairly imprisoned by his fearful father, "awake" from it? That's the question facing Segismundo, whose spiritual journey in this Pedro Calderon de la Barca play is the basis for one of the great plays of Spain's Golden Age. Lou Rigler guests for this Mary Moody Northen Theatre show; Melba Martinez directs. FINAL WEEKEND! Through Mar 2, Thu-Sat, 8pm, Sun, 2pm, at MMNT, SEU campus, 3001 S. Congress. Tickets: $10 ($8 seniors, $5 students). 448-8484.
L'ORMINDO is another opera about love, but it's one of the first ever written. In it, Francesco Cavelli takes the tale of two men in love with the same woman and explores the range of emotions involved, in the exquisite flavorings of Italian Baroque music. UT's Early Music Ensemble performs the score for this UT Opera Theatre production, directed by Robert De Simone. FINAL WEEKEND! Feb 28 & Mar 2, Fri, 8pm, Sun, 7pm, in the McCullough Theatre, UT campus. Tickets: $10 ($8 w/UT ID). 471-1444.
PLAYFEST '97 is here to take kids on fantastic journeys through the magic of live performance, with a different experience from a different company each week. This week: Once Upon a Time, a gift to the imagination offered in story and song by Carl and Anderson and Freddy Carnes. Recommended for ages three and older. Running time: 50 min. Through Mar 2, Thu & Fri, 10am, Sat & Sun, 3pm. Next week: Aladdin, a version of the magical adventure acted wholly by marionettes. Produced by The Harms Marionettes. Recommended for ages three and older. Running time: 45 min. Mar 5-9, Wed-Fri, 10am, Sat & Sun, 3pm. All Playfest shows at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. Tickets: $4.50. 454-TIXS.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN is one of the touchstones of our national theatre, a drama of one American family that taps into the American psyche and tell us who we are. Reviving Arthur Miller's drama is Sam Bass Community Theatre. Phil Robinson, B.J. Mahalicek, Mark Brauner, and Brionne Davis star. David Sheriff directs. Through Mar 8, Wed-Sat, 8pm, Sun, 2pm, at Old Depot Theatre, 600 N. Lee, Round Rock. Tickets: $6 Wed/Thu/Sun; $7.50 Fri/Sat. 244-0440.
MY SISTER IN THIS HOUSE dramatizes a notorious murder of 1930s France, one involving two sisters and their intense devotion to each other. Playwright Wendy Kesselman gives their story an enigmatic and haunting air. The Bastrop Opera House revives her play in a production staged by guest director Dale Smith. Through Mar 8, Fri & Sat, 7:30pm, at Bastrop Opera House, 711 Spring, Bastrop. 512/321-6283.
JULIUS CAESAR For anyone whose images of this play are limited to stiff patricians in starched togas bloodlessly droning on about honor, here is a Caesar to see. Director Barry Pineo charges the tragedy with the tension it deserves. His actors -- an unusually well-rounded group given the number -- glower and bark and bristle at each other with vigor, wrangling in raised voices on and off stage. The Bard's words come from their mouths clearly and cleanly, but flavored with fire, so we glean the sense of the Romans' disputes and the acrimony that spurs them on. Their Rome feels like a volcano on the verge of eruption, and when it blows, Pineo depicts this with a striking theatricality that jolts us with pure brute force. Indeed, here, force is the order of the day. Save for the naked heart wrenchingly exposed in Johanna Whitmore's Portia, we're treated to precious little tenderness. That may account for the distance we feel from these characters when they die. In the end, they seem men undone by the relentlessness of their rage, and in that we may find little sympathy. That does not mean that their drama is dry or uninvolving. It seethes and erupts, nearly scalding us with its heat. (Robert Faires) Through Mar 9, Thu-Sun, 8pm, at Planet Theatre, 2307 Manor. Tickets: $12 ($9 w/discount). Running time: 2 hrs, 20 min. 454-TIXS.
YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU Grandpa Vanderhof knows the look of someone caught in the rat race, who isn't doing what he wants or having fun. Once he saw that look in his mirror, and that's why he gave up the workaday life. Late in this George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart play, Grandpa sees that look in Mr. Kirby, father of his granddaughter's intended, and calls him on it. Kirby says he is content, and judging by appearances, he seems to be. But Grandpa knows. Live Oak Theatre at the State revives this favorite with a talented cast well-suited to summoning up the loopy anarchy of the Vanderhof home. They parade through this refuge of free spirits with skill, the story unspooling evenly and on cue. Still, I can't help but wonder what Grandpa would see in this production. All looks well on the surface, but something unsettled can be glimpsed underneath. The design, while pleasing, has a generic feel; director Michael Hankin's staging has an air of the perfunctory to it, doing more to move characters down center and face the audience than relate anything dramatic in the play; and on opening night, most of the actors here betrayed a level of effort in their performances. It's the feeling of artists caught in a rat race, not doing what they want, not having fun. Hardly the spirit of joyful freedom this comedy celebrates. Live Oak could produce a sterling version of this play, but it requires a passion not evident here. (Robert Faires) Through Mar 9, Wed-Sat, 8pm, Sun, 6pm, at the State Theatre, 719 Congress. $15 Wed/Thu/Sun; $17 Fri/Sat ($2 discounts seniors, students). Running time: 2 hrs, 20 min. 472-5143.
RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL I hate musicals. With a passion. All those pathetic little red-haired orphans, feuding farmers and cowhands, amazingly thin dancers in cat suits, and Von Trapp brats, ready to sing their innermost desires at the drop of a tap shoe. Ruthless! The Musical is a musical hater's greatest joy. Creators Marvin Laird and Joel Paley have left no sacred musical cow unkicked in this romp through the world of backstage mothers and backstabbing divas. The show feels as if trailers carrying bus-and-truck tours of The Bad Seed and Little Shop of Horrors, driven by John Waters and RuPaul, collided on a dark freeway. The Zachary Scott Theatre Center production bolsters Laird & Paley's hoot of a script with a fantastic cast. Meredith Robertson's Judy Denmark, mother of Tina, an Andrea McArdle in training, is flawless. Joe York, as Sylvia St. Croix, again proves he's more than a pretty face -- this fella can sing, step, and milk a moment for every last drop of humor. Maddie Gatling as Tina, the child star wannabe you love to hate, can hold her own with these talents, a tribute to her as well as the ministrations of director-choreographer Dave Steakley. Steakley, the man who put the Bee in hive and Forever in plaid, has worked his musical magic again, creating yet another musical even musical haters can enjoy. (Adrienne Martini) HELD OVER! Through Mar 16, Thu-Sat, 8pm, Sun, 2:30pm, at ZSTC, Kleberg Stage, 1421 Riverside Dr. Tickets: $18 Thu/Sun; $22 Fri/Sat. Running time: 2 hrs, 15 min. 476-0541.
SHEAR MADNESS A show does not make it through 400 performances, like Shear Madness at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, unless folks come see it again and again. Folks keep coming to this Marilyn Abrams/Bruce Jordan brainchild because the show can be quite different every time you go. The audience is asked to solve a crime committed in Tony Whitcomb's salon, and the ending is determined by audience vote. For this revival, director Alice Wilson has assembled a great cast. Patricia Wappner, as Barbara, positively sparkles, as do Leslie Bonnell's costumes. David Stokey's Eddie Lawrence oozes across the stage while Sylvia Reeves' Mrs. Schubert bristles along behind him. Ever-confident Dan Sullivan and twitchy Jesson Hunt seem prepared for whatever Jeff Shaevel's over-the-top Tony can throw at them. The show may not deal with deep issues facing late 20th-century man, but it is a carefully crafted and slickly produced hoot that will make you forget about all of those problems for a few hours while you watch a cast having a great time. (Adrienne Martini) HELD OVER! Through Mar 16, Fri & Sat, 8pm, Sun, 2:30pm, at ZSTC, Whisenhunt Arena Stage, 1510 Toomey Rd. Tickets: $18 Sun; $22 Fri/Sat. Running time: 2 hrs. 476-0541.
SHERLOCK HOLMES lives again! The lights are back on at 221B Baker Street, where the sleuth is working to trap Professor Moriarty, "the Napoleon of crime." But what happens when Holmes must face falling in love? The Public Domain revives its 1994 staging of William Gillette's play, with Michelle Polgar directing, Michael Stuart as Moriarty, and Robert Faires as Holmes. Preview Feb 27, Thu, 8pm (Pay What You Wish). Feb 28-Apr 5, Thu-Sat, 8pm, Mar 16, Sun, 2pm, at The Public Domain, 807 Congress. Tickets: $5 Thu; $12 Fri/Sat ($10 seniors, students, ACoT). 474-6202.
GHOSTLY DREAD AT THE DRISKILL sets the Capital City Mystery Players' comedy whodunit among the haunted halls of the historic hotel. It's a "spirited" way to enjoy dinner in a local landmark, match your wits against some of the city's savviest performers, solve a crime, and have a good time. Ongoing, Sat, 7pm, at the Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos. Tickets: $45. 474-5911, x5236.
CAFE BREMOND offers cabaret in a cozy room, with wine, beer, and appetizers worthy of a fine restaurant served with renditions of romantic standards that are stylish to the point of rapture. This week, enjoy Karen Kuykendall & Sterling Price-McKinney. Sun, 6pm, at Bremond House, 404 W. Seventh. Tickets: $10. 482-0411.
LATER AT LIVE OAK CABARET offers uptown musical entertainment into the lobby of the State, courtesy of Live Oak Theatre. A rotating roster of artists provide jazz, standards, and show tunes. This week, jazz rules as silky vocalist Pam Hart performs. Boni Hester hosts. Sat, 10:30pm, at the State Theatre, 719 Congress. Tickets: $5. 472-5143.
KGSR 107.1 Weekly Theatre Update is on every Thursday morning with Kevin Connor. At 8am, Chronicle editor Robert Faires discusses what's happening in the week in Austin theatre.
Theatre Classes, Etc.
Austin Theatre for Youth Seeks Faculty for Summer Academy. Needed: artists experienced in working with young people & teaching theatre. Directing experience a plus. Session runs Jun 2-28. Salary competitive. Teachers needed for creative drama classes (children 5-7), Jul 7-Aug 1. Deadline: Feb 28. Send letter & resumé to: Austin Theatre for Youth, PO Box 26794, Austin, TX 78755.
Improvisation Workshops are being led by Laura Smith, who has worked with members of Saturday Night Live, Second City, and the Groundlings. Space limited. Mar 9 & 23, Sun, 1-4pm. 12593 Research, #101. 219-9428.
Linda White Loyd offers private acting lessons, beginning to advanced levels, in stage, film, and commercial work. A member of Equity and SAG, Loyd has studied with Lee Strasberg and worked with Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. 447-1281.
Half-Price Tickets to many area performing arts events are available through AusTix, a half-price ticket service. Just drop by the big AusTix booth in BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar (11:30am-6:30pm, Wed-Sat) on the day of performance to see what shows have half-price tix for sale. 454-HALF.
The Box Office provides one-stop shopping for tickets to many area music, dance, and theatre productions. Just drop by the AusTix booth in BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar (11:30am-6:30pm, Wed-Sat) to purchase tickets or call the easy-to-remember Box Office number: 454-TIXS.
Deviant Craft, a play by David Hancock: Mar 1, Sat, 10am-1pm, at Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd. The production is being directed by Matthew Wilder and will run May 29-Jun 21 at Hyde Park Theatre. Produced by Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre. By appointment. 419-7408, x2.
Zoot Suit, by Luis Valdez: Mar 1, Sat, at the John Henry Faulk Theatre in the American Institute for Learning, Fourth & Brazos. Casting all colors, shapes, genders. Actors should prepare a monologue (2 min) and bring resumé and photo. The productions will run this spring at the Faulk Theatre. Produced by Third Coast Repertory Theatre. By appointment. 916-3473.
curst and Shrewd, a multi-textual riff on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew: Mar 1 & 2, Sat & Sun. Actors in this process-oriented production will incorporate their own found texts into the final script. Rehearsals begin in March. The production will run in August at Hyde Park Theatre. Produced by Rude Mechanicals. By appointment. 474-8660.
Lend Me a Tenor, a comedy by Ken Ludwig: Mar 2, Sun, 2-4pm, and Mar 3, Mon, 7-9pm, at the Old Depot Stage, 600 N. Lee, Round Rock. Roles available for four women and four men. Auditions will consist of cold readings from the script. Resumé requested but not required. The production will be directed by Lynn Beaver and run Apr 11-26 at the Old Depot Stage. Produced by Sam Bass Community Theatre. 244-0440.
Texas Flood, a low-budget independent film. Needed: actors of all ages (children to seniors) and all races, especially little people and actors with disabilities. The film is being directed by David Layton and shooting begins this summer. Actors should send cover letter (noting birthdate, union affiliation, agent, special skills, etc.), photo, resumé, and video (3 min or less) to: Tom Chamberlain, 4804 Ave G, Austin, TX 78751.