The Ravaging: Seeds of a Biting Work

Planet Theatre
through June 28
Running Time: 1 hr, 15 min

One drop of water can be a flood on parched ground. One misplaced cigarette can be a flash fire in dry grass. One sip of alcohol can be the beginning of the end for an alcoholic. And one stranger's kiss can transform a marriage.

Julia Edwards' The Ravaging, a new play being produced by Salvage Vanguard Theater at Planet Theatre, traces the transformations of four characters stuck like collected butterflies on the vast, dry plain that is drought-ridden Huntsville. Each archetypal character has his or her own pattern to repeat until the storm comes, a gullywasher that breaks apart this family at odds with their past and future disappointments.

Director Jason Neulander has once again assembled a talented cast that seems uniquely suited to their respective roles. Roxy Becker as Maggie, the hausfrau who can't stop talking, controls the stage like she controls her husband, Max, excellently played by Donald Sneed. Maggie's wild-child sister, Veronica, is manically acted by Andi Teran and Travis York delightfully oozes across the stage as Curtis Cash, Veronica's new groom. The design elements, such as Christopher T.W. Cayce's lights and Neulander's sound, seamlessly work with the production and its choice of a boxing match frame.

Despite all this talent, Edwards' script just isn't quite up to par, which is not to condemn it or call it meritless. The seeds of a biting work have sprouted in Edwards' pages and you can see their leafy green tendrils pushing toward the sky. But it feels as if too many seeds were planted too close together. The playwright must now decide which to prune so that the others may grow into maturity. Yes, there are scenes that really succeed, that are able to catapult the actors into their characters and the audience into the performance. But others are still struggling to find out what the meaning is behind the wealth of words and references.

Still, this is the kind of work on which Salvage Vanguard thrives: vibrant and immediate and ready to jump off of the stage and into your lap. At times, it does, when it concentrates on the one element that will push it over the edge. - Adrienne Martini

Aberrations: Just a Tad Weird

Artists' Coalition of Austin Gallery@ArtPlex,
through June 21

Given artist Steve Brudniak's techno-bizarro esthetic (which I much admire), the idea of an exhibition juried by him sounded promising. The result, "Aberrations," did not disappoint. Peering through the glass door into the Artists' Coalition of Austin's two-room gallery felt a little like watching outtakes from the movie Alien.

"Unconventional beauty, unconventional wisdom, and unconventional technique in Central Texas art," say the wall graphics. That about covers it. Overall, the 40 artists chosen from amongst 76 who submitted slides are material-sensitive, art-historically aware, and just a tad weird. While I believe that the strongest works in the show use traditional craft media (clay, fiber, metal) and found objects in unconventional ways, "juror's choice" recognition went to Amy Albracht for Pieta(I), a pale encaustic painting canvas, with imagery floating just below the surface. Not a bad choice, but her installation called Spring was more fun.

Also worthy of close inspection are Marisa Nunez's Swallow (a tiny pencil drawing with thread sewn on paper), Dianne Reeves' Morada de la Penitencias (mixed media construction), and Offene Turen II (concrete, wire, and wood) by Eric Krause. In the "I know these are tools but can't imagine what they do" category, consider the nicely crafted Implements of Unknown Function I-V by Jamie Kimmel Shelton, as well as The Trouble With Things, a broom-shovel by David B. Atherton.

Besides having the best artist's name, Benne E. Rockett exhibits some of the most eloquent work. Near-life size constructions resembling seamstress' dummies examine, according to the artist, the prevention of human rights violations. These Scarecrows are layered; the meaning is layered as well. Ginger Geyer's Does Your Make-Up Drawer Look Like This?, a porcelain construction, and Boiled and Prick Head by Edmund Martinez rely on edgy humor, while John Sager's small assemblage evokes Cornel's boxes, and assemblages by Peter Velasquez remind me of the curator's oeuvre. Priscilla Robinson's Open/Close evidences her expertise with handmade paper and transcends the more decorative work she's produced. And there's more. Too much more. The show falls flat when it tries to embrace too many techniques and materials. The photographs and some paintings ought to have been saved for another show, providing a less crowded exhibition of fewer, more carefully chosen works. - Rebecca S. Cohen

New Paintyings by Jimmy Jalapeeno: Fooling with Mother Nature

Lyons Matrix Gallery
through July 26

Once again Jimmy Jalapeeno has dished up a surprising collection, though not the kind of surprise I expected. After creating such a hullabaloo back in 1994 with his medley of Twilight Zone-esque works - his "wacky landscapes" with numerous "vanishing points" - I thought Jalapeeno might really go over the edge with this exhibition. Martians and cloned amphibians mingling in a field of bluebonnets and palm trees, perhaps?

I was wrong. This exhibition more closely resembles the straightforward landscapes he produced for years before the `94 show. With that exhibit, Jalapeeno's startling and bizarre juxtaposition of incompatible landscapes and multi-dimensional scenarios left most critics grinning with regard, but many of his collectors furrowing their brows in disapproval, longing to see more of Jalapeeno's trademark Impressionist-style work.

Perhaps that's why he returned to more familiar pastures with this collection. Not only are the works on display here missing the garbage bag-strewn lawn and disrobing figures that so shocked the establishment three years ago, they're downright simple. And pretty. Jalapeeno certainly knows how to capture nature on canvas, moving deftly from thick oils to translucent watercolors to depict familiar Hill Country scenarios. With his distinctly Impressionist technique, Jalapeeno is like the Monet of Austin, exploring the countless effects of the blazing Texas sunlight and the games it plays on streams of water and clusters of trees.

But don't think Jalapeeno has completely abandoned his off-kilter designs. He has simply chosen a more subtle means of incorporating them into his work. It's often so subtle that you may not even notice, although in a few works, such as Neo Creek, a little of the Jalapeeno playfulness is evident. At first glance, the oil painting appears perfectly normal: A creek rests alongside a trail, each bounded by a wall of foliage. But look more closely. The two ends of the trail are different in texture and color, and the creek seems to climb up the greenery. The work suddenly appears to be two landscapes that have been fused together - a custom Jalapeeno Greenbelt, if you will.

Such complexities in other works aren't so obvious, but once you realize that Jalapeeno is playing tricks on you, weird little nuances begin to pop out of the seemingly traditional works. In Red Bridge, where does the bridge begin and end? In Red Bud, why is the brilliant, blossoming tree surrounded by dead, leafless trees? These ironies are so subtle, they may just be in your mind - possibly Jalapeeno getting the last laugh.

- Cari Marshall

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