Refreshingly Unfamiliar: Uncommon Congruity
through September 5
Botanical images run rampant in the pieces here, and they're depicted in a wide range of techniques and styles. The earthy works include those of Susan Davidoff, who uses charcoal, clay, and gesso on wrinkly, handmade paper to depict dark, shadowy flora. Margie Crisp's works include a linocut of a brilliant, yellow prickly poppy, and somber, dark etchings of landscapes. Stacy Erickson's two wide oils capture the vast azure sky of the New Mexico desert, and Roi James' small landscape features his beautifully spooky technique with thick oils.
While nature pops up often, a few artists break the mold with strikingly unusual works. Barry George uses forged and welded metal to create some strange creatures, such as a rusty, robotic-looking dachshund and a metallic pterodactyl taking flight.
Many of the most intriguing works come in small frames, such as the pieces by Chris Ruggia, who uses crayon and india ink to produce a series of drawings that include images of an elephant statue, a rubber finger monster, and a bent antenna. Wallace features one half of the English Claymation duo Wallace and Grommit. With his back to the viewer, arms spread wide, chubby fingers open for full embrace, Wallace appears to have found salvation — or perhaps a massive amount of tea and cheese. Surrounded by a brilliant neon orange, with his black shadow stretching far behind him, Wallace is oblivious to the viewer's stare, off in his own little neon land.
Group shows are frequently composed of too many components that just can't seem to equal a whole. Congruity is hard to achieve with works by a couple dozen artists. Somehow, this collection holds together — the works aren't repetitive, yet they aren't dissimilar either. For a group show, that's refreshingly unfamiliar.— Cari Marshall
SOPHOMORE SLUMP: SOUPED-UP TEEN ANGST
through August 30
Running Time: 1 hr, 15 min
Rob Nash is back in Austin to premiere the second installment of the "Holy Cross Quadrilogy," the writer-performer's one-man, multiple-character, semi-reminiscence of the high school high jinks of his three heroes, George, Johnny, and Ben. As he did in Freshman Year Sucks, last year's hilarious opener to the quadrilogy, Nash takes the trio and the panoply of characters that surround and infiltrate their friendship on a perilous, year-long journey in and around a Houston Catholic high school. Parents, teachers, friends, lovers, fast-food servers, and several well-known personalities from the worlds of politics and entertainment appear in rapid succession in this zippy show.
This time, the play is set in 1992-93. (Freshman Year Sucks took place in the early Eighties; the final two installments, Junior Blues and Senioritis will be set in the years 2013-14 and 1954-55, respectively, because, as Nash puts it, "It's theatre. We can do this.") We discover the three buds in mid-crisis, losing a backpack full of money to the wind: a fortune lost. How did our heroes get into this scrape? In a flashback, we zoom through a sophomore year that sees the buds fall out and reunite, along the way making personal discoveries both hilarious and awkward. As before, money is at issue between them, as are newfound friends: Butch Johnny discovers Neil and forms a rock band ("but don't call it 'grunge'"); George befriends Norman Normal, a soulless geek; Ben seeks roughhousing comradeship from the muscular Chad. The lads make several more serious discoveries, too: one has a gambling addiction; one tries to commit suicide; one (finally) comes out of the closet. There are fumblings at sex, petty theft, and embarrassments leading to temporary isolation, confusion, and an ultimate understanding of just how much they need one another. That the three reunite should come as no surprise; the manner in which they patch things up and move on together testifies again to Nash's buoyant, honest, and ultimately upbeat sense of the crazy world of high school.
Nash appears to have further honed the skillful shorthand with which he presents his characters, once again proving his acting mettle and stamina. A flick of the body, a shift of inflection, and he creates someone new. Each character is specific, recognizable, and engaging — even Norman Normal with his perennial, morbid observation. Nash's rhythm of popping from one character to the next provides some of the funniest onstage moments, especially during a chance encounter at the Taco Taco Taco fast-food eatery where the trio greets inspirational teacher Mr. Smith with attendant newly made friends and girlfriends. Ten characters (or is it more?) go through the ritualistic hellos and goodbyes of a conversation with machine gun-like rapidity. Nash must be having fun. The audience certainly is.
Nash's skill as a solo performer, the stand-up comedy-like pace of the performance, and the detailed characterizations make Sophomore Slump such a good time. Nash continues to charm both in character and afterward — deflecting praise for his near-virtuoso evening'swork to his crew and his (mercifully unrequired) prompter. Because this is a new work on its test drive, occasional character shifts grind gears, but never to the detriment of the performance. In fact, seeing Nash extricate himself from momentary missteps is another exuberant aspect of the play. Lucky Austin audiences are the first to climb behind the wheel of this souped-up tale of teen angst, and it's a great drive.
— Robi Polgar