The Visit at Black Mountain

It's a typical Tuesday night in South Austin at the end of September. Except for the regular crowd at the Continental, it's mostly quiet. Thermometers read 90 degrees at 7pm, and the humidity is so thick you can cut it with a cake knife. Down South First Street, lonely cars careen into the darkness past the dimly lit Mexican food restaurants and the colorful bric-a-brac of the artists' studios. A dog barks in the distance. But wait! What's that noise?! Over near the School for the Deaf, west of South First, some sort of ruckus seems to be afoot. Yes, amidst the dense bamboo and overgrown pecan trees comes a curious sound of power saws, hammering, and muffled voices. Getting closer, the round glow of stage lights throbs under the canopy, betraying some secret plan furious at work. Welcome to Black Mountain.

On this particular hot and muggy night, Younger and a collection of actors that include local stars Lana Dieterich, Cindy Willliams, and Ron Berry are busy rehearsing Frederick Durrenmatt's The Visit. The play is the latest endeavor to have overtaken the ballyhoo in the bamboo, and true to the form of the original Black Mountain College, everyone is contributing something to the effort. Says Younger, a former Troupe Texas member who is directing the show: "I've wanted to do a production for a long time where as many people as I knew who were associated with this space could put their hand on this piece. I know from experience that if you surround yourself with creatively powerful people, you feed off each other. It's about all the talented people coming together."

So, Younger has organized a glittering trove of local talent to build, light, act, dance, and play music for the performance. The effort is original from the ground up. For starters, Younger and company have built a 20' x 16' backyard stage, complete with an eight-foot balcony and rolling props. Levack is building two light towers for the main lighting. Collins and Younger are casting masks and Styrofoam heads for the costumes and props. Ballgooyan's band the Barkers are providing background music. Rory Skagen of local mural fame is painting a backdrop. Diana Shoemaker, who recently directed The Butcher's Daughter, is assistant director. Kirche Dickson, who is completing a Ph.D. in dance history and theory, is coming in from Houston to choreograph a couple of dance scenes. Combined with the all-star acting cast, this production, backed by Berry's Refraction Arts company, is bringing Austin what Austin does best: a unique and thoroughly original extravaganza.

"This is a South Austin experience," Younger explains. "You park down the street, you walk, and you're gonna come into this space and you're gonna go, 'My god, I never knew this existed.' Even though we live here and it's our home, it has a special quality that we just want to share with people."

The play concerns a very rich, elderly woman who returns to her hometown, now a destitute village, and offers a million pounds to the town if it will kill her former lover who refuses to admit that he is the father of her child. Penned by Durrenmatt in post-World War II Germany, The Visit resounds with themes of money and culpability and is full of old-fashioned asides and conscientious soliloquies. The production promises to be funny in a Brechtian style, with large, simple props and overblown theatrical expressions. Most of the 10 actors play at least two different roles, with many of the women playing men.

If you're new to town and have wondered what Austin is all about, the folks at Black Mountain will fill you in with this event. At the same time, if you've been here awhile you know this production is from Austin for Austin. The lights are on and somebody's home down there in the bamboo.

The Visit runs through November 7 at Black Mountain, 1000 S. Second. Tickets are $12. For more info, call 454-TIX.

-- Sam Martin

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