The Year in Austin Culture
10 Shows From 1999 That Transported Me1. Lipstick Traces (Rude Mechanicals) In getting their version of Greil Marcus' massive social history to the stage, the Rude Mechs left out a lot, but director Shawn Sides, playwright Kirk Lynn, and the other lunatic theatre artists that attempted this mad project retained the book's essence: the ragged, searing howl of the outsider that fueled punk and other radical movements of the past. Irreverent, hilarious, and highly charged, with fierce, focused performances, Lipstick Traces made for glorious chaos -- and as much fun as punk gets.
2. The Rocky Horror Show (Zachary Scott Theatre Center) Dave Steakley's wildly inventive revision of the infamous rock romp loopily layered Y2K/Cold War hysteria and Warholian Pop Art imagery onto the usual sci-fi sex games and somehow made it work. Or if it didn't, the fantastically extravagant design work and high-voltage performances, led by an unstoppable Joe York, had us too dazed to care. Either way, it was a deliciously giddy tonic for millennial fever.
3. The Cry Pitch Carrolls (Salvage Vanguard Theater) Nothing less than a small miracle. Ruth Margraff's lyrical tale of loss and renewal -- remarkable by itself -- might not have connected as it did had it not been for the jewel of a production lovingly crafted around it by director Jason Neulander and company. Graham Reynolds' emotionally rich score, the enchanting picture-window setting, and the deeply felt performances spirited me to a new home of snow, widows, and wonder.
4. Shakespeare's R&J (Zachary Scott Theatre Center) Shakespeare staged with all one truly needs: a visionary director, a few skilled players, and all the passion and imagination that lies within the text. Sarah Richardson and her valiant four-man cast proved themselves true believers of the Bard, creating a Romeo and Juliet we could believe in sans set, sans women, sans everything but their deep conviction in the play.
5. Big River (Zilker Theatre Productions) Big in sound, bigger in heart, 1999's Zilker summer musical was as engaging a show as the Hillside has seen in years. Much of the credit belongs to director Rod Caspers, for the style and clarity of his staging and his unification of the talented cast into an ensemble of spirit and warmth.
6. The Mystery of Irma Vep (Zachary Scott Theatre Center) Words can't adequately convey the outrageousness or shamelessness of the comedy in Dave Steakley's staging of Charles Ludlam's camp masterpiece. Suffice to say, no take was left unmugged by Martin Burke, no gag was left unmilked by Joe York, and no more fun was had by me in a theatre the whole damn year.
7. My Children! My Africa! (First Stage Productions/Zachary Scott Theatre Center) Athol Fugard's drama of youthful idealism, race, and the hunger to learn in apartheid-era South Africa was presented with such uncommon honesty and urgency, it felt as if it were taking place today and in our own back yard. Clear, clean direction by Ann Ciccolella and a stand-out performance from Helen Merino.
8. The Collection/A Kind of Alaska (Subterranean Theatre Company) A winning pair of Pinters from director Ken Webster and an exceptional ensemble. Though wildly different in subject and tone, these two one-acts made a complementary whole here, a provocative meditation of how we seek to know what we don't know, sometimes to our ruin. Absorbing stuff.
9. Millennium Bug (Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre) Is there a playwright among us better at defining our urban anxieties, revealing our post-modern yearnings, and exposing our follies, especially in the marketplace, than Steven Tomlinson? Surely not. This conclusion to his "Cost of Living Trilogy" was, like its predecessors, so keen and witty as to be priceless.
10. Fatigue (Physical Plant Theater) A debate between two friends over grief given life and made unexpectedly touching by the quirky imagination of writer Steve Moore, the comedic skill and rapport of actors Ron Berry and Carlos Trevino, the wistful humanity of some very non-human puppets, and classy evening attire.
The Soldier Dreams (Subterranean Theatre Company), for its elegance, humor, and striking performances by Judson Jones and David Jones;
A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (Mary Moody Northen Theatre), for its buoyancy and exuberant ensemble work;
Full Gallop (Zachary Scott Theatre Center), for the divine Karen Kuykendall;
Junior Blues and Senioritis (VORTEX Repertory Company), for Rob Nash's delightful characters, seamless portrayal of them, and adventurous approach to their story;
Ashes to Ashes (The Public Domain), for the intensity of mood and of actors Katherine Catmull and David Stahl.