Boom Town

Local Arts Reviews

Boom Town: An Argument for Live Theatre

Hyde Park Theatre,

through August 10

Running Time: 1 hr, 45 min

The Company aims to draw fans of movies like Dumb and Dumber to the unique experience of live theatre. For the latest leg of this mission, the Austin Theatre Company chooses to produce a play by Jeff Daniels, better known to the world as "Dumb."

Boom Town owes some of its power to the playwright's cinematic experience. Blunt Stu (the excellent Kenneth Bradley) states his position in the first scene of the proceedings like a dumb film hero. Stu plans to "wrap a trailer park" development around his house, and he suspects Frank from the bank (a fine turn by J. Damian Gillen) may have double-crossed him on the deal. Frank, ironically the least frank of the three characters, has it all: a trophy wife, two sons, an exec job at the bank, and an imaginative lover, Angela (the vivid Margaret Hoard). Angela also happens to be Stu's wife. At Stu's request, she summons Frank for a chat about the trailer park plan. The set-up is as subtle as a brick from Hollywood.

In the hands of experienced director Don Bradley, Daniels' brick smashes all the right windows and lands as an exemplary piece of theatre. Free from frilly lines and symbols, the dialogue is direct and substantive. Bradley uses the confines of Hyde Park Theatre to create the kind of thrilling discomfort that cannot be achieved in a cinema. The audience can feel the thrill of being in the same room with decent characters committing indecent acts; or the discomfort of knowing that a character has overheard something that he was never supposed to hear. The play's themes, economic development and marital fealty, have glistened in many tales from Tinseltown. In a community theatre, however, these ideas become more concrete. The glug-glug of whiskey poured into a glass in anger cannot be re-created by sound effects in sober studios.

Differences between screen and stage are even reflected in the script, as Stu tells Frank, "If this were a Western, you'd already be dead." Strangely, for a playwright whose most quoted line must be "Our pets' heads are falling off," Daniels shies away from punchlines. Perhaps Jim Carrey will edit in a few jokes for a later version.

There is no theatrical innovation or experimentation in The Company's production, which also means no pointless posturing. Like Hollywood, Boom Town hits its audience over the head with familiar themes. Unlike Hollywood, Boom Town leaves its audience with a memorable bang.

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Boom Town, Jeff Daniels, The Company, Don Bradley, Kenneth Bradley, J. Damian Gillen, Margaret Hoard

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