American Fiesta

The revival of Steven Tomlinson's American Fiesta arrives with such hype, one might think it would have difficulty living up to it; but with this uplifting, transcendent show, one would be wrong

Arts Review

American Fiesta

McCullough Theatre, through Aug. 13

Running Time: 1 hr, 15 min

Winner of the American Theatre Critics Association's Osborn Award for Best New Play by an Emerging Playwright. One of six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. Winner of the 2006 Austin Critics Table David Mark Cohen New Play Award. Named by the Austin American-Statesman as the Best Play of 2005. On the evening I attended, no less a national theatre luminary than Jaston Williams stepped onto the stage to introduce the play – and appeared to be quite sincerely humbled by the task.

That's a lot of hype for a relatively short, one-person monologue that, on its surface, is about a gay man collecting Fiestaware while trying to persuade his parents to attend his planned marriage to his partner in Vancouver. Expectations definitely are raised. Anticipation can be a killer. One might think, prior to seeing this revival of last season's hit State Theatre production, a show would have difficulty living up to such hype.

And one would be wrong. So prepare yourself for more.

Let's start with Steven Tomlinson's script. Rarely have I encountered an original play that displays such polish and depth of meaning. Metaphor after metaphor – about relationships, politics, the brain, words, eating, parents, lovers, eBay, love, life, loss – builds upon and nests inside the others, just like a set of cooking bowls. It is the latter that seems to have been the inspiration for Christopher McCollum's sublime set, with its large set of half circles standing behind and framing the action that occurs on a kitchen floor before wooden shelves and a projection screen. Throughout, Lowell Bartholomee's slides and projections, most often incorporating the six bright colors of Fiestaware, rhythmically and appropriately accompany every word of the story, as do the sounds provided by Ken Huncovsky and John Ore's constantly shifting lights. While these aspects of the show are quite noticeable at first, they are so perfectly executed that eventually they fade into the background, becoming, in a way, a supporting character. Credit for such assiduous execution must go to stage manager Natalie George. Also in the background is Christina J. Moore's direction, which is practically invisible – I'm not sure a higher compliment can be paid to a director. In the foreground is Mr. Tomlinson's transcendent performance, filled with sincerity, depth of feeling, and overwhelming love, especially at the end as he gently arranges both his and our lives before our astonished eyes.

Due to the disastrous flood that the State Theatre suffered this year, this revival could well be the last production we see from it as a local producing organization. If it is – well, what a way to go. It uplifts you, renews you, teaches you, and fills you with hope. It makes you want to live a better life. It is one of the very few productions in my memory for which, when I knew it was ending, I wanted to be the first to stand and applaud, applaud until Mr. Tomlinson had been called repeatedly onto the stage. And I did – we did. And I made sure I was the last to finish.

Don't miss it.

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American Fiesta, American Theatre Critics Association, Osborn Award, Harold and Mimi Steinberg / ATCA New Play Award, Austin Critics Table David Mark Cohen New Play Award, Austin American-Statesman, Jaston Williams, Steven Tomlinson, Christopher McCollum, Lowell Bartholomee, Ken Huncovsky, John Ore, Natalie George, Christina J. Moore

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