Tina Howe's satirical study of the people viewing a contemporary art exhibit becomes a fast, over-the-top romp at St. Ed's

The Barbaras take in a little art! Babs George (l) and Hannah Marie Fonder in <i>Museum</i>
The Barbaras take in a little art! Babs George (l) and Hannah Marie Fonder in Museum (Photo courtesy of Bret Brookshire)


Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University, 3001 S. Congress, 512/448-8484
Through Oct. 6
Running Time: 1 hr., 30 min.

"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life," wrote Oscar Wilde. In her play Museum, currently on display at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre, Tina Howe explores the absurd lengths to which Wilde's statement might be taken.

The experiment begins as soon as one enters the theatre, which, thanks to scenic designer Leilah Stewart, properties designer Rachel Magee, and lighting designer Kathryn Eader, feels just like walking into an actual museum exhibit. Every detail, from the pedestals on which the curious "statues" are perched to the benches that demarcate the outside walls of the gallery, is right on. We're given just enough visual information during this preshow to get our gears turning, but we have no idea what's to come. And then, the chaos begins.

Turns out that it's the last day of this contemporary exhibit, titled "The Broken Silence." The Guard assigned to maintain that silence is frequent MMNT actor Jarrett King, and he has a lot on his hands: More than 40 personalities make their way through the exhibit in the show's action-packed 90 minutes, and King offers up a fantastic character arc that serves as the Krazy Glue binding together an überwacky script. Fluttering through the premises faster than you can count them are caricatures of almost every archetype imaginable – whew! – including valley girls, pretentious snobs, the ladies who lunch, thieves, hippies, hipsters, and the token bitchy, limp-wristed, modern-art-philic couple, played to a tee by the hysterical David Stahl and Curtis Allmon.

All involved, from freshmen to Equity guest artists King, Stahl, and the equally hilarious Babs George, are quite good here. It's a fast, over-the-top romp with pacing that's kept necessarily quick but steady by director David M. Long. Susan Branch Towne's costumes play their own characters, doing as much to drive home the ridiculous stereotypes as the actors who wear them. This is especially true with the "Barbaras," who wear the most outrageously perfect ensembles.

Like most absurd comedies, Museum is not without its critical undercurrent. But the cool thing, from my vantage point, is that Howe raises more questions than she provides specific answers. Through the many laughs over the course of the performance, we come to understand that we're being asked to think critically about what we're observing and to question what it means both to create and partake of art.

Later this season, MMNT will produce a musical by Stephen Sondheim, himself a frequent analyst of the art-making process through his own works. As Sondheim has lyricized, "The art of making art is putting it together" – and that's what the MMNT artists, budding and experienced alike, have accomplished with Museum.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Museum
After a Fashion
After a Fashion
Learn why Your Style Avatar is running around, flapping his arms, and shouting 'bingo!'

Stephen MacMillan Moser, June 10, 2011

More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
"Shawn Camp & Darcie Book: Comity of Ghosts" at ICOSA Gallery
New ICOSA show unites the spirits within via the surfaces without

Wayne Alan Brenner, Oct. 16, 2020

<i>Murder on Cold Street</i> by Sherry Thomas
Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas
Sherry Thomas' fifth outing in the Lady Sherlock series is as fascinating and feminist as ever

Oct. 9, 2020

More by Adam Roberts
<i>When the Rain Stops Falling</i>
When the Rain Stops Falling
Strong writing and a robust cast make Different Stages' production stay with you

July 10, 2015

<i>The Sorcerer</i>
The Sorcerer
The Gilbert & Sullivan Society's latest show may be lesser known, but it still prompts plenty of smiles

June 26, 2015


Museum, Austin theatre, Mary Moody Northen Theatre, Tina Howe, David Long, Leilah Stewart, Rachel Magee, Kathryn Eader, Susan Branch Towne, Jarrett King, David Stahl, Babs George, Hannah Marie Fonder

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle